It is a not unheard of phenomenon that answers don't get much upvotes in the following scenario:

First, a user asks a non-trivial question, which turns out to be non-trivial enough not to get an answer for a while.

Then, the question lands in the big heap of unanswered questions, where it does not receive much attention.

Finally, some user digs up the problem, devotes some of his time and energy to come up with the answer, and posts it. By now, it's probably only the OP who pays any attention (or maybe not even him).

The answer gets accepted, upvoted by the OP, and forgotten.

The net result is that much work is rewarded with some +20 rep, or maybe less. A situation in this spirit was discussed for instance here (but in a somewhat different context). This is in contrast with what happens with comparably easy problems where an immediate answer can earn more rep with much less effort.

I do realise that upvotes are not precisely the point of MSE, which is to generate good quality answers to mathematical questions. However, I am afraid that some users may be discouraged from posting late answers, because answering the easy ones "pays" better. This could result in there being a lot of answers to the easy problems that don't bring much new to the site, and with some interesting problems being left unanswered.

Is there some mechanism that could help such situations to occur less freqently? For instance, if there was an accessible list of questions where the question got much more upvotes than the accepted answer (perhaps with the extra condition that the answer was given relatively late), I would be happy to look through it and upvote under-appreciated answers if I happen to see any. But such query is rather too specific for the MSE search engine, isn't it?

I see that the "review" tool has the category "Late answers", but it apparently applies only to the ones by "new users", and seems not to be used much. (I, for one, have no possible reviews in this category.) Perhaps it could be considered to extend this feature? For instance, "Late answers" could also include late answers from experienced users, answers that got relatively little rep (my gut feeling is that if question deserves $x$ upvotes, then an accepted answer generically deserves at least $x/2$) or little attention, and so on.

(Disclaimer: I do not hide that I posted some late answers recently. It's not that I feel they are of particularly high quality or that they are not appreciated enough. It's rather that this served to direct my attention to the general possible problem.)

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    $\begingroup$ "I am afraid that some users may be discouraged from posting late answers." - at least in my case, the fact that the problem took me more than a minute of thought was sufficient encouragement to keep working at it. Since my interests tend to not overlap very much with the interests of many users here (e.g. special functions), I've just gotten used to my answers, most especially late ones, to just not get that many eyes on them. $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Apr 22 '13 at 12:33
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    $\begingroup$ @J.M.: ... but some of that eyes were especially thankful for that late answers... :-) Sometimes I dream of a dedicated subset of users which are not so focused on "earning" something (may it be only electronic reputation or something else) but where I can get in resonance with the pure enthusiasm on interesting mathematical problems. Hmm. Perhaps that users should insert a "sign" in their user-name, like - hmm, what would be a good example... $\endgroup$ – Gottfried Helms Apr 22 '13 at 15:04
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    $\begingroup$ @GottfriedHelms: I tend to think of reputation as (among other things) the indicator from the community that one is doing things right, and that there is some interest in it. So even in a case of an extremely dedicated and enthusiastic users, I would still feel it's a reasonable idea to give this sort of indication. (Also, posting an answer is not just about mathematics, but also the less inspiring task of writing things down). $\endgroup$ – Jakub Konieczny Apr 22 '13 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Feanor, I don't know, I think writing it down is in fact a way to force you to make what seemed crystal-clear in your head to be actually readable to at least one other person. That takes nontrivial amount of thinking, too. $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Apr 22 '13 at 15:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Gottfried, in contrast to the tendency elsewhere on the SE network to mindlessly strip out expressions of gratitude, I consider the expressions of thanks as the cherry on top. Anyway, I'm glad my (fashionably?) late answers to some of your questions were useful. $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Apr 22 '13 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Feanor: I hope I did not disgust you. I only feel a swift wind of change in MSE since I'm here. I didn't make a true statistic, but it seems to me, that the number, and possibly even the relative fraction, of meta-questions/problems focusing "reputation" in this or another way has increased. Or if not numerically increased: then possibly intensed. Even problems typical for bureaucracy - as if there were a bureaucracy here in action. Well, whatever - I'm getting slowly slowly tired of that impression and begin to wish a new SE-site where folks with less interest in reputation would crowd in... $\endgroup$ – Gottfried Helms Apr 22 '13 at 20:25
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    $\begingroup$ @J.M. I do agree that writing answers down is non-trivial. My point is: it is often less exciting than thinking about the problem in more vague terms. When I think of a problem, I generally stop at the point where it becomes clear what would follow - after that, I would normally move on to something else. To write things down after I figure out the problem, and to post them publicly, I would need some additional incentive, except for the interest in the problem. $\endgroup$ – Jakub Konieczny Apr 23 '13 at 8:09
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    $\begingroup$ @GottfriedHelms: I don't think there is anything that could have disgusted me. Now that you mention it, I do feel slightly sorry to have contributed to the trend you describe. However, I think that the idea of SE relies, up to a point, on people pretending that reputation really matters. I think such delusion is part of what keeps people going in the short run (it reminds me of scores in computer games). But maybe that's just my impression. In any case, I haven't been involved enough to observe the trend directly. I absolutely agree caring about reputation should not be taken too far. $\endgroup$ – Jakub Konieczny Apr 23 '13 at 8:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Feanor: you're welcome! $\endgroup$ – Gottfried Helms Apr 23 '13 at 8:25
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    $\begingroup$ My 4th a 5th highest-rated answers are on notation. I still find this odd, but I suppose everyone understand a question about unfamiliar notation... $\endgroup$ – user1729 Apr 26 '13 at 10:09
  • $\begingroup$ See also meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/8496. $\endgroup$ – joriki May 1 '13 at 20:14
  • $\begingroup$ This happened to me here: math.stackexchange.com/questions/1143998/… $\endgroup$ – kjetil b halvorsen Mar 25 '15 at 10:27

10k users have access to New Answers to Questions More Than 30 Days Old. Here's an example of one of your answers on the list:

An example

It is a bit hard to find, but if you go to the 10k tools and click on the "stats" page.

10k tools, stats

At the bottom of the page, there's a list of links. One such link is the above:

Link to new answers to old questions

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you, it's good to know such a list exists. As a < 10k user, I did not know it's there. It makes me more confident in the voting system working smoothly. $\endgroup$ – Jakub Konieczny Apr 22 '13 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, I'm a 36k user and had not heard of that list yet. Where was I supposed to find it by myself (it is not among the "review" items, for example)? $\endgroup$ – Hagen von Eitzen Apr 24 '13 at 17:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Hagen When in the Review page, you can click on "Tools" (see small red circle above) to get to the general 10K Tools page. $\endgroup$ – Math Gems Apr 24 '13 at 18:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Hagen: This is what I previously called "an elaborate measure of clicks". $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 25 '13 at 7:10
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    $\begingroup$ For what reason the limit is 10k, in my opinion 1000 is enough. $\endgroup$ – Sawarnik Oct 24 '13 at 9:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Sawarnik: I guess the reason is that folks should be introduced to the more "advcanced" tools little by little, so get more experience before using them. But some limits should be lower! $\endgroup$ – kjetil b halvorsen Mar 19 '15 at 12:14

Even new Answers which have few (or no) competing Answers on Questions of moderate difficulty may suffer in respect of getting less voting than more easily understood Q&A's. Certainly in my experience the Answers that I've toiled over are not the high vote count examples, but rather the short but perhaps surprising items, maybe because easily taken in at a glance.

I don't think there's anything to be done about this. At a fairly early met threshold the real reward for doing your best on Answers is not votes, other than perhaps the few garnered by the OP and others who try the Question for themselves, but the improvements to your own understanding and powers of exposition.

Also note the thrillingly named Necromancer Badge (silver), as a reward for netting as few as 5 votes on Questions over 60 days old. "This badge can be awarded multiple times."

  • $\begingroup$ Don't forget "Revival"! $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Apr 30 '13 at 14:36
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    $\begingroup$ @J.M.: The Revival badge I've actually been able to snag a couple of times, but the Necromancer eludes me! $\endgroup$ – hardmath Apr 30 '13 at 14:54
  • $\begingroup$ That requires patience in digging through old questions, as well as having the knack to find what hasn't been addressed by previous comments/answers... :) $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Apr 30 '13 at 14:55

Obviously, this isn't a comment on existing functionality, but a suggestion of new functionality...

How about if the site were to add a new reward feature, whereby users with a reasonable number of points and the person asking the question are able to mark an answer as a 'major contribution'. Unlike the bounty, which is basically a transfer of points from one person to another, this would be a reward that is judged.

The idea is, the answer is marked as a 'major contribution', which then has to be reviewed by those with sufficient points, etc, and if that contribution is judged worthy, then the answer can be given an extra points boon, and perhaps featured on a separate list of questions with major contribution answers. On the flipside, there could be a small punishment (-10 points, or something) for users that try to suggest very minor contributions (like explaining a basic application of integration by parts, for instance), where the answer is clearly nowhere near being a major contribution, to keep people from spamming it (answers lying between the two extremes would simply be marked as "not major" and would continue as usual).

It should help to give more attention to answers that require more work, that answer a difficult problem, and that might otherwise go unnoticed. It would both further encourage people to work on the hard problems, and draw more attention to the resulting answers - not just to have more chance of direct upvotes, but also to better showcase the use of the site itself.

Anyway, it's just a thought. Even if people don't like it, it might spur some alternate ideas.

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    $\begingroup$ The idea sounds good to me. In fact, if there was just a list of such "major contributions" on which an interesting answer would land for a while (not necessarily with any reputation attached to it), this might already suffice to draw sufficient attention to it. $\endgroup$ – Jakub Konieczny Apr 25 '13 at 6:28

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