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This is meant to start a discussion on etiquette and sustainability.

It is very clear from looking at the answers that the first-page users are very quick to answer most questions. This of-course is because they are very knowledgeable and quick at the keyboard. I am worried about the long-term effect this behavior can have on both the newcomers and the first-page users:

  1. I worry that first page users will get "burnt-out" by constantly answering "easy" questions.
  2. I worry that newcomers who are a little slow and careful in writing their answer will feel up-started by the high-rep users and this will be a drain on their enthusiasm.
  3. I worry about this site becoming a place to ask the gurus, rather than a community where everyone has something to give and to get.
  4. I worry that this model is non-sustainable for the high-rep users will eventually feel that the site is taking too much time and effort since instead of focusing on the hard problems, they jump the gun on many of the questions.
  5. I worry that this model is non-sustainable for the low-rep users since they get used to only asking questions and not answering any, and this can lead to a dependent mentality which is not very health...

In short, I feel that the site would benefit greatly if the high-rep users were a little slower at the keyboard, giving an opportunity for the less-experienced users slowly edit and perfect their answer, as you know all other things being equal, there's a great "advantage" in putting the first answer, in terms of reputation and motivation...

Of course, once a question has been unanswered for a while then clearly it is much better to have it answered than not...but I think we should seriously consider the benefits of making it easier for people to attempt a first answer.

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    Remember that edits also put names on the first page: for example, lockstep does a lot of tag edits, which add his name to things without him necessarily answering. – Joseph Wright Oct 12 '11 at 20:44
  • I remember in the early days there was a similar thread: can't seem to find it at the moment :-( – Joseph Wright Oct 12 '11 at 20:52
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    @JosephWright: Do you mean meta.tex.stackexchange.com/questions/373/… ? – Caramdir Oct 12 '11 at 20:57
  • @Caramdir Ah yes, that's the one – Joseph Wright Oct 12 '11 at 20:58
  • @JosephWright: I think Yossi is referring to the first page of the user list, not the front page with the "Top Questions". – doncherry Oct 12 '11 at 21:21
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    @doncherry: Yes, but my point was that just because someone's name is shown by a question on the 'front page' does not mean it's because they've answered it. – Joseph Wright Oct 12 '11 at 21:25
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I completely agree, and I've been thinking along similar lines recently. I can only answer for myself and not for anyone else, of course, and only describe what I now do. What I try to do now is make the "unanswered" list (and specifically those in my tags) my main point of call. I take a look at new questions, though I try to concentrate on helping ensure that the questions are good questions (formatting, asking for clarification, and so forth). Of course, I won't deliberately withhold an answer if I just happen to know it, but for answers that will take some thought and experiment then I try to concentrate on the slightly unusual ones.

The other thing that we "high-rep" users can do is to encourage others. When we see a good answer or good question (or good comment), make sure to vote. That's how low-rep users become high-rep users. Add comments, make people feel welcome, look out for "interesting" new users - there's a few names that I recognise and look out for contributions by them on the list because I know it's likely that I'll see a good answer from them.

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I'd like to start by saying how much I respect tex exchange and all of its users. I am quite often amazed by the wizardry that some people have.

@Werner's comment above

However, I can see a discouraged feeling when ill-commented high-rep answers (like "Try this..." or "Here you go...") win discussion-filled and correct low-rep users.

completely sums up how I feel sometimes. As a fairly low-rep user, there have been a few instances when I have posted answers, only to have a high-rep-guru post a slightly tweaked variation that ends up outscoring my answer- sob! (I don't actually cry, don't worry.)

In such cases, it might be nice to make a comment saying something like, 'have you thought about using this...'. @Werner demonstrates this regularly- see the comment on @Mico's answer How to prevent page breaks in lists? ("Exam" class) for example.

It does also seem that high-rep users are allowed to post one-line answers, and low-rep users are not. From the OP's perspective, a one-line answer is still a one-line answer, no matter who says it.

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As a low-rep, but growing (or am I already med-rep?) contributor I only partly agree.

  • I worry that first page users will get "burnt-out".

Actually, I worry more that some of you guys eventually get your thesis done and no longer have the time to contribute here :-)

(On the other hand I am pretty sure that new grad students will follow you. So I agree with Joseph that a community-wide 'burn-out' is unlikely.)

  • I worry that newcomers who are a little slow and careful in writing their answer will feel up-started.

Yes, that might happen. However, in my experience the downer is not so much the speed, but the fact that an even less detailed answer by a high-rep user tends to get more votes than a careful answer by a low-rep user. This is perfectly understandable (people just trust high-rep users and "automatically" up-vote their answers), but can appear as unfair.

What I consider as important is to generously up-vote answers from low-rep users.

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    I agree with your second comment. High-rep users tend to have more pull when it comes to answers. Instinctively one's attitude is that "high reputation" is synonymous with "experience/trustworthy-ness". That's the basic definition of the highest reputation group (> 20000): Trusted user. However, I can see a discouraged feeling when ill-commented high-rep answers (like "Try this..." or "Here you go...") win discussion-filled and correct low-rep users. Some commenting, however minimal, should be the baseline for answers. – Werner Oct 13 '11 at 22:43
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    @Werner: The “trusted” in “trusted user” refers to trusting them with more control over the site, not to trusting in their technical experience. – Caramdir Oct 14 '11 at 1:33
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    @Caramdir: That's true, but I think if you've gained over 20k rep then there is an implication that you're likely to give good answers. Of course, rep is at least partly related to time on the site, but you do have to answer quite a lot of questions to get to 20k. – Joseph Wright Oct 14 '11 at 7:09
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    +1 for "people just trust high-rep users and "automatically" up-vote their answers". – Zsub Dec 19 '11 at 19:07
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As a (very?) low-rep user, I feel like there are two worlds - the world of mortal (wo)men with, say, less than 500 reputation, and the world of supernatural beings with the gods at over 10,000 reputation. The gods interfere too much and too quickly in the affairs of men, while we should probably be encouraged to try to sort things out on our own, helping each other. Then gradually if we don't manage, or suggest kludgy solutions, being of higher and higher reputation should begin to intervene. The intervention can also be gradual, like @cmhughes suggests, beginning with a "have you considered" comment in the hope that low-rep users end up writing a good solution themselves.

Pedagogy!

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    What would you suggest is a 'good' timescale? (There is a balance to strike with the needs of those who just want 'answers now'.) – Joseph Wright Oct 29 '11 at 15:54
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    I would think people who "need answers now" would indicate that somehow. I can't really say what would be a good timescale, whether it's hours or days; I can just say that gradually as you feel that a question has is languishing without a reasonable answer you would move from silence, to a minor hint, to a more detailed answer. I'm not experienced enough to give time estimates. – einpoklum Oct 29 '11 at 21:20
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    Well, I am here for about one month now, have about 500 reputation and I would say, it takes me about half an hour to write agood answer that needs research, a MWE and then writing the answer. Half an hour starting at the point I read the question. When I first asked a question, I was hoping for an answer the next day. So, maybe a adequate timescale for 10k+ users jumping in for help is half a day? – matth Nov 11 '11 at 19:44
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    Or maybe questions could be hidden from high rep users for the first 1-2h after asking, giving low-rep users that time as headstart. – matth Nov 11 '11 at 19:48
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There are a few different things here, and all are worth discussing.

Many of the 'high-rep' users have been around TeX for many years, and answer questions in a number of places. You can look at the first three pages of the user list, at least, and find very active TeX people. So I think 'burn-out' is unlikely.

To some extent, all Q&A sites or forums are 'ask the expert', as most people are coming with a question they need sorting out. A lot of (La)TeX users have reports to write, and are not so fussed about the means to do that as getting the job done. That said, we do need to have a steady supply of people graduating from 'new user' to 'helpful', and in the end to 'expert'. So it's important that we do leave space for newer users.

Many of the high-rep users do a lot of work on commenting, voting and editing. I'd encourage more of that, and also putting effort in to write a complete answer. That should still gain votes even if it's not first.

It's important to remember that different people come here for different reasons. Some people are active in meta, voting and so on, but others are not. So I suspect there will always be some people toward the high end of the rep list who answer quickly: that's why they are here! (There's also the specific interests of individuals: for example, I tend to answer the siunitx problems pretty quickly.)

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Adding to Andrew's and Joseph's answers -- another thing high rep users could do is writing great tag wikis. Seeing all the knowledge that's around here, both in the questions and answers, and the expert users' heads, they could provide a great foundation and tacitly answer many questions.

  • I've nothing against this, but I do wonder how much people pick up on the tag when direct searching is relatively easy. – Joseph Wright Oct 13 '11 at 14:55
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    Indeed, this is a problem. My vision would be tex.sx as the Wikipedia of LaTeX, but for that, the wiki system would need to be much more accessible, as you say (and we'd need more content). – doncherry Oct 13 '11 at 15:02
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    Well, that's not quite the TeX.sx model. The 'back end' is Q&A focussed, and so the wiki part is not quite so prominent I guess by design. – Joseph Wright Oct 13 '11 at 15:54
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    Of course, and I wouldn't want to go away from the Q&A focus; I have in mind sort-of complementing the Q&A with the wiki entries, for users who want to dig deeper, learn more about a specific topic, and see what other users do with it. Perhaps something like stackoverflow.com/tags/scala/info -- a man-sorted "search result" for questions on this tag, or, if it's a popular tag, a problem-based tutorial. – doncherry Oct 13 '11 at 16:08
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    Actually, it is my experience as a low-rep that I have never visited tag wikis on the site. Not sure why that is, there's some implicit assumption that the Q&A is everything here. So I'm not sure I agree. – einpoklum Oct 29 '11 at 9:19
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    @EyalRozenberg: I totally agree with you, it took me a while to look into tag wikis, and most of them aren't ready yet. But I think they could be of great help in the future, after a decent amount of work, no doubt. – doncherry Oct 29 '11 at 9:22

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