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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Amongst other reasons, SO is affected by answers which can often rapidly become out of date so that a previously accepted answer is often no longer the most appropriate.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 & 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:


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!

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    It's interesting how the title is "Be a bastion of democracy!" but the argument is for having one person be able to decide the top answer.
    – Laurel
    Oct 9 at 17:47
  • @Laurel As a fan of your answers, I held off replying for a bit. Didn't want to start a discussion here. Now this is settled, here's some points. Voters can't be expected to revisit questions they initially vote on. Usually most votes and most views by voting users occur very early on. Because early voters can only upvote the answers that are their when they visit, they are effectively denied the opportunity to upvote those answers that appear later and so have no say in which answers appear at the top. They have unlimited upvoting abilities for only a proportion of candidates. Oct 20 at 1:44
  • @Laurel (Unlimited meaning they can upvote any number of posts). Secondly, we also need democratic rights for posts, not just for voters. The idea is that good posts get upvoted on their merits in the eyes of voting users, and this helps distinguish good and bad information, or sometimes relatively better and worse presentations of the same information for other visitors to the site. But later answers do not have the same 'rights' as early answers. They get seen less by voting members and have relatively less chance of being voted on. And this does not change when a question gets huge ... Oct 20 at 1:57
  • @Laurel ... numbers of views. It just becomes less undemocratic as the number of views by voting members increases (which if an answer appears very late may take decades to correct). The voting mechanism is the best indication that we currently have of democratic peer review. However, if we do not recognise that it has serious undemocratic flaws, and do not use mechanisms to at least try to ameliorate this, we are doing no service to the democracy itself. So supporting checks and balances is democratic. Lastly ... Oct 20 at 2:08
  • @Laurel ... the OP cannot subvert the democratic votes of the active voting usership. The top voted answer is still the top voted answer. In terms of votes it is still 'top'. The opinion of the people who have voted and supported the top answer (as well as others answers too) is till manifestly obvious and unaffected, and this answer is still published in a hugely prominent position. The OP has no more influence than any other user. Although the metaphor of top coincides with the ordering of answers, the accepted answer is just one that the OP recommends to users and is displayed alongside. Oct 20 at 2:17
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Pinning accepted answers to the top, has been how this entire network has worked for 13+ years. While I appreciate that there's support for doing that on this site too, many people are also strongly opposed. I don't think there's enough evidence that this community of thousands of users (of whom only a couple dozen have "voted" on this issue) wants this change badly enough. In the absence of an overwhelming majority of active users clearly wanting to switch the site's behavior, I think we ought to keep the site the way it is and not tamper with what's not broken.

Furthermore, I'm very glad that you made a new Meta post here, because the other one was posted on Meta.SE, where the majority of people come from StackOverflow and want this behavioral change to be implemented network-wide. We have no idea how many of the upvotes on the "unpin" option in the other post, came from such users outside of this community (anyone with at least 200 rep on any other site, can vote here even if they haven't really participated much).

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