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On Stack Overflow (SO), new answers get thousands of views by active voting members long after the question is posted. This means new answers can get hundreds or thousands (yes, thousands) of votes long after a question is first asked. Because SO involves information technology, many accepted answers quickly become out-of-date. New answers are posted and widely voted upon and often overtake the original out-of-date accepted answer by hundreds or thousands of votes. The old accepted answers for these questions become a pain in the neck.

Stack Overflow therefore decided to pin answers strictly in terms of votes, without the accepted answer appearing just above the highest voted one, as it does at the moment on all other sites. SE then decided that this popular SO change was going to be automatically rolled out to all sites, unless they requested otherwise.

However, members on many other sites have strongly objected pointing out that most sites do not work in the same way as Stack Overflow. The main reason is that on Stack Overflow new answers continue to get get hundreds of votes years after the original question was asked. On other sites, only very early answers are highly upvoted. After a few days, the number of actively voting users who see a new answer is miniscule. One of the only ways to promote new, better answers is by the Original Poster accepting them so that they will be seen by other visitors to the site. In addition, on most sites, accepted answers do not rapidly become 'wrong' because of advances in information technology. Many people find the 'accepted answer' useful and interesting. They think that other sites have the opposite problem to Stack Overflow.

Now, SE is not going to roll this feature out to any site unless they actively ask them to.

The company has offered us the choice to change our current behaviour to the Stack Overflow mode if we decide it is beneficial for our community. @MariLouA asked me to post a question here.

I'm using this post as a poll with two answers: one to keep the current 'accepted answer' feature and one to have it changed. Please:

  1. upvote the answer representing your choice (downvotes will not count)
  2. edit additional reasons to choose one or the other option

Comments on the answers can be used to improve the reasons mentioned in them (in line with their normal intended usage).

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    Thank you so much for bringing this new development to everybody's attention.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 11 at 9:54
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    Looking at the votes on the answers : Poppa bear says yes. Baby bear says no. Mama bear says meh. That's not reaching a consensus for which I'd decide to make site-wide changes for everyone whether they want them or not. That would require an overwhelming majority of +90% IMO.
    – Mazura
    Sep 16 at 18:07
  • Thanks for the script that lets us opt out if this does come to pass. But that's not how it should have to (not) work if I don't want it to. Best comment on the Meta : "how will you convince the don't move my cheese folks?" That's the neat part; you don't.
    – Mazura
    Sep 16 at 18:12
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    There is a SEDE query listing all of the questions where the accepted answer has a lower score than the top scored answer and it includes the difference in score. I took a quick look and in most of the cases where there was a big difference, neither answer was clearly "wrong". There were many instances where the accepted answer had a more comprehensive explanation than the succinct answers the voters preferred. In many cases the "short" answer was posted first.
    – ColleenV
    Sep 17 at 13:26
  • Would it be possible to pin the accepted answer near but not necessarily at the top - i.e. a limited number of higher-voted answers can take precedence? Best of both worlds IMO, I just don't know how much flexibility we have here. Sep 28 at 14:29
  • @the-baby-is-you There is a suggestion on Meta to pin the accepted answer below the top voted answer: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/369568/…
    – ColleenV
    Sep 28 at 19:17
  • I hope it's ok. I've changed the wording to match what they've used on some other sites. It's less loaded, imo. (There's a reason why "Remain" lost the Brexit vote. It should have been called "Lead" or something not completely intertial). Oct 1 at 14:08
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Answers should appear only in order of score (this is the new behavior on Stack Overflow).

Possible reasons for this:

  • The community as a whole may often be better suited to determine what the best answer to a question is than the majority of question authors.

  • Particular to ELL: A learner may not be able to tell if an answer is correct. On StackOverflow, a questioner can take an answer and attempt to use it on their system. If it works they can accept the answer. This isn't generally possible on ELL

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The accepted answer should appear on top (this is the status quo).

Possible reasons for this:

  • When a new answer, better than the ones before, is posted late, the earlier answers may already have gathered so many upvotes (for example from Hot Network Question activity) that it's difficult for the best answer to reach that score as well. If the author of the question accepts the answer and it's pinned, it will get its deserved share of attention.
  • Our active voter base might be skewed towards native or near-native speakers, and Stack Exchange veterans, and vote more often for comprehensive answers. Question authors might be more likely to go for simpler answers, which might also be more useful for the majority of the visitors (anonymous learners of English who arrive here via search engines)
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    That would not be my reason for keeping accepted answers at the top. Many times an accepted answer on ELL is also the answer with the most upvotes. And sometimes a better, more nuanced answer can be posted weeks or even years later but not earn many upvotes.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 11 at 7:39
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    As a result the OP may change their mind and accept the new and better answer, this decision deserves to be highlighted.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 11 at 7:47
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    Moreover an accepted answer says that it was the most helpful to the OP regardless of the number of votes it attracted. It tells the community that to all intents and purposes the problem has been solved.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 11 at 7:50
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    I find the arguments of @Mari-LouA compelling. It does not often happen that anyone switches their vote to a better late answer but it does happen.
    – mdewey
    Sep 11 at 13:24
  • @Mari-LouA the late answer case is a really good one (and even applicable to other sites in the network - it might be worth mentioning on Meta.SE as well).
    – Glorfindel Mod
    Sep 11 at 16:21
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    An accepted answer should indicate the one most helpful to the OP, but let's not forget the countless cases where somebody just accepted the first answer thrown at them and never came back to revisit that decision.
    – Glorfindel Mod
    Sep 11 at 16:22
  • @Glorfindel totally agree, it's very true that askers often accept the first answer posted within an hour. And sometimes the OP accepts an answer that happens to agree with their own personal interpretation.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 11 at 18:36
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    I think that the last bullet point here isn't true - it seems like early, correct but short answers are preferred by voters, but the author of the question often accepts the answer with more explanation, or where the author of the answer has responded to comments.
    – ColleenV
    Sep 17 at 13:28
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    @Glorfindel The stats don't back you up there. In those cases where there's a voting discrepancy between highest and accepted scores, the accepted answer is more likely to be a later answer, clearly demonstrating that askers are largely being judicious in their selection of answers. Oct 8 at 21:55
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No matter which way we do it, there will be potential problems and pitfalls.

When a mediocre answer gets hastily accepted, and better answers come along later on, it's nice to see that mediocre answer get pushed downward.

However, when a well-thought-out answer comes late but is ultimately accepted, it will be sad if that answer sits at the bottom because the question is now in the rear-view mirror for most of the people who voted on it, so the newly-accepted answer has trouble amassing many more upvotes, even though it might be deserving of getting them.

In the end, sometimes the new system, if it gets rolled out on ELL, will be an improvement, but sometimes it will be inferior to the old way of doing things. C'est la vie.

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    Which is why I argued on Meta that "pinning" should be replaced with something better instead of making us choose pinned or not pinned.
    – ColleenV
    Sep 13 at 17:30
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There are several advantages and disadvantages to pinning the accepted answer at the top and until recently I was undecided.

Contrary to many users who fervently sustain that an incorrect or low scoring answer should never be shown at the top, I think the current system works admirably well on ELL for two reasons.

  1. Users who read an accepted answer that is inaccurate or misleading will downvote it. Once an incorrect answer has been accepted, the number of downvotes increases exponentially as soon as a correct answer (regardless of its length) is posted. This voting pattern makes it clear to visitors and users alike which answer is considered best by the community.

  2. An accepted answer says that it was the most helpful to the author of the question regardless of the number of votes it accrued. It tells the community that to all intents and purposes the problem has been solved. In 2015 Taryn (Staff ♦ Mod) explained why their suggestions for unpinning the accepted answer were overruled

…because the pinning of accepted answers is part of what makes our sites different from others - it's the indication that an answer worked for the OP - we don't want to lose the signal for those answers or hide them way down on a list of a ton of answers.

  • Despite the differences in scores, one author may have understood the OP's dilemma better than a higher scored answer. And sometimes a better, more nuanced answer can be posted days, weeks or even years later but earn very few upvotes. If I am that OP I would want to thank the user by accepting their answer and seeing it pinned at the top of the page. This shows my gratitude and it has the given advantage of being read first, and if it remains useful it will often lead to more upvotes.

Why accepted answers have never really been a problem on ELL

  • Language sites such as ELL and EL&U are non-technical, so there is no such thing as an obsolete answer. A nontechnical question may ask about obsolete practices or archaic terms but a well-supported answer will not become outdated next year or in ten years.

In an era where advancements in technology are being continually made, it makes sense that an answer accepted in 2010 on Stack Overflow, but now obsolete, should not be displayed at the top position. This is not true for social science and the humanities where any changes that do occur happen more slowly and over a longer period of time.

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    I think you make a good case for why pinning the accepted answer should be replaced with a better implementation of increasing its visibility. Ideally the top-voted and accepted answers should be side by side, but I wouldn't want that when I'm browsing on my phone. Maybe there is an "accepted" tab that no matter where you are in the answer list, you can flip to the accepted answer without losing your place?
    – ColleenV
    Sep 20 at 17:38
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    Side by side could work if the left navigation panel never existed. The day that feature is turned on permanently is the day I say "Goodbye". The easiest solution I found was in a comment, it suggested placing the accepted answer immediately below the highest scored one or it could be placed second place whatever the tab selected. I've been thinking this for a bit, and I've come to the conclusion the accepted answer is not a problem here. Besides on ELL there are more questions w/o accepted answers.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 20 at 17:49
  • It's slowly turning round! :) Oct 9 at 1:17
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I urge readers to vote to pin the accepted answer at the top of the page. This feature does a lot of silent good work whilst the very few annoying instances where an OP picks a (seemingly) obviously wrong answer are very scarce indeed, however memorable these are (see Cag51's post on Academia and the information therein.

Despite the terms voting and upvoted, there is a severe problem in terms of how democratic the voting system is. Early posts get voted on a lot, later posts much, much less so. Around 48+ hours after a question is first posted, the number of views by active voting members drops off significantly.

Pinning the accepted answer allows relatively 'late'-arriving but excellent and helpful answers to be recognised and pinned to the top of the page where they currently benefit readers. Without this feature some of the best and most helpful information on the site will languish unseen underneath a list of earlier mediocre answer posts. This current system still retains the benefit of having the highest-voted answer directly beneath the selected one. The new one will see many existing good posts vanish into obscurity.

Another benefit of the current system is that the Original Poster is the only member who is routinely alerted to new answers, especially those that arrive weeks, months or years after the question is originally posted. Because of this, they are in by far the best position to curate their own question page, and, if appropriate, accept a late answer. Certainly, the slew of voters on the original few answers will not be notified and will not get the chance to vote anew on the full range of answers.

Lastly, the current system affords some respect and agency to people who ask questions on the site. Whilst there are always vaguely annoying members in every aspect of the daily life of every SE site, we don't allow this to destroy or make us abandon useful and helpful features of the site. Where the odd muddle-headed OP might select the wrong answer, this is rarely anything more than an annoyance, and a rare one. In contrast if we in essence lose the selected answer feature, users will lose the benefit of many excellent posts and the helpful information that they provide. The vast majority of people asking questions here are sensible adults fully capable of making appropriate decisions regarding selected answers.

Some SE sites, for instance SO, get thousands and thousands of views by active voting members. So, for example, the highest voted answer on SO has over 33,000 votes. On these sites a very high number of votes over a quite sustained period may be the best indicator of the accuracy and helpfulness of an answer. Here, however, this is not the case.

The voting system on English Language Learners is a GOOD THING. However, it is not perfect for many reasons, including those detailed above. The 'accepted answer' feature helps provide checks and balances within the system. In particular it defends against the unintended and unwelcome tyranny of the early upvoted answer. Just like a healthy democracy, where second chambers and the separation of the legislature, the judiciary and the police provide safety in the form of checks and balances, the same is true of the accepted answer feature in its current form. Vote to keep it!

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  • bravo, bravissimo!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 1 at 20:30
  • @Mari-LouA Thanks! It took a while to write. I've reposted this as a separate question. Maybe you could reduplicate your answer there too? After all, your answer here was a late answer too, and will have been missed by many of the original viewers and voters! Oct 1 at 23:55
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Here are the relevant points from the leading post on Physics SE about why the accepted answer should appear at the top of the answer list:

I personally like the idea of having some control over the ordering of answers in my questions. I can imagine many scenarios where this is actually a good thing:

  • In general I would say that the person who asked the question is probably the one who [is most invested in] the topic. For example, a short and superficial answer may be easier to digest and therefore gather more votes than a long and detailed one. As the OP, I will probably spend more time and effort in going through the answers, and therefore my choice of "best" is better informed than that of the community.

  • Selecting a best answer by hand fixes issues introduced by the "time factor". An early simple answer is more likely to have more votes than a recent one, even if the new one is clearly superior. Specially in the case of HNQ posts.

  • In the same vein, selecting an answer helps counter the natural inertia of "most voted answer keeps getting more votes" even when it is not substantially superior to other answers.

  • When the question is somewhat controversial (or is disliked by the community for whatever reason), it is easy to game the system and post an answer that intentionally does not really address the core of the question, but instead dismisses it by either explaining why it is a bad question, or by focusing on an entirely different reinterpretation that will satisfy the casual reader. An actual answer to the OP will get fewer votes than the dismissive one.

  • Finally, the opinion of the community is not always the best.

Of course, I can also imagine many scenarios where this feature can be abused, but in my experience this has never been a real issue.

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