(Sorry if there's too much overlap with this question, but since it covers similar territory with a different thrust, I'm keeping this one separate for now.)

A friend of mine frequently complains that SO is headed the same way Usenet did after the AOLers joined up twenty years ago -- there's so much newbie traffic that good questions get ignored. I don't quite agree, but further discussion teased out an issue that might actually be relevant: there does seem to be a trend in that questions which have received at least one answer tend to get less attention than unanswered questions, and I think that visual design might have something to do with that.

Regarding answer status, at least, we have three states for a question:

  1. No answers
  2. One or more answers, none accepted
  3. One or more answers, author has accepted an answer

I'd argue that the distinction between the second and third states is more important than that between the first two: A question without an accepted answer may (and often very much does) need further attention and better answers -- that is, it needs attention just as much as an unanswered question does -- whereas it's usually less worthwhile to put more effort into problems that have already been solved.

Right now, those states look like this on SO (in a "desktop" browser):

answer state styling on desktop

The color inversion (from dark text on light background to light text on dark background) is high visual contrast change, particularly when compared to the change between white-on-dark and yellow-on-dark text. "Skimming" a question list, it's much easier to sort out the unanswered from the answered questions than to sort accepted from unaccepted... but is that what we want?

Other SO sites do this differently, perhaps better (quoting the aforelinked MSO post):

In order from the left: Home improvement, Gaming, English, Android, Cooking, Super User, Stats, Role-playing games

Examples of no answer, 1+ answer and accepted answer styles on Stack Exchange sites

In all of those, the presence of answers triggers a subtle change of text color, and accepting answers trigger a higher-contrast change of background. Here, it's easier to sort out the questions that might still need an answer from those with an accepted answer.

This is also true in Stack Overflow's mobile version:

answer state styling on mobile

I don't have the mastery of the site API needed to gather data that might support or refute this argument, but I suspect that making answered-but-not-accepted questions stand out more or less from unanswered questions might have an effect. Perhaps it even has something to do with the (perceived) tendency for good questions to get ignored after they get one (lame) answer? Perhaps it'd regardless be helpful to use low and high visual contrast transitions for the same meaning across all StackExchange sites?

  • Well spotted; this has always bugged me, but I was never able to articulate it. Regarding the site API, what sort of data are you looking for? Maybe other users can help you out with that.
    – user200500
    Feb 19, 2013 at 20:59
  • Your friend doesn't like new users? Wait till you see what else SE have in store to make sure more new users join up
    – random
    Feb 19, 2013 at 21:21
  • I can say that at least for myself, I generally don't look at questions on SO if it says they have an answer, even if there is no Accepted answer.
    – Ryan
    Feb 19, 2013 at 22:00
  • That's definitely the wrong attitude @ryan. Just because a question has an answer doesn't mean that it's good, or even correct. Feb 19, 2013 at 22:07
  • @benisuǝqbackwards I didn't say it was a good attitude, but I only have so much time, so that's how I tend to approach it.
    – Ryan
    Feb 19, 2013 at 22:10
  • Green has a natural association with the accept checkmark, so regardless of how this highlighting is done, green should be reserved for indicating accepted answers.
    – A.M.
    Aug 8, 2013 at 18:23


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