Sometimes old answers were correct at the time they were written, but the march of technology has made them obsolete.

For example, the command-line video encoding tool ffmpeg used to have a 'vhooks' function, but that has been replaced by an entirely new syntax, making this answer incorrect for all recent versions of the program. However, when I flagged the answer as such, my flag was rejected on the grounds that

flags should not be used to indicate technical inaccuracies, or an altogether wrong answer

So my question is: what is the correct response to this kind of obsolete answers? Downvote & leave a comment? Edit the question to correct it (would seem to be little too drastic a change for an edit)? Something else?

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I know what you're talking about… just do a search for sameq on Super User. –  slhck Jan 26 '13 at 16:50
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Remember that the answers given aren't wrong, they simply apply to older versions of the software in question and can still help people using those: like folks still using software from the early 2000s that is still supported, e.g. Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3 from 2003 — it's not like William called Pluto a planet. Adding a note such as "This approach works in versions A.B.C and earlier of ffmpeg" would be a good solution. –  Daniel Beck Jan 26 '13 at 21:50
    
@Daniel that's a very good point –  evilsoup Jan 27 '13 at 0:26
    
@Daniel ...what about software that is no longer officially supported? Should answers like 'oh you can do this in win95 like this...' be left as-is? In my example, the ffmpeg devs and the support mailing-list refuse to support any versions pre-the current stable release (and prefer the current git-head, but that's another issue), so it would be equivalent to using an outdated OS. Then again, I suppose SU shouldn't feel bound by the standards of other organisations. –  evilsoup Jan 27 '13 at 9:43
    
Don't forget: It's not like we're deleting the posts that become outdated. They simply aren't that useful anymore… Also, there's a difference between "tools" that you'd expect users to update regularly (like FFmpeg) and operating systems that – by design – stick around longer, where it's much less likely that existing solutions become irrelevant. Actually, in a similar case @DanielBeck also gave me an answer that I later simply unaccepted for the more up-to-date solution after the software had changed. –  slhck Jan 27 '13 at 10:11
    
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@slhck Another thing that I didn't put in the question is that I feel kind of bad for downvoting these kind of answers - since they're not actually wrong, and were written in good faith at the time, it feels wrong to penalise them with the points-loss associated with downvoting. It could also lead to perverse incentives - if someone is still active on SU, they may delete older answers, which may well still be of use to some people, because they don't want to deal with the points-loss... –  evilsoup Jan 27 '13 at 10:38
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I wouldn't feel too bad about downvoting, ever. We're not voting for people, but based on the usefulness of answers. Useful answers should go to the top, the rest to the bottom. As I said, if you can't edit the answer to fix it and it simply doesn't work anymore, maybe the OP can. Downvote, leave a comment, and if they fix it, simply undo your vote. –  slhck Jan 27 '13 at 11:30
    
Sometimes it is the case that older versions of a program can do things, or can do things more easily, than later versions of the sane program, and so people have legitimate reasons stick with it. A seemingly obsolete answer can be useful for some people, including other people than the asker. As suggested above by others, edit or leave a comment. That's my opinion anyway. –  nitro2k01 Jan 31 '13 at 2:14
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3 Answers

Note that moderators should not be judges of what's correct or not. You may be right in that the option is deprecated (or missing) and the solution in the post doesn't work anymore, but that's why you can leave down votes. If moderators had to do all the dirty work of trying to prove solutions correct, we'd have no time to spend on the issues that really deserve immediate attention.

The ideal solution in such a case, of course, is to edit and correct the answer if you can.

Since our editing guidelines say that you should keep edits substantial, but not radically change the meaning of a post, we welcome any edits that correct obvious mistakes, but don't rewrite the entire answer if possible. If you suggest an edit for improvement and it gets rejected, try and see if the OP is still active so you can ask them to fix their post with your help.

You could also come to Meta when you spot a bunch of outdated and wrong answers.

If editing is not possible or would require a major rewrite of the post, you should rather downvote and comment. Explain what exactly is wrong with the post and how to possibly fix it.

Finally, you can always post a new, correct answer—just like you did in the example you gave. Unless the existing posts already accumulated tons of votes, or the wrong answer "sticks" at the top because it was accepted, this will make your post float to the top eventually once enough people voted for it.


Update in light of comments about rep loss and punishment for something that was correct at the time posted:

In the context of this Meta question, we're talking about a tool that you probably constantly update. A tool whose developers fix thousands of bugs in a year, constantly add features and remove others as they go. Most visitors who search for solutions and come to Super User will therefore see posts that simply don't work. These posts are not useful anymore.

Putting a disclaimer into these answers is possible, but what greater goal does this serve? It's bad enough that many resources on the web become outdated and nobody cares to fix them, but we have plenty of options to correct that.

If your answer becomes obsolete, why would you want to have it around in the first place? I'd be happy to be able to fix old answers of mine if they happened to become outdated due to removed features, etc. But if I can't fix them, I'll delete them, so as not to put wrong information out there, and give way for newer and better answers.

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This doesn't make sense to me so I just want to make sure I'm understanding you correctly. You think we should downvote and remove rep from a person even if the answer they gave was correct, but the world changed to invalidate it? Adding in a bold line that explains the answer is out of date makes sense to me, but this doesn't. –  Patrick M Jan 27 '13 at 18:47
    
As I said: downvoting and commenting should be the last option if the post can't be fixed otherwise (through editing or asking the OP to fix it). I wouldn't think so much about the person who posted the answer—consider 90% of our traffic which are visitors who come from search engines and want to see working solutions. There is no point in keeping outdated and obsolete information around. Adding a disclaimer doesn't help in the long run. (ctd.) –  slhck Jan 27 '13 at 18:51
    
Whether or not the poster takes a reputation hit should be immaterial. If the answer is currently wrong then a downvote makes sense. In a perfect world that would prompt the poster to come back and update their answer, opening them up to a whole other set of upvotes. –  Al E. Jan 27 '13 at 18:51
    
I, personally, wouldn't have a problem with one of my older posts being downvoted if it turned out to become obsolete. I'd take this as an incentive to fix it, or just delete it if it doesn't serve a good purpose anymore. The Internet is full of outdated and obsolete information. We have so many ways to be better in this regard—primarily through editing, but also through the voting system. The reputation is merely a side effect here, IMO. –  slhck Jan 27 '13 at 18:51
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I have a serious problem with downvotes just because an answer has become out of date - a comment, maybe, but not a downvote unless the poster never acts on it and it can't be easily fixed and it's the top-voted/a very prominent answer. I don't think we should have any kind of chronological rep leaking, that's not really in the users' control. Either way, though, a comment is more important than a downvote - a random downvote isn't going to get anybody to rewrite anything! –  Shinrai Jan 28 '13 at 15:47
    
@Shinrai Yeah, of course – without a comment downvoting is rather useless. It'd just be an incentive to fix the answer. –  slhck Jan 28 '13 at 15:58
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As a user, comment (as of goobahapp v.2, the -pulverise option has been replaced with the -atomise option), edit if its minor changes, post a new answer highlighting this if not.

I'm personally not a fan of a downvote here, commenting on why is necessary in this case, and serves the same purposes, and it isn't clear if you 'just' downvote. (Downvote and commenting is I guess fine. Commenting is almost compulsory here).

I'd want the older answer kept, since not everyone uses the latest and greatest versions of things (what if you were running debian stable or oldstable, or RHEL, where packages are selected for stability no matter what the age). I have a dissenting view and still consider these useful as long as its clear that, well, it depends on the version.

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> not everyone uses the latest and greatest versions – generally true for all kinds of packages, OSes, etc. I agree with you there, but in this question's context we're talking about a tool that constantly evolves and where you can simply download the newest binary to use, without installation. The FFmpeg community is very unlikely to help you with any old version you may choose to run. Also think about new users coming here and trying answers for the first time, who will automatically download the newest version to test it (at least we often prompt them not to use the old versions). –  slhck Jan 28 '13 at 8:47
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+1. The simple fact here is that not everyone has the luxury of just downloading the latest version and using that instead (maybe doing so breaks something else that person relies upon). Commenting, certainly. Editing to clarify that the proposed technique works only in goobahapp v1.x, great. Posting a new answer with a solution that works in v2.x and stating that requirement, wonderful. Downvoting, only as a last resort. If one comes across a question that fits the task at hand and it has two answers, one for v1 and one for v2 of the tool, I'd say checking one's installed version is #1. –  Michael Kjörling Feb 7 '13 at 11:52
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Perhaps there should be a lock on the question resulting in something such as:

obsolete lock

It would prevent any addition, potentially wrong/confusing answers from being posted and would still keep the contributors' reputation intact. Further, it would prevent anyone from needing to edit the actual question/answer, which more or less wouldn't be read anyway.

The unquestionable fact is that some questions are no longer up to date or otherwise relevant in today's information base. It would be similar to a historical lock but would have the advantage of letting users know that it was closed specifically for the fact that it contains information that could be completely wrong if applied to a new version, instead of marking the question as old.

Note that moderators should not be judges of what's correct or not.

In this case, put it back in the hands of the general user, with another vote option, or an addendum to the "off topic" vote option as being "obsolete".

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Note that this topic is about obsolete answers. But could you provide examples for obsolete questions? As the best questions state a problem and a desired goal, they rarely become obsolete. Keep in mind that the use of old software or hardware alone doesn't make something obsolete. Off the top of my head, I can only think of questions dealing in a specific way (not adaptable to similar situations) with use of services that were shut down. –  Daniel Beck Feb 8 '13 at 10:08
    
Ah very true, didn't make that connection when I posted this. –  Qix Feb 23 '13 at 23:57
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