Possibly germane to the question: Is it good that Story Identification questions are so well rewarded?

I'm not really complaining overall, but I've noticed a slight trend in that story questions which are answered shortly after being asked, no matter how obscure, get fewer upvotes than a more long-standing question. If this isn't perceptual bias on my part, I suspect that this might be a case of that people tend to ignore questions that already have an accepted answer while they're more likely to click into ones that don't seem settled, and thus more likely to feel obliged to drop an upvote for a good question or good answer. Alternately, it might be a matter of perceived effort, that an identification answered quickly must be an easy question and therefore not worth upvoting versus someone who answers a question that has sat on the server for over a month without a conclusive answer.

Ultimately, I'm largely curious as to whether this is something that other people see.

  • Is this about the scalar # of upvotes or the velocity of upvotes? If the former, # of upvotes clearly should rise with # of views which in turn rise with passage of time... so that's expected. Commented May 7, 2014 at 18:24
  • I'm thinking more in terms of a scalar #. It seems to me (again, I have no data in hand) that if you answer a question asked earlier today, you will get fewer votes within, say, the next week than within a week of when you answered a question that had sat unanswered for a month.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 18:59
  • 2
    Answer this one and you'll be a legend. If I had to guess, I'd say the ones that have been up longer, more users remember from when it was first posted - so pure curiosity makes them click into it.
    – Izkata
    Commented May 8, 2014 at 0:11

6 Answers 6


Does answering ID questions net less rep?


Using a variant of a query I used in a similar answer, we can compare the average answer score of ID questions to our other top tags. I compared our top 10 tags1:

enter image description here

Answers to ID questions (which encompasses all of our *-identification tags) have a substantially lower score than our other top tags, and are also much less likely to be accepted. What I find interesting is that are scored so high relative to the ID questions. We can go a little deeper to look at these stats for ID tags and a selection of the most popular "category" tags:

enter image description here

We can see that is a significant outlier2..

Although there are always going to be outliers in both directions:

Statistically, answering ID questions is one of the least-effective ways to gain rep3, unless your only area of expertise is obscure non-English literature.

Does answering old ID questions net less rep?

Sort of. Yes, average answer score decreases the longer after the question it was posted; No, answering old ID questions won't net you less reputation than answering any other kind of old question.

I wrote a query to compare exactly this, for the top five tags (left graph shows up to a year out, right shows only 30 days):

enter image description here

ID answers are the blue line; if you're exclusively going to answer old questions, answering ID questions is at least no worse than answering other kinds of questions, and for very old questions is even one of the better ways.

Personally, I suspect the spike on day-0 answers is at least partially due to the HNQ feedback loop:

  • User posts an easy question
  • Everyone who sees the title immediately knows what the answer is (alternately, the title is intriguing or seems easy to answer), so they click on it en masse; whoever gets the answer up first gets a swarm of upvotes from these people
  • Huge number of views in a short time gets it on the HNQ list pretty much instantly
  • Everyone on the network sees it in their sidebar, knows the answer, and jumps on; the top-voted answer gets upvoted to high heaven

Anecdotally, this is exactly what happened to me on my top four ID answers: Who are these Lego superheroes?, Millionaire man's brain implanted into female secretary's body, Who is this goblin with a teapot on a stick?, and When did William Shatner have a relationship with Joan Collins in the 1930's?. All four of them were easy IDs, and several of them had titles ripe for clicking ("William Shatner and Joan Collins?!? Hellz yeah!"). The HNQ list strikes again.

1 This probably wasn't entirely fair of me, since most questions, and a fair proportion of questions, are also . But you can make that argument about a few of the top tags, and that's before getting into questions like "should I include as well as ?". I figrued this was easier than justifying which tags I'd cherry-picked.

2 Note that my first query counted any question with as a "Short story" question. This second one counts and an ID tag; that drops the average answer score, but not by much. The same thing happened with , but had a much larger effect; considering is often used on all manner of questions, this isn't surprising

3 Unless you're Kyle Hale, who has earned 4,415 rep from a single answer (at time of writing), or user14111, who answers pretty much nothing else

  • 1
    I've answered a stack of Ident question and the net rep gain is for sh*t. Half of them end up with a single upvote (presumably from the OP) and an acceptance. The flipside is that when you're rep-capping daily, getting accepts is the only way to exceed the threshold so there's a benefit beyond the simple upvotes.
    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 22:45
  • 1
    ". . . answers pretty much nothing else"? That seems a bit of an exaggeration to me. I figure about 80% of my answers are to story-identification question. Seems reasonable, considering that a certain percentage (see Sturgeon's Law) of the questions are crap, and I guess about 80% of the non-crap questions are story-identification questions.
    – user14111
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 6:35
  • @user14111 - It's certainly the thing that you're best known for, by a very wide margin.
    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 9:26
  • @user14111 No offense intended, but you have made rather a name for yourself in answering ID questions. interestingly you're pretty much right on the money; 81% of your answers are ID answers, though I suspect that would be a lot higher if you included "first instance of" questions Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 14:19
  • Minor point. "The lowest-scored accepted ID answer (-1) is Man undergoes cryonic suspension, through multiple millennia. Has a redhead girl friend and they reunite in each age ..." The accepted answer is actually a different book than the first answer. The title is similar.
    – Fruitbat
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 22:44
  • @Fruitbat Whoops, my mistake; thanks for the catch. Must learn to pay more attention Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 22:59

Doesn't seem that way to me. The most upvotes I ever got for an answer was this one which I answered 5 minutes after it was posted; I got 59 upvotes for being faster than the thousand other users who knew it. On the other hand, I got a grand total of 1 upvote for answering this one after it had been lying around for 2 years and 7 months. (The question has 833 views and 10 net upvotes.)

I guess the way to get the most upvotes is to identify a popular story by a popular author.

Update: I just posted the answer to an unsolved story-id question from September of 2011. Waiting for a tidal wave of upvotes. :)

  • 3
    My top post is about Hogwarts students shagging. I guess eventually you just have to throw your hands in the air and say "what the hell?"
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 17:27
  • 2
    @Richard - people like porn and sex. Haven't you figured it out by now? :) Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 17:15

TL&DR version:
Yes; you are right. But it's only true with some questions; the recognizable spawn of popular / major franchises can overcome this effect, making it hard to see.

Long version:
I have to agree with you. It's a bit difficult to see in some cases, but it's something I've noticed as well.

I suspect it has to do with the obscurity of the specific question -- ask a question that has an element that people recognize, and you will have many views, even once it's answered, as people are interested in seeing how someone answered something they feel they know a lot about. More views means more chances to vote. The more of an opinion they have about the subject, the more likely they are to vote. Star Wars is a good example. As is Harry Potter. Or almost any major franchise.

Ask a question, however, that has little recognizable detail in the title and, once it's answered, unless it is very intriguing sounding, a lot of people won't bother to look at it.

I've answered a number like that.

  1. This Pier's Anthony one, for example -- in 5 months, it's had 94 views, 3 upvotes to the question and 2 to my accepted answer. The title "Looking for a story with water/earth/fire as rock/paper/scissors" just doesn't draw people in, unless, like me, they recognized a probable source.
  2. Then there is this question that Tango asked; 2 years old now, with 491 views, but only 3 up-votes on the accepted answer. The subject? "Why Was Edgar Rice Burroughs' Style So Poor in “John Carter and the Giant of Mars?” -- a good question, but a very niche area of interest.

Again, in each case, there just wasn't a lot to draw the average person in -- mostly (and I recognize that this is NOT true of many of the regulars here), the less serious visitors are interested several things:

  • Things they know about and can answer
  • Things that peak their interest from the Title
  • Things that are related to a Tag that is of interest to them
  • Their own questions

When you get outside of that range, there is a lot less viewing, less emotional involvement with any of the answers when they DO read them, and less of an inclination to bother to vote.

Contrast those with:

  1. A HHGTTG question, that anyone could recognize from the title (2 years old but 4.5k views and 80 up-votes to my accepted answer. And STILL getting me an occasional +10 various days as someone goes looking for HHGTTG.)
  2. Then there is THIS question; Tango and I came up with it in chat, as an experiment on getting downvotes. It backfired. (2 years old, 3.6k views, and 36 upvotes.) It's about JarJar Binks; we assumed it would instantly get downvotes.. Should have known better -- everyone has an opinion on Star Wars, especially the films, so it got lots of views in a hurry. (I'm still embarrassed whenever I get points from this one.)
  3. Or this Star Wars question. (2 years old. 6.4k views. 51 up-votes on the accepted answer.) Again -- Star wars, as was clearly evident from the tags and title.. everyone knows something about it, so it got a lot of views.

Each of these, like the previous (low-vote) examples, was a first answer, and the accepted answer.

[Edit] Richard's comment above fits with this perfectly; " My top post is about Hogwarts students shagging. I guess eventually you just have to throw your hands in the air and say "what the hell?"" -- Harry Potter (Major Franchise) + Sex (everyone feels themselves to be at least knowledgeable) == Profit! (well, Rep, anyway.)

I think providing a quick and accepted answer isn't necessarily poison with regards to getting votes.. But with less known/broad topics, an open question is just more interesting, as there is a possibly you may answer it. Something you don't know about, and is already answered? To many, if not most, it becomes a 'Why Bother?'

(Again, I must stress -- for those who have been here for a long time, much of what I'm saying is not true... But the vast volume of views and votes isn't coming from us.)

  • :) Well, at least I know people are reading Meta -- ignoring the upvotes to this answer, several of those old, forgotten questions just got upvotes, too :) -- Oh, gad.. So did the Jarjar question.. /slinks beneath a rock.
    – K-H-W
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 14:09
  • 1
    I'm rather enjoying the suggestion that my Harry Potter answer implies that I'm some sort of sex expert 😁
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 14:28

When considering votes that a question receives after an answer has been accepted, it comes down to whether anyone else has a similar question.

If I have a question, I search for it, find it has already been answered, so upvote the question and the answer.

Similarly, I have collected upvotes on posts (on other SE sites) months after the post was made.

With story identification questions, maybe people don't recognise other questions as being the same story, all recollections are different. Therefore, this type of continuing upvote won't happen.

Even so, what it comes down to is: you can't expect to receive any votes for anything. Take what comes and be happy.


I would say that maybe your right, but I would also say that a question that is answered immediately after a question is posted would get the most votes, potentially. This doesn't have to be a rule, but these are my reasons:

  • The answer has had more exposure. People will see the answer first and some people don't go back and check a question out after the question has had more up-votes. So that means that the odds of the first answer getting up-votes is higher than other questions in that case.

Reasons that answers, posted after would get more up-votes would be:

  • Due to the question not being accepted people assume its wrong and instead vote on the question that is ahead of it. Because it is at the top and that answer is newer.
  • The older answer in most cases get pushed to the bottom when a newer answer gets shown. So once again these 2 reasons mean that the answers have a higher chance of getting more votes.

Other reasons could be: who uses pictures?, who's answer is longer?, who's answer is more detailed?. I would say newer answers and older answers have about the same rate of getting votes. It all comes down to your research and how you expose your answer.

An example of a newer answer getting more votes due to better examples:

Trying to identify “I will measure the dust” story

An example of the older answer getting more votes:

Book about a man on a space station who sees himself

In both examples the top voted answers showed that the users had given better descriptions.


I would say that yes, you are right. But I would also say that every type of question suffers from this problem.

It's related to the fastest gun in the west problem - answers that are easy to provide (For the answering party) and quickily provided that then get accepted 'block out' interest in providing answers to the question, because the question is already 'finished'. As a result, the question gets less attention and fewer upvotes are awarded to the asker/answerer.

This is compounded by the nature of Identification Questions - once the answer is provided, potential answerers see that the answer is already there, and move on without looking at or upvoting the answer/question. Where in a normal question the answerer might think they still have a chance to provide a unique answer to the question, for an Identification question there is usually only one 'correct' answer, so a casual observer would skip past it and not bother trying to answer at all.

I don't see this as a huge problem - asker and answerer are already rewarded with an accepted answer (the asker presumably is happy with their answer, which in itself should be a reward) and despite the lack of 'additional' upvotes, the question is resolved with no further input required It might reduce the reward for answering quickly, but that's the risk you run when you're quick to the draw.

  • 1
    There are some of us -- like myself -- who do like to go into old questions, even if there is an accepted answer already, and give what is hopefully a superior answer. I have had the OP change their accepted answer to mine, even years after the question was originally posed. I also like going back to old questions and updating them with new canon information as it's made available. I think it helps keep the site more relevant. :) Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 18:40

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