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This Meta question: Give an incentive for finding duplicate questions deals with various ways of rewarding the finding of duplicates, a tough and increasingly necessary janitorial task.

Here's a concrete suggestion:

  1. Reward the finder of a duplicate with +10 points if the question gets closed as a dupe. If multiple duplicates are found, reward all finders whose suggestion was voted for at least once by another user. (The limitation is to avoid gaming by making frivolous suggestions when it's obvious that a question is going to get closed as a duplicate.)

  2. Reward each following closevoter who picks one of the previously suggested dupes with +2 points if the question gets closed.

  3. Punish everyone involved (dupe-finders and dupe-voters) with -5 points, and revoke all rep gained from the dupe-voting, if a question closed as duplicate gets reopened.

A punishment for mis-voting is going to be controversial but in my eyes, it is absolutely essential. Finding a good dupe is a work of love: You need to make sure you understand the OP's question, and you need to scan every potential duplicate for whether it really contains an answer that will help the OP. Everyone dupe-votes carelessly from time to time, so the threat of punishment needs to be present to keep everyone on their toes, just as the threat of downvoting does when you post an answer.

If you think +10 is too high a reward: Consider that finding a duplicate can often be more work than writing an answer, and a correct answer usually nets you at least 10 points, if not much more.

If you think -5 is too much of a punishment: -2 might work as well, although I really think there should be a harsh punishment on an unfair dupe-closing.

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6  
That would imply that editing a question to make it more specific (and hence no longer a duplicate), followed by reopening might get others a (little) punishment. Not sure if that happens a lot, if at all, though. –  Arjan May 10 '11 at 11:12
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@Arjan good point; that does happen from time to time, but not often enough to be a problem in my experience. It's like when you correctly answer a question, the OP edits it to say something else, and you get a downvote because your answer is now wrong. It's terribly unfair, but happens very rarely. –  Pëkka May 10 '11 at 11:14
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4. -100 rep if you flag it as dupe and it doesn't get closed by the community in ten seconds. –  Won't May 10 '11 at 13:46
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@Will I think "punish everyone involved" is cruel enough. Because it refers to everyone - including people who just looked at the question, or saw it on their front page. Muahahahahahaha! –  Pëkka May 10 '11 at 13:52
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Call me a contrarian, but are duplicates really such a major problem that finding them needs to be incentivized? blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/11/… –  Robert Harvey May 10 '11 at 15:02
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@Robert they absolutely are. Some questions have literally dozens or hundreds of duplicates with answers of extremely varying quality. That can't be healthy even by the relaxed standards established in that blog post. –  Pëkka May 10 '11 at 15:17
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Your example requires a writeup question that covers all of the basic PHP date formatting issues (I forget what they call it, a General Reference question, I think). All of the other dupes can then be closed as a duplicate of the reference question. Otherwise, I suspect that many of those dupes are slightly different scenarios, and therefore not dupes at all. Remember, a dupe has to be almost identical to the original question to be considered an actual dupe. –  Robert Harvey May 10 '11 at 15:47
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I do think giving away rep is now the only way to solve certain problems. It is my impression that the 10K+ users are getting bored with the tools, and they have become less effective at weeding out the marginal questions and answers. Many of the "meh" questions simply do not get enough views to achieve close velocity. –  Robert Harvey May 10 '11 at 15:53
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I don't see the punishment as being a big enough risk. There are already too many duplicates being closed when they aren't really and reopening almost never happens. I like the idea if that issue could be solved (the problem of encouraging sloppy dupe finding) –  NickC May 10 '11 at 15:55
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@Renesis Good point, but I think it's likely that if dupe-voting starts paying off reputation, there will be much closer scrutiny from the community on whether a closing was justified, and an increased motivation to vote to reopen if people spot a sloppy closing. –  Pëkka May 11 '11 at 22:06
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@Josh the bounty is merely for raising awareness for the question. Rep is more or less irrelevant here on Meta, people will frequently spend it on bounties just to get a discussion going. I will award it to whoever agrees with me in the most eloquent way ;) (... or makes the best argument against, of course.) –  Pëkka May 13 '11 at 19:06
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@kiamlaluno I don't think people downvote questions because they are duplicates - sometimes, they happen to be duplicates and bad questions. Hence I don't see the correlation between the new downvoting, and the issue of duplicate questions. Currently, finding and closevoting duplicates is not being rewarded at all. –  Pëkka May 17 '11 at 12:33
6  
Since I'm a big fan of this idea, I thought a bounty might help bring in a few supporters. Maybe Jeff will be tempted by the 500 rep points and will actually implement this :). –  alex May 19 '11 at 16:39
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After careful evaluation, and a few bad dupe votes of my own, I acknowlege your wisdom and have reversed my down to an upvote. –  Lance Roberts Oct 15 '11 at 1:57
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@Pekka: Kevin Montrose and Nick Larsen commented on this in a discussion on Hacker News, FYI. –  Jeremy Banks Mar 30 '12 at 6:16
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13 Answers

Finding a duplicate (especially if it's an old one) can be hard. But if one is found, the other votes are a lot easier. So it's probably better to only reward the first voter and only if the question is closed. For example:

  1. First closing a question that is less than 48 hours old, should receive a small award (+1).
  2. First closing a question that is older (requires more detective work), should receive a bigger award (+5).

This way you reward the actual work.

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3  
Maybe even get rid of 1). You can post anything as a dupe and get a point. Then modify 2), to only get a reward if other vote for your dupe and it gets closed. –  jzd May 10 '11 at 11:04
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The first paragraph is an interesting idea. One counter-argument would be that voting (as opposed to finding) on a dupe suggestion is supposed to be work, as you're supposed to verify its correctness. People often vote without verifying at the moment, but the punishment might keep them from doing that. I'm not sure about the age thing though - I don't see why finding a dupe for an older question is necessarily harder than for a young one –  Pëkka May 10 '11 at 11:09
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@Pekka's other trolling account, most young duplicate questions are closed while still on the front page. If they disappear from the front page the likelihood to being closed is rapidly decreasing. 48 hours is just an arbitrary time slot just to filter out the easy ones. –  Toon Krijthe May 10 '11 at 11:26
    
but editing or community bumping will bring them to the top again. I agree that most dupes are closed quickly, but I don't think that should be rewarded less than older ones. Rewarding that specifically would be something for a conscious effort to clean up the existing question base, which might be a good thing but is something separate IMO –  Pëkka May 10 '11 at 11:42
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If the old dupe is really hard to find, it's probably really badly worded/tagged and people trying to find the answer won't see it anyway. What if the new question is better and brings more googlers to SO? –  Andrew Jun 9 '11 at 12:41
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This has been shot down before IIRC. But it's discussion-worthy in light of the recent feature and moderation changes. Problems I see with it:

  • Unfairly benefits users which already have >3000 rep over newcomers.
  • The moderation system and reputation feature should stay separate (that was the conclusion from the previous discussions).
  • Some of our closers have fairly low standard of exact duplicateness and are reputation whores. Being able to propose one's own answers as duplicates for other questions is a recipe for abuse.

I believe the potential reward and the penalties are too low in any case. It would certainly spur more closevoting, but won't fix the problems of our nightshift. (Also: not all duplicates are bad duplicates.)

Lastly, such a feature change would never go back in the bottle. If implemented, then it must be slowly. The rewards should be minuscule for a start. For that the reputation would have to be a float, so closevoting can net only +0.2 points for example.


Counter-proposal: Keep the reputation system and moderation separated. Instead of rewarding with score, benefit closevoters with flag weight. People are still obsessed with that, right? So give them +1 flag weight for correct closevotes. That's a proper moderation feature after all. And someone who correctly closevotes most of the time will also have a higher probability of correctly flagging. The benefit here is coming closer to obtain the badge thingy that's available (?) for high flag weight.

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2  
I don't know if boosting flag weight is that great of an incentive, because you can easily max that out as a high reputation user by running some simple queries and flagging the non-answers. Once you hit a 750 flag weight, there's no longer any incentive to keep going, unless you're doing this just to keep things clean (putting us back to where we are now). –  Brad Larson May 10 '11 at 17:00
    
That's probably true. (Haven't kept up with the topic, and not seen anyone demand flag-weight graphs on meta yet). If it's maxed out already for the proactive flaggers, then this idea would require more featuritis to provide any incentive: Allow the flag weight to grow beyond 750. But only via closevote +1 points. (I'm assuming people go crazy over aquiring shiny f-w.) –  mario May 10 '11 at 17:39
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This hasn't been shot down before, it's just been casually ignored. –  Aarobot May 24 '11 at 20:47
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I find that argument about closers being repwhores odd. I could easily have 20k more by now if I would simply ignore closevoting and just answer those dups. From my experience, people rarely upvote the close reasons. Maybe 1 in 10. –  Gordon Sep 3 '11 at 13:19
    
Hasn't flag weight been killed off? –  Mechanical snail Sep 23 '12 at 23:07
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I wouldn't suggest putting reputation on finding duplicates.

I could just track the new questions stream, quickly check for duplicates and thus award myself reputation...

An alternative though is to introduce a new sort of moderation reputation, loose from Q&A reputation.

It shows how much people are interested in moderating the site, we could house the following things in it.

Meta:

  • Asked/answered a meta question (+1)
  • Accepted question on the meta (+2)

Editing:

  • Editing questions (+1)
  • Edit gets rolled back (-1)

Closing:

  • Closing questions (+2)
  • Closed questions gets reopened (-1)

Flagging:

  • A flag was good (+1)
  • A flag was bad (-1)

Tag wikis:

  • Edit on a tag wiki (+1)
  • Rollback on a tag wiki (-1)

This is of course merely an idea, this might need to be worked out so the scoring is right.

a tough and increasingly necessary janitorial task

You might be interested in my script Duplicate Question Suggestion Boxes which makes this more easy.

An example of its effectiveness, where otherwise the link would be hidden somewhere in the side bar:

Of course, we can't enable this for all users.

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This looks very interesting, thanks for the hint! –  Pëkka May 14 '11 at 13:40
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Re your edit, I don't think your counter-argument holds: Closing new questions as duplicate is exactly what the rep gain would try to encourage. Consider the alternative - answering each duplicate, gaining lots more reputation but adding clutter to the site. –  Pëkka May 14 '11 at 13:47
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But I find the idea of "moderation" reputation very interesting. –  Pëkka May 14 '11 at 13:48
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@Pekka: Still, I consider it a bad idea being able to use close votes to increase my reputation. It's still easier to find a duplicate than it is to give an answer on something I don't know much about... And why solely for duplicates, there are other types of questions that could escape the eye from the close hammer. We also have to take caution that we don't start to close too much questions that are not a duplicate because the user his question slightly differs... –  Tom Wijsman May 14 '11 at 13:59
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@TomWij: Often it's a lot easier to give a simple answer and get a few upvotes than to find a dupe! –  Hendrik Vogt May 17 '11 at 12:50
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btw, I've mentioned this before but worth repeating, I can't thank @TomWij enough for this script - it's helped me pick & close dupes by the dozens –  Sathya May 19 '11 at 16:34
    
"closed question gets reopened (-1)" - I don't think it's as simple as that. For example an edit could happen (possibly weeks or months after the close) that does deserve a reopen, but doesn't equally imply the close was wrong. –  Flexo Oct 20 '11 at 15:44
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@awoodland: "This is of course merely an idea, this might need to be worked out so the scoring is right." implies that they would create a new meta question to discuss that when it gets implemented, or carefully work it out by themselves. The scoring here are to give an idea, they don't have to be correct in this form... –  Tom Wijsman Oct 20 '11 at 16:10
    
everybody wins, you get useless piece of bytes (+2 rep), SO gets saves some bytes by preventing new answers, the OP sees lots of answers that have already voted intensely instantaneously, you save the time of innocent people working on an answer –  ajax333221 Apr 29 '12 at 2:50
1  
the idea of "moderation" reputation should be created as a separate "feature request" –  Michael Freidgeim Jun 9 '13 at 17:56
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up vote 28 down vote
+1000

I do not vote to close a question for any reward. I do it because duplicate questions are annoying. Reducing the clutter is enough reward to me, but perhaps it's not for others. I would say it's worth trying it and see what the results are.

The main issue I believe are the scattered answers on all those dupes.

To prevent duplicate answers on duplicate questions, what about punishing those who answer the duplicates even when the "possible duplicate of..." comment is there?

An example is this question: How to delete entry and video file in a listview file browser?. I marked as a dupe of this one: How to delete entries and video files in a listview file browser?, which is an exact copy from the same unregistered user. If you see my comment, I even asked the user to not to post duplicate questions. It can't be more obvious to anyone reading the question. Regardless, this user posted an answer there. I do believe this is the kind of behaviour that should be discouraged. Now, since it's already marked as answered, nobody will take the time to check and vote it (I even flagged it for mod attention).

A possibility is yet another annoying orange popup when you post an answer if the question has been voted or flagged as a dupe.

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3  
This is an interesting suggestion, if, as you say, the answerer gets informed that a dupe has been found. I like it; however, the reputation system has done so much good for the site, I'm thinking it would be worth leveraging for the finding of dupes as well. I close-vote dupes for the same reason you do, but one does get tired of it - so why not incentivize it? Anyway, what you suggest would have a similar effect, I would support it. –  Pëkka May 14 '11 at 21:31
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@Pekka yes, I would propose that as a complement of your suggestion. As I'm learning now, not everybody is interested: Did you see the response to my comment in the answer? The user "does not have time" to check if it's a dupe. Anyway, as I said above, I think it's worth trying it, maybe some rep will help in this. I would suggest putting a limit, though (i.e., no more than 30 rep daily or so, to avoid overuse of it). –  Aleadam May 14 '11 at 21:36
    
Just had to update that there are a few more duplicates of that question... –  M. Tibbits Jul 26 '11 at 1:28
    
Discouraging posting answers to dupes is fine, but penalizing the answerer is harsh, and may permanently disourage a relatively new user from ever posting again. An alternative would be to just not reward the answer any rep regardless of upvotes. But this should only apply if the suggested dupe is corroborated by the actual eventual closure of the question. –  Igby Largeman Oct 18 '11 at 18:12
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up vote 20 down vote
+1050

Data collection

A list of questions I've seen in the past few weeks in which users with close vote privileges answered (what seem to be) fairly obvious dupes rather than voting to close. CW so that others can add to the list (these are mostly in my "home" tags).

I'm not trying to specifically call out any of the 3k+ users who answered. I think that there may be other valid reasons besides "lust for rep" that made any one of them choose to answer, such as "lust to help out". This is just to help with the analysis of this question.

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yes, it was a surprise for me too. –  Peter Mortensen May 25 '11 at 11:05
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As requested by the bounty:

Bounty Screencap

This question has an open bounty worth +500 reputation from Pekka ending in 13 hours. This question has not received enough attention

I will award this bounty to the answer that agrees most with the suggestion, or makes a good counter-argument. Alternatively, I may award it to the most sycophantic answer outlining how cool I am, or a completely unrelated answer with a funny picture.

Here is a completely unrelated answer with a funny picture!

pic unrelated

This was actually done not too far away from where I used to live by a local artist.

Also, Pekka is quite possibly the coolest MSO user. Even his MSO page shows it!

I CAN HAS BOUNTIES?

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Yes, this is pretty good. Although I'm not 100% sure about the funny photo yet. Would you have an alternative suggestion? –  Pëkka Oct 19 '11 at 16:27
    
I'll work on that -- I have 15 hours. Also my sycophantion clearly needs work :-) –  The Unhandled Exception Oct 19 '11 at 16:28
    
@Pekka: post edited are you a fan of random street art? :-) –  The Unhandled Exception Oct 19 '11 at 19:46
    
Oh boy, I am! I think that's bounty worthy material right there. –  Pëkka Oct 19 '11 at 19:47
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Argh. This answer makes very little sense now that the bounty notice is gone. It may need some historical explanation :) –  Pëkka Oct 19 '11 at 19:48
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Hmm, flag as not an answer or upvote... –  John Oct 19 '11 at 19:50
    
Awesome, thanks @Pekka! If you want more, here's an article. The artist was arrested and sentenced to community service for this little stunt :-/ –  The Unhandled Exception Oct 19 '11 at 19:50
    
@The thanks for the link! I actually knew that image already and always liked it but didn't know where it came from. That this guy got arrested and sentence is a scandal! Nice to see he gained some recognition for it, though. Maybe it was worth doing the community service for that :) –  Pëkka Oct 19 '11 at 19:52
    
I am astounded that a non-answer like this won a giant bounty (mainly because I'm jealous for not thinking of it first). Well, that's MSO for you... –  John Oct 19 '11 at 19:53
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@John yup, that sure is MSO for ya. Well, it's also Pekka for you -- he is quite possible the coolest MSO user ever, you know! –  The Unhandled Exception Oct 19 '11 at 19:55
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@Pekka added bounty image and text –  The Unhandled Exception Oct 19 '11 at 19:59
    
Hey, I was just following through on what I promised! @The yeah, that'll work. (And protect your answer from downvoting. Hopefully. :) –  Pëkka Oct 19 '11 at 20:00
3  
I'll take downvotes, I deserve them for this masterpiece! lmao ;-) –  The Unhandled Exception Oct 19 '11 at 20:02
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There was recently some discussion about reputation awarded from questions and some ideas about limiting maximum reputation received by asking questions. So why to introduce another source of reputation?

If you want to make some award for good Close as duplicate calls, create some badges. Many badges are already dependent on the reputation (you cannot upvote if you don't have 15, you cannot downvote if you don't have 125, etc.). To avoid close as duplicate rushing I would introduce some penalty for wrong close calls - let say if you have several bad calls within short period of time you will temporary loose this ability.

Btw. another point for discussion is how to motivate users to upvote linked question / answers. Many users tend to upvote only new answers or answers on their own questions.

Edit: Actually when I think about this little bit more, removing reputation for wrong close as duplicate calls is not a bad idea. Reputation gave as some moderators privileges so if we used them incorrectly there can be some penalty.

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Imho, the main part of the problem is finding a dup question on SO. There's absolutely no point in rewarding/punishing for finding/posting dups if it's hard to find dups in the first place.

I mean seriously, the Search functionality is inadequate to say the least... You're invariably better off searching from Google directly. A newcomer might not necessarily think of doing so -- and even more experienced users might not do so either.

It's like, either you've hung out around enough to have a vague idea of what the dup might be, or you don't bother looking because doing so and finding something relevant breaks down to sheer luck.

Maybe add the option to search SO using Google (site:stackoverflow.com [search terms])? It will yield more relevant results than the current search tools in almost every case.

Maybe leverage Yahoo!'s (or Google's?) content analysis web service to find related content on SO as one types his question or before it gets published?

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3) Punish everyone involved (dupe-finders and dupe-voters) with -5 points, and revoke all rep gained from the dupe-voting, if a question closed as duplicate gets reopened.

This makes it unworkable, IMHO. As you note,

Everyone dupe-votes carelessly from time to time,

Yeah, everyone makes mistakes. Heck, you can turn out to be wrong even when you put careful thought into closing, simply because the asker didn't quite express the problem correctly the first time around and returned to clarify after seeing the duplicate you proposed in good faith...

...Fortunately, questions can be re-opened when closed incorrectly. The last thing we should be doing is discouraging folks from fixing mistakes. And such a penalty would do exactly that.

so the threat of punishment needs to be present to keep everyone on their toes, just as the threat of downvoting does when you post an answer.

Well, you're probably right - this would be a quick (and terribly destructive) way to get some easy rep if there was no cost to it. But I don't think linking the reputation system to the process of question curation will do much to improve the results, with or without penalties. Keep in mind, you can already get reputation by voting to close duplicates... If you answered the original.

I think the solution here lies in tying dup-finding and answering closer together somehow. See: Revamping the Duplicate question System

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Fair enough, I can accept your arguments, even though I think it would be worth a try - and it would be possible to introduce a painless "reopen without hurting the closers" option for the kind of good faith closings you describe. Anyway. Is what Waffles suggests actively on the team's plate in some way? Because my feeling is something needs to happen here. I'm getting really tired of the endless stream of dupes (and that's even though I'm not "playing the SO game" in any serious way currently!) and I'm not the only one. –  Pëkka Oct 29 '12 at 22:33
    
*(what Waffles suggests and especially what you suggested in reply) –  Pëkka Oct 29 '12 at 22:39
2  
Nothing is in active development there, but those suggestions probably have the least opposition (which isn't to say they're wildly popular, but everything has to start somewhere). –  Shog9 Oct 29 '12 at 22:40
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I think your rewards are too high, also the punishment is quite high. But both ideas are quite reasonable. A lot of questions by newbies are closed very quickly, even if they aren't really exact duplicates as it is a requirement by the stack exchange sites.

So this might give an incentive to think again if a newbie might just rephrase his question to keep it from being closed...

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4  
Re rewards being too high: Consider that finding a duplicate can often be more work than writing an answer, and a correct answer often nets you 20-80 points. –  Pëkka May 10 '11 at 11:41
    
Maybe you're right... It's hard to say, I usually vote for closing obviously duplicate questions, because they're so trivial, it is very likely they had been asked before. –  Lukas Eder May 10 '11 at 11:44
    
Yeah. But I do agree that -5 may be too harsh a punishment. –  Pëkka May 10 '11 at 12:11
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I think the idea of mixing rep with moderation is a bit iffy.

However, if this is implemented:

  • What to do about the granted rewards if the question is subsequenty reopened? Do you revoke those points?
  • Do the reopen voters get rewarded if the question is reopened?
  • Are more rewards granted/revoked if the question is closed again?

It gets messy, so I'd suggest keeping it as simple as possible.

  • Only reward the initial finder of the dupe if and when the question is closed.
  • Revoke the reward if the question is reopened.
  • Rinse lather and repeat for all subsequent close/reopens.
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There's a corollary to this.

The suggestion is to reward people for finding (correct) duplicates. However, as Josh Caswell noted there are plenty of users, with enough reputation to close a question, who'll answer questions and not bother to find the duplicate. This suggestion does absolutely nothing to address that.

Anyone can easily get 20-30 rep (add another 15 if the user is nice enough to accept) by answering a question that they know should be a duplicate of another. If the goal of participation is reputation a measly 10 rep for doing the decent thing and trying to keep the site clean doesn't stack up1 against the potential gain for an answer.

Effectively, you're trying to reward doing good when most of those involved know that they can obtain a greater reward by being "bad".

Before I continue I think it's very important to note that any suggestion should not detract from each sites main purpose. That is, to make it easy for people on the internets to gain a good, quick, answer to their question. I'm not entirely certain that the following proposal sticks to this purpose absolutely.

Counter Proposal:

I recognise that this might seem a little harsh but something has to be done to stop the larger sites (Stack Overflow in particular) from drowning in a sea of questions.

Rather than trying to reward good why not try to game the system so that people are less likely to do bad? I'm defining bad as asking or answering a duplicate question rather than tracking down the original and voting to close.

Any user who asks or answers a question that subsequently gets closed as a duplicate gets 0 reputation for their post. In order to stop this being too harsh I would add a couple of caveats:

  1. You still get reputation for your answer being accepted. This reduces the risk that people will stop answering obvious duplicates completely.
  2. There should be a time-limit, something reasonable, for instance 30 days. This means that a someone who posts a perfectly decent question or answer won't get punished a year later when the question subsequently gets closed as a duplicate..
  3. It doesn't matter if the reputation gain was limited to some other arbitrary (small) number. The point is to partially disincentivise answering dupes.

I doubt the askers care anywhere near as much but it's unfair to punish the answerers alone when the askers are identically at fault.

The obvious problem with this is that all closing as a duplicate might stop instantly. I doubt it as there will always be some decent people around. However, when combined with an incentive, for instance 5 or 10 reputation for being the first to find a duplicate (as per the feature request) you raise the spectre of the dupe finders being rewarded more than the answerers. That should make finding duplicates more attractive.

There's also the darker side of human nature that can be brought into play. You create the perverse incentive to find the duplicate to stop the person who got there just before you from getting 50 rep for answering an easy question. It's not pretty but I can see it happening. Thinking about it, and because of this, maybe it should be 10 rep and not 0. You don't necessarily want the duplicate finder to be rewarded more than the answerer and it'll stop some of the extra nasty stuff.

1. Forgive the pun.

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What about:

  • The reward for finding a duplicate is 10 plus all the rep gained on answers to the closed question.

  • All rep gained on the closed questions and it’s answers are removed if the question is closed as a duplicate apart from a max of 2 up votes worth on the question.

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21  
The first bullet point encourages people to wait until a duplicate gets answers, then vote to close, rather than close before answers can accumulate. I'm not sure that's a wise move. –  Grace Note May 10 '11 at 15:25
    
@Grace, but if you wait then someone else may find the duplicate first...., however it does encourages lot of searching for duplicate of "hot" questions –  Ian Ringrose May 10 '11 at 15:38
5  
Finding a dupe should never give you more rep than writing a very good answer. Do you propose any limit to the "10 plus all the rep gained on answers"? –  Aleadam May 14 '11 at 19:49
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