In one particular case I answered a question, which already had an accepted answer because I felt my answer more exactly addressed the OP's question. After a while, my answer was voted second highest. Subsequently another answer was edited, more or less copying my answer, which became voted third highest. Later, my answer was then also copied with slight variation into the accepted answer, making the three highest voted answers slight variations of the same content.

These edits were probably made with good intentions, but overall they lower the quality of the different answers seen together.

It's this question

Update: based on the first answers I think it's worth discussing whether:

  • this kind of "viral" editing is / should be frowned upon and not considered good practise
  • moderators should take action in this case and consider reverting some of the edits
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4 Answers

Speaking to the general issue: When this happens, it's at least a little bit bad and often merits commenting, editing, or discussion.

kynan points out some disadvantages, but here is what I consider to be the biggest problem when answers that are initially different are edited and made similar:

It defeats the benefit of having alternative answers. Votes tell us what people on the site thought of as good answers. Lower-voted answers are still usually valuable. And anonymous feedback statistics (for 10k users who can view them) show it's somewhat common for lower-scored answers to be considered helpful by the "general public," as gauged by anonymous "Was this post useful to you?" responses.

However, I don't think there's any single solution to this problem.

Instead:

  • If posts can be edited further so they are both better than the last revision and more clearly express the unique points that make them valuable, and you're willing to put in the time and effort required for this (sometimes minimal but sometimes extensive), do that!
  • If you're unsure if an edit was correct, comment and/or discuss it in chat. Or discuss it here in meta.
  • Roll back or improve edits that incorporate information directly from other answers--even answers to the same question--without citing or mentioning the source in any way.

At a "meta" level:

  • If you see a lot of this, please provide more information about the problem.
  • If this only happens occasionally, it's probably not a major problem. Sometimes it can even be ignored.
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My opinion is to simply accept the best answer, with heavy bias towards whichever one answered the question the best on the first try.

If someone posts an answer, and I post another answer, and my answer is the superior answer, but the other person edits theirs to be a clone of mine, I think that the best practise is to give the Acceptance to whichever question got it right on the first try. (If it's edited by the answerer to be less relevant, then consider revoking its acceptance, but, for the most part, try to lean heavily towards the content of the original post.)

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Actually, the OP is the answerer here. –  Seth Jan 25 '13 at 0:55
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@Seth I know, but this is a question-and-answer format - I was contributing my opinion on what should be done in a scenario like that. That's kind of the idea behind the Meta section of the site - discussion. –  JamesTheAwesomeDude Jan 25 '13 at 0:57
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While I agree with the existing points of view, IMO it is also useful to discourage such edits, since some visitors might not look through revision histories to select the "best" answer. If we could implement visible feedback for suggested edits, this would be very helpful.

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One of the strong points of the Stack Exchange system is that the best answer, as judged by the community, floats to the top. And a person seeking an answer to the question should be able to get all that is required from the topmost answer.

So there's nothing wrong if answers are edited often, even if it is to incorporate material, with acknowledgement if necessary, from other answers.

I think editing answers other than the topmost and usually the accepted answer may often, but certainly not always, not be worth the effort.

Editing this a few days later ...

I'm having difficulty with the argument that there can be several answers that cannot be "merged", if you will, with the existing top answer. Again, I'm sticking to this specific question and don't want my position to be extended or generalized as has been done in a comment below.

Now, in general terms, if a question does generate several distinct answers, in terms of content, it would appear to me that such a question could be worded better.

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I don't think that's always the case. Often there are several distinct and good possible answers. And I think just consolidating all of them in the highest voted post defeats the point of the Q&A site and completely destroys the reward system. –  kynan Jan 26 '13 at 12:48
    
@kynan I agree. I edit lots of answers, and I even often add new material, but I always try to make them better at at being them, not make them into some other answer that already exists. –  Eliah Kagan Jan 27 '13 at 6:58
    
@kynan, I'm not at all claiming that that is always the case. –  user25656 Jan 28 '13 at 6:01
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