4

I just read a question, Is there a command to factory reset Ubuntu? (asked in Dec '16) which was closed as a duplicate of Resetting Ubuntu to factory settings (asked in Feb '15) back in Aug '18. But after seeing votes on the answer (including anonymous votes) and views on the earlier question, I believe that it was wrongly marked as duplicate.

In my opinion these questions can either be merged or reverse voted (duplicate becomes target and target becomes duplicate) but still I'm not sure about this particular case.

So, I want to know what would be better: merging, reverse voting or letting them stay as they are?

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Thank you for raising this case, which turns out to be a thought-provoking one, and given the views on the two questions, one deserving of attention.

Thinking about it, the valid answers to the question "Is there a command to factory reset Ubuntu?" are a subset of the valid answers to "Is there a way to factory reset Ubuntu?", which the target question of the pair asks.

I am going to argue that this is more important than any other consideration in this particular case, and propose that the current situation is possibly the most appropriate one, but is still less than ideal and would benefit from some action.

The effects of duplicate closure

Let's think about the relevant effects that closing a post as a duplicate of another has on the two of them.

  1. A post closed as a duplicate cannot be answered.

    For me this is the most powerful, important, and potentially negative effect of duplicate closure. Someone who wants to answer a duplicate question should be able to post their answer to the target assuming the material of the hypothetical answer hasn't already been posted there in other answers. If the would-be answerer cannot do so, the closure may well be wrong. There is some justification for closing all small variations on a theme against a post that covers the theme thoroughly, but as a general principle a question that would benefit from a unique answer should be left open (assuming it is answerable within the site's scope and format).

    In this case, the close direction seems to be correct from this perspective.

  2. A post closed as a duplicate has a prominent link directing visitors to its target1

    This may cause good answers posted to the duplicate to be overlooked or bypassed in favour of the answers to the linked post.

The second of these two considerations may sometimes be the most important factor in deciding on a dupe-closure direction. We should try to direct visitors towards the best answer(s) where possible. However, I personally think that the first consideration is more important in cases where one particular close direction would discourage a type of answer that the other close direction would allow. In other words I believe that we should try to take actions that encourage answering where we have to choose between acceptable courses of action.

Putting aside the question of which of the two accepted answers is better to consider the interesting feature (the disparity in views, votes, and anonymous feedback) of the case you drew attention to, while it seems at least at first glance that users are not being directed from the closed post Is there a command to factory reset Ubuntu? to its target Resetting Ubuntu to factory settings, some investigation suggests that they are, and that the situation is not satisfactory. The timeline of the newer, closed question indicates that it has received upvotes at a lower rate since it was closed, while that of the open question shows no obvious change.

I wrote a really bad, hard to read query that shows when the anonymous votes2 were cast, and if I had any skills in visualising data in digital format, I would be able to be more illuminating here, but here is an attempt at a table:

            before closure  |  after closure
          -----------------------------------
            | up  |  down   |   up  |  down
---------------------------------------------
target      |  1  |   10    |   2   |   2
---------------------------------------------
duplicate   | 17  |   29    |   1   |   8 

This data I think modestly suggests that the perception of the target became more positive after the closure, and the perception of the duplicate became more negative after the closure. This is very interesting. I am always wondering how to interpret anonymous feedback. I would welcome any discussion on that subject.

I have not conducted an analysis of when the posts received their views, (and I really should do that to make this answer complete). But it is interesting that the post Resetting Ubuntu to factory settings existed for approximately 20 months before Is there a command to factory reset Ubuntu?, which is only approximately 25 months old, and has about 6.5 times the number of views. Perhaps we can conclude that there is something about the wording of the title of the newer question that makes it very much more likely to be found in searches. Maybe the magic string is "factory reset Ubuntu".

Although I am now able to suggest that the closure of a post as a duplicate affects people's opinion of it, I think the effect on its actual usefulness is less significant, so let us consider the answers to these questions and the feedback on them. I am using this query which you linked to in the question.

Resetting Ubuntu to factory settings (target)

Post     |Score|Anon Up|Anon Down
-----------------------------------
question |  9  |   3   |   12
-----------------------------------
answer*  |  7  |   6   |    5

* answer by Rinzwind

Is there a command to factory reset Ubuntu? (closed)

Post      | Score | Anon Up | Anon Down
---------------------------------------
question  |  18   |   18    |   37
---------------------------------------
answer1*  |  20   |  195    |  148
answer2** |   1   |   14    |   16
answer3***|   1   |    8    |   16

* answer by kyodake
** answer by tejas.jaiswal
*** answer by An0n

As someone who looks at anonymous feedback almost daily, I feel qualified to suggest that the overall perception of both of these questions and their answers by visitors is quite negative, significantly more so than average. While the closed question has far more anonymous feedback than the open one (as you pointed out), that feedback is not noticeably better. So, why are viewers of these posts not satisfied, and can we do anything to improve the situation?

I think one reason is the lack of an actual factory reset function in Ubuntu, which is what people searching for this topic are presumably hoping for. We can't do much about that. But I do think that there is scope for further answers that would help some of the visitors who are voting down on these posts. Although the existing answers have merit, there is space for more. kyodake's answer is easy to follow but it will only work if the problem is a package management issue that can be cleared up by dpkg-reconfigure and APT's --fix-broken function, which will not always be the case. Rinzwind's answer seems to me quite difficult to follow and complicated. Both lack explanation of why we are doing what we are doing. The 14 anonymous upvotes on the answer by tejas.jaiswal, which merely informs the reader that there is no such thing as a factory reset and that you should back up and reinstall seem to me to suggest that a broadly-scoped answer with beginner-level explanation, easy to follow suggestions, and links to recovery options for different situations would probably be really useful. I do not think this answer could be so easily added to "Is there a command to factory reset Ubuntu?" as it could to "Is there a way to factory reset Ubuntu?" because it should not be limited to commands. Therefore, I would not like the direction of voting to be reversed as I think it would discourage the type of answer I think is most needed to add to the existing ones.

There are many questions which I would like to close against this question if it receives a canonical answer.

What about merging?

Merging is an (almost3) irreversible operation and its destructive effects should not be overlooked. The purpose of merging is to combine answers under one question. Whether the moved answers will help more people in their new home is hard to predict, but if the target question is much-viewed, and the answer of good quality, then merging may bring the answer to a wider audience. However, merging effectively destroys the source question, answers with accepts to it lose their accepts, and users whose answers are moved by a merge are not notified4.

I have suggested that merging may be indicated where

  • there are different, good answers to two questions (this condition I consider satisfied in this case)
  • the questions are absolutely identical or one is of such low quality that it adds nothing to the other (this condition I consider not satisfied, but perhaps satisfiable)

You did not suggest a direction for merging, but you implied in chat that you favour kyodake's answer, so I suppose you would favour merging the currently open question into the currently closed one. If the merge took place in the other direction, kyodake's answer would no longer be accepted and would appear below Rinzwind's answer although the latter has a lower score. As I have already argued, I think that the target question is more general, so if the merge from open to closed were to be effected, I think it would be necessary to change the title to avoid specifically requesting a command rather than some method. This action seems acceptable to me, but I would prefer to leave the questions as they are, because I can see some value in the contextualisation provided by "is there a command to do [thing]?", and there is some magic in this particular question that causes it to be found by visitors :)


TL;DR: let us favour the creation of answers

Let's not reverse the close direction

The closed question's possible answers are a subset of the open question's possible answers. Therefore, to encourage more answers, the most general question should remain open (maybe we should think about changing its title though?).

Let's not merge, or if we do, change the title

To make sure all the possible useful answers to these questions remain valid, the open/surviving question should not ask specifically for a command, but asking for a command specifically perhaps deserves its own question (I think I'd rather reopen it than destroy it with a merge), and the existing question that asks for a command has some alchemy that attracts visitors. If a merge is performed, let the surviving question be retitled How can I factory reset Ubuntu?

Let's get a better answer for this topic

I think that Resetting Ubuntu to factory settings would benefit from an answer that explains at beginner level that Ubuntu does not have a factory reset per se, but discusses various ways a system can be recovered, linking to high quality posts on methods for different situations and summarising them, and/or giving easy to follow instructions on how to do them. If this meta answer is well received, I will bounty this question to encourage such an answer (or if someone preempts me, I will award one retrospectively :) ).


1 Also, posts closed as duplicate which have no answers will auto-redirect to their targets for unregistered users.
2 Anonymous votes are misnamed, because all votes are very nearly anonymous. These votes are the ones cast by users whose votes do not affect the score of the post. This applies to all votes by unregistered visitors (and people who haven't signed in), upvotes cast by users with less than 15 reputation, and downvotes cast by users with less than 125 reputation. Perhaps I should call them something else, like "silent votes" or "soft votes" or "non-scoring votes".
3 As far as I know it is possible by directly rewriting the relevant parts of the database, but this could only be done by community managers (SE employees) and they probably wouldn't be very happy to have that extra work.
4 There have been a few feature requests on MSE for that to be changed. Meanwhile you can use this query to find any answers of your own which have been moved by a merge and check they they don't require editing to make sense in their new context.

  • Meanwhile, I think that dupe can be reopened and title can be edited like "How to do factory reset from command line?". Should it be? – Kulfy Jan 15 at 14:02
  • @Kulfy we should not retitle the currently closed question, because its title seems to be perfect (judging by the number of views) and I cannot see anything wrong with it or to improve about it. The currently open question may benefit from retitling. I suggested a title for it in the second paragraph of my TL;DR. But the current title is also fine, not a bad title. – Zanna Jan 15 at 16:55
  • I have not argued that the closed question should be reopened, since anyone who wants to post an answer to it would be able to post that answer to the target (as I mentioned in the 2nd paragraph of my answer, with the current close direction, all possible answers to the dupe are a subset of all possible answers to the target, so the close direction is better as it is than if it were reversed). I only said I would prefer reopening (productive) to merging (destructive). – Zanna Jan 15 at 16:55
  • Looks like fair points but still it is forcing me to rethink. Don't know why. – Kulfy Jan 15 at 17:13

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