Someone's asked why you can't earn the self-answer badge more than once the answer being that it's intended to help people learn about the site's functionality. Answering your own question is encouraged and there's a feature to answer your own question when asking one..

The number of unanswered questions, on Stack Overflow at least, has been increasing quarter by quarter, so why not encourage people to fill in the blanks by answering their own questions more regularly?

I'm of two minds about the route to go down. I initially though of something like a silver self-learner badge with some conditions as follows: answer your own +3 scored question with an answer with a score of +5 but as there are only 4,320 open, unanswered questions with a score of 3 or more it seems fairly pointless.

A better way would be to allow people to earn a "self-learner" type badge multiple times but to stop people from getting it solely for self-answering. You could have a bronze badge ("Autodidact", or whatever) for people who:

  • Self-answer a positively scored question - This should not be open to negatively scored questions and I'd be wary of 0 scored to stop a deluge of people wanting the badge.
  • That has not received an answer with a score of more than 1 since it was posted - Not completely sure about this but the goal is to answer the questions without answers
  • More than 24 hours after the question was posted - Otherwise FGITW etc; the point is to get all the old questions answered.
  • With a score of 2 or more - Otherwise you could answer it with anything, which is useless for the internet. Maybe +3 might be more appropriate?

There are 96k positively scored, unclosed questions with 0 answers so getting some of these answered is a worthy cause.

  • I think 24 hours is not enough to call it "an old question". :-) Otherwise, I like the idea.
    – Bo Persson
    Jan 7, 2013 at 15:17
  • 1
    Yes @bopersson, "old" is the wrong word but you need the time to be short enough to encourage people to re-engage but long enough to give other people a chance. I'm not wedded to the time limit, just think it should be days not weeks... Jan 7, 2013 at 15:58
  • This is a great idea, in principle. Jan 9, 2013 at 19:36
  • There's a but lurking there @lightness, or is it imagined? Jan 9, 2013 at 20:25
  • 1
    @benisuǝqbackwards: No not really. The numbers would have to be picked carefully as you already identified. Jan 9, 2013 at 20:39

2 Answers 2


In the spirit of the thing and to provide some evidence around Ben Lee's answer I'm answering my own question - maybe get a badge :-).

Looking at the number of self-answered, unclosed, questions over time it actually seems quite high; very roughly around 10% of the total:

Year Quarter Questions Self-answers Q positive A positive 
---- ------- --------- ------------ ---------- ---------- 
2008 3       18110     3743         3332       2264       
2008 4       39802     6125         5063       3489       
2009 1       54446     6556         5001       3741       
2009 2       76326     7864         5460       4366       
2009 3       99633     10329        6757       5414       
2009 4       114279    11806        7014       5540       
2010 1       144109    15151        9907       6944       
2010 2       160336    17184        10380      7619       
2010 3       188286    19679        11383      8418       
2010 4       206172    20742        11607      8820       
2011 1       268050    25260        13796      10694      
2011 2       298260    24505        13736      10063      
2011 3       312311    26820        14294      10421      
2011 4       316651    27854        14287      10546      
2012 1       405211    33204        15742      11475      
2012 2       431504    37818        16350      12100      
2012 3       452622    43812        16901      11678      
2012 4       461240    43526        16874      9145       
2013 1       23733     1564         545        290   

However, the number of self-answered questions with a positive question/answer score is significantly lower, which would seem to indicate that Ben's answer is correct. A large proportion of self-answers could be lost to badge chasing.

As 2012 is the most recent complete year, and therefore the most representitive of the future I'm going to concentrate on that. There are 158,360 self-answered, unclosed, questions in that year. This number will be slightly skewed because some will be closed in the future but I'm going to ignore that for the time being.

Taking into account the rules around automatically deleted questions 12,037 of these self-answers are actively preventing a question from being deleted, not necessarily a bad thing. However, if we change the rules slightly to something that makes slightly more sense in this context and ignoring the comment restriction:

If the question is more than 30 days old, and ...

  • has −1 or lower score
  • has no positively scored answer

If the question is more than 365 days old, and ...

  • has a score of 0
  • has no positively scored answer.
  • has a viewcount <= the age of the question in days times 1.5

This number rises to 62,810. That's 50 thousand questions that people have prevented from deletion by self-answering and where their answer hasn't managed to garner a single up-vote.

I'm going to discount these questions from further analysis as I don't see a reason to keep them around. This leaves 95,550 questions that this may adversely affect.

There's another group we can remove, those questions self-answered over 24 hours after they were asked. These would not be affected by the suggestion of the badge as the OP. In total these number 64,599.

This means we're now looking at:

  • questions with a score of 0 or more, those people who according to Ben might avoid self-answering to wait for the question-upvote.
  • self-answers with a score or more than 0 because there all these people have done is avoid their question being deleted
  • self-answers less than 24 hours after the question was asked, those people who might wait around for the upvote.

This number is 54,396. Restricting once again to answers that managed to gain a score of 1 or more; those that are, in all likelihood, have an answer that's worth saving this number falls to 18,584.

Then, removing those questions that were answered with a positive score by someone else prior to the OP answering, a situation where the OP knows they would not be able to get a badge, this number falls to 14,794.

There's something else that should be considered; is the answer likely to be helpful to future visitors. A positive score is not the sole measurement of this, we can look at the length of the answer body to come up with some sort of measurement, it's 777 characters. I know there's some extremely long self-answers out there, one of them is mine! If we take a rather arbitrary 200 characters as the minimum needed to provide a semi-decent answer but to correct any mistakes include those answers with a body length less than this but 2 or more upvotes the number reduces to 13,604.

Lastly, here is that number broken down by users and reputation:

Questions Users Reputation "level" 
--------- ----- ------------------ 
38        36    1 - 11      
3536      3410  11 - 200        
4284      3634  200 - 1k           
2781      2042  1k - 3k            
900       554   3k - 5k            
752       473   5k - 10k           
389       256   10k - 20k          
384       222   20k +        

As you can see the number of users affected is less, 10,627. Of these, 1,505 have more than 3k reputation and could be classified as experienced.

In actuality there are only 4,344 questions and 3,984 users where the question score is 0 and it was self-answered within 24 hours.


In effect this might negatively impact the site in the cases of 10,627 users. 15% of whom could reasonably be expected to rise above it. There are only 4,344 questions where the OP might definitively not self-answer as the question score is 0. Compare these numbers to:

  • the 370,551 questions posted in 2012 with a score of 1 or more and without an answer with a score of 2 or more
  • the 137,382 questions posted in 2012 with a score of 1 or more and without a postively scored or accepted answer.
  • or, the 62,619 questions posted in 2012 with a score of 1 or more and without a single answer

If it doesn't work then it doesn't work and the experiment can be stopped but it's worth making an attempt.


Update: After seeing the numbers, I no longer believe what I've written below is a compelling argument. I'm now in favor of the badge.

Most of this sounds pretty good, why not encourage people to come back and answer old questions?

Well, there's one good reasons why not. This discourages people from answering their own questions early. Someone posts an answer. An hour later they discover the problem but don't post the answer because they want the badge and have to wait until the next day. Or maybe they've already waited 24 hours but they're waiting for that upvote.

And I don't even think it would solve the intended problem. While a few people might go back and answer old questions for the badge, I bet most people are already in two camps -- those who answer their unanswered questions when they find the solution and those that don't. I don't think a badge will change that.

  • 1
    I disagree... It's why I added the condition on answers. If you wait then you risk not getting an answer, which means you won't get the badge. I agree that we can't know whether it will actually encourage people to answer their own questions. However, there is a big back-log of unanswered questions that's getting worse (have you read my answer to the linked question). Something needs to be done. There's no harm in attempting to nudge people in the right direction. If it doesn't work then it doesn't work and the badges can be discontinued. Jan 11, 2013 at 8:55
  • The above is meant to read "If you wait then you risk getting an answer" Jan 11, 2013 at 10:00
  • @benisuǝqbackwards, but if you don't get this badge before a time limit whether you get an answer or not, then what's the risk in waiting? Either way by answering earlier you definitely will not got the badge. So the "risk of getting an answer" is actually a non-risk.
    – Ben Lee
    Jan 11, 2013 at 16:29
  • I understand your concerns so have answered them comprehensively in my own answer. Jan 12, 2013 at 14:23
  • @benisuǝqbackwards, good research! Thanks for doing the heavy lifting. I agree with you now. Updated my answer to post a note saying I no longer think my argument is compelling.
    – Ben Lee
    Jan 12, 2013 at 23:09
  • There's no need to capitulate quite so completely @benlee! It's definitely a valid answer and I was quite surprised by the number of self-answers so a careful eye will definitely have to be kept to see if its adversely affecting the site. It just doesn't seem like it will... Jan 13, 2013 at 11:32

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