Here's the scenario:

  • Bob asks a question on Stack Overflow.
  • Bob gets a few answers and selects the one that helps him the most.
  • Bob's account gets deleted.
  • Another (considerably better) answer is posted to Bob's question.
  • The new answer soon scores higher than the accepted answer.

There is no way for Bob (or anyone) to change the accepted answer on the question. However, it's still the first thing everybody sees when they visit the question (despite the fact that there is a better answer further down).

Now I can almost hear somebody asking the question, "but how often does this really happen?" I'm glad you asked. I just spent the last hour or so constructing a Data.SE query to answer exactly that:


The results? 3,177 rows.

Naturally, I am wondering if there is anything that can be done about this. The following options immediately come to my mind:

  • Change the accepted answer. This option is here for completeness. I doubt anyone here (including me) actually would consider it. The accepted answer was selected by the user and changing it does not make sense.

  • Change the sorting order. This makes much more sense. Note that I am not advocating that we always change the sorting order whenever an answer outscores the accepted answer. I am only advocating that this happen when the OP's account has been deleted.

  • Remove the checkmark from the accepted answer. This option was suggested by Robert Harvey and I actually think it's a viable option as well. After all, the OP is no longer around, so I don't see much value in indicating which answer helped him the most.

Any thoughts? (Also, I'm not an SQL expert, so if you have suggestions for improving the query, feel free to point them out.)

  • 1
    So... 3,000 out of 4,500,000? Does that even register as a percentage? If you really think it's a big deal, I say if the owner of the question is deleted, treat the accepted answer like any other answer, similar to if the OP answers their own question and accepts it.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Mar 3 '13 at 6:25
  • Not even 1 tenth of 1 percent. Mar 3 '13 at 6:28
  • Of those, 1,307 have more than 1k views. Mar 3 '13 at 6:37
  • Also (not sure if you can feasibly construct a query for them, but) unaccepted new answers where people can't seem to shut up about how it should be the accepted answer: stackoverflow.com/questions/4013701/… Mar 3 '13 at 6:48
  • 1
    How about let's go through those questions and delete all the junk and see what we have left. Mar 3 '13 at 6:51
  • I think the key difference here is that as long as an account is connected to the question, there's still the possibility that the accepted answer can be changed. Even if they don't have to or want to, the possibility is still there. If the account is deleted, that possibility is completely gone.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Mar 3 '13 at 7:03

The accepted answer is the one the OP found most helpful. That's it; the checkmark has no other meaning.

If the OP isn't there anymore to change the accepted answer, it doesn't matter. The checkmark still indicates the answer that was most helpful to the OP when he was there. Even if the OP was still around, he is under no obligation to change the checkmark to a better answer that is posted later.

Votes are there so that other community members can indicate the answer they found most useful. In short, nothing further needs to be done.

  • 1
    Wait wait wait - I didn't say we should change the accepted answer. In fact, I said the opposite. What I'm suggesting is changing the sort order under certain circumstances. Mar 3 '13 at 6:48
  • The community-voted answers already sort to the top, with the exception of the accepted one (provided you're on the "Votes" tab).
    – user102937
    Mar 3 '13 at 6:49
  • 1
    Exactly - I am suggesting that the accepted answer not be sorted to the top when the OP's account has been deleted. Mar 3 '13 at 6:50
  • 2
    I don't think so. The answer was still the one the OP found most useful.
    – user102937
    Mar 3 '13 at 6:51
  • 1
    I know it was. But if other answers are outscoring it then it's not likely the answer that every single other person viewing the question is going to find the most useful - and therefore it should not be first. Mar 3 '13 at 6:52
  • Remember, the checkmark belongs to the OP, not to the community; if you want to make the case that it no longer belongs to him because he's gone, advocate removing the checkmark if the OP's account is deleted. But don't change the sort order just because you think the OP made the wrong decision; it's his decision to make.
    – user102937
    Mar 3 '13 at 6:52
  • Hmm... now that's something I never thought of. Mind if I add that to my question as a third option? Mar 3 '13 at 6:53
  • Knock yourself out.
    – user102937
    Mar 3 '13 at 6:53
  • Next up: feature requests for accepting an answer on behalf of an OP. Oh, wait... Mar 3 '13 at 7:02
  • @RobertHarvey I agree that the checkmark belongs to the OP, but I'd suggest the sort order belongs to the community (at least as a preference).
    – Ian Tegebo
    Sep 12 '13 at 16:32

The fact that there's a badge for this situation (barring the deletion), namely the populist badge, along with the fact that its such a small number of posts where this happens, indicates to me, that it isn't really an issue.

If the user looking for an answer that's going to help them, and they go to one of these threads, then it's unlikely that they are going to completely skip over the (for example) 15 points up answer in order to go for the zero score accepted answer.

And as Robert Harvey said, there is also the fact that even if the OP hadn't had their account deleted, they may not accept the better answer anyway (particularly if they've a already solved the question).

  • Well, the badge has nothing to do with the owner of the question being deleted, which is what this question focuses on entirely.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Mar 3 '13 at 7:02
  • @animunson, I know, and I mentioned that, however the issue may occur even (and obviously as the presence of a badge shows, does occur) if the user's account isn't deleted.
    – Bernie
    Mar 3 '13 at 7:04

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .