5

Accepted answers on controversial topics on Meta pose a very real problem.

  • They give an advantage to whatever position the asker of the question supports, as he can mark that as accepted and it will bubble to the top, whether or not it's the answer that the most people agree with, regardless of how well it is actually supported.

  • To newer users, accepted answers on meta appear to be the correct answer, and they might believe that it marks the policy that the community has decided to go with.

  • Accepted answers give the appearance that the matter is closed and no longer up for discussion.

I'm a relative newbie, but have been around and very active for the last 4 months. I very much doubt I was alone in not understanding that accepted answers are generally meaningless on Meta.

For one example of this, in the topic of What's the difference between FortressCraft and Minecraft? Who cares?, the community seems to have yet to reach much of a consensus, but an answer is already marked as accepted. As mentioned above, I think this makes that position seem "official" to newer users who don't know better, and discourages them from participating in a discussion that already seems to be closed.

My original request was that I would like to see the ability to accept an answer removed from Meta, but I was very quickly convinced that this was too harsh an approach. If, as indicated, it accepted answers truly mean nothing, I'd like to see them not bubble to the top of the sort order. All it does is serve create confusion and bias.

Update: My example question was kind of bad, since it was originally opened in September 2011 and just now came up for additional discussion. So I don't mean to imply that the asker is doing anything tricky to support his position. But the principle holds.

  • 3
    I wouldn't necessarily go as far as removing it entirely, but it might make sense to ignore answer acceptance in the sort order, so a downvoted accepted answer will not appear at the top of the list. – Mad Scientist Mar 26 '12 at 13:52
  • 1
    I don't think this is a good idea. Yes there is a subset of questions that the community has a hard time coming up with a concrete answer for, but there are plenty of other questions that has one correct answer. Taking a broad nuke it all approach just because of one type of question isn't a good way to handle it. – l I Mar 26 '12 at 13:53
  • @Fabian You are right. I like that a lot better. Editing my question. – Sterno Mar 26 '12 at 13:53
  • 2
    I think the real issue is there needs to be a new type of question on meta, basically a version where no answers can be accepted and the highest voted answer is on the top. These should be exclusively used for controversial topics and such. Instead of a community wiki type question, maybe we can request for a community consensus type question – l I Mar 26 '12 at 13:55
  • Using an accepted answer (which you chose) as justification that accepted answers are meaningless on meta and should not affect sort order because they can be unfairly used to support the original poster's position is ironic. – user3389 Mar 26 '12 at 20:33
  • @marktrapp Well, me accepting the answer on my post was meant to be the ironic part. The other answers on that question seemed to agree they were meaningless... except in the case of feature requests, which I admit I overlooked, so I didn't mean to use it as a baseless justification here. – Sterno Mar 26 '12 at 20:40
  • @Sterno Ben Brocka's answer more closely aligns with historic usage: it's anything but meaningless. In the case of the FC vs. MC question, Grace Note's answer was accepted because it's pretty close to the consensus position and has the added weight of being from an SE employee. – user3389 Mar 26 '12 at 20:55
  • 1
    @MarkTrapp Okay, then this is a point of definite confusion for me. Because I read Ben's answer as "You pretty much have to read everything to determine what the real accepted answer is". Though if anything, this is proving my point that accepted answer behavior on meta is very confusing to newbies! As for Grace's answer, it is your feeling that it is the consensus position. Someone else who posted that question might have marked something else as accepted. The whole point is that there's no real meaning to it since anyone can do their own thing! – Sterno Mar 26 '12 at 20:57
  • @Sterno It's not a feeling: I'm not blindly following my impulses or trying to trick people into accepting my position. These things are not as inscrutable as you're making it out to be: consensus is producing a position that people can reasonably live with and that has had its objections addressed. Grace Note's answer is that: nearly every answer agrees for the most part with what was stated there. – user3389 Mar 26 '12 at 21:27
  • I'm hoping that when they separate out meta.stackoverflow from meta.stackexchange they will change the business logic around metas. For now though, meta has our own "rules" of how it runs and we all know accepted answer doesn't mean community agreement. – Resorath Mar 26 '12 at 21:33
  • @MarkTrapp My argument isn't about your particular answer. My point is that someone else who asked that question might have read that and come to a different conclusion. I mean, look at what brought up your comment in the first place. I wasn't trying to be tricky. I genuinely thought the overall consensus was that meta answers have no meaning. Ben's answer of "Well, sometimes they have meaning depending on context and in a way which I can't really define" is equivalent to "they mean nothing" to me, because without being able to define it, it's left to each individual to decide. – Sterno Mar 26 '12 at 21:38
  • Anyway, it's fairly clear to me that the community doesn't agree with this feature request, and I'm totally cool with that. But I do think the meaning of accepted answers on meta is pretty nebulous and if they have meaning at all, it's very heavily dependent on individual questions, context, and even who the participants are, which has some definite downsides that perhaps the veterans of StackExchange don't see because they're so used to the system. – Sterno Mar 26 '12 at 21:40
3

To echo Ben's answer somewhat, you sorta need to be a little more discerning when reading meta discussions. Meta should be inviting, but it's not the place to get quick rules of thumb or policies: that's what the FAQ is for.

The ideal meta question—where the top answer exactly matches unassailable policy and should be treated like the word of god—doesn't exist. Every decision requires some interpretation and asking questions of more experienced users. Yes, meta is messy, but I think that's by design: this is where the sausage is made. Discussions are messy. Guidelines and policies made by humans are messy.

When trying to understand a meta discussion, sort order, scores, and accepted answers are less important than what the general arguments are. In most situations, however, the accepted answer is pretty close to the summary of consensus and the scores reflect what position should be (or has been) implemented.

Sometimes it's not, and many times there are good tells: the accepted answer has a bunch of negative comments, or is down voted, or is just inferior to the other arguments presented in other answers. Sometimes, however, it's not clear what the consensus is without reading everything and coming up with a determination for oneself.

But in trying to solve that edge case by removing accepted answers from being shown first because they might be contrary to what's been implemented, you introduce a new one: if something gets implemented long after the discussion happens (so by default it doesn't have as many votes), or if something gets implemented in a way that's unpopular, the canonical answer gets buried amongst all the noise of the surrounding discussion.

I'd rather keep the tool we have—and is used in good faith by most people to push the canonical or consensus answer to the top—rather than remove it in favor of sorting everything by votes. Stack Exchange isn't a popularity contest, and there's no reason why the messy discussions we have should be treated like one either.

  • 2
    For what it's worth, you've convinced me this is an inappropriate solution to handle my complaint. I'm marking it as accepted, because irony, and because it convinced me my solution was a bad idea. But I do think the way accepted answers are treated on Meta is confusing and there is definitely room for improvement on how we handled them... I just no longer think my feature request is the solution. – Sterno Mar 26 '12 at 21:47
2

I think they mean something on questions asked by moderators looking for consensus on a topic.
For example, in the last ITG debate, where agent86 made the process through meta questions, the accepted solution was then accepted as official.

If we have a problem with a particular accepted answer on a meta discussion (a problem that's disruptive) that does not represent an official solution, we can always delete it.

0

A part of Meta's system is Eating our own Dogfood even if it isn't 100% perfectly suited to unanswerable discussions. The Q/A format isn't perfect here but it's familiar and it works well when people play nice.

The top answer is obviously most important on the main site and casual users will just skim for the accepted/top answer, and we want that. But meta's not like that; if you're here, you're probably an advanced user who's enganged and willing/wanting to read the whole conversation.

I don't think Meta needs to be optimized for scanning like the main site's questions; we do that for correctness and anonymous visitors. Meta doesn't really get anonymous visitors and often we don't have "correctness" either. I don't think it's a problem worth messing with the system for.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .