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I've noticed that about a quarter of the questions posted on the GIS.SE don't have accepted answers. I think it's about 9,400 of the 39,400 questions currently. In many cases, it's not that these questions don't have answers and sometimes they even have multiple answers. Granted some of the answers to the questions may not have satisfied the OP, in some cases no answer could actually be acceptable as the one and only answer, and certainly there are some questions that simply don't have answers provided--I'm really glad to see that that number is actually fairly low, reflecting the remarkable breadth of expertise of the site.

So lately I've started to wonder if the actual answer acceptance mechanism is perhaps a little too subtle for new users of the GIS.SE? Could it be that they are simply overlooking this aspect of the forum? This is what it looks like to a poster:

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That little grey coloured check mark that appears under each answer is the only indication that answers can be accepted. If you mouse-over it a little pop-up message with a large block of English text appears--which is easily ignored or passed over. As someone who has been here long enough to know, I see that grey checkmark, with all those upvotes, and desperately want to check that grey checkmark! But the check mark itself is so inconspicuous that I could see how someone could overlook it. I could see how a new user might even think that an upvote that they cast for an answer is equivalent to an acceptance. And you could see why they might think their upvote is differentiated from the group of non-OP upvotes given when they upvote their screen will have that nice and obvious red up-arrow (i.e. they may not realize that we can't tell the difference between upvotes cast by the OP and others).

I suppose we could ask if it is even important whether a question has an accepted answer or not? Probably one could argue either way. I tend to think that without an accepted answer a question seems to be unresolved. When this is the case for a long time, it doesn't reflect well on the GIS.SE and I guess that's my primary concern. Also, sometimes I scroll through the unanswered question to see if I can provide an answer and I happen upon one that has an excellent answer already and wonder to myself how it wasn't accepted already. So, is there some way that the acceptance mechanism can be made more obvious for newcomers? Is this a question that would be better posted elsewhere because it is out of our hands anyhow?

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    It is covered in the Tour, though maybe editing that text to say 'accept by clicking the check' or something might be better since it says you can accept but not how to. Also, regarding the Unanswered list, only questions whose answers have no up-votes appear in that list. Granted, up-votes aren't the same as accepting and I can understand the view it's not taken care of (I think this myself sometimes, particularly when comments indicate the answer solved it). But the help even indicates that votes are more important than acceptance in terms of 'rating' an answer. – Chris W Oct 2 '14 at 19:31
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    @ChrisW Hi Chris. Yes, I knew that the acceptance procedure is discussed in the Tour document, but I'm not sure how many newcomers read it so thoroughly. I had no idea though that the unanswered list only included questions whose answers have no up-votes. I guess that I can contribute by upvoting whenever I see an answer that's excellent on an old question and get it off the 'unanswered list' that way...I do that now as it is ;) Thanks. – WhiteboxDev Oct 2 '14 at 19:38
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    @ChrisW I see now Chris that you're absolutely right. If I upvote one of the answers on the 'unanswered' list it'll be removed. It has the same effect of the OP accepting an answer in that at least it moves it off that list. Maybe we just need to be more proactive about trolling through some of those older questions for hidden gems of answers. I know I will from now on. Anyhow, if you post this as an answer to my question...I'll accept it as the most viable solution! – WhiteboxDev Oct 2 '14 at 21:20
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    Upvoting good answers on questions under the unanswered tab is positive also because the community bot won't bump up the question to the active tab anymore. That way only questions actually needing answers will be bumped. – Andre Silva Oct 2 '14 at 22:22
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    Trolling through some of our unanswered questions I now see that in fact many of them have been answered by people in comments. I guess we need to encourage these people to move their replies from comments to questions instead. – WhiteboxDev Oct 3 '14 at 13:15
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    On a slightly different note, newcomers are not allowed to upvote an answer. Also, how are people supposed to decide whether to upvote, select, do both, do neither? Confusing for newcomers. – Martin F Oct 8 '14 at 4:01
  • @martinf you're absolutely right. I can't tell you how many times I've scratched my head over each of these points. – WhiteboxDev Oct 8 '14 at 11:22
  • I am actually starting to think this is a problem – If you do not know- just GIS Jan 10 '16 at 2:45
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I don't really have an opinion one way or the other as to whether it's too subtle. Maybe? I generally find that it's just a part of new/infrequent user mentality. Some people just come for answers and don't really care much about the community aspect of the site or other features. If someone gets noticed as having asked a few questions without accepting anything, or makes a comment that an answer solves it but doesn't accept, often either the answerer or someone else will leave a comment suggesting they accept with instructions on how/why to do so or maybe a link to the help page.

It is covered in the Tour, though maybe editing that text to say 'accept by clicking the check' or something might be better since it says you can accept but not explicitly how to. Also, regarding the Unanswered list, only questions whose answers have no up-votes appear in that list. Granted, up-votes aren't the same as accepting and I can understand the view it's not taken care of (I think this myself sometimes, particularly when comments indicate the answer solved it). But the help even indicates that votes are more important than acceptance in terms of 'rating' an answer - and you can see why it's designed that way because of this very issue.

When I first joined the site I made a pass through Unanswered and it took me a while to figure out the up-voted thing as well. I do note that now (don't know about before) in the upper right corner under the total question count it does say in red text that they're questions with no up-voted answers.

As far as answers buried in comments, that's been discussed before (not infrequently - it comes up elsewhere as well). Generally you can go ahead and do a 'ping' comment (@name) suggesting they should make it an answer. If you don't get a reply (and actually even if you just want to do it right off depending on the last time anyone involved actually logged in), you should go ahead and post it as an answer yourself. There is of course concern about stealing credit for someone else's contribution, but you can always just include in the answer 'per so and so's comment' or 'based on comment discussion'. The thing you have to watch in cases like this is there might not be any solid indication that the comment/answer actually did or would solve the problem. You could also search for similar questions and then flag the unanswered one as a duplicate if you find something (closed questions don't appear in the list either and with no answers I believe eventually get removed.).

  • Thanks Chris, this addresses my issue quite well. (Answer accepted!) – WhiteboxDev Oct 3 '14 at 19:01

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