Is it a good idea to limit the number of "best answers"? February 1, 2012 4:15 PM   Subscribe

Just wanted to start a discussion on whether it's a good idea to limit the number of "best answers" in an AskMeFi thread. I started reading this thread and thought about forwarding it to a friend of mine, but the entire thing is almost unreadable due to the color contrast because the original poster "best answered" every comment. In addition, especially to a new user who doesn't necessarily know all of the formatting conventions, the whole thing is really busy. Nothing against the original poster, who is well within their rights to "best answer" as they see fit, but readability suffers in cases like this.
posted by SeizeTheDay to Feature Requests at 4:15 PM (68 comments total)

It seems like, if there's going to be an answer to this problem, it's not limiting the number of answers; it's probably changing the appearance of the "best answer" format so that it flows better.
posted by koeselitz at 4:16 PM on February 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


No, it isn't a good idea.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:23 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


How can there be more than one answer that is the best?
posted by Carol Anne at 4:23 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think this is more of a "encourage a culture of only besting a few comments" thing than a technical change thing.

The appearance seems fine to me, the problem with is is the same one it has always been, you rely on the questioner to determine what is the best answer and there are many question formats in which the person who needs the information may not be the best choice to make that determination.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:24 PM on February 1, 2012


*with this is
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:24 PM on February 1, 2012


Isn't that a separate issue, though, furiosuxgeorge? Sees like SeizeTheDay was talking about just the appearance.
posted by koeselitz at 4:29 PM on February 1, 2012


(I don't even know how my autocorrect changed your name like that, furiousxgeorge; sorry for the typo.)
posted by koeselitz at 4:31 PM on February 1, 2012


Yeah, to koeselitz's point, I don't want to go down the black hole of "best answer" policy. This is strictly a readability issue.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 4:32 PM on February 1, 2012


Limiting the number of best answers would a pretty indirect way to address the issue if it's worth addressing—it introduces a non-intuitive limit to address what is already sort of an edge case since by far most questions don't see this kind of density of best answers.

That it's an edge case leaves me feeling like this may be more of an annoyance to tolerate than something we should specifically make a change on. There are client-side solutions to making a given page more readable on a one-off basis (Readability is a popular one), so having something like that on hand is probably your best bet for quickly sidestepping too-many-highlighted-comments frustrations when they do occur.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:37 PM on February 1, 2012


How can there be more than one answer that is the best?

If there's a tie.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:39 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't help but think of those four poor users whose answers are obviously the worst.
posted by nobody at 4:50 PM on February 1, 2012 [18 favorites]


It could be that I'm just accustomed to reading AskMe, but I don't think it even begins to approach unreadable. Having said that, I do think it could probably be made prettier and less busy, and that might not be a bad thing.

I always feel bad when I ask a question and don't mark a best answer. Usually it's because there are a bunch of great answers, and I don't want to mark them all. But I don't do it for aesthetic reasons, rather because it always seems like it would essentially be singling out the answers I consider to be crappy. I am the kind of jerk who is naturally inclined to do that sort of thing, but I try not to act that way too often in this little corner of the internet.

I also know that for me, part of the motivation to answer AskMe questions is the possibility of getting picked as a best answer. Actually, maybe motivation isn't exactly the right word. I do use the possibility of a best answer as more of a filter I guess, in the sense that I try to ask myself before I submit an answer, "Does this have the potential to be considered a best answer?" If not, then maybe I don't really need to try to answer the question after all.

But everybody likes having their answer chosen as a best answer, so instead of limiting those I'd lean towards prettifying the layout, if it actually is worse than I think it is because I'm just used to it.
posted by Balonious Assault at 4:52 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, in my mind, the readability breaks down because of the stark contrast in block highlighting of "best answer" and the traditional color scheme. You could solve this in a number of ways:

1) Use a gold sideline (vs. the grey sideline for the original poster)

2) Note in the comment footer that it was marked the "best answer" (instead of block highlighting the whole comment)

3) Simply "box" the comment, instead of block coloring the whole thing

4) Create a header for the comment denoting its status ("The following comment has been denoted "best answer" by the original poster")

This particular thread is an extreme example, to be sure, but other threads could also benefit from making the "best answer" status less obvious.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 4:54 PM on February 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


I can't help but think of those four poor users whose answers are obviously the worst.

I now have a craving to submit an AskMe about how MeFites learned to cope with getting picked last for gym class sports teams, just so that I could then mark all but one of the answers as best answers.

This is because I am a jerk.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:06 PM on February 1, 2012 [30 favorites]


How can there be more than one answer that is the best?

Above a certain threshold of brilliant helpfulness it would be strange to say that there is only one best answer. Multiple answers might be great for different reasons.

What is best in life? Aristotle bested both...

1) the active life (a life where everything that makes a human life good is developed and exercised)

and

2) the contemplative life (a life where the life of the mind, the aspect of human life he thought was most distinctively human, is prioritized over all else).

He came to no conclusion as to which was best of the best. Both answers are outstanding. They are both better, richer answers than the original question might have been thought to inspire. The fact that neither answer mentions crushing enemies or hearing the lamentations of the women should not rule out highlighting both.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:08 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


wow, that really is some insane over-favoriting. and the OP's suggestion of accenting instead of wholesale re-coloring of favorites is a good one. but it's not a big deal either way.
posted by facetious at 5:09 PM on February 1, 2012


Perhaps you could copy-and-paste it into a Word document (which preserves no background color), send it to your friend, and let the content of that discussion lead your friend to either visit the site and tough-it-out with the discordant appearance of oft-favorited askme posts, or just run in terror. I personally like the way favorite answers are denoted, not that ever get them.
posted by klausman at 5:26 PM on February 1, 2012


I suggest the following categories:

Shitty Answer
Idiot Did You Even Read The Question No You Didn't Did You? Idiot.
Meh Answer
Okay Answer
Good Answer
Best Answer
Answer I Wanted (this one flashes).
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:27 PM on February 1, 2012 [36 favorites]


(I don't even know how my autocorrect changed your name like that, furiousxgeorge; sorry for the typo.)

You are not forgiven. We are now enemies. Prepare yourself.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:27 PM on February 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Looks perfectly fine with the professional background.
posted by P.o.B. at 5:30 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Did you send the link to your friend anyway?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:34 PM on February 1, 2012


I like it the way it is. I just wanted to put that out there.
posted by Roger Dodger at 5:35 PM on February 1, 2012


(I don't even know how my autocorrect changed your name like that, furiousxgeorge; sorry for the typo.)

Why regret? Furio is a very giving person, and a pleasant companion.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:38 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


That it's an edge case leaves me feeling like this may be more of an annoyance to tolerate than something we should specifically make a change on.

I guess my question is: does this actually happen very often? Is this a thing we could get infodump data on? I get the feeling, as someone who reads almost every AskMe question, that this sort of "you're all winners" approach is really pretty rare.If that is the case, and I certainly could be wrong, then implementing a sitewide change just to address something that almost never happens seems like overkill.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:47 PM on February 1, 2012


Is this a thing we could get infodump data on?

Totally, yeah. There's best answer data in the askme comment files, so if someone wants to go diving it'd mostly be a matter of figuring out what percentage of threads see high saturation of best answers.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:48 PM on February 1, 2012


Just to expand on the issue of contrast that the OP mentions and that SeizeTheDay references, to my mind the best answer design is not flawed because of the increased contrast between the background and the block color, but because of the reduced contrast between the block color and the text. You've essentially made the most important text less easy to read (white text on a lighter background). Contrary to cortex's assertion, this is not simply an edge case that revolves around over-marking threads. It's a flaw in every thread that utilizes "best answers."

The tactics SeizeTheDay mentions address this problem; essentially, how can one draw attention to a particular comment without reducing its readability? The current design fails in that task.
posted by Jeff Howard at 5:49 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


I feel vaguely comforted knowing someone else feels bad marking best answers because the not-best-answer-ers might feel bad. If there's more than a couple answers that are good, I start going, "Well, this one is PREEEETTY good ... this one is close ... " and then I get haphazard and then I feel worse.

And yet when I grade student papers I do not feel bad. Go figure.

Dear AskMe, how can I cope with crippling guilt about issuing best answers on you?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:50 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


I suggest a gradation of bg colors. With one best answer, the best answer bg color is high contrast (like they appear now). The more answers in the thread marked "best" the lower the contrast for each of them, so that if they are all marked best, they have no apparent difference from a normal answer.
posted by ericost at 6:00 PM on February 1, 2012 [12 favorites]


I bet there's a way to do that with greasemonkey. It's too wicked an idea for pb to implement.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:06 PM on February 1, 2012


It could be even more wicked, though. Over a certain threshold, the answers themselves should begin to fade into the background.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:08 PM on February 1, 2012


What is best in life?

To post setup lines on MetaTalk, see the jokes driven before you, and to hear the flagmentations of the MeFites.
posted by RogerB at 6:56 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


jessamyn [star]: "it's too wicked an idea for pb to implement."

That sounds a lot like a challenge ;-)
posted by dg at 7:08 PM on February 1, 2012


I like that we can "best" an entire thread if we want to. The nature of my questions mean they often only get a handful of answers and often the mojority are useful or best in different ways. Plus I like getting one of my answers marked best so I tend to be generous when handing them out.

Jeff Howard writes "The tactics SeizeTheDay mentions address this problem; essentially, how can one draw attention to a particular comment without reducing its readability? The current design fails in that task."

Maybe best answers should be on a darker back ground; say the dark green of the AskMe title bar back ground
posted by Mitheral at 7:10 PM on February 1, 2012


I can't help but think of those four poor users whose answers are obviously the worst

As one of those 4 I'm going to comfort myself with the thought that my answer is perfect, just not what the OP wants to hear, so she is refusing to acknowledge the greatness of my answer.

That seems to happen to me a lot :)
posted by COD at 7:31 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


SeizeTheDay- I use the better contrast script. It puts a box around best answers and I think the contrast makes the site easier to read.

In fact, I hate trying to read the site without it. Which might explain why I'm so much more productive at work since they took away my greasmonkey...
posted by dogmom at 7:31 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Overkill. Rarely an issue.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:48 PM on February 1, 2012


Here you can see a heatmap type scatterplot of all Ask MetaFilter posts for comments (x axis) vs best answers (y axis). It's in a log plot for the number of posts, since the vast majority of posts have only a few comments. That means the red section near (0,0) is around 60,000 posts.
posted by demiurge at 7:59 PM on February 1, 2012


More annoying than marking everything best answer is prefacing your answer with any variation of, "I didn't read what you said because i'm busy, but here is my two cents". That should result in your answer being deleted and a day off from the site.
posted by mlis at 8:17 PM on February 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


Also, here is a histogram of the proportion of comments marked best answer. These are only from posts that have a best answer.
posted by demiurge at 8:24 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


How can there be more than one answer that is the best?

If you ask question with a single correct response ("What's the name of this song") and multiple people give the right answer, you may wish to mark all of their answers as best.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:44 PM on February 1, 2012


More annoying than marking everything best answer is prefacing your answer with any variation of, "I didn't read what you said because i'm busy, but here is my two cents". That should result in your answer being deleted and a day off from the site.

I'm going to sneak into the secret Metafilter complex and tend to this pony until they give it to us.
posted by Jpfed at 9:13 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Over a certain threshold, the answers themselves should begin to fade into the background.

So, Cheshire answers?
posted by maudlin at 9:36 PM on February 1, 2012


Mitheral: Maybe best answers should be on a darker background; say the dark green of the AskMe title bar background

That's definitely the easiest solution to prototype because it only involves a change in color rather than a change in structure. That makes it easier to build (and easier to introduce). If you've got a browser that supports custom style sheets (I'm using Safari) then just add a new line for the "best" class, like so:

.best {
background-color: #395a3d !important;
}


This way, it's possible to quickly check how the design works in context. Slightly darker (#305034) is better for most threads. It's a tricky problem because block contrast with the background normally aids scanability when the best answers are few and far between.

Some other design that doesn't involve a balance between scanability and readability is probably a better solution. Out of curiosity, I implemented custom styles for each of the four ideas the OP listed above and the golden sideline is pretty good (although it introduces a potential overlap if the asker marks their own comments as best):

.best {
background-color: inherit !important;
margin-left: 60px !important;
padding-left: 10px !important;
border-left: 5px solid #C0CC00;
}

posted by Jeff Howard at 9:46 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


It does seem that some people think that "best answer" means "good answer", which is weird. I think people should only use the feature if there really is one stand-out answer, otherwise just use favourites, or don't even bother. That said, I don't like the idea of adding restrictions. If people want to use it weirdly I don't think it's a big deal.

If you ask question with a single correct response ("What's the name of this song") and multiple people give the right answer, you may wish to mark all of their answers as best.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:44 AM on February 2


In the case of a question where there is a simple right answer, use of the "best answer" feature seems entirely redundant. There was a fact you didn't know, and now you do. That's it. "Best answer" seems more appropriate for wider-ranging questions that are seeking broader information about a topic, or information/views based on other people's experience of a subject.
posted by Decani at 10:47 PM on February 1, 2012


I view the idea of "best answer" from the standpoint of someone going through the archives. They can see the question but they have no idea which of the answers is correct unless it is marked somehow.

For subjective stuff best answers aren't that useful as they only point out what was helpful to the asker. It's a good pointer but I'd think the reader would want to look at everything anyway.

I know that not everyone treats "best answers" as useful guidance for future readers, but that's what I do.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:30 PM on February 1, 2012


Isn't this really a complaint that the "best answer" saturation change actually makes the marked comment hard to read?

Perhaps it would be better if the background to the best answer was darker rather than lighter, so that the "best answer" actually has better contrast than the rest of the comments.

HackerNews uses "low-contrast" to mark lower-valued comments; it does seem a little weird to be making the high-value comments harder to read!
posted by pharm at 4:57 AM on February 2, 2012


How about changing the font of the non-best answers to comic sans?
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:00 AM on February 2, 2012


I have noticed (usually less experienced) members mark best answers really early in the thread, presumably as a form of thank you for participating. Unfortunately, even though it's clear they would welcome more answers, I think the mere fact that they've ticked best answer actually detract people from entering the thread and contributing further. It's kind of sad, really. By being nice they are getting less help, not more.
posted by kisch mokusch at 5:08 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I recently asked for favorite recipes for waffles. I "best answered" a good many of them.

I didn't feel I could discriminate against the many forms of waffles.

Maybe I should have tried them all and then determined the best.
posted by sciencegeek at 5:27 AM on February 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I recently asked for favorite recipes for waffles.

I asked for some book recommendations, and I "best answered" the ones appealing enough for me to check out. I have also done this for things to do while visiting cities, and I expect to do it again. How can I pick the best out of 3-5 responses which were all useful? Or even all the responses, if they were all useful?

Obviously, this gets kind of silly if 10 people give the same response. Then "Best answering" the first seems the way to go, but I don't really see this as that much of a problem (your contrast may vary).
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:45 AM on February 2, 2012


If different people give me good (useful) answers to a question, I try to give each of those answers a best answer click. (Answers that don't get a best answer click are answers that don't pretty directly address the question, answers that are just speculation when I'm asking for a fact, answers that are just more questions, and answers such as "Did you trying Googling that?")

I think I'd prefer that we changed "[mark as best answer]" to "[mark as useful]".
posted by pracowity at 7:04 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


How can there be more than one answer that is the best?

Hey, no fighting! You're all beautiful!
posted by The Deej at 7:10 AM on February 2, 2012


I find it very annoying when people pick a lot of "best" answers, but obviously some people see nothing wrong with it, so I just suck it up and mutter to myself. There are far more annoying things in the world, and I reserve my True Wrath for them.
posted by languagehat at 7:59 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think I'd prefer that we changed "[mark as best answer]" to "[mark as useful]".

I think if you did that, the scenario which inspired this MeTa would happen a lot more often than it does now.

Also, best answer as "thanks for great feedback" : best answer as "best advice in thread" :: favorites as "upvote" : favorites as "saving for reference"
posted by gauche at 8:18 AM on February 2, 2012


What is best in life?

Be stoned as often as possible, try to have a deeper relationship with your dad, and fuck a lot of women.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:59 AM on February 2, 2012


Just not all at the same time.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:02 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The tactics SeizeTheDay mentions address this problem; essentially, how can one draw attention to a particular comment without reducing its readability? The current design fails in that task.

Yes, this.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:13 AM on February 2, 2012


Just not all at the same time.

Just because YOU can't multitask...
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:13 AM on February 2, 2012




What is best in life?

Be stoned as often as possible, try to have a deeper relationship with your dad, and fuck a lot of women.


Wrong!

To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.
posted by Gygesringtone at 9:54 AM on February 2, 2012


Maybe I should have tried them all and then determined the best.

Exactly! Being allowed to choose the Best is an Awesome Power, and with that Power comes Responsibility...
posted by Rash at 10:03 AM on February 2, 2012


Be stoned as often as possible, try to have a deeper relationship with your dad, and fuck a lot of women.

I am so fucked, because my pulmonologist won't let me do the first, the cemetery people won't go for the second, and I know my husband isn't on board for the third.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:57 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I asked a question today asking for examples of covered arcades. Every answerer gave an example, or in one case a link to a paper on the subject that looks quite promising, and there was next to no duplication of examples. As a result, every answer was marked a best answer, even the duplicate, because even though it linked to the same thing as a previous answer, the duplicate's link was the one I noticed first.

I've also posted a few questions where I didn't mark anything best answer. Sometimes a question just calls out for a lot of best answers, and some kind of hard limit other than "there can only be one" seems like more of an arbitrary restriction than actual site improvement.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:02 PM on February 2, 2012


tumid dahlia: "I suggest the following categories:

Idiot Did You Even Read The Question No You Didn't Did You? Idiot.
"

Only if I'm allowed to mark that one too.
posted by deborah at 9:50 PM on February 2, 2012


There are reasonably well-accepted standards as to the amount of contrast that you should have between body text and background for it to be considered readable by most people.

The W3's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 specify a luminosity ratio of 4.5:1 for body text. I've personally found that this is really the bare minimum amount of contrast for body text; 5:1 or even higher is really a better guideline IMO.

Looking at the CSS for a "Best Answer" with the Professional White background, the contrast is 9.3:1 (between #333 and #DDD) which is great. However, on the regular settings, it's 4.53:1 (between #5E7E62 and white), which strikes me as a bit more arguable. Darkening the background slightly, e.g. to #507060, results in the contrast jumping above 5:1, which might be more readable to some.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:35 AM on February 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thanks for letting us know about the guidelines and luminosity ratio. We've been discussing it this morning and I think we will make a change. #507060 shifts the hue a little too much but something like #425844 will work a little better with our current colors and comes in at 7.75:1.
posted by pb (staff) at 10:35 AM on February 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


We updated this today. Best answers in the default theme now use the darker #335036.
posted by pb (staff) at 12:09 PM on February 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


That new color is so mellow i kinda wish the whole site was that color. :-) Thanks!
posted by SeizeTheDay at 4:38 PM on February 16, 2012


I like this! Thank you!
posted by SMPA at 8:10 PM on February 16, 2012


« Older Dating IS important   |   Kickstarter post poison! Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments