When a question is open, it would be nice to see that there are X people (or preferrably a list of the X people) who are in the process of writing an answer.

For simple questions, usually once I'm about to hit the "post your answer question" I get the "there are 3 new answers, click here to load them" nag.

  • You're talking about FGITW and whether someone is typing or not should not preclude you from providing an answer Commented Jan 12, 2010 at 18:22
  • 9
    Even if this was a good idea (I don't think it is), you'd have to store stuff to the database *on every ajax call" that is made because someone types into an answer box. [status-aint-gonna-happen] for that reason alone, I suppose.
    – balpha StaffMod
    Commented Jan 12, 2010 at 18:50
  • 2
    Fair enough. Also, have to agree with the folks in answers who say that it would discourage people from answering. I just hate the feeling I get when someone beats me by 5 seconds... :)
    – Kimvais
    Commented Jan 12, 2010 at 19:47
  • It's been thrown up before: "User X is writing an answer" - banner to appear when another user is writing too
    – random
    Commented Jan 13, 2010 at 0:07

8 Answers 8


I would be against this for exactly the reason Martin gave. I know it was tongue in cheek, but I suspect that it would discourage people from answering at the same time.

Now, I've always said that an initial quick answer followed by elaboration is valuable, as it reduces redundancy — but I don't want to discourage people from giving a potentially different answer just because some high profile user (whether myself or someone else) is answering.

  • 5
    Agreed. You don't know how well your answer stacks up against others until you post it - even when going head to head with a rep-magnet like Mr Skeet. Commented Jan 12, 2010 at 20:09
  • Looks like he beat you on this one with the best answer. +13 vs +8 but don't let that discourage you from answering other questions?! as suggested above.
    – YoYoMa
    Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 13:48
  • 1
    If accompanied by a mechanism that allows me to flag the question and alerts me when the question becomes more "answerable" (or after a short period of, say, 15 minutes), I don't see the problem. In fact, I currently feel highly discouraged from answering questions because I don't want to waste my time producing duplicate answers. I'll try just one more strategy before giving up. Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 1:21

More specifically, if it said "Jon Skeet is already starting to type an answer for this question" I'd know to give up straight away. ;-)

  • 6
    So, why does the answer box not disappear in that situation? ;-)
    – Arjan
    Commented Jan 12, 2010 at 19:03
  • 11
    Maybe there could just be hard coded text that always appears saying "Jon Skeet is already answering this question".
    – user27414
    Commented Jan 12, 2010 at 20:18
  • It looks like you beat him to it! lol
    – YoYoMa
    Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 13:45

Maybe what you want is Stack Overflow to implement Google Wave. (just kidding).

But, seriously. If the answer is still being written, what does that give you? To discourage you from answering?

When an answer is posted you are notified so see if you are just being redundant. But until they hit that Post your answer button, the answer doesn't exist.

If you ultimately finish and post your answer first, then theirs might be the redundant answer and they get the notification.

  • Real-time, real-time, real-time! (Using Wave? Me? Noooooo...) Commented Jan 12, 2010 at 19:11

I should point out that we already provide live notifications when new answers are posted while you are composing an answer. You can also click to dynamically load the new answers in the page.

This seems, to me, to be more useful than what is proposed here which has an implied disincentive.

  • See my comment above. Not if I have a list of "I can answer/am interested in reviewing" this question. Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 1:24

I'm all for knowing the number of other people answeing a question, if not neccessarily their names, reps and so on.

There are some questions where there is little leeway as to what the core of the answer has to be, and how to explain it. But it still takes time, the explaining in particular. Having spent that time just to realize someone else posted the same answer seconds before you did, and discipline requires you to delete your answer immediately, can be pretty frustrating. Had I known that three other people hat started answering that question, I'd have more useful things to do with my time, at least until the first answer arrives and I can decide whether I'd have written the same.

I can only speak for myself, but having experienced this a few times, I changed my behaviour:

  • I no longer look at the very fresh questions, but preferrably at those from half an hour ago. No more quick answers from me.
  • I more often write the core of my answer in a few sentences, submit those, and then continue editing. And get annoyed if others downvote the rudimentary answer I posted as a placeholder.

I believe neither of these behaviours to be in the best interests of the SO community. If it's only me, then so be it. But if others observe similar behaviour in themselves or others, then I think some kind of unobtrusive notification would be valuable.

  • I don't delete a duplicate answer I've made (within a reasonable "answered at the same time" timeframe) .... there lies the path to an answer ban. Ill either try to improve my answer some way or just leave it.
    – Barak
    Commented Aug 30, 2012 at 22:29
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    In other words, you are being discouraged (like me) by the current system. Trusting that it is so, +1 (+100 if I could... :-) ) Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 1:38
  • BTW, I'm trying a new strategy: writing a short answer with the essense of my response + an explicit indication that more is to come. In other words, I will be doing (in a slightly different time-scale) what the application should be doing for me (other contributors, really, if they hate duplicating work as much as I do). Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 1:41

That would be very, very cool.

Also totally unnecessary, and a significant server burden.

But very, very cool.

  • 1
    Unless you are joking, the site is already doing something very similar on answer submission. Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 1:27

Only if I could actually see the answers as they were being typed, as with Robert's Wave suggestion. That could be useful, in that you could avoid posting if someone else was already responding with the answer you had planned to give. Otherwise, it would likely just foster paranoia and/or discourage answers (as others have noted).

  • If you could see the answers as they were being typed, couldn't you copy the first part of what someone was typing and post it before them? Out of fear that someone would steal their answer, people would probably just type it up in an outside editor and cut and paste it in. Commented Jan 12, 2010 at 19:43
  • You could. Of course, you can already just copy someone else's answer - theoretically, you could wait a minute or so, post a lame answer and then grab someone else's in the first 5 minutes without leaving a trace of what occurred... I'm not convinced this is all that common though. Folks do complain about users taking bits and pieces of other answers and incorporating them into one, and that would be somewhat easier / faster with real-time updates... But then, having a composite answer is not necessarily a bad thing either. Posting under a compulsory CC-license kinda encourages this...
    – Shog9
    Commented Jan 12, 2010 at 20:10
  • 1
    I should point out that all this "SHOW IT TO ME LIVE!" (even if tongue in cheek) is exactly what this thing is for. Commented May 8, 2010 at 13:25
  • 1
    The point is not points, but giving good use to our collective time (i.e. minimizing duplicate answers, especially correct ones). I'm really surprised how important is for many that their answers are not "stolen". Come on! Unless all of us are doing high-end original research, we are all "stealing" most of our answers from books, colleagues, professors, etc. Or at least ellaborating on their ideas. Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 1:34

I do agree with Jon Skeet that it will discourage people but only if we show whose writing the answer. I think, it will not affect if we could show the total no.of users currently visited the question or writing an answer.

In my opinion, Why do not we write a browser extension (chrome or firefox) to make it happen?

I'm in middle of writing a chrome extension for the same but struggling to find a free open source cloud database to store the data. I've come across http://openkeyval.org but its not the viable solution.

  • But what good would a browser extension do? It would, at best, only show you concurrent edits by others with the extension, meaning that it would miss almost all of the other users of the site.
    – cdeszaq
    Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 14:26
  • obviously it will be discouraging if we show whose writing the answers . But If we show no. of users visiting the question then IMO its not discouraging. This extension will help those users who are eager to answer particular question and fiddling around to give a best shot but unfortunately someone else submits the answer and gets it approved (sometimes your answer matches someone else's). I believe the less people are there to answer, the more your chances to get your answer accepted and up voted (obviously it has to be relevant ).
    – codef0rmer
    Commented Mar 27, 2012 at 6:14
  • No, that's not my point. Your extension can only capture data from those using your extension. So, if only .05% of users use it and the entire other 99.5% of users visit a question at the same time, it will look like a very small number, since your extension simply can't track data from anyone not using it. (ie. you don't have access to the SO database directly, so you can't know that information completely)
    – cdeszaq
    Commented Mar 27, 2012 at 12:33
  • exactly but that's a plus point. Obviously who really wants to answer the question on S.O. would definitely need to have it installed and we should not care about other users who are not willing to answer. In order to be ahead in the game (of answering) one should know how many others are answering and to know that he has to install the extension.
    – codef0rmer
    Commented Mar 27, 2012 at 12:48
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    Well, I know that I wouldn't install it, and my guess is that an extremely small portion of people who answer questions even know that user scripts exist for SO.
    – cdeszaq
    Commented Mar 27, 2012 at 12:52
  • I think, It's a negligible reason to consider. BTW, we'll ask jeff atwood and joel spolsky to promote it within S.O. community ;-)
    – codef0rmer
    Commented Mar 27, 2012 at 12:58

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