The Great Edit Wars

Alas, Stack Overflow has fallen prey to that dread disease that plagues all wiki systems: The Edit War.


We're not exactly like Wikipedia, because we are a hybrid system, but it's worth scanning the official Wikipedia definition:

Edit warring is the confrontational use of edits to win a content dispute. Administrators often must make a judgement call to identify edit warring when cooling disputes. Administrators currently use several measures to determine if a user is edit warring. The most common measure of edit warring is the three-revert rule, often abbreviated 3RR. The three-revert rule usefully measures edit warring, as it posits that surpassing three reverts on any one page in under 24 hours is edit warring. While nobody should interpret the three-revert rule blindly, reaching this threshold strongly signals that serious misconduct is afoot. The 3RR metric is not an exemption for conduct that stays under the threshold. For instance, edit warring could take the form of 4+ reverts on a page in a day, or three, or one per day for a protracted period of time, or one per page across many pages, or simply a pattern of isolated blind reverts as a first resort against disagreeable edits. Edit warring is different from a bold, revert, discuss (BRD) cycle. Reverting vandalism and banned users is not edit warring; at the same time, content disputes, even egregious point of view edits and other good-faith changes do not constitute vandalism. Edit warring is a behavior, not a simple measure of the number of reverts on a single page in a specific period of time.

And then there's the list of the lamest Wikipedia Edit Wars, for context. Some of these are hilarious. Given our recent feud with Australia, this one comes to mind:

Pavlova (food) Not the dancer, but rather the tasty antipodean dessert, which was invented in Australia[4], New Zealand [5], Australia[6], [7], [8], New Zealand [9], Rabbit Season, Duck Season, fire!

Good times.

Stack Overflow is a bit different than Wikipedia.

  • We have a much stronger authorship and owner attribution bent than Wikipedia.
  • We're not trying to be the single point of worldwide reference on a given topic.
  • There could be hundreds of different, related, perfectly valid questions on the same topic. There is no One True Question.

So while the general advice on handling edit wars is roughly the same, here's some detailed guidance specific to our hybrid system.

  1. As it says in the faq: if you aren't comfortable with the community editing your posts, Stack Overflow may not be the right website for you. What we do here is edit posts, together, to make them better and clearer. If you think that's crazy talk and we're all nuts, that's fine. Like I said: there are millions of existing traditional discussion forums on the internet. We're trying to do something different and perhaps more experimental here, so if you're not tolerant of that, posting here is probably .. not advisable. I don't like to see people go, but sometimes it's just not a good fit.
  2. As it says on the sidebar of every edit page, here's what makes up good editing practice as we see it on Stack Overflow:
    • Fix grammatical or spelling errors.
    • Clarify meaning without changing it.
    • Correct minor mistakes.
    • Add related resources or links.
    • Always respect the original author.
  3. Editing is welcomed and encouraged. However, if the author of the post is resistant to your editing changes, even a perfectly legitimate edit based on the above rules, be the bigger man (or woman) and let them have it their way. Our goal here is not to cause friction between users, or to make everything perfect overnight. All we aim to do is gradually clean up and improve questions and answers together. When in doubt, just move on! There will be plenty of other posts and other edits you can make. In time, that reluctant author will learn how Stack Overflow works.
  4. Remember, we're all adults here .. in theory. Please try to resolve edit disputes through simple communication, hopefully the kind that doesn't involve being rude to your fellow developers. It says "Be Nice" in the faq for a reason. However, if you've tried to work it out and you're still at an impasse, email us! We will happily mediate and help resolve disputes.

Above all, remember that we're building a little community together. There's a place for disagreement in that community, to be sure; if I've learned anything from trying to define "programming related", it's that there are only guidelines subject to interpretation by the community, not hard and fast rules. In interpreting those guidelines, try to behave in ways that enhance the community and collaboratively build it up.

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