I have been wondering: does the quality of an answer and its upvotes always correlate? It should, but it obviously does not. Obviously, because not everybody gets all aspects of every answer. Differences in style and taste influence voting behaviour, too. But I have the impression that there is more at work.
I have observed that those answers I put the most thought and effort into are often those with the least reaction. I am sure the effect is not restricted to my own answers, but those I have a good overview of, so please bear with me.
Let's look at some recent examples.
- How to call something that can be either a terminal or a nonterminal? -- trivial answer. 5 upvotes.
- Perplexed by Rice's theorem -- very simple, I even could have written it down better. 13 upvotes!
- Is it possible to always construct a hamiltonian path on a tournament graph by sorting? -- a basic, maybe subtle observation. 5 upvotes.
- Are supersets of non-regular languages also non-regular? -- very basic. 6 upvotes.
On the other hand, we have:
- Can truth tables be used in non-boolean algebra to derive functions? -- took me some research. It's nowhere near comprehensive or conclusive but I think it sheds some light on the issue. No votes, no comments.
- How to describe algorithms, prove and analyse them? -- Very comprehensive, imho. That thing took me hours. 5 upvotes.
- Determining Probability from a Graph -- apparently answers the question completely. 3 upvotes.
- A polynomial reduction from any NP-complete problem to bounded PCP -- Took me a while of researching and tinkering. If I may say so myself, it's quite elegant a reduction and exactly what the OP wanted. 1 upvote.
Obviously, I am in no position to judge the quality of my own answers, but I can't shed the feeling that putting in significant effort -- that is answering questions I don't immediately know the answer to -- is not worth my time if I only consider the SE reward system (I learn something, too, but that's not the point here). There are no negative comments, so I have to assume that the answers have no obvious problems. They just don't get any attention.
The latter answers partially share some common characteristics.
- The questions were not new when I answered (see also the answers of our answer meetup, few of which got significant feedback).
- The questions are sometimes harder or more obscure than average.
- The answers are long and sometimes technical.
Are these obervations sufficient to explain the voting difference? Do people not look at new answers to old questions? Do they not read long and/or involved answers? Are shorter answers always better?
Maybe my answers are bad. If so, why don't I get comments so I can improve them and do better next time?
I'd like to understand what happens here. If my worry is warranted, this community does not reward those posts we arguably should treasure the most, namely those that require thought and time. Instead we reward those that stick to their comfort zone and answer the "easy" questions¹. In other words, we do not encourage people to tackle the harder questions (which are responsible for most unanswered questions) or those that require more text to answer.
What are your thoughts? Is there a problem, or am I overreacting? If there is a problem, how can we solve it?
- Note that I don't judge those that do. They make good contributions and their answers are typically high-quality because they know their topics inside out.