Preventing minor stylistic edits on old, duplicated posts (or not pushing those posts at the top of the feed)

(Related to this question, which refers to users editing their own questions to make it appear at the top of the feed)

I just reviewed about 5-6 suggested edits which were all the same: the user suggested removing "Best regards" from the posts. This user most likely searched for "best regards" and suggested edits on the posts he or she could find. That same user has done this before with other pleasantries ("thank you" or whatever it was).

What bugs me--besides being a cheap way to accumulate +2's--was the edit on this post, which is a 7-year-old post marked as a duplicated question. I don't think this is the kind of posts that we want to push back at the top of the feed.

I'm not sure what the solution is, but here are ideas:

• Somehow lessen the incentive to edit posts for the sake of editing posts
• Filter which types of edits and/or which types of posts warrant getting the post pushed at the top of the feed
• +1 I have recently approved a large number of such edits because they reflect a concerted attempt to make our site friendlier: they targeted self-deprecating phrases including words like "dumb" and "stupid." Eliminating "best regards" looks like an extension of that program. However, editing out "best regards" may have crossed some (invisible, hard-to-describe) threshold between improving the site and making trivial changes.
– whuber Mod
Dec 23, 2019 at 13:52

These proposals are quite different.

Reduce the incentive to edit. To a reputation gain of 1? To 0? Already the incentive is very small and matches the idea that such edits are small (but positive) contributions. And the implication that any member is driven just by a desire for reputation is hard to test: we don't know what people's motives are unless they tell us. What is plausible or implausible is personal here as always. I have only my own memory of having enough reputation to edit (but not so much that I no longer received increments for editing) to recall that I just liked editing and liked to think I was contributing thereby; I was not doing it for the reputation, although clearly gaining was nicer than losing.

Trivial edits should not rise to the top. I like the principle. If I edit say "principle component" to "principal component" and that's it, then the thread hasn't become more interesting to anyone and emphatically not more urgent. So, it would good to have an SE-wide flag "this edit is just cosmetic and should not bump the thread to most recent", except that

1. As said, this requires a system-wide implementation.

2. Edits by those on probation still need to be checked. Was the trivial edit really trivial or a rogue case in which a major change has been made by accident or even deliberately, so that is a underhand route to messing up someone else's post and trying harder not to be spotted?

3. We don't want, I suggest, to start debating criteria for what is a minor edit and what is not, as there will be always be grey cases.

I think at bottom this is a trade-off between different kinds of irritation:

a. The irritation that the editorially-minded see when they spot little things that cry out to be fixed.

b. The irritation that some people have when they find that a thread that looks interesting at the top of the list is only cosmetically different.

c. The irritation that people reviewing edits may feel when they find that an edit is purely minor. (For my part, I recognise a kindred spirit and do what else I can to improve the post.)

• Something along the lines of your second point has also been raised in this meta question. However this question is fairly old, it doesn't seem to me that anything came of it. Dec 23, 2019 at 11:25
• @deemel You're right on all important levels. Ironically or otherwise: the post there cries out for minor edits. It's chock-full of sentences that are independent clauses strung together with commas. I resisted. Dec 23, 2019 at 12:36
• There is a fourth irritation. There are good constructive edits and there are small nitpicking edits. On the one hand I always like it when Nick Cox is edditing my posts and improves spelling and grammar. On the other hand things like removing a 'thank you' are style edits and this can be anoying for the person that originally used that style. Yes, somewhere in the help of SE there is a style guide that tells that such informal pieces like 'thank you' are not neccesary and ideally we all use same style. However, it comes across as nitpicking, strict, extremely uniform when it get's edited. Dec 26, 2019 at 19:54

I don't think it is really a problem that old posts are being pushed back to the top of the feed due to minor edits - even if they are duplicates etc. People can always switch to Question -> Newest if the active feed becomes irritating.

I do agree though that super minor edits as described by the OP aren't necessary and could (should?) be avoided. But I also have to say that when I started out on CV, I liked editing questions and receiving a reputation change once my edit was approved. Through this "approval" process, I quickly learned which edits were acceptable and which ones were not and I refrained from making the same edits that have been rejected before. Quite often people even improved upon my own edit from which I learned more about how to make useful edits.

So I think receiving a positive reputation change for useful edits is a good incentive to learn and actively participate in the CV community for new members. But which edit suggestions are approved ultimately depends on the people reviewing those suggested edits. So if a change in "editing habits" seems to be necessary, it would start with the reviewers who should edit more according to whether the suggested edit is useful and improves the post. Then again this decision is also subjective and because you also need more than one reviewer to "accept" a suggested edit, I would say that on average the system works well and does what it is supposed to do.

I feel an obligation to answer, because the mentioned post was edited by me.

Whether you agree or not (which is totally OK) it might be interesting for you to learn about my motivations and my opinion about the matter.

First I share the opinion of Patrick Coulombe and others that approved edits of old posts should not appear on top. That is somehow confusing to users. But I don't think one should stop editing old posts for this reason.

Quite obviously there are people considering these changes minor: otherwise we wouldn't have this thread. And I think this is OK. I also don't agree with every edit. I personally think every improvement counts, especially also on old posts. New users read these posts and will hopefully shape their first new posts after these. Every improved post is a net win for people reading these posts and for teaching new users.

Cross Validated also has some kind of inbuilt limitation for minor edits. (I think you have to change at least x amount of chars to be considered.)

As mentioned, I like parsing through all posts (searching for certain terms) and edit stylistic elements that I feel that could be improved.

One thing I am looking for is whatever reminds me more of a letter than a Q&A platform.

Something that looks like (exaggerated example):

Dear CrossValidated Community,

my kindest greetings[...]

Best regards,
Caesar


In my opinion people are looking for questions and answers and don't like to parse letters. Still, I usually don't delete a small thanks or something minor, because I still think it is nice to be able to show gratitude (just not being half of the question text).

I also like to delete all forms of self-shaming, which I consider harmful and not in line with the values of the code of conduct ('Be respectful' , 'mutual respect').

Something like (exaggerated example):

Sorry for asking this utterly stupid question,
I am a complete idiot for asking this..


This will make beginner users reading the question feel bad. Nobody should even talk in this derogatory manner. Everybody was a beginner once and will be a beginner for certain topics. I don't want to go too much off-topic here, but mental health also means being kind to yourself.

Overall:

I always had the feeling quite a few people agree with these edits: there were not too many edit rejections.

But I definitely also try to consider the feedback from this thread**

About the motivation It is hard to know yourself what your exact motivation is. It is even harder to speculate about the exact motivation of others.

Economically most reasonable would probably be (for us all) to spend the time required for editing or answering earning some real-life money ;)

My motivations are probably quite similar to most users I guess: some weird mixture of falling for the gamification approach, earning alleged virtual social respect and altruistic motives of making the world (or well at least Cross Validated) a better place and just being a helpful person.

Like probably most people I would be lying if I say: 'I never looked at my badges or reputation'. In the end, gamification is an essential and popular part of the platform. Otherwise we wouldn't be discussing whether edits should give reputation 2 and just appreciate that some minor change to the positive occurred.

Maybe also nice to know: there is a limit on how much reputation one can earn with edits. I guess it is 2k. So it might be nice to motivate people to do edits but on the other hand there is some kind of limit to keep a balance in the reputation system.

• The minimum number of characters requirement is system-wide. In general, people believe edits should be larger / more substantial the older the post (see: Handling “suggested edits” to posts). I agree w/ your concern about "self-shaming" language--I've approved a number of those. Ideally, "Thanks" etc should go, but are also probably too minor on their own to bump an old thread, IMO. When you edit, go through the entire post & take care of everything that needs to be addressed (cf, here). Dec 26, 2019 at 14:09