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Reading good questions with lots of answers can be a lot of fun, but I always feel that there must be so many good answers buried in there, written by people that simply came too late.

When there are so many, then any answer that wasn't posted early on is almost equally likely to be a good answer, so I feel that there should be something that gives them a chance.

Because unfortunately I don't have nearly the time to read all the answers, I'd like to sort them in random order, to give them that equal chance - no matter how many votes they currently have.

It's great, that we already have random sorting among answers with equal votes - so I can start reading from the ones with the lowest votes. But following this strategy almost guarantees that such an answer won't be voted above 1. Sorting by "latest answer" also doesn't solve the problem, because good answers can hide somewhere in the middle.

Short version: I would love to have a random sorting link for answers (next to oldest/newest/votes), because it would add an additional bit of fairness to Stack Exchange, and it may result in more great answers bubbling to the top.

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  • You can already sort answers by date posted in either ascending or descending order. Is that insufficient?
    – Jon Seigel
    May 9, 2010 at 17:00
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    @Jon Yes, as explained above: 'Sorting by "latest answer" also doesn't solve the problem, because good answers can hide somewhere in the middle.' What I want is, that it shouldn't matter at all, when the answer was posted. Currently, the answers that were given just a little bit late - and still got a few votes - always end up somewhere in the middle (which is the worst place), no matter if you sort by date or by votes. May 9, 2010 at 17:16
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    @Chris: Okay, I see what you're getting at now. FYI: if a question has enough answers to go to 2+ pages, I believe randomness on equally voted posts is disabled so pagination works as expected.
    – Jon Seigel
    May 9, 2010 at 17:20
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    @Jon: Good to know (that the randomness is disabled)! In that case, it would be even more important to have a tab for random ordering (otherwise, there's an extreme bias towards the answers that are shown last!) May 9, 2010 at 17:22
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    @Chris: Maybe in such a random view, the post scores should be hidden as well. You should still be able to up/down vote them -- just not see the total score.
    – Jon Seigel
    May 9, 2010 at 17:27
  • @Jon: I think that would be really interesting! May 9, 2010 at 17:49
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    As an aside: the random ordering for equal votes is only used when there's no pagination, so: 30 answers or less. (And hence I can only assume that true random ordering will be a pain to develop, if at all useful.)
    – Arjan
    May 9, 2010 at 17:54
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    At least without pagination a greasemonkey script that does random ordering and hides the scores (maybe also the reputation, nicks, post-date?) shouldn't be too difficult. May 9, 2010 at 18:48
  • Example of why this would be useful on Photography.SE: we want to get every post a fair consideration by viewers.
    – feetwet
    Apr 17, 2021 at 16:35

3 Answers 3

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I agree. This would be very useful on questions with a lot of answers (40+). On less serious questions I find that I end up reading the answers either near the top, or near the bottom. A random sorting order would allow me to view all different answers, giving answers equal exposure.

Benefits:

  • It could be used on fun questions which have no right or wrong answers to see all sorts of answers without having to go looking. Particularly on Meta Stack Exchange there are a lot of questions which attract a lot of answers. This results in a lot of posts getting buried.

  • For the same reason, it would be most useful of all in the competitions which SE runs from time to time. A random sorting order would level the playing field and allow truly great answers the same chances as early answers.

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  • The two things you listed under "Benefits" are pretty far into edge case territory. You're not wrong, but I doubt it's worth the time/effort to optimize for such cases.
    – SOLO
    Dec 14, 2018 at 15:21
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I think the "newest" sort is the best current proxy for what you want, though I agree it's not ideal (hence your question).

Randomness has its problems too, though, especially on questions with multiple pages of answers. It'd be easy to either miss stuff or see stuff twice as you move across page boundaries. (This sometimes happens with equally-scoring answers now, but this would increase the frequency.)

Instead, what I'd like to have available for mega-posts like the swag contests and hat-related fun is to show me stuff I haven't seen before first. Well, that would require a lot of work and per-user caching, so what's a reasonable proxy for that? An option to sort answers I haven't voted on yet to the top. Once I've expressed my admiration for a particular knitting project I can probably set it aside to see 40 more I haven't looked at, right?

All that said, this is an edge case and it's unlikely to be the best use of limited developer resources, but it might be solvable with a userscript, at least within a single page of answers.

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I think the "Newest" is much more useful than random order. That shows you any answers that were "late to the party" so to speak. And besides, when coming back to a question you want the new answers, not just a random sample.

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    I'm sorry, but I must say, that you haven't read my question. I mentioned the "Newest" tab twice in my question. And I also explained, why it doesn't provide what I want. May 9, 2010 at 17:19
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    I still say that random ordering doesn't solve the problem at all. May 9, 2010 at 17:30
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    I would say, that both "newest" and "random" ordering make sense - different algorithms for different situations. "Newest" makes it possible to stay "on top". But I want to give all answers an equal chance, and "newest" doesn't provide that, because it buries the ones in the middle. May 9, 2010 at 18:01

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