12

I recently answered a question on Ask Ubuntu and got 2 very different comments that I thought might be worth considering by the community.

The OP had asked about how to disable the lid switch on a laptop. As someone relatively new to Linux who has gained a lot from the site, I try to give a bit back by answering relatively simple questions (hopefully freeing up IT experts for those questions that are complex / require a lot of knowledge that is way beyond me).

The research I did came across an answer from 10 years before on Ask Ubuntu... it needed a minor tweak and the previous answer was a bit bogged down in detail for a new user, so I answered (after confirming the fix worked on my laptop which runs the same Ubuntu version used by the OP) by referencing the original answer and summarising the bit that was relevant to the user.

First comment on my answer was that it's better to close such questions and refer to the original answer as it's a disservice to other users who might come across my answer and not get all the benefits of the more detailed previous answer (and even if they do find both answers, it makes Ask Ubuntu more cumbersome to navigate). The second comment said it was better to do what I did and give a concise answer that worked for the OP, because I made it easier for the OP to find the fix they needed. The OP clearly liked my answer.

So I appreciate there is no absolute to this, and the answer is probably ideally both - but do we (when answering) prioritise the specific question that is asked for that particular user, or do we prioritise giving answers that are useful to everyone? And in terms of the specifics, is it better to refer to a previous answer, even if very old, so long as it still works, or is it better to give a new answer?

I imagine there will be different views on this so perhaps might work best if a few people give views as comments and then some of the very experienced users / moderators could give answers?

FWIW, my personal view is that I've really found it helpful as a relative novice when the responses to my questions have been written in a way that reflects my inexperience, and so I've valued the more individual approach.

I hope this question helps rather than creates more confusion!

Thank you all.

8

If a question is going to be, or to put it another way, is clearly justified in being1, closed as a duplicate, then you might prefer to guide the OP in the comments as to which answer you recommend and so on, rather than posting an answer.

However, if there are slight alterations needed, or you feel you can write an answer in a more appropriate way, then it's perfectly okay and the better option in my opinion to just go ahead and write an answer. If the question is already closed you can write an answer to the target and direct the OP to it if that seems preferable.

The notion that similar answers to different questions, or answers to one question linking to answers on another make the site harder to navigate somehow makes no sense to me, and if the target has multiple answers then it's much better for the duplicate to have the answer that's most suitable for it, because that's one less click and probably significantly less reading for future visitors who land on the page to do.

I mean the priority is for the site to be as useful as possible to as many people as it can, not for every reputation point possible to be awarded to the author of some ancient answer who already has 30k...

Perhaps the question should not be closed as a duplicate1, but you've still noticed that an answer to another question somewhere provides a solution. In that case I recommend writing an answer in the way you did, linking to the other answer with proper attribution to the author etc.

do we (when answering) prioritise the specific question that is asked for that particular user, or do we prioritise giving answers that are useful to everyone?

We are "building a library". Questions are not only or even primarily for their askers - we hope they will be useful to many more future visitors. But I think that writing answers suitable for the question is the best way to build that library. Also if all goes well we can be sure we helped at least one person :)


1 I decide whether a question should be closed as a duplicate in a stricter way than others, using this question:

Can I imagine an answer that could be posted to the proposed duplicate that could not be posted to the proposed target?

If not, then close it. If so, leave it open.

2
  • That is a masterclass in eloquence when answering a question: thank you!
    – Will
    Sep 20 at 23:08
  • thanks for your kind words! :)
    – Zanna Mod
    Sep 21 at 6:01
5

Answering Questions with a Link to a Previous Answer

From what I have seen in 'Ask Ubuntu General Room', it is agreed that answering a question with a Link in a major sin.

Likewise posting a comment with a Link may be temporarily useful, however comments often do not have a long lifetime.

Your answer Pulled a good example out of a ten year old question that had 25 mostly obsolete looking answers. It might have taken the OP days to test them before finding one that worked.

I was a little shocked to see that someone then posted your link as a comment.

In my opinion the purpose of Ask Ubuntu is to help people with questions about Ubuntu. I think you did a good job of this.

2
  • I voted to reopen the question and hope others will review it with an open mind also. askubuntu.com/questions/1358045/… Aug 16 at 13:37
  • 1
    I know it's not the done thing to comment just to say thank you, but I've found your posts (answers and comments) extremely positive and helpful - both in the Q this post references, and also the Q&A I posted yesterday that has created a firestorm, and it's impressive that you are prepared to stand up to be counted. My personal view is that your approach to this site is a fantastic example of how to encourage positive contributions and you've consequnently made it a much better site.
    – Will
    Sep 8 at 22:25

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .