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Stack Overflow—where questions get often hundreds of votes every week for many weeks—has recently stopped showing accepted answers at the top of the page, deciding instead to use only votes by users as a measure of the usefulness of an answer. No special prominence is given to accepted answers.

Amongst other reasons, SO is affected by answers which can often rapidly become out of date so that a previously accepted answer is often no longer the most appropriate. When newer up-to-date answers appear they are highly upvoted because of the large volume of voting users who continue to visit the pages. English Language Learners does not work like this!

This new practice was going to be rolled out to all sites. Now it won't happen unless a site specifically asks for it. I argue we should not! Here is my offering to the debate. If you find you agree with my points below, or disagree with them, please go and vote, or change your vote here:


The accepted answer should appear on top!

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!


Why have I posted this here instead of on the original page? I got to the debate too late!

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  • I wouldn't raise my hopes too high. It's very quiet here, so quiet, you can hear the leaves rustling in New England.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 3, 2021 at 12:27
  • @Mari-LouA Ha ha. Yes. No expectations here. As you say, you can see the tumbleweed blowing across the page ... Oct 3, 2021 at 13:19
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    You convinced me. I changed my vote.
    – Eddie Kal
    Oct 4, 2021 at 6:40
  • Thanks Eddie, on behalf of future users! Let's see what happens ... Oct 5, 2021 at 0:30
  • If this is meant to honestly promote debate, it must separate the question of whether to pin from the rhetoric arguing for one position and not giving any space to the other's rebuttal. Making discussion the only tag here is a heavy irony, since there is no fair way to hold a discussion here at all.
    – Nij
    Oct 12, 2021 at 7:58
  • @Nij You can simply post an answer, as others have done. That's normally how it works. Why is this post a special case? Oct 12, 2021 at 23:22
  • By that reasoning, this question should have been posted as an answer to the existing discussion post. Writing it just because you want your own place to soapbox because you were late to a discussion (which is still clearly ongoing), then filling it with one-sided rhetoric, and finally suggesting that answers be used to respond to it instead of opening a general discussion with your own answer written for exposition, is disingenuous.
    – Nij
    Oct 12, 2021 at 23:26
  • @Nij You seem to be swithering between different objections. That's your right, of course. Oct 13, 2021 at 2:13
  • You've only added to the reasoning that supports the objection. The objection itself remains the same: don't post new questions when the appropriate way is to post an answer to the existing discussion.
    – Nij
    Oct 13, 2021 at 2:58

2 Answers 2

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Here are some points from another Meta site that may be pertinent here:

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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  • "I'm for this option. Under the current system, the top-voted answer is second rather than first. This doesn't really seem like a major deprecation to me; it's not like it would be buried deep in a thread. And honestly, if you're only reading the first answer on any Stack then you're doing it wrong. – Michael Seifert" Oct 16, 2021 at 2:27
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"Be a bastion of Democracy" ... by ignoring what the relative majority has decided in favour of having one individual make the decision.

I'm sure there's a different word for that...

SO is affected by answers which can often rapidly become out of date so that a previously accepted answer is often no longer the most appropriate. When newer up-to-date answers appear they are highly upvoted because of the large volume of voting users who continue to visit the pages. English Language Learners does not work like this!

If answers don't often rapidly become out of date, then there's less of a need to have a mechanism (like accepted answers) which allows circumvention of the hundreds or thousands of votes (on SO) an existing answer might have in order to promote new answers. Without such a mechanism, it is extremely difficult for a new answer to get to where it "belongs".

It is more likely that the correct answer is posted at the beginning, and quickly voted to the top, on ELL.

So this would appear to be a stronger argument to keep accepted answers on top on SO (rather than ELL), yet we concluded the downside of doing so outweighs this potential benefit, thus this should be even more true on ELL.

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.

...

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.

The first part of this is a fair point, but you're suggesting that accepted answers:

  • fixes this problem (which I doubt, but anyone who wants to make that claim should probably objectively analyse how often accepted answers are changed later on, although this only provides an upper limit for usefulness: it wouldn't prove that the new accepted answer is objectively better)
  • doesn't cause any other problems (which my experience has shown to be different, at least on Stack Overflow, and the argument that it doesn't favour the answer most likely to be best is quite simple, and easily extends to basically any other site: it's one user against many users)

the current system is that the Original Poster is the only member who is routinely alerted to new answers ... they are in by far the best position to curate their own question page, and, if appropriate, accept a late answer

I believe questions with new answers show up on the home page specifically to alert others. And there's also "new answers to old questions" in mod tools (for high-rep users). Although these may not be quite as effective as we'd like.

OP may be in the "best position" to judge new answers because they get alerted, but that still doesn't mean that they actually have a particularly strong ability to judge what the best answer is (especially not given that they asked the question, suggesting they don't know the answer), and certainly I wouldn't say they're necessarily (or even likely) sufficiently knowledgeable to override everyone else's decision.

We could replace OP by a random number generator who would with 100% certainly decide whether the new answer should be accepted within a few milliseconds. Certainly this generator would be in the "best position" to judge the answer, but their judgement is meaningless.

the current system affords some respect and agency to people who ask questions on the site

Yes, but if we want to build a knowledge base (which seems to be SE's goal), we should try to minimise this. Putting accepted answers on top gives them too much agency over something that's intended to help others, with too little benefit.

users will lose the benefit of many excellent posts and the helpful information that they provide

What about losing out on the benefit of the "many excellent posts" that the community judged as such, but OP didn't? You seem to be suggesting that the answer selected by OP is better than the one selected by the majority, which is quite a bold claim that I'd very much like to see some convincing evidence for.

The vast majority of people asking questions here are sensible adults fully capable of making appropriate decisions regarding selected answers.

The vast majority of people asking questions here don't know the answer to the question they're asking and are therefore not particularly capable of judging which answer is correct. Being a "sensible adult" doesn't make them an expert in English, nor any other given topic.

If a fellow student asks a question in class, who would you prefer to later give you the correct answer to that question? That student, or a random subset of both students and teachers? If given no other option, I know I'd opt for the latter.

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.

Sure, the law of large numbers might suggest that the best answer is more likely to be on top on SO.

But it still doesn't follow that one self-proclaimed-non-expert user is more capable of judging the best answer than all the other random users who voted on answers.

The 'accepted answer' feature helps provide checks and balances within the system.

Not really. It just overrides the existing system. It's closer to holding a public vote and then having the president decide to do whatever they want instead (and also the president wasn't actually elected by anyone). That's not "checks and balances" to public voting, that's just authoritarianism.

In particular it defends against the unintended and unwelcome tyranny of the early upvoted answer.

Sure, but what would defend us against the unintended and unwelcome tyranny of the early or poor accepted answer? That's what sorting purely by votes defends against.

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