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I've mentioned this several times, but only in answers to other questions or comments.

What can we do to help new users who come to the site with a problem but find a question already exists, but it doesn't have any answers that solve the problem.

This SU "answer" (deleted, so only available to diamonds and 10K SU users) is a good example.

The way the site is set up at the moment the following things may happen.

  1. They get comments, some polite, others less so telling them not to post questions as answers.
  2. They get down-votes (which don't actually affect their reputation score, but it's not nice.
  3. They delete their "question-as-answer".

Now they have another problem. Do they just wait (having bookmarked the question perhaps) in the hope that it gets answered soon or do they post their own question?

If they do the latter then the following will happen:

  1. Comments about not asking duplicate questions will get posted.
  2. They will get downvotes.
  3. Their question will get closed and eventually deleted.

Not very welcoming at all.

Now all the above will get the problem some attention - either the original question is bumped or at least re-read by those voting to close, so someone new might see it and post an answer, but is this really the way we want to treat newcomers?

So repeating myself from my previous answer:

... do we need a "I'm having the same problem" button on a question and if it's clicked enough times within a certain period the question gets bumped? There would have to be limits on the number of times a user can click it and perhaps it should only be available to registered users to reduce people bumping their own questions


For reference this is the original SO answer I linked to - as you can see it's been edited to include the information from the comments and so is now a useful answer. Perhaps this is one way we can encourage people - explain that an answer needs to include new information.

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marked as duplicate by ben is uǝq backwards, Lucifer, Lance Roberts, ɥʇǝS, hims056 May 1 '13 at 17:32

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

    
It appears like the answer is "put a bounty on that question". –  Ether Jun 19 '10 at 17:59
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@Ether New users won't have enough reputation to put bounties on other people's questions. Which, to me, is equivalent to how they can't post bounties on their own questions (intended effect of the system). –  Grace Note Jun 19 '10 at 18:33
    
Likewise: a user who's trying to play by the rules (see Eugene's comments here), and actually by asking (rather than just posting a duplicate) sees the chances for an answer decrease... –  Arjan Jun 19 '10 at 19:36
    
@Popular - that's another question, but unfortunately setting a bounty on someone else's question doesn't solve the new users's problem as they don't have enough rep to post a bounty. –  ChrisF Jun 21 '10 at 17:27
    
@Popular blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/06/improvements-to-bounty-system <- Reading on the new bounty system. –  Grace Note Jun 21 '10 at 17:37
    
@Andrew - you appear to be correct. Odd that it's taken nearly a year to spot it :) –  ChrisF May 9 '11 at 13:29
    
@ChrisF: But has it got a good answer? :) –  Andrew Grimm May 9 '11 at 13:37
    
@Andrew - yes it has. –  ChrisF May 9 '11 at 13:39

4 Answers 4

I don't feel that merely bumping that question is going to necessarily help. If the question has already been answered, especially one with an accepted answer, then the larger percentage of people who are looking at it aren't doing it to answer questions. They're doing it to look at answers. So it is likely that the people who might be able to answer the new user's question may not actually be looking at that question. Combined with the fact that the new user can only properly bring up their plight in comments, there isn't going to be a lot of light shed in their name.

You can think of the original author maybe editing the original question to point out the new user's problem, but then this changes the original question. How is the new user going to accept the answer to her problem?

The problem isn't in the original question, I think the problem we have lies with the treatment of the new question. If a question isn't solved by the answers given in the original question, then I can't really agree that it would be a duplicate. The other question didn't attract the same answers, and if it already has an accepted answer then it's not very likely to get the new answers that the new user will need. Likewise, the new question shouldn't be attracting clone answers of the original because they won't help.

What would help is better identification of these facts. The question asker needs to clearly identify the original question, and identify that those given answers didn't work. It's the same as identifying what technologies cannot be used (such as by executive or business restriction). The new question should be then addressed on those terms.

If people are uncomfortable with having questions that are so similar be kept alive, then when all is said and done, the questions can be merged with the new system.

Of course... if the original one doesn't have an accepted answer and the original question asker is still looking for a better answer... it falls on that person's responsibility to notify people of the unsatisfactory results. If the question is abandoned, then I think there is better worth in someone else basically taking ownership of the question. But that's a separate kind of suggestion altogether.

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Sometimes a new user will have to be asked to add extra info to differentiate his version. However, a new question with additional info (making it different from the original) should not be marked as a duplicate. –  Ivo Flipse Jun 19 '10 at 21:04

I am not sure if I see the point of @Jeff's answer. The question is more like: How do we avoid that new users are going to post noise in unanswered questions? The real answer is: there is no way. @Jeff's answer suggests that they should have posted it as an answer. Yes, I wholeheartedly agree this, but how would you explain them that? There is no way. Even if you put a big red blinking banner above the Post Your Answer button which is visible to low-rep users only, there are users who are blind to this and will post it as an answer anyway.

The community can at most flag them and/or post a (subtle!) comment or to split the answer out into a new question. I personally however have a slight disagreement in flagging as spam. It's like beating the user with a ruler. There must be another flag option. A Noise flag for example which would push the answer to bottom with a "deleted" background color and messages the user about the what, why and how. Or a This is a Question flag which would split the answer out into a new question (which is actually piece of cake in the DB), if necessary with a link to the original question.

See also:

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You want me to make questions out of other people's answers? How would they understand what I just did if they didn't understand the site to begin with? –  Ivo Flipse Jun 21 '10 at 12:12
    
@Ivo: No, make questions out of other people's questions which are incorrectly posted as answers. Just message it (automatically) to the user. It at least keeps the questions more clean and they will have more chance to get answers. –  BalusC Jun 21 '10 at 12:14

This bugged me too, when I wanted to comment on a question someone asked. With 1 rep, I was out trying to help out because SO is a fun project and probably the coolest resource for programmers out there. The whole reputation, badge stuff really encourages me to work hard to help others, and in doing that, I learn what type of questions to ask, how to ask them, etc. in order to get a good response from people.

So when I tried to comment on someone's question to get more information from them, I couldn't. I had to either answer with a "Is this the problem? If so, you can do this. Is that the problem, if so you can do this other thing." answer, to sort of cover the flanks I couldn't verify through comments.

Personally I think up until the comment threshold, posting a comment should require approval from either the person who posted the question (or answer, if the comment is on an answer), or it should require the approval of someone with say 200+ reputation. If the comment threshold is there to stop people from posting "buy vi@gra, my friend" then perhaps cap the limit on # of comments to 1-2 a day, and disallow links, make it so that you can only post once an hour, etc. And obviously include the nastiest captcha you have for all comments below the threshold. There is one that appears occasionally for me, so I know one exists in the system already.

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Year later, I would like to comment, that I haven't seen a single "buy pills" comment. But there are hidden spam-answers. Where the promoter of some software is searching for such questions, and posting unhelpful, but barely fitting the topic -kind of answers. Its hard to get rid of them too, because they are actually on-topic. Just that they are purely promotional and most of the cases, the software is not free. Yet, if you flag them.. there is about 60% chance it gets disputed. –  Kalle H. Väravas Sep 14 '11 at 5:09
    
@Kalle: Don't flag those as "Not an answer" or as "spam" if they are sort-of on topic. Instead, if there is a pattern of similar answers by the user, raise a "moderator attention" flag concerning the lack of disclosure. If the poster's relationship to the commercial product is disclosed properly, and it is related to the question, there's no problem. –  Ben Voigt Jul 2 at 6:15

In my opinion, the user in question should attempt to find some new bit of information related to the problem and provide it as a partial answer.

For example in the question you cited:
http://stackoverflow.com/questions/2673275/visual-c-2010-express-invalid-license-data-reinstall-is-required

A good new partial answer would be:

I have this problem too. I tried the following things:

  • uninstalling VS2010 Express, and reinstalling it.
  • formatting my hard drive and reinstalling Windows.
  • bought a new Mac and tried to install it there.
  • took a bus to Redmond, WA and asked one of the VS2010 team members in person.

None of this worked!

Basically, I don't have a problem with answers that at least try to document the ways the tried to solve the problem.

Those kinds of answers help move us toward a solution by documenting what didn't work.

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Agreed, but: I'm quite sure such partial answers will currently be considered unhelpful by most of the users, and hence will be downvoted? (Bookmarking this for future reference...) –  Arjan Jun 19 '10 at 19:32
    
@Arjan - my thoughts too, which is what prompted the question in the first place. Maybe some education of the existing user base is needed as well. –  ChrisF Jun 19 '10 at 19:35
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@arjan I don't see how contributing new information about the problem is "unhelpful". –  Jeff Atwood Jun 19 '10 at 19:41
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While I don't think that such answers would be unhelpful, judging by the current behavior of users the most likely scenario is that such users will see "This person is posting a question as an answer" long before they realize "This person is explaining that these X solutions won't solve the problem", and pass their judgment according to that initial impression. The "Me too" is something people seem strongly against, and their innate dislike precludes judgment on the merits of the new information. –  Grace Note Jun 19 '10 at 19:52
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I think many new users want immediate gratification. I also agree with Arjan. This solution almost always means a new user getting the regal down-vote treatment, no matter what they do, so long as people with a heightened sense of urgency are impatient for solutions to their problems :) This is especially true when encountering language barriers. I'm not saying its bad, but it will rarely result in a user that converts and visits the site after their first question. ICBW :) –  Tim Post Jun 19 '10 at 19:53
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@Jeff, I think @Arjan is right: we agree with you that it is helpful, but think the likely response would be negative (downvotes or negative comments...) –  Jaydles Jun 19 '10 at 22:02
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Do you still subscribe to this viewpoint? I get "Not an Answer" flags all the time on answers like this; I always act on them. –  Robert Harvey Sep 14 '11 at 1:21
    
@robert are you sure you aren't misremembering? These kinds of "I have the same problem and I tried the following..." are quite rare in my flag handling experience. Far more often is just "I have the same problem" with no effort expended... –  Jeff Atwood Sep 14 '11 at 2:40
    
@Jeff: Because this particular variant is so rare, I seldom read much past "I have the same problum." Given that I'm already acting on a community flag, I suspect I'm not the only one who does this. –  Robert Harvey Sep 14 '11 at 2:45
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@Jeff: Anyway, I didn't know that this was considered a legitimate answer. You allow these answers, and you open the door to polling of the worst kind: "I tried this and it didn't work." "Well, I tried that, and it didn't work." "I tried blowing my nose, and it didn't work." –  Robert Harvey Sep 14 '11 at 3:01
    
I do understand the point, that the user is contributing to the problem as hole. However, in that format as above, user will get negative votes (maybe not, if your Jeff, but..) Maybe if the answers format would provide those steps as possible debugging method. Good debugging might solve the problem. -- Yet, no 1 rep user is going format his/hers answer like that. –  Kalle H. Väravas Sep 14 '11 at 4:43
    
@robert they have to be substantive. Did you note that my example includes 5 "attempts" in a single answer, including talking to the developers? –  Jeff Atwood Sep 14 '11 at 4:52
    
@kalle correct, this sort of answer is rare, because most people are lazy. But we encourage non-laziness and this is the best possible way to handle a difficult, unanswered question -- roll up your sleeves, research it, and come back with some better science to help future travellers. Even if you don't ultimately have the final resolution, that's how we make progress -- science. –  Jeff Atwood Sep 14 '11 at 4:53
    
@Jeff I was just about to reply, that maybe this should be added to the FAQ. But in fact its already there. Yet, I saw this page for the first time, even though, I thought I've browsed the full site trough. Currently, when answering, there doesn't seem to be direct link to that page. Or is there such link, but just for new users? If there would be big red link to it, and at least 30% of new users would read it.. Maybe 10% from new answers would be more helpful? –  Kalle H. Väravas Sep 14 '11 at 5:03
    
@kalle it is linked a few places, but I just realized it should definitely be linked here as well .. making that so right now –  Jeff Atwood Sep 14 '11 at 5:19

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