As you may have noticed, Jarrod's been hacking away at some design changes to the "close as duplicate" UI. These are the first fruits of some discussions we've been having internally regarding the "close" UI as a whole, with the goal being a smoother, easier-to-understand experience for all involved.

Streamlined UI

dup dialog

The new pop-up provides four different functions:

  • Allow input of a specific possible duplicate (as it has done for nearly four years)

  • Display suggested duplicates (as originally implemented by Marc Gravell)

  • Display search results for keyword-based searches (in the same fashion as the new suggested duplicates list)

  • Allow previewing the selected question with answers.

The search field reacts as you type, and there's visible, bread-crumb style navigation near the top of the dialog that allows you to quickly preview different potential duplicates (or back out of the dialog entirely).

Answered questions only

The search results include only answered questions (per the usual SO definition of "answered", where the question must have an accepted or up-voted answer). Additionally, close targets are restricted to answered questions even when specifying the ID or URL directly (with the exception of questions from the same author, and meta posts). Moderators can override this last restriction if necessary.

The rationale here is that it can be fairly hard to discern whether or not an unanswered question is actually a duplicate, and even when it is closing doesn't really accomplish very much. When searching for a "canonical" answer in particular, duplicates without answers (or with bad answers) are just noise in the results.

I think this makes sense in theory - so how is it working in practice?

  • 31
    Boo! See here
    – Kirk Woll
    Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 0:33
  • 1
    I haven’t checked, but does it still let you say that a posting is a duplicate of one that’s already closed? Or locked? I can see a few reasons for doing that — but not many.
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 0:37
  • 12
    Sorry Jarrod! I was quite happy with the old system. Are there concrete factors that led to it being altered? i.e. in what way was it not working? Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 0:41
  • 30
    This "Answered questions only" does not make sense at all. Identical questions with or without answers are still duplicates. We should be able to close questions as duplicates of any question!
    – gertvdijk
    Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 1:11
  • 24
    "it can be fairly hard to discern whether or not an unanswered question is actually a duplicate" - Wait, why? This implies that the similarity of answers is a factor in recognizing duplicates, which we know isn't true. "even when it is closing doesn't really accomplish very much" - Except accomplishing the same thing closing as a duplicate of an answered question does, should the question of the pair that remained opened hopefully get an answer. Like the above comment, I don't really get why this even came up as an issue to solve.
    – Tim Stone
    Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 1:16
  • 4
    This can not be more of a mistake than a solution. And I mean WHAT A MISTAKE!. If this feature is to exist at least it should be overwritten by high reputation users in a way that, a high rep user can mark as duplicate if it has or does not have an accepted answer.
    – CYREX
    Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 1:18
  • 9
    Is there any particular reason that something like this wasn't considered as a means of trying to bring renewed attention to old unanswered questions that get duplicated, rather than allowing dupes to fester? Alternately, in situations like this, if you want to insist on keeping the newer question alive, why not simply reverse the direction of the closure after 5 votes are cast if both questions are unanswered, closing the older one, rather than leaving both open? Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 2:19
  • 3
    @Tim: Hmm... I find answers extremely helpful in identifying duplicates. While I agree you shouldn't dup-close different questions that happen to have the same answer, I often find myself reading the answers as sort of a final sanity-check - if they don't answer the new question, then it's probably not a duplicate either, even if one happened to work for the previous asker.
    – Shog9
    Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 2:27
  • 6
    @Shog9: it's to encourage linking to answered questions Hmm, I understand the principle there. Perhaps an alternative approach would be to send answered questions to the top of the "Related" list, from which duplicates are usually chosen. Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 7:48
  • 4
    Perhaps I am missing something, but how do you handle questions which are exact duplicates (word-for-word) from the same person where one instance was originally on another site (cross-posted), but then migrated? But neither have answers?
    – Zoredache
    Commented Feb 3, 2013 at 9:03
  • 2
    after a quick check, I actually kinda like it, but one issue: once you start typing, I don't know how to get back to the suggested duplicate, other than closing the close window, and clicking on the close button again. Commented Feb 4, 2013 at 22:08
  • 7
    sometimes the logic of SE changes just escapes me. Radical changes like this one, to the feature that isn't known to be very troublesome, are deployed in a broad sweep over the whole SE network, without even giving it a trial run over MSO. In the same time, suggestion of a limited testing for quite a gentle modification of a hotness formula that appears to be making a severe damage to Programmers are silently ignored. Curiouser and curiouser...
    – gnat
    Commented Feb 6, 2013 at 21:12
  • 2
    @AndrewC: It's not "completely unhelpful" for the OP at all. They get to wait for answers on the original question, just in the same way that they'd have had to wait for answers on their own. In the meantime, those of us who spend a considerable amount of our own time managing the site for free get a little reprieve of effort. Commented Feb 10, 2013 at 19:46
  • 3
    Bumping questions bumps them on the active tab, not the newest tab, and as rep hunters know, the newset tab is where the rep is to be made. Bumping's better than just killing the new question and leaving the old sitting in the dark, but it's not as useful to the OP as allowing people to answer the new one. In my experience (I don't have data, and I'm not asserting this one generally), answering an old unanswered question (even bumped ones) is like talking in an empty room. When I answer a new question, people are commenting on the question, my answer, adding their answers, it's busy.
    – AndrewC
    Commented Feb 11, 2013 at 1:49
  • 3
    @AndrewC: We don't close as duplicate to help the OP; we do it to keep the site clean and help those who are helping. The OP already dissed us by not searching first and ignoring all the hints given during the question-writing process - I don't see any reason to optimise for them at our expense after that. Commented Feb 11, 2013 at 18:40

6 Answers 6


I've had some trouble. Maybe it's just that I'm used to seeing the "Related" posts in the duplicate dialog, but I find now that finding an appropriate duplicate is more difficult now that other "matches" are thrown in.

I also find that the new restriction on answered-only questions multiplies the time it takes to dup-close this rubbish (a daily task taken on by those of us who do not wish to see and implode under their own weight) by some noticeable factor.

That is, the topic used to be a nice chain of duplicates and nobody really cared whether each one had an answer, because eventually you'd get to the one canonical question that did. Now I have to try to find that myself by browsing the half-million duplicates manually to find the canonical one with decent answers. This is time that I don't have.

  • That all said, my exposure to the new feature is brand new. So these are my initial thoughts.

The rationale here is that it can be fairly hard to discern whether or not an unanswered question is actually a duplicate

I don't see what the question's duplicateness has to do with answers.

Even when it is closing doesn't really accomplish very much

It accomplishes there no longer being two open, identical questions in existence, clogging up the tubes and making my OCD hurt.

@fbueckert said it best here:

This new rule seems to encourage dupes of unanswered questions, which, if no one can answer the question, means we just gather un-closable questions.

When searching for a "canonical" answer in particular, duplicates without answers (or with bad answers) are just noise in the results.

No more noise than they were originally. That post X is marked as a dup of Y doesn't in any way change the noise level of Y. It just means that we haven't added to the noise by having X open as well.

I'd also argue that there's a scenario I've seen a few times where a really poor question has been asked, then closed (as, say, NARQ) without answers. Then the OP, disgruntled, has simply asked it again. Now we're not able to close that as a duplicate?

I get that we can simply NARQ the new one, too, but it hurts my brain that we can longer semantically mark that the OP did a double-post!

It feels like writing magic numbers in code, or re-writing a function definition in each translation unit in which it's used. Or including a value for pi in each source file rather than using some single definition imported from a library.

(edit: turns out same-user-posts are exempted, at least in theory, and I'd missed this.)

My 2p...

  • 1
    Lightness, the fact that you can't close a user's question as a dupe of another question by the same user is a bug, introduced with this change. Poor way to introduce what was sure to be a contentious change. I do predict an increase in socks, among the smarter of your vampires. Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 0:41
  • @MichaelPetrotta: I wasn't even aware of that bug! When I said Now we're not able to close that as a duplicate? I meant because the original question has no answers. Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 0:42
  • 1
    I don't understand, Lightness. I'm pretty sure, from that report, that you can now, or can soon, close userX's questions to any other question by userX, regardless of the answers on the target/original question. Is that not how you read it? Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 0:45
  • @MichaelPetrotta: close targets are restricted to answered questions even when specifying the ID or URL directly ( with the exception of questions from the same author , and meta posts). Oops. Yeah, I missed that. Answer updated. Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 1:26
  • 3
    w/r/t the annoyance of having to to find the dupe in the chain that actually has answers: It's not desired that it take YOU longer, but your point there does highlight one of the benefits: closing as dupe should say, "here's the right place to find your answer", not "here's someone else who asked this question duplicitively; their post may or may not link to the one with answers".
    – Jaydles
    Commented Feb 4, 2013 at 23:27
  • @Jaydles: that's interesting actually as it potentially highlights differing views on the close-as-dup feature that I hadn't previously considered. I'm mostly concerned about actual duplicate questions taking up space and causing noise, less-than-optimal search results and so on. Your approach seems to be purely asker-oriented, treating a close-as-dup as a pseudo-answer of sorts. "Here's the answer - it's not text, but a link". I'm not saying that either is more valid than the other (not in this comment, at least), merely identifying this factor that is new for me Commented Feb 5, 2013 at 1:40
  • 1
    Yeah - close as dup should be so that if Janet is searching for the solution to her problem in a search engine and lands on a dup, she gets a link to an answer. If it's to just another dup, it'll drive her mad, particularly in the case where it drove you mad. She'll give up on stack overflow because it's apparently full of people asking the same question all over the place with no answers and other people closing them as fast as they're asked. In my view the dup should have the best answers of all the dups, irrespective of age etc.
    – AndrewC
    Commented Feb 6, 2013 at 23:43
  • 1
    @AndrewC: I do make a sort of internal exception when I'm casting a close-vote that basically applies your logic there, when it's easy. That is, if I have two questions to choose from, I'll pick the one with the best question and the best answers, simply because that's the most useful for everyone. If however it's a silly "fetch_object() expects resource on line 1399" question then I could spend hours doing that... and I won't. Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 9:18

Here's my initial reaction to the idea (I haven't put it much to practice yet, especially with the teething bugs).

I wholeheartedly agree with preventing closing an answered question as a duplicate of an unanswered question. I've sometimes seen insistence on closing the later question as a duplicate of the earlier question, which is detrimental to the site: it's best if the main thread is the one with the best answers. Moderators should be able to override this. (For example: a migrated question with only crappy answers that inherited a positive score from the source site, and was reposted and curated (formatting, tags) on the target site. Though in that case a merge is warranted anyway.)

To be fair, the old duplicate close reason did state “This question covers exactly the same content as earlier questions on this topic; its answers may be merged with another identical question.” (emphasis mine). (By the way, as I write, this text is still present in /faq.) The new description reads “This question has been asked before and already has an answer.”, which is better but still tends to give the wrong idea. How about this?

This question has been asked and answered already.

On to the point I have serious doubts about: why prevent closing an unanswered question as a duplicate of an unanswered question? The consequence will be two duplicate questions with no upvoted answers. If someone eventually comes and provides a good answer to one of the questions, it won't help visitors who land onto the other question. Sure, we can link them to each other in comments (post a “possible duplicate” comment manually), but often we'll end up with a comment only on one of the two questions.

I can see the advantage: a new user asking an old, unanswered question gets to revive the subject. But that happens regardless of whether his new question is marked as a duplicate, so I don't see how not closing the question can help.

When two unanswered questions are duplicates, the one that is the most curated should be the main question. As this depends both on the question quality and the activity of the user (who is most likely to respond to requests for clarifications?), I don't think this can be determined automatically. However, maybe the UI could encourage closing the old question as a duplicate of the new one when the old question looks abandoned and the new one looks more likely to be followed by its asker.

  • 7
    Good point about "preventing closing an answered question as a duplicate of an unanswered question". It kind of makes sense going in that direction. Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 7:50
  • 2
    Links are bidirectional via the sidebar. It's not that discoverable though. Commented Feb 3, 2013 at 13:13
  • 2
    I wholeheartedly agree with preventing closing an answered question as a duplicate of an unanswered question. Feature request? I'd prefer that behavior to the current and past behavior of dupes. I've also been thinking (answered) duplicates should show up in a special section of the sidebar (or elsewhere) on the source dupe to make it easier to find the other answers. Most people, even regular users, have no idea WTF the "linked" sidebar is, and those items may or may not be duplicates (and may or may not be answered)
    – Zelda
    Commented Feb 3, 2013 at 23:37

Scene: A Week Ago:

"I wonder how to frob a fribbet?"
Searches Stack Overflow.
Hits question 1, closed as duplicate of question 2.
Navigates to question 2. No answers! Closed as duplicate of question 3!
"What the heck? What kind of mind games are these jokers playing?"
Rinse and repeat.
"Grumble grumble. Finally, end of the chain*, my answer!"

Scene: A Year From Now:

"I wonder how to tap a tarnation?"
Searches Stack Overflow.
Hits question 1, no answers, or a crappy one
"Oh well. Guess it can't be done!"

Neither scenario is guaranteed. But we're giving users more opportunity to find quality answers (new users don't read the Related pane) by leaving the possibility of breadcrumbs that we have now.

* murgatroid99 suggests that dupe chains are collapsed. Less frustration!

  • 1
    I'm pretty sure duplicate chains are (usually?) automatically collapsed into all duplicates pointing to an open question. Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 1:30
  • Even better then! Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 1:49
  • @murgatroid99: If that's true then (a) excellent! (b) I pile more power behind my argument, just as Michael has. Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 7:51
  • 2
    @murgatroid99: if you mean that a duplicate closed as a duplicate of a duplicate gets automatically pointed at the original, then no, that doesn't happen automatically. If you're referring to something else (redirects) then it can if merging takes place.
    – Shog9
    Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 17:29
  • 1
    I did not realize that. I thought I remembered seeing a meta post saying that that would happen. It seems like duplicate graphs should be collapsed into all closed questions pointing to the open one to make navigation, but I assume there has been discussion about that and a reason why that would not be a good idea. Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 17:32
  • 5
    Exactly this. I wish SE would spend some quality time designing a completely reworked duplicate system, one more akin to merging than mere linking; one giving you a clear overview over every linked duplicate no matter which of them you're looking at, and probably showing all the answers from all of the duplicates in one place.
    – RomanSt
    Commented Feb 3, 2013 at 5:53
  • 1
    @murgatroid99, romkyns: the problem with doing that automatically is that dups can be... messy. There can be multiple linked questions. There can be circular paths. Their can be good answers on the closed questions and crappy ones on the originals. Heck, prior to this restriction, the originals could have no answers - or even be deleted by the system for inactivity - leaving the closed question stranded. There's no way to streamline this without putting some additional restrictions in place, so while we're working on it we also have to step gently.
    – Shog9
    Commented Feb 3, 2013 at 17:10
  • 1
    @Shog9 What's the longest duplicate chain on SO? I'm guessing it's not an insurmountable computational obstacle, and I would put money on SE's developers knowing how to detect a cycle in a linked list.
    – user154510
    Commented Feb 4, 2013 at 21:38
  • @MatthewRead apnorton studied this using the PostLinks data from SEDE: according to him it's 5 layers.
    – user259867
    Commented May 31, 2015 at 22:37
  1. Proposed dupe has at least one score 0 answer
  2. Vote up said answer
  3. VTC
  4. Revert vote

It has already been "abused" as such. There is also the possibility of further close votes becoming impossible if an answer gets downvoted to 0, leaving the potential dupe in a weird state.

Besides that, I would seriously question the idea that disallowing dupes to unanswered questions will help increase dupes to answered questions. Are we hoping that people will search (and find) answered dupes after being unhelpfully foiled? Or is there a problem with users voluntarily choosing unanswered questions over answered ones in their choice of dupe?

  • 7
    Oh this makes me sad. Sad that this is necessary. But thanks for illustrating - perfect to show this change is bad baddie bad! +1
    – gertvdijk
    Commented Feb 4, 2013 at 21:56
  • 2
    Why revert your vote? If you're pointing someone at a question with answers on it, shouldn't you have at least some idea of whether or not the answer actually answers the question? If you don't know the topic, maybe you should leave it to someone who does to find the duplicate. And, actually, yes - I would much prefer to see links to answered questions over links to unanswered ones. I'm not sure why that's even controversial.
    – Shog9
    Commented Feb 4, 2013 at 22:16
  • 6
    @Shog9 You're missing the main point. This is a workaround to overcome the new system logic blocking us from doing our duty. "I'm not sure why that's even controversial." Not VTC'ing is much worse than closing against unanswered.
    – gertvdijk
    Commented Feb 4, 2013 at 22:27
  • 2
    @gertvdijk: really? Identifying useful answers is a roadblock to closing? Oh, the horror!
    – Shog9
    Commented Feb 4, 2013 at 22:30
  • 6
    @Shog9 Why do you think that unanswered questions aren't useful? It may be the same question, but just explained a lot better. It's good to have a canonical question to work on (improve/edit/bounty). And as a fact, we don't have a 100% answer rate on questions. What you're suggesting in this change is simply not working in practice.
    – gertvdijk
    Commented Feb 4, 2013 at 22:34
  • 1
    I would much prefer to see links to answered questions over links to unanswered ones. @Shog9 Given equal quality and relevance of said questions I'm sure everyone would agree; it's not controversial. I asked if there is an existing problem with people ignoring that fact and using unanswered questions instead of answered ones for dupes. Obviously there is not....
    – user154510
    Commented Feb 4, 2013 at 22:48
  • @gertvdijk Unanswered questions aren't useful in the sense that they don't resolve the issue the OP had. It's nice to have a really well phrased question, but if there's no answer it's no use to the OP.
    – AndrewC
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 2:03
  • @AndrewC For a lot of those Qs we have we can't give answers/solutions or they won't qualify our own standards. "You're running into bug #12345" is not an answer, "install this five year old version of Ubuntu" is not an answer, "git clone; patch -p1 < thepatch; make..." is not helping most users (too advanced) and should belong in bug reports instead. All comes down to: we aim for a single place for workarounds/user-level analysis which is useful and Googleable despite being closed as off-topic.
    – gertvdijk
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 18:31
  • @gertvdijk All of those comments seem very unhelpful indeed. Why would you want to link to them? If there's no solution other than a workaround, isn't that worth pointing out in an answer? I don't get it.
    – AndrewC
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 18:38
  • Or, if question has no answer, add a dummy answer, the follow your steps, then delete the answer. But you'll need to do such things each time such a duplicate question gets asked. Clearly this workaround isn't the solution.
    – Drew
    Commented Mar 22, 2020 at 0:23

The new wording for questions marked duplicates is sort of strange. It reads:

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.

Isn't this what happened on the page I'm visiting? Instead of directing users to open yet another duplicate, shouldn't they be asked to start a bounty on the old question?

  • 1
    No, you shouldn't use bounties to produce chameleon questions. If the existing answers don't work for you, you should ask a different question.
    – Shog9
    Commented Feb 10, 2013 at 20:00
  • 2
    @Shog9 How would asking a different question solve my problem with the duplicate I am looking at? For example, I am trying to foo a bar. The answers on the marked duplicate are upvoted, but do not solve the problem. Clearly, asking another question about fooing bars is not the correct approach, but asking a different question doesn't help me get anywhere with the problem I am facing.
    – user200500
    Commented Feb 10, 2013 at 20:12
  • All you know is that the answers don't work for you. That could be because they're wrong or out of date, or it could be because there's something different about your specific problem. If the existing answers are up-voted / accepted, then generally #2 is the safer bet - which means you have a different question, but you didn't bother to explain how it's different.
    – Shog9
    Commented Feb 10, 2013 at 21:00
  • 3
    It has been my experience a couple times that the accepted, multiply-upvoted answer to a question (which exactly duplicated the question I wanted to ask) was flat-out wrong, and either there were no other answers, or they were also wrong. I only get one downvote per answer, and while I can comment on answers, often the poster is no longer listening; what else should one do in that circumstance?
    – zwol
    Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 0:26

I honestly don't understand why we're seeing such a negative reaction to these changes. Duplicates are a problem being discussed here for a long time (here and here, for example, not to mention the famous blog post), and the latest changes are trying to address that. And they are good changes.

I'll start with the minor stuff: the [duplicate] label in the title instead of [closed] is a nice touch. Having a question closed can hurt the feelings of even the most experienced users, and seeing it labelled as a duplicate might feel less bad (despite the fact that is still means "closed" in practice). Additionally, we're not referring to duplicates as "exact" anymore. Looks like a small detail, but I believe it will be a time saver. Think of how many discussions you've seen on comments and meta about the "exactness" of a duplicate.

The most important change in my opinion is the new keyword search feature. Finding the right target question can be a very time-consuming process. A lot of people, myself included, mostly rely on Google for that. Now, we can find meaningful posts withough having to leave the dialog. That's orders of magnitude better than what we had before! We can even filter our search with advanced operators like infavorites:mine, which is really useful.

And the preview. Thank you for that. Especially for allowing us to see the answers. I strongly disagree with those saying that the answers don't matter, since we're closing questions. But why are we closing them? It's not (just) because we're classification and cleanup freaks, but because we want to create a more direct path to the relevant information – which is, mostly, in the answers. That's why I also agree with the "answered questions only" policy. As I vote to close someone's question as a duplicate, I truly want that person to find the answer she's looking for. Actually, I believe that's more important than any kind of cleanup. So if I close it as a duplicate of a question without an answer, what is it good for?

I understand the new policy brings a risk of raising the amount of open, unanswered questions on the site, but we'll have to wait to see if that will really happen. If it does, it will need to be addressed. For now, I suggest we take the new feature as an opportunity to work harder on duplicates, as handling them certainly became a less painful process.

  • 6
    I agree about the positive side of things. But really, haven't you read the responses? I strongly disagree with all about the answered only policy, including your view here. The minor positive side is underrated so I am glad you're addressing that, though.
    – gertvdijk
    Commented Feb 5, 2013 at 2:47
  • 2
    I believe the positive sides outweigh the possibly negative ones by far. And yes, I've been reading all the responses and comments here since this was first posted.
    – bfavaretto
    Commented Feb 5, 2013 at 2:52
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    The negative reaction to some changes should not be conflated to mean we think all of the changes are bad. Normally distinct changes like this aren't dumped out together like this but it doesn't mean we should pretend they aren't distinct.
    – user154510
    Commented Feb 5, 2013 at 23:44
  • 1
    @MatthewRead Good point. I kind of agree with what Gilles said about the controversial issue, but I still think people are overreacting to that. If closing as a dupe of an unanswered question is allowed again, I believe that's not what we should be closing most questions against. I understand the benefits of being able to do that, but I don't think the negative side is that bad.
    – bfavaretto
    Commented Feb 6, 2013 at 16:16

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