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It happens to me from time to time that I’m writing an answer at the same time with an other user, but of course I don’t know that while writing. It’s a little frustrating to see that I invested time to write the same answer as another one.

So what do you think about an „answer in progress sign“.

I guess this could be easily done by posting __I’m writing an answer__ or automatically with the board software. In the first case we just have to find a community consensus.

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You will get notified about new answers to the question you're just writing an answer to, but this only happens every 40 or 45 seconds or so. Then you can load these answers without losing your text so far.

Note that this has also be discussed on the general Meta site http://meta.stackoverflow.com: Can I see if someone is currently answering a question?

In general I don't think it is a bad thing to have two even almost identical answers. People should just up-vote the one they like best. The distinction should be made on quality and not on time. If a post was sent 45sec later but has another sentence in it which explains things better then it deserves more votes.

Also, if you invest this much time in the answer, i.e. it isn't a short and quick one, I would recommend to post first the principle solution, e.g. "can be done using the xyz package by using \somemacro ..." and then update the post with the full solution a little later. This way people see your answer already and you are down as the first answerer, which is important for the Enlightened badge.

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    I was in the middle of writing something along these lines! As I'd only gotten to the first sentence, I'll not post my version. I'll also add that when I see two almost identical answers posted within a reasonable time-frame then I vote the same on both. I like the idea of an "idea" post; I think that could lead to some really nice collaborative solutions to more complicated questions. – Loop Space Oct 10 '11 at 10:02
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    @AndrewStacey: I meant more to post the short version first to get your foot in the door and then update it with some code an example file with screenshot etc., which normally takes a few minutes more. – Martin Scharrer Oct 10 '11 at 10:06
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    I understand that. What I meant was that if someone posts a summary, someone else might come along and see it and be able to make some suggestions that you can incorporate. – Loop Space Oct 10 '11 at 10:19
  • @AndrewStacey and Martin: Thank you both, I think this is a good way. And I understand the opportunity of nearly duplicates :-) – Tobi Oct 10 '11 at 11:08
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    I've had issues with how the time stamp is determined. I remember answering a post, and then I reloaded the page periodically for updates. Eventually a "new" answer came through that was time stamped, I think, around 30 minutes earlier than my post and was much more complete. It made it look like I hadn't bothered to read the other post. Is the time stamp determined by when the author starts typing? If so, changing it to the time of the first post would encourage people to post earlier and then others will be aware it's under construction. – DJP Oct 10 '11 at 19:10
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I'm quite happy with the idea of sketching a solution and posting that first before working on a full solution. But I would like to ensure that the reason for doing so is clear to all: that it is to avoid duplication/waste of effort and not as an attempt to be "first to post". So I'd like to have some examples of how this could be worded (along the lines of our "Text blocks", it's not that these have to be used, but that they set a baseline for politeness). One thing I really like about this site is its collaborative nature and I would be sad to see that go.

Here's an idea for Tobi's situation:

My initial thoughts are that this can be solved using Obscure Package together with a bit of work on saving private macros. In brief, one should be able to define a general macro which fixes the lieutenant macro. It'll take me a little while to work out the wrinkles to be sure that this works. If anyone has any ideas that might help, I'll keep an eye on the comments to this "answer" and in the main chat room.

Here's an idea for where you don't have the opportunity to work on it:

My initial thoughts are that this can be solved using Obscure Package together with a bit of work on saving private macros. In brief, one should be able to define a general macro which fixes the lieutenant macro. I don't have the chance to work on this right at this moment (or: I had a go at implementing this but don't have the time to finish it right now), but if no-one figures out a better solution then I'll take some time later.

I should emphasise that I agree with Martin that there's no problem in honestly duplicated answers, but I do sympathise with Tobi's desire to focus effort where it's needed rather than on writing the same thing as someone else.

(This answer is CW so that others can edit the sample texts. They were just a first draft.)

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