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There has been a lot of past discussion about accepted answers and whether they should be, or stay, pinned to the top forever when there are better-scoring alternatives. (Maybe the accepted answer is bad or maybe it was fine then but things have changed and the OP isn't around to accept a better one.) Further, on some sites the accepted-answer concept isn't very useful -- it carries a lot of signal on sites like Stack Overflow, but "correct" is way less clear on sites like The Workplace, Parenting, or Interpersonal Skills. As one person put it on Mi Yodeya, who cares which answer the questioner thinks is best? On our site, we mostly don't.

Clearly changing this behavior network-wide in any way is controversial, and I am not proposing that. (See all the outbound links in the first question I linked, if you want to explore that.) Instead, can we allow individual sites to change it? Allow communities to say "for us, pinning accepted answers is a disservice" and stop doing it. On Mi Yodeya, in about 13% of question views, the accepted answer isn't the best (thank you Hugo Delsing for that query); our acceptance rate is also lower than expected, I think in part because people are reluctant to promote one among a group of valuable answers. Please allow everybody to keep the current behavior by default, but please let sites opt out, like we can for other settings like protection thresholds, meta rep requirements, and comment collapsing.

I think this option is of use primarily to the more subjective sites, but it's possible that sites around rapidly-changing technical fields might also want it. Let's let sites decide rather than trying to apply one set of rules to sites as diverse as Stack Overflow, Hinduism, Bitcoin, and Worldbuilding.

  • Ah, this topic again. I love it. (At the risk of downvotes, no, that wasn't sarcasm.) I mostly like this proposal, but do have one concern. For people who are users of multiple SE sites, this could be pretty disorienting/confusing. I am at a loss regarding how to measure the percentage of people who would actually feel bothered, or to what degree. – SOLO Jul 13 '18 at 18:47
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    @SOLO I had some text in there initially about that but it was getting in the way. Yes, this would create a little cross-site inconsistency, but we already treat accepted answers inconsistently within a site (self-answers are sorted by votes), so my proposal, for sites that want it, would actually create more consistency for a site's users at a small cost of inconsistency for experienced SE users coming from other sites. I think we can find ways to communicate the site-specific behavior to those visitors. – Monica Cellio Jul 13 '18 at 18:53
  • I see what you mean, but I've never been a fan of using "there's already a little weirdness going on" to justify additional weirdness. I guess I'm scared of two things: a never-ending trickle of "accepted answer position bug" posts on various metas, and degrading the new user experience. Now that I've written these comments, I've talked myself into thinking the pros and cons here are a wash, so I'm going to side with inertia (i.e. declining this request), but I'm not going to fight for that position. – SOLO Jul 13 '18 at 19:09
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    @SOLO we're trading weirdness; a site that gets this change removes the weirdness about self-answer position, in exchange for maybe confusing visitors from other sites. New users are usually new users on one site, so I think that's an argument for my change. Anyway, my point is that pushing better answers down in favor of weaker accepted answers does harm in some cases, on some sites the users feel that's an ongoing problem, and we should allow communities to self-govern in this regard. – Monica Cellio Jul 13 '18 at 19:12
  • I have a suggestion: Perhaps being the accepted answer should adjust its sorting order, without locking it to the top. (e.g. Treat it as if it has [x] more votes than it actually has. This could be fixed, or a percentage.) Then accepted answers are effectively locked to the top slot, until/unless other answers have enough more votes than it to easily justify the idea that despite this answer being accepted by the OP, enough of the community says that these other answers are better than it that we'll let them squeeze past it. – 3D1T0R Jul 13 '18 at 19:34
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    @3D1T0R that seems really confusing for inexperienced users (and maybe experienced ones too). Ordering by votes is easy to explain. Pinning the accepted one (always, including self-answers) is easy to explain. Sorting that depends on who answered or whether a vote delta is large enough is hard to explain. I'm all for the OP getting to hand out a rep reward and a visible checkmark to an answer, but on some sites it doesn't make sense for the OP to affect the view for everybody. – Monica Cellio Jul 13 '18 at 19:41
  • @3D1T0R I'm pretty sure someone once suggested that. – Alex Jul 13 '18 at 19:58
  • @MonicaCellio: Really? It's not hard to see that an answer with a huge number of upvotes is probably better than an accepted answer with very few upvotes. I don't see how people would be confused by the sort ordering algorithm being intelligent enough to see this. Also, I assume that if such a change were implemented, there would be a post about it which explains the change and why it's being made, and confused people can be pointed to it, then they'll understand. It's really no different from all of the other weird things about the SE platform. – 3D1T0R Jul 13 '18 at 20:22
  • @Alex: So? Someone suggesting it previously doesn't make it a good or bad idea, it just means that another person thought of it too. If you actually have a link to where someone suggested it previously, then it might make a difference. e.g. people could see the previous discussion to see if it has any good/bad points which may affect the decisions associated with this discussion. – 3D1T0R Jul 13 '18 at 20:25
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    @3D1T0R please put your position in an answer where people can vote on it, rather than in comments. Please be sure to address how, for example, an order of "10 (a), 12, 5" on one question and an order of "15, 10 (a), 5" on another isn't confusing, bearing in mind how many people across the whole network read MSE posts or even the help. There are lots of things that are legitimately unusual enough about SE (like "not a discussion forum") that we have to direct people to help; are you saying your proposed one is important enough to introduce and have to explain that way? Please use an answer. – Monica Cellio Jul 13 '18 at 21:31
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    @3D1T0R - "Maybe they could act as a tiebreaker for sorting, or even be pinned to a second position behind a more highly-voted answer." - This is something I've been pushing for a while now, and even on Stack Overflow this has had a very positive response. – Brad Larson Jul 14 '18 at 15:30
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    +1 for bringing an end to the “accepted answer” sorted above the sort-by-vote. -1 for doing it differently site by site. – Robert Cartaino Jul 15 '18 at 23:41
  • @RobertCartaino don't make the best the enemy of the good. We're not going to win the "kill it everywhere" fight in one pass; that much is clear from the many previous meta discussions. So instead, let's at least let sites that want it have it, and see if the results from that strengthen the broader argument. – Monica Cellio Jul 16 '18 at 0:09
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    @RobertCartaino please help me understand. Does this mean you regret changing "add comment" to "suggest improvement" on Area 51? If that's different, could you explain how? – Monica Cellio Jul 16 '18 at 0:35
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    @MonicaCellio Fair enough. Incidentally, The experiment was not of my doing specifically, but my understanding is that it’s more akin to a bit of A/B testing moreso than deliberately creating a UX inconsistency between sites. – Robert Cartaino Jul 16 '18 at 1:00
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Allow me to call out a couple key points from Mad Scientist's 2015 question:

Skeptics and the new Health site are sites where many questions are asked by users that do not necessarily have knowledge needed to evaluate which answer is better.

In my experience on Stack Exchange – mostly limited to the more "subjective" sites – this is a common problem, and not limited to these two sites. This lack of knowledge, combined with the lack of a "plug and chug" way to confirm if a particular answer "works," often results in "acceptance" adding little, if any, value.

On language sites, for example, the questioner is frequently a non-native speaker of the language in question, and often has no immediate way of confirming which answer "works" – e.g., which word or phrase will actually help him/her communicate more effectively in the future. And yet s/he makes a judgment to accept an answer based on less knowledge and experience than the community at large. Most crucially, this affects future readers – who, if not particularly careful to read the whole page and review vote counts, may be misled.

On Skeptics there is the additional problem that for some controversial subjects, users tend to accept the answer that fits better to their own world view, not the better answer overall. This leads to worse answers being shown first, instead of the highly upvoted but not accepted answers.

This too is a common problem. On Christianity, questions about Catholicism (for example) are often asked by people who consider Catholicism to be wrong. In such cases, they will be inclined to accept an answer that is subtly or not-so-subtly critical of Catholicism's teaching on the subject, instead of the clearest, most accurate, or best-referenced answer. Similarly, while I have less experience sites like Parenting and IPS, I'd expect that many questioners there implicitly seek confirmation of their unpopular (or simply bad) intentions, and will accept such answers on that basis.

All this said, it may be that few of the sites I mention here actually stop pinning accepted answers, and that's okay – not all "subjective" sites are created equal, and there are many other important considerations to be weighed. But this evaluation is best done within each community, where the benefits and drawbacks are most keenly felt, rather than by a global setting that was put in place, initially, for less subjective sites.

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