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Is it any use answering or commenting on a question that was asked years ago? Or is it just 'un coup d'épée dans l'eau' (a strike of the sword at water), meaning a complete waste of time?

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    SE explicitly out at creating a library or repository of questions and answers which will stand the test of time. Many of its sanctions (both positive and negative) are designed to encourage long-term thinking (and discourage short-sightedness). So yes, it is worthwhile to add valueable answers to old questions. All current users of the site will see what you did, because as soon as you answer that question will rise to the top of the front page (which means you'can earn rep points), and in addition any users which look for or come across that question will see your answer. – Dan Bron Feb 14 '16 at 14:40
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    Comments on old questions are less worthwile, because they will not bump the question to the top of the front page, so the modern and future populations of the site will never see it, and it's almost a certainty after a few years that the OP and others who were originally involved with the question won't see it either. Again, this is an intentional design decision: comments are supposed to be thought of as short-term sticky notes on the post addressed to the author, which are not designed to communicate to future visitors (and again, SE tries to encourage long-term perspectives). – Dan Bron Feb 14 '16 at 14:43
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    @DanBron, why was that a comment rather than an answer? – Kai Maxfield Feb 14 '16 at 20:37
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If you have an answer that better answers the question than any other answer already there, then please post the answer. Questions get more views the older they get, and new information comes to light all the time, so it's in the best interest of the site to post a new answer when the answer has more up to date information.

New answers bump the question to the top of the front page, so your answer will garner new attention to the question, as well.

There is little to no point commenting on questions that old. Unless there is something really insightful you can ask of the person who posted the question, that will make the question useful, it's unlikely to be worth yours or anybody else's time to do so.

Commenting on older answers might be helpful if you have some constructive criticism and the person who answered is still active on Stack Exchange.

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    Tip for the newer members: to find out whether they're still active, click on their name. Near the top-right corner of their profile page, look for "last seen". – Lawrence Feb 15 '16 at 13:40
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    Note, however, that the "last seen" timestamp only applies to the particular SE site you're on. So, for example, if I were looking at @Matt's profile on CogSci, I'd see that he was "last seen" on 3/11/2015 and conclude that he wouldn't see a comment if I were to post one on one of his answers. But the fact is that he's been on 3 SE sites today, so in reality, I'm fairly confident that he would, in fact, see the notification icon within the next 24 hours (and probably much sooner). – Dan Henderson Feb 19 '16 at 19:13
  • Within 10 minutes, apparently! – Matt E. Эллен Feb 19 '16 at 19:23
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    Beware of the "little point" argument. There is a reason you are there, and others will be drawn by the same reason. Do we simply not comment because less than 100 people will be helped ? Particularly on SO. Projects can run for years, vendors vanish. You will not help the OP in a timely manner it is true, but contribution matters to someone who has diarised to check that question every 3 months, say. – mckenzm Feb 22 '16 at 20:07
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    @mckenzm: Commenting on a question is generally not the sort of contribution that can directly help anyone at all. – Nathan Tuggy Feb 23 '16 at 21:35
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    I'm reserving an upvote due to the "little point" statement regarding comments. They serve the same point as any other comment on any other question: adding useful information or requesting clarification. – DCShannon Feb 23 '16 at 23:49
  • The number one factor in determining the value or point of a comment is its content. Some of my highest voted answers were leveraged off of the comments of others. Here's me going up against a 3 year older answer from the legendary John Skeet. I owe it all to a comment by Joshua Goldberg. Comment everywhere, but be mindful of who you're talking to and why. – candied_orange Feb 28 '16 at 14:30
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Relatively new participants at this site may not be aware of how much traffic older questions get; but anyone who has asked a question of broader interest than "Is this sentence correct?" can see (by referring to the Questions data recorded on their 'Activity' page) how the number of views the question has drawn continues to grow.

The substantial number of Necromancer badges awarded on English Language & Usage provides strong evidence of the value to later site visitors of posting well-conceived new answers to older questions. This silver badge, awarded when you "Answer a question more than 60 days later with score of 5 or more," has been earned 975 times on EL&U, even though such answers have to compete against longer-established answers and (in many cases) accepted answers.

English Language & Usage is an unusual Stack Exchange site in that it hosts many questions that ask for factual answers but that nonetheless may be answered in multiple useful ways. Even when a question has one or more good answers, it is often entirely possible to introduce a new, nonrepetitive, good answer that makes the collective EL&U answer (which consists of all of the answers on that page) even stronger.

The test I use in deciding whether to post a new answer to an old question is this: Does the answer I have in mind provide new and useful information or a different and interesting perspective for understanding the problem that the original poster's question asks about? If so, it's worth posting.

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The original poster or the age of the question is not the point at all. The point is the quality of the question and the quality of the answers.

When you post an answer to any question, here is who benefits:

  • all users of WorldWideWeb, who often Google a question and find the answer on a StackExchange site
  • all users of StackExchange and the particular StackExchange site
  • the individual who asked the question
  • the individual who writes each answer because sharing knowledge enhances the knowledge of the person who shares it.

So the person who asks the question is not the only beneficiary of the answer. If they had that question, it is likely many others have that question. That is why StackExchange is on the Web rather than the questions just going to the original poster through email.

Further, how old a question is doesn’t actually tell you whether answering it will benefit the original poster. Someone can ask a question on a StackExchange site, then 5 minutes later find the answer somewhere else, and then you come along and answer a 10 minute old question that is already irrelevant to the original poster. But your answer may help another StackExchange reader a half hour after that, and somebody who finds the answer through Google the next day, and then 200 people who find the answer through Google over the next month. And then 2000 people over the next two years.

StackExchange is a reference book. The questions are just a way to create a new chapter and add to the book. The book is written for everyone, including people who will read this page 5 years from now.

  • "StackExchange is a reference book". Well said. – DCShannon Feb 23 '16 at 23:51
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YES. Yes. Yes. Yes.

StackExchange is a site designed to share expertise. Sometimes I may ask a question and get well-intentioned answers but find that none of them were really helpful. I'm sure OPs would appreciate new answers if that answer satisfactorily answers their question or solves their problem. (There is nothing like completeness!)

Alternatively, even if the question is too old for the new answer to benefit the OP, desperate answer-seekers - particularly programmers - may just find that golden answer you just posted to an age-old question. As a programmer, these golden answers are essential - I may be searching and searching, and finally... I have an answer! It works! It's a fantastic feeling.

So, in conclusion, yes! Google is a significant part of SE and your contributions might just help that person who has been searching for days for an answer to even a simple question. After all, a question left unanswered is a question that bugs and lurks around the mind.

The date is merely a timestamp.

(Oh, and one last thing: If an answer has become outdated or no longer works, then it should certainly be rectified!)

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The simple answer is "Sure, go for it."

(I'm providing an answer to this very old question.)

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Sure you should! Question will be forever in doubt if there is no one answers. Just anwer to queetions you know the answer. As long as it is a question, it needs to be answer.

  • I see at least three grammatical mistakes in your short answer. What additional value or information does your answer add to the existing answers? – user140086 Feb 28 '16 at 7:49
  • It shows that new people are coming along, are interested in the site, have the persistence to read to the end of a long thread, will benefit from the site and will have new problems from a different variant of English to contribute to the site . – ab2 Feb 28 '16 at 11:44

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