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Yesterday I voted to delete several old questions that were closed as duplicates. The questions (and the same goes for the targets really) were not a good fit for our site (Ask Ubuntu) and, if they were asked today, could easily be closed there as too broad or primarily opinion based.

It turned out that I'd cast the final vote and one user whose answer had been deleted and who'd thus lost 10 rep mentioned it to me in chat. A passing mod, freely admitting that the deleted posts were "all crap" asked me to refrain from delete-voting questions closed as dupes, and a (nice) discussion ensued, in which I was not convinced to change my practice. I think our mods have differing views on this, so here I am.

As far as I know, closed questions with no upvotes and no upvoted answers will be automatically deleted, unless they are closed as duplicates. This reflects the undisputed fact that duplicate questions can be extremely useful as signposts. I think this is right and good, but I also think that since the system does nothing to distinguish good dupes from bad dupes, it must be my responsibility as a user with >10k to try to clean up the mess, by voting to delete really bad dupes along with other stuff that deserves to go.

The person who disagreed with me argued that what makes a good dupe is basically the fact of its being a dupe:

Good is anything a clueless user might type that could land them on the question. It is impossible to predict what that might be.

To me this idea of good is not good enough. Also, in many cases the dupes have almost identical wording to the target or to other dupes. I totally agree that it's good to have differently phrased versions of the same question around, even better if they have different details that help to show how broadly applicable the target is, or good answers that might, for example, be easier to follow than a highly detailed top answer to a canonical post, but, crap is crap and if we have 20 or 50 or 100 posts pointing to the same canonical post, surely some of the really bad ones are superfluous.

I argued

My rationale behind deleting stuff is to have less crap stuff, so people get better search results and the whole site looks better

And he replied

I feel that deleting makes it less likely you'll stumble upon what you're looking for, not more.

My answer to this was (and is) that I don't want anyone to land on low quality posts on our site, even on the way to a better question. I want the site to be awesome and free from crap, as far as I can make it so (many things can of course by fixed by editing, but some cannot). If people aren't landing on the dupe that will lead them to an answer, then, let them ask a new question that we can at worst close as a dupe (hopefully a good one, and at least an up-to-date one). That's not a terrible thing to happen at all, I think.

So, should all dupes be preserved, regardless of quality, or should I vote to delete crap regardless of whether or not it is duplicate crap?

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    See Dr. Strangedupe: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love Duplication. It covers this rather explicitly. – Servy Mar 14 '17 at 20:38
  • @Servy Thanks! I <3 dupes for sure, I edit them and upvote them all the time. And Jeff says too many dupes are bad, so I guess pruning the bad ones is also the right thing per that post... – Zanna Mar 14 '17 at 20:42
  • Indeed. Hence why I linked it. – Servy Mar 14 '17 at 20:45
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    You are free to vote to delete any question. You are encouraged to vote to delete questions that cannot be salvaged. – Ramhound Mar 15 '17 at 0:59
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    Having no dupes is better than having crappy ones. If you see a bad question that would get closed, vote to delete it, even if it's a duplicate. – Braiam Mar 17 '17 at 13:31
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Here are the guidelines I try to follow, as a high-rep user on some sites and a moderator on others. In all cases I'm talking about questions that seem to be abandoned (OP isn't trying to make them better and it's been a while since the last edit).

  • If a closed question with no good answers is very bad (or almost word-for-word dupe) and the Roomba won't get it, vote to delete. (The Roomba doesn't delete duplicates, nor questions with any upvoted answer.)

  • If a duplicate is bad but has good answers that also work on the original question, pursue a merge (and then delete the dupe). Only mods can merge, so use a custom flag to suggest it. Be sure to review both questions and all answers and say you did so in the flag; it helps.

  • If it's not enough of a dupe for the answers to work there, try to edit the question to make it (a) not bad and (b) still support the existing answers. Bonus points if you can de-dupe it so it can be reopened, but that isn't always possible depending on the answers.

  • At this point, if there are ok answers I tend to just say "meh" and move on, for reasons I'll explain after this bullet point. (I'll vote to delete questions that were obviously going to be closed as off-topic or opinion-based or too broad, even with answers, because the answerers shouldn't be encouraging such questions. But this almost never applies to dupes.)

Note that only logged-in users will see the bad dupe if it has no answers. Go visit an unanswered dupe in an incognito window where you're not signed in and watch what happens: SE automatically redirects you to the other question. People coming to your site from Google aren't going to see that bad dupe if you close it quickly, but they'll still benefit from its search-engine juice. It's only people with accounts who'll see the question you'd rather people not see.

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    "Go visit a dupe in an incognito window where you're not signed in and watch what happens..." --- Whoa. – Jason C Mar 31 '17 at 2:30
  • One of our site mods clarified - that redirection only happens if the dupe has no answers. (I've also recently noticed that the roomba seems to be deleting dupes with no answers and -1!) – Zanna Apr 6 '17 at 11:10
  • @Zanna oh thanks; I didn't realize that, though it makes sense (if there are answers we don't want to skip past them). I guess I just got (un)lucky when I tested to verify the behavior. I've edited. – Monica Cellio Apr 6 '17 at 13:15
  • Yeah I started to think a lot when you mentioned it, that I should change my behaviour and be very careful about duping when there are good answers and maybe consider more merges, but this way it doesn't make so much difference – Zanna Apr 6 '17 at 13:32

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