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I like Stack Overflow and rely on it for tech assistance frequently (and contribute when I can.) However I had a problem yesterday:

I asked this question regarding a very specific feature of Tiles (wildcarding) and whether or not it works with Spring Webflow. Within hours someone had marked it with "This question may already have an answer here: Integrating Spring Webflow 2 and Apache Tiles"

I asked a specific question as to whether Spring Webflow works with Apache Tiles wildcarding. The question I asked IS NOT ADDRESSED in the referred-to question. It's frustrating to spend half an hour putting together an intelligent and specific question and then have someone mark it as a duplicate (or possible duplicate), which apparently causes people to skip over my question. I haven't received any more responses since the question was flagged.

Two questions: (1) How do I get this flagging removed and (2) what's the best way to prevent these "helpful" flaggings in the future?

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To avoid this in the future, for one thing I would mention wildcarding more explicitly. It took me a bit of searching to find it in the question, so I can see why someone may have missed it and incorrectly flagged as duplicate. – StephenTG Aug 23 '13 at 16:30
1. Ignore it and it will go away when other members of the community disagree with it and all votes have aged away. 2. Educate every member of the community on how to flag duplicates properly. -- And no, it doesn't cause people to "skip over" your question. Aside from that single comment there, there's nothing else to indicate to anyone that it might be a duplicate. That "possible answer elsewhere" box only appears to you until the question gets closed. – animuson Aug 23 '13 at 16:31
For reference, here is the item in the Close Votes queue, for those of you who feel qualified to vote whichever way. – animuson Aug 23 '13 at 16:44
Thank you all very much for your responses. – user232247 Aug 23 '13 at 16:50
@user232247 - duplicate flagging also servers as a Sign Post to help future visitors find similar questions and answers. Don't sweat it too much - just include a sentence explaining why its not a duplicate and everything should work as intended. That shows you "did your homework". Kate goes into it in more detail below. Also see Linking Duplicate Questions. (The real frustrating part is when you are flagged as a duplicate, but the duplicate question has no answers... Go figure that one out!). – jww Aug 18 '14 at 20:42
@noloader, It's not a very good signpost. Maybe the "related questions" signpost(s) and the "duplicate question" signpost(s) should be separated better. Just a thought. – trysis Sep 18 '14 at 18:38
up vote 82 down vote accepted

When someone wants to close your question as a duplicate even when it's not, you should immediately edit the question to clarify that it is not.

Here's how not to do it:

EDIT: This is NOT a duplicate of the other question. Stop flagging this!

Instead, go back through your question and reword it a little. Maybe add a sentence or even just a few more adjectives. Also say something like

I have read [title of other question, linked to it] and it's helpful, but doesn't address [whatever.]

This should be phrased in a way that makes sense even when the close votes are all gone, and is generally best in the body of the question, not as a comment under it. Not all close voters read the comments.

Don't get too excited if your question is wrongly closed as a duplicate. Just one close-vote or close-flag will add the banner when you view the question, and it takes 5 votes to actually close it. After you've edited in the clarification, even if it was closed, it will be pretty simple to reopen it.

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This is an excellent suggestion/explanation and I really appreciate the effort that everyone went to in explaining this situation to me. I'll take this advice in the future. – user232247 Aug 23 '13 at 21:48
The advice given here is exactly what I did. I posted a question that got marked as a duplicate, when my question is asking something completely different. Before I even posted my question, I clarified what I trying to do, but nobody seemed to read my clarification. After the first close vote, I edited my question and very redundantly explained why it wasn't a duplicate. I even added an image to show what I was trying to do! But it was too late, the first close vote started an avalanche.… – TJamesBoone Mar 18 '14 at 14:21
Within seconds of posting the above comment, I found that my question had been reopened. It looks like the "vote to reopen" option is a good one, when combined with redundant clarifying edits. It gets the moderators' attention! – TJamesBoone Mar 18 '14 at 14:35
Thanks for your help, Kate! I removed the comments. – TJamesBoone Mar 18 '14 at 15:01
up vote 75 down vote

what's the best way to prevent these "helpful" flaggings in the future?

Although you put this word into ironic quotes, it is helpful indeed, and instead of preventing, you better learn to use these flaggings to your advantage.

ode to dupes (from the asker perspective:)

Just think of it: someone invested their effort, did some research and let you know that they believe your question has an answer elsewhere.

First thing to do when this happens (as you correctly did btw), is to go to mentioned "possible duplicate" and study the answers given there.

Okay, now let's take a closer look at various possible outcomes of your study...

1. You discover that one of the answers in duplicate solves your issue

This is best possible outcome, quite a pity it didn't happen to you this time. It occurred once or twice to me and have to admit, it felt... great. Just think of it, you get your answer, what could be better?

In cases like this I flag / or vote to close my own question myself.

The reason for "self-closure" is simple: since I found an answer, I want to save self from trouble of further "maintenance" of my question - you know, from studying and replying to possible comments, answers, from stuff like that.

Since I found an answer, I just don't need my question anymore, and the sooner I get it closed, the less I will need to worry about it in the future.

1.1. A less lucky (but still, lucky) variation of above... when you find that although there is no answer to your question there (yet), but the question itself is really the same as yours.

This isn't bad either, and in this case it also makes good sense to vote-close your own question - simply because this allows you to get rid of the need to maintain it. Instead, you just can follow the answers coming to the duplicate one.

2. You discover that duplicate only looks similar...

...but essentially differs from your question.

Okay, this is actually a pretty useful knowledge. Think of it, if it feels similar to you, then it might feel similar to other readers of your question who could in turn begin giving you useless answers addressing that similar question instead of yours. Now this is something worth preventing, isn't it?

You don't need answers telling you "do X" when you already know this won't help you, you need a way to "repel" these before they get in and begin wasting your efforts in cumbersome explanations that this is not what you need. Good news are, that "possible duplicate notification" gives you means to prevent this.

  • Think of it, before mentioned notification you didn't even know that your question may be misread that way, that it can get useless answers because of this mis-interpretation. But, now you know, and you can use this knowledge to your advantage!

All you do is just edit your question and add something like:

There is another question that reads similar, but it is actually different, because of <explain what are the differences between what you need and what is needed in that other question>.

That's it! Any reader now clearly understands what kind answers aren't of interest for you, this saves you from being pestered by irrelevant stuff like that anymore.

3. You discover that "duplicate" is totally different, obviously irrelevant.

That's the least useful outcome, but still...

If you think of it, "possible duplicate notification" warns you that someone dumb enough may misread your question in a really weird way (and, well, bother you by posting respectively weird answers and comments).

This risk is rather minor compared to previous case (similar-but-different) but thing is, preventing it is much easier, too. Since you already invested (wasted) some effort on studying that useless not-a-dupe-at-all, just put a little extra effort into "converting" it into something at least marginally useful to you.

For that, you just edit your question and add at its bottom something like,

Side note I also studied another question to find out maybe there's something useful to me there, but it turned out totally irrelevant because of <put an obvious, easy to understand, explanation "for dummies" here>.

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This answer is potential FAQ material. – Josh Caswell Aug 23 '13 at 19:29
I don't particularly agree with using the close feature as a stick to drive questioners to edit their question, especially for things that are at best tangentially related. Too often, users see one close vote and (also, trying to be helpful and clean up the site) join the herd without checking just how duplicate the linked question is. – Telastyn May 11 '14 at 16:51
@Telastyn: But the closing system is explicitly not only for marking off-topic and unsalvageable things, but also to make sure the answer is clarified (and giving a hint in what way) so it will become answerable and maybe even a great question. – Deduplicator Jul 1 '14 at 22:02
@Deduplicator - have a reference to that explicit point? I don't remember ever seeing such a motivation. – Telastyn Jul 1 '14 at 22:09
In practice, I rarely observe these benefits. In practice, it looks more like people skim questions, and if there's a duplicate annotation, fairly quickly decide this is not a place to spend time (correctly, because once a question is marked as a duplicate it's unlikely to be reopenend, and core stack exchange functionality is crippled). As far as I've seen, most duplicate annotations really mean "similar or related" and serve to cripple further discussion for no good purpose. – Eamon Nerbonne Jul 4 '14 at 9:53
Note also that these benefits are largely achievable with plain comments. – Eamon Nerbonne Jul 4 '14 at 10:59
@EamonNerbonne clarifying in comments would probably work too, but I generally hesitate recommending this, to avoid an impression that it's okay to put really important details here (sometimes, "de-duplication" clarifications may be quite important). See: Help us figure out a way to handle the explosion of comments on Stack Overflow – gnat Jul 4 '14 at 11:04
The problem is that even if questions are conceptually identical, the perspective people have and the context often differs and therefore the answers are usually not duplicate. Just look at questions that are marked as duplicate that have answers and activity; often this activity is quite useful and interesting. Closing a question is estructive; nor does it really provide a path to salvage what effort the questioner and answerers of the closed question have made (which is amply underlined by the fact that answers aren't typically migrated). And this is in the "worst case" of true duplication. – Eamon Nerbonne Jul 4 '14 at 12:08
If indeed long-ago answers had some way of regaining momentum it wouldn't be so bad (the collaborative search for a solution could continue there), but that's not the reality for all kinds of reasons; the reality is that whatever momentum there was is simply squashed; it's basically a way of making clear tp participants that they're wasting their time and effort (i.e. they're not welcome here). – Eamon Nerbonne Jul 4 '14 at 12:14
e.g. see this thread: – Eamon Nerbonne Jul 4 '14 at 12:15

A follow up to Kate's answer, which seems to merit its own answer

Use Kate's suggestion, but preemptively. If you've done your research properly, it is highly likely you will have already found the supposed duplicate. When you are posting your question for the first time, you can say something like:

I've found a similar question [link to it] but it doesn't address the specific problem of [xyz].

This has a two fold benefit in addition to heading off possible marks as duplicates. It helps others needing a similar solution. (Interestingly, they might find yours first, see that it does NOT do what they need, but they then find the other solution which you linked to.) The other related benefit is these links in the post show up over in the Links panel on the right side ... and even faster way to find stuff.

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