In March 2017, not very long after Literature Stack Exchange had launched, Hamlet asked, Is the accepted answer feature good for this site? In his question, he wrote,
The thing about accepting an answer is it can be misinterpreted as saying that there is nothing to discuss. (…) On a site like literature, where there are multiple ways to analyze the same text, it's important that people feel comfortable describing alternative viewpoints even if it's not the viewpoint the OP expects.
There are several other issues with the accepted-answer feature.
- Answers sometimes get accepted very quickly. For example, the answer to Does Joyce use interior monologue in "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man"? after just over 20 minutes after it was posted (according to verbose, who wrote the answer). (In March 2017, one answer on SFF SE's meta apparently got accepted within 16 seconds, "hardly enough time to click on and read the answer".) The answer to How to read "truths in Nietzsche’s sense of the word" was accepted within 6 minutes of being posted. My answer about the oldest Braille book was accepted within 10 minutes of being posted. More recently, the first answer submitted to the question How was the possessive used in Elizabethan literature? was accepted within (roughly) an hour of being submitted, and two answers that were submitted later showed that the first answer contained a factual error. This leads me to my next issue.
- People very rarely change the accepted answer when a better one is submitted. I am aware of very few examples of answers that were unaccepted: Is there really a single "Old Babylonian version" of the Epic of Gilgamesh? (in March 2020), possibly What does "between us there was, …" mean …? (see Rand al'Thor's chat comment from August 2018) and possibly What does Lady Macbeth mean by "what thou art promised"? (based on a Napoleon Wilson's / Cahir Mawr Dyffryn æp Ceallach's comment in chat). (It is difficult to identify answers that have been unaccepted because this is not recorded in an answer's history.) And the answer to the question Was the Wood in Tales of Goldstone Wood inspired... was delete-voted after it had apparently been accepted (see this 6 December 2018 chat comment by Rand al'Thor, who was not a mod at the time).
- In literary criticism, many questions can never be settled definitively, so an "accepted answer" feature does not make much sense from a scholarly point of view.
Based on this, I think the accepted-answer featured needs to change. Last year, Stack Overflow asked whether accepted answers should remain pinned at the top or not but that proposal did not address any of the issues listed above. How should this feature by changed then? I can think of several ways:
- Get rid of it entirely. Many questions in literature cannot be settled definitively. Interpretations of literary texts, for example, have evolved over time. Unlike Stack Overflow, Literature SE is not a site where you can run and test a code sample submitted in an answer to verify that it does what the OP wants. The accepted-answer feature makes sense for identification requests, but that type of question is not representative of diversity of the questions on this site. (One issue with this suggestion is that it would lead to two categories of questions: one category submitted before the accepted-answer feature was removed and another category that was submitted later. Do existing accepted answers remain "accepted"?)
- Make the accepted-answer button unavailable for the first 48 hours after submission of the question. This would prevent a very quick acceptance of answers that were submited within the first few hours of posting the question. (48 hours is admittedly an arbitrary time span.)
- Make the accepted-answer button unavailable for the first 48 hours after submission of the first answser. This would give users at least 48 hours' time to come up with a better answer if they think the first one can be improved upon.
(Personally, I wouldn't mind getting rid of the accepted-answer feature entirely but I expect this to meet with a lot of resistance. The third option is my favourite alternative.)
What do people think about this? Should the accepted-answer feature remain as it currently is or should it be changed? If it should be changed, what suggestions do you have?
PS: (1) I don't know what the chances are of a change getting implemented by Stack Overflow Inc., but we can't expect the changes we want if we don't say what we want in the first place. (2) Different sites have different attitudes towards the accepted-answer feature, so we don't need to come up with something that would work across the Stack Exchange network. However, if we reach consensus on a specific change, I would like to take that idea to Meta SE, since some other sites may also be interested in it.