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On Stack Overflow, accepting an answer provides valuable feedback that a question has been answered. It completes the loop helping us distinguish a satisfied customer from someone who didn't get the information they were looking for. As Jeff says:

The question owner is not required to accept an answer to their question. We view accepting an answer as a simple social convention, a little informal "thank you" between the asker and answerer, a virtual tip o' the hat to that person whose response, as the question owner, you personally found the most helpful.

That doesn't mean the community will agree with your choice. But as the question owner, it is your choice to make.

We've gone over a year with this system and it hasn't really caused any major problems as far as I've seen. People generally get that the "accepted" answer isn't always the best answer. We've also done more to focus the site less on "truth" and more on facts, which make divergent, but correct-in-their-own-paradigm, answers less common.

However, we still have a system that looks odd to a new user. I've heard anecdotal evidence that new users are confused by the current system. We are not a church, but at first glance the presence of "Accepted" answers that get a little tick of approval could make it seem like we are or have aspirations to become one. Nevermind that answers are sometimes accepted in the face of community opposition; we are used to Christian sites trying to assert Truth. It gives the impression that we are less pluralistic in culture than we really are.


I have no idea if the Stack Exchange network development team will be interested in changing the system to support this site. There's a strong argument to be made to leave well enough alone. Please vote this question up if you feel there's a problem with Accepted answers on our site and vote it down if you think everything is working out fine. Also, please provide any suggestions that might require developer support in the form of an answer.

  • 1
    What would the system be changed to? – El'endia Starman Oct 22 '12 at 18:33
  • @El'endia Starman: I'll go ahead and write a suggestion or two. I purposely left my ideas out of this question to avoid confusion. (Hmmm...) If you think the system works well enough and that we shouldn't bother the SE developers, feel free to vote down. – Jon Ericson Oct 22 '12 at 18:39
  • I like the suggestions, so I changed my DV to an UV. – El'endia Starman Oct 22 '12 at 20:48
  • There are other sites out there that might have the same issues. "The Workplace" and "Programming" spring to mind. – DJClayworth Oct 23 '12 at 16:55
  • "We've gone over a year with this system and it hasn't really caused any major problems as far as I've seen..." - Why try to find solutions for problems that don't actively hinder your site at this time? – casperOne Dec 20 '12 at 19:14
  • @casperOne: Once people start using the system is kinda-sorta makes sense. But it looks crazy to an outsider and could prevent the sort of people we'd like to have as users from considering signing up. An "accepted answer" in the context of religion (which relies on appeals to authority more than most topics) gives the impression that we are, or aspire to be, an authority on Truth. That's would be a mistaken impression. – Jon Ericson Dec 20 '12 at 19:24
  • @JonEricson Perhaps a change to the tooltip overlay on the accepted answer would be a good first start as well as a change to the FAQ and a meta post. There's lots of things that can be done before a fundamental system change such as changing the use of accepted answers is implemented. – casperOne Dec 20 '12 at 19:49
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    @casperOne: Good point. We have some meta-posts, but I didn't think about the tooltip. Depending on what our site design ends up looking like, we might be able to lessen the false impression with an icon other than a checkmark. – Jon Ericson Dec 20 '12 at 20:20
7

Remove the preferential sorting for the accepted answer

If you accept your own answer, the system doesn't give it any priority in sorting. If this behaviour were extended to all accepted answers, the impression would be less of "this is the site approved answer" when it really isn't. One of the weird things I've seen on the site is when someone asks a question with a particular bias, gets several answers that counter the bias (which are well-supported via voting), one half-baked answer supporting the bias (which gets mixed votes), and accepts the less-than-helpful answer because it agrees with their prior opinion.

The system is supposed to work that way. We really shouldn't complain that someone is simply using the site as a soapbox. But it damages our collective credibility to have obviously self-serving answers be the first thing people see sometimes. As Jeff says on self-answers:

Although it’s fine to ask and answer your own question—this is specifically encouraged in the faq—you'll have to rely on the community to upvote your answer and validate it as correct. You, sir (or madam), are biased. Of course your answer to your own question will be the best possible answer. You wrote the darn thing!

The same principle would apply if you accept answers written by someone else who happens to be in your own tradition. If I fail to resist the temptation to accept the only answer that lines up with my view even if it's clearly sub-par, why should the system validate that choice?

  • This was actually the first solution that came to my mind. I'd shoot for this as opposed to your other answer (even though I +1'd both of them) because this one is far simpler to code, I would think. There's also the lack of potential confusion when new users cross the rep boundary. – El'endia Starman Oct 22 '12 at 20:40
  • I've also proposed this for Biblical Hermeneutics. – Jon Ericson Nov 29 '12 at 23:40
0

Only show the effects of an Accepted answer to high-reputation users

If there's a cultural problem with adapting to the Stack Exchange system, we have a simple measure of how far a user has adapted: the reputation system. There's already precedent for hiding bits of information from newer users:

  1. Viewing close votes requires a certain reputation level.
  2. Vote counts are shown to Established users only.

So we could make the effects of an accepted answer visible to users who are likely to have had enough contact with the system to understand what the checkmark really means. I'm not sure where the exact point might be, but I suspect it's around the time you get access to #1 above.

While we are at it, this would also have the effect of preventing new users from accepting an answer to their own questions. Personally, I think this is a good idea. On Stack Overflow, if some little tidbit of an answer points me in the right direction, I can say "thank you" without conflict. But on Christianity.SE I think the bar should be a bit higher. It's not usually possible for the asker (or anyone else) to verify the correctness of an answer. Since we can't force someone to accept any particular answer (and rightly so) it would be good to let new users spend some time in our culture in order to understand the unique criteria we use as a community.

People are, of course, free to reject our community's culture of plurality, but they should not be able to undermine the community by using a system feature that is not democratic in nature. Hiding the effects of that feature from users until they are in a position to understand it will prevent certain types of abuse.

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