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I'm not saying that "Possible duplicate of..." was the most friendly way to advise of a potential duplicate, but it was at least accurate.

The first time I saw "Does this answer your question?" on Meta.SE here, I just deleted my question in a huff. It took me at least a week to figure out it was the "new friendly" version of the duplicate flag. I'd call that a fail, as I've been here over 5 years, am a native English speaker and still didn't get it to start with, I literally had thought someone was being a smart-a** and pointing out my apparent inability to do something as simple as use a search engine.

Of course, now I'm aware of what it is, my initial reaction feels a little too 'snowflake' and I'm rather embarrassed I didn't figure it out sooner - but I'm bothered that a new user would have even less insight as to how this system works and may take umbrage sufficient to never return.

Could we discuss alternatives, amenable to both newcomers and existing users, that isn't quite so... cloying, or open to misinterpretation? There is no tone of voice in text.

Perhaps, also, that the message reads differently depending on your 'age' and rep? Something nice for newbies but 'accurate' for established users?

Ref: Recent feature changes to Stack Exchange - specifically this answer:

  • 2019-12-07: The automatic comment when voting to close a question as a duplicate has been changed to say "Does this answer your question? [x]" instead of "Possible duplicate of [x]".

Late Edit:
After three days of… let's call it "interaction"… I feel the feature would be best served by simply being reverted to the older wording.
The new attempts to be 'conversational' rather than 'machine-speak' yet fails because it looks like a specific comment by a specific user.

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    I guess, we of course could discuss this, but to change that, SE staff would have to come up with the same question in their feedback gathering process, which stopped including Meta since some time ago. – Askar Kalykov Dec 21 '19 at 11:57
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    It strikes me that it could be taken many different ways, but I don't think that it would be easy to find a good substitute. – hat Dec 21 '19 at 12:22
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    I’m a native English speaker too; I agree it sounds sarcastic. “Let me Stack Exchange that for you”-esque. – Rebecca J. Stones Dec 21 '19 at 14:21
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    @RebeccaJ.Stones - precisely. 'Potential dupe' conveys a hard fact, though being only 'potential' allows for debate or clarification, 'Does this answer…' implies 'your google-fu sucks, huh.' [I'm over-emphasising, of course] – Tetsujin Dec 21 '19 at 14:24
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    Or don't generate a comment at all. It's basically just spam. The OP already gets a proper notification & prompt in a banner over their question. – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 21 '19 at 16:09
  • @LightnessRaceswithMonica I thought the comment was needed to trigger an inbox notification. – rene Dec 21 '19 at 16:16
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    @rene Possibly, but that seems fairly easy to fix. – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 21 '19 at 16:23
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    @LightnessRaceswithMonica But isn't one of the purposes of the comment to let others know that the post has been flagged as a potential dupe to that other post? This can save time for others who try to helpfully find an already existing answer. This, of course, assumes that SO/SE still cares about reducing duplication. – faintsignal Dec 21 '19 at 17:55
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    @faintsignal Mm, that's true! Another reason why the original wording was better, as it was not directed solely at the OP. Still, that could be implemented another way, with a banner visible to close vote rights holders. – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 21 '19 at 18:00
  • You should post (should have posted?) an answer on the Stack Exchange Post Notice announcement. See also this related Meta post Confusing comment “Does this answer your question?” I might even go as far as to suggest your question is a duplicate because the older question is also unhappy with the wording. – Mari-Lou A Dec 21 '19 at 18:20
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    @LightnessRaceswithMonica Don't forget about users who can only flag, not vote. In my opinion, something that wasn't broken was "fixed". "Possible duplicate" is a face-value wording and doesn't imply anything about the asker (though a high frequency of duplicates might). At some point people need to manage their sensitivities, only so much can be accomplished by gentle phrasing. The way things are heading in Western culture, I feel like in the not distant future, schools will not be allowed to mark 2 + 2 = 5 wrong if upsets the student. – faintsignal Dec 21 '19 at 18:21
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    @faintsignal Good point about the flaggers. Certainly agree there was no need to change this, and yep that's how things are lately in certain countries. Niceness for niceness's sake, consequences be damned. Sad. – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 21 '19 at 18:24
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    @Mari-LouA - it would certainly meet my definition of ironic if this was flagged as a dupe of Confusing comment “Does this answer your question?” ;) On the other hand, Stack Exchange Post Notice announcement is such a mire of answers & comments I feel you need at least a stab-vest to even dare go in there. I'm certainly not sufficiently brave to venture into that quagmire as a 1400 rep user on this stack… nor would any amount of google-fu have found it if you hadn't told me it existed. – Tetsujin Dec 21 '19 at 19:10
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    The message has a neutral tone. You read it as snarky. Also please try to think of an alternative phrasing and include it in the question when you feel you have a problem with some wording. – Renan Dec 22 '19 at 15:21
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    @Tinkeringbell The sentence in my answer, which answer I will delete after posting this comment, was not snarky. It was a simple statement of fact. Some employees of SE do have tin ears, but I do not care any more. I could write an essay on tin ears and SE, but life is too short. – user540056 Dec 24 '19 at 13:34
18

I 110% agree with you. To my native-English-speaking ears, "does this answer your question" does not read as friendly.

I also agree that "Possible Dupe:" was perfect. It summed up the content of the comment in two words with no room for interpretation of tone. The only issue with it, as we've seen, is an argument from the user over whether or not their question is actually a dupe and complaints later on meta.

I think that is an issue with the user understanding what "duplicate" means on StackExchange (or SO in particular). It can get confusing for someone new that your post can be closed as a dupe of a completely different question, when it's the answers on the dupe that the OP needs to be reading.

I think the solution here is to give new users more knowledge of what "Possible Dupe" actually means. And I'd do that by making those two words a hyperlink to some nicely written FAQ of "what does it mean to be flagged as dupe and what should I do next?"

TL;DR Go back to the old text, but make it a hyperlink to educate new users on what a dupe means and what they should do next. I.e.: "[Possible Duplicate] of [Duplicate Question]"

| improve this answer | |
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I can't spot any unfriendliness or sarcasm in that duplicate notice. It's just a clear question for the OP, and an invitation to read up the answers in the link, and confirm or not.

... but it was at least accurate

Many users complained about the formerly used Possible duplicate of ... that their questions weren't a duplicate, because their question didn't literally match the original linked question.

Focussing on the answers is much better, and thus more friendly.


Perhaps, also, that the message reads differently depending on your 'age' and rep? Something nice for newbies but 'accurate' for established users?

That may appear sarcastic for a well experienced and established user, since it shows they didn't research their question well enough, but in the end it isn't.

| improve this answer | |
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    I suspect the inferred perception is different depending on whether or not you are a native English speaker. – Tetsujin Dec 21 '19 at 14:10
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    @Tetsujin Maybe it also depends on how offended someone wants to be when reading a comment or how much negativity they want to project onto a comment. – Tom Dec 21 '19 at 14:19
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    "Does this answer your question?" accompanied with a "look around you" gesture is often used as a sarcastic response to a question in direct human interaction. It's often playful, but in that context it still implies the answer to the question is obvious by observation. That often doesn't apply in online discourse, and I'm reasonably sure that connotation was not intended at all by the folks who modified the original phrasing. Still, a lot of folks will associate the current phrase with the meaning I described above, at least initially, while they process the comments. – faintsignal Dec 21 '19 at 18:49
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    ...even more-so if you missed the notice about the phrasing change, or weren't even aware at all that the text is automated. – faintsignal Dec 21 '19 at 18:51
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    Maybe it's an issue of low self steem, where they think they're being offended when they really aren't – Rainb Dec 21 '19 at 23:02
  • "Focussing on the answers is much better, and thus more friendly." This comes from out of nowhere, and it is a non-sequitur. – Servaes Dec 23 '19 at 17:08
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    "That may appear sarcastic...but in the end it isn't." This seems to go against the general advice here at SO, also in the CoC, to consider whether your words might offend someone, and not to decide for the reader that they are misinterpreting the tone of your message. – Servaes Dec 23 '19 at 17:11
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As a non-native English speaker, I find some of the messages ranging from "friendly" to "harsh" with some steps like "neutral" and "patronizing". The way I feel them is who or what wrote it.

When I go to the ATM, I know I'm dealing with a machine. Any message I might get will be from a machine. No big deal. I won't blame the folks working on the software. Like when I read: "you have an error in your SQL...". The machine tells me.

What I think could be nice: don't try and make a machine look like a human being. For instance, when you VTC as duplicate, it's a tool put in and run by humans' hands. The message should then be clearly identified as machine-ish:

Our system has found some related material and it may help you. Please check THIS (this being one (or two?) link(s)). In case it's different, please edit your question to explain and clarify so that users can help you more efficiently.

In this case, "our system" isn't a bunch of harsh people telling you bad things (as it could be perceived), but the message of a machine, and no real person has told you you're wrong. If not a help from the system, it's at least a try.

Of course, my example message should be improved and rewritten by some English speaking folks, but I think the idea behind is still not that bad.

As pointed out in comments, it should be in the standard blue top notice.

| improve this answer | |
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    Agreed and it should be in a banner not a comment so this is clear – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 21 '19 at 18:01
  • Yes thanks for pointing out, I edited this on top of my 2nd edit to make it more clear ;) – OldPadawan Dec 21 '19 at 18:05
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    Yup - that's a good way to think of it. Perhaps I always considered 'possible dupe' to be machine-speak & therefore relatively neutral. My initial perception of the 'new friendly' version didn't read as machine-speak, I mis-read it as a human telling me this. – Tetsujin Dec 21 '19 at 18:13
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    I like your answer, but behind a machine message is a human who wrote the message. I especially like your proposed message; although it could use a few tweaks, it is excellent. – user540056 Dec 21 '19 at 18:24
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    @ab2: agreed. The one behind the machine can and should know what and how to write it, but it's basically not that difficult (even if communicating isn't their first job, they're educated and nice human beings ^^) it needs no more than common sense, a touch of be nice spirit, and some feedback. When in doubt, I write it, and ask someone to tell it to me (or try to imagine it). If I like it... If not... – OldPadawan Dec 21 '19 at 18:39
  • You have a point. But Grammarly is obsessed with the passive voice. – P.Mort. - forgot Clay Shirky_q Dec 21 '19 at 20:00
  • @Peter: as we should be obsessed (always first) with the human part in anything we do, even (especially?) when working with machines ;) I do, in my everyday job, putting people above all mechanical parts involved in my teaching. They still learn, but like us more, and our school has very nice reputation. Thanks for the link, I'll read it (and try to understand too :))) – OldPadawan Dec 21 '19 at 20:13
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When I am asked by a student or a colleague about a particular issue, where I have already created material that explains the issue and resolves most subsequent problems from it, it is not unfriendly or sarcastic to provide them with that material and ask whether it does indeed answer their question (along with other questions they probably would have asked).

If you find it offensive to suggest that you have not conducted a sufficiently thorough search and that other people may wish you to immediate access the information you seek instead of waiting for new answers to be created, perhaps you're the one being unfriendly and rude, demanding a unique answer to your questions despite the fact they've been answered already.

If you don't agree that it answers your question, you can say so - that's what comments are for. If you see a clear difference between your question and the existing one, you can make it more obvious to others - that's what edits are for.

Reading sarcasm into plain text when it is clearly neither intended nor necessary is a human foible on the part of the reader.

| improve this answer | |
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    "it is not unfriendly or sarcastic to provide them with that material and ask whether it does indeed answer their question": no. But the way to tell them or the way to present it to them could be. Phrasing is very important because many people have many way of understanding and feeling. It's very hard to write a sentence that's enough "sugar coated" without sounding as "patronizing", for instance. Many levels of understanding need many levels of (re)work until your reach the use of the proper words (opinion and experience based here) – OldPadawan Dec 21 '19 at 22:27
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    Someone is always going to find a way to interpret words as an insult to their dignity. For example, an uncharitable reader might take your use of emphasising particular words as implying the reader either did not know or disagreed that phrasing and presentation are important. A reasonable person however, would see emphasis for what it is - emphasising! Similarly, a reasonable person does not see a simple question as being sarcastic, especially when there is an interpretation much more consistent with everything else on the site - "you want help, is this thing helpful?" – Nij Dec 21 '19 at 22:35
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Automatic comments are wrong in the first place. I do not intend to post a comment each time I vote to close as a duplicate, so I have to delete these comments manually which is an unnecessary step that I shouldn't have to take.

If there needs to be a way to notify users with some message, then notify them via the notification inbox and leave the message somewhere else, like in the usual notice plaque on the post. Then this problem wouldn't exist.

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  • VLQ reviewers: I feel that this does answer the question to the extent that it's either a Frame Challenge or (a better implementation) the suggestion that the necessary comment (so we know what's going on) should be signed by the "Community" user (until there is a quorum). --- If you like (or dislike) show by voting, not deleting. – Rob Dec 22 '19 at 15:25
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    I have had an experience that if I delete my auto-comment, the next voter's account writes a comment. So your cleaning up wouldn't be helpful eventually. It saves you a conversation ofc. – ankii Dec 22 '19 at 15:45
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    The comment avoids other users looking for a duplicate. It helps avoid useless work by others. Please don’t delete it. – Cris Luengo Dec 22 '19 at 16:39
  • @CrisLuengo but don't they already see the close vote? Or am I missing something? – user1306322 Dec 24 '19 at 10:48
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    Only if they have enough reputation to vote to close. Lower-rep users will still search for duplicates and flag to close. – Cris Luengo Dec 24 '19 at 13:50
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    Also, if your vote ages away, then the comment serves as a permanent link to the suggested dupe. For low-traffic tags the vote can age away even if the dupe is good. I have found such links useful in the past. – Cris Luengo Dec 24 '19 at 13:53
  • Is it more helpful to hide pending close vote reasons from low rep users and show them these comments instead? I feel like if we show them the message, the need for these comments disappears automatically. – user1306322 Dec 24 '19 at 16:07

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