Now that Stack Overflow has been out for quite some time, I often encounter questions and answers that are possibly outdated - for example, they are two years old and about a technology that is quickly evolving. Examples:

The first question is if Stack Overflow's creators / moderators see it as a problem too. If they do, are there currently some features (incentives, automated tools, etc.) to edit older threads, possibly mark them as no longer valid, etc.?

  • Post a comment? Do a (suggested) edit? – BalusC Jul 3 '11 at 22:08
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    Maybe you should stop looking for answers for the latest fad software and stick with the 'been around forever and not changing much' parts of software? – Jonathan Leffler Jul 3 '11 at 23:31
  • I think something immediate you can do is ensure the question is correctly tagged with the version of the technology it relates to, for example a lot of the Microsoft tags have versions (EF-4.1, EF-4.0, .net-4.0, etc). – slugster Jul 4 '11 at 2:54
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    @Jonathan - absolutely - GW-Basic rules! – Steve314 Jul 4 '11 at 2:56
  • So, for example? I don't see that many answers that I consider "obsolete" or "hopelessly out of date". Sure, they cover the old version, but they don't actually talk about things that have changed drastically from one version to the next. I'm not believing that this is a big problem until I see some links. – Cody Gray Jul 4 '11 at 8:16
  • @Cody I've updated the question to better show what I mean. – Borek Bernard Jul 4 '11 at 8:46

Here's my suggestion -- suggested edits are a great way to resolve this. Old questions are, by their very nature, likely to be stumbled upon by someone:

  1. other than the author,
  2. who cares about the answer
  3. and is living in the present, rather than the past.

These three ingredients make that person the ideal one to make the edit. However, the current +2 reputation gained from an accepted suggested edit just doesn't cut it. That's an acceptable reward for fixing someone's typos or improving their wording, but it's not enough of an incentive to detect that an answer is outdated, research the more current solution, and then go back to suggest an edit to the original answer.

I can think of two solutions, one better (but more involved) than the other:

  1. When a higher-up accepts a suggested edit, he can optionally override the reputation bonus from +2 to some other value, based on his discretion. That way, particularly ambitious edits that bring an old answer up-to-date are rewarded better than typo-fixers. The difference is pretty objective and easy to see, so I doubt we'll hear too many arguments about this.
  2. Stack Overflow can add a new mechanic to answers: "Mark as outdated". A user who discovers that an answer is no longer valid can hit this button, and the question is added to an "Outdated" queue that users can view at any time. They are encouraged to suggest/make edits to the affected answer, and the accepted edit is awarded a +25 bonus or something else comparable to the value of having an accepted answer in the first place. Who should do the accepting? That's open to debate. Since this is by definition an old question, it's unreasonable to expect the original asker to do it. I'm torn somewhere between requiring the user who marked the question as outdated to do it, or a sort of community vote process, or simply any high-rep user who is able to accept edits.

How does this sound? I think, as Stack Overflow ages, resolving this problem in a Stack-Exchange-y way is crucial to keeping Google relevant as "the #1 interface".

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  • For updating the question, I agree with that first list. For updating the answer, though - why would people who know the answer already be searching for it? – Steve314 Jul 3 '11 at 23:09
  • It's more to motivate people who eventually find out the answer to come back to SO and update the entry, rather than forget about it altogether. And the purpose of the "Outdated queue" is to bring the question to the attention of other people who may know the answer. There's no way to do that now. – Adrian Petrescu Jul 3 '11 at 23:28
  • I very much like this proposal, I had something similar in mind. – Borek Bernard Jul 4 '11 at 7:52
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    The risk with do-it-yourself editing is you can be completely changing the content of someone else's answer, which is discouraged on the suggested edits page. Would people approve your edit if you took a 5, 10, or 25-vote answer and reworded it to something totally different to bring it up to date? More likely, seems like they'd reject it and tell you to post your own answer (which then starts at score 0 and isn't as visible). "Mark as outdated" might work better. – Troyen Jul 4 '11 at 9:57
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    +1 for the Mark As Outdated. – user541686 Jul 5 '11 at 0:54

I think the best way is to make a comment. Authors will get notified of that comment, and if they are still actively using SO, they will see it.

You can also edit (or suggest edit) the answer yourself.

If you made a comment, and author failed to update withing reasonable time, and you don't feel like suggesting an edit, then if the answer is no longer valid, vote it down. But I'd suggest you'd try other options before.

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    That is manual work though without any reward. I guess that's why many questions on SO are outdated / no longer valid. – Borek Bernard Jul 3 '11 at 22:14
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    @Borek: what do you suggest then? – vartec Jul 3 '11 at 22:16
  • I suggest a very sophisticated system of automated tools and reputation rewards that would make the site awesome again :) No, really, I know it's not easy but these zombie questions are really getting in my way too often. – Borek Bernard Jul 3 '11 at 22:19
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    Post some examples? I can't imagine that there are so much of them that they are getting in your way too often. Perhaps it's just a matter of the subject? Maybe it concerned version 1.x while you're actually searching for 2.x targeted answers? Just post a new question then? – BalusC Jul 3 '11 at 22:25
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    Still being active on SO isn't the only issue. Just because someone could provide the original answer a year or two ago, doesn't mean they know how to update it now - or even that they would know the original answer now short of looking up their own past answer. – Steve314 Jul 3 '11 at 23:06
  • @Chichiray I've updated the question so that it includes examples. Yes it's possible that it's discussing some older version but how do I know? I have to look at the date and make some guesses as to whether I still trust the answers. – Borek Bernard Jul 4 '11 at 8:47

Maybe an option would be to ask a pseudo-duplicate question, linking to the original and explaining why the answers there are outdated.

Also, maybe edit the original to indicate its historic nature (e.g. to indicate that it applies to C# 3.0 but not C# 4.0 or whatever). Sometimes, obsolete answers may still be relevant for other people.

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An other user could write a new answer that is uptodate based on the current answer and then let the voting system do the work.

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  • autocorrect much? – Rosinante Jul 4 '11 at 13:01

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