Duplicate closure should be a more rewarding experience
The main community I use is Stack Overflow. We have more than a decade worth of questions - chances are that most simple queries are answered. Yet we get them again and again. We are drowning in duplicates. Some show up multiple times a day.
There are multiple issues with closing duplicates that make it a chore and not even viewed in good light.
Closure seen as bad
Duplicates are closed and many users seem to think that closure is somehow bad. There are two misconceptions here, in fact:
- closure is not bad. It is supposed to be a temporary state until the question is improved. It is quite neutral, not any sort of judgment on the user as a person or driven by malice.
- Duplicates are a type of answer. This discrepancy is jarring because dupe closures are still closures. Yet, we close as dupes not as a temporary state1 but to immediately give access to answers. In some cases, the answers have been curated and improved for years.
These misconceptions put people off.
In the ideal magical world of my fantasy, duplicate closure would not be presented as "closure" but re-framed as a way of answering.
1 Unless the duplicate was wrong. But we do not aim to close against the wrong target.
Question askers do not cooperate
The misconceptions do agitate a lot of them. This leads to some fighting the duplicate closures. Here are some of the common arguments:
- The title does not match. But we do not close based on title but answers.
- The top answer does not help. Again, we close because of all answers, not just the top one.
- The duplicate does not work for their code. Very often this is because their code uses different names - it is not
foo it is
bar. Or values - not
42 it is
215. And that is it - everything is the same.
We close as duplicates to give access to ready-made answers instead of having to wait. Having to then further spend time convincing people that yes, this is the answer but you have to maybe modify slightly or maybe even read further down is frankly exhausting.
Not all question askers disagree or fight the dupe closures. However, I seriously sometimes avoid closure and just leave it because I do not feel I have the mental fortitude to start explaining yet again why a would answer something.
In my imagination I picture question askers being happy they are linked to a high-quality existing resource. Because they recognize that it does solve their problem.
Question answerers do not cooperate
Another reason to close as duplicates is to consolidate all knowledge in one place. This only works if all the knowledge is in one place.
Very often, however, we get answers to duplicate questions. Sometimes many. A common and simple enough question can rack up 5+ answers by the time it is closed.
Sometimes, duplicates are not even closed. It is extremely frustrating to start searching for a duplicate and find 3-4 different questions that are all fundamentally the same but you cannot really choose any one of them because all are open and all have different answers.
Gold badge closure power helps a bit but not everybody has that.
In my dreams, people are motivated to find or vote for a duplicate instead of answering.
Searching for the correct dupe target is not very pleasant
I cannot entirely blame people for answering duplicates. Having to look for existing answers is a literal thankless task. The vast majority of the time, at least.
Some duplicates are easier to find. Others take more time. Regardless of the type, I personally start to get exhausted after having to look for a dozen duplicates in a row. It feels like I am just a personalized search assistant. I imagine others might have even less of a tolerance to that.
A simple answer is very tempting. It might be easier to write one than find the correct duplicate target. Also, answers get upvotes, comments, and reputation in general. Finding a duplicate gives you either nothing or frustration.
With some imaginary powder, I would make it so somehow proposing duplicates has some sort of reward. Some incentive to do it rather than just because consolidated knowledge is how what we want of Stack Overflow. It will help mitigate some of the dissatisfaction related to this.
Amount of incoming questions is high
This might be a personal thing but what I also find exhausting is just how fast questions are coming in. At more busy hours, there might be 10 questions a minute. At less busy hours maybe 1 question a minute. Normally, it is somewhere in between.
In the time I spend evaluating few candidate questions to see which most closely matches as a duplicate target... there may be another 30-50 new questions added. A lot of them asking things that were already asked years ago.
That is only about the tags I monitor. At least in that corner of Stack Overflow, it seems impossible to keep up. We need to have more people curating given the number of questions we get.
Hopefully, all these magical transformations will make it easier for users to find an answer to their questions. Which will reduce the tide of new duplicates that come in. At least a bit.
With a magic wand, I would like to make the duplicate closure more pleasant for everybody involved. Close voters, answerers, as well as question authors. I just hope there is magic strong enough to do that.