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Duplicate questions that use different words to describe the same problem are important for people to find the content via search engines. But the user experience when an anonymous user arrives at a duplicate is less than ideal.

They have to notice the duplicate link and understand that the answer they are looking for is likely behind that link. I don't think this is all that obvious to someone without experience with an SE site.

I propose to just redirect users to the duplicate automatically if the closed duplicate has zero answers. In that case they need to follow the link to the duplicate in any case, so we might as well redirect them to it in the first place.

I could imagine this being problematic with search engines, as we would be displaying different content than what the search engines see. If that is too problematic I would suggest to show a very obvious link to the duplicate in the answers section for anonymous users.

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I agree with the basic idea, but this would introduce another potential cause of confusion: the text a user sees on the question page may differ from what they saw in the search engine preview. Making the link more obvious might be the best way to go after all –  Pëkka Mar 10 '12 at 10:53
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It's not unusual to see 2 or 3 different suggested dupes, what then? –  Wesley Murch Mar 10 '12 at 11:12

4 Answers 4

up vote 22 down vote accepted

Starting with the next build, anonymous users will be redirected when they visit duplicate questions with no answers.

As with migration and merge redirects you can disable with ?noredirect=1.

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Also for duplicates that already have answers? And how are questions with multiple duplicates handled? –  Mad Scientist Mar 15 '12 at 21:19
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@Fabian - clarified, just those with no answers. In the duplicate case, we punt and just show the original. –  Kevin Montrose Mar 15 '12 at 21:23
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Another question, how are the views stats handled in this case. Does the dupe get the views, or the question it's redirected to? (Though I'm not sure if dupes count for views-based badges, if not the question would be pretty irrelevant) –  Mad Scientist Mar 15 '12 at 21:34
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@Fabian - views are incremented when someone actually parses the question html (and fetches an image as a result), so the question that is being redirected to. –  Kevin Montrose Mar 15 '12 at 21:35
    
Do you redirect Googlebot as well? If so, wouldn't dupes be dropped from their index? If not, I thought that violated their TOS. –  Jeremy Banks Mar 29 '12 at 17:39
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@JeremyBanks - yes, we redirect Google. They still know about the link, so presumably they'll keep the title as a signal but start directing people directly to the actually answered question. Win all around, probably. –  Kevin Montrose Mar 29 '12 at 17:44
    
But if Google is redirected too, Kevin, is there any reason to keep closed duplicates around? It seems only the SE search (and direct links; probably none) will find the closed duplicate then? –  Arjan Dec 16 '12 at 18:44
    
Does "no answers" mean absolutely no answers or does it exclude deleted answers? –  3ventic Jul 15 at 12:30

Wikipedia does something similar to this:

Screenshot of redirect on Wikipedia's "Hello world program" page

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I like how Wikipedia still allows you to see the duplicated by adding &redirect=no on the URL –  ajax333221 Mar 10 '12 at 22:07
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@ajax: We allow that for migrated questions, so I would imagine if this were implemented for closed questions, it would be the same. –  Cody Gray Mar 11 '12 at 1:12

What do you think happens to these people? They just sit there twiddling their thumbs, unable to find anything useful, and then eventually give up? They can't post an answer to the duplicate question, because it's been closed, so this is not a moderation issue. All we're worried about here is user accessibility, which is a noble pursuit in itself, but I'm not sure a real issue in this case.

In your experience, people honestly can't find the giant gray banner at the top of the post suggesting the duplicate question? I don't think that requires any special familiarity with the SE network. All it requires is that they read the question (and they don't even have to read it all the way through, since it appears at the very top). And if they aren't reading the question, do we really want them answering it, or participating on the site at all?

Thus, I don't think this is something really worth optimizing, considering the potential problems pointed out in the comments. Namely, that it could introduce more confusion than it solves, and that frequently, questions have multiple suggested duplicates.

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I would assume they quit programming altogether at that point, rather than click one of the links. –  Wesley Murch Mar 12 '12 at 7:59
    
@Mad: I don't think we're that lucky... –  Cody Gray Mar 12 '12 at 8:22
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@CodyGray It's not that they can't figure it out, but don't you think it's better service to a user to go straight to the one with answers? –  C. Ross Mar 12 '12 at 13:40
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I've seen some indication on Ask Ubuntu that people just vote these questions as not useful, it would be interesting to see if this happens on other network sites: meta.askubuntu.com/q/2749/235 –  Jorge Castro Mar 12 '12 at 14:51
    
@Madmartigan Stackoverlow isn't the sum of SE. AskUbuntu, for example, has a fairly web saavy crowd. Nevertheless, you still see tons of (quickly closed) duplicate pages with higher view counts than the page they're pointing to. Query the site yourself. This UI is failing users. The "good enough" viewpont on usability is common among programmers, and usually equally deluded. –  Jjed Mar 15 '12 at 8:48
    
@j-johan-edwards: I don't disagree with your points, I was just being sarcastic above - I'm not very interested in this subject. However, there's only one condition I can see it making sense: anonymous users, questions with zero answers (both as stated in the OP), and closed as a dupe of a single post with at least 1 total net score of all it's answers. How common do you find that to be the case in your research? –  Wesley Murch Mar 15 '12 at 8:57
    
Also you say "quickly closed" which leads me to suspect that the high activity may be what triggers the high view count on the dupe, people are looking for stuff to answer and don't care about viewing the original because they aren't looking for the answer. I'm sure you realize you can't take the numbers at face value, and I don't know anything about your actual research, just a suggestion. –  Wesley Murch Mar 15 '12 at 9:00
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@Madmartigan I'm talking in the scale of tens of thousands of views. I think it's safe to assume the difference doesn't come from people hunting for easy closes. meta.askubuntu.com/questions/2317/… –  Jjed Mar 15 '12 at 9:07

How about having all the exact duplicate questions' answers merged and shown below the question with zero answers. All the answers can have the link at top saying Imported from question blah blah
This will be less problematic for search engines too ;)

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Unfortunately, this wouldn't work either. Dupes are, after all, only suggestions to where the answer can be found, but they may be answers to completely different questions. Merging posts is something that must be done carefully. I can throw in any random post as a suggested dupe and the link will appear, even though I may be totally wrong and my link was way off topic. –  Wesley Murch Mar 12 '12 at 8:02
    
There could be a new privilege where a user can vote for a post to be mark as relative or non-relative. Linking similar questions in my view would be a good addition. –  noob Mar 16 '12 at 18:03

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