I just deleted some of my useless answers(no up-votes) and deleting one of them really hurt me, because it was not easy to find the answer to that question, however it has been proven to be useless.

I understand that new users most of the time will not give you anything in return for your answer, so how do you know when to answer a question and when to ignore it?

P.S. I understand the easier the question is to answer the more valuable it is, but maybe you have found some better system.

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    however it has been proven to be useless - by not being upvoted? That is a weird view O_o
    – Pekka
    Commented Jan 3, 2011 at 13:10
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    Why don't you ask When (or why) to delete ones own answers ? That 's what your explanation says and it seems to be something different than your somewhat vague question.
    – bernd_k
    Commented Jan 3, 2011 at 13:46
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    Yeah, it's discouraging. Most of us have been there. Deal with it. Commented Jan 3, 2011 at 16:15
  • I only delete my own answers if someone (myself included) can show that said answer is wrong. However, if that questioner added additional information not previously known as a comment, I'll leave the (wrong) answer there anyway. Note: This means I may leave answers that (now) have negative scores there for one of the above reasons.
    – Powerlord
    Commented Jan 3, 2011 at 18:40
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    @R. Bemrose I wouldn't ever delete an answer unless it was posted to the wrong question by mistake. If you find out that you were wrong, the best thing you can do is edit your answer and explain why you were wrong. It might help someone in the future that comes to the same conclusion as you. You can help them see the light that much faster. Commented Jan 4, 2011 at 6:16

5 Answers 5


I do the same and delete my answers that get 0 votes. I usually leave the answer a week or two just to be sure the asker has had chance to read it. If the original asker posts a comment on another answer ("this helped, thanks!") but does not accept or upvote, I delete my answer. I check the asker's "last seen" status - if it looks like they have forgotten about the question, I edit it so they get an orange envelope reminder. If it seems like they have done a drive-by asking, I delete the answer. I wouldn't delete an answer with upvotes. It's a shame the community can't "accept" answers :-)

As for when to answer: when the asker has close to 100% accept rate of course! Anything else is a waste of time. You occasionally get newbies that vote and accept answers. This is so rare that it isn't worth considering. If the asker has less than 50 points, don't waste your time. If the asker has a low accept rate (< 70%), don't bother. Especially if they have a low accept rate and high rep - they will expect a pulitzer prize winning essay of an answer in order to accept it. Or a 2 line quip by one of their meta buddies.

(Yes I am bitter.)

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    @user155233: I understand that you "play the game" and want rep for your answers - I like rep too. But I don't understand why you think it is better for you if you delete your answer after a while. You already spent the time writing it, the asker who didn't upvote you got a solution, so I think you only hurt yourself by removing the possibility of future upvotes.
    – Jan Fabry
    Commented Jan 3, 2011 at 17:09
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    Are you going to delete this answer too? Commented Jan 3, 2011 at 22:23
  • I hope he doesnt and I think he cant now! The thing you guys did not consider is that is someone does not find your answer he will have to ask that question again and when you answer it again you might get some rep. You should fix the game if you want different results(something like close button, but to answer question).
    – IAdapter
    Commented Jan 4, 2011 at 11:39
  • @01: Ah, now I see what you want to achieve. Smart thinking, but won't the new question be closed as a duplicate? This can happen, even if the original question has no answers. Your suggestion for a close button is not really clear to me, can you please expand the text there?
    – Jan Fabry
    Commented Jan 4, 2011 at 16:53
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    @01 - Based on your replies here, both you and user155233 seem to be completely missing the point of Stack Overflow. The goal of the site is not to give an absolute ranking for programmers worldwide based on some imaginary numbers, it is for programmers to help each other out by providing a searchable repository of programming knowledge. As Jan and I say in our answers, many good answers don't get voted on, for whatever reason, but that doesn't reduce their value. Just because someone doesn't vote up an answer doesn't mean that it wasn't helpful to them in some way. Commented Jan 4, 2011 at 16:59
  • Does a downvote mean you disagree with the sentiment or that the answer was not helpful? If you avoid answering questions as I mentioned it will save you the heartache of having answers that lie in limbo. This keeps my OCD under control. Everyone else can continue to waste time answering the ungrateful. Most altruistic.
    – user155233
    Commented Jan 5, 2011 at 14:28
  • @user155233: "Heartache"? Wow. Truth is I'm a bit like you: sensitive to criticism or the feeling of being overlooked. This is not an inherently bad quality, but it's often unhelpful. It may be a sign that you're investing too much of your ego in one thing -- SO. If you can spread it around other things, including non-computer-related things, you will feel better because an answer on SO won't represent such a big part of you, so a -1 on that answer won't sting as much. Not saying this to demean you but because I'm seeing symptoms that I recognise in myself from time to time. :) Commented Jan 7, 2011 at 5:29

What do you mean by useless? Useless to anyone else, or useless to yourself because it did not provide a reputation increase?

Most of the traffic to SO comes from Google, and (thus) probably from users that do not have an account here and can't upvote your answer. This means that you cannot judge the usefulness of an answer by the absence of votes. Only if an answer gets downvotes it might be worth deleting it: perhaps you said something that is plain wrong, or used confusing language, and you can improve it.

If you want to know which answers are likely to get upvotes, you could select by the reputation of the asker, their acceptance rate, and the likelihood that others will also have this problem. But for me, reputation is only a side-effect of answering questions: I try to pick questions that are interesting and that might teach me something while researching them. Your time spent answering a question last month is now a sunk cost and should be ignored when deciding to keep the question or not: only if it "hurts" the system should you remove it.


Jan has a good point about an absence of up votes does not mean a answer has not been useful. I would like to also add, that deleting the answer only guarantees that it will get no up votes. New users at some point might become old users, they might start coming back to the site asking more questions and learning to go back and accept/up vote answers to historical questions. Plus other users who search before asking a question might find your answer a year from now and up vote it. I know I have done that in the past.

Lastly, to your point that easier answers are "more valuable", I would argue the opposite. The answer that took a good bit of your time is "more valuable" then answer that takes 1 google second to find.

  • "more valuable" when you want more rep? Beginner questions sometimes get insane amounts of upvotes because everyone has them, and because they're easy to check for correctness. Maybe the rep bonus should decrease after a while? So the 20th upvote doesn't give +10, but +8, and so down to +1?
    – Jan Fabry
    Commented Jan 3, 2011 at 17:11
  • Ok, I understand your point. But those questions also have much more competition for answers. By the time you get to a beginner question it typically has already been answered, but harder questions that take more time have a higher chance that you will get an accepted answer if you submit one.
    – jzd
    Commented Jan 3, 2011 at 18:03

I don't know where you got:

I understand the easier the question is to answer the more valuable it is

Are you asking how to best farm for rep? I think there's already a post about that. If you're just asking when you should answer a question, "when you know the answer" seems logical


I answer a question if I find it interesting and / or no one else has provided a better answer. That's it.

The point of Stack Overflow is to help people, not to play some game with arbitrary points. I currently have ~190 answers with no upvotes (although a chunk of them have been accepted as answers). Unless someone points out a factual inaccuracy in any of those answers, I stand by them and won't delete a single one.

Many of them are very technical answers that I devoted a lot of time in researching and writing. Am I disappointed that people didn't recognize that? Maybe a little, but I enjoy the challenge and in several cases I've learned techniques that benefited me in my other projects.

Getting bitter because people didn't give you votes when you think you deserved them is not healthy. Take pride in the help you have provided the person with the question, as well as all those that may follow. Deleting these answers is also foolish, because you've already sunk the effort into them and now you are guaranteeing that neither you nor future visitors will reap a reward from them.

The one thing you can do, if you have sufficient reputation, is edit the original questions to improve the title, grammar, or formatting. People may not be finding your answer because they aren't hitting the question in a search, or passing over it because of its perceived low quality. I've done this and seen votes come in to my answers after the question cleanup.

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