The way answers are ranked across the Stack Exchange Network is that an accepted answer appears first, followed by the other answers in decreasing order of votes. If there is no accepted answer then the answers are listed solely by votes.

I would like to argue that while this might make sense for some (most?) Stack Exchange sites, it does not make sense for Mi Yodeya.

In this authoritative answer Shog9 says:

…Except when there is an accepted answer. Then it always appears first. Regardless of sort order. This one little inconsistency was added as a way to highlight the importance of an answer which is presumed to have actually helped at least one person solve an actual problem they faced. In practice, other readers tend to agree with the asker in the vast majority of cases.

A similar argument is made in this answer:

I think the accepted answer should always be first because

The asker has decided it works.

In your example (which is arguably a very narrow corner case), it would potentially make sense to have the most popular answer listed first.

However, 99.999999% of questions asked aren't about theory or hypotheticals. They are of the form:

I have this specific problem and/or error message from the below code. How can I fix this/get the desired outcome?

For those cases, what everyone else thinks arguably doesn't matter very much. What matters is what actually fixes the issue, which only the OP can tell us.

The thinking here seems to be that if the questioner had a problem and an answer resolved it, the questioner can tell us which answer worked, and that is an indication of the answer's value. (This is, of course, assuming we trust the questioner not to lie or be otherwise deceitful.)

However, on Mi Yodeya the questions are not about practical problems that can the be claimed to be solved. (In fact, questions about practical issues are considered off-topic.) To paraphrase from the above quote:

99.999999% of questions asked are about theory or hypotheticals.

That is to say that people are asking questions that cannot be empirically verified. If someone asks "what is Judaism's view on evolution?" there is no way for them to say that an answer "worked for them". This is not a question about what works; it is a question about what Judaism believes. If one answer says Judaism believes in evolution and another answer says Judaism decries evolution, why should we care which answer the questioner likes better? Him liking it better is absolutely meaningless. This is certainly true when another answer has more votes, but even if the votes are equal the questioner's opinion should hold no greater weight than any other voter's opinion (and perhaps should hold less weight because the very fact that he asked the question is likely indicative of a lack of expertise in this area).

So can anyone offer an argument for why the questioner's opinion should matter on a site like Mi Yodeya where answers are not practical solutions?

If not, is there a way that this feature can be changed for Mi Yodeya? (I imagine this is unlikely.)

Does anyone agree/disagree?


There are a limited number of questions that are the sort where a questioner can say that something worked, such as many questions under the how-to tag. Nevertheless, these are only a small percentage of the questions on this site (and are probably most likely to get disputed as off-topic because they don't necessarily relate to Judaism. See the debate here.)

  • I agree completely, I think this is because it uses the SE platform that targets different sort of questions. I try to follow your thinking and I think that you feel/know that Judaism @SE is very opinion-based, and what works for a Belzer does not work for a Brisker, or what works in the USA does not work here in Jerusalem. When you talk in person you can instantly recognize a person's affiliation and background and respond accordingly, but here the identity is not revealed. – Al Berko Jul 12 at 18:32
  • I would like very much to set a basic system of affiliation, like country, type (Litvakes, Hassidisher, Sefardish etc), Frum/Baal Tshuvah, years lerning, affiliation (Haredi, Mosern, Srugah, Conservative etc, secular). That would help a lot understanding the OP and the question and the desired answer. I would not answer a question if I knew that the OP is a Brisker for example - כשם שמצוה להגיד דבר הנשמע.... – Al Berko Jul 12 at 18:36
  • @AlBerko There is nothing stopping a questioner from revealing his affiliation, or even limiting the question to a specific worldview. If answers are not helping the questioner because they are coming from different backgrounds, then it is likely that the questioner did not include enough information. – Alex Jul 12 at 18:45

Summary: the asker's selection doesn't and shouldn't mean much on our site, but on some sites it makes sense and there's a lot of resistance to changing it, so let's pursue per-site exceptions.


From the beginning, the claim has been that accepted answers convey signal that "this worked". As you point out, that's not really meaningful on some sites. There have been many attempts to change how acceptance works and some calls to get rid of it. When I asked what signal acceptance is supposed to convey now (well, in 2015 when I asked the question), I got an answer from Tim Post, a community manager, that included this:

While the OP is free to accept an answer, which does sort of tacitly imply a sense of finality - there's positively no reason that others should hold off on posting additional answers that cover additional ground, or cover things that have been previously explained in a much better way. The question author might be done, but we try to optimize for everyone else that has the same or similar problem. If you have better information than other answers provide, post it. [...]

The fact that it influences the sort order, and that old answers don't always age particularly well for a number of reasons (which is what we were looking at) is another matter entirely; the accept mark just further complicates that because losing that tiny bit of extra signal would be a bad idea. Even really smelly accepted answers are often educational, in a "do as I didn't" sort of sense.

SE (the company) is really attached to the checkmark. What I would like to do is change the part where acceptance pins an answer to the top. Letting the asker of a question choose an answer for a little extra rep and a visible "I liked this best" sign is fine; what's not so fine is when a not-so-great answer gets that coveted spot and a "you don't need to read further" sign. SE insiders know to read more of the answers; people coming from Google are trained by other sites to stop at the green checkmark.

There's already precedent in one special case; a self-answered question sorts the answers by score, period, so the checkmark might fall farther down the page. I'd like to see the system do that for all accepted answers, not just self-answers, with an easy way to jump from the question straight to the accepted answer to allay the concerns of the people who think it should always be pinned.

That last link is to a question proposing that negatively-scored accepted answers get this treatment. The proposal is from somebody who works for SE, but it has never been implemented. Clearly there's strong pressure out there against this, so maybe instead of pursuing a network-wide change we should pursue a per-site option. If the rest of the network wants acceptances to behave the way they do now then fine, but may we (and several other sites that I know also want it) have the ability to unpin the accepted answer? I think we'd benefit a lot from that.

According to this SEDE query that I found on Meta.SE, we have:

21,508 questions, of which
8,845 have accepted answers, that have
4,795,088 total views.

Of the 8,845 with accepted answers,
904 have at least one answer with a higher score; these have
624,276 total views.

In other words, for 13% of views of questions with accepted answers, there's a higher-voted answer than the accepted one, but with the accepted answer pinned to the top, people might not notice it. (This query does not filter out self-answers, which aren't pinned anyway; sorry about that.)

  • "people coming from Google are trained by other sites to stop at the green checkmark" Google itself also promotes the "accepted" answer. – Ploni Jul 11 at 16:06
  • @Ploni oh, good point. – Monica Cellio Jul 11 at 16:09
  • 3
    Related feature request: meta.stackexchange.com/q/312597/162102 – Monica Cellio Jul 13 at 18:40
  • The 13% of question views is only within questions that have accepted answers, correct? I.e. that 13% of views of questions with accepted answers are views of questions where there is a higher voted answer than the accepted answer? – Alex Jul 13 at 18:58
  • 1
    @Alex correct. Among views of questions with accepted answers, 13% of the time there's a higher-voted answer farther down the page. – Monica Cellio Jul 13 at 18:59

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