It seems that for a lot of questions, the person asking never chooses a best answer. Do we just assume that there is no good answer? Or should we encourage users to stay engaged and choose from the answers that are available?
Although we are actually about average according to @ChrisW's analysis I've always felt we should be accepting more answers. I think part of the problem is that for a lot of questions there doesn't appear to be a definitive answer. One can't just point to an answer and say that this is the answer and no other answer will be better ever. I think this deters people from accepting the answer. That's not always true. Certain tags such as reference-request do lend themselves to a right or wrong answer. I'd be interested in the accept rate against that tag of anyone has the time to do the analysis.
Personally I do (almost) always accept an answer. My philosophy is that I am not marking the definitive answer. I am marking the answer that is most useful to me or I believe has made the best attempt to answer the question. I guess I almost view it as a little reward or boost to other users. I'm not sure that's how it is meant to work but it's what I have been doing.
I think often meta questions get answered without specific action points so here is a few ideas
- Nail down what we want from accepted answers. Is it the defintive answer, the best answer in a reasonable timescale, something else?
- Write it up in a meta post and feature that meta post for a time so everyone sees it in the side bar
- In addition do some analysis to identify users who ask a lot of questions and never accept an answer. Post a gently reminding comment about the helpfulness of accepting an answer where possible
I suppose many questioners cannot accept answers because they either don't have a way to reliably identify the right answer, or none of the answers address the underlying issue that led them to asking the question.
Also, to me accepting an answer feels like closing the question. I don't feel encouraged to answer questions which have accepted answers.
So I would say, don't force it. Let the OP make the determination. I'd rather err on the side of leaving them open and seeing new interesting answers.
In fact, we don't (i.e. although people are welcome to if they to, and possibly should if they can, we don't "encourage them to" e.g. by making a habit of posting comments to remind people to do so).
As for whether we should, I don't think we need to.
The model for StackOverflow (i.e. a different site, for software developers) is:
- Someone is at work
- Has a software problem
- Finds a relevant StackOverflow page
- Sees the accepted answer (at the top of the list of answers)
- Tries the accepted answers in their work
Having one answer "accepted" (at the top of the list of answers) saves a few seconds (avoids needing to read other answers). It's a signal by the OP, saying, "I tried this answer and it worked for me." It's also a signal that "My problem is past, no need to answer any more."
I think Buddhism.SE is a slightly different model:
- People aren't at work nor in a hurry
- People who are interested in the answers have time to read them all
- The notion of "this answer solved my problem" is a little more complicated, and the answers that "solves your problem" might not solve mine, so the fact that one person accepted a given answer is less (or not especially) significant to other people.
Given that we don't need to, I (personally) don't especially want to. Having your answer accepted is ... fun? But I imagine people post in order to be helpful, which (being helpful or trying to be helpful) happens regardless of voting and acceptance etc.
And I don't want to be telling everybody what to do all the time: "fill in your profile"; "format your answer properly"; "read the 60 pages of help"; "read the meta-topics of site-specific policies".
The site is supposed to be easy to use (without an endless list of rules to learn or hoops to have to jump through)
Still if we were to encourage users I'd suggest asking for Robin's input on how to word that encouragement.