I've been on this site for a bit now, and I think I'm getting the hang of things, but one thing I don't really get is all this stuff with the Community Wiki questions and answers. I think I understand when a question/answer is supposed to become CW from posts like this one, but I don't really see the reason behind it. To get specific, here are some pointed questions:

Regarding Questions:

Why are questions made CW: How does a question becoming CW benefit SE? As an asker, why would I want to make my question CW, given the choice to do so?

Regarding answers:

Why are answers made CW: How does an answer becoming CW benefit SE? As an asker, why would I want to make my question CW, given the choice to do so?

Please let me know if this question is still too vague, I tried :/. Any comments, links, or answers are appreciated.

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    $\begingroup$ This meta.SO thread explains Community Wiki at least as it's thought of by the SE team (which is of course not necessarily how it is used on this site, and indeed it may be different across the SE network). $\endgroup$ – Zev Chonoles Jul 29 '13 at 3:53
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    $\begingroup$ And this meta.SO thread explains the use of CW answers in a way that's more common in practice. $\endgroup$ – 40 votes Jul 29 '13 at 4:00
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    $\begingroup$ Here's a really good example of a time when community wiki was useful. I posted this answer as community wiki because the comments were getting flooded with various observations that were useful to helping narrow down a solution, so I thought it would be useful to have it as an answer that anyone could freely edit and add to the list. Easier for the reader to follow, and de-clutters the comments section. $\endgroup$ – Ataraxia Jul 29 '13 at 4:13

To understand the purpose of community wiki, think of posts in terms of ownership. When you post a question or an answer, you are the owner of that question or answer. After all, it came from your head, it was your idea, and it is knowledge that you felt that it would be useful to contribute to the site.

That said, community wiki posts do not belong to one particular user. They belong to the community at large. As such, there are less restrictions on who can edit it, no one person gains any reputation points from it, and it doesn't state who the original poster was (it instead displays the user who has contributed the majority/plurality of information in the post). In the exceptional case (key word being exceptional) where you feel that your post shouldn't belong to you, and should instead belong to the community, you should make it a community wiki. A few cases where I believe community wiki is useful:

  • When the answer is in the format of a list. In this case having all the list items in one community wiki answer avoids the potential issue of having each list item posted as a separate answer.
  • The post's information is likely to change frequently. In this case community wiki encourages collaborative editing and updating.
  • The poster may have the right general idea, but isn't confident in how to flesh out the details, and feels confident that other users will. In this case it wouldn't be appropriate to claim ownership of the post, and community wiki encourages others to contribute to help make the post convey as much information as possible (I know this may sound like an oddly specific case, but it is one that has happened to me before!)
  • $\begingroup$ I think I have a much better idea of how CW is useful (and apparently underused) when it comes to answers. Any thoughts on whether/why it might be useful for questions? $\endgroup$ – Omnomnomnom Jul 29 '13 at 4:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Omnomnomnom That I'm not as sure about. But I think the third bullet might be a good reason for a CW question. I think this question that we all know and love is one of the few examples of a good CW question. $\endgroup$ – Ataraxia Jul 29 '13 at 4:36
  • $\begingroup$ That's a very good example, though I wonder if maybe we should have something for tutorials that isn't a QA format. Also that last bullet sounds like something that would have happened to me if I had been smart enough to use CW as an alternative to a long, formatted (and annoying to format) comment. Thank you $\endgroup$ – Omnomnomnom Jul 29 '13 at 4:45

It looks to me that

  1. CW isn't as useful as it was originally meant to be, given that "suggested edits" are now allowed
  2. CW is a way to handle posts that are too popular and functions as a purgatory below question-hood but above deletion when it comes to questions
  3. CW for answers is useful as something in the murky territory between comment and answer, allowing for readily and collaboratively formatted collections of half-formed ideas

I guess that's the gist of it, then...

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    $\begingroup$ I disagree with #2, as I don't think that the author of this question should have received $279\cdot 5$ points for it. There are many such examples. On a site about mathematics, reputation should be derived from mathematical posts. $\endgroup$ – 40 votes Jul 29 '13 at 4:54
  • $\begingroup$ Why doesn't the author deserve the points, then? Is it that no question could possibly merit that many points? Is it that popularity is a vicious cycle, and if questions didn't become CW then votes would be only a measure of how much attention you get? Is that the point, to prevent vote inflation? I suppose that's an important function, and so that explains why questions become CW at 30 answers. Is there any reason to post a question as CW from the start? Maybe if it doesn't fit the QA format, but then maybe it shouldn't be posted at all. $\endgroup$ – Omnomnomnom Jul 29 '13 at 5:06
  • $\begingroup$ Not sure how to conjure up the statistics, but I'd be willing to bet that the askers of the most popular questions hit the daily reputation cap a few times. $\endgroup$ – The Chaz 2.0 Jul 29 '13 at 5:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Omnomnomnom Because on a mathematical site, reputation should be based on mathematics. Reputation unlocks actions such as retagging, editing, voting down, closing, etc. This policy is based on the assumptions that the person with high enough reputation knows something about the subject. This does not work if the points can be amassed by posting a heart-warming story about a child finding a pattern in numbers, or a sad story about a child not able to learn math, or an amusing picture taken from the Internet, etc, etc, etc... $\endgroup$ – 40 votes Jul 29 '13 at 5:14
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    $\begingroup$ @40votes Thank you for taking the time to explain all this, by the way. So would you agree then that the function of CW is that of a way of regulating posts that aren't on-topic, but are otherwise useful/interesting/undeletable? Also, regarding Chaz's point: how does the reputation cap fit in? Is that another guard against undeserved votes? Why isn't that enough on its own? $\endgroup$ – Omnomnomnom Jul 29 '13 at 5:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Omnomnomnom Not at all. In fact, CW posts can be some of the most relevant, on topic posts on the site. There is a function called historical locking for what you describe: posts that aren't on-topic, but otherwise too popular to be deleted. One really entertaining example is the imfamous Jon Skeet facts... $\endgroup$ – Ataraxia Jul 29 '13 at 16:44

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