show intent to answer question

When I answer a question, I prefer to make the answer extensive - with a good MWE, a screenshot, some code comments, links to other questions, a solution that possibly goes a bit further than asked for. It takes some time to write an answer like this, and often it happens that somebody else posts an answer before I am fully finished and happy with the result.

If the other answer has the same solution or a better one (shorter/easier/better results) then I discard my own answer. When my solution is different but equally good or perhaps better, or possibly interesting for showing some general techniques, etc., I post it as a second answer. However, when I do discard my answer, I feel like my effort has been for nothing (except for learning something new myself).

Therefore, I would like to have some kind of "I am working on an answer"-button, so potential answerers can see that there is somebody who is, well, working on an answer, and decide not to start an answer of their own at this point - or to speed up :)

Alternatives would be to leave a comment (seems like the wrong place), to post an incomplete answer (seems wrong in general), or to announce in chat (will reach only chatroom regulars). Any thoughts on this?

• I leave a comment in this case, something like Still editing/updating later on, but it might be not seen by others. – user31729 Aug 24 '17 at 15:29
• It happened to me, too, many times! You could leave a comment with your main idea about the solution, and post the completed one later, even if nobody can prevent others from answering... – CarLaTeX Aug 24 '17 at 19:43

Consider this regarding your request: Who will this benefit? Not the community, and possibly not even the OP.

The main purpose of this seems to be personal. That is, you want to tell others "please don't answer this question, because I am answering it." Fine. I doubt it'll change people's behaviour and make them stop considering to answer a question. Why? You don't know who's writing up the answer (not that it should matter) nor what they're writing. Moreover, even though this remains a community-driven knowledge base, reputation remains a driving force behind people's contributions and this is individual-based. So, people will still feel like they can contribute something before someone else, because they may end up gaining some reputation from that.

I think a better course of action is to answer a question without even considering that others may also answer the same question. Write it up to the best of your abilities, adding as much information as possible and posting it. If the answer is completely covered by someone else, then delete it. If yours has an advantage over someone else's hopefully the community will using their voting power (and logic) to distinguish the answer rank.

A counter-argument to your suggestion would involve considering how to deal with the following scenario: Someone clicks the "I am working on an answer"-button but takes a week to completely write up their (comprehensive) answer. Should the community sit in anticipation for this answer without doing anything? By that time, the OP may have moved on to other forums looking for help. Speed in answering remains one of the things that questioners come here for. The other surely is quality.

Ultimately, the "answer that helped [the OP] most" will be selected as the "correct answer" and this is very subjective. You could end up writing "the best answer ever", only to "lose out" to someone else's code-only answer (say).

• You're completely right, the most important thing is a rapid and smart answer to solve the OP's problem! – CarLaTeX Aug 24 '17 at 21:30
• It would work both ways, if I see that somebody else is active then I would not start an answer (yet). It would IMHO benefit the community of answerers, by reducing the amount of unnecessary work, as well as the community in general, because if you don't start trying to find a solution for one question you can move on to another question. The status should show a timestamp and/or expire automatically to prevent 'locking' an answer, but this is not really an issue because most answers are written fast. Voting helps to rank answers of course, but there is not much use in duplicate answers... – Marijn Aug 24 '17 at 21:48
• ... like on SO main, where it is annoying, as a user, to read through a list of answers that largely overlap, which is what the reputation system seems to encourage. – Marijn Aug 24 '17 at 21:51
• @Marijn: Ideally one would like to measure the amount of "unnecessary work" in order to assess whether such a feature-request would have any impact. – Werner Aug 24 '17 at 22:22
• I agree. A possible measure could be the amount of text and images in the answer box at the moment 'discard' is clicked, but this is only an approximation and does not account for situations where an answerer implements a solution locally, returns to the page to start writing an answer, finds out that an equivalent or better solution has already been posted, and decides not to write the answer. Maybe a questionnaire could provide a better measurement. It happens to me regularly, not soo often that it is a big problem, but often enough to make a feature request :) – Marijn Aug 25 '17 at 8:26
• @Marijn Go through the unanswered questions and (try to) answer them. It is unlikely that right now another one is answering that six months old question. ;-) – Johannes_B Aug 26 '17 at 6:35
• @Marijn 'If the other answer has ... shorter/easier/better results ...'. So you want SE to implement a button discouraging better content? How would this serve people looking for answers to their questions? It isn't duplicated effort unless you'd come up with a solution at least as good. Either the flag deters better answers than yours or it doesn't. If it doesn't, it is useless. If it does, it benefits you at the expense of people looking for solutions. It isn't duplicated effort if the other answerers come up with something better than your solution. – cfr Aug 28 '17 at 4:01
• We don't generally have a problem here with large numbers of nearly identical answers, do we? So how would it benefit users of TeX SE? If you mention your idea in a comment, generally people will leave you to turn it into an answer, if they would have proceeded in the same way. Not always and this is not, generally, why people leave answers in comments. But it is an unintended consequence and you could do this intending this consequence, I suppose. A button would also discourage a variety of answers. People are less likely to work on a different idea if somebody has posted another solution. – cfr Aug 28 '17 at 4:06
• – Werner Oct 27 '17 at 17:04

If you don't want to waste your time answering questions some top user will answer better and quicker than you, you could try my technique.

Usually, when I work, I don't have time to spend here. So, when I see a post I could answer to, I flag it as my favorite clicking on the star under the upvote/downvote icons:

When I have time, I scroll the list of my favorites:

and, if there is already a good answer to the question I marked, I click again on the star to de-flag it. If there is not, I answer being (almost) certain not to waste my time.