# How much (self) editing is too much?

(N.B. not to be confused with this question)

We are all aware of editing being a core value of the part-Wiki nature of the Stack Exchange websites.

We are also all aware of the website providing a system of check-and-balances for edits, as a way to prevent and counteract intentional vandalism or spam content. One of the most prominent of this aspect is that every time and question or an answer is edited, and every time a question is re-tagged, the software 'bumps' the question up to the top of the list of "Active" questions.

To prevent a user from using the above safety check as a method of keeping a question constantly on the front page (and presumably earn more reputation from the increased exposure), a secondary rule is in place that a post when edited too-much (by too many editors or by the original poster 10 or more times) becomes automatically Community Wiki. One can think of this as a way of reducing the likelihood of gaming the system.

Now, given the above check-and-balances (which I think takes pretty good care of the technical and reputation aspect of the problem), is there any other reason why we should discourage "frequent and plenty" (see below the cut) edits?

One possible objection I can see that may be raised is that "repeated edits crowd the front page and reduces the visibility of other questions". Some may counter that the existence of the "Newest" page in the list of questions should amend that. But for better or for worse recall that the default front-page to a first time user is the "Active" page.

For the sake of argument, let us define "frequent and plenty" thus: imagine a user who decides, for whatever reason, to write his or her response piecemeal, adding to it with a new edit every half hour, over the period of say 8 hours. (So 16 edits to the post in one working day.)

Further clarification: this question is not about the occasional bug fix; nor is it about discouraging edits in the abstract. It is only about a large number of edits coming in a short period of time. To phrase it differently: given that the software already "penalizes" (for the lack of a better word) a user for doing too many edits, is it then ok for a user to knowingly make "frequent and plenty" (see above) edits provided he/she is willing to "pay the tax" (so to speak)?

• I am reminded of one user who composed his comments highly piecemeal (because he refused to type Shift-Enter vs. Enter for newlines). It seems we didn't handle that situation optimally, since we lost a valued member. Hopefully, with further experience, we now can do better. – Bill Dubuque Jul 10 '12 at 15:52
• And, just for the sake of irony, I should note that it took four edits to my comment before I got it to read (more or less) the way I wanted it to. – cardinal Jul 10 '12 at 19:12
• @MakotoKato: Just that, after 10 self edits, your post automatically becomes community wiki, meaning, among other things that any further votes on your post will not affect your reputation (positively or negatively). – cardinal Jul 10 '12 at 19:36
• @Makoto: No. Votes will still show next to your post as they continue to accumulate, you just won't see your reputation change due to any new votes. See the FAQ and SO meta regarding CW for more info. – cardinal Jul 10 '12 at 20:11
• @MakotoKato You can read about this in the following question and the questions linked to it: Why my questions were turned into community wiki. – Martin Sleziak Jul 11 '12 at 4:43
• @MakotoKato: How come you haven't registered? – Arturo Magidin Jul 11 '12 at 20:54
• I fear an outcome similar to the one Bill pointed out in the first comment, especially in view of the downvotes/comments in this post. – Bruno Stonek Jul 13 '12 at 22:39
• Please see my answer here. – joriki Jul 16 '12 at 14:41
• @MakotoKato: Registration shows a certain amount of commitment to the community. It makes your user page searchable in the "Users" interface. Mostly, though, it shows your willingness to be part of the community, something that from where I'm standing you have never actually shown any desire to do, so in retrospect I'm not surprised you haven't. And I asked you why you haven't registered; if you don't wish to respond, don't, but don't evade it and throw the question back at me. – Arturo Magidin Jul 17 '12 at 4:09
• @MakotoKato: You've been active for 3 months, with 35 answers (some lengthy), and over 1000 actions. It's rather disingenous to call yourself a "newbie", and if you don't know, it's because you refuse to listen. It's not about "hurting my feelings"; frankly, I find that kind of condescension annoying (not "hurt feelings", just plain annoyance). And from where I'm standing, the rest of your comment sounds so over the top and disingenuous that it's equally irritating, as is your general attitude in this forum. – Arturo Magidin Jul 17 '12 at 4:37
• @MakotoKato: And there you go with the self-serving misrepresentations. We are arguing about it because you refuse to listen to anyone other than yourself, and you refuse to consider anybody but yourself. You have absolutely no interest in being part of the community; your only interest is to use the community to your own ends and your own ends only. You dismiss everything you don't agree with, and repeat over and over and over irrelevant mantras as if that excuses you. It doesn't. Don't ping me again. I have no interest in reading your self-serving excuses for your lack of manners – Arturo Magidin Jul 17 '12 at 5:47
• I wonder why some people are objecting fiercely against "blogging" or "publishing". Maybe they are in a wrong place: "Since Stack Overflow launched, we've been trying to explain that it's not just a Q&A platform: it's also a place where you can publish things that you've learned: recipes, FAQs, HOWTOs, walkthroughs, and even bits of product documentation, as long you format it as a question and answer." blog.stackoverflow.com/2012/05/encyclopedia-stack-exchange – Makoto Kato Jul 17 '12 at 9:59
• @MakotoKato: And, yet again, you pretend that this is about you "answering your own questions." It's about your general behavior. I repeat the simile that was done before: people are not objecting to you cutting your steak, which you like to pretend they are. We are objecting to you continually stabbing cows. Now, do me a favor and stop insulting my intelligence by pretending to be clueless. You are not, and it wore thin a long time ago. At this point, you are just being insulting. Let me also point out that while several threads have been started discussing your behavior (cont) – Arturo Magidin Jul 17 '12 at 15:28
• @MakotoKato: none have been started discussing mine. If that were not evidence that you are behaving well outside the norm, then what is? Oh, right. We are just "discusssing" it. No. We aren't. We are trying to tell you that you are behaving in a way that the at least a large portion of the community finds objectionable, as is evidenced by continuing discussions about your behavior in meta. People don't object to blogging, they object to you using this site as your personal blog. People don't object to users answering their own questions, they object to how YOU do it. – Arturo Magidin Jul 17 '12 at 15:31
• @MakotoKato: It's amazing how much you can find and quote in the FAQ for self-serving purposes, while at the same time pretending that you don't know about registering, you don't know about community standards, etc. I say again: that can only be because you don't want to know, because you have reckless disregard for others. "Maybe you are in the wrong place." Amazing, then, how nobody makes long threads about my behavior, but they do about yours. And I tell you again: don't ping me (don't reply to me, don't @Arturo me). At this point, I'm done with you insulting my intelligence. – Arturo Magidin Jul 17 '12 at 15:31

(Note: People in chat have pointed out to me that this meta question might have been an attempt to continue a comment discussion from this mainsite post -- at least Willie pointed the particpants in that question to this one, and it certainly appears that those participants want this meta question to be about whether that particular user's editing patterns are acceptable or not. However, my answer here is an answer to the general question Willie actually asked: Is there a reason to discourage users in general from making many edits to a post over a short time, on the grounds solely that the number of edits is too large, and independently of their content?)

If the "frequent and plenty" edits actually make the post better, then the only problem I can see they create is the frontpage bumping. This problem should not be solved by discouraging the improving of posts; see below. On the other hand, edits that make the post worse should be discouraged no matter if there are only one of them. For both kinds of edits, their absolute number is irrelevant.

I fairly frequently amend my answers as I find simpler way to explain or define things or am reminded of considerations I should have taken into account in the first place. I also routinely edit my answers to fix typos and bad prose, because I want my answer to be the best possible answer I can provide.

I don't recall that I've ever hit the CW limit with this, but I still think it would be bad to actively discourage edits. The alternative would be to advise users either to leave improvable answers in a non-improved state, or to sit on an unsubmitted answer until they were 100% certain that they couldn't possibly ever find a way to improve it. Neither of these would be beneficial to our primary mission of providing high-quality answer in a timely and helpful manner. (The latter outcome would be harmful through duplication of effort; it would cause a much larger risk of writing the same answer that someone else has already completed and is just setting aside on the off chance that he would find a way to improve it before finally submitting).

I can see that a stream of rep-farming inconsequential edits can be annoying, but I think a better fix for that would be to tweak the bumping algorithm. For example, there could be a rule in the software that edits from a single user cannot cause a post to be bumped more than once every 10 hours (for some appropriate value of 10). Then if one edited the post quickly after having bumped it once, the bumping would simply be deferred until 10 hours after the last bump.

That way, monopolizing the front page would be harder, but self-vandalism edits would still be caught eventually. Classic drive-by vandalism of a post that haven't been edited for a while would be caught immediately, just like with the current behavior, because the bump would only be deferred if there had been a bump recently.

• Henning, suggesting someone to prepare their own answers before posting is not discouraging edits. As you said, you have never hit CW. Why? Because you did not post your answer in tiny parts, piece by piece. If your post had reached 80 edits then something is definitely wrong. – Asaf Karagila Jul 11 '12 at 18:54
• @Asaf: We should optimize for the common case, not for extremes. If we tell people not to make so many edits, what this will lead to in the common case is just answers that are not as good as they could have been. Especially if the common case is not one that really needs that admonishment. – hmakholm left over Monica Jul 11 '12 at 19:04
• @Asaf: The fact that there may be a few people who use the software in one unreasonable way does in no way justify encouraging everybody to use it in a different suboptimal way. The benefit of possibly getting a few users to abuse the system less is far outweighed by the damage it would do to tell everybody to limit their editing. It has enormous negative net benefit. – hmakholm left over Monica Jul 11 '12 at 19:19
• But this entire discussion is exactly about how much is too much. Do you think that keeping one euro you found on the street is morally justified? What about two, five, ten, fifty, a dufflebag full of blood money and cocaine? What if there was no cocaine in the bag? There is a point where social norm dictates that you cannot keep the money. The discussion here is about this social norm with respect to edits. No one discourages edits, we just want to figure out when is the point where a user should first work out the answer off-site and then post it in a single edit. – Asaf Karagila Jul 11 '12 at 19:25
• @Asaf: And my contribution to the discussion is that I think that a social norm that discourages edits is actually harmful for the site and we shouldn't have one. If many edits creates a technical problem, then that ought to receive a technical fix, not by instituting a social norm that works around the technical problem by crippling the core function of the site. – hmakholm left over Monica Jul 11 '12 at 19:27
• But for the love of Godel no one is discouraging edits!!! When you give a lecture in a topic you have not taught before and only know in general details, do you prepare yourself or do you begin studying in class? The former is an extremely bad form of teaching. In fact we should discourage people writing answers in parts. If you want to write an answer, just write it off the site in case it takes you too much time. Do you have any idea how many files I have in my Dropbox filled with half-answers?? What if I were to post them all and then edit them through the day? – Asaf Karagila Jul 11 '12 at 19:31
• @Asaf: WHAT WE ARE DISCUSSING HERE is Willie's question whether it is a good idea to discourage edits that do not yet rise to the level where the CW-hammer sets in. I am answering that question in the negative. If you want to discuss something else than Willie's proposal, I suggest you do it in another thread – hmakholm left over Monica Jul 11 '12 at 19:35
• @Asaf, I wonder if you know this story about the American baseball player, Yogi Berra. He was asked what he would do if he found a million dollars on the street. He said that if the guy who lost it was real poor, he'd give it back to him. – Gerry Myerson Jul 12 '12 at 7:28
• @Henning: see my previous comment. I've tried to set the discussion in a frame where the user edited 16 times, which hits the auto-CW. Apparently I didn't make it clear enough. Let me go try to emphasize that. – Willie Wong Jul 12 '12 at 8:02
• @Henning: Yes, that is true. If you don't know that your answer is incomplete then it is not a real problem. If you post an answer and over the next 30 revisions you keep a notice in the top part "This answer is incomplete. I will complete it later", then what you are doing amounts to a misuse of the software. – Asaf Karagila Jul 12 '12 at 13:54
• @Henning: I don't understand why do you object to the idea that MSE is for answers and not for drafts which you intend to finish. I don't care at all for answers that have the title "this answer is incomplete. Please help completing it". I do object to someone using this site for something it is not meant for, in my eyes. I could start writing my thesis here, in small parts and a zillion edits. But then again, I have a sense of responsibility and I keep my drafts for myself. – Asaf Karagila Jul 12 '12 at 14:06
• @Asaf: I don't understand why you think that the number of edits to a post implies anything about whether the original version was a "draft" rather than the poster's best attempt at answering the question. I'm okay with advising people "do not post something where even before you press submit you have concrete updates to it in mind". But that is independent of the number and timing of edits. If you want to discuss a guideline against incremental posting during editing, I suggest doing it in a thread that is not about discouraging "frequent edits" in general, no matter what their motive is. – hmakholm left over Monica Jul 12 '12 at 14:16
• Also, even if you post your thesis in a single submit action, that would be just as wrong. MSE is not for the publication of theses, either incrementally or all at once. – hmakholm left over Monica Jul 12 '12 at 14:23
• @Henning: The fact that the post contains a title essentially "This is incomplete and I will take my time over the next few days to edit in more and more changes, as though this is a file on my harddrive, even though it's really not" is what bothers me. – Asaf Karagila Jul 12 '12 at 15:08
• @Bill: Willie's latest edit does not name or link to any particular case. He asks a general question, and I give a general answer to the question he asks. As for your description of whichever concrete case you and Asaf are talking about, using MSE as a medium for publishing a book on commutative algebra is wrong, no matter how many or how few edits one uses to do so. We don't need any generally applicable discouragement of "too many edits" in order to discourage attempts to use MSE as a book publisher. – hmakholm left over Monica Jul 12 '12 at 16:46

In my view, repeated editing to correct typos, or mathematical mistakes are fine. But at some point the answer should be about done, usually about 5-6 edits, and in some extreme cases 10 edits.

Rarely there is an answer which is edited many times and each edit adds on new information, bibliography and citation (I recall an answer or two of this nature on questions of historical nature).

However writing an answer and editing it 30 or more times simply to expand the proof and add something which results as a piece of lecture notes, or a blog post, this seems unreasonable usage of the software in my eyes. If you wish to work a complete and detailed answer, do it in advance rather than during the post itself. I can personally testify working hours and days on some of my answers before posting them.

One other alternative is to write a blog, or actual notes, on the topic and link them in an answer. However simply linking to a blog or notes is itself an unreasonable answer, instead a summary of the argument and a direction towards the complete and detailed topic should be written.

• Here is an example of a post, which has many edits, but all those edits are, in my opinion, justified and improved the post. – Martin Sleziak Jul 10 '12 at 10:11
• @Makoto If you continually make edits over short intervals - say every half hour - then your post remains on the front of the active questions list the entire day. The small number of front page slots need to be fairly shared by all users. Further, we need to keep front-page questions interesting and diverse in order to attract new experts. Also, if users observe your posts continually bumped for minor edits, they may stop paying attention to your posts, which is probably not what you desire. Better: coalesce edits so that you do only one or two a day to a post under active development. – Bill Dubuque Jul 10 '12 at 19:49
• @Makoto: Do you also find it strange that no one complained on Newton's use of infinitesimals for about a century? It takes time until people notice, and until people show signs of caring about something. – Asaf Karagila Jul 10 '12 at 20:44
• @Makoto: There are not many people who kill their wives and bury their heads in the ground. It still worries me to some extent when these things happen. As for over editing, you have more than one post with that many edits. This is something to worry about, at least to some extent. – Asaf Karagila Jul 10 '12 at 21:09
• @Makoto: I would usually bring out sarcasm, but I already tried that and you took my words literally. The problem is that even if you are the only one who does that, it still may signal people the wrong message on this site. I am not worried about the main page as I am worried about the fact that this is simply not how I see the software intended use. – Asaf Karagila Jul 10 '12 at 21:22
• @MakotoKato,I have never complained, but that does not mean that I do not find the behaviour of editing many many times annoying. In fact, I very much do. I have instead opted to simply ignore all your posts. I cannot understand why you cannot do this process of refinement in the cozy privacy of your own computer, sharing with the rest of us the end result, or at least more or less stable and finalized versions—you have surely noticed that you are pretty much the only one using the software in that way... – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Jul 13 '12 at 23:55
• @BenjaLim: Please don't encourage that. I doubt that the competence is what stops people from answering Makoto. Furthermore, it seems that he is trying to prove something very very big and useful for everyone in constructive algebra. ONCE AGAIN, MAKOTO, PLEASE WRITE IT ON YOUR OWN AND POST IT ON ARXIV. This site is not your blog, your scratchpad nor it is a platform for publications. Thank you. – Asaf Karagila Jul 15 '12 at 10:14
• @BenjaLim: No, I read it. It says that that I am incompetent in my field of research, and others are incompetent in their field of research, and that the rest of the users are just incompetent in the fields of choice and/or commutative algebra. It also suggests that MO might be a suitable publication model that Makoto is after, let me assure you: it is not. – Asaf Karagila Jul 15 '12 at 10:19
• @MakotoKato: If you have a problem, please open a meta thread. – Asaf Karagila Jul 17 '12 at 5:51
• @Makoto: Of course. But until you finish the proof... sheesh. – Asaf Karagila Jul 17 '12 at 9:15
• @Makoto: This is your opinion. If you wish to explain it please post an answer, or start a meta thread. – Asaf Karagila Jul 17 '12 at 9:56
• Asaf: chill. Don't lower yourself to trolling. @Makoto: your repetitive response and attitude rather reminds me of a certain Monty Python sketch. Perhaps that is why so many users seem exasperated with you. – Willie Wong Jul 17 '12 at 12:55
• Makoto: The fact that Arturo and Asaf have taken it upon themselves to attempt repeatedly to explain to you why your behavior is inappropriate does not mean they are the only two who are exasperated with you. (Consider how many downvotes you've gotten, and on posts that are in and of themselves quite worthy!!) I, for one, have upvoted many of your questions and some of your answers. That doesn't mean your behavior doesn't bother me. It simply means I'm holding out hope that you will be made to see the light in some other way. (cont.) – Cameron Buie Jul 19 '12 at 16:09
• I will say that I am quite interested in how much can be proved without AC, and so I find your posts and endeavors to be quite worthy. As you, yourself pointed out, though, you're looking into a big question. Such a question might be better suited to MathOverflow (or a final post to ArXiv). My advice to you is: (1) be careful in your posts (fine-tune before posting, as much as possible); (2) be aware that you're part of a virtual community, here, and just as in a real-life community, reckless disregard for others will be frowned upon and (to the extent possible) punished. – Cameron Buie Jul 19 '12 at 16:16
• Hopefully, Bill's sandbox (which I've just discovered) will be of great use to you in composing your answers while avoiding ruffling other users' feathers. – Cameron Buie Jul 19 '12 at 16:47