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Anyone who's spent much time on Meta has seen them: the frustrated rants from inexperienced users yelling about how The High-Rep Cabal closed their question out of Sheer Soup-Nazi Spite or Malign And Calculated Self-Interest, and how horrible we all are for allowing such a Heinous Evil to go unchecked. (Here's the most recent one.)

But… why? Getting upset about downvotes I totally get: someone took time to dislike something I wrote that left me vulnerable when I asked for help with it. But with duplicates, it seems more like "Oh, yeah, that sounds familiar, try over here." This impression should be strengthened by the wording chosen for the banners. Why doesn't that seem to soften the blow?

I have a couple of hypotheses, but I'm not terribly confident of any of them:

  • Injured pride at being judged inadequate at searching

    This seems plausible enough. The implied "you could have found this yourself if you'd tried harder" might sting, and might sting some personalities more than others.

  • Frustrated sloth at being denied a custom answer to this question with all the quirks of variable names, problem roomies, and arcane rulesets handled by the answerer rather than by adapting an existing answer

    I can easily imagine this annoying someone. Not sure it would produce the insulted rage, however.

Can anyone weigh in with more authority, either from analysis of Their Own Dark Heart upon getting a question closed, or from general knowledge of human nature?

  • 3
    I almost don't want to offer up any excuse for these people since they tend to annoy the hell out of me. But still, a couple of observations. Some people see that misleading wording "This question is an exact duplicate of..." and then they go read the other question and see that the question is not exactly the same (despite the fact that the answer does answer their question). Rage ensues. I've also seen people who think the fact that their question is getting closed as somehow meaning it's getting deleted (dismissed, shunted aside, etc). Heart fills with hate. – n8te Apr 18 '18 at 6:04
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    Maybe it's not the duplication at all, but the downvotes they get for not finding it themselves. – Robert Longson Apr 18 '18 at 6:05
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    @n8te: "Exact duplicate" could easily be rage-inducing, but on main sites that banner is very seldom seen — usually it's just "this question already has an answer". – Nathan Tuggy Apr 18 '18 at 6:16
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    @RobertLongson: Could be sometimes, but in many cases, once investigated, the only downvotes came once they posted on Meta, and most of them were to the Meta question. (I don't have a specific case ready to hand, but I can dig one up if needed.) – Nathan Tuggy Apr 18 '18 at 6:17
  • True. I was thinking of meta. I guess I'm out of ideas. I'll let someone with a blacker heart than me weigh in. – n8te Apr 18 '18 at 6:17
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    It is somewhat hard, as a closing user, to discriminate between: "this answer is easy to find when you know what it is" and "plz look harder :(". Most of mine tend towards the latter, but beyond a close and up vote there's not much in "there, there, it wasn't your fault" one can do for the former. – francescalus Apr 18 '18 at 7:06
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    I recall at least one case where I posted a question that was almost close voted instantly as a duplicate and when I complained in a comment This question took me 11 minutes to write the response was It took me 11 seconds to find the duplicate. So that is that ... – rene Apr 18 '18 at 7:53
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    Another thing is, it happened to me once, due to poor phrasing as I’am not english, my question got tagged as duplicate while I thought it was different in subtility. I used to lost too much energy after triing to explain its not the same, its in that effort that I got too much involved personnally – yagmoth555 Apr 28 '18 at 10:09
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I've read a lot of complaints about duplicate closures in other places like Hacker News where SO was discussed. It's often one of the top complaints about SO, second to only the complaints about closing "subjective" questions.

The major common feature in those complaints was that the duplicate was not an exact duplicate, so it didn't solve their question. Getting your question closed as a duplicate, when that duplicate doesn't solve your problem understandably feels like a very hostile action.

I can't distinguish how many of the complaints about bad duplicate closures are actual bad closures, and how many are a perceived issue. The asker might miss that the duplicate actually contains a solution, especially if the duplicate is a more generalized version of the problem.

My own hypothesis is that we have a non-negligible number of wrong duplicate closures, and that the simple scale of closing means that even if it's only a few percent of closures that are wrong, that's enough to seriously piss off a large number of people. Users without a lot of experience on SE sites also are unlikely to know how to get their question reopened, they'll perceive it as someone simply smashing the door in their face, and shutting down their question because they didn't read it right.

  • I agree with that. – John Duffield Apr 18 '18 at 15:29
  • It's probable that many of the complaints about bad closures are legitimate, but don't reflect well on an extremely low error rate in a high-volume system. Just because some people have complaint-worthy criticism doesn't mean there's a problem. – Aza Apr 19 '18 at 1:05
17

My 2 cents: most users are relatively new to the Stack Exchange network. They have experience with social media where content is reposted like there's no tomorrow; and they probably know about a discussion forum or two. The concept of 'duplicates' doesn't apply there, and they might feel that they've done something wrong and have been 'caught'. (I remember that feeling from when I posted a link-only answer and got the appropriate canned comment.)

Another Stack Exchange concept that's hard to grasp is the fact that we're providing answers mainly for future visitors, not for the authors themselves. Many people think we're some kind of support desk where you get a (maybe templated) response to every problem you bring. Closing a question denies the possibility of giving a response (answers) and can upset people, just like a closed support desk would.

This impression should be strengthened by the wording chosen for the banners.

Well, the first banner says "This question already has an answer here:" which is fine. The second one, below the question, still says "marked as duplicate".

then they go read the other question and see that the question is not exactly the same (despite the fact that the answer does answer their question)

(from n8te's comment)

This, too. From the author's point of view, they have to read an extra question, which is slightly different or in some cases only related, and then have to adapt the answer(s) there to their specific question, which in some cases can be a lot more work than just getting a spoon-fed answer (your second hypothesis). Don't get me wrong, I think that in most cases (like the linked example), closing as a duplicate is fine. But from an individual's point of view, I can imagine that getting your question closed as a duplicate can be frustrating (though nowhere near the point of getting enraged).

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    Yeah, the feeling of having been caught is a very plausible explanation. Nobody likes to be caught doing something they didn't think was wrong when they did it. – Nathan Tuggy Apr 18 '18 at 6:44
  • "My 2 cents: most users are relatively new to the Stack Exchange network". Now that's interesting. I seem to see a lot of users with a very low score. Perhaps they don't stick around. – John Duffield Apr 18 '18 at 15:26
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    "...the fact that we're providing answers mainly for future visitors, not for the authors themselves." That, in my opinion, is the single biggest reason new users have trouble adjusting to SO (I don't have as much experience with the other sites). It would be nice if there was a way to get that point across more effectively before the first question is posted. – Andrew Myers Apr 18 '18 at 22:27
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    My impression is that we're living on a time where folks have a lot to be enraged about. And we have lots of digital venues where The Rage can be expressed. – brasofilo Apr 19 '18 at 1:14
5

(Disclaimer: I think the answers to this question are somewhat site-specific, and I'm not a big SO user; these points may not be relevant to SO).

I think one reason is that we're sometimes not that nice about it. Between the (at best neutral) wording you get on the screen, and what might be some rather barbed comments from other users, the tone can be more "you fool, we already have this one" rather than "hey, great question - actually we already have an answer here!". Not always... just sometimes.

Another is that people do sometimes close questions as duplicates of questions that don't provide a good answer to the new question. It's obviously frustrating when you spend your time wording a question carefully and then some other anonymous soul negates all that effort. It's especially frustrating when you feel your question has been dupe-marked by people who perhaps seem to have been influenced by existing close votes, and aren't taking the time to understand your question - being misunderstood can be enraging.

Also, if your question has already been asked but doesn't have good answers, there's no good way to attract better answers. Bounties don't really seem to create much interest on a lot of sites, and if you're a new user, you won't have the rep to place anyway.

Another problem is the fact that on many sites, closing a question can happen more easily than getting it reopened; The 'High-Rep Cabal' can genuinely be a little defensive on some sites, in my experience.

1

I think there are a few different reasons - It's one of those things that's less than obvious. You're new, you're here for help, and your entirely on-topic question gets closed as a duplicate - sometimes even before you get an answer.

Contrast this with many new users who post multiple identical answers rather than flagging to close. Duplicates are not something a new user will get easily.

I've personally joked about how the duplicate suggestions in the title work better - so there's less of an excuse, but it's still something less than obvious to a new user. While search does suck, the most obvious dupes are obvious - and if it's the same problem with different wording, it helps searchability.

I've often chosen to suggest differentiating a question from the duplicate target. I guess its balancing the immediate payout of answer(s) and reputation for folks who have asked and answered there, and the broader goal of building a knowledge base.

There's no quick fix - literally people just have to get "this is how it works" or decide on a threshold of duplicity that as many people are happy with as possible.

  • 1
    *cough* Not sure "duplicity" means what you think it means here…. – Nathan Tuggy Apr 18 '18 at 18:06
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    That was an intentionally humourous reuse... – Journeyman Geek Apr 18 '18 at 23:54
  • ands by reuse, I mean misuse. – Journeyman Geek Apr 20 '18 at 3:50
-2

Why does marking someone's question as duplicate incite such rage or hurt feelings?

I don't think it does, provided that a) it really is a duplicate and b) the answers on the duplicate really do answer the question.

Anyone who's spent much time on Meta has seen them: the frustrated rants from inexperienced users yelling about how The High-Rep Cabal closed their question out of Sheer Soup-Nazi Spite or Malign And Calculated Self-Interest, and how horrible we all are for allowing such a Heinous Evil to go unchecked. (Here's the most recent one.).

That's not a rant. The guy makes a good point. I thought it was rather ironic that his question was closed as a duplicate.

But… why? Getting upset about downvotes I totally get: someone took time to dislike something I wrote that left me vulnerable when I asked for help with it. But with duplicates, it seems more like "Oh, yeah, that sounds familiar, try over here." This impression should be strengthened by the wording chosen for the banners. Why doesn't that seem to soften the blow?

I think the problem comes when the person who flags the question as a duplicate is the person who has given an unsatisfactory answer on the alleged duplicate.

I have a couple of hypotheses, but I'm not terribly confident of any of them: Injured pride at being judged inadequate at searching. This seems plausible enough. The implied "you could have found this yourself if you'd tried harder" might sting, and might sting some personalities more than others.

I'd be interested to see if anybody really felt that. I suspect not.

Frustrated sloth at being denied a custom answer to this question with all the quirks of variable names, problem roomies, and arcane rulesets handled by the answerer rather than by adapting an existing answer

That doesn't sound likely either. But it does sound rather insulting. Rubbing salt in the wound, as it were.

I can easily imagine this annoying someone. Not sure it would produce the insulted rage, however. Can anyone weigh in with more authority, either from analysis of Their Own Dark Heart upon getting a question closed, or from general knowledge of human nature?

I think there are people who have answered a question, sometimes badly, who are motivated to close down a new question even if it's not much like the alleged duplicate. They know that people are more likely to upvote an answer that's already been upvoted, ie theirs. And that posters with a better answer are less likely to provide it on the duplicate.

The bottom line here is that Stack exchange has a system that can alienate new users, because the Stack Exchange "model" is idealistic - it doesn't work well when users are less than honest. Why an organisation lets this happen to its own detriment I do not know.

  • Why shouldn't a user who gave an answer on a question close another one as duplicate of it? They would probably know best because they knew the answer. And if they gave a bad answer it would be more likely to collect downvotes because of more views due to being a duplicate target. – Modus Tollens Apr 18 '18 at 17:58
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    Your first sentence makes an assertion that would be nice but doesn't match my experience: people do frequently complain even about perfectly straightforward duplicates. Re the "malign and calculated self-interest" hypothesis in your last paragraphs, my answer to the linked Meta question mentions the problems with that — again, there are many questions that are complained about that can't fit that explanation (because no close voter had an answer on the dupe target) and indeed usually any rep incentive goes strongly the other way, as we've verified extensively on SO. – Nathan Tuggy Apr 18 '18 at 18:01
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    @NathanTuggy I think the "perfectly straightforward duplicates" thing is probably very site-specific - on Music.SE, for example, many, many questions are partial duplicates; very few are exact duplicates. – topo morto Apr 18 '18 at 19:39
  • @Modus Tollens : in an ideal world that would be fine. It's also fine when it's a clear duplicate. But sometimes users "game" the system, knowing full well that an answer with upvotes is more likely to get more upvotes, and vice versa. Like I said the Stack Exchange model is idealistic. It presumes people are Saints, and some are not. It only takes a handful of people acting selfishly to give a lot of newcomers a bad experience. – John Duffield Apr 18 '18 at 20:45
  • @Nathan Tuggy : all points noted. Maybe topo morto's point is what makes the difference. – John Duffield Apr 18 '18 at 20:47
  • @JohnDuffield Examples please. – Modus Tollens Apr 18 '18 at 20:56
  • @Modus Tollens : sorry, no. I know that undermines what I said, but I prefer not to go into it at the moment. – John Duffield Apr 19 '18 at 7:14
  • @JohnDuffield The curious thing is that hardly anyone ever does provide examples. I didn't experience malicious dupe closing behavior like that, so it would be really helpful to see an example. – Modus Tollens Apr 19 '18 at 7:17
  • @Modus Tollens : I accept your point. But like I said, I prefer not to go into it at the moment. – John Duffield Apr 19 '18 at 7:34
-5

If someone posts a good question, other programmers group up around the question and collectively try to solve it. It's fun to search for the best answer with like minded people. Different groups of people can have fun answering the exact same question at different times.

A duplicate close says, "I've been here for many years and I'm not interested in basic questions like this". A veteran programmer would use this to close down conversations between newer programmers. At least where I live, that's very offensive: people are used to associate freely, and resent being dispersed. The veteran programmer should participate in questions he does find challenging instead of dissolving newbie groups.

In addition, I'm offended that people deprive new developers of the fun and learning experience that Stack Overflow used to be. It's like, we've had fun learning this in 2010, and we will prevent you from learning by closing the exact same question as a duplicate. It's like saying "our cool kid's club is full" and we don't welcome new programmers.

Joel on Software (one of the SO founders) blogged here: https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2018/04/23/strange-and-maddening-rules/:

The old timers invented the concept of FAQs. They used them to say “please don’t ask things that have been asked before, ever, in the history of Usenet” which honestly meant that the only questions they really wanted to see were so bizarre and so esoteric that they were really enormously boring to 99% of working C programmers.

Duplicate closes are the new RTFM.

  • That is nicely said. Any solution to this? – rene Apr 28 '18 at 9:11
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    The problem I have with this argument is is that it dismisses the value of SO as a knowledge base. A new developer can still go "ah hah! This is similar but my question has a twist" Another value add of duplicates is it links similar questions together. Overzealous dupe voting is annoying but the concept as a whole, to me dosen't detract from the Q&A experience – Journeyman Geek Apr 28 '18 at 9:15
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    So, it looks like we've got some ways to go still in explaining to newish folks, as politely as possible but as thoroughly as necessary, that Stack Exchange is all about closing down conversations, and all about reusing all possible previous learning. And it would seem there may be some people for whom duplicate closing is offensive because of the key principles of Stack Exchange that make the whole thing work… a la packing water out of Burning Man. – Nathan Tuggy Apr 28 '18 at 15:14
  • Not a word of your comment makes sense to me. Every question on Stack Overflow is easily (like, within 5 minutes) answered using widely available knowledge. – Andomar Apr 28 '18 at 18:23
  • @Andomar: Whose comment? (Also, I absolutely and wholeheartedly deny the assertion that every question on SO can be answered with widely available knowledge in 5 minutes. There are probably thousands of questions for which no available answer exists at all that anyone is capable of finding, and tens of thousands more for which answers, if they can be found, require many hours of careful research by someone very patient and already very knowledgeable in the field. Never mind the fact that in many cases it takes a good bit longer than 5 minutes just to write up the answer!) – Nathan Tuggy Apr 29 '18 at 1:14
  • By the way, I suspect the downvotes are coming from an understandable, if misplaced, kneejerk reaction to a viewpoint that most experienced SE users believe to be both wrong and contrary to SE ideals; my upvote, on the other hand, is because if this viewpoint is at all representative it is a very good framing of (part of) the problem at hand. – Nathan Tuggy Apr 29 '18 at 1:16

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