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The title is the same as in the corresponding topic on Meta.StackExchange.com

Unpinning the accepted answer from the top of the list of answers

Today we changed the way we sort answers on Stack Overflow. We no longer pin the accepted answer (with the green checkmark) to the top of the list of answers. By default, we now sort strictly by votes (descending order by highest score), and the accepted answer's order in the list is based on its score.

The history of feature requests to unpin the accepted answer on Stack Overflow dates back to 2013 and has been raised almost every year since. This year within the Outdated Answers project we did research that showed that we are good to proceed with the accepted answer unpinned.

We can change the way the engine sorts answers in site settings. We would like to hear from you all if it is something you want to see on your site. (Please let me acknowledge in advance that we will not be able to run a test on each site.)

I believe that we should discuss about this also here.

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  • I made a pseudo-feature-request on Meta.SE, suggesting a per-site option for moderators to pin answers above the accepted answer based on community feedback. This is similar to our usual approach of raising a question on Meta.TeX.SE if we want to discuss question closures, re-openings, tagging and the like. Link to request.
    – Werner Mod
    Oct 13 at 23:54
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    @Werner there is also a real feature request for this: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/369576/…
    – Marijn
    Oct 14 at 8:30
  • @Marijn: Thanks for that. That feature request is specific to meta sites only, not the main sites (unfortunately).
    – Werner Mod
    Oct 18 at 15:50
  • Now, I am cofused. This question has the accepted answer obviously unpinned, but this one (and others) has it pinned. I guess, this is because in the first example the OP accepted their own answer? Nov 18 at 21:48
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    @JasperHabicht self-answers don't get pinned. The powers-that-be demonstrated that in a meta posts for which they got a couple of thousands downvotes on their answer and to get it nevertheless to the top they had to mess with their own data base to change the post owner to another employee. Nov 18 at 22:16
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I ran the query posted on the main meta for our site (https://data.stackexchange.com/tex/query/edit/1462421) which shows there are currently 8958 questions where the accepted answer is not the highest scored answer and would therefore be impacted by this change, which is 4% of the total number of questions.

This was more than I had expected. I think unpinning the answer would therefore be a good idea on TeX.SE, as the higher scoring answers are usually better and therefore deserve to be shown first.

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    Looking at the results of the query, it's not very clear that the higher-scoring answers are usually better: in many cases they have more votes because of being more impressive, rather than being more relevant to the question. Sep 19 at 19:27
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    I am in favour of this change. I just ran a field test ;).
    – AlexG
    Sep 29 at 10:46
  • Have you tried the modified SEDE query mentioned here? Oct 4 at 1:00
  • Then what's the purpose of having an accepted answer? Oct 28 at 16:52
  • @StevenB.Segletes On the one hand, accepting an answer is like a super-upvote from the OP and at the same time it is a signal to the community, that the immediate problem of the OP is solved and there is no user desperately waiting for a solution. Oct 28 at 16:55
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    @ShreevatsaR It is also been my experience that older answers garner more votes, even if older by even just a few hours, if the older answer happens shortly after (minutes after) the question is asked Oct 28 at 16:57
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My personal opinion is that some users are a bit fast in accepting answers: “I have a problem, ask it at TeX.SX, someone answers, problem solved, tick.”

While in many cases the first answer is good, in particular when the problem is simple, in other cases the first answer glosses over some aspects of the problem, proposing

  • a not very general solution, or
  • a solution that's suboptimal, or
  • a solution that works by chance, or
  • a solution that's altogether wrong.

Yes, the last case happens. Here is a simple case:

Unicode Three-D top-lighted rightwards equilateral arrowhead Symbol XeLaTeX

The accepted answer is simply wrong. Not because it suggests Wingdings, but because it uses \font and we all know (or should know) the shortcomings of this primitive command.

Sometimes later answers generalize a correct accepted answer, making the solution applicable to other situations. Pinning the accepted answer at the top can hide better answers, maybe given months or even years later when new tools have become available: nicematrix, tabularray or expl3 come to mind, but also package updates that provide the feature asked for in the question.

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POLL

Upvote if you prefer to unpin

Downvote if you prefer to keep accepted answers at the top

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I'll add my contrarian view here. While it's undoubtably true that there are accepted answers that are either no longer valid or not as good as other answers, I'm not sure that this fact alone is enough of an argument to unpin accepted answers. Surely the measure of whether it makes sense to unpin is if that number is sufficiently large, and other than the measure that @marjin gives in his answer, it's not obvious that we really know how many answers deserve to be unpinned.

On the other hand, if the vast majority of accepted answers are valid 'best' answers, then users lose out when all accepted answers are unpinned.

A better approach IMO (although presumably not one that the SE network would like to implement) would be some way to unpin particular accepted answers, perhaps via a voting system like the close voting system.

But absent such a system, I'm not convinced that unpinning all accepted answers isn't like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

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    "if the vast majority of accepted answers are valid 'best' answers, then users lose out when all accepted answers are unpinned." Why? If the accepted answers are the best, they will be still at the top because they get most votes Oct 5 at 18:59
  • @samcarter_is_at_topanswers.xyz Maybe so. I guess it depends on whether votes always equals best answer. But you're right in the cases where they line up it shouldn't be a problem.
    – Alan Munn
    Oct 5 at 22:20
  • Of course one needs to trust that users who upvote a several years old post because they recently got an answer by the same author and even document this abuse of votes in a comment, are the exception and most users will use votes wisely. Oct 5 at 22:48
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This site covers technologies that are actively under development, and it’s been around for a long time. It’s sometimes the case that an old question has an accepted or highly-voted answer that worked well at the time, but has become obsolete since then. We might want a newer, updated answer to be at the top for anyone trying to solve the same problem today.

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    Does that mean you are in favor of pinning the accepted answer (because the OP could change the accepted answer) or against it (because then voting can overtake the old accepted answer)?
    – Marijn
    Oct 12 at 9:22
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    @Marijn I think there should be a way to discuss and pin a new answer, in cases where an edit isn’t a good solution.
    – Davislor
    Oct 12 at 17:33
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    Case in point: How can I set a dark theme in TeXstudio? Even as the new accepted answer (which pins it to the top), the new answer only ties for eighth place in upvotes after six months. If it weren't pinned to the top, it would probably have even fewer votes. Pinning it is rather valuable here.
    – schtandard
    Oct 25 at 15:37
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I wonder if there might be room for an intermediate solution here. For example "Sort the accepted answer as if it had 10 upvotes more than it really has." or "Pin the accepted answer, unless another answer has more than twice the amount of upvotes.". More specific cases are thinkable like "Except if the OP changed the accepted answer when a new answer was posted long after the original question, then pin that answer." if one wants to get fancy.

My point is that pinning an answer can be useful, especially if it is given after some other answers were already present (if for hours or for years). Do we have to ditch this entirely just because it can also be harmful?

(I do realize that there is precedent on the network for unpinning the top answer but not for these suggestions. Who knows, maybe the Powers are open for suggestions for once..)

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