Is it considered good practice to accumulate multiple answers into one or should one provide multiple answers in questions where no single correct answer could be defined?

I am asking because it feels unfair in this case https://stackoverflow.com/questions/1362748/wanted-good-examples-of-scala-database-persistence where 33 votes go to one person for mostly aggregating answers from others.


Thanks for the detailed answers. I am still not convinced the behaviour in this case should be encouraged or rewarded.

In this case it's not just aggregation, but the demand to provide comments to the central answer for aggregation instead of providing single answers.

  • with your modified title, I think I agree with you slightly more. Here's an example of a question where I agree that combining the answers would not be useful, however as you may have noticed, poll-type questions are not greatly in favour around here, and they quickly get wikified anyway, so reputation becomes irrelevant. – Benjol Oct 7 '10 at 20:08

Sorry, but Daniel is actually right.

Reputation is not the ultimate objective of StackOverflow, it's just a fun incentive. The aim is to create a quality question and answers site. This means that improving the quality of existing answers is a just as valid activity as creating them in the first place.

Related questions:

(There are probably others, and better, but that's all I could find)

Appeal to authority, if required:

Want to know an easy way to earn reputation? Find a question somewhere with several good, but incomplete, answers. Steal all the answers and write one long, complete, detailed answer which is better than the incomplete ones. Sit back and earn points while people vote up your comprehensive answer.


(Thanks to Lasse for finding that for me)

  • 1
    +1 though oddly enough, it's only three paragraphs later in the same post that Joel writes: "Don’t combine multiple answers. For example, suppose someone asks 'What are your favorite keyboard shortcuts in Emacs?' Well, I could list them all in one answer, but how does anyone vote on that? Instead, I’ll provide a bunch of separate answers, and let people vote on the answers." – ЯegDwight Oct 7 '10 at 12:49
  • thanks for the answer. If someone asks for examples, it's difficult to provide a complete answer. I see SO mostly as a social game with reputation earning as the main incentive to provide good answers, aggregation breaks this. Apparently Joel thinks so too. – Timo Westkämper Oct 7 '10 at 13:07
  • @Reg: The problem there is that the question is lousy (and yes I realize you're just referring to Joel's example); it's a poll, not a question. Good questions shouldn't lead people into those dilemmas, they have right answers or at least good answers. – Aarobot Oct 7 '10 at 13:18
  • @Aarobot, that's true. But with this definition, there shouldn't be such aggregation use cases, and this case should have become Community wiki I guess. – Timo Westkämper Oct 7 '10 at 13:34
  • @Timo: Perhaps it should be Community Wiki but only for the sake of opening up edit privileges, and that would be the author's choice (if he feels his answer is complete already, no need to wiki it). "Community Wiki" does not mean "poll". – Aarobot Oct 7 '10 at 14:41
  • This answer doesn't fully address the OP's question about whether it's best to have multiple questions or a Wiki-style answer. It just addresses the question of aggregating/stealing answers and the purpose of reputation on SX sites. – jvriesem May 28 '15 at 20:37

Let me give a bit of thought aside @Benjol's answer, at least how I understand it.

Since I'm not associated with SO/SE except for being a user here, this is my personal opinion, nothing else.

The ultimate purpose of the SE system and all the sites is to provide good answers to people, to be the canonical place to find the answer to life, the universe, and everything (ok, perhaps not that, everyone knows that the answer to that is 42.)

But you need to consider how this works in the long term.

Sure, you should strive to provide the best answer to the current question, asked now, by a specific person, for a specific context.

However, in the future, people will be landing on those same webpages through a Google query, wondering about the same thing.

For them, the best would be a single, complete, answer, instead of many smaller ones.

As such, it is actually in the sites best interest that many small, but incomplete, answers are merged into a larger complete one.

At least that's how I see it.

Thus, the reputation earned is actually an incentive to people to make those complete answers. To combine and consolidate, to simplify, to perfect, make it easier for the next person with the question to find the best answer(s).

Does this mean that I've "stolen" other answers myself? Heck yes, though I've been polite (which never hurts) and never just reposted the answers by others, combined. I've always written my own answer, and then if others mentions things I've forgotten or left out, I will happily add the same bits into my own, though I never just copy their text.

Does this mean that I think it is fine that someone else does the same with my answers? Either editing them into CW, taking content (either in idea or verbatim) and combining it into other answers?

Not only is this fine, I expect it, I expect that if someone else posts an answer, and then sees that I have a point they don't have, that they add the same point to their answer.

Provided it is correct of course. If 10 different answers mentions the same thing, it is a strong indication to people reading the page that this is correct.

  • thanks for your answer, I still think answer aggregation on questions which do not explicitly demand a single answer, breaks the reputation earning incentive. – Timo Westkämper Oct 7 '10 at 13:09
  • Most questions implicitly demand a single answer. They may not say it, but they usually do. Unfortunately, it is impossible to get a reputation incentive to get every thing right. – angry person Oct 8 '10 at 18:36

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