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Some old questions on SE have 1M+ views, and many of them have 30+ answers. See https://stackoverflow.com/search?q=+is%3Aquestion+views%3A1000000..++ for the ~1000 most viewed questions. From just the first page of results:

Correct me if I am wrong, but such questions:

  • Are likely to be the first answer a new user sees on the SE sites
  • Are viewed a lot by users having beginner level questions
  • Are a pain to read to find the best solution, because each answer/comment might contain an important update to the originally accepted answer
  • have many more answers than actually different solutions

Also SE wants to be more beginner friendly (and that includes a lot of people who are beginners in the topic of an SE site like SO).

I believe these questions are not the most helpful to those users that are most likely to see them. There is a lot of meaningful activity on these questions, but the result is quite messy. How can anyone know whether the most useful answer will be on page 3 of all results?

Now imagine those questions were wikipedia pages on the topic. And all answerers who added one more answer instead cooperated on writing a single article summarizing all answers in the most useful way, uopdating as technology evolved. Would this not be a much more useful way of answering those questions, and a much better impression for first-time visitors to SE?

Of course the authors of these questions and accepted answers could voluntarily turn those into community wikis if they were so inclined, and some such questions are. But it seems to me there is some potential of making such highly visible pages much more useful to those most likely to visit them (the beginners), by being more easily editable by the community without waiting for askers and answerers to switch to community wiki. (Also I believe the reputation gains from such questions are a bad measure of what reputation should be measuring, but that's a different topic).

Now I am wary of suggesting any single change, because most change suggestions get downvoted on meta, so I'll just ask if there is any great idea in meta on making those pages better ambassadors for SE, and wasting less time of the community writing duplicate answers and readers finding information across all answers.

EDIT:

7

I feel like the problem you point out is going to be most true for the Big Three sites, since they're the busiest. Less so for sites with less activity.

I think the difficulty could be better addressed, though, with better use of the voting system. The down vote, among other things, is for answers that don't add anything to what's previously been posted - and a question with 35 answers is likely to have a lot of those answers. If people are more free in downvoting that kind of answer, new users might be more likely to bypass the answers that scored low because they were unnecessary.

I see the problem; I don't think it needs a new feature to be addressed.

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  • Maybe it's just me but I don't like downvoting correct answers just because they overlap with other answers. Often neither is clearly better, they are just duplicate. And there are often several good answers which would be most helpful if they were merged, to reduce duplicated parts but neatly combine the non-duplicate information. – tkruse Mar 3 at 16:54
  • @tkruse if there's an answer that's effectively a duplicate of another, I don't see that it serves a purpose. And if you see two overlapping answers, you can suggest that one be edited into the other, you can do the edit yourself, or you can make your own combination answer (better than either answer on its own). – Matt Gutting Mar 3 at 21:29
  • You mean I won't get in trouble if I personally edit the accepted answer to contain the others, and edit 60 other answers to just say "duplicate"? – tkruse Mar 3 at 22:55
  • Yeah probably not a good idea on reflection :-) – Matt Gutting Mar 3 at 23:55
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How can high-activity questions be more wiki-like, driven by the community?

Thing is: this isn't wikipedia, with one of the main differences being: there are probably not many community members around here who intend to curate existing content. We write questions, we write answers. We read other content out of curiosity, or because we seek answers ourselves. And while doing so, we vote, flag, ...

And on the other hand, you have gamification. There is a certain appeal to look out for highly frequented questions, to then carefully read all the existing answers, to find a spot that is missing.

I did that at least once, and today my answer comes in "second" on that question (regarding upvote count). Tells me: coming in late on a famous question isn't wrong per se, it might still be possible to add content that readers perceive to be of high value.

Taking these two aspects together then you end up with that conflict: high view counts attract users who want to participate in that "success". Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

So unless you fundamentally change these building block aspects, there isn't much you can do. In other words: you follow the advice given in the answer by Matt, and when you come across such questions, you might want to spend some time and reputation downvoting annoying answers. You can even turn this into gamification as well, for example by observing the new answers to old questions on your favorite site, to quickly identify such annoying answers, to downvote and flag them quickly.

But again: one core element, at least on stackoverflow: anything that tries to answer the question should be seen as answer. For good or bad, the philosophy is to be hesitant about deleting answers. So, again: without changing basic "themes" that guided the communities for years, there isn't much that could be done.

Also note: as long as answers aren't dedicated to the Community wiki, curation isn't part of the "deal". Meaning: the idea of this place is not to be a wiki, where person A writes something, and B, C, and D over time improve that content, and make significant changes to the original content. And that isn't just a "convention", that is, again, a very fundamental principle of this community.

And yes, a lot of this is a description of the status quo. To get to significant improvements, you are out for a significant culture change. That is not something that can achieved with adding some fresh paint here, and buying a new carpet for the hallway. Your idea would require fundamental changes to the way the content contributors were using this network for (probably many) years. Just saying: this place is still wondering whether the company and the network are going to survive, or if the multiple crises over the last year will rip things apart.

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  • 1
    A curated "large" page can more reasonably structure the different parts of answers than randomly ordered independent answers. It's not just the size that matters. You see that in large answers that have subtitles and such. I don't know how many people would curate answers it f they could, but it might not take a huge percentage of those people to have much more useful content for highly visited questions. Some of the answers already have very high quality and detail. And curators at high rep level might not need gamification incentives to act. – tkruse Mar 3 at 16:48
  • Huh? It really doesn't take too much privilege reputation to enable editing of content. People could curate all over the place if they wanted to. In reality, that rarely happens. You don't get any "gain" from curating, and worse, people might reject you coming in and massively changing their content! – GhostCat Mar 4 at 5:43
  • Yes, as long as an answer is not a community wiki, changing it's content seems wrong, even if rep allows it. That's what I mean, possibly some people would curate more if this did not go against the convention of not changing the contents of an answer unless it is a community wiki. The rep required to change an answer is not the relevant barrier in this. – tkruse Mar 4 at 7:03
  • @tkruse Good point. You convinced me to rewrite my answer accordingly. – GhostCat Mar 4 at 7:27
  • You say that "the idea of this place is not to be a wiki", but e.g. this blog post seems to paint a more differentiated picture: stackoverflow.blog/2014/04/22/… (copied from linked answer at meta.stackoverflow.com/q/390907/4014959) – tkruse Mar 5 at 16:00
  • Blog posts aren't necessarily the same as the community agreeing on a certain practice and enthusiastically implementing said practice. But I will add a sentence to make it more clear that I am mainly considering the status quo. SE Inc can suggest to be more wiki like, doesn't mean the community lives up to that. – GhostCat Mar 5 at 16:47
  • I obviously agree that the status quo of the community is that there is not as much curating as in wikipedia. Else I would not have asked. But I reject the notion that the status quo is good for the community, or desired by the community, or not changeable. I rather believe the community is a victim of the lack of ease to turn questions and answers into CWs, and incentives to keep 10year old questions with 100 upvotes open so that the posters can continue harvesting some rep every months from them without working for that rep. That's not gamification anymore, that's encouraged rep hogging. – tkruse Mar 5 at 17:03
  • A) I added another paragraph to the answer ... B) well, it has been part of the game for 10 years. There are hundreds of thousands of content providers, and very very few go down that "wiki" path. This question didn't even make 10 upvotes in 2 days. Tells me: there is really not much interest in changing the status quo. At least, right now. People are glad that SE Inc somehow starts to work with us again, I guess for quite some time, the main priority is to fix the big problems that concern large groups of users.... – GhostCat Mar 5 at 17:57
  • I already closed my question as duplicate anyway, so not really asking for more upvotes. In any case I was also not saying this had higher priority than any other given issue. – tkruse Mar 6 at 1:40
  • But given that I only talk about high-activity question (that receive a lot of edits in the form of duplicate answers), and not the bulk of questions that receive attention for one day and are then forgotten, I am not sure that I am asking for a culture change. – tkruse Mar 6 at 1:42
  • The point of asking questions is to determine priorities. You wrote the question to find out what people think. If it had 200 upvotes by now, and 15 great answers ... different story. – GhostCat Mar 6 at 6:47

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