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What to do when the correct answer to a question changes over time?

On Stack Overflow a question is asked, answered, accepted, and all new posts of same question are closed as duplicates. That makes sense.

But due to the constant change in the technologies we work with, the correct answer to the same question 5 years from now could be completely different. Sometimes, it doesn't even take that long.

If the OP is not watching new posts to the question, the new correct answer may not get accepted.

Should Stack Overflow consider allowing dupes after a certain amount of time, say two years?

share|improve this question

marked as duplicate by jmort253, Aaron Bertrand, Gilles, kiamlaluno, Yannis Sep 9 '12 at 22:10

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

in a perfect world all questions and answers should carry what version or fork the topic is about. this way they would never get outdated... but really, don't we all look at the time stamp of the post when we find them, and then tries to figure out if they are still valid? – Avada Kedavra Sep 9 '12 at 20:09
@AvadaKedavra - Ideally, the question asker would include enough detail to make this clear. The last thing I want to do is try to guess what specific version of something an asker was asking about. – jmort253 Sep 9 '12 at 20:10
@jmort253: yup, include details or tag it if possible. – Avada Kedavra Sep 9 '12 at 20:12
up vote 10 down vote accepted

There are three ways to handle this scenario.

Add another answer:

Just because a question has an accepted answer doesn't mean you cannot come along and write an even better answer. The accept only means that the answer solved the asker's problem, but this doesn't mean the community won't come along and upvote your answer well beyond the accepted answer.

Edit the accepted answer:

Another option, if you're sure the asker won't change the accepted answer, and it's important that people be aware of the changes, you could edit the accepted answer and add a new section in it with the new, relevant material. You could say that the above information is outdated and include the new information below.

You could also just add a link to the new question. See below:

Write a new question:

As you mentioned, this is tough, because you don't want it to be marked as a duplicate, but if the new question highlights the fact that things have changed, then the question is less likely to be closed as a duplicate. For instance, a question about privately browsing in Firefox 1.5 will have drastically different responses than a question about privately browsing in Firefox 15. As long as it's clear that the two questions are different, this shouldn't be a problem.

Also, the old question will still apply to anyone using older technologies.

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The problem with adding an answer to a question is that it has zero votes, so it probably doesn't get reviewed very often. How serious that is depends on how many non-deleted answers there are. If there's more than a page full, then a newly added answer won't get noticed. If all the answers are on one page, it may not matter so much. – Jonathan Leffler Sep 9 '12 at 20:48
@JonathanLeffler - That's a great point worth considering. Which option to go with depends on the unique use case of that particular question....... As an aside, if there are pages of answers on a question, I think the more important question is should it be closed. Is it constructive or is it a list/poll type question. Really great questions generally don't have a page full of answers as it's a sign that something is inherently wrong with the question. – jmort253 Sep 9 '12 at 20:50
I agree that more than a page of answers is, nowadays, a sign of a question that likely needs careful review (and is likely an older question from the Wild West Days of SO). – Jonathan Leffler Sep 9 '12 at 20:59

No, new answers can always be posted to the old questions to update information concerning new technologies, etc. As for the accepted answer, it shouldn't matter. It's not the OP's responsibility to continually update the accepted answer to the most current up-to-date one, and that's not the purpose of the accepted answer. The purpose of the accepted answer is for the OP to mark "this answer helped me most" and nothing else.

By allowing duplicates over time, you just make it more difficult to find questions. You end up with a question for version 1, a question for version 2, and a question for version 3, all asking the same thing. A visitor comes looking for an answer to this question, not knowing that the answer is different in version 1, 2, and 3, then spends an amount of time trying to get an answer for version 1 to work when they really need an answer for version 2. If the answers to this question for all versions were in one place, the visitor would be able to quickly see that, check their version, and find the proper answer to their problem without searching through multiple questions. There's nothing wrong with having multiple answers to cover different versions, or even updating a single answer to account for multiple versions.

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It really depends. I started working with XCode recently, and it's really frustrating how much different it is from one version to another, even with what is seemingly a minor version. Since I'm using XCode 4.4.1, I really don't want anything to do with XCode 3.2 and even 4.2 in some cases. Many times, for XCode, the answers for one version are useless or misleading for another..... For other technologies, I agree this may not be an issue. – jmort253 Sep 9 '12 at 20:15
Good point, I mostly deal with web-dev-type languages where answers which do change are very minor changes that never require new questions, but maybe an extra line in an existing answer. – animuson Sep 9 '12 at 20:18
@animuson You're going to love this living standard (on front-end) ;) – FelipeAls Sep 9 '12 at 21:03

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