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Skip down to about the middle to see an example of what I'm proposing.

A modest proposal: rethinking modes of information acquiry in web 2.0.

Be prepared, this is fairly radical change of thinking about how we communicate over the internet.

Oftentimes on sites like this, someone will ask a noob question, and people will respond "Dupe: [link to existing question]".

  1. proposition: Human beings are social animals, and we prefer to converse with our peers rather than do research or look stuff up.

  2. propostion: With digital technologies, copying, linking and referencing information is easier, cheaper and a more robust technology than searching and finding, both from the technology perspective ( "Related Questions" suggestions ) and the user perspective ( actually finding your question and and answer for it )

  3. proposition: Human beings like feeling welcomed and included in social groups. Not having a question answered directly, and being told instead to participate in a non-social activity (looking things up) rather than the social group ( conversing ) feels unwelcoming.

  4. proposition: stack overflow is a site mainly for asking questions, not doing research ( although research, and other stuff like social networking, are good parts of stack overflow )

With these three propositions in mind, what I actually propose is very simple technically ( having website functionality ) and socially ( actually doing it ). We're really already doing it. But I think it would represent a very radical change in the way we perceive learning and information acquiry and interact with each other as nerds.

Instead of deleting dupes, 'dupes' would be welcomed, and there would be easy functionality for a human user to link up, or integrate other questions and answers to new ones, and import or cross-reference answers from previous questions.

Basically, instead of saying "It's already out there, go away and look it up", we'd be saying, "It's already here, here it is, and welcome :)"

So, instead of

"How do I a line break on a line of code in python?

Dupe: [link to line continuation question] Delete this question, please!"

we would do this:

"How do I a line break on a line of code in python?

[text of question imported, copied, or referenced by user from another similar question]

[answer copied, referenced or imported from that question]

We're already referencing duplicate questions to ones previously asked. What I'm saying is that we can do it in a way that welcomes participation, instead of how we do it now, which feels unwelcoming. People are already referencing existing quesitons when they make the case that a new question is a dupe, so this doesn't involved any more work on the part of users or the community.

The main thrust of Stack Overflow is to ask questions, not do research. Responding this way to questions encourages people to ask questions, and to keep asking questions, because they know they will be answered in a welcoming way.

share|improve this question
We already banned lmgtfy links. How much easier does it need to be!? – Earlz May 13 '10 at 18:06
I don't particularly want to welcome people too lazy to look things up. – nb69307 May 13 '10 at 19:07

Is this a "modest proposal" or is it a "fairly radical change?" I'm not sure it can be both.

You have four propositions (not three) that I'll address one at a time.

  1. Not all human beings are the same. Some of us prefer to interact with books and machines rather than other humans.

  2. Google has made searching and finding easy and cheap.

  3. Human beings don't like repeating themselves either. It's better if new people learn how to use the system early, rather than asking a bunch of duplicate questions.

  4. Social networking is not a part of Stack Overflow. We are also not here to do your research for you, but we are here to help. If your question has already been asked, it's perfectly reasonable for someone to tell you how to search or just link to the original question.

Finally, we don't delete dupes. We just close them so they serve as a breadcrumb trail to the original. They're still here, and they still show up in search results. This is very much on purpose. This does welcome participation. If you come here with a question and you find your answer it doesn't really matter how you got there. People will keep coming back with more questions as long as they find their answers.

share|improve this answer
1. If someone is asking a dupe, they either prefer to ask questions than do research, or the doing research has failed, for some definition of failure. 2. But if I want to know 'doing line breaks in python' and I'm not aware of the phrase 'line continuation', a google search will not help me. To date, only human intelligence can know that association. This is what I mean when I say digital search technology is not as robust as linking and copying. 3. People are still asking dupes. People are providing links to demonstrate that the question is a dupe. Neither party will stop. – user140098 May 13 '10 at 16:57
4. Social networking happens. I mean here just basic socialzing -- telling jokes, giving smileys, etc. This does not detract from SO. – user140098 May 13 '10 at 16:58
Finally, tl;dr: If a closed dupe serves as a breadcrumb trail, why have that extra step? It's a superfluous click. Just merge it. – user140098 May 13 '10 at 16:58
It's the difference between giving $20 to your friend who lost his job, versus telling him how to make $20. – Bill the Lizard May 13 '10 at 16:58
We don't just merge most dupes because they serve as a breadcrumb trail. If one person searches for "line breaks" and another searches for "line continuations" we want them both to find the answer (without having to actually answer it in both places). – Bill the Lizard May 13 '10 at 17:00
Why have that extra step of the breadcrumb link? It's superfluous. If it's already linked, you could have the answer on a single page without an additional click. Seems exactly the kind of thing we have computers for, to me. – user140098 May 13 '10 at 17:04
Bill, it's the difference between handing someone a page with an answer, and putting it on a table and saying "pick it up." You already have the answer in your hands. You both have your hands outstretched, why not just hand it to them? Why set it on the table? Just to make them pick it up? – user140098 May 13 '10 at 17:07
We have computers so you don't have to click on a link? No. The link is exactly what serves as a reference to the original question. Copying the answers to the duplicate would take up more space in the database. – Bill the Lizard May 13 '10 at 17:10
We have computers to do repetitive, superfluous tasks. In the days of paper, it made sense for a phonebook to have "see pharmacists" under "druggists", because otehrwise it would physically repeat itself. In the days of computers, you can query the database for all pharmacists for "druggist" as easily as you can "pharmacist". The database only stores the data once. If we had computers emulating phone books, that'd be stupid and superfluous. Which is what we have now. – user140098 May 13 '10 at 17:15
If social networking isn't part of SO, please to explain badges? – user140098 May 13 '10 at 17:17
We don't have computers emulating phone books. We have hyperlinks that take us to the information we're looking for. I don't see how badges are "social." I don't sit and chat with my badges. – Bill the Lizard May 13 '10 at 17:20
"Your search results are ready. Click here to view them." If they're ready, why not just show them? If it really is a dupe, and the question really is answered in another question, why not just show it? If they really want the answer, they're going to click anyway. This is 'pick the paper up off of the table.' – user140098 May 13 '10 at 17:32
This isn't quite the same as "Your search results are ready. Click here to view them." If someone searches for a question before asking, they're taken to a list of potential questions that match their search. They're shown the results of the search, not a link to the results. If someone asks a question without searching, a new page is created for that question. If the question is already answered elsewhere, people leave links to the original. – Bill the Lizard May 13 '10 at 17:40
Do you think social networking is only chatting? Why does SO have badges at all? How do they assist the asking and answering of questions? Why does SO have profiles ( and a badge for filling out your profile ) A: it's part of social networking: it makes apparent the human beings behind the questions and answers as entities on the site. – user140098 May 13 '10 at 17:42
"If the question is already answered elsewhere, people leave links to the original." This link is the extra step that could be done away with. Just show the question and its answers. – user140098 May 13 '10 at 17:43

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