Example case:

I usually close voted specific cases on SO using this question as exact duplicate. Some days ago, the exact duplicate I usually used was closed itself using another exact duplicate.

But imo, the former duplicate still does explain the problem and the solution better than the latter.

Shall we (always) use the exact duplicate we think has the better explanation, or shall we (always) use the very last given exact duplicate in a chain? And/or vote to reopen the former duplicate? Something else?

Is there any rule describing what are we supposed to do in such case?

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3 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I voted to close the lot of those questions. There were quite a few.

It appears that in one case I mixed up which one to close and which one to keep open.

Generally, the post that has:

  1. The most views (meaning it's the most searchable)
  2. The best answers
  3. The most detail

is the one that's kept, the others are closed as duplicates, regardless of their timestamp.

In some instances, moderators will merge the questions if the code for the answers will work for the questions that are merged. Otherwise they'll simply stay closed as a duplicate.

Please do not re-open exact duplicates. Ask for them to be merged if they if there are answers that are split among the questions that belong together. If they aren't exact duplicates (e.g., similar answer but way different problem), then flag them for re-opening, or vote to re-open them.

Please do not delete duplicates. They're there to help people find the canonical answer, no matter what users search for. If they get deleted, we may lose good search terms that we would otherwise have.

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Re not deleting duplicates, that does mean "do not delete all duplicates", I hope, not that all duplicates should be kept. If a question has enough duplicates and gets a new one almost daily, keeping only the good ones and deleting the bad ones makes more sense, IMO. –  Daniel Fischer Aug 2 '12 at 20:06
    
@DanielFischer Agreed, but that really is confined to Stack Overflow. The other sites generally will not have that problem. –  George Stocker Aug 2 '12 at 20:23
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George and Jirka make excellent points for the general case but lets look at this specific case of what these questions ask

  • I'm sending a statement to MySQL via a PHP call using mysql_fetch_* .
  • I'm ignoring any errors returned by MySQL
  • I'm completely confused by the error returned by mysql_fetch
  • I can't be bothered to look at any of the 100's of SO questions that are going to help me
  • I can't be bothered to look at the Millions of results on my favorite search engine
  • Plz help

I contend that it doesn't really matter which dupe you pick, because anyone who would be helped by looking at one dupe is going to be helped by any dupe.

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We should always keep the best formulation of the question (most views, best question formulation, best answers) open, and a few closed ones that provide sufficiently distinct alternative ways of "experiencing the same problem".

It is always somewhat subjective which question formulation is clearest and most searchable one. The "most views" criterion is only useful when comparing a famous formulation to a similar but fresh one and cannot be applied mechanically, so its application is subjective as well.

The consequence is that what you saw is something that occurs here and then quite naturally. Your favorite duplicate has been closed, but not deleted. You should only try to reopen your favorite duplicate (and close the currently open one) if you consider yours much better than the other; on the assumption that the other party did not know about your favorite for some reason.

I will try to explain why I think that it is helpful to consider a big difference in a number of views. A much more often viewed question is more likely to be

  • older
  • easier to be googled up (due to mainstream terminology, external links, or whatever else)
  • linked to by more other duplicates
  • more missed when removed
  • more likely to end up reopened for any reason

None of these aspects is sufficient to trump a question that may be brand new, but is way better posed than the "established ones", or has a really good answer attached.

Fight for your favorites if you think that they really stand out in terms of relative quality and that others will generally agree with you when they just look more carefully.

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Everyone has favorites. We'd like for the process to be as objective as possible, and not politicized by the posts we wrote. –  George Stocker Aug 2 '12 at 17:21
    
@GeorgeStocker - I was writing generally. I did look at this particular question as well, but I don't really have a personal preference here. I also don't remember having ever voted for a reopen, although I would not hesitate to do that in an extreme case. Raise the reopen privilege limit if you see reopens abused. –  Jirka Hanika Aug 2 '12 at 17:27
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