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We have a few questions that are asking about the current state of affairs of something. Of course, “current” has a tendency to change with time. They're not off-topic or unanswerable, and unlike crystal-ball questions they don't become pointless once answered. Whatever answers they gather do tend to go dramatically out of date at some point, though.

Some examples:

(I'm sure there are more.)

One of the site tools we have is setting a post to Community Wiki (CW), which drops the reputation needed to edit it (without reviewer approval) way down.

We also have a mod-tool to lock out other answers, which prevents new answers that should have been wiki edits and focuses the page on the singular wiki post. It does a normal lock on the page and adds this banner:

This question's answers are a collaborative effort: if you see something that can be improved, just edit the answer to improve it! No additional answers can be added here

The other thought that inspired this idea is that we don't like editors to completely change someone else's answer, but this injunction seems intuitively (to me at least) to not apply to a community-edited wiki post. Seeing an accepted answer like this one become obsolete, the value of completely rewriting it seems more evident, and if it had been a CW it would have been already.

Would this be useful for any of our questions that are good but naturally prone to having their answers (and the votes on them) broken by the passage of time? Maybe it would be useful for some of these kinds of questions, but not others, based on a distinction I haven't thought of?

Just throwing the idea out there. CW is a site feature that has a poor reputation, but I wonder if something like this would make it sing. Thoughts?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Is there a meta post or FAQ or something that explains what CW posts are for? I've never really been sure. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Feb 28 '16 at 23:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe The brief bit from the help link above is “Community wiki posts have been donated to the community in hopes that others will edit them to keep them up to date, to add useful information, and generally improve their quality.” So they have a basic “for-ness.” Beyond that, what they're more specifically for is for each SE to figure out, based on what they're useful for relative to the SE's topic. (We haven't really figured that out.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 28 '16 at 23:51
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Upon further thinking...

This really does not solve the inherent problem.

... And the solution (which keeps them as a single question) requires code changes.

The real problem is two-fold: the querent is allowed the pick a top answer that will live on in perpetuity, and you cannot down-vote an answer you have already up voted, unless it's been edited.

The querent is the arbiter of what the best answer is. And at the time of one of these questions, they will pick the answer that fit the facts of the time. Many times, the querent will never come back, thus SSD's suggestion. Changing the answer outright is kind of a kick in the pants to two (or more) people - the answering user, the querent who picked the answer as the best, and anyone who up-voted the answer. (Thankfully, the final party at least has recourse; they can withdraw their votes on an edit.)

With a community wiki, all of these problems persist, except the 'personal slap in the face' the the original answering user. An answer that was picked as best is changed out from under the querent, and an answer voted for is drastically changed out from under the voters. Community Wiki answers should still be fundamentally the same answer between edits; if they are encouraged to be totally changed, it wrecks the entire voting structure of the site.

Even community wikis should be careful to keep the intent of the original post. Drastically changing answers, even CWs, is a generally bad idea.

So what's the solution that requires code changes?

To make this kind of question really work, these types of questions would need to be somehow marked as 'Unable to accept best answer', and 'Always able to retract votes.' This solves both the problem of a lingering green check mark, and old bad answers sticking around with huge vote counts, all without totally changing an answer (CW or not).

That code change is never going to happen. Ever. I can promise you that. That leaves the only options left to us being editing the top/accepted answer to totally change it (which is a bad idea, even as a wiki, I feel), or continue to just post new answers, hope they get votes, and hope the querent blesses the answer.

Which leads me to one of two conclusions.

The Mr. Freeze Conclusion

The first option that I can think of that both avoids totally changing answers of any kind, is to ask-and-self-answer a new question, with the updated information, and close the old question as a duplicate of it.

The Thor's Hammer Conclusion

Barring the Mr. Freeze conclusion, perhaps these questions just do not belong here.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ We have a code feature that accomplishes the same job already: a wiki lock. It prevents more than one answer and adds a banner saying that this page is a community-edited wiki. This is the feature I'm asking about the utility of for these types of questions, in this meta. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 8 '16 at 7:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is an even worse idea, unless my other answer is taken as paramount; I should only be used as a suggestion. however, I really think we should consider Mr. Freeze. \$\endgroup\$ – Tritium21 Mar 8 '16 at 7:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your other idea does have merit, since making something CW for someone would be pulling the rug from under them, a bit. Using a close to implement a Mr Freeze strategy isn't an option since that's not what closing is for; ironically, a CW lock is exactly designed for things like that, which is why it caught my attention and inspired this meta Q. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 8 '16 at 18:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Actually, in the course of action I suggested, a duplicate is intentionally created. Now this puts us in the position of having to close a question as duplicate. The new question has a correct answer, the old one does not. Which question should be closed? I thought about that. This is the least amount of bad behavior to a better end result. \$\endgroup\$ – Tritium21 Mar 8 '16 at 21:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ohhh. Yes, sorry, I misread that. That's an intriguing idea… I'm not sure about creating a new question just to give it a new answer, but it's an interesting possibility. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 8 '16 at 21:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie It solves the problem, and we have the excuse of seeing Staff doing it (on meta. >.>) \$\endgroup\$ – Tritium21 Mar 8 '16 at 21:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Really?! Even more interesting. Can you link to one or some of those in the post so they can be considered as examples of how it might work well? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 8 '16 at 21:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Community Promotion ads... 2014 is a dupe of 2015 is a dupe of 2016 \$\endgroup\$ – Tritium21 Mar 8 '16 at 21:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe apart from the Community Ads? That one is strongly motivated by the special code that runs on those posts, which is enough of a disanalogy to make them not useful for studying. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 8 '16 at 21:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie then I have nothing. (I said excuse not example, after all <.<) \$\endgroup\$ – Tritium21 Mar 8 '16 at 21:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for pointing out that this doesn't solve the problem... And for suggesting multiple practical alternative solutions to that problem. Bravo! \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Mar 9 '16 at 23:28
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Maybe.

This provides a solution to a problem, but comes very close to ticking on very bad box: Unilateral conversion of posts to community wikis. This is immensely unpopular, and for a good reason - it strips users of whatever fake internet points they earned. Unilateral conversion can make users hesitant to answer these types of questions on the basis that the gamification of helping people has been removed from the equation.

Make it a suggestion only.

If this were not a policy, but a suggestion to posters (either in comments, or from the beginning by the users who agree to this idea), this would... help the situation. I will not go so far as to say it will solve the problem totally.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "We don't like editors to completely change someone else's answer" is another of the reasons why unilaterally changing posts into Community Wiki posts is unpopular. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Mar 8 '16 at 6:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Completely changing someone else answer at least has the benefit of not stripping out fake internet points. \$\endgroup\$ – Tritium21 Mar 8 '16 at 6:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Indeed - but the proposal was to make answers into community wiki posts specifically so that they can be completely changed, so I figure both disadvantages are relevant. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Mar 8 '16 at 6:20
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I'd like to answer your question with another question: Is answering questions about the current state of transient things in line with this site's intended purpose and function? I say it isn't. After all, "We don't want the information on our site to become obsolete, and so we try not to ask questions whose answers may change with time."

Questions about transient things have one major problem: Their answers are at constant risk of becoming wrong all of a sudden - and are unlikely to be updated once wrong, because they'll probably have fallen off the site's front page by that point. A major goal of this site is to provide answers that are useful, not just to the person who posted them, but to other users who search for the question at a later date. If the answers to a question are rendered wrong by the passage of time, they become unuseful to everyone who reads them, forever.

(Admittedly, almost all questions are subject to changing real-world circumstances. It's not uncommon, for example, for games to receive new supplements or errata. However, this rarely presents the same problems that occur with questions about truly transient situations, because most real-world changes don't render existing answers completely incorrect and obsolete; Plenty of groups don't play with errata or supplements.)

Community wiki questions can be easily edited and updated by anyone. Unfortunately, that doesn't solve the problem with questions about transient things, because there's still no way for people to know that they should make edits and updates when the situation has changed.

So, I'd say no, we shouldn't use community wiki questions for this type of question, because community wiki questions don't solve the problem that these sort of questions have.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you speak to the situation where people do attempt to update such answers by posting a new answer when new information becomes available? We have that happen, and it's what inspired the question. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 7 '16 at 0:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie It's possible to edit an answer without it being a community wiki post. Some users have edit privileges, others have edit-without-the-need-for-approval privileges, and almost everyone has the ability to suggest changes in a comment - and those comments can be read by anyone even if the suggested changes are never made. My point is that these answers aren't wrong because people can't edit, they're wrong because they don't know that edits are needed. Community Wiki addresses the former problem, not the problem these questions actually have. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Mar 7 '16 at 2:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Of course, if there's users with less than 50 reputation trying to edit outdated answers to questions (perhaps by posting comments as answers) then my argument is moot. I doubt there's much activity of that kind, though. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Mar 7 '16 at 2:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ The two examples in the meta Q don't fit that description. People knew they needed updating and took various actions. I feel like we're talking past each other due to picturing unrelated situations. My question is, in the situations illustrated by those examples, would it be useful to a) prevent new answers, and/or b) lower the technical and psychological barrier to editing an existing answer by making it a CW? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 7 '16 at 3:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I don't think I understand your question a), and I think I've already given my answer to question b)? Sorry, I think I might be overlooking the chain of reasoning you're using; Why do are you asking these things? \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Mar 7 '16 at 23:23

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