I was thinking about question states lately.

As a user of SO this is how I see questions:

  • RED = unanswered

  • GREEN = answered

I know that SO lists non-accepted-answer questions under the unanswered listing but it's really the colors that make the difference: A red question begs to be answered, a green question shows that somebody already solved the problem

The idea of GREEN/RED is of boolean nature. SOLVED/UNSOLVED, FIXED/BROKEN, etc.

We SO users know that the answering of a question is a process, not waiting for an event to happen (the first answer to arrive, even if it's wrong).

So what I want to propose is a middle step between green and red:

  • RED = no answers

  • YELLOW = answered but the most voted answer is still < N (where N is a reasonable number of votes).

  • GREEN = an answer has > N votes or is accepted

The yellow step will visually tell you that the question is on its way to being answered, but still encourages you to participate, either by providing a better answer or by voting on an existing one.

The counter-argument, that it will make things more confusing is plain wrong. RED - YELLOW - GREEN is a very well known color scheme for the state of things (like traffic lights for example).

  • It might work if you used the "unanswered questions" criteria i.e. no upvoted answers. – ChrisF Apr 4 '10 at 21:12
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    Don't you mean to say >= N votes for GREEN? – BalusC Apr 6 '10 at 22:14
  • Can you better describe what this improves about SO, and who this benefits? Or, in other words, "why SO sucks without this feature"? – Adam Davis Apr 6 '10 at 22:39
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    Answers != Solutions. Clearer distinctions will lead to more answers. SO is about solutions and better solutions depend on more unbiased (read: unaffected by other boring answers) answers. Adequate, early answers to simple questions prevent Great Answers to simple questions. Provide the asker with an answer early, but incite better solutions for longer. – Petrus Theron Apr 6 '10 at 23:13
  • @pollyanna check Alconja answer – Pablo Fernandez Apr 7 '10 at 2:23
  • @FreshCode That's exactly what I think this change will achieve. I believe in it so much I've started a bounty so I can get a bit more of attention. – Pablo Fernandez Apr 7 '10 at 2:24
  • you have to remember that about ~5-7% of people are color blind and won't notice any difference between say red and green – Evgeny Apr 13 '10 at 20:33
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    you have to remember that about ~95-93% of people are not color blind and will notice the difference between red and green – Pablo Fernandez Apr 15 '10 at 1:31
  • @PabloFernandez: GREEN should be >= N votes I think - I didn't edit that myself out, because that would have been a too minor edit... - Whoa - this is quite an old feature request. It showed up on the start page, but I didn't look at the date... – Spontifixus Nov 14 '12 at 8:02
  • Did you mean GREEN = an answer has > N votes or is accepted? – Asad Saeeduddin Nov 14 '12 at 9:22

I agree that there is a minor issue with the way it currently works. As it stands now, if I see a question with a green background & a white 3 in it, I don't even bother clicking through to give an answer, as I assume its already solved. However, its quite possible that all 3 answers given have zero (or negative) score and that the answer is in fact completely unanswered (from the point of view of the asker).

I always thought an even simpler change would fix this issue: Make the red background follow the same "unanswered" rules that the "unanswered" tab follows.

That way, a red background indicates that the question has no upvoted/accepted answers (i.e. it still needs a decent answer). So in my example above it would be a red background with a white 3. Should be a simple change, it makes it consistent with the rest of the site (i.e. the unanswered tab) and I think it solves the problem without introducing more (potentially confusing) colours/indicators.

  • I was going to write a long comment so I chose to edit the question. Please go trough it again, thanks a lot! :D – Pablo Fernandez Apr 7 '10 at 2:18
  • +1 and totally agree with a more meaningful use of red...with caveat that I don't like this yellow white foreground thing. Added my own answer! – HostileFork Sep 5 '11 at 23:30

There are already indicators that separate unaccepted yet answered questions:

Red BG- No answers
Green BG w/ White Number- Answered but not accepted
Green BG w/ Yellow Number- Accepted Answer

In addition, how do we define N? A fixed number? A ratio?

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    I know that. The thing is that is easy for a question to go into green state. Just a simple (and totally wrong) answer switches your question from red to green. There is a huge differences between those two, a whole lot more than between accepted and not accepted. – Pablo Fernandez Apr 4 '10 at 18:45
  • @Pablo good point, but with time, you get used to it: A question with no accepted answer might still be unanswered. There's no systemic way to evaluate the value of an answer - may correct answers get no or just one upvote. – Pëkka Apr 4 '10 at 18:55
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    @pekka The yellow state will probably indicate that the question is on it's way to get answered. In your example maybe what it needs is just you entering and voting for the right answer – Pablo Fernandez Apr 4 '10 at 19:05
  • @Pablo I see your point and I agree that questions marked "green" tend to be a signal that "this question has already been answered" but no matter how you change the colour code, the basic issue - it being unclear whether a question already has a good answer - will remain. Still, your suggestion has some merit, when a question has an answer with 3+ upvotes the probability of that being the "correct" answer is very high. – Pëkka Apr 4 '10 at 19:14
  • @Pekka - if the number is yellow then by definition the question has a "good enough" answer - the one accepted by the OP. If the number's still white then there is theoretically room for a better answer to be added. – ChrisF Apr 4 '10 at 21:14
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    @ChrisF We know about that, but the psychological difference between the number being yellowed and white is not even close to the difference between green and red. Green means a lot more, and in most cases, it should not. – Pablo Fernandez Apr 5 '10 at 1:37
  • Please review the question it has been updated. Thanks! – Pablo Fernandez Apr 7 '10 at 2:19
  • @ChrisF By definition of what, exactly? – SamB Apr 8 '10 at 20:32
  • @SamB - if the number is yellow then the question has an accepted answer, so there is an answer that is "good enough" for the OP. That's what I meant "by definition". – ChrisF Apr 9 '10 at 14:40

Same thing came to mind and I found this question while looking to see if anyone had asked it.

So yes, I observed that using a green background to distinguish zero answers vs. nonzero answers is not very helpful. I can already scan a column of numbers and see zero vs. non-zero values. What I want to know is "does this question need any more attention than it has gotten". Certainly that means one of the biggest pieces of information to know is whether it has an accepted answer or not.

Not only is the white vs. yellow in the foreground too subtle for this, the semiotics seem reversed. Wouldn't yellow-as-caution-signal be a better fit? That would indicate "the asker has not approved an answer, so use 'caution' in believing that it has been 'answered'?

Thus I agree with the suggestion of three distinguishable color states, perhaps fitting the stoplight pattern with subtleties to keep it from looking too chaotic. Calling out zeros is not useful the way calling out "no upvoted answers" is, so apply red more intelligently to that. The three colors should perhaps be "foreground red", "background slight greenish yellow and foreground green", and "background green and foreground white". Design choice.

Beyond that, I'll say the current tooltip is wasted ("one of the answers was accepted as the correct answer") and a metric not shown that could save you a click-through would be better. Like the net number of up and downvotes on answers that have been cast...answers to this question have received 14 upvotes and 2 downvotes."

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    it's more like "yellow as in one of the answers is golden" accepted. As for the latter, that is a 1k user priv you'd be subverting, so.. no. – Jeff Atwood Sep 6 '11 at 8:05
  • I meant vote count tooltip was only info you see from looking at the cumulative answer (a net statistic as opposed to the raw data). As for the issue of yellow on green for "answer is golden": I have a friend who runs a site where he uses a gold star to indicate "read" vs "unread" on messages. Then for bookmarking he has a little fire for hot and a snowflake for cold. I made a little table of why "star means bookmark/interesting right now" (I didn't include SO but it's sort of used that way here too)...and I'll challenge you similarly to find "yellow means golden" vs. caution in use!!! – HostileFork Sep 6 '11 at 8:45
  • This is one of my favorite pictures on Wikipedia, BTW: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kstovo-BusStation-Sinks-1444.JPG – HostileFork Sep 6 '11 at 8:47

I like the idea of differentiating "answered but not accepted" and "accepted", beyond having white on green versus yellow on green (which also begs the question: how do the colour blind manage with this? The contrast is very subtle).

What I don't like is "has N votes or is accepted". Some questions (community wikis for example, but not exclusively) beg for several different answers.

There are three states to a regular question, and distinguishing them with coloured themes makes sense if it follows this scheme:

  • RED: Not answered
  • YELLOW: Answered but not accepted
  • GREEN: Answered and accepted (or otherwise closed?)

Green means pass, whereas Red would mean "stop here!", and Yellow, "watch out, you might not get this one!"


Another alternative is to add a column that shows either the max votes for an answer or the sum of the votes on all answers.

I'd love to be able to scan for 0 in that column rather than scanning <=2 in the answers column (and then close the page if any answers are up voted already since the ROI on providing an answer after an answer has been up voted appears to be very low).

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