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So you dug yourself into a hole and are desperate enough to ask a question on stackoverflow. Someone can answer your question in a much more general way you thought about the problem.

Now the question should stay the same as all answers relate to your specific question, and it should be rephrased at the same time as the general answer is broadly applicable and can only be found if the question is general enough.

The general question has the chance to survive if the exact setting of the base question changes. The audience is broader as they may not know about the hay stack you're describing but do understand if they could see the general problem.

Maybe the Inventor's Paradox is at work. There could be a solution in your setting but the general solution is simpler.

Another problem is that it is sometimes opportune to ask a certain community about a general problem as you suppose they could answer it. The rationale behind is that users filter and highlight by tag and general questions get less attention.

It would be nice to associate questions with each other. A specific question could then show the link to its general form(s). The answer view could optionally merge general answers into the result. The aim is to create answers of lasting value and to remove noise. One day the platforms we use will be dead (like dead in Cobol), but most of the underlying problems will still be around. Stackoverflow should still be able to provide some value then and not be some strange noise of old folks.

(This question could be generalized, too: Should there be an incentive to associate questions?)

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3 Answers 3

People have an inherent ability to ask the same question in any number of ways. These questions will eventually be closed as dupes by the community and the system.

When a question is closed as a dupe, it will point back to the original.

COBOL will never die. It just burrows further into the business architecture and come up in a bubbling crude decades from now. Have your shotgun ready and load up your grammy in the back of the truck. You'll be living in the future equivalent of Beverly Hills when you strike it rich providing support and maintenance for the language.

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+1 beverly hillbillies reference. –  ベレアー アダム Sep 13 '09 at 14:15
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People have an inherent ability to ask the same question in any number of ways. --> People have an inherent ability to reinvent the wheel in any number of ways. –  Thomas Jung Sep 13 '09 at 17:45

People get hung up on irrelevant details in questions. But the truth is, when you ask a question you may not know which details will end up being relevant to the solution. So you include lots of them.

Eventually, someone else posts a different question, similar, but with subtly different details - most or all of which are irrelevant. An expert in that area visits the question, and realizes that the solution is the same as that they or another user already posted to the first question. Now, there's a dilemma: re-post the same answer, or close as a duplicate? Both options have down-sides: the former violates Don't Repeat Yourself, the latter doesn't give you any reputation and may actually generate strife if the author of the question doesn't immediately see the problems as sufficiently similar.

IMHO, you can improve the situation somewhat by editing the original question to make it more general. Assuming the author of that question already got a solution to his problem, there should be no problem with this: the question now persists only to serve others, and you're helping it do so more effectively. If that doesn't suffice, then post an answer to the new question, explaining how the answer(s) posted to the original might work, and then link to it.

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Good suggestion. More importantly, you should make your answers more general. I don't think you, as the OP, should deliberately make your question more general by omitting details since by definition, you don't know they are really relevant or not. –  LeakyCode Sep 13 '09 at 18:32
    
Additionally, if someone want to read the specifics, they can always look at older versions. –  Casebash Feb 18 '10 at 3:03

I think there should be a merge with history option. What is the point of marking something as exact duplicate? Sometimes there is value in phrasing the same question in different ways. Particularly in googling. If there is a common and standard answer then it would be helpful to see all the questions that can be correlated to that answer.

I know one of the most difficult things when learning a new programming concept is getting a handle on the terminology. Often times one understands a concept but can't easily find the most effective terminology to efficiently search for solutions. If stackoverflow had a way to merge redundant questions but retain a history view that could be useful. The related questions sidebar is a good start.

In the end it seems like the quality will come from synthesis of the knowledge. Merging and reducing the questions in the system over time but having an in depth repository of related and tangential information closely tied to the generalized questions. A newbie can then ask basic questions "What is a pointer?" Get a nice synthesized and summary answer, but also is free to browse the history with some links that go deep into the rabbit hole of the discussion.

Maybe this is the point of community wiki. I don't know.

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