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We need a sharp definition of a dupe

I always had it quite sharp why and when I marked as a dupe, and always kept an eye on how others voted to close as a dupe. Although accidents unavoidably happen on all close reasons, I must say the inconsequense, on how voting on possible dupes is practiced, is an issue in my opinion. Not only are there many different concepts practiced on what is a dupe, even the discussion on it easily ends up in a total babel.

What I suggest

I therefore would suggest the following straightforward rules, based on "rule number one" that a good and valid question could always get an answer, and subsequently: keep all relevant information in onze place.

  1. If two questions are the same, mention the same symptoms and it looks like possible answers should "fight" the same issue:

    • Mark as a dupe.
    • If OP mentions the issue is the same, but posted solutions on the dupe are not what he or she is looking for
      -> post additional answers on the original.
    • If OP makes clear his problem is caused by another issue (or we think it is)
      -> retract vote and answer.
  2. If two questions are caused by the same issue, but mention quite different symptoms:

    • No dupe; the question/answer would be difficult to find. Useful to link though in the answer.
  3. If two questions are the same, but likely caused by different issues:

    • -> (Obviously) no dupe
  4. If two questions are different, but one or more answers on an existing question also answer the new question:

    • -> Not a dupe, unless the older question's title or body can be edited to include the newer question, without harming the older question.

In the rules above, the main idea is that the question defines the dupe, not the answer. The review procedure seems to support that; in review, we don't see any of the answers. The message OP gets if his or her post is marked as dupe seems to clash with that:

if the answers on the possible duplicate do not answer your question then you should edit your question to explain why.

...But it doesn't. The message mentions OP should mention why existing answer do not work for him or her, but the information is useful for new answers on the original question.

I believe in the above rules, it is guaranteed every valid question can get an answer, even if the poster is a 1- pointer, and we keep relevant information in one place as much as possible.

Please shoot

  • 3
    You can't legislate perfection. – Seth Sep 8 '16 at 14:35
  • @Seth no, but refusing to create a basis to discuss on, is deliberately letting imperfection exist. – anon Sep 8 '16 at 15:04
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While I don't neccessarily disagree that our "blunt" or interpretative guidelines on duplicates do occasionally close the wrong things, or close things against the wrong things, and often without complete consistency, I'm not sure I agree that we need a flow-chart spelling out exactly what to do.

While there are a number of reasons for closing duplicates in the way that we do, there is only one important effect: by closing something we answer it with the duplicate (both for this person and somebody coming in with the same symptoms as this person).

It doesn't matter if they post a load of garbage about their space laser configuration. If the actual problem was caused by their graphics drivers, somebody else incorrectly thinking their space lasers are the problem is going to find the solution through the same vector now.


There's a ton of circumstance and edge-case history around this that makes spelling everything out a serious distraction to just getting things done.

  • Why was this one left open but mine closed?
  • Why was my older question closed?
  • My question was much better, please reverse the decision.
  • My question was about 16.04 but that answer says it's for 12.04!
    Edit the original question/answer if you're sure they apply. If the new OP has tested them and they don't work, edit that into the question and move reopen. Inter-version duplicates are one of the harder things to marshal accurately.
  • My answer is on the closed version which nobody votes for any more. That's not fair.

  • Etc, etc.

And that [ton of history] exists because there are moments where things aren't clean. Where we have a new question with 50 answers that are all identical to the one in a past example. We can close, but do we merge? Bigger picture, should people be rewarded for posting the same answers over and over again when they should be closing?

My point here is when things get gritty, a set list of rules isn't going to help that much. There's always another situation where somebody might actually be right and that the universe benefits from us breaking those rules. Thankfully we have Meta to argue about individual cases.

Your points about conflating causation with remedy are completely valid and people should certainly be very careful (and explicit; it costs nothing to leave a comment explaining you think their space lasers aren't the issue)... But ultimately, just do what does the best thing for the OP user and the next user with the OPs problems.

Try not to get too bogged down in making sure the questions are exactly the same. We can always re-open if required.


On the other side of this, as somebody having their question incorrectly closed for being duplicate, this can highlight simple ways to improve your question to make it more clear what you're asking.

If you're certain* your question is about space lasers and you've already read that post about wifi drivers, say that. Explain your reasoning if there's a slight technical difference. Your review jury only has what they can read to judge if it's a duplicate or not. The easier you can make this, the better.

Even if the process ends up with your question closed, then edited and then reopened, that's better than keeping an ambiguous question alive when it's getting answers for the wrong thing. That's a big waste of time.

* By that I mean you don't just say you've tried something out.

  • 2
    I completely missed your initial example of what was going wrong. A certain amount of responsibility lies with the person asking the question. If 5 people come to the conclusion it's a duplicate, perhaps the problem is with the question's wording, not procedure that leads up to it being closed. An incorrect dupe-close should be a prompt to clarify. – Oli Sep 8 '16 at 13:07
  • I don't think either of us are dismissing your suggestion as irrelevant. Things being incorrectly dupe-closed does occasionally happen. My argument is that there are too many natural subjective contradictions that while annoying, actually make things better. Laying out a law and then following it to the letter wouldn't just take longer, it'd make things worse. – Oli Sep 8 '16 at 19:39
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I sometimes review on Superuser Q&A and Stack Overflow Q&A, and I am amazed at how much more aggressive Ask Ubuntu is about reviewing compared to these two websites. At Superuser a small number of very high reputation users do a lot of the reviewing. They can review imperiously and get away with it because they're very good at it. However the reviewing bar is set so high by their very good example that a lot of necessary reviewing is not being done due to cowardice.

  • 2
    Yes, I've noticed this too. A lot of people are very, err, "close happy", for lack of a better term. However more rules isn't going to fix that, I don't think. – Seth Sep 8 '16 at 14:37

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