Former co-founder Jeff Atwood seemed to think parallel paths to a solution were a good thing. He wrote,

some duplication is desirable. There’s often benefit to having multiple subtle variants of a question around, as people tend to ask and search using completely different words, and the better our coverage, the better odds people can find the answer they’re looking for. And isn’t that, really, the whole point of this exercise?

~ Jeff Atwood - 2010 Strangedupe: How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love Duplication

Is this logic still sound? Should SE consider rewarding subtle variants of a question? Or at least stop stigmatizing them by calling them duplicates to invite downvotes?

So I feel a parallel question label is the ideal solution - it links your problem to an answer instead of to a question for the OP to rummage around through looking for a pseudo-related answer. First, parallel is the accurate term to describe two things arriving at the same place. Like driving Interstate 10 West and Highway 66 West both will take you to Los Angeles, but certainly they are not "duplicate paths." The same is true about questions.

(The example below is ridiculously simple out of respect for your reading time. A complete and detailed example is found here)
Here are 5 paralel questions which lead to the answer, "1967 Chevrolet Camaro":

  • What is the first Chevrolet muscle car?

  • What was the pace car in the 1967 Daytona 500?

  • Did the Camaro ever have window vents?

  • What was the black car in Better Off Dead?

  • What was the Chevy II Nova frame based on?

The band-aid approach used now is to simply link the "duplicate" question to the original and shut down answering for the "duplicate."

The real-world problem for users

To the point, assume I am an expert because I found a note from Gene Roddenberry detailing how the zero-point extraction system works in the Star Trek fictional universe. I want to share this treasure with the fans, and I also believe it's worth some reputation.

  • I can't post and answer my own question "How does a ZPE work"- it would be a duplicate. Phoenix already asked this.

  • I can't answer Phoenix's led as a dupe. No answers allowed.

  • A can't answer the parallel question "How are self-replicating mines supposed to work" because my answer doesn't talk about the whole mine, it talks about this magical system used in many things. My ZPE answer would be off-topic and low quality for a question about mines. I would get down-voted. Also, Phoenix will never know their question was answered because answers to the parallel question doesn't alert them.

    My trove of valuable information is in an information graveyard created by poorly-connected meta data with an epitaph reading What is a zero point extraction system? [duplicate]

Factually these two questions are parallel, not duplicates. The mines use a zero-point extraction system, which in a good response would explain what that means, but we don't advocate for that. The cycle is here: Q1:How does a mine work? A:It uses a ZPE. Q2: How does a ZPE work? A:[Duplicate - see Q1] Information death.

I feel users like Phoenix who arrive at a common solution by different paths should not be deprived of all reputation. The site benefits from their work in broadening the search effectiveness, yet the answer to their question can never be posted.

Hasty Rough draft of a feature - preventing dupe stigma
Parallel questions can both link to "duplicate answers" as a possible solution as voted by users (A user votes that the question's answer already exists and adds a link to the answer, not the question, just like dupe questions do now), as well as add reputation to the parallel poster when the parallel answer is up/down voted. Phoenix can "accept" a parallel answer voted by another user, conveying reputation.

Yes, this does mean one single answer can appear under and be voted on for two distinct questions, depending on how sitable it is to each. Answers do not have rote up/down vote counts instead an u/d count per parallel question is recorded.

Eventually the answer quality encompases a larger scope of questions and is arrived at by many more search terms.

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    "stop stigmatizing them by calling them duplicates to invite downvotes" Is that really the case? I rarely downvote duplicates, and when I do it's usually for other reasons (clarity, for example)... – yannis Oct 8 '19 at 19:59
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    This seems needlessly complex, for what I'd question is of minimal benefit. – fbueckert Oct 8 '19 at 20:03
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    "Should SE consider rewarding subtle variants of a question?" You can upvote such posts, so why should such questions be able to "double dip"? "calling them duplicates to invite downvotes" to invite downvotes? So you say that's the purpose of marking a question a duplicate? – Tom Oct 8 '19 at 20:04
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    "an expert answer to "how zero-point extraction system" works can never be rewarded" When those mines use that system as well, then why would an answer from that expert gain no reward under the mine question? Also if you (or OP of that other question) thinks the dupe doesn't work, then you can edit the question to point out the differences. "user Phoenix can never earn reputation for asking a perfectly valid question" Phoenix already earned 20 reputation points – Tom Oct 8 '19 at 20:04
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    "Or at least stop stigmatizing them by calling them duplicates to invite downvotes" I feel like most of the stigmatisation is done by the poster of the question. Very often they are the ones who don't like their precious question being flagged as a dupe. When I do it, it's to provide an answer. They asked a question, but their answer is in another castle - I've given them a direct path there. Most downvotes are cast because the dupe should have been found with the barest of research - sometimes searching the title leads to the dupe target. Too often, in fact. – VLAZ Oct 8 '19 at 20:30
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    A lot of times, the dupes have substandard answers. Because a Q is marked dupe, folks who would otherwise have been interested to do some digging...don't. Who knows what new answer gems might be found since different people may be searching for a 'best' answer. To me, that's what Jeff Atwood was getting at. – tblue Oct 8 '19 at 22:01
  • @VLAZ - We should not be downvoting duplicates but the fact is that we do. Upvoting duplicates should probably be actively encouraged - they do add value as meta-search tools. This is a systemic problem and I hope more people like myself at least try to create solutions. They may amalgamate some day into a real improvement – Vogon Poet Oct 8 '19 at 22:13
  • @Tom - I hope I answered you question in my latest rewording – Vogon Poet Oct 8 '19 at 22:14
  • @VLAZ - Also, Kudos for that comment. The dupe vote SHOULD only be to answer the question. It literally does say you found the answer. That said, barring a full parallel vote the Dupe vote hyperlink should not link to a duplicate QUESTION but to a recommended ANSWER. After all, there is no such thing as a "duplicate question" until there exists an answer; ergo, a "duplicate question" simply doesn't exist. – Vogon Poet Oct 8 '19 at 22:18
  • Loosely related an unpopular FR of mine: Request: Don't delete duplicate questions with unique titles and please think twice before downvoting them where I argued duplicate questions that were not identical to the original had value and should be preserved. – Mari-Lou A Oct 9 '19 at 8:38
  • Your respect for my reading time in all honours, but...your example questions are pretty useless if you genuinely think they're answered by three words. – Chris says Reinstate Monica Oct 9 '19 at 8:53
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    "Former co-founder Jeff Atwood"--has his status as co-founder been revoked? :-) – fixer1234 Oct 10 '19 at 3:10

Here are 5 parallel questions which lead to the answer, "1967 Chevrolet Camaro":

  • What is the first Chevrolet muscle car?
  • What was the pace car in the 1967 Daytona 500?
  • Did the Camaro ever have window vents?
  • What was the black car in Better Off Dead?
  • What was the Chevy II Nova frame based on?

These aren't parallel questions. They're all different questions.

Answers aren't a box with multiple openings to the same thing. They're answers to a question posed with it's relative context. As answers go, "1967 Chevrolet Camaro" is a terrible answer. It does nothing to further the understanding of the reader, nor offer anything beyond basic data you could find on Wikipedia. Good answers take the context of the question into account, and base their answer off of it.

  • The Camaro was the first muscle car, and here's some history...
  • The pace care in 1967 was the Camaro, and here's why...
  • The Camaro didn't have window vents because of this design decision...
  • Here's some history about Better Off Dead, and why the Camaro was in it...
  • The Camaro was a logical design improvement for these reasons...

Notice how none of these would have the same answer? You can't strip questions of all their context without stripping answers of any value they had. Trying to makes the assumption that one small piece of an answer is the answer.

Because one question about mines exists, an expert answer to "how zero-point extraction system" works can never be rewarded.

Ah, now we get to the reason for this feature request. Seems like a convoluted way to just challenge a duplicate, really. That follows the same process as any other duplicate challenge; edit the question, or post on their Meta. It doesn't need a new system.

... there is no place to post it on SE because the concept has been forever conflated with mines.

Well, is there anywhere else in the lore that uses that concept outside of mines? That seems like a core issue that needs to be resolved, and likely a good basis for challenging the duplicate, if it does.

If questions are similar enough, they can be merged, and their answers brought under the auspices of a single question. That can allow answers from both to exist with no need to link to specific answers. There's no need to link to specific answers; that's making the assumption that it's one box with multiple holes again. The box would have to morph and grow to accommodate all these holes, and now it's turned into something unrecognizable because it tried to be too many things to too many questions.

There's no need for a parallel question system. Context matters, and you can't distill answers down to basic information.

  • You have caught me red-handed using a horrible example however that doesn't make the problem vanish. Ambiguity over the duplicate or not duplicate generates ENORMOUS comment and Q/A traffic on this site. Your post acknowledges the issue. But "[like] any other duplicate challenge; edit the question, or post on their Meta"is convoluted no? 1) Mislabel as Duplicate 2) Change the words or call the mods. Why not avoid the erroneous dupe tag at the outset? The fact is that it's broken. Thousands of posts and comments want the crazy dupe system fixed. – Vogon Poet Oct 8 '19 at 21:26
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    Duping has it's problems, but it certainly isn't broken. It doesn't need a convoluted system to, "fix" it. – fbueckert Oct 8 '19 at 21:31
  • I imagine there exists a system that can put that opinion to a vote? – Vogon Poet Oct 8 '19 at 21:34
  • You mean like...the existing system, where you need multiple people to vote? – fbueckert Oct 9 '19 at 0:15
  • Like that. Yup. – Vogon Poet Oct 9 '19 at 0:23

Frequent quora.com user here.

Don't even think about it.

Quora has a different model, and to a certain degree, they really want many questions to come in. Duplicates are not seen (as big) as an issue there. A new question might drive new traffic, so let's welcome it.

Now, given you do it the right way, your Quora "reputation" (aka: your chances to be added to the Quora partner program) grows the more questions you ask. Thus: there is potential financial gain from asking many questions.

Real world effect: people start using scripts to ask the very same question, just in endless subtle variations. That is super annoying, especially when you are more on the "answering side", as you may get bombarded with "answer requests" for such bulks of nonsense.

Sure, Stack Exchange isn't Quora, but as said: I have seen that platform that worries less about duplicates, and I find that part to be a huge problem for Quora.

So: don't even think about bringing this to Stack Exchange.

  • Everything in moderation. There is a gray area we already live in using living "duplicate" judges. Just open the valve a little to prevent stifling good content. – Vogon Poet Oct 9 '19 at 23:34
  • Quora moderation seems to work on similar principles (quantity over quality). In other words, clueless. – Peter Mortensen Oct 10 '19 at 2:56
  • The hyphen site had something similar (free account if answering a certain number of questions per month). Guess what the quality of those answers were... – Peter Mortensen Oct 10 '19 at 2:59

The current system, while imperfect, avoids the complexity you are advocating for. At a certain point, all we can do with issues that are grey areas is provide a framework with built-in ambiguity and trust everyone to use their best judgment.

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    I'm not sure an exchange like this would even exist if our answers began with "all we can do is." I believe solutions exist, but only at the cost of asking questions, and working to find the answers. – Vogon Poet Oct 8 '19 at 21:17
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    That's a fair point. And I think you're right, all our answers don't begin with "all we can do is." For cases like this though, with an inherent judgement call built in, I think that ambiguity is ok. I like where your head is though. – pfr Oct 8 '19 at 21:27

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