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In my opinion, one shortcoming of Stack Exchange is the discoverability of new answers on questions.

This simple feature proposal would make it more enticing for users to discover new answers, while not being intrusive or changing the default answer order.

What the answer section typically looks like: Current answers section

My proposed version: Proposed change

The only change is the (3 hours) which indicates (intuitively, I hope) that the most recent answer activity was 3 hours ago.


Justification:

The plan is that...

  • The typical user experience is unchanged. When you come to a question, you see the likely best answers on top.
  • For users who spend more time on the site, when they see that there was some recent activity on the question, they may be curious about what it is, and check it out when they otherwise wouldn't have.
  • New answers will be discovered more often, and have a better chance to acquire votes and contribute to the conversation.

There are some existing features that contribute to new answer discoverability, such as the "Active" tab on the questions page, the "Late answers" review queue, and the "real-time" tab on the Stack Exchange homepage. However, I feel that each of these features have common model that makes them not so effective in this outcome: first the user is presented with all the new content, then they must spend time figuring out which subset of that content they actually want to engage with.

This feature proposal would strengthen the inverted method, which I think is more effective: first the user chooses which question to engage with, then they are presented with the new content. Since the user is already browsing the question, they probably have some level of interest in the topic, and are more likely to have a meaningful interaction with the new content.

Due to the low profile of this feature, I think it could easily co-exist with the existing features. I just wanted to address the potential argument that this is feature is mostly redundant with existing ones.

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    Is it intended that your proposed feature will mix new answers with simple answer edits? – bobble Jun 13 at 4:29
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    @bobble I think the Active tab should still behave as normal, and the new indicator would include any activity. I think the Active tab is still a good way to find new answers, but you could say that revised answers get the same boost. – Hymns For Disco Jun 13 at 4:42
  • I'm not sure. At the top of the Q/A page there is an "active" label with a date, clicking it brings you to the latest active thing that happened. If anything, I wouldn't clutter the labels with extra non-static info but maybe the active label needs to be replicated in the answer header as well. – rene Jun 13 at 9:37
  • This feature already exists (kinda). Questions say when they were last active at the top of the page, and it's a link that takes you to the last activity (though it may be a question edit or a number of other things). – Laurel Jun 13 at 14:23
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    That is interesting. Somehow in all my time here, I've never noticed that this active label was clickable (and maybe others haven't either). It also generically shows "today" for recents. I feel that showing a more precise time will make it more enticing to click on when you see something is very recent. – Hymns For Disco Jun 13 at 14:45
  • I really love this! It’s unobtrusive, and informative in a way that seems pretty useful to me. I would propose that there be some sort of time cutoff: that the date only appears if the last activity is less than eg. 1 month or something. In other words, it doesn’t seem as useful to have “(3 years)” on the button for less active questions. – zcoop98 Jun 13 at 17:56
  • Also worth mentioning that a userscript could easily attack this too, since the last active date is already available on the page (as Laurel mentioned). – zcoop98 Jun 13 at 17:57
  • @zcoop98 could you explain quickly the "user script"/"attack" part? I'm not sure I get it. – Hymns For Disco Jun 13 at 18:04
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    @Hymns Sorry for being unclear; I used “attack” to mean “address this need/ request” here. Userscripts are client side scripts people can install in their browser (using an extension like Tampermonkey) to modify site(s) in some way. So what I meant was that someone could write a userscript to implement this request relatively easily, since the text you’d add to the “Active” button is based on the last activity date, which is already available and shown on post pages. – zcoop98 Jun 13 at 18:10

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