I am learning about how feature-request questions (on meta sites) differ from "normal" questions. Part of my understanding is that:

  • For normal questions, votes reflect (primarily) the quality of the question.
  • By comparison, for feature request questions, votes reflect (primarily) voting for or against the requested feature.

This understanding is based on experience (making mistakes, unfortunately) and some existing SE references, such as:

With how feature request questions appear to work, one might be led to believe that answers are not required, and that "accepting" an answer is even less relevant than with normal questions. Rather, votes for and against (and possibly comments) are being invited.

It seems that the purpose of votes on a feature request is reasonably well understood. What, however, is the meaning or purpose of answers to feature request questions? Or, in another way of asking it, how does the purpose of an answer to a feature request question differ from the purpose of a comment on a feature request question?

The following answers are related, but don't seem to address the core of this question (i.e. What is the purpose of the answer?):

The (currently) most popular (net upvoted) feature-request questions, in various states, and some comments about each:

This investigation of highly popular feature-request questions suggests that one major purpose of answers to feature-request questions may be to express pro or con arguments that are too lengthy or sophisticated to fit within a comment.

It also suggests a secondary, but similar, purpose… which may be to disagree with a feature-request being marked as "status-declined".

Are these the primary purposes? Are there additional purposes?

(This question has deliberately not been tagged as a feature-request, so as to not risk suggesting that it is a feature-request. Rather, it is about feature-requests. If more experience SE members find this concern unwarranted, feel free to edit as seen fit.)

  • 5
    Have you considered looking at a few feature requests with answers (particularly those with accepted answers)? Often, SE employees (or others) will respond to Feature Requests with what solution has or will be implemented (or what they think should be implemented), or someone will answer the FR with why they disagree/agree with the FR content. Often, if the FR is strongly negative, an answer explaining concisely why the FR is bad, will be accepted as an explanation for why the FR should not be followed through on. The main signal, though, are the red status tags.
    – Catija
    Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 1:11
  • Thank you for that excellent suggestion. I will endeavour to find and examine some good/representative feature-request questions... and incorporate something about that into this question.
    – David
    Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 1:16
  • The primary purpose of answering is to express a detailed opinion on the subject in a way that can be voted on and discussed independently, free of the confines of the commenting system. Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 2:13
  • So, @nathan, are you saying that, sometimes, expressing a response as an answer is like saying "I am sufficiently confident of this response that I am happy to stake reputation on it"?
    – David
    Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 2:16
  • @David: That's one of the functions here on M.SE, but otherwise it works the same on site metas too. Rep is just a side effect. Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 2:18
  • 2
    Just so you know, MSE doesn't use the SE question/answer format because it's such a good format for meta-discussion. It uses it because SE wanted to use the same software for meta as for the main sites.
    – cpast
    Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 4:12

1 Answer 1


Let's look at some good example Feature Requests that have answers and how they're used:

Add explicit support for citing scientific literature

This is an older question (from 2011) but it just got an answer recently. It also has some pre-existing answers.

The accepted answer was just posted a couple of days ago and it's written by a Community Manager, Shog9♦. In it, it details why the request was finally declined after so much time and why it's not feasible to fulfill the feature request. Also, if you notice, it has now been tagged with the tag, which makes future viewers able to quickly see the status of the question.

For feature requests, it's arguable that these status tags are actually the ultimate end game and the answers don't really matter, though having an explanation for why the request was declined or how it was implemented (if approved) is very helpful to future readers.

The person who asked the question, MadScientist also provided an answer to it. This answer was in the form of his recommendation for how to implement this feature:

I'll sketch an example of how I think an initial version of this feature could work.

This is a common use for answers and can be done by any user, not just the person making the request.

Let's look at another example to see another answer use:

Categories other than “off-topic” should have custom close reasons

I should probably find a different example of this, as this is my own answer, but it's a valid use of the answer space on a Feature Request, regardless of who posted it.

In this answer, the answer space is used to provide more supporting evidence or an additional argument for the request. It's usually written by a different user than the one who posted the request initially as the original user could simply edit their question. In this case, the answer is showing that the request would benefit additional sites not mentioned in the original request.

Similarly, an answer can be used to make an argument against the feature request, often explaining why the status quo should be maintained.

Remind me to upvote (Add an 'I will try this'-button to answers)

The top answer here makes an argument against the usefulness of this feature and even explains how the user might implement something on his/her own end rather than needing SE to make a change.

The main benefits of posting this content as answers rather than as comments include:

  • people can show their agreement or disagreement with the information by voting the answers up and down.

    • This isn't possible with comments, which can only be voted up.
  • users can comment on the points directly:

    • agreement
    • disagreement
    • additional information
  • splits up a conversation in a way that is beneficial to the users

  • more space - this is obvious but still worth pointing out.
  • ability to post code/images/gifs

As with any question, accepting an answer is completely up to the person asking the question, so understanding why they've accepted the answer can be a bit pointless. This is doubly true on any of the Meta sites, where many questions don't necessarily have an "answer". I think you'll find the "accepted" rate on any Meta is significantly lower than on the actual site.

  • Sometimes, as with the first example, an answer will be accepted when it's the "official" answer posted by SE staff.
    • One could argue that this is probably the only time an answer should actually be accepted.
  • In the case of an explanation for why the feature request is "bad", someone might accept an answer if they understand the explanation and, essentially, withdraw the request.
  • Some will accept answers just because they agree with them strongly and want to award the answer some extra rep.

Just a brief note about the red, moderator only status tags. Below are the five used (to varying degrees) with feature requests:

As mentioned earlier, these tags can be the best indicator of the status of a feature request. They are generally simple to understand but if you have any questions about how they're used, feel free to view their tag wikis.

I'm sure there are some explanations I've missed but these are the main answer types for feature requests that I've run into in my time here.

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