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According to the accepted answer to Should one downvote answers to off-topic questions?, downvoting answers to an obvious off-topic question is appropriate, with the purpose of not encouraging people in asking them.

Does this apply to obvious duplicate questions as well?

I came across this question: StatusBar bug in iOS7?

Now, if you know a bit about the specific topic, you will also know that the status bar behavior change in iOS 7 generated a LOT of questions in the last couple of months.

The search query "[ios7] status bar" currently generates 585 results, all being pretty much about the same issue.

I feel like answering this kind of questions is not adding any value. Also I'm afraid the OP won't receive the message that they should put research effort before posting a question and in this specific case it's really trivial to find tons of useful information.

That being said, I also left a comment about this, liking to the search query above and marked the question as a duplicate. Nonetheless a few minutes later answers started to appear.

Is is appropriate to "punish" this answers by downvoting them, or should I just move on and hope that the question is closed soon?

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    Move on. Vote to close the question, don't look back. – Martijn Pieters Oct 24 '13 at 19:54
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    @JoshC there it goes! I couldn't find it because I was looking for duplicates instead of off-topic – Gabriele Petronella Oct 24 '13 at 20:00
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    @GabrielePetronella I definitely wouldn't downvote them if they are useful. Rather, just don't upvote them. – Josh Crozier Oct 24 '13 at 20:03
  • in the specific case is just a copy-paste of information found in the obvious duplicates. I think it's sort of useful, but not as much as going through the answers to the original questions, which are much more accurate. – Gabriele Petronella Oct 24 '13 at 20:05
  • @GabrielePetronella A copy paste of an answer on the duplicate is not useful in my eyes. 1) it's probably plagiarism, if it's not cited. 2) it's possibly plagiarism even if it is cited, if there is no value added 3) edits to the original won't be copied over 4) it's adding noise by repeating the same information. That's a situation to flag for deletion, not just downvote. – Servy Oct 24 '13 at 20:08
  • @Servy "copy-paste" is a bad choice of terms, my bad. I meant to say that the answerer is condensing pieces of information that are exposed in the most notable answers. I'm not accusing them of plagiarism, just the answer contains is a tiny subset of the information present in other Q/A – Gabriele Petronella Oct 24 '13 at 20:12
  • @GabrielePetronella Regardless of whether it applies to that one case, such cases do happen often enough. It's a prime example of an unhelpful answer to a duplicate question. – Servy Oct 24 '13 at 20:18
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    As a side note, I got quite a few downvotes, but nobody took the hassle of explaining the reason. Not being a feature request, I think votes shouldn't be used for expressing (dis)agreement, am I wrong? Is there something bad about the format or the content of my question I can improve? – Gabriele Petronella Oct 24 '13 at 21:25
  • See also meta.stackexchange.com/questions/37466/… – Ian Ringrose Oct 24 '13 at 21:50
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    Ask yourself, if someone downvoted your answer to a question leaving a comment "-1, you answer an obvious duplicate question", how would you feel? Would it not be unfair? There is no guideline for answering that says "do not answer duplicate questions". Why should I care if there is a duplicate before answering, anyway? Isn't this something the OP should be concerned about? I am answering in order to help the person. – ThunderGr Feb 15 '14 at 12:13
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+50

I think you're right to bring this up, and your comment on the question you've linked was spot-on.

Given the constant streams of low-quality, low-effort questions and answers that I see during the times I'm most active on SO, I prefer to take a holistic interpretation of the "useful" criterion for answers, to wit, "Is this answer 'useful' in the context of the entire site?"

Does it provide information in a more understandable way than existing posts? Of course some repetition with different wording helps search, but there's a line past which the material can start to get smeared out. Finding the bit you need becomes a hunt through many questions, just like the old sifting of endless forum threads that SO is supposed to obviate. Therefore, I think one should ask: does an answer to this question make info easier to find, or are we past the tipping point?

See also Gordon's excellent answer to "Is it my responsibility to search for duplicates & vote to close before answering?" -- answering massively duplicated questions actually makes the site worse.

Thus, while I don't think it's justified in all cases, I do support the downvoting of answers when they don't constitute high-quality additions to our knowledge archive when considered as a whole.

19

You are allowed to vote however you want, based on whatever criteria you want, with the exception of voting fraud (which this clearly is not).

The general guideline (based on the tooltip) is that you should vote based on whether an answer is useful or not useful. If you feel that the answer is not being useful because it is providing an answer to an obvious duplicate, feel free to downvote it. If you feel that the answer is useful despite being an answer to an obvious duplicate, you can upvote it. The definition of "useful" is left intentionally vague and open to interpretation.

  • I see. I'm reluctant to downvote, since the answer is technically correct. It being useful is exactly what I'm afraid about: the OP may solve its issue thanks to it and keeping thinking whatever, people are going to answer in any case so I don't need to put research effort. The good part is the OP getting its answer, the bad part is the overall quality of the questions decreasing – Gabriele Petronella Oct 24 '13 at 19:59
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    @GabrielePetronella Usefulness and correctness are not synonymous. An answer that is technically correct can still be unhelpful, and an incorrect answer can also be helpful. If someone posts a really quick, unfleshed out answer to a question that already has a great answer, or a proposed duplicate with a great answer, then it may not be adding value, but rather just possibly drawing attention away from a much better answer. That can cause net harm. On the other hand, if the answer is much better than what's even in the duplicates, or is more tailored to this question, it may add value. – Servy Oct 24 '13 at 20:04
  • I couldn't agree more. See my last comment to the question. In this case I think it's not useful, so I think I'm going to downvote it in the end. – Gabriele Petronella Oct 24 '13 at 20:07
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It's never appropriate to use voting as punishment, that just distorts the meaning of votes on SE.

Vote based on the quality, accuracy and helpfulness of the answer. The purpose for voting is to allow good answers to float to the top.

Of course, there's no one to police you on this but your own conscience.

Remember, that if you're voting based on the appropriateness of the question, that the question may get edited into good form, but you'll never be notified. So the downvote will stay there, when the reason for your punishment has gone away. Also remember that answers get put on before the question is closed, so the answerers may not have any idea it's a dupe, they're just excited to help someone out.

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    I kind of disagree. I constantly use downvotes to punish sloppy/wrong answers/questions as much as I reward great ones. In the specific case I decided to use a downvote to punish an answer that I consider not useful, where I'm using "useful" with the same meaning Josh Caswell exposed in his answer. I strongly believe downvoting is a tool for increasing the overall quality of StackOverflow, and this includes discouraging unwanted behavior. – Gabriele Petronella Oct 24 '13 at 21:23
  • @GabrielePetronella, and that's not the point of votes. They're to help quality answers float to the top or bottom, so that people will see them ranked appropriately based on the answering the question. Not some mystical concept that the question the answer is answering is inappropriate for the site, which is in a constant state of flux, change and disagreement. The question may get edited to be appropriate, but you'll probably never know to go back to undo your downvote since you only based it on the appropriateness of the question. – Lance Roberts Oct 24 '13 at 21:25
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    It is indeed worth making this clear: if you do decide to downvote, it should not be intended as a rebuke to the poster. It should be your evalution of the post's worth. – Josh Caswell Oct 24 '13 at 21:27
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    Quality answers to the top, bad answers to the bottom. I think the answer is not helpful, I downvoted it (and aslo took care of explaning my downvote with a comment). How does this not fit in a proper use of downvotes? – Gabriele Petronella Oct 24 '13 at 21:27
  • The first answer looked helpful to me, worthy of an upvote. The second one looked like crap, and probably deserved a downvote. – Lance Roberts Oct 24 '13 at 21:29
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    @Lance, as I said already, it's helpful if you place a magnifying lens on the specific question. If you instead consider the topic with some domain knowledge about iOS and StackOverflow in general, it's not a helpful question. If it has original content, it has a better fit as an answer to the original question; if it doesn't then it's not helpful as it provide much less information than the answers to the original question. (the second one is crap indeed, I downvoted it as well) – Gabriele Petronella Oct 24 '13 at 21:38
  • typo: helpful answer, not question – Gabriele Petronella Oct 24 '13 at 21:50
  • You also need to remember that the answers are put on before the questions are closed, so the answerers will not always know there is duplication going on. – Lance Roberts Oct 24 '13 at 21:51
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    I know it, but when the first answer was posted my first two comments to the question where there, well visible and upvoted by several people. – Gabriele Petronella Oct 24 '13 at 21:55
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After having heard several points of view (thank y'all for sharing) here's my contribute to the discussion.

As Servy said

you should vote based on whether an answer is useful or not useful [...] The definition of "useful" is left intentionally vague and open to interpretation.

So what's my definition? Josh Caswell said about it

I prefer to take a holistic interpretation of the "useful" criterion for answers, to wit, "Is this answer 'useful' in the context of the entire site?"

and also

I do support the downvoting of answers when they don't constitute high-quality additions to our knowledge archive when considered as a whole

I'm with Josh on this.

I think just looking at how likely is the answer to help the OP is just part of the story and I typically take a broader context into consideration when voting.

Concerning the specific case, as I said in response to Lance Roberts

If you consider the topic with some domain knowledge about iOS and StackOverflow in general, it's not a helpful answer. If it has original content, it has a better fit as an answer to the original question; if it doesn't then it's not helpful as it provide much less information than the answers to the original question.

The point here is to help, and to help as much people as possible. As I said in the comments to the answer

This topic is sooo common, that a tremendous amount of people will come to StackOveflow looking for help. Scattering good pieces of information around several duplicate questions can maybe help the single OPs, but it's surely going to hurt future visitors.

To wrap it up,

Is the answer helpful to the OP?

Maybe. Or maybe a link to a much more complete answer (+143 votes) to the same question (+150 votes) would have been more beneficial.

Is the answer helpful to future visitors?

No. It's rephrasing information already present elsewhere on SO and, in case it adds any original content, it will probably never be found as much more popular questions on the subject exist.

Is the answer helpful to the iOS SO community?

No. It's been two months and we've been answering about the goddamn status bar every single day. It's quite enough.

Is the answer helpful to the SO community in general?

No. Seriously, we don't need people to think it's ok to post duplicate questions without putting some research effort before and neither we need people thinking that scattering information is helpful.


That being said, I took the decision of downvoting the answer, explaining my reasons to the author with a comment.

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