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If you all are interested, I think we should find a way to combine efforts in answering questions by creating an indicator that "[screenname] is currently answering this question."

Reducing overlapping efforts

Whenever I answer new questions, I'm sure there's an extremely high likelihood that someone else is looking into answering it as well -- either they're typing an answer, or reading code, or reading another resource. I would guess that we waste a significant amount of time overlapping with each other in providing the same answers to the same questions.

If there was an indicator on a question that said that "toscho is currently answering this question," then I'd move on to another question because I'm confident that toscho will provide a quality, accurate answer. That would allow me to work with toscho instead of working against toscho. And let's face it, nobody wants to work against a background process (or pretty much anyone on this page).

Potential issues

Playing devil's advocate, the SE networks gamify the Q & A system, so one could argue that what I'm proposing removes some of the competitive edge and might reduce the overall participation. Our current answer rate is 86%, so I'm inclined to think that this won't have any degree of impact until that number gets up above 95%. Let's face it, there's no shortage of unanswered questions here, so there's still plenty of points to be had.

The only thing that does concern me is answer quality suffering. If I'm in the middle of answering a question, and another answer pops up, I (obviously) read it. If it's a lousy answer, I'll continue on with mine. Had I come to the question and saw that someone was answering it, maybe I wouldn't have invested the time and moved on to another question. Truthfully, I don't know how much of an issue this would be, and I'd also guess that impact would have to do with implementation. I would probably only shy away from a question if I trusted the person answering it.

The goal

Why are people here answering questions? What is your average answerer's primary goal in answering questions? For me, it's to give back to the WordPress community. I want to see every (valid, reasonable, and not-too-narrow) question answered. The only way I see that ever being possible is to work with, not against, others.

This question is a feeler, to see if this is something others are interested in as well. If others agree, we can then talk implementation. What are your thoughts on this? Any additional concerns?

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A healthy answer rate is 2—5 answers per post. Especially users with deep knowledge may come up with very different solutions. This is what we need: different solutions for the same problem. There is rarely just one solution.

And sometimes someone can explain the same solution with better words, so even nearly duplicate answers might help the asker understanding the solution better.

And what would you do if I add a comment I will answer this … and then forget it? :)

I, on the other hand, would ignore such a comment for the reasons given above and because I have already written 50% of my answer while you are typing that comment.

  • What do you think is more important, for many questions to have multiple answers, or for every question to have at least 1 answer? I'm trying to think of ways to help attain the latter, because to me, that seems more important. I'm open to other suggestions on how to get there if you have any ideas. – Matthew Boynes May 25 '13 at 21:41
  • Each question should get an answer. But some questions are incomplete, or we don’t have enough experts (woocommerce, buddypress). I don’t see that as an either-or situation. – fuxia May 25 '13 at 21:44
  • The incomplete questions, the low-quality ones, the ones that require specific expertise, etc., can be ignored for the purposes of this discussion. Simply put, let's say 10% of our efforts are wasted in overlap, if we could fix that, we could be answering 10% more questions (or providing more variety of answers to already answered questions). – Matthew Boynes May 25 '13 at 22:01
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I feel alerting to answer that has not yet happened is excessive. There already is real time alert that new answer has been submitted.

Answer being created is considerably more vague state.

What if I start typing "So to accomplish this..." and get distracted by cat, then go to get new cup of tea, check twitter when I return... And meanwhile everyone runs around the question, that is not getting any closer to solution?

  • I don't disagree with you, and I've had the same thoughts, and I'm certainly not suggesting there wouldn't be challenges in finding the right solution. I just want to get the discussion happening to see if this is something others feel is limiting us. Personally, I see wasted effort through overlap and repetition, and as a DRY developer, that makes me twitch. – Matthew Boynes May 25 '13 at 21:46
  • +1. There's nothing stopping someone from deleting an answer if it is a duplicate of another question posted at the same time (or better yet: editing the first answer to add in additional detail from the duplicate). The much bigger issue is posting a trivial answer. Far too many times, I've posted a detailed, resourced, linked answer, only to have someone post a TL;DR version a few seconds before I submit mine. – Chip Bennett May 28 '13 at 20:07

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