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Part of the fun of a stackexchange is the (hopefully) good-natured competition that arises naturally to see who can get the answer in "first" --an elegant reflective answer that comes a day late may not receive the attention that a more slapdash answer posted on the first 10min receives. But, really this can be a good thing since those who post questions can count on speedy replies.

However, the tendency towards answering quickly also means that a core group of fast responders tend to respond to the bulk of the questions. This can give the site a single "voice" that is dominated by these users. I'm wondering how to tap the mental resources of the rest of the users who may be more cautious (a good thing), less certian (a bad/good thing), or simply enjoy thinking for at least one day about a problem before saying anything.

Positives from this could include:

  • increasing user engagement since more would have a chance to answer
  • increasing the quality of answers
  • encouraging reflection
  • Changing the tone of discussions. Fast responders may dismiss, or simplify questions to get the answer up first, and everyone after them follows suit since they assume a fast correct-sounding answer from a user with a large number of reputation points must be the whole story. (Often this is true, but just as often this is not true.)

So, the idea is to give users the option of locking their question so that it is displayed first to those users who have answered the fewest questions, it would go live for more and more users over the course of one day. In the last hours of the day it would be live to all users. This would hopefully lead to answers coming from formerly silent users.

This would be optional and up to the person asking the question. Some questions one simply wants a fast obvious answer. For others, more reflection, more off-beat answers are better.

I base this on what good teachers do. Good teachers do not let one student answer every question. Instead, they try to get other students to answer. The student who answers questions first may not be the one who has the best answers. It's not just a pedagogical tool to ensure that every student gets to answer a question. It is also about preserving the diversity of voices and ideas in the room-- making the classroom more rich.

Askers could do the same here... when the question calls for it.

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    $\begingroup$ Sometimes I just leave a comment and let others do the fleshing out. On the other hand, we really do have a lot of users who are quick of mind, as well as quick with the fingers. (Yeah, I feel intimidated by them too.) Still, I have seen cases where even answers that came in much later received twice the upvotes of the first few answers, so make of it what you will. $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Nov 3 '10 at 16:54
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The "accept answer" option is overused, and discourages a more complete analysis of the mathematical content in questions. In cases where different answers contradict each other it is convenient to have a mechanism for identifying incorrect material or privileging correct answers, but distinguishing a single answer as the supposed "winner" of each thread is a competition that prevents much of the deeper, less obvious material from coming to the surface. Instead of eliciting as much information as possible about each subject posted, it stops the flow of information based on decisions by the original questioners who, by definition, do not necessarily know enough to understand when the matter has been intellectually exhausted.

Many questions -- probably a majority -- are of interest to users other than the original posters, and the accretion of increasingly comprehensive answers would improve the quality of the site as a knowledge repository. If the degree of elaboration of a given question surpasses the need or interest of the original poster, that is meta-information of possible value to some users (and it could be recommended in FAQs to indicate such metadata very specifically by editing the question), but other than that it is of limited relevance to the accumulation of a Q&A database.

Once a question is posted it is public material or "community property" to develop in whatever way all the users see fit, and I see no reason to promote the idea that the duration of the Q&A be controlled by opinions of the original poster (or moderators or site overlords who might decide to close a thread with ongoing content accretion).

Excellent question, by the way.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree that too often I see a question for the first time, then see that some hasty, incomplete answer has already been accepted, making me wonder whether any further answers would ever be seen by the asker. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Nov 7 '10 at 0:34

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