I've noticed that users (including myself a time or two) tend to focus on solving problems within the OP's code rather than answering the original question. This know can lead to confusing results when searching for answers since the chosen answer often solves the OP's problem yet doesnt answer the actual question. Although this can be great help to the OP, it doesn't provide an archived answer as a Q/A is meant. I think promoting suggestions within the comments area would help guide this assistance away from the answers section.

For example, say an OP noticed that a UPD service was dropping packets and asked how to prevent the loss. A likely answer would be to use TCP, even thought this doesn't answer the underlying issue of preventing a UDP service from losing packets. TCP is a very good suggestion and in most cases the right choice - often leading to a solution - but is technically off-topic for a UDP related issue, and ultimately wrong for an answer as there are reliable UDP solutions. In such a case an individual developing a gaming or messaging system will have to wade through many questions with "just use TCP" as an answer.

I think another way to help guide suggestions away from answers would be an option where the OP can mark a comment as a 'solution' allowing users to receive similar points and badges as providing an answer.

  • if the "answer" and "solution to the problem" are not the same thing, than why do we even need the "answer" in the first place? – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Aug 1 '13 at 14:28
  • Your 2nd idea (accepting a comment) has been asked before and declined many many many times. Your first idea is sort of new (I think). but the answer to both is "comments are designed to be temporary and to help users clarify the question, not to be long lasting solutions to questions." – psubsee2003 Aug 1 '13 at 14:28
  • @Sam I Am - see the UDP/TCP example in my edit. – JSON Aug 1 '13 at 14:35
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    @ClosetGeek your example question would likely be off topic since it is asking for a recommendation (which we don't do). But in general, answering a question with a different solution because it is a better option is perfectly acceptable and can/should be turned into a complete answer. – psubsee2003 Aug 1 '13 at 14:38
  • @psubsee2003 - it's not a matter of accepting a comment, but rewarding solutions within the comment area. Accepting the comment/suggestion would just make it an answer which is against my point. – JSON Aug 1 '13 at 14:39
  • @ClosetGeek but a good comment is not usually a good answer. Answers need to be complete and provide details that you cannot get in comments. – psubsee2003 Aug 1 '13 at 14:42
  • @psubsee2003 - agreed, but only if the context of the OP's question is changed. Otherwise your solving the underlying problem that lead to the question (helpful to anybody on the same track) but doesn't answer the archived, indexed question (unhelpful to anybody who isn't making same mistakes, not good for site as a system) – JSON Aug 1 '13 at 14:50
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    Sometimes, though, the OP has an XY Problem question...that is to say, their question is "I figured out the best way to solve X is to use Y solution, so how do I do that". Answers that don't seem to answer the stated question are probably because they are answering the root problem, not the proposed solution. – saluce Aug 1 '13 at 14:55
  • @psubsee2003 - did you even read the post your presumed that I duplicated? It suggests a means of converting comment to answers where I'm suggesting an award of some type to prevent answers made from comments indirectly related to actual voiced question. – JSON Aug 1 '13 at 14:57
  • @ClosetGeek I read it and I know what it says. But effectively it is the same. You basically want to treat comments as answers (in terms of upvotes and downvotes and badges), and that explains why it doesn't work. This request is very common and I think there might even be a better duplicate, but I can't find it at the moment. Hopefully someone else can. – psubsee2003 Aug 1 '13 at 15:00
  • @saluce - your right, but the purpose of a Q/A isn't to solve a specific users problem but to provide answers to a specific question. Solving the problem is useful to the OP and others in a similar situation, but in the end it often doesn't answer the posted question. – JSON Aug 1 '13 at 15:07
  • @psubsee2003 - that's too lame to even take serious. Promoting input outside of the answers section is completely opposite of the other post, even if such promotion includes an upvote, badge,etc. – JSON Aug 1 '13 at 15:13
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    If a comment was the main reason that the OP figured out the answer, then the OP should either politely request the commenter to post it as a full-blown answer, or s/he should post the answer and accept it as a self-answered question. – saluce Aug 1 '13 at 15:16
  • @psubsee2003 - Not only is the outcome different, but the underlying objective is different as well. In other words, it's completely different. – JSON Aug 1 '13 at 15:18
  • @psubsee2003 - I changed my example significantly. – JSON Aug 1 '13 at 15:57

You are right that there can be

  1. a "worked for the questioner" answer, and
  2. a (different) "best match for the question" answer,

but the current StackExchange design actually distinguishes between these two already.

There are two separate answer-filtering mechanisms:

  1. the big green check mark
  2. the vote count

The answer types you describe and these mechanisms match up one-to-one.

The only thing that takes some getting used too (and may even warrant some pointers to new users for) is making sure to look at not only the accepted answer but also the others, at least the next one listed (which may have more votes).

...and of course, as pointed out in the comments above, any good points from the comments that have answer-y goodness should eventually make it into the answers anyway. (See what I did there?) For one thing, comments can disappear. Another reason is exactly what you've pointed out: People don't always read the comments.

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  • I marked this question right rather reluctantly. I touched on three types of users above - askers, answerers, and readers looking for answers. Stackoverflow seems to be geared for the first two types, providing fine tuned solutions to the askers and point incentives to answerers - but I think as a Q/A stack should be aimed at the third/last type as a form of knowledge base. Answering the question should be more important that solving the ops problem, or else your knowledge base takes the form of a support forum. I suppose that's the way people like stack. – JSON Aug 2 '13 at 1:55
  • You are right that there are those three types of users. I would say, though, that finding an answer is not applicable to answerers, so then we're down to two categories again. Also, I would say that finding solutions is tuned to questioners and readers (who have power over check marks and the votes respectively), not questioners and answerers. To the extent that readers do not vote, though, then yes there is another type of user that should maybe be catered to. That, combined with some good comments not making it into the answers, sounds like the best reason for your idea. – A.M. Aug 2 '13 at 16:43

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