In the last weeks, I noticed a behavior by myself and others:

Most of the days, there are several "beginner" questions where you know that everyone who has a mathematical education will easily be able to answer this question.

Thus, when you are on the hunt for reputation and see such a question with low views, the objective is to answer the fastest or someone else will answer it before you.

The problem with that is that many times this leads to poor/wrong answers, because in the heat of the battle, arithmetic or other careless errors occur.

I am not sure if this bothers someone else, but especially for beginners / first time posters this gives them the wrong impression of this wonderful site!

I am not sure how to solve this. Maybe by sharing reputation for fast answerers if the answer are all the same?

Any thoughts?

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    $\begingroup$ Some discussions from the past which are (at least to some extent) related: Rapid replies and top-heavy voting, This was suggested, but such solution would have many drawbacks: Hide answers for a period immediately after a question is posted. This proposal gained more support, but there are relevant objections, too: Should we rate limit answerers? (Probably you can find some other related discussions here on meta - and even on Meta Stack Exchange.) $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 16, 2020 at 6:16
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    $\begingroup$ I find this suggestion very reasonable: Letting less-reputable people answer questions. Of course, it is up to each user's personal decision whether or not they will do so. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 16, 2020 at 6:17
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    $\begingroup$ Ah great that someone else thought about this too :) It seems like my searching skills need improvement... $\endgroup$
    – Nurator
    Commented Oct 16, 2020 at 6:30
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    $\begingroup$ Hmm, interesting. All these suggestions are really old! Did anything change? If not, why not? $\endgroup$
    – Nurator
    Commented Oct 16, 2020 at 6:44
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    $\begingroup$ Nurator: I would not worry too much about searching skills - it does not hurt if this issue is discussed again. (The post I linked to is from 2013, as you pointed out.) Of course, it is possible that there are many other related discussions which I missed. In this case, I was lucky enough to remember that this is sometimes called "fastest gun in the west problem" and I looked at the posts with that tag. You can find posts with this tag also on other sites. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 16, 2020 at 6:46
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    $\begingroup$ One idea would be to give a relative "weight" to questions and their answers, based on their tags. For example, a question which only uses introductory tags (e.g. calculus, or algebra-precalculus) would have a weight of 5 (so 1 vote=5 points), while super-advanced tags would have weight 10 (so 1 vote=50 points), and inbetween tags get inbetween weights. [I can see a million flaws with this idea, but it does bug me that lots of votes really means "popular" and not "hard", and lots of reputation sometimes means "easy+popular+prolific" and not "hard+prolific".] $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Commented Oct 16, 2020 at 12:13
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe impose a 'time lock' on common tags of half an hour or so? $\endgroup$
    – Integrand
    Commented Oct 16, 2020 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ "I noticed a behavior by myself and others" Why do you do this? why do other users do this? You nor anyone else is forced to snipe questions. And for the sake of us all, how do you define "question sniping"? $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Commented Oct 16, 2020 at 19:00
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy Its the human nature to like numbers that go up and the dopamin you get when you get the notification of increased reputation. "Sniping" means looking out for unanswered questions and answering them before anyone else has the chance. $\endgroup$
    – Nurator
    Commented Oct 16, 2020 at 19:17
  • $\begingroup$ So what is the "problem with question sniping" you refer to in the title? You don't want others to behave in the same way you do? $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Commented Oct 16, 2020 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ The problem is that quick answers have lots of mistakes, which wouldnt happen if you would take your time $\endgroup$
    – Nurator
    Commented Oct 16, 2020 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ "Its [sic] the human nature to like numbers that go up" @Nurator, try telling that to someone who is trying to lose weight. Or any government dealing with inflation, unemployment, deaths from Covid19, .... $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 16, 2020 at 22:16
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    $\begingroup$ People are drawn to do things that will be immediately gratifying but, in either the long term or in large groups, lead to less desirable outcomes. So communities create rules, customs, institutions, etc. that member accede to so that, as a whole, they reach better outcomes. Maybe I should change where I browse, but it has gotten so so so so tedious to keep watching people act as though this isn't a repeated pattern in human behavior in order to win an internet argument. $\endgroup$
    – JonathanZ
    Commented Oct 17, 2020 at 2:16
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    $\begingroup$ I personally, more than once, have given an answer that was wrong or not well written, because I felt rushed to achieve the gratification. I don't know about the other mathSE reviewers. I am simply saying that I have noticed and have had to fight against that tendency in myself. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 17, 2020 at 19:56
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    $\begingroup$ As others have said, this is called the “fastest gun in the west” phenomenon. It exists since the very beginning of Math.SE and it is unlikely to phase out on its own. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 11:01

2 Answers 2


I don't think sharing the experience between fast low quality answers is a solution. In fact, it further encourages people to post fast, low-quality answers to low-quality questions.

I think a better solution is for more people to vote quickly to close the question if it is a simple problem statement, and downvote any and all low-quality answers that appear. This includes downvoting answers that are identical (or close) to already-posted answers, or answers that are posted summarizing things that someone has already mentioned in comments.

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    $\begingroup$ There is an implication here that "beginner" questions should be closed. I disagree with this. $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 13:31
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729 I maybe misunderstood the exact kind of problem you were talking about. I feel like often there are simple statements of a very simple problem, with no effort given by the poster, that attract these floods of low quality answers. $\endgroup$
    – xxxxxxxxx
    Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, if there is no effort shown by the asker then it should be closed. But I don't think all the questions the OP is discussing here are of this form (as lots of people still struggle with easy questions). $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 15:36
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    $\begingroup$ I entirely disagree about downvoting answers summarizing the comments. If the question is answered in the comments, those comments should have been an answer, and anyone who posts an answer containing what's in the comments is doing what the commenters should've done. The commenters didn't do it, so it's fair game for anyone else who wants to. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 23:17
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    $\begingroup$ Personally, I think that this is a tricky issue. Often, comments are suggestive but deliberately incomplete, because the OP has not yet shown work. Then, after the OP shows work, and time has passed re the time-stamp on the OP's editing, it sometimes seems that the original commenter isn't going to expand his comment into an answer. Often, the commenter is very high rep, and the comment broaches very elegant analysis. ...see next comment $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 2:28
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    $\begingroup$ So then you have a conflict between the comment deserving to be expanded into an answer, versus the indelicacy of poaching someone else's ideas. Also, with high rep poster's (i.e. 50k+) they really don't care about the +10 pts. What I do here, is to begin the answer by explicitly stating that I am highjacking <the commenter's> analysis. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 2:28
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    $\begingroup$ @MattSamuel I mostly don't think people should answer in the comments. But I have seen several times a very short (1 sentence) hint in a comment, these are to easy questions that should be very very simple to solve with a push in the right direction, and someone copies it verbatim into an answer. And then it's one of 20 answers posted to the question within 5 minutes (remember, this is the kind of question we are talking about here). I'm talking about cases where it wasn't really an answer when left as a comment, and then someone moves it to an answer field. $\endgroup$
    – xxxxxxxxx
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 5:28
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    $\begingroup$ I strongly support downvoting answers by high rep users to low quality/duplicate questions. I am quite forgiving about new users doing it unwittingly, for they still have a need for rep points. "Trusted" users have IMO no excuse to not knowing about the site norms. @MattSamuel I often give "an answer in a comment" when the question is A) likely to be a duplicate and/or B) with the objective of giving the asker a chance to show some effort of their own using the comment as "a hint". True, it is not always easy to give good hints, and I often misfire. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 4:55
  • $\begingroup$ Downvoting is the worst and most depraved mechanism on this site. The list of motivations for the downvote is somehow incomplete and many time one gets a downvote without really understanding what is happening. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 14:26
  • $\begingroup$ The FGITW (fastest gun in the west) problem occurs on every site in the network. Some people grow out of it, some don't. I believe that incentives to search for dupes would help, but all of the discussions I've see on that front in the various meta sites haven't led anywhere fruitful... $\endgroup$
    – PM 2Ring
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 10:45

Ok, here is a proposition how this problem could get changed. Feel free to comment and give feedback on how you would see such a change:

Right now, each user gets reputation for answering/editing questions and you get badges for special achievements like having good answering scores for a specific tag.

I propose to combine these two systems: For each tag users would have their own reputation score with a combined total reputation as right now. So as your tag reputation increases you show your experience with this specific tag.

When a new question is asked in this tag, you will see different things depending on your tag score: If you score is low, you directly see "This question seems to be targeting other beginners. Can you answer it?". If you have a high tag score, you see "Warning. This question is targeting beginners. Answering it now will yield no reputation."

After one hour, this text would change to "This question is for advanced users. Answer now for bonus reputation!". Beginners (or better: people new to this site, who have the knowledge) would still be able to answer here and get even more reputation than before.

And at some point, the question goes into the "Late answers" category, where every user will get bonus points.

NOTE: Editing the question/other answers would still give full reputation at any point.

This change would give incentives for reputation hunters to do the following:

  1. Scout for new questions and edit them as fast as possible
  2. Check fast answers and edit them to make them better
  3. Look through older questions with no answers on them and snipe them while getting bonus reputation.

I think all 3 of these points would benefit the site. And hopefully this change is not too difficult implementationwise.


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    $\begingroup$ I don't think the effects you suggest are likely - people producing fast answers aren't likely to start editing everything or trawling through old questions instead no matter how reputation is allocated. Plus, this model only works if we assume every answerer was going to write the same thing anyways, which isn't really true (at least for high quality questions). That said, I think there's value in trying to connect experienced answerers to older questions - but that needs a constructive approach (i.e. "the site reliably finds old questions I want to answer" not "it punishes me if I don't") $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 16, 2020 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ Downvote to disagree; what is the point of the delete vote...? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 17, 2020 at 0:45
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    $\begingroup$ @MiloBrandt In my opinion some kind of a punishment for veteran users who fail to be good netizens would improve the situation. The carrots are too tasty to stop these people. We also need sticks. Something like the speeding tickets I called for in Meta.SE. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 18, 2020 at 3:53
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    $\begingroup$ I think tag-specific reputation would solve a lot of these problems actually. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 18, 2020 at 23:28
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    $\begingroup$ How about rewarding people to find duplicates? And possibly deduct rep. from answerers when a dup. is found? I often find it difficult to find an existing answer in a reasonable amount of time. For example, I am certain I have answered some variant of math.stackexchange.com/a/3871747/27978 at some stage, but it takes quite a bit of effort to locate a previous answer. I realise I am not a good SE netizen, but would prefer to help an OP when I can. $\endgroup$
    – copper.hat
    Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 5:47
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    $\begingroup$ @copper.hat Some incentives for finding duplicates have been discussed before. For example: Encouraging duplicate hunters. And the comments there have links to some Meta Stack Exchange threads, where the discussion was more extensive that here. (You probably know this - since your quite experienced user on meta. But since rewards for finding duplicates were brought up, I thought that it is worth adding links to previous discussions.) $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 9:13
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    $\begingroup$ To me the suggestions that there should be incentives to not answering a duplicate (and finding one) sound a lot like people in real life would need incentives not to rob banks and/or mug passers-by. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 15:21

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