# Feature Request: Knowing if someone is answering a question

A lot of easier questions get answered very quickly, by several people within the course of a few minutes.

These solutions are often redundant because the users were mutually unaware that others were working on the same problem. So I suggest that there should be an "I've got it" feature which allows a user who knows they can answer a question completely to label the question, so that other users don't exert themselves unnecessarily.

EDIT: The other users, of course, could still post if they felt they had something unique to contribute. But if the question felt straightforward, it would allow people to wait until an answer was posted so that they would not repeat someone's argument.

EDIT2: Today I posted one of $3$ comments within $6$ seconds of each other. But on a more serious note, I spent quite a bit of time solving a cubic equation from scratch, only to have someone else post a very similar solution a minute or so before I finished mine. It would be nice to at least know that someone else was working on the question...

EDIT3: Given the sensible points made by @Goos, I think the most effective version of this feature would

1. work automatically, as opposed to requiring "opt-in", and
2. work anonymously, saying "2 people are answering" as opposed to "x and y are answering." Despite this being the practice on Quora, I see little reason for specifying who is answering. That is invasive, and anyway what matters is that someone is answering.

Note also that there would technically be a sort of "opt-out", as @Asaf has mentioned :)

However, I would even be in favor of a much weaker version which could show "recent activity" on the question, for instance by given question views (as is already done) within the last few minutes. For example, if a simple question has 15 people looking at it, there is little reason to attempt writing an answer - this would gauge the same principle without being as invasive to one's privacy.

• Related older discussions: meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/3057/… and meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/7162/… – Martin Sleziak Apr 28 '14 at 4:32
• What are the objections that are causing downvoting? – user142299 Apr 28 '14 at 4:35
• I don't think this is necessary. If you think your answer could be replicated by someone else then you should either (a) find something which will set your answer apart, or (b) type quicker, or finally (c) find a more interesting question to answer. – user1729 Apr 28 '14 at 8:28
• I think that answerers should be well aware that this is a risk everybody runs when answering a question. I stand by user1729's suggestions (a) and (c) (well (b) is true too, but it's not really very encouraging ;) ) – rschwieb Apr 28 '14 at 13:15
• I am well aware of the risk, which is why I want the feature added. BTW, this same thing just happened to me again on another question. I got done writing an answer and then two other people, within seconds of each other, posted basically identical solutions. As to the suggestions, (a) making answers unique is not always possible for the straightforward posts that this feature concerns, (b) type quicker is not really a helpful suggestion, (c) find another question is the Tragedy of the Commons. If everyone does it, nothing gets answered. – user142299 Apr 28 '14 at 16:12
• In general, and I get this from mentally recalling beta site healthiness indicators, an average of 3 answers per question is one of the indicators of a healthy site. That being said, 3 completely redundant questions is silly I admit. Assume others will be working on an answer. You should expect that if someone wants to work up an answer, knowing that others are working up answers on the same problem is not going to stop them from creating their own post. When the answers come in, you can either make yours better than all the rest by edit, leave it alone, or delete. The choice is yours. – J. W. Perry Apr 30 '14 at 4:14
• Note this is not a bad meta question in my opinion. I would not downvote it, but I could not care less about adding this as a new feature. If I knew the information I would not change my behavior. – J. W. Perry Apr 30 '14 at 4:16
• If this will be instated, I'll start writing my answers into notepad and then copy-paste them to the site when I'm done. Just to keep people in the dark about writing answers. – Asaf Karagila Apr 30 '14 at 17:23

Quora has this feature. When you start writing an answer, a banner is visible to everyone else which says "Currently answering: [your name]".

I don't think this feature is necessary on mathSE. First of all, I think the opt-in version of this feature you suggest is pretty useless. The entire point of having this feature is so that you can see who else is answering, and if you have to click an "I've got it button" before anyone else is notified, then my prediction would be that most people will ignore the button and therefore the feature will have little effect on the site. Therefore, if this feature were to be implemented, I think it would have to be like Quora's version to be useful--it displays who else is answering a question at a given time.

Even then, to the extent that I have used Quora, I find the feature at least as annoying as it is useful. Here are the main drawbacks:

• It makes answerers self-conscious. I prefer to write my answer without everyone seeing how long it takes me to write. I don't think I'm alone in this. In fact, I might just make my answer in a text file and then copy-paste it into the answer box when I am ready.

• It deters others from answering. People will be less likely to answer a question if they see that someone else is currently answering it, especially if that someone else is someone with a lot of reputation. But often, I start writing answers without finishing them, because I ultimately realize my solution is nonsense, or I misread the question, or whatever. In these cases, it would be counterproductive to display to other people that I am answering a question when in fact my answer does not end up being posted. I suggest that we wait to deter other answerers until there is actually a fully-complete, established answer written and upvoted.

• What about making it anonymous? So it would just say, e.g., "2 people are currently drafting answers". – user142299 May 1 '14 at 1:17
• @NotNotLogical That would be better. I still think it might needlessly deter others from answering. I think the system should be focused on presenting you with a question and allowing you to answer it, and you should not be presented with distracting and extraneous information about other people answering. But I wouldn't be too upset if it were implemented, and were anonymous. – 6005 May 1 '14 at 16:18

To turn my comment into an answer:

I don't think this is necessary. If you think your answer could be replicated by someone else then you should either (a) find something which will set your answer apart, or (b) type quicker, or finally (c) find a more interesting question to answer.

To the argument of "Tragedy of Commons" against (c), so if everyone does nothing will be answered, I would claim that this is irrelevant. This is, perhaps, a predator-prey model, with the prey being the questions (related to reputation) and the predators being the answerers. But new predators are joining every day... (Also, I would claim that adhering to (c) would help build a better site - a site based on interesting questions!)

I'm going to guess that you've been annoyed to jump on a new question and have one of 6 similar answers, but not quite the best or not quite the fastest, so not the one that's bumped to the top.

Why not just wait 10 minutes before answering if you're worried about the clash?

That pretty much effectively solves this, actually.

Anyway deterring answers is bad. There's two cases where this becomes extremely broken:

1. One person claims the answer. But it's wrong. Now a wrong answer is hanging out for a while and the question doesn't have a mechanism by which to request attention to fix it, so it will take a while longer. It turns out having 6 similar answers adds very good tolerance in case one of them is a bit bonkers.

2. One person claims the answer and it's very good. But it takes 30 minutes. Perhaps someone else could have written an 80% good answer - one that got the OP un-stuck - in 2 minutes. But now they didn't. This is utterly, utterly BAD for any StackExchange.

Heck, this problem is the same if a 3 minute answerer gets the question when a 2 minute answerer would have been more effective. Bam, a minute of answer time added. Furthermore if a question is that popular, there are 6 other answerers who will probably upvote whoever was first with a good answer or any better answers. People like this it turns out. This is effective gamification. It's risk-on (1/6 of 5+ votes instead of 1/1 of 0+ votes) but people generally like that in gamified models. And people do.

• "Why not just wait 10 minutes before answering if you're worried about the clash?" Unreliable. It happened that I answered a several hours old question, and two answers were posted within 20 seconds (I don't remember who posted first, I or the other one). – Daniel Fischer Oct 19 '14 at 19:38
• @DanielFischer Waiting $n\ge 1$ hours to answer a question is like getting a flu shot: you can still get sick, but the chances are far less. – user147263 Oct 19 '14 at 20:16

I don't think the badge will be a good idea. There might be some people like me on SE who would read the tags and be like "oh i know this stuff" and then barge in with the answer which turns out to be faulty or wrong. If this feature was there and someone writes a faulty answer as explained above, then all the SE users who COULD HAVE written the correct answer will be wronged (but that is totally my opinio. Some might disagree)

What happened today was I posted a comment on someone's question which was wrong and I was reminded of it on reading your question. So I thought about sharing the same.

I just now read the above answer which sounds the same as this one. Please don't downvote.