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This question was prompted by the results of a normal dupe search on this question.

I discovered 2 possible duplicates as listed below and my first thought was that they should be merged.

Duplicate 1 Duplicate 2

However after close examination it's pretty clear that the answers in Duplicate 1 while having historical value are out of date. Duplicate 2 has more current answers, although the accepted answer refers directly to an answer to Duplicate 3?

So what should be done to cleanup this rather confusing mess in order to be most effective in assisting current users? What criteria should we be using to determine merge candidates?

It's not my intent to waste moderator time by suggesting merges that don't make sense but I do feel it's important that the end user be able to locate current answers that work.

Some of the things I think are worthy of discussion in this regard are as follows:

Age of the Answers: Are any of them currently on topic? I.E. Should Q & A's regarding EOL versions be included or skipped?

Referal: If answers in one question refer to answers in another question (or questions) is that something to be considered when determining a merge request?

Bad Plan: Is it just a bad plan to go through the merging process at a certain point and better to try to develop a canonical answer and simply mark all the merge candidates as a duplicate of that?

  • Wow. It sure is quiet here.... – Elder Geek Nov 10 '16 at 22:42
  • Thing is, most normal users can't answer this, we don't get to do merges and don't know how much work, or how many criteria are involved. I know this is not that helpful but your comment made me want to say something :) – Mark Kirby Nov 14 '16 at 18:27
  • @MarkKirby The thing is, normal users have to answer this in order to determine whether to request a merge. If you've ever done so, or even thought about doing so, surely you made some decision based on something. Perhaps if we atually discuss the process, one of the mods will chime in and set us straight! Hope springs eternal.... – Elder Geek Nov 15 '16 at 19:11
  • @ElderGeek I usually ping one of our mods in chat if I consider to questions to be merge candidates. Not the optimal way, but it worked so far. I'm also waiting for an official statement to your question though... (just felt the need to say something after almost a week) – Byte Commander Nov 20 '16 at 23:20
  • @ByteCommander Thanks for chiming in! I know we've all been faced with similar issues to the one I described. I suppose I should try to drive some more traffic to this question as it'll be 2 weeks since I posted it in a couple days. Do you personally have any thoughts on the topic you'd care to share? It seems that 7 of us thought this was a good question but thus far it appears either no one has an opinion or if they do they are keeping it to themselves. – Elder Geek Nov 21 '16 at 13:56
  • I personally mainly look at how popular (number of views) and appreciated (vote score) a question is. If both questions are notable enough for their views and/or score (not too strict limit though), I look whether there are good (high quality: correct, well worded and formatted) and appreciated (vote score again) answers on both questions. If we have notable answers on both questions, I consider the questions to be merge candidates. All of that supposes that the questions are about the same thing and all answers to each question would answer the other question as well. – Byte Commander Nov 21 '16 at 15:16
  • I don't think we should discriminate old questions or answers if they were on-topic when they were posted. Some people might still use outdated releases or another distribution where it still works similar to that old approach. Yes, officially we do not support that, but let's see it as a positive side-effect. – Byte Commander Nov 21 '16 at 15:19
  • @ByteCommander I see both sides of the old question/answer evaluation. I think it's typical for answers that rely on the command line that are not version-centric still have value whether the poster thought they were version related or not. The older GUI related answers are often outdated and a waste of time IMHO. Granted there are exceptions to everything which is why this would be a difficult topic even if opinions were not an issue. – Elder Geek Nov 21 '16 at 17:27
  • @MarkKirby, You might find Zanna's answer here as illuminating as I did. – Elder Geek Feb 16 '17 at 21:16
  • @ByteCommander You might find Zanna's answer here as illuminating as I did. – Elder Geek Feb 16 '17 at 21:17
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A merge more-or-less destroys one question, and groups answers from both under the master question.

Therefore my view is, a question is a good merge candidate if:

  • it is a duplicate of a question which is better* or identical and itself (the question) adds nothing useful to the better one but
  • both of the questions have good, useful answers, which are different from each other.

Don't merge if:

  • duplicate posts have the same answer(s): there is no benefit in merging them.
  • the questions closed as dupes are not exactly the same and both have useful irreducible details (in the question itself), then I think it is better not to merge them, because the questions themselves have value.

*better is subjective, but you may consider overall quality of the post itself (formatting, clarity, appropriate level of detail, etc), relevance to current versions, number of upvotes, number of views, number and quality of answers, whether an answer is accepted (if a post is merged, if an answer to the merged (destroyed) question is accepted, the writer of the post will lose their accept and 15 points) and so on.

  • That's a lot of moving parts. ;-) I was unaware of the rep loss on a merge. Do you consider that one of the criteria to consider? – Elder Geek Feb 16 '17 at 20:05
  • @ElderGeek meh, the main thing is having different answers. I am pretty blase about rep-loss (and merging can often help an answer get attention it otherwise would not I think. I once answered a question, my answer got +4 and accepted. I went to sleep, woke up in the morning, the question was merged - so I lost 15, but I got one more upvote, and a shiny Necromancer badge for getting +5 on an old question, and I am still getting passive rep from that post) but all other things being equal, I'd merge the post that has no accept to the one that has an accept. – Zanna Feb 16 '17 at 20:14
  • So if a user is suggesting to merge question 1 with question 2 does the order of the questions in the request have any meaning in your opinion? It sounds like regardless of what is suggested you'd still have to evaluate them both to determine which (if either) should get the axe. Also It seems to be that with duplicates acting as signposts, and the losing question in a merge being destroyed that the instances in which a merge is preferable is few and far between. Would you agree? – Elder Geek Feb 16 '17 at 20:20
  • @ElderGeek the chronological order has no meaning I think - in fact I would favour the newer (because it may be more up to date or appear more up to date in some aspect) in the unlikely event that it has more views, votes and answers, but quality, views, votes and answers are what I'd consider first. The merged post still exists as an uneditable stub - it is a signpost in the same way as a closed duplicate – Zanna Feb 16 '17 at 20:27
  • I apologize for my lack of clarity I meant the order in which the questions appeared in the merge request. Be that as it may, I think you've provided a great deal of clarity on this topic which makes what I meant pretty irrelevant in retrospect. Thank you for spending the time! :-) – Elder Geek Feb 16 '17 at 21:14
  • @ElderGeek oops! Hmm thanks a lot. Sorry I didn't give your question enough attention earlier :) – Zanna Feb 16 '17 at 21:21
  • @ElderGeek I upvoted it, but I was waiting for a mod to answer... looks like they didn't want to, so I guess it's ok for me to pitch in – Zanna Feb 16 '17 at 21:28
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    based on the stackexchange meta post I found and edited into my answer I could understand a certain amount of reticence on the topic. I imagine if a moderator disagrees they'll not hold back. ;-) – Elder Geek Feb 16 '17 at 21:35
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Age Of the Answers: If the questions are substantially the same, on-topic and cover currently supported versions/or apparently timeless issues and there are answers of current value in both questions, by all means propose a merge and let those who have the capability merge them in order to improve the usefulness of the site if they see fit. Don't be disturbed if your request goes unfulfilled however.

Referal: If an answer to a more complex question refers to another answer as a step toward resolution then I would not consider that as a merge candidate.

Bad Plan: As I have yet to be faced with the task of merging questions I can`t answer this with a great deal of confidence, however I do believe that canonical Q & A's can be a highly effective way of providing quality answers to common questions in an efficient manner.

Edit: a review of Moderator Tools - Make merging questions a little easier seems to indicate that merging is not only a bit convoluted, but in most cases a really bad idea with many details to consider. I take this to mean that unless the candidates are identical in virtually all respects (including specific details in the answers) it's probably better to just mark as a dupe.

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