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I recently posted a question, which included an "X is not a duplicate"

Immediately, two responders flagged it as a duplicate of that exact question, and I got a comment of "It absolutely is a duplicate".

When I pointed out what the answer to the other question was, and again stated it was not a duplicate, the duplicate flags were removed, without comment or apology.

A further "duplicate" technically had the right answer, and very clearly written, but asked a different question, using a different(and inappropriate) search term - callbacks - and did not have the relevant tag - settimeout. (I had specifically excluded answers which were about the callbacks search term).

In my comment on the original SO question, I went on to say "The problem is the same, but the description of the problem is explicitly about callbacks. It was not tagged as a settimeout question. Context and findability matter in a knowledge management system. If you want people to find questions which are not tagged with the topic at hand, and which themselves state they are about a different topic - you need to start editing the questions meta-information. I agree - the less-upvoted answer to that question is ideal and clear - it is also poorly findable for the context. SO is about relevant, findable, clear and useful answers."

It makes it increasingly difficult to ask clear model questions, which will be usefully searchable and filterable with clear and intelligible answers, which are not overly specific to an edge case of the more general question.

Any suggestions as to how we can help better, clearer, more generic questions and answers get added into the SO knowledge base?

The whole point of this issue is that we have duplicates which have different context and applicability, or which are using technologies relevant now when the original questions have very specific answers about technologies of yesteryear.

  • Thinking through my respons to @goldPseudo's answer, I realised that perhaps a change in the SO terminology might be useful. Instead of "Duplicate question", perhaps we need a ""The answer you seek is here", with the opportunity for the OP to accept those as answers or reject them. Rather than marking as a duyplicate question, and closing it off, we leave the questions open and allow answers to be of the form "answered in question [link]". The rep points for questions with answers via previous questions could be different. – Euan M Oct 16 '17 at 3:38
  • Currently, part of the issue is the lack of any power on the OP's part to affect a duplicate flag. Some can be valid. Some are not. The OP currently has no control over invalid duplicate tags. – Euan M Oct 16 '17 at 3:45
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I would quote one of your comments from that question:

The problem is the same, but the description of the problem is explicitly about callbacks. It was not tagged as a settimeout question. Context and findabilty matter in a knowledge management system. If you want people to find questions which are not tagged with the topic at hand, and which themselves state they are about a different topic - you need to start editing the questions meta-information. I agree - the less-upvoted answer to that question is ideal and clear - it is also poorly findable for the context. SO is about relevant, findable, clear and useful answers.

Overzealous or not, that duplicate seems to have given you a useful answer, right?

You bring another problem, people sometime don't add the correct tag, give bad question title, etc... As an open community we can help to edit such questions. We can make a difference.

For the overzealous flagging I see it another way. Two community members did research on SO at the time you wrote your questions to find you an answer, isn't that a good service?

Some general advice too would be to put the notice "Not a dupe of xxx" at the start of your question. That would show you did some research and often the end of the question gets less attention.

  • The issue is the difference between: 'question X actually contains the information' and 'question X actually contains the information And question X has the relevant search terms AND NOT (question X includes excluded search terms)' I got to the answer not from SO's search facilities, but due to the fact that people are so dupe-stamp-happy that even questions flagged as not relevant or explicitly cited as not a duplicate get flagged as duplicates. – Euan M Oct 16 '17 at 2:12
  • I think that moving the 'not a dupe of X' to the top of the question is a very good one, and solves a third of the issues that question had. – Euan M Oct 16 '17 at 2:17
  • I agree that 4 community members did a research on SO, and half of those were at least partly a positive service rather than entirely a disservice. But shouldn't we be curating a Q&A site to be searchable and have findable answers for the poor schmucks who are seeking answers, without the intercession of a snarky wizard class? – Euan M Oct 16 '17 at 2:19
  • Included your suggested text into the meta question – Euan M Oct 16 '17 at 2:23
  • @EuanM yes, I agree that often bad question stay, and question get flagged as a dupe from it. we can edit to salvage those Q/A, but people that edit a lot can't edit all the flow of new questions. The way SO work is all dupe marked, like your question usualy stay, to help other user to find the correct answer as your Q/A contains other searchable words. – yagmoth555 Oct 16 '17 at 2:25
  • Yep - the issues as I see it are the grandfathering in of worse answers, and the emotional tone of many dupe-markers. I feel like I spent three hours wading though a swamp to get a useful answer, where a simple "here's an answer" would have felt more useful and supportive, rather than antagonistic. – Euan M Oct 16 '17 at 2:38
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Without really knowing the specifics, you brought up two significant points in your examples which I think need to be addressed:

  1. When I pointed out what the answer to the other question was, and again stated it was not a duplicate…

    You don't choose answers as duplicate targets; it's the question that is (or is not) a duplicate. Pointing to the answer is mostly irrelevant: That answer didn't help you, yes, but what you want to do here is explain why your question is not a duplicate, and why that answer isn't an answer to this question.

    This may require you to clarify the focus (of your own question, or even the proposed duplicate) to obviously differentiate the two questions. If that answer didn't answer your question, what's different about your question that'll give you the answer you want, rather than it just being what essentially is a duplicate question where you somehow expect different results?

  2. The problem is the same, but…it is also poorly findable for the context. SO is about relevant, findable, clear and useful answers

    Here, I think you're missing the point of duplicates. The proposed duplicate was poorly findable, fine. Despite it being a perfect answer to your question, you didn't know to search for it there. By marking your question as a duplicate, you and future users now have an easier time finding this answer, because the dupe link points them right to it.

    You want the community to "start editing the questions meta-information", well, duplicate targets are one of the ways that the community effectively does this: Now that answer can be found not only with the original search terms, but also whatever new search terms you introduced when you wrote your question. Two people had this same problem, two people found the same solution, and now there's two paths for future users to follow when they're searching for it themselves.

    This sounds like the system working exactly as intended to me.

The fundamental issue is: Do answers on the duplicate answer your question? If so, good, problem solved. If not, figure out why not and fix that. Just saying "Oh, by the way, such-and-such isn't a duplicate" without elaboration really doesn't help.

  • A question with an answer which is an answer to a different issue, is not a duplicate. Your proposal " If [the other question's answer is] not [an answer to your question], figure out why not and fix that." falls at the first hurdle. If I could answer my own question, I would not need to ask it. – Euan M Oct 16 '17 at 3:17
  • IMO, there is a big difference between superficially similar questions which are actually about different issues, and duplicate questions. – Euan M Oct 16 '17 at 3:22
  • For clarity: there were two duplicates proposed. The first I had explicitly stated was not a duplicate. (Superficially similar question, different answer) The second had the wrong meta-information (non-duplicate question, correct answer). – Euan M Oct 16 '17 at 3:25
  • If your point is that duplication is all about the question, and not the answer, then neither was a duplicate. – Euan M Oct 16 '17 at 3:26
  • re. 1. "This may require you to clarify the focus (of your own question, or even the proposed duplicate) to obviously differentiate the two questions" After having checked SO for answers, I spent an hour winnowing the problem set down to exactly the issue at hand, and re-coding a model example of the issue. I included console logs that demonstrated it was a different issue. I included text saying "this is not a duplicate of X". The issue is not in the clarity or specificity of my question. It's that people rush to mark dupes. – Euan M Oct 16 '17 at 3:32
  • Re 2. The people had the same issue. Two people asked very different questions. The same answer applied to both. Again, if your point is that duplication is all about the question and not about the answer, then neither was a duplicate. – Euan M Oct 16 '17 at 3:35
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    @EuanM Maybe you missed the point of my post: You asked "How do we work against overzealous duplicate markers?", and my answer is "Write clearer questions". Just asserting "X is not a duplicate" really doesn't clarify anything. – goldPseudo Oct 16 '17 at 3:40
  • No, I don't think I did miss point 1 of your post. My response was that writing clearer questions does not prevent invalid duplicate flags. Sticking "Btw this really is not a duplicate of X" is a band aid to cover for this fact. It does not prevent invalid duplicate flags either. Not even as a supplement to writing really clear questions, . – Euan M Oct 16 '17 at 3:48

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