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I've observed a few cases of users posting a non-answer on a question and then deleting the answer, usually leaving a note in the answer text about how they will come back later and write an actual answer to the question. When it has happened, it is usually the first answer posted, which is an important point - the enlightened badge can only be awarded to the first answer on a post. Conceivably, an answer that was posted then quickly deleted could eventually be eligible for the badge, when another answer rightfully ought to be, if it was posted while the deleted answer was still deleted.

Is it okay to do this, or is this a practice that should be avoided?

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There are legitimate uses that we could never distinguish from illegitimate ones, and the illegitimate uses are not serious enough to consider throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Do we seriously care that much about badges? I mean, yes, they play a role in the gamification scheme that the site runs on, but a relatively minor one compared to reputation, votes, and accepted checkmarks. A few badges—the review queue and editing ones—are more important because people look to those during moderator elections, and of course gold tag badges give you a banhammer, but Enlightened is not one of those. Badges like Enlightened are just a bit of fun, not a reason to get officious.

In point of fact, Enlightened specifically is a fairly stupid badge. I guess the incentive is to just be more active, so you can see the question when it lands and answer first, but there is still a ton of luck involved. For sufficiently active users, though, it is a disproportionately easy source of silver badges. I suspect a plurality of mine are copies of Enlightened. I’m actually kind of negative on the badge just from first principles. Not all badges are created equal, and badges have been retired, historically, for not really representing things the Stack necessarily wants to encourage. Enlightened has lasted but in my mind it has to be the badge closest to getting the ax.

Anyway, my point is, badges aren’t very important, especially not Enlightened, so I struggle to believe anyone is engaging in these practices in order to game that badge. If they are... well, my opinion is that’s kind of sad, and they should have a little more respect for themselves. But more likely they just find it a convenient way to keep track of questions they’re interested in, I guess.

Regardless, even if they were gaming Enlightened badges, I don’t see what we could or should do about it. Unless they explicitly state their intent, we couldn’t prove that’s what they’re doing (and we should assume good faith), and our options for dealing with it even if we somehow know about it are really limited. I guess the diamond mods could suspend them. But suspensions are one of the few things that this site doesn’t handle by community consensus, so I’m not sure what Meta could do even if we wanted to.

Ultimately, I just really doubt that this is any kind of cheating, and even if it is I don’t honestly care that much. My assumption is that some people find it convenient, and I see no problem with that. The drafts feature is limited and unreliable, and pulling out a separate program (e.g. Notepad) or website (e.g. pastebin) is inconvenient. We need a damn good reason to deny someone a tool that makes it easier or more comfortable to provide the answers that are the point of the site.

(As another—now deleted—answer points out, deleting incomplete answers, to complete them later, is absolutely acceptable. There is a long history of that and it has often been recommended by moderators and veteran users.)

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It's not an issue.

In isolation from badges, it has no real effect whatsoever. It doesn't hurt anything or anyone. For those that do this, it seems to be a convenient way to effectively create a to-do or post-it for themselves, or give them a spot to save their draft in a way they can access between multiple machines for a long time (which doesn't otherwise exist). About the worst I could do with this is create a whole bunch of front-page churn by doing this 20 times in a row, but we're not talking about anything on this scale.

Factoring in badges... some people sometimes won't get an Enlightened badge. But so what? They weren't going to get an Enlightened badge either if the first person made a short answer and kept it, but the second made a better answer. This kind of thing happens all the time. I've had tons of good answers that didn't get an Enlightened badge beacuse someone posted a short answer ahead of me or otherwise just beat me to the punch, and that's not an issue at all—it's just how things work out. Badges like Enlightened are like the lottery—you get them if the stars align in your favour and otherwise you don't. We don't set content policies based on who we think deserves what badges, or penalise people we think are obstructing others from badges.

Basically there's no “rightful” ownership of badges, and pursuing the line of thought that there might be is going to lead to a lot of pain, mainly for yourself. Do you want a system where we also penalise people for posting poor answers as the first one to a question because it also robs someone of an Enlightened badge?

So in summary: there's no real harm it causes, and issues around someone not getting a badge aren't real harm. This isn't worth worrying about. Consider it a quirk of the system and move on. What earns you a badge is between you, the system, and Stack Exchange's devs; if you think there's a serious problem here with that badge, request a change to its trigger condition.

Honestly, trying to police this (with what—suspensions?) is going to create more suffering (for you, for others, and for diamond moderators) than the suffering of someone not getting a silver badge every now and then which was already not promised or guaranteed or “rightfully” theirs in any fashion whatsoever.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ it allows answering a closed question. \$\endgroup\$
    – fectin
    Commented Apr 14, 2022 at 22:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @fectin Then the issue there is under what circumstances someone chooses to undelete, not whether they posted & deleted as a WIP at all. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 14, 2022 at 22:49
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Is it okay? In most cases. Is it good practice? Arguably.

There is one exception: closed questions can't receive answers, but answers to them are inter-actable. Any workaround such as undeleting a quickly posted placeholder answer likely will cause problems.

While blocking someone else from receiving a badge isn't pleasant, leaving a placeholder answer communicates to other active high reputation users that someone is on the job and will come back to the question — that information is valuable.

So if you find yourself in a situation where you want to indicate that you will come back to an answer, you should ask yourself whether supplying that information is necessary or whether you should instead omit a placeholder and come back later to post a proper answer. You will see that there are some more complex questions where communicating with other users is more valuable than when looking at quick to answer questions — make your decision on a case by case basis.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Technically the value of information can never be negative, but... I question whether the value of the information here outweighs the admittedly small disadvantages of the practice. After all "Someone else is working on it" could just serve to suppress other peoples' incentive to contribute an answer. And the person might never get back to it, or might do so only after a lazy weekend. \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 18:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Novak Certainly something that should go into that decision making. \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 21:11
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The convenience is not worth the issues it can cause. There are equally convenient alternatives that don't cause any issues.

The main idea here is two-fold: doing this can cause problems, and there are other things you can do that don't cause any problems. First, the problems:

Someone might care about badges, and that is okay.

Stack Exchange is, by design, gamified via reputation points and badges. These things are a part of the system. Accumulating rep and badges is fun, and some users, especially new users care about them. And this is okay, it is what they are there for. We should not be dismissive or derogatory of the idea of caring about badges. To be clear, I very much doubt any high rep users are too much concerned about the badge thing. I am not going to complain about missing out on what might have been my 400th enlightened badge when I can get five more tomorrow. But a new user with zero silver badges might care.

Issues with the new user experience are well documented, both locally and on meta.se. And it is new users, users with no rep and no badges, that are most likely to express a meaningful level of concern for a missed badge, and I don't think it is right to tell them not to. Personally, I don't want to have this conversation with a new user:

Hey, so I know that it looks like you were supposed to get your first silver badge for this good answer, but what happened is a user with thousands of rep and hundreds of badges posted a non-answer and deleted it so they could come back and edit it later, which blocked your answer from being eligible.

This would be a lovely addition to the already challenging new user experience Stack Exchange presents (/S). If we can avoid creating circumstances where a new user might feel cheated out of something they have every reason to believe they earned, we should.

It can create issues when used to circumvent question closure.

The question that motivated this meta post was already at three close votes when the "answer" post was created and deleted. This allowed the answer to circumvent the closure of the question. Why is this a problem? The question's author returned and accepted the answer after the question was closed, and now has no reason at all to resolve the issues with the question.

Alternative procedures.

See this meta: Allow questions to be saved as drafts prior to posting In particular:

If you start answering a particular question, but do not successfully submit, you will see your last saved answer draft the next time you visit that particular question page.

  • We save drafts automatically for all new answers and new questions once every 45 seconds.
  • Drafts are not supported on self-answer.
  • Drafts are not supported on edits.
  • You only get one draft for an answer and one for a question. (If you start a new post, the old draft is cleared.)
  • Each site has its own draft storage, e.g. you can have multiple draft questions saved on multiple StackExchange sites
  • Drafts will be automatically cleared after a week.
  • Drafts work for anonymous users as well.

If you start working on an answer, the system saves your work every 45 seconds and keeps it there for an entire week. There is no reason to submit the incomplete answer because the system will save it for you. "Just don't submit the answer until you're done" has all the same convenience as submitting the incomplete answer, but causes none of the issues outlined earlier.

Alternatively, you can use the Formatting Sandbox on meta.se. Start an answer or edit an existing answer there and your work will be saved for time immemorial. It may get deleted in the distant future, but it will certainly be preserved for long enough to finish your answer and transfer it to the destination Q&A.

Finally, just use a notepad on desktop or mobile. This is what I usually do. If I want to move on and work on other stuff before I finish an answer, I'll transfer it to a .txt file on notepad before writing other posts. It's just as easy as creating an incomplete answer, and it has exactly zero potential for causing problems on the site.

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    \$\begingroup\$ “The question that motivated this meta post was already at three close votes when the "answer" post was created and deleted.” Then could you ask about this situation instead of asking focusing on whether people are getting or not getting an Enlightened badge? This is like a bait-and-switch over leaving out important information. Naturally, do this as a new question. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 12:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer is missing what you expect to be done about it if people choose not to listen to you. And that is the part you seem to be missing from my answer, because I don’t dismiss caring about badges at all; I dismiss caring about badges so much that we’re going to set up an enforcement mechanism (the nature of which is not at all obvious to me) to try to catch a stunningly unlikely form of gaming the system that we almost certainly will never be able to definitively identify in the first place. Also, none of your suggestions are as reliable and convenient as what they aim to replace. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 13:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan We wait for Godot - "Nothing to be done". We ask nicely, advise on potential issues and potential alternatives, and move along. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 15:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ “Personally, I don't want to have this conversation with a new user” — I wouldn't want you to either. Our badge system promises no badges until they're given, and users should think nothing of it. But such a conversation would teach the user that they were owed a badge and robbed of it (they weren't), and teach them their peers are enemies, not allies, and that high-rep users are fat cats greedily hoarding all the shinies out of malice. Do we also teach them they're supposed to get the +25 badge too, but all these people just didn't upvote them, blocking their answer from being eligible? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 17:32

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