The psychology of voting and choice (on Stackoverflow and in general)

Voting is at the center of http://stackoverflow.com (a programming Q&A site), and at the center of democracy (at least such are the claims). How and why do people vote? Today I have a fresh example:

There was this easy question on the |= operator in Java, and I was the first to provide an answer. That lead to a few initial upvotes, so at one point I had 7 and another answer had 2. Then the question author accepted the second-rated answer. An hour later the votes where 9 to 6. So:

  • while my answer was on the top (by virtue of being the first), I got voted up to a big margin
  • when the other answer got on the top (by virtue of being accepted), people started voting it up instead

It’s not who posted the answer (this time) – i.e. who the community trusts more. It is not a matter of quality – both answers give the same information because the question is really simple. It is the simple fact that one answer is the first to be seen.

(And these are intelligent people – they use the Internets and most of them are programmers)

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