I never noticed this practice on stackoverflow or serverfault, but I noticed on superuser that some users will answer a question if a placeholder that either barely or does not answer the question it was in response to. Several minutes later, the user will then edit their post to answer the question and incorporate other answers. This seems like a blatant abuse of the system.

I understand that The Fastest Guns in the West is considered solved, but doesn't this kind of abuse seem like a response to at least the perception that early posts are accepted and up voted more often?

In short, is it an abuse of the system to post placeholder answers to a question and if so what can be done about it?

  • 6
    An edit abuse question that doesn't appear to be about He Who Shall Not Be Named? It's like I've stepped into an alternate universe. – Hilarious Comedy Pesto Jul 15 '09 at 16:03
  • 3
    Why would Voldemort have any reason to be on SO? He's not programming related. – Weblog Jul 15 '09 at 16:07
  • 1
    @Welbog: yeah, that's why they banished him to SuperUser... – Shog9 Jul 15 '09 at 17:33
  • 1
    I think Voldemort was "He Who Must Not Be Named", so they are talking about a different nameless horror. – Axeman Jul 15 '09 at 18:31

I think it is an abuse of the system to post something that is purely a placeholder and has no content or attempt at an answer whatsoever. However, if its partial answer, or an answer without supporting code/links I think that is acceptable. It potentially still helps the OP faster, and has meaningful content. While still allowing the answerer to update the content to a more complete version.

  • I often post the first sketch of the code first, then edit to make cleaner (i.e. idented) code and only then provide full answer. First steps to just satisfy this user this time, further steps to make better answer for ones who will find it in future. – Vi. Dec 23 '11 at 10:35

It is not abuse, and is actually desirable.

We like faster answers on the sites and as long as the answer was on topic and had at least something of content in it, there is nothing wrong with fleshing it out later.

It is actually one of the reasons why there is a time delay on when the revision history picks up on edits.

This answer is actually an example of this by the way.

  • 2
    So if you asked a question that was say "How are pencils made?" and I answered "With wood!" then waited until there were 5 other answers then copied them, that would be desirable? – David Ma Jul 15 '09 at 16:06
  • 3
    @David: If the answer is right, who cares? – Hilarious Comedy Pesto Jul 15 '09 at 16:07
  • 1
    @David: Actually, yes, but only to a certain extent. The top voted answer usually does become a collection of several other posts whether intentional or not. – Geoffrey Chetwood Jul 15 '09 at 16:08
  • 1
    @Pesto: It's a problem because it's frustrating to see well thought out answers being copied by users who are simply throwing placeholders to obtain a high listing on the page. The point system is in place to provide a form of incentive and currency to crowd moderation. When there's a blatant abuse of that system that is unchecked, I feel that it reduces the worth of the system as a whole because it reduces the incentive to answer questions. – David Ma Jul 15 '09 at 16:14
  • @David: So basically you are just mad at the FGITW problem? – Geoffrey Chetwood Jul 15 '09 at 16:15
  • @Rich: That seems a bit odd to me as well, because it's circumventing a valuable feature -- the ranking of good suggestions. By combining all the answers into one single post, you loose the ability to rank individual components of that answer, hence a lot of the granularity that was originally in the system. – David Ma Jul 15 '09 at 16:17
  • @Rich: If you want to view it as such, sure, but I think I'll graciously bow out of this conversation then. – David Ma Jul 15 '09 at 16:19
  • 2
    @David: This site is not only about getting rep, like you are implying. This site is about creating a repository of questions and answers with the answers right on top, under the question. – Geoffrey Chetwood Jul 15 '09 at 16:23
  • @Rich B: I don't think David was implying that the site is "only" about getting rep. After all, David was not the one to identify and name the so-called FGITW problem. He simply identified a special case of that problem (placeholders) and asked whether it should be given extra consideration. The idea that it is a problem, though, did not originate with and is certainly not unique to David Ma. – ベレアー アダム Jul 15 '09 at 16:27
  • 1
    @Rich: I don't think you're understanding my argument. These sites allows users to have their questions answered with quality responses. Quality responses are solicited from the community. To moderate, augment, encourage, and reward responses, a reputation system is in place. If this reputation system is abused, then it reduces the worth of that auxiliary. If we're to believe that these supporting systems actually have worth, that they increase the quality of answers, then it stands to reason that abuse the system will reduce the quality of answers. – David Ma Jul 15 '09 at 16:31
  • 1
    @David: But again, you keep calling it 'abuse'. It is not abuse. It is encouraged. Jeff Atwood has said before that his intentions were that a quick way to pick up rep would be to consolidate a bunch of less complete answers into your own. This is how the system works. – Geoffrey Chetwood Jul 15 '09 at 16:33
  • @David Ma: but you're not talking about abuse that results in lower-quality answers. You're talking about a practice that actively builds higher -quality answers, by incorporating the best parts of disparate answers into a single, (hopefully-) coherent reply. That's a good thing ! – Shog9 Jul 15 '09 at 17:15
  • @Shog9: My contention is that it produces an overall decrease in answer quality because there is less incentive to post good responses, even if compound answers are superior overall (which I don't agree on). – David Ma Jul 15 '09 at 17:21
  • 2
    @David Ma: all things being equal, if you post the most helpful, comprehensive and attractive answer, you'll get the votes. That the system allows... and to an extent, rewards - the compilation of somewhat-helpful, partial answers into a complete package only serves to further promote a result that should be seen as inevitable. Think about it: the vast majority of information on these sites already exists : it's out there, somewhere ; we're just bringing it together. The person to make the best use of his sources - whether they be books, websites, or adjacent answers - "wins". – Shog9 Jul 15 '09 at 17:32
  • 1
    If somebody has just copied other answers then it's up to people to comment saying so.. and down to the OP to not be stupid enough to accept it. One can always comment and say one answer is better than another. or that everything a person has said has been said earlier by others. – barlop Feb 16 '11 at 18:19

This does happen on SO, so I can only assume it does on SF as well.

I don't think it can ever be stopped, unless a ban is put on editing posts within a certain time period. However, that would (I feel) cause more problems than it solves as an incorrect post could attract multiple down-votes in that period.

You might be noticing it now because SU is so new. It could settle down in a few days.

You must log in to answer this question.