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I feel like we got off on the wrong foot. Due to me being an idiot miscommunication, a partial change snuck out early, and even though we announced it we didn't really explain why we made the change. So let me just start over...


We've made some changes to Close as Duplicate.

First, some background: we're taking a look at closing behavior and trying to figure out how to make it less jarring for new users. Our goals are (1) to make it clear to people why their question got closed and (2) to make it obvious what they can do to fix it or get better (3) in order to reduce the likelihood of getting into an argument about whether this should have been closed.

We started with dupes. The old close reason looked like this:

Closed as Exact Duplicate by David Fullerton♦ 1 min ago

This question covers exactly the same content as earlier questions on this topic; its answers may be merged with another identical question.

That's okay as instructions to the person voting to close, but it doesn't tell the user anything. Worse, it sounds a bit like those old forum stickies that said “PLEASE SEARCH BEFORE POSTING YOUR QUESTION” – somebody already asked this exact same thing, so please stop bothering us. It's strong wording practically invites the user to argue: "My question is not identical! I used different words!"

So what do we want to tell the user instead? Something like, “Somebody already asked this. If that other question doesn't solve your problem, please clarify your question to explain how it's different.” Perfect: if the other question helps them, they're happy because they got an answer. If the other question doesn't help them, they know exactly what to do. No argument about how exact an "exact duplicate" needs to be.

Now, notice that this is subtly different from saying "If that other question isn't asking the exact same thing as yours..." That's because the proof is in the answers. If the question looks the same, but the answers aren't solving the asker's problem, that is not a dupe – that is a legitimate new question. Neither the person asking nor the person who lands from Google cares if the question has been asked before: they care if it has been answered.

So here are the changes we made:

  1. We've changed the instructions everywhere to indicate that the answers to the original question must solve the dupe’s problem. That means that the original must have an answer

  2. When a question gets closed as dupe, instead of just saying "Possible duplicate", we now indicate "This question already has an answer here".

  3. If the owner comes back and edits their closed question, it will automatically go into a reopen queue. There's even special UI to compare before and after and see what changed.

  4. The "Close-as-dupe" popup now makes it much easier to find dupes with answers by allowing you to search and preview questions and answers within the popup.

  5. We now show "[duplicate]" in the question title everywhere, instead of "[closed]".

There are some exceptions to the requirement that the original have answers. First, mods can close as dupe of anything, to handle any special cases. Second, you can always close as dupe if it's from the same user, to cover the case of problem users who post the same thing multiple times. Last but not least, this check is disabled on meta.

Here's an example duplicate post so you can see all the changes together: Is there a way to know proximity of getting banned?

Based on our queries, about 2% of questions didn't meet our new criteria when they were closed as dupe. Some of those are because they were closed as dupe of a dupe, which is something we shouldn't be doing anyway. Others are because the question actually has been asked before, but nobody has answered it yet. I think we can live with that, because maybe this is the one that will finally have the information / keywords / whatever it needs to get answered.

The fundamental goal of dupes is to help people find the right answer by getting all of the answers in one place. It is not to just clean up clutter. Dupes are okay. We love (some) dupes. There are many ways to ask the same question, and a user might not be able to find the answer if they're asking it a different way. We think these changes maintain the goal of dupes and result in a much better experience for the asker and the Googler who just want to find an answer.

With that said, this is still experimental -- if it's breaking the site we can always remove the requirement for an answer. Now that this is live, we're especially interested in examples of things you'd like to close as dupe but can't now.

Part of the close reason rework project:

  1. Changes to "close as duplicate" (part deux)
  2. Help us make "Off-Topic" close reasons clearer to the OP
  3. Help us make "Not Constructive" and "Not a Real Question" closures more effective
  4. Every "close" has its thorn: replace "close" with "on hold" for the first five days
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"Some of those are because they were closed as dupe of a dupe, which is something we shouldn't be doing anyway." - Well, sometimes it's that we close it as a dupe then realize that question is also a dupe of an even better question. Maybe if a question gets closed as a duplicate that has questions closed as a duplicate of it, they should be automatically updated as well? –  animuson Feb 7 '13 at 23:07
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@animuson Yes, we should basically just handle that automatically. One step at a time... –  David Fullerton Feb 7 '13 at 23:08
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"If the question looks the same, but the answers aren't solving the asker's problem, that is not a dupe" - Well, assuming that the asker isn't just assuming that the answers don't solve their problem because they can't be bothered to interpret them in the specific context of their situation. –  Tim Stone Feb 7 '13 at 23:13
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So, what do we do with dupes of unanswered questions? You haven't touched on this at all. We can't have tons of duplicate unanswered questions floating around can we? –  ɥʇǝS Feb 7 '13 at 23:22
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Possibly, although I have a feeling that it generally leans towards that not being the case. That said, I also think there's a problem with close voters sometimes not having the patience to find out whether or not that's true, so trying out changes to the process makes sense. –  Tim Stone Feb 7 '13 at 23:22
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What do you mean "part deux"? I don't think anything has changed compared to "part un". Neither does this address any of the earlier mentioned concerns and practical issues. "this is still experimental" then why put this live on all SE sites? –  gertvdijk Feb 7 '13 at 23:45
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Making closing as a duplicate a more neutral, helpful experience for the OP is great. I think we'll get less argument over dupes now, particularly if we actually find an answer and reference it as such. What was the point of closing as a dupe of an unanswered question anyway? "We refuse to answer this question here because we already failed to answer it over there, look!"? We should answer the question or close it for some other reason if it shouldn't be answered. It's good. (There were a couple of teething problems with details, but they're being ironed out.) Now we sound less snarky, hooray! –  AndrewC Feb 8 '13 at 0:43
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@AndrewC No. I disagree with "We refuse to answer [...] over there, look!" It think it's more like: "This question has already been asked on this site, you're more likely to get your answer there, because it already has upvotes, been improved, etc." –  gertvdijk Feb 8 '13 at 0:47
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@AndrewC: Because if you have ten unanswered versions of the same question and one gets answered you still have nine unanswered versions of that question. And nobody who asked those nine versions or finds them from Google will get to see the actually answered version of the question. –  sth Feb 8 '13 at 0:49
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@sth Does this really happen? Lots of people asking the same question that no-one has ever answered? If it comes up that frequently, I'm sure someone would have answered it by now, unless it's an inherently unanswerable question, in which case they should all be closed as NARQ or something. I don't buy the scenario you propose at all. –  AndrewC Feb 8 '13 at 0:59
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@AndrewC And how exactly do you expect us to keep all similar questions tracked? I'm sorry, but this "Once we get one question answered, we can link them all together." scenario seems very utopian. I suspect we'd rather end up with a ton of unanswered questions that may or may not at some point possibly magically mayhaps perhaps ever be linked to the answered one, maybe. –  FEichinger Feb 8 '13 at 2:24
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@FEichinger You accuse me of imagining utopia, but maybe everyone's having a storm in a teacup over a very rare issue. Note: "we're especially interested in examples of things you'd like to close as dupe but can't now" Have you got any examples? I'm not sure there are that many - these never-answered-but-asked-all-the-time scenarios seem very hypothetical to me. In my experience most dupes are easy questions that were answered ages ago. –  AndrewC Feb 8 '13 at 2:45
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"Now that this is live, we're especially interested in examples of things you'd like to close as dupe but can't now." Please post any good examples of this in answer to specific questions that can't be closed ... –  AndrewC Feb 8 '13 at 4:42
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I posted a rather late answer to the question you linked, and like I said there, I see nothing wrong with having multiple copies of an unanswered question. If anything, I think it is actually better as it's more likely one of the questions will cross paths with someone who can provide a good answer. Simply link the questions via a comment, and when one gets a good answer you can close the rest as duplicates. Even if you forget to close as a duplicate, users will still be able to find the answers their seeking through the "Linked" question list –  Rachel Feb 8 '13 at 18:25
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Great change. Duplication becomes a more and more severe issue as the network and the corpus gets larger, so glad to see you guys are on top of this. It's also a hard problem, but this seems like a solid step in the right direction. –  Jeff Atwood Feb 15 '13 at 6:38

3 Answers 3

We've changed the instructions everywhere to indicate that the answers to the original question must solve the dupe’s problem. That means that the original must have an answer

I don't agree at all with this new requirement. Just re-asking a question because it has no answers is bad practice. This is what the bounty system was created for. If you have further information that clarifies the problem, you can comment and/or edit the question.

Furthermore, if one of the X questions that cover more or less the same ground wind up getting answered, the other X - 1 will just remain unanswered. Before the change, all question but one could get closed, and you'd only have to monitor one of them to keep looking for an answer.

There are some exceptions to the requirement that the original have answers. First, mods can close as dupe of anything, to handle any special cases. Second, you can always close as dupe if it's from the same user, to cover the case of problem users who post the same thing multiple times.

The second exception is a step into the right direction, but it still fails to address a rather common scenario: Cross-posts using unassociated accounts can result in two identical questions on the same SE site. These didn't use to require mod intervention. They do now.

Some of those are because they were closed as dupe of a dupe, which is something we shouldn't be doing anyway.

Why? Many questions that have been closed as duplicates of other question have answers. These answers might be more applicable to a specific case or just downright better than the answers to the "original" question. If that's the case, closing as a dupe of a dupe is what I've been doing, and I fail to see why that would be an issue.

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"dupe of dupe" I think David Fullerton means that the target dupe is unanswered. If it were answered it wouldn't be excluded by the rules he sets out. He does say "some of these are because..." not "we also made a rule disallowing...". As long as you close as a dupe of something that has an answer to the OP's question, it's OK. –  AndrewC Feb 8 '13 at 2:21
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I don't agree at all with this new requirement. Just re-asking a question because it has no answers it bad practice. This is what the bounty system was created for. I agree 100%. +1. –  ɥʇǝS Feb 8 '13 at 2:30
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@Seth New users can't use bounties. (New users are the ones most likely to ask a dupe, and it's very likely to be an easy question with an answer already.) Just closing as a dupe of an answerless question is also bad practice, because it's completely unhelpful to the OP. Two wrongs don't make a right. If rep-hunters answer an old, unloved question instead of a fresh, near-the-top question, they know they'll get fewer votes for it. Closed as duplicate actually turns eyes away from a question rather than turns them to the linked question, so it's less likely they'll get answered. –  AndrewC Feb 8 '13 at 2:55
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New users arriving from Google will not have sufficient reputation to use the bounty system. So they have two options, post a 'bump' as an answer, or ask another question. I don't see any reason for an existing unanswered question to get in their way. In that case, the existing question stopped being useful and began being actively harmful for them. That's not what we want. –  Tim Post Feb 8 '13 at 3:02
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@AndrewC I see your point. Maybe we should just close old questions as dupes of the new ones. It wouldn't be anymore work. –  ɥʇǝS Feb 8 '13 at 3:39
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If the new question was answered, yes you should @Seth - you might even want to ask a moderator to merge them if there's something worth preserving in the older one. –  Shog9 Feb 8 '13 at 3:52
    
@AndrewC If the new user is asking such a simple easily answered question then why would there not be any dupes of it that were answered, and instead only dupes that were unanswered? Frequently asked but never answered questions are either questions that should be closed as NARQ, or just a really hard problem that few/no people know enough to answer. The latter is exactly the kind of question that should be bountied, as the extra motivation will [hopefully] be enough for someone to spend lots of time researching a detailed answer. Asking again is much less likely to help. –  Servy Feb 8 '13 at 16:02
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@Seth, you hit part of the problem with the old method - it's hard to know which unanswered version should be closed as dupe. Closing the newer one "feels" fairer, but it's not very utilitarian, since the old one's wording has been demonstrated to be ineffective at yielding answers, and its asker is unlikely to currently be in as great a need of an answer as the new asker. –  Jaydles Feb 8 '13 at 16:07
    
@Servy I agree with what you said. I'm pointing out that this is really rather rare. Either it's answered or esoteric, hence rare. Bounty is a good idea then, yes, and on these rare occasions we can manually link with comments. Occasionally the original just went off the homepage before anyone who knew answered, in which case closing it as a dupe turns potential answerers' eyes elsewhere. –  AndrewC Feb 8 '13 at 16:11
    
The problem with what @Shog9 suggests is, (from my understanding) in order for questions to be merged one of them has to be closed as a duplicate of the other. We can't do that with the new system, so we can't merge them. –  ɥʇǝS Feb 8 '13 at 17:15
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Actually, merging is sort of a red-herring here, @Seth - it takes a moderator to merge anyway (and moderators can close whatever they need to), and it only makes sense to merge when both questions have answers. –  Shog9 Feb 8 '13 at 17:22
    
New users arriving from Google will not have sufficient reputation to use the bounty system. So they have two options, post a 'bump' as an answer, or ask another question. Frankly I don't see that there are many new questions left in existence, except for all the too localised ones. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 20 '13 at 15:33
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@LightnessRacesinOrbit You've got to be kidding me. –  Chris Moschini Mar 28 '13 at 2:51

Perhaps a better approach is to allow something to be marked as a dupe but not closed if the duplicate does not have an answer. If any of the dupes finally gets an answer, all the other dupes are at that point closed (assuming sufficient dupe votes etc) - in a sense, this answer was waiting for a well-asked, well-worded question to come along, and the first answer to it is a signal it was found.

This lets the issue of whether these are all duplicates or not still be hammered out in the existing way, but still lets new users (who remember cannot edit others' questions) add to the overall corpus on the matter in an attempt to be clear enough/interesting enough/lucky enough to find an answer. The "winning" question that lives on is the sole best way of asking.

Aside: Really glad to see closed behavior getting a hard look. I had been taking a break from StackOverflow because I was tiring of the pattern of - google something, find perfect question on SO, Closed, no reason given.

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This was let us search for questions that are worth providing an answer to due to the number of other quesions asking the same. –  Ian Ringrose Feb 5 at 13:26

I'm not sure if this belongs here, but it was rather long for a comment so here it is.

This is what I see happening:

When it comes to bugs on Ask Ubuntu, Rachel asks why we don't just close them all as off-topic individually.

On Dennis' answer above Servy suggests that most (some at least?) unanswered duplicate questions should be closed as "Not a Real Question" and AndrewC agrees with him.

SO:

Since we (almost) all agree the majority of these questions deserve to be closed anyway, why was this change implemented?

I'd argue that closing (again most) of these unanswered duplicates as a duplicate is better than closing them as "Off-topic" or "Not a Real Question" and linking them with a comment. That just seems hackish and counter-intuitive according to the way the site was supposed to work and/or has worked in the past.

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If we're talking about this specific Ask Ubuntu case, I think the question is: What message do you want to send to the user? "You shouldn't ask this because it's off topic" or "You shouldn't ask this because it's already been asked". I think the former, in which case it should be closed as Off Topic. –  David Fullerton Feb 8 '13 at 17:46
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We aren't really talking about Ask Ubuntu, we are discussing why this change was implemented. IMO how we should close the questions is a rather different topic. We had been closing them as duplicates, until this happened. Maybe this calls for a question on AU Meta. I think though, if we want to close them as duplicates we should be able too. –  ɥʇǝS Feb 8 '13 at 17:55
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I'm having trouble seeing the more general case. It's "We get a lot of off-topic questions, and want to close them as dupe of each other" -- feels like the right solution is to close them as OT not dupe. –  David Fullerton Feb 8 '13 at 17:58
    
I tried to address that in my question: We should close them as dupes because that's what you are supposed to do with them. I have yet to see any good reason to close them otherwise, but I am willing to listen. –  ɥʇǝS Feb 8 '13 at 18:08
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If the question is off-topic or not a real question, then it should be closed as such, so users know what is appropriate for your site. If there is a duplicate off-topic question that actually provides an answer, share the link to it in the comments to help the OP. Users that have been helped are more likely to come back, and this time they will be more informed about how your site should be used. We should not be closing valid questions without providing an answer for them, which is what closing as duplicate to unanswered questions does. –  Rachel Feb 8 '13 at 18:14
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@DavidFullerton On AU one of the daily jobs looks like this: 1) Poor Q (issue) comes in, 2) after 4 comments and edits we finally know the relevant specific details and it's still far from a good question, 3) but just enough we can identify a (closed) dupe with a very good description of the issue and very useful information in the question itself and comments (e.g. however, it works perfectly if I do...), 4) we want to dupe it (because that is actually useful!) 5) we have to upvote/create a rubbish answer not meeting our own standards to be able to do so. –  gertvdijk Feb 8 '13 at 18:15
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Closing as a duplicate has benefits: It automatically links them together (no need for an extra comment), it is a close in itself, it redirects users to a single question. If it is a dupe, we should preferably be able to close it as a dupe rather than the same close reason over and over again. Not to mention that the dupe target may well receive an answer "It will work in version X" or a workaround at some point - not necessarily when it is posted ... or posted for the fifth time. I just don't see why we have to restrict anything. It should be site policy instead. –  FEichinger Feb 8 '13 at 19:56
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@Servy You ask for the reason this was changed. It was to make sure that when you close as dupe, you refer the OP to an answer rather than to a similar problem. If you close as dupe to an unanswered Q you're saying "we're not letting anyone answer your question, because someone else has the same unsolved problem." The new wording an policy directs them to someone's answer, rather than someone's problem. That should be self-evidently a good thing. –  AndrewC Feb 11 '13 at 2:14
    
@FEichinger Closing as off-topic has benefits - it gives a clearer message about what questions are valid than marking as duplicate. –  AndrewC Feb 11 '13 at 2:17
    
@gertvdijk I the dupe target is closed as off-topic, why not close the new one as off-topic too and make a comment link? It's not as easy, but it sends the right message to the OP. If you don't think what's at the other end of the link is much use, don't link there. If the dupe target is a well-asked version with a workaround in comments and people saying that's all you can do, someone should write that up as an answer or edit a nearly-there answer. There's a workaround for your issue! –  AndrewC Feb 11 '13 at 2:28
    
We're all circling the drain here on the obvious answer: Make an exception so you can mark as a duplicate of an off-topic question, and the way dupes of an off-topic question appear to users should differ to make it clear - it might for example count the dupes and say "This question is off-topic; it has been asked 47 times before. You may find further explanation here" and link to the main dupe. –  Chris Moschini Mar 28 '13 at 3:09
    
I'm not going to agree. The request to change it back is status-declined anyway, so lets not reopen and old wound. –  ɥʇǝS Mar 28 '13 at 3:26

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