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Amongst other reasons, SO is affected by answers which can often rapidly become out of date so that a previously accepted answer is often no longer the most appropriate.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 & Usage 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:
- Should accepted answers appear first, just above the highest scored answer, or should answers now appear only in order of score? (Vote by Oct. 19)
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 & Usage 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 originally gave an answer there, but had arrived at the debate too late!