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When a dupe is posted, someone usually posts a comment to that effect within minutes. That comment usually gets at least a couple of upvotes while the question is still on the front page. If it's a common dupe, you might see three or four such comments show up at once, all upvoted.

Even with those comments present, though, some people still insist on posting answers. And, invariably, those answers get a few upvotes. I propose eliminating rep gain from answers which are attached to dupe questions.

Edit 1: To be clear, this isn't really about rep-whoring, or rep at all. As @AnonJr put it in a comment, "not gaining rep is the incentive to not answer a known duplicate, not an end unto itself."

PROS

  • I suspect that some — not all, but certainly some — people answer dupes just for the easy rep. That's the case described in the answers to this question, but on steroids; if it's better to reward someone who answered an hour or two earlier, it must be far better to reward someone who answered a month or two earlier. The potential for copying is certainly there.
  • The answers don't add anything to the general fund of knowledge, especially if they're reworded versions of answers posted to the original, as mentioned earlier.
  • The presence of answers makes the dupe question appear to provide useful content, which increases users' reluctance to close/delete.
  • Knowing that both asking and answering dupes will be futile will be a deterrent to participating in dupes.
  • Lowered participation in dupes will reduce SOFU's overall cruft factor.
  • Answerers should be dupe-searching before posting anyways, even if it's only checking the "Related" column; it saves time for everyone, most of all the answerers themselves. This will encourage them to do so without being harsh.

SEMI-PRO

  • There's an off chance that there might really be new information there, but in that case the answerer can still post the answer to the original question, hence the "semi-pro" status.

CON

  • A well-meaning answerer might try to search for a dupe, not find one even though one exists, write and post a decent answer, and be miffed when his work gets him no rep. (FWIW, my search-fu can be weak sometimes, so I can see myself being this well-meaning answerer, but I believe this side-effect is well worth it if it reduces dupe activity.)

While pondering this problem, I came up with two alternate solutions which I thought were not as good; I include them here for completeness.

  • Make answerers reload questions before pressing "Post your answer." — Tricky to enforce.
  • Delete all answers when a question is closed as a dupe. — A bit more extreme than my actual proposal, with minimal additional value.

Related but not dupe: Display notification when the question you are answering is voted as dupe

Also edit 1: Dupe in an answer: Give an incentive for finding duplicate questions (thanks @Ether!)

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@Downvoter - very good... –  Paddy May 18 '10 at 15:31
    
Whats the harm? –  Scott May 18 '10 at 15:35
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@Scott: duplication of efforts, wasted time, dispersion of information... –  perbert May 18 '10 at 16:13
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Dupe: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/37466/… :) –  Ether May 18 '10 at 16:38
    
@Ether, ah, indeed. So, to recap, you got 40 upvotes and no downvotes, and I started the brouhaha of the day. Outstanding. –  Pops May 18 '10 at 16:46
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Somehow related: High reputation users having trouble understanding Super User? –  Arjan May 18 '10 at 21:20
    
@Popular: I think George Edison has eclipsed you today now :) –  Ether May 18 '10 at 21:58
    
@Ether, I can't win at being good, I can't even win at being bad. Why can't I have nice things??? –  Pops May 19 '10 at 2:32
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@Voyager correct... and if these people wish to duplicate their efforts and waste their time, so be it. –  Scott May 19 '10 at 16:46
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Yes, please implement this! Dupes are increasingly corroding SO's data base. –  Pëkka Jun 11 '10 at 9:07
    
s/Semi-Pro/Amateur/ –  Peter Ajtai Aug 25 '10 at 20:10
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@Popular: +1, Additionally, active dupes take away attention from better (usually more difficult) questions. It encourages people to continue asking dupes. Some duplicates might be useful, but definitely low-quality (no-effort) questions only take away valuable time from both answerers and moderators. –  Steven Jeuris May 31 '11 at 15:50

11 Answers 11

Sometimes I post an answer to a question which I did not realise was a duplicate. I work hard to write that answer, and (in my view) am entitled to any reputation benefit - I've tried to be helpful by answering a question.

Others see that question and think "I'm sure I've seen that before, manage to find a duplicate, and vote to close it".

Both approaches are useful in my view, at helping people get great answers to programming questions. We have no reputation rewards in place for voting to close (though that request might exist), but I'd be strongly against removing upvotes for questions that are found to be duplicates, as there is no good way of distinguishing between people answering questions to gain reputation, despite the fact that you know the question is a duplicate, and people answering questions in an honest attempt to help someone out.

You mention that sometimes comments that say something is a duplicate are posted quickly, and/or close votes accumulate, but they may appear after I've started responding, and even if not - I've started trying to write a helpful answer, so I'd still against removing reputation gained for those answers.

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Thanks for answering. This is the situation I was trying to address as the "con." I do the same thing, sometimes. I don't feel that there's any entitlement to reputation when I, you or anyone else does it, though. –  Pops May 18 '10 at 15:33
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Should you as an answerer do a quick research first to ensure, that the question wasn't answered already instead of spending your time to write the answer? –  Michael Freidgeim Jun 9 '13 at 23:17

I don't like this idea mainly because I think the rush to find dupes is bad enough. I don't even see the problem with dupes to begin with. It's inefficient, I guess, but people ask questions in different ways, search for different terms, so the varied wordings are actually a good thing to have around.

The same for answers: the chance of exact wording in an answer is pretty low, but the different wording and different knowledge brought to the table are valuable to different people.

But beyond that. Say a person gets no rep for posting an answer on a dupe but they're an expert in the field. Say the original question already has a marked answer with tons of up-votes. You'd actually be discouraging them from bringing their expertise to the table because there's no incentive left. I say this site should be about squeezing as much knowledge out as possible.

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The problem with dupes is that it distributes content all over the place. If I'm looking for an answer to a question, and I find out that my question has been asked 5 times already, should I have to look through all the answers on all 5 questions to find the best one? It is much easier and more efficient to have just one question with all of the answers ranked against one another by vote. –  gnostradamus May 18 '10 at 16:19
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+1. I would hope the questioner has already searched for dupes, and if not (or questioner fails search-fu) the answerer is already punished by wasting time/effort and ultimately losing any rep that may have been gained when question is closed/deleted. The fault lies with the questioner rather than answerer –  PaulG May 18 '10 at 16:20
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@gnovices-exchange Answers on dupe questions aren't migrated so you and everyone else will very likely be cheated out of answers because few would bother to go post an answer on the original, and giving no rep on dupe questions would mean nobody would provide an answer there. I'd rather have more answers with a better potential for quality than restricting it to the few who were lucky enough to be around at the time of the original question –  Bob May 18 '10 at 16:32
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If someone doesn't think their answer is good enough to bother posting it on the original, then it's probably not good enough period. Also, if the duplicate question has answers that are not in the original, you can flag the duplicate for a moderator and ask that it be merged with the original, thus putting things in one place. –  gnostradamus May 18 '10 at 18:35
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@gnovices-exchange Good enough for what? To get rep points? No, probably not, because the original is old and people have already cast their votes. Time and popularity very much factor into the equation beyond technical correctness. You're simply robbing the world of what could have been a good answer. The simple solution is to let people answer possible dupes and give them points for any votes, the way it is now. –  Bob May 18 '10 at 19:59
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@Bob: You missed my point. If someone has a good answer to a question, they should be willing to post it regardless of Rep gain. If all they care about is getting Rep, then they are "robbing the world" of their answer by not posting to an old question. Also, I never said people didn't deserve Rep for accidentally answering dupes, but they certainly shouldn't answer it if they know it's a dupe. They should post to the original and direct the asker there. –  gnostradamus May 18 '10 at 20:30
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@gnovices-exchange I didn't miss the point, just didn't respond very well. It's not just rep at play: people are less likely to answer an old question, and they're less likely to answer a question which already has answers. And yes, there's also people who don't find it worth it if there's no rep (which is something the OP here is banking on with their suggestion). All in all it's just driving down incentive to provide an answer. It won't always rob the world of another answer, but chances are good it will –  Bob May 18 '10 at 20:46

A vote to close as a duplicate does not necessarily mean the question is a dupe. It takes five votes, and even then it can be reopened. It is possible the vote-to-closers are mistaken, and the whole thing will be sorted out in the end.

You can always downvote an answer that you think is pure rep-whoring. And if the question is deleted, the rep gain will be lost in a recalc.

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Rep-whoring is only a small part of the issue. My goal here is to reduce the overall impact of dupes on the sites. –  Pops May 18 '10 at 15:34
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@Pop "I propose eliminating rep gain from answers which are attached to dupe questions." - What were your other concerns? –  user27414 May 18 '10 at 15:43
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@Jon - based on the question, not gaining rep is the incentive to not answer a known duplicate, not an end unto itself. –  AnonJr May 18 '10 at 15:59
    
@Jon: what @AnonJr said. –  Pops May 18 '10 at 16:07
    
@Pop @Anon rep is only gained when other users upvote. And if the question is deleted the rep will eventually be lost. –  user27414 May 18 '10 at 16:29
    
@Jon, if nobody upvotes an answer, they're not encouraging the answerer, and I'm happy. Many closed questions are not deleted, though. –  Pops May 18 '10 at 16:50
    
Your other point is actually more concerning to me. Why would anyone vote to close a question as a duplicate if it is not, in fact, a duplicate? –  Pops May 18 '10 at 16:57
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@Pop: Sometimes people close questions that look like dupes when they're not familiar enough with the subject matter to know for sure that they actually are dupes. Maybe the new question includes some specific nuance or constraint that renders the answers to the old question invalid, and the closers glossed over this point. (I've seen it happen) –  Aarobot May 18 '10 at 17:25
    
Hm, I see. That doesn't mean my issue is invalid, though; it just means we have two problems. –  Pops May 18 '10 at 19:36

As rlb notes, in general the majority of duplicates are found quickly enough that the window of opportunity for rep gaming is fairly small. So let's discount the people we want to stop, and instead look at what else this implementation might affect.

If we punished time spent in answering questions, it slightly discourages the mindset to answer questions. Not completely, but consider the deja vu duplicate, where you swear you've seen the question asked before but it never existed. Without punishment, this kind of issue still occurs but to only small sets of people at a time, leaving the other people to answer questions. But if you actively punish people for answering the question, then a lot more people will start searching for duplicates, in turn resulting in a much later answer than it could have been. The question asker loses because she doesn't get her answer, while the answerers lose because they end up wasting time trying not to waste their own time.

Answering duplicates for reputation game alone is not a good thing, but I don't think it's prevalent enough of a problem that we need to take punishing measures. Duplicates should be identified, but we also have a duty to actually answer the question.

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Not every potential answerer can even see that there are close votes pending and what the reasons are. It doesn't seem fair to ding someone who typed an answer in good faith. You'd have to hang a scarlet letter on the question stating, 'this might get closed as a duplicate,' what fun would that be. I suppose you could restrict this restriction to people with enough rep to see the votes, but some fraction of them really, in good faith, think that the question is not a duplicate. Why ding them because they get outvoted?

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You'd have to hang a scarlet letter on the question stating, 'this might get closed as a duplicate,' that is already being done. –  perbert May 18 '10 at 20:37
    
@voyager: If I'm typing out an answer, I can't see comments being added while I'm typing it. I'd only notice the comment after finally submitting it, at which point I'm not going to feel inclined to delete it if I spent more than a few seconds putting it together. Besides, not everybody reads comments that carefully, nor should they; answers are more important. –  Aarobot May 18 '10 at 21:10

While you have a good suggestion, I think this is unnecessary. I think that SOSUSFM sites do their job on this issue.

As you say, if it is a duplicate, the question is usually closed in a few minutes. These few minutes may allow a fast-typed answer to get a few points, but in reality, they aren't going to be gaining very many as the question will quickly be closed. In my span of SO'ing I've never seen a closed-as-duplicate question where answers have more than two upvotes, so I think it is safe to say that rep-whorers will find this is not a get-quick-rich route to high rep status.

While reading your suggestion I thought of Add an alert when answering a question that has at least a close vote as duplicate , just as downvoter did. Maybe you are right and the answeree is rep-whoring, but I think more often the case is that the answeree is not aware that it is a duplicate question and begins to type out an answer.

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Because people who answer questions like being helpful / answering questions?

Besides, most of the questions that are marked as "exact duplicates", aren't really exact duplicates - they are simply similar enough so that people think the poster will probably be able to figure out the answer from the second question.

In fact this is my one gripe about the dupe system - the "main" question is never updated to be more generic whenever this happens, and so you end up with a load of useful answers about specific cases in closed questions that are not linked from the "main" question.

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People will be more helpful, if they provide link(s) to already answered questions- it's better for the questioner and for SO as a knowledge repository. –  Michael Freidgeim Jun 10 '13 at 0:08

Most duplicates are really not EXACT duplicates, so the answers to the "duplicates" won't necessarily answer the asker's question.

We also now have merging for those that are EXACT duplicates.

The bottom line is that all questions deserve answers whether they are dupes or not. Once it's closed they will have to go the to duplicate for answers, but they might not get closed and not all of our answerers are psychic.

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Wait... what? Why would you close a question as a duplicate if it's not a duplicate? –  Pops May 18 '10 at 16:51
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It happens all the time, usually from people who don't understand the full details of what's going on (and I'm guilty myself of having done it, but there's no way to reverse a close vote). –  Lance Roberts May 18 '10 at 17:43
    
Hm, I see. That doesn't mean my issue is invalid, though; it just means we have two problems. –  Pops May 18 '10 at 19:37
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@pop, yes, there are multiple issues involved, and that's why you can't make a hard and fast rule on answers to duplicate questions. Personally, I try to answer all the questions I can, because as an asker, I appreciate SO's fast answers. –  Lance Roberts May 18 '10 at 20:00

I have a simpler proposal with no effect on reputation. (I am not opposed to nullifying reputation gains, but this is a softer approach to hopefully curb the practice and encourage more closings).

If a question has a duplicate vote at the time another user clicks "post your answer," make the user acknowledge it by clicking through a reminder. Possible wording below:

This question has been identified as a potential duplicate. Please review to be sure the answer does not already exist in other identified questions. If it does not but the question is the same, please add your answer there and help us keep this site clean.

It does not prevent you from answering, but you at least have to acknowledge it.

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"I propose eliminating rep gain from answers which are attached to dupe questions."

I like this proposal. I find that duplicate questions sometimes are not even closed. Moreover, that duplicate answers (usually a copy paste or similarly plagiarized from the original question) are very common in these situations.

Pros - Agree

Semi-Pros and Cons - Disagree

I believe your semi-pro and con section can be merged into the Pros section with a simple caveat. Answers in duplicate questions may be migrated to the original, legitimate question, and then be eligible to receive the proper credit towards reputation. This would encourage users to flag their answers for migration in order to obtain credit for hard work towards unique content, while similarly discouraging them from migrating a duplicate answer as it would most likely be denied in the flagging process, downvoted, or flagged as a duplicate upon arrival.

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I believe very strongly that answering dupes is the right thing to do. If you're a newbie and your question is closed with no answers, even to point you to the existing similar question, that's a horrible user experience. At least give them the courtesy of a direct answer, too. If you're not adding anything new to the question, than there's no problem with "answer fragmentation". If you are adding something new, the answer can be merged.

The question still remains whether these answers should earn any reputation. My thought here is that this is only a problem if people actually vote for the answers or it they are not community wiki. So we could encourage the behavior of posting the answer as community wiki in this scenario, but I think the community wiki feature wears too many hats already. I know it happens now, but it seems weird to me to vote for a dupe answer to a dupe question (unless you're the person who asked the question in the first place).

The exception is when an answer adds significant new information to the topic. In this case, the answer is fully deserving of the rep and should be migrated to the original when the question is closed.

So, when taking all of this together, I find we're right back at the status quo: people answering questions voting for good answers, where ever they find them.

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-1. Scattering answers across multiple questions adds noise and clutters the site. It is in everyone's interests to coalesce the answers onto one question and one question only. –  Ether May 18 '10 at 16:39
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+1 Good points. I think it's better to answer the dupe, while it's being closed, and then merge the questions later. This will result in a better experience for the OP who is new to Stack Overflow. –  Jonathan Sampson May 18 '10 at 16:39
    
@Jonathan, I'd be okay with that, but I didn't realize that merging was possible; I thought it was only a feature request. I would be pleased to be wrong, in this instance. –  Pops May 18 '10 at 16:53
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@Jonathon: Now, if only there were a way to merge dupes. I would agree if dupes could be merged, but absent that, the constant stream of duplicates is creating a huge problem in information dilution. –  Lawrence Dol May 18 '10 at 16:53
    
@Joel, fair enough, but as far as I'm concerned your premise is flawed: I would be just as unhappy if something was closed as a duplicate without an indication of how to get to the duplicate. In the situation I describe, comments indicating the location of duplicate(s) already exist. –  Pops May 18 '10 at 16:54
    
@Pop - what's wrong with both? –  Joel Coehoorn May 18 '10 at 17:37
    
@Joel, I don't understand your question; both what? –  Pops May 18 '10 at 19:30
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We can give answers and add provide the duplicate comment. –  Joel Coehoorn May 18 '10 at 20:26
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Another description of the close reason, "We already have an answer for your question: [link]", like suggested here, might help being nice without scattering the answers? –  Arjan May 18 '10 at 21:16
    
@Joel, "both" is not the worst thing in the world, but it requires a user to know SO well enough to locate the dupe link and then click on it. My more HCI-oriented friends assure me that adding additional clicks is a very bad thing. –  Pops May 19 '10 at 2:30
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-1.51 for suggesting that dupes should be answered to; +1 for telling people to, in case of newbies, at least add a polite personal answer and not just vote to close. –  Pëkka Aug 25 '10 at 18:34
    
Answering duplicate questions encourages posting duplicate answers. The reason these answers generate so much rep is that they are plagiarized. They are copy pasted work of an answer which was in depth and took time, sometimes many revisions, in order to be fully polished. –  Travis J Feb 1 '13 at 20:09

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