# How to discourage excessive self-edits?

My question is prompted by the reappearance of this post on the front page. A glance at the edit history shows that the OP has edited his own question thirteen times. This user has a history of excessive self-edits of his other questions. Has this issue been discussed on Meta before? I see several questions about editing but none which address this particular problem.

In the current set-up, there is no penalty for editing your own post as many times as you like, and there is a strong incentive to do so, because every time you do it goes to the top of the queue and more people see it. It is a way to game the system and call more attention to your questions (at the expense of others, obviously).

According to quid, no approval is needed in the case of self-edits. Should it be? Perhaps even when a proposed edit is presented for approval the number of previous edits of the question could be displayed and "no, because the question has already been edited excessively" could be one of the default reasons for rejection. Or maybe the system could automatically reject edits at some point ("you've edited this question too many times; try again tomorrow"). Or ... ?

• I have been known to leave comments asking users to please curb their excessive minor edits, for the reasons you give. In fact I have done so now. I do encourage people to flag for moderator attention in such cases, if (or especially if) they don't want to leave such comments themselves. If the pattern continues, a private moderator message may go out. – Todd Trimble Feb 18 '16 at 20:04
• @ToddTrimble: good, thank you. – Nik Weaver Feb 18 '16 at 20:30
• Tangentially, one can see in the revision-history if an edit was a suggested edit. If it is is, it says "edit approved" (and not only "edited") and a link to the review-card is provided. For an example see mathoverflow.net/posts/230666/revisions – user9072 Feb 18 '16 at 20:36
• Is it at all obvious for a new user that by editing their question they always bump it to the top and thus cause inconveniences for other people if they do it often? – Stefan Kohl Feb 18 '16 at 20:59
• I would be a little worried that any official obstacles we put up for self-editing would have the negative side-effect of curtailing edits that actually improve a question or answer. Those edits should be encouraged, as they improve the site. Too often, for example, a suggestion is made in the comments for improving or clarifying a question, and the OP never edits. – Joel David Hamkins Feb 18 '16 at 23:05
• @StefanKohl I can imagine situations where somebody does not notice it bumps, but if one looks a bit at the site it should become clear quickly. The thing harder to know is the "thus cause inconveniences" as it is individual if (or at what level) one feels inconvenienced or irked by the bumps. // Generally, I feel too much editing is not among MO's pressing problems. Yes, some edits can be annoying, but overall I am with JDH the site would rather need more than less editing. – user9072 Feb 18 '16 at 23:29
• Edits in which hypotheses or problem statements are repeatedly shifting and changing shape in response to comments are among the types of edits that I find annoying after a while. Questions should not be moving targets. – Todd Trimble Feb 19 '16 at 0:35
• I say: don't worry about edits within the first day or two, for an inexperienced user it could take that long to get the problem right. (Also for some experienced users...) Only start to get upset if the frequent edits seem to be only for the purpose of bumping the question. – Gerald Edgar Feb 20 '16 at 14:31
• If the only problem is the bumping-up which is connected with an edit - why not call the SE-developers for an additional button at the edit-box which can switch off that behave - perhaps with a default depending on size of the edit or the like and/or only accessible for the owner of an answer/question. A misbehave after we had such a button is then more easy to define and then to administrate. – Gottfried Helms Feb 25 '16 at 12:14
• @Gottfried, silent edits have been proposed, and rejected, and for good reasons. Look for previous discussions of the topic. – Gerry Myerson Feb 28 '16 at 11:16
• @Gerry: thanks! Meanwhile I'd found that discussions myself - and again I feel very basical alienated by the arguments - but well, indeed such ideas of the ability to be selective has been discussed often and in length and broadth in various forums, so I think my basic behave with /expectations in software is far too unfamiliar with the trend - and I'm since usually stepping aside when I see that orchestra of opinions and interests. Thanks anyway for your reminding of earlier discussions here. – Gottfried Helms Feb 28 '16 at 14:36

In the Internet world (and also in the real world) non native English speakers have huge disadvantage. Gaining some attention to one's MO questions and answers due to the need to edit them more is a little compensation.

• I don't think it's always a question of competence in English. – Todd Trimble Feb 19 '16 at 0:36
• Of course not. In any case we do not need to worry too much about it. – Gil Kalai Feb 19 '16 at 2:23
• Furthermore in several cases the self edits are at least initially due to individuals being unfamiliar with several of the mechanics of MathOverflow. – mssmath Feb 21 '16 at 2:31

I am not familiar with software management of MO, so I do not know whether the following suggestion is applicable or no?But I guess that it is easy to be applied.

Suggestion 1: Consideration of two types of edit bottons: minor and major. For minor edit, the edited post would not appear at the first page.(front page)

This enable the asker to revise his/her question(with choosing "minor edit" botton). This saves the asker from any possible accuse or criticism.

Is really this software suggestion far from applicability?

Note: As another misunderstanding between an asker and a participant see the comment by Gerry Myerson on the following post(I belive the comment is a consequence of a misunderstanding):

The error in Petrovski and Landis' proof of the 16th Hilbert problem

I think that occurrence of several self- edits does not necessarily imply that the asker has intention to attract the attention of other participant.

So if my above suggestion is applicable then such type of "misunderstanding" will not occur in future.

Added; Suggestion 2 Another suggestion: If the asker could revise her/his deleted question, he could temporarily delete the question, then edit his question in deleted version, then he un-delete the question. This is a way for several edits without reappearance in the front page.(Is this software suggestion applicable? Is not it too difficult to be applied? )

• – user9072 Feb 18 '16 at 21:21
• The comment was not a consequence of any misunderstanding. It was a consequence of the 27 edits. – Gerry Myerson Feb 18 '16 at 22:35
• @GerryMyerson But if my suggestion can be applied, several self edit would not appear at front page. – Ali Taghavi Feb 18 '16 at 22:39
• I like this suggestion. – Nik Weaver Feb 19 '16 at 1:34
• The idea of silent edits has been suggested, and rejected, before, and for good and sufficient reason. And I never offered any opinion as to how many, if any, of the 27 edits were unnecessary. – Gerry Myerson Feb 19 '16 at 1:47
• @Gerry Myerson: Why 27 edits ? In the edit history only 14 versions are shown to me. – Todd Leason Feb 19 '16 at 9:48
• @Todd, I think you're looking at one page of edits – there are two pages. – Gerry Myerson Feb 19 '16 at 11:32
• @Gerry Actually, I think the discrepancy comes from looking at different questions: The one linked in the question and the one linked in this answer. – Tobias Kildetoft Feb 21 '16 at 10:31
• @Todd See my comment to Gerry. – Tobias Kildetoft Feb 21 '16 at 10:32
• @GerryMyerson So I apologize you if I misunderstood your comment on that post(about 27 edit). – Ali Taghavi Feb 23 '16 at 7:33
• No worries, mate. – Gerry Myerson Feb 23 '16 at 9:01
• @Tobias Kildetoft: Thanks for clarifying (actually I thought there might be different views for few rep and high rep users on the edit history). – Todd Leason Feb 26 '16 at 1:58
• On your added: Why not use meta.mathoverflow.net/questions/55/formatting-sandbox (or the options proposed there)? That being said, it would not be difficult to implement. Actually that it does not work is what makes extra work to implement I think. I even believe it used to be different. And it is still possible to edit deleted answers (but this will bump). A reason why one might not want to allow editing deleted questions is precisely the lack of visibility of what will be added. Once again, edits basically must be visible to moderate against abuse. – user9072 Feb 28 '16 at 12:46
• Up to 9 edits now. – Gerry Myerson Feb 29 '16 at 11:28
• @GerryMyerson: I would say 8 edits, as the original is revision 1. (Sorry, I know it is a stupid nit-pick, but the context of minor edits somehow enticed me. :-) ) – user9072 Feb 29 '16 at 12:13

Possible steps to take when there is the perception of excessive (minor) edits include:

1. Telling the user in a friendly (or at least neutral) way that their actions are a bit disruptive, and explaining how they have negative side effects for other poster. (In my experience often users editing their posts a lot, or also doing many edits at a time, do so more out of enthusiasm and just not realizing it affects others in a negative way, rather than to game the system.)

2. If step one does not have the desired effect (or one does not feel comfortable doing it), flagging for moderator attention (flag, other) and explaining the problem is a good way to proceed.

A moderator could then:

• Try step 1. with added authority.

• If it still does not work, lock the post, preventing all edits.

In truly extreme and persistent cases timed suspension could be used as a last resort.

Moreover, in case of many edits to a post (where many is, I think, ten) an automatic flag is raised to signal the potential problem to moderators. I think this is by and large sufficient, and no additional technical measures are necessary.

Note: This answer assumes that the edits do not affect the core of the (question) post. The issue of questions that are persistently modified in their substance, be it by edits or in comments, is in my mind a separate one.

• Okay, this sounds reasonable. – Nik Weaver Feb 18 '16 at 20:42
• An amusing thing to see upon coming back to this page after a while away: "an edit has been made to this post; click to load \\ Possible steps to take when there is the perception of excessive (minor) edits include: …". (By the way, I very much appreciate your moderate attitude on the question.) – LSpice Feb 20 '16 at 23:28
• But won't this discourage removing confusing typos? These seem to be quite common and the main source of repeated edits. In writing, especially with equations, a person often doesn't notice the outright errors until they leave and come back later, and read again what was written. (Habituation loop with the stimulus.) – Gottfried William Feb 24 '16 at 1:34
• @GuidoJorg what does "this" refer to precisely? Performing a relevant correction will hardly count as excessive. Besides, in context, my answer is rather in favor of edits. You may want to note me saying: "Generally, I feel too much editing is not among MO's pressing problems. Yes, some edits can be annoying, but overall I am with JDH the site would rather need more than less editing." – user9072 Feb 24 '16 at 7:31

Isn't there a disincentive built into MO by automatically making a question with 8 edits become CW? After that the user can still bump the question with minor self edits (at the expense of others), but won't get any reputation for it. On the other hand, Ali's question you linked to appears to still not be CW, so perhaps this was only for an old version of MO. I found a reference that reminded me why I thought sufficiently many edits made a question CW: http://mathoverflow.tqft.net/discussion/170/too-much-editing-turns-questions-into-cw/

http://mathoverflow.tqft.net/discussion/69/the-sixedit-limit-is-nonsense/

At the given time let $P$ stand for the position of a question on the list of all questions, where the top question has position $0.\$ Let $E$ be the number of edits. Say 5 edits is reasonable easy maximum. Thus let $E':=\max(0, E-5).\$ The new position $P'$ can be defined as:

$$P'\ :=\ \min(2\cdot E', P)$$

Simple. (The algorithm may use different constants, like $E':=\max(0, E-8)$, or $3$ instead of $2$--say $\ 3\cdot E'$ rather than $\ 2\cdot E'$).

PS. I don't think that excessive editing is a problem. Poorly written statements are. Also, one wants to avoid any involvement of moderators when possible. The less the better.

• It was discussed numerous times that it is a necessity (in a way) edits bump (to the top) to protect against malicious edits. If we'd give up on this, as this proposal does, there'd be plenty of options. – user9072 Feb 21 '16 at 13:25
• @quid - I didn't know that the issue of edits was discussed in the past. Thank you for stating the point about countering the malicious edits by bumpind (I overlooked it). Thus so far it looks that the free environment for edits and bumping should stay intact, and that we should cheerfully put up with the so far only minor inconvenience of the occasional excessive edits. – Włodzimierz Holsztyński Feb 21 '16 at 21:21
• Yes, I agree with this basically. Some of the discussions are linked in one of my comments here if you are interested. – user9072 Feb 21 '16 at 21:30

I personally would not like to force anyone to refrain from editing her/his question in cases where she/he believes that it is not properly stated. What I would suggest is to ask the people who program MO to keep all edits in the memory, better in such a way that everyone will be able to see for each comment and answer: what was the active version of the question when that comment or answer was posted. Also it would be useful if by clicking on the title of the question one could see the original version of it.

• Essentially all you ask for seems to be in place. Every post has a revision history, recording essentially all its version. Comments are time-stamped and thus can be matched to the then current version of the post if needed. – user9072 Feb 28 '16 at 1:26
• @quid It seems to me that now one has to look for older versions of the question, there is no button near a comment or an answer showing the version of the question which they addressed. Also I do not see a one-click way to find original versions of the questions. – Mikhail Ostrovskii Feb 28 '16 at 3:56
• @MikhailOstrovskii +1 for your answer. – Ali Taghavi Feb 28 '16 at 10:34
• The link meta.mathoverflow.net/posts/2767/revisions in the middle of your post does seem like a one-click way to see the original version of your question. If you really need a page where you only have the original version (or there are already many version), then indeed it will take a second click. However, this seems a completely marginal difference to me. (I might be in favor of indicating more clearly that there exist earlier versions; yet access to them is not a problem in my opinion; indeed making it too easy to land there might rather cause confusion.) – user9072 Feb 28 '16 at 12:33
• To have a marker on a comment showing on which revision it was posted, might be convenient in corner case, but in almost all cases it will be clutter, and in the rare cases it is needed the information is there Furthermore, if a comment does not make sense on the current version, chances are it is best simply deleted. (flag, obsolete). – user9072 Feb 28 '16 at 12:35