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Each month we select a new topic challenge that will start one month later and run for two months. Usually, the next topic challenge is simply based on which suggestion has the highest number of votes (i.e. net votes: number of upvotes minus the number of downvotes).

However, it sometimes happens that more than one suggestion has the same number of votes. At the time of writing, both Rabindranath Tagore (submitted on 20 April 2020) and Ko Un (submitted on 22 August 2020) have four votes. At the end of July, we even had a four-way tie; at the end of May we had a tie between The Tale of Genji and the Shahnameh; at the end of April we had a three-way tie between the Shahnameh, Korean Folkore and The Tale of Genji. Sometimes these ties are broken (but sometimes for only a short span of time). They seem to occur frequently enough to agree on a rule for selecting a suggestion among those with the same number of upvotes. I can think of various rules, each with their own benefits and downsides:

  • Pick the oldest suggestion. This seems fair ("first in, first out"), but the person who made the suggestion may have lost interest (or become inactive) by the start of the topic challenge.
  • Pick the newest suggestion. This seems unfair towards the older suggestion but may have the advantage that enthusiasm for the suggestion is still fresh by the the start of the topic challenge.
  • Pick the suggestion with fewest downvotes: this gives you the least controversial topic challenge.
  • Pick the suggestion with the most upvotes: this may result in a more "controversial" topic challenge (although this is relative, since participation is entirely voluntary) but it results in a challenge that more people upvoted compared to the other challenges.

Which of the above rules should we use? Or should we use a different one? And what to do if using one of these rules still results in a tie?

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I propose: pick the oldest suggestion.

Using a criterion based on number of downvotes or upvotes will quite often result in a tie: if two answers are both sitting at (for example) +4 / -1, then we're right back in the same situation needing to find a tie-break criterion. The criteria based on age won't ever give a tie, barring some weird freak of coincidence in which two people post answers at exactly the same second to a meta thread which rarely gets more than one new answer in a week.

So, oldest or newest? Well, the issue of the challenge proposer becoming inactive isn't that important: we have chosen some challenges from inactive or even deleted users, but even in cases where the proposer was still active, that user hasn't always participated in the challenge themselves. I think it's fairer, and less likely to lead to resentment, if we choose the challenge that's been waiting longer. Sometimes a new challenge does shoot to the top quickly due to a brief surge in enthusiasm, but even if we announced it that same month, the challenge itself would start at least one month later and the enthusiasm might have worn off by then.

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