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Fastest Gun in the West Problem

I've noticed an interesting behavior on Stack Overflow of late. It goes like this. After a question I see several very quick and dirty answers. Mostly they are incomplete or not very elaborate. Within about 15 minutes, those answers are edited to be much more complete, often incorporating ideas from later answers.

It would appear that users are posting quick and dirty to get the top slot, then going back and modifying their answer (within the first 15 minutes or so) to incorporate other replies.

Now if the poster checks compulsively, they may also see the behavior. But if they post, go get coffee and come back, then they come back to a very well thought out answer as the top post.

This seems to me as a way to game the system and get ranking by snagging the top post then incorporating the wisdom of others. And it's not just low rank people doing it. I've seen it twice by people with over 25k rep, making me wonder how much of that rep was just their ability to quickly grab & edit.

  • 2
    This is called "fastest gun in the west", and it's by design. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/9731/…
    – Welbog
    Commented Oct 23, 2009 at 12:48
  • mmmm... thank you for linking to the other question. lot's of food for thought. Commented Oct 23, 2009 at 12:50
  • Reading that thread some, they appear to be different problems. They are discussing just posting fast. I see this more as abusing the 5 minute grace period to take the top and then incorporate the "good" from anyone else who answers in the next 5 minutes. Commented Oct 23, 2009 at 12:56
  • 5
    It is not a different problem (and it is not a problem).
    – TheTXI
    Commented Oct 23, 2009 at 13:24

5 Answers 5


There's nothing wrong with this (in fact, it's even encouraged), If you meet these two criteria:

  1. Your initial post is a real answer. Gibberish or something that's plainly inadequate or wrong just to get the first spot is bad (and wouldn't help you anyway, since such a post would likely get down-voted before you could fill out the answer).
  2. Your final post is your work. You should know what the final result will look like before making your initial post. For example, you might post your answer and then go look for the msdn links to edit in. You knew they would be there, but it takes time to dig them up. But copying the work of others is a bad idea.

The exception to item #2 is a list situation. Questions like "what are the advantages of X". You might have listed 4 items, and somebody else will come and add a 5th, but they'll post that item by itself. Go ahead and add that to your answer, but give the other user credit in a comment.


It used to be that the "fastest gun in the west", the first to answer had distinct advantage over everybody that followed. This was due to the fact that the entries with the same amount of votes were sorted according their time of creation.

This lead to many gaming variants - the one you are describing is just one of them, strategic downvoting would be another. You downvote an answer that has the same number or one vote more than yours to get on top. As soon as you accumulated enough votes, you cancel your downvote.

Nowadays the heat has been taken out of this by sorting answers with equal votes randomly with each refresh. And votes quickly grow too old to change unless the answer voted on is edited.

But there are great reasons to answer quick and dirty and then elaborate. The short answer might be helpful in itself and correct. Later you have additional ideas, examples, or you see others add to the solution in ways that stimulate your brain to produce further insight.

As the goal of the site is to provide a "best answer" that can be accepted and upvoted for easy discovery by the OP or others with the same problem, merging multiple answers into one is a good thing. Obviously, if you draw from another answer, it contributed to the solution and you should upvote that answer in return.


I very often post a short answer and then elaborate on it. My reason for doing so it more to let other people know the kind of answer I'm coming up with than anything else - it saves duplication. If 10 people all have the same idea and spend 15 minutes writing out the same answer, that's 140 wasted minutes. If the first person wrote a brief answer and posted it after a minute, and all the other people merely added comments for tweaks etc, that's a lot of saved time - and you end up with one answer which is the best of all worlds.

I don't just take from other people's answers, but I will sometimes refer to them (e.g. "you could use X as suggested by Y").


There are legitimate reasons for behaviour like this. If the user has asked a question which has a straightforward answer (e.g. how can I do x in language y?), then a legitimate answer might be pointing them to the documentation page with a brief explanation. That might well be enough to get the user going, so I'm in favour of the quick post, since it helps someone out. Then, the answerer goes back, gives examples, perhaps some caveats to the approach. The answer is improved, and the questioner can come back to their question if they need more information than was provided in the answer as originally given.

You're right, it can be a way of gaming the system, but it is not always. Some users might get lots of upvotes by doing this maliciously, but conscientious users shouldn't be penalised for doing what I think can often be totally legitimate.


I usually edit my posts, but not significantly in the first 15 minutes. Maybe a day later when there's some comments and some answers that make me think to elaborate what I said, I like to make it clearer.

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