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The most recent example of the problem stated in the title is this question:

what is more difficult to calculate from the viewpoint of a computer : the "sum" or the "maximum" of a finite set of numbers ?

Here's a reformulation in comments:

Can we come up with a model that separates sum and max? For example, could we show that in certain models, computing the sum of b-bit numbers requires strictly more extra space (in addition to the read-only input tape and write-only output tape) than max? Or is the answer always trivial?

While not claiming to know the intent of the OP, it seems to me that the original question was fairly basic, but the reformulated question is far more interesting (to me) and is actually a reasonable research level question.

In fact, the reformulated question also has a nice answer.

So my question is:

  • Would it be appropriate to edit the question to reflect what appears to be the more interesting question
  • Would it instead be better to encourage the commenter to post a new question ?
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If the original asker wants to edit the question, it is fine. If the commenter or someone else wants to ask it as a separate question, it is also fine. (If both things happen at the same time, that is unfortunate, but that is probably rare and we can close one of them as a duplicate as another.)

I do not like a heavy edit by others because that gives a responsibility of choosing the best answer to the modified question to the original asker. If the original asker is willing to take that responsibility, it is fine, but otherwise I do not think that it is good.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree. Let's not edit or duplicate anything. People can answer whatever they want (either the "original" or the "new" question, or preferably both). Others can upvote however they want. And the OP can accept whatever was most useful for him. $\endgroup$ Dec 3 '10 at 20:54
  • $\begingroup$ I agree in general, also for another reason: if we make a question better than it was originally it will be up voted and give reputation to the OP who does not necessary represent the quality of the question he/she has asked, this can create problems later. But I think in some cases it might be OK to edit the question, e.g. if the OP does not reply to the comments after considerable time and/or was a drive-by user, in which case we should probably make the question a CW. $\endgroup$
    – Kaveh
    Dec 3 '10 at 22:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Kaveh: I have to say that I disagree about the case where the asker does not reply. In my opinion, heavy editing is not good even when the asker does not reply. My point is that choosing the best answer is the asker’s responsibility and that we should not give an unwanted responsibility to the asker. Giving an unresponsive user an additional responsibility does not seem to be productive. Anyone who cares enough about the modified question can ask a separate question if they want, and hopefully that will be sufficient. $\endgroup$ Dec 3 '10 at 22:20
  • $\begingroup$ I understood your point, that was the reason I suggested that we can make such questions a CW so it will become community owned and there is no responsibility on OP anymore. In any case, it was just a suggestion. :) $\endgroup$
    – Kaveh
    Dec 3 '10 at 22:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Kaveh: Now I understand why you mentioned CW. That probably makes sense. I still prefer that someone interested takes responsibility and posts it as a separate question rather than just editing a question, but I understand your suggestion. $\endgroup$ Dec 3 '10 at 23:07

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