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Duplicate questions that use different words to describe the same problem are important for people to find the content via search engines. But the user experience when an anonymous user arrives at a duplicate is less than ideal.

They have to notice the duplicate link and understand that the answer they are looking for is likely behind that link. I don't think this is all that obvious to someone without experience with an SE site.

I propose to just redirect users to the duplicate automatically if the closed duplicate has zero answers. In that case they need to follow the link to the duplicate in any case, so we might as well redirect them to it in the first place.

I could imagine this being problematic with search engines, as we would be displaying different content than what the search engines see. If that is too problematic I would suggest to show a very obvious link to the duplicate in the answers section for anonymous users.

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    I agree with the basic idea, but this would introduce another potential cause of confusion: the text a user sees on the question page may differ from what they saw in the search engine preview. Making the link more obvious might be the best way to go after all
    – Pekka
    Mar 10, 2012 at 10:53
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    It's not unusual to see 2 or 3 different suggested dupes, what then?
    – user159834
    Mar 10, 2012 at 11:12
  • I agree that it might be ideal in most cases granting that the question was truly a duplciate. but there are times when they are mistakably marked as duplicate. please see my case here. it was quite annoying that i was unable to share exactly my link which was definitely not a duplicate question. I just found out that I can add ?noredirect=1. I did not know that... so that might also be an issue with other registered users. Jul 31 at 4:39
  • It might be helpful to add a checkbox in the popup that appears when clicking the Share link button. This "redirect" checkbox will be ticked by default so a user (who wouldn't know to append ?noredirect=1) can untick it if they wish to share the exact thread and then they click copy link. Is there any a chance this can be implemented? Jul 31 at 4:58

5 Answers 5

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Starting with the next build, anonymous users will be redirected when they visit duplicate questions with no answers. Duplicate questions with answers or with multiple dupe targets will not automatically redirect.

As with migration and merge redirects you can disable with ?noredirect=1.

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    Also for duplicates that already have answers? And how are questions with multiple duplicates handled? Mar 15, 2012 at 21:19
  • 4
    @Fabian - clarified, just those with no answers. In the duplicate case, we punt and just show the original. Mar 15, 2012 at 21:23
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    Another question, how are the views stats handled in this case. Does the dupe get the views, or the question it's redirected to? (Though I'm not sure if dupes count for views-based badges, if not the question would be pretty irrelevant) Mar 15, 2012 at 21:34
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    @Fabian - views are incremented when someone actually parses the question html (and fetches an image as a result), so the question that is being redirected to. Mar 15, 2012 at 21:35
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    Do you redirect Googlebot as well? If so, wouldn't dupes be dropped from their index? If not, I thought that violated their TOS.
    – Jeremy
    Mar 29, 2012 at 17:39
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    @JeremyBanks - yes, we redirect Google. They still know about the link, so presumably they'll keep the title as a signal but start directing people directly to the actually answered question. Win all around, probably. Mar 29, 2012 at 17:44
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    But if Google is redirected too, Kevin, is there any reason to keep closed duplicates around? It seems only the SE search (and direct links; probably none) will find the closed duplicate then?
    – Arjan
    Dec 16, 2012 at 18:44
  • Does "no answers" mean absolutely no answers or does it exclude deleted answers?
    – 3ventic
    Jul 15, 2014 at 12:30
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    @Arjan "But if Google is redirected too, Kevin, is there any reason to keep closed duplicates around?" This is only Google and anonymous users. They're still good signposts for regular users to A) Find from different search keywords, and B) Potentially provide additional information from other comments and answers. - That said, it's another matter as to whether we should keep dupes with no answers or useful comments and barely any views in months of being live
    – James
    May 20, 2015 at 12:49
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    in other words: the dupe poster’s initial link will no longer work as intended. That dupe poster might not like that. Many "duplicates", so–called, are not dupes in a strict sense, you see.
    – dotbit
    Dec 10, 2019 at 12:24
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Wikipedia does something similar to this:

Screenshot of redirect on Wikipedia's "Hello world program" page

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    I like how Wikipedia still allows you to see the duplicated by adding &redirect=no on the URL
    – ajax333221
    Mar 10, 2012 at 22:07
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    @ajax: We allow that for migrated questions, so I would imagine if this were implemented for closed questions, it would be the same.
    – Cody Gray
    Mar 11, 2012 at 1:12
  • i love this. i don't understand why stack exchange will not implement this. not all duplicates are necessarily correctly marked as duplicates. we all make mistakes. Aug 1 at 2:18
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What do you think happens to these people? They just sit there twiddling their thumbs, unable to find anything useful, and then eventually give up? They can't post an answer to the duplicate question, because it's been closed, so this is not a moderation issue. All we're worried about here is user accessibility, which is a noble pursuit in itself, but I'm not sure a real issue in this case.

In your experience, people honestly can't find the giant gray banner at the top of the post suggesting the duplicate question? I don't think that requires any special familiarity with the SE network. All it requires is that they read the question (and they don't even have to read it all the way through, since it appears at the very top). And if they aren't reading the question, do we really want them answering it, or participating on the site at all?

Thus, I don't think this is something really worth optimizing, considering the potential problems pointed out in the comments. Namely, that it could introduce more confusion than it solves, and that frequently, questions have multiple suggested duplicates.

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  • I would assume they quit programming altogether at that point, rather than click one of the links.
    – user159834
    Mar 12, 2012 at 7:59
  • @Mad: I don't think we're that lucky...
    – Cody Gray
    Mar 12, 2012 at 8:22
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    @CodyGray It's not that they can't figure it out, but don't you think it's better service to a user to go straight to the one with answers?
    – C. Ross
    Mar 12, 2012 at 13:40
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    I've seen some indication on Ask Ubuntu that people just vote these questions as not useful, it would be interesting to see if this happens on other network sites: meta.askubuntu.com/q/2749/235 Mar 12, 2012 at 14:51
  • @Madmartigan Stackoverlow isn't the sum of SE. AskUbuntu, for example, has a fairly web saavy crowd. Nevertheless, you still see tons of (quickly closed) duplicate pages with higher view counts than the page they're pointing to. Query the site yourself. This UI is failing users. The "good enough" viewpont on usability is common among programmers, and usually equally deluded.
    – Jjed
    Mar 15, 2012 at 8:48
  • @j-johan-edwards: I don't disagree with your points, I was just being sarcastic above - I'm not very interested in this subject. However, there's only one condition I can see it making sense: anonymous users, questions with zero answers (both as stated in the OP), and closed as a dupe of a single post with at least 1 total net score of all it's answers. How common do you find that to be the case in your research?
    – user159834
    Mar 15, 2012 at 8:57
  • Also you say "quickly closed" which leads me to suspect that the high activity may be what triggers the high view count on the dupe, people are looking for stuff to answer and don't care about viewing the original because they aren't looking for the answer. I'm sure you realize you can't take the numbers at face value, and I don't know anything about your actual research, just a suggestion.
    – user159834
    Mar 15, 2012 at 9:00
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    @Madmartigan I'm talking in the scale of tens of thousands of views. I think it's safe to assume the difference doesn't come from people hunting for easy closes. meta.askubuntu.com/questions/2317/…
    – Jjed
    Mar 15, 2012 at 9:07
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Silent redirect for anonymous user is a very confusing exsperience.

I unintentionally wasn’t logged in, and searched for “reopen cancel” https://meta.stackexchange.com/search?q=reopen+cancel and got the first in result :

Q: Cancel a reopen request [duplicate] ,

But it was opened as unrelated Can we have the ability to retract a close vote before it closes?.

You should take into account, that closing as a duplicate may be not correct or at least not obvious by reading question titles. i.e. I asked about “retract reopen request”, but was redirected to ”retract a close vote”. I thought that it is a bug, but it is due to the confusing design.

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How about having all the exact duplicate questions' answers merged and shown below the question with zero answers. All the answers can have the link at top saying Imported from question blah blah
This will be less problematic for search engines too ;)

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    Unfortunately, this wouldn't work either. Dupes are, after all, only suggestions to where the answer can be found, but they may be answers to completely different questions. Merging posts is something that must be done carefully. I can throw in any random post as a suggested dupe and the link will appear, even though I may be totally wrong and my link was way off topic.
    – user159834
    Mar 12, 2012 at 8:02
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    There could be a new privilege where a user can vote for a post to be mark as relative or non-relative. Linking similar questions in my view would be a good addition.
    – noob
    Mar 16, 2012 at 18:03

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