I have noticed that quite often the best answer stays at zero points while the question is flooded with quick oneliners. Apparently most people don't bother to read long answers (and thus won't upvote) and also only the answers that already have votes (and thus are first in the list) get more upvotes.

Needless to say, this also promotes answering to new questions quickly precisely with such oneliners.

Can anyone think of how to fix this and promote better answers instead?

(I am tired of making 200 rep every day just by surfing the newest questions and throwing in some half-assed answer very quickly)

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    Also answer themes such as anything anti-DRM still work very well for making quick rep... – Tronic Mar 10 '10 at 18:03
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    Up-voted comment for anti-DRM suggestion. Man, I hate that DRM... – Shog9 Mar 10 '10 at 18:21
  • You could give all the rep away with a big bounty, and it would give you new energy. – Lance Roberts Mar 10 '10 at 18:24
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    Popular answers by their very nature get the most votes - you might want to rephrase your title. – nb69307 Mar 10 '10 at 18:31

You should try and see beyond the length of an answer to determine it's quality. I believe that what you have found is really more a Fastest Gun in The West problem than Bad Answers Being Upvoted. Another variable I've seen that contributes to upvotes, is the inclusion of relevant links.

A question's length is not indicative of quality. If the only variable that influences a vote spree where length, then were would we be? We would see lots of nonsensical posts that rant aimlessly about not-quite right subjective stuff or people just bodyless heads talking about lasers, or referring to inane games like Rock Band, or about whether there will be a giant quake in San Fransisco in the next 5 years (short answer: yes), or about whether the shortcut key for indent is correct, or discussing whether a particular ad is annoying.

Of course, LOLCats are a great way of making a post seem longer, while at the same time making people upvote you just for cuteness alone. Either way, you should never trust a politician, but there is always the possibility that the stock market plummets, and you should be ready.

Either way, never rush into a war with Russia, and remember to bring cookies. If you excuse me, now I'll proceed to scream until my lungs collapse or a coworker hits me on the head:

A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R G G G G G G G G G H H H H H H H H H h h h h h h h h h h h ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

* Plock! *

  • If this question becomes the most upvoted answer, doesn't that confirm at least part of his concerns? – perbert Mar 10 '10 at 19:13
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    it confirms MSO's dedication to ironic humor... – Shog9 Mar 10 '10 at 19:15
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    I doubt a question can become the most upvoted answer – juan Mar 10 '10 at 19:48

Brevity != inaccuracy. I'm with Blaise Pascal on this:

I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.

I consciously try to make my answers as short as possible, commensurate with supplying the needed information. But then I'm English.


I have noticed that quite often...

I think this is quite subjective as evidence (although maybe you could use the SO data dump to see if there's a real correlation between answer length and upvotes?).

I have noticed that well written (long) answers also get fiercly upvoted quite often.


What if the short answer is the correct answer?


The goal of stackoverflow is to bring the most helpful answer to the top of the list. So that a person who finds the question is presented first the answer most likely to help them. I would suggest the most correct and accurate answer will not always be the most helpful. In many cases when I do a search that returns a SO question, all I need is one or two lines to refresh my memory on the topic and I can take it from there, I know what I need to do, I just don't remember where to start. In contrast, the longer, more complete and accurate answer that talks through all the intricacies and "gotchas" is unneeded and often hides the quick refresher I need.

This is not to say the longer, more complete answer is bad, in fact I'd be much more inclined to accept a more complete and accurate answer. But from a voting, what's most helpful to the standard user, I can understand why often a brief answer comes out on top.


This does happen, but it is not universal.

  • There is a certain amount of bike shed effect at work when that happens. Many people know the subject well enough to judge the one or two line summary, but fewer know it well enough to judge the detailed and nuanced answer. No cure for this; it is a feature of People 0.9, and the release is taking as long at Duke Nukem Forever.
  • There is also the FGTW thing. Those short answer usually precede the long detailed ones, and can get bumped to the top of the list. Then lazy users coming along later may never even see the better one. You can try to beat this in your own answers by building up a little at a time.
  • If the questioner was not clear people may not know how much information he really needs and/or is capable of taking advantage of. That can only be cured by prompting the OP, and they don't always respond promptly or at all.

Brevity is the soul of wit.

  • Brevity is wit. – mmyers Mar 10 '10 at 18:11
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    (But try telling that to the 15-char comment system.) – mmyers Mar 10 '10 at 18:12

I know of questions where an accurate answer has been aggressively downvoted (with the usual troll-ish comments) because a majority of readers made some assumption about the question that wasn't explicitly stated in the question. Based on their assumption the accurate answer might diverge from the correct advice.

Fearing continued reputation damage, the poster of the accurate answer will delete their post, leaving only the presumptive but popular answers.

Maybe the downvoters are making a correct assumption. Maybe they are answering the question that the OP meant to write. But if we view SO as a repository of knowledge rather than an "answer service", we can see that what we're left with is not great: a question with a bunch of popular answers that are all addressing some unspecified question, slightly different from the one posed.

I think this is a threat to the long-term usefulness of SO, but it's very difficult to identify how many questions are affected. As I said, accurate answers are removed by their own authors to prevent further reputation damage, which means we can't simply look for downvoted answers and decide whether they were correct.

The only suggestion I have to address the problem is this: Make it possible to flag a "potentially misunderstood" question so that moderators can suspend all voting on the question and its answers until the OP has refined the question to remove all ambiguity.

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