Am I wrong when I get annoyed when I post an answer, someone else sees it, and posts the SAME answer with some minor textual changes. Then after the answer has been there for say, 20 hours, if he posted it 40 minutes after you, it looks like they were posted at the same time.

I guess my question is, should this be considered Stackoverflow Taboo? Wouldn't it be more helpful to comment on the correct answer to help enhance it that way instead of posting a brand new one that is the exact same idea and try and steal votes.

And if it is considered Taboo, would I be justified in downvoting their answer...

Here is an example of something from Stackoverflow

I wrote

GregorianCalendar cal = Calendar.getInstance();
return cal.getTimeZone();

And 40 minutes later, someone else wrote

Calendar cal = Calendar.getInstance();
TimeZone timeZone = cal.getTimeZone();
int rawOffset = timeZone.getRawOffset();

And the question was how to get the time zone on a Black Berry. Now granted Gregorian Calendar isn't supported on the black berry, but that was just a variable type, pretty easy to correct, other than that, nothing more was given other than a function call easily found in the Java Docs.

  • 3
    Can you offer an example or two?
    – innaM
    Commented Oct 29, 2009 at 15:22
  • Yeah, this has happened to me multiple times, and I'm not a terribly frequent answerer, so it seems to be a big problem. Commented Oct 29, 2009 at 17:01
  • 6
    In your example, I kinda think they are different enough to be separate answers. The other guy is programming to an interface (which is generally preferred), and he shows the extra step of getting the raw offset, which might save someone the time of looking it up in the API. And it's not like what was allegedly copied was original; anyone familiar with calendar APIs could have written identical code. (I'm sure there are other cases where the copying is more blatant though, I'm just commenting on the one you gave.)
    – Kip
    Commented Oct 29, 2009 at 18:35

11 Answers 11


There's no actual way to distinguish between someone who had the same answer as you, and someone who actually stole your answer. After all, if your answer is the correct one, then everyone else who has it right is going to come up with the same answer. So I don't think you'd be justified in downvoting it (which sounds a little vindictive, anyway).

The fact that you posted before them by, for example, 40 minutes, means that you'll probably get the first upvote, so your answer should be higher on the list than theirs anyway.

  • You are right, it would be pretty vindictive to downvote. I usually save downvotes for extremely wrong things that could lead people astray. Also, if the answer isn't important enough to upvote within the first hour, then its probably not even worth any reputation anyways. The point I was trying to make is, as a good citizen of these forums, should we encourage as many similar answers as possible, or the enhancement of one answer... but then again, you could run into th eproblem of the guy who posts crap first, then updates his answer afterwards.
    – Zoidberg
    Commented Oct 29, 2009 at 15:24
  • 3
    Not to mention that some people type at different rates and/or get interrupted while posting, so they may have legitimately posted the same thing without having seen your post.
    – AnonJr
    Commented Oct 30, 2009 at 18:28

I'm going to write down two answers to this question. Both are the same in meaning, but different in how they're composed. Which one would you vote up?

Answer #1:

There are times that you and another answerer can give the same 'answer'. It can contain the same exact information; but if he composes his answer in a way that makes it 'better', that is, more readable, then he wins.

Answer #2:

Your answer isn't as Eye-catching as his.

See the difference? Both answers contain the same information; but the first is wordy and the second is not.

  • 15
    The one with ponies in it
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Oct 29, 2009 at 15:34
  • 2
    – TheTXI
    Commented Oct 29, 2009 at 16:47
  • 3
    OMG, ponies!!!1
    – OMG Ponies
    Commented Oct 31, 2009 at 6:51
  • I had to force myself to read the first one. It took me two minutes to not get distracted by the bold text, but it was worth it :D Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 16:29

I've had people basically copy my answer. Obviously people can be writing the same answer at the same time but sometimes I've had someone post what is basically my answer 20 minutes after I did and I have trouble believing they hadn't seen my answer. The change to random order sorting (with same votes) I think actually makes this worse.

It's kinda irritating but you can't dwell on it. It doesn't happen often. More often than not things work out the "right" way.

You may find someone writes an answer after you that says what you do but expands on it somehow. This can be things like fixing errors, adding links to documentation, blogs or articles about the issue, adding further useful commentary, making their answer more visually appearing or whatever and as a result their answer gets voted up instead. That's fair enough.

  • Thats true... i guess when the answer becomes all about reputation, and not about solving the problem, thats when it really is an issue.
    – Zoidberg
    Commented Oct 29, 2009 at 16:35
  • 2
    +1. Random order sorting is an absolute killer when the question is asked by a relatively new user. I've had this happen quite often - my answer is copied (literally) and the copy is accepted. Older users tend to look at timestamps in such cases; new users don't.
    – ChssPly76
    Commented Oct 29, 2009 at 22:48
  • The random order sorting means that on certain low-vote subjects (eg sql) it's even less worth the effort of answering when someone comes along 20 minutes later with the same answer and happens to get the 1 random upvote that question will see.
    – cletus
    Commented Oct 29, 2009 at 23:53
  • Note that the answer editor page does not show the other answers. That means I'll not see the answers while writing mine - and answering, including interruptions, can easily take more than 20 minutes. Commented Oct 20, 2014 at 4:37

I don't know a solution to the problem, some people are probably just like that no matter what you 'teach' them.

I just try to lead by example: if I see someone was quicker than me, providing the same solution, I will edit his post to make it more complete.

That way I hope others will try and do it as well later on...

  • Part of being a good samaratin (I can't spell). I guess this community is not so different from a REAL community. Some people are good citizens, and some are kinda sneaky.
    – Zoidberg
    Commented Oct 29, 2009 at 15:46

The fact that your code won't compile and his will? Yeah, I'd say it's not only petty and vindictive, it's outright wrong to downvote him for posting a running example even if it's based off your answer.

It would have been nice of him to correct you, but it is by no means a requirement, and in some cases author's of answers aren't as attentive as you and wouldn't edit their answer anyway. Comments are not a good place to put code. So all this leans towards posting a corrected answer.

But at the end of the day, it's a Q&A website, and there are plenty of questions in the sea. If you are jilted, move on. It's not worth the time and effort to be annoyed.



I've never had this happen to me, but I seem to see it all the time. I'm not sure if the second poster hits reply and doesn't answer for a while and coincidentally answers very similarly, or if they're doing this intentionally. It's kind of annoying though... as it causes a lot of redundancy.

  • I often am in that exact situation. I start composing my answer, write for a while, edit a bit, trim it down, and post, and by the time I post somebody else already posted essentially the same answer.
    – jprete
    Commented Oct 29, 2009 at 15:22
  • This happens to me. What I will do is look at his answer, and if pretty much the same, I will comment on it, and explain what I would add, then I upvote. However, if mine is more carefully worded, and it look as if they just slapped something up to be first, then I will just post mine.
    – Zoidberg
    Commented Oct 29, 2009 at 15:46

Since english isn't my native language, I can't type as fast as native speakers or as fast as people who are proficient with it.

So, I'm usually "slow" in answering questions in this scenario. I don't know why, but sometimes, when I spent like 5 minutes in typing my response, I know the probability of someone posting the same as me is huge, but I don't get the "Load Answer" alert on top. I have to refresh the page, and after refreshing, I see the responses.

I know some people may be copying answers, but couldn't they be in the same scenario as me - but instead of reloading they just post? (I know this only happens when the difference between all responses is really small).

Another fact to consider: if you have 3 answers, and 2 are copied ones and with 0 reputation, when people enter the post and see a copied answer on top that is useful (since 0 is random), you tend do up vote the first on you read, not the earliest.

I'm afraid with this 0 reputation scenario as in this post I made some time a go.

  • Well, i was talking within reason. IN the case I described, the answer was about 40 minutes later.
    – Zoidberg
    Commented Oct 29, 2009 at 20:02
  • Yes, thats why I completed with the 0 reputation theory. If votes are going to be computed after x minutes, the order of the responses should begin in the first answer and on. So, if someone copied your response, you can see in the posted order. If your answer is the best one, it's going to ve up-voted as well, and when someone sees the copied one she does nothing.
    – GmonC
    Commented Oct 29, 2009 at 20:38

When it comes to code, it is often the case that there is only one or two solutions to a problem is, presented in slightly different ways, with minor detail changes. That’s why the whole software-patent thing is such a sticky situation. Like George Stocker said, an answer can contain the same information, but presented in an easier to understand form. Also, another answer can contain the same code, but with a better performance, or using less memory, or in your case, one that actually solves the question asked.

  • Having said that, is it worth a second posting, or is it about commenting on the first one and helping make it better. I guess its all subjective.
    – Zoidberg
    Commented Oct 29, 2009 at 16:09
  • Also to note about the question, he had the Time Zone information in his question, so wheN i posted mine, I made the assumption that he knew all of the fields of the TimeZone class, so I opted for the shorter more to the point answer. Longer answers aren't always best.
    – Zoidberg
    Commented Oct 29, 2009 at 16:15
  • Well SO does ask for questions and answers that “can be answered rather than just discussed”. I suppose editing the first answer would work too.
    – Synetech
    Commented Oct 30, 2009 at 17:25

Remember the larger goal of having good answers to the question. If someone else copies your (correct) answer and ends up getting voted up higher, you lose out on some rep but the question is still answered. Given this goal, it's clearly not in anyone's interest to downvote another answer just because it might have been cribbed from yours.

  • 1
    Your argument is ridiculous. The question has already been answered - by you. If somebody copies your answer, there's no new useful information (otherwise it's not copied - it's improved upon, which is fine); just pollution.
    – ChssPly76
    Commented Oct 31, 2009 at 3:51

I'm pretty sure Joel encourage this on a podcast.

It should be one of the first ones. It was something like:

Want to earn rep fast? Merge two or three questions

This have happened to me, specially with "easy" question like:

How do I do xyz with JavaScript

And everyone answer almost at the same time "Use jquery"

Then you have to add more details to your question to be more

Eye-catching than his


I think that people should only start a new answer if:

  • They have a significant amount of new content to add (not a minor correction)
  • They have commented on an answer and left it for a while, but the answer wasn't fixed up and the detail is important enough that you can't just leave it in a comment.

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