I have a suggestion that I think might improve SO. This idea was prompted by this thread, but please note I’m not asking SO to change for GotW (just trying to preempt misunderstandings here :-) ). My goal is only to suggest a feature that seems like it could deliver a more general benefit to questions across SO.


Some questions, including good questions already on SO, are inherently complex and/or have multiple parts. Today, SO doesn't seem to deal with these as well as it might, in that people may want (or be able to) just answer one part -- indeed, I'm told people are incented to answer just the first part quickly -- yet there's no way to vote up/down the best answer to each part and thus bubble up the union of best answers.

Gnome wrote this, which included one existing example:

I foresee someone answering part 1 of 3 decently well and submitting (SO's voting plus current user behavior encourages answering first and fast), while someone else will not want to repeat or spend time on part 1, so only answer part 2. Then someone might answer part 1 in a different way, and everyone is busy looking at parts 1 and 2 (with answers for them likely with a high vote and at the top for most people) while ignoring the (probably much harder) part 3. Suddenly the non-threaded nature of the answers can turn the voting into noise. – Gnome

I have seen this happen even with well-written questions, [...] One handy example of the above is stackoverflow.com/questions/1073958; well-asked, but once part A was answered, the attention dropped off. – Gnome

This concern has come up before (example), and no doubt will again because some good questions are inherently not of a simple one-answer-covers-all nature.


Would you be willing/interested in enabling multi-part questions in SO?

One way to do it would be to just treat each part like an individual question, but connect them and display them together (e.g., part 1 and its answers, followed by part 2 and its answers, etc.). For viewing purposes, the default view might be to view all parts and only the current top answer for each so that the reader can take in the whole, and provide a [+]/Expand button on each part which when clicked expands it to its normal state so that the reader can drill down.

Again, I'm not asking for a feature for GotW. Even if GotW never comes to SO, it seems like this could help better organize some of the questions that are already there and that are good questions but are naturally complex and/or naturally contain subparts, and seem to be a little unwieldy under the current system which doesn’t allow people to give (and bubble up) good answers to different parts of a question.

I think it would be good to be able to bubble up the union of best answers, and even potentially present that as a default view of a complex/multi-part question. What do you think?


My initial reaction is, it's too complex and too complicated.

The goal of questions on Stack Overflow is to be clear, concise, and answerable. A multi-part question is none of these things.

I'm not sure that "some questions are inherently complex and multi-part" is really true. Most real world programming problems can be broken down into distinct, answerable sections in my experience -- and are usually better and clearer for it. Now, that would not be the case if you're devising some kind of intentional puzzle, which is sort of true in the GotW case.

Tags normally tie related questions together, such that two questions with identical tags should be closely related. But a per-question tag would be a bit abusive to the tagging system. (but, I support a [gotw] tag or something similar for all the questions in this series)

Anyway, I'd be interested to see any example URLs of actual questions on Stack Overflow that were multi-part and successful.

As I said in my answer to the other question:

I think you need to be make it VERY VERY clear in the question that all answers MUST answer every (or at least, most) parts of the question, and any that don't will be downvoted or flagged for moderator attention.

Part of it is setting expectations within the GotW question itself. I think each one should have a small header/disclaimer explaining what it is, what it's about, and why it's allowed. Lots of users will encounter them with no background at all, expecting them to be identical to regular SO questions, and they're a bit different. But then so is [code-golf], and that's usually OK.

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