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When a question is closed as an exact duplicate, the behaviour is not ideal at all. For reference, here's an example question I'll use.

Firstly, the closed message which describes why it was closed ("exact duplicate") is shown very far away from the link to the question it duplicates, so users are forced to mentally process all the text on the question to find out where to go to contribute.

Secondly, the automatically-inserted duplicate block says "Possible Duplicate" (even though by closing the issue, the editor clearly feels it's more than a "possible" duplicate).

Thirdly, the answers to the question are orphaned from the active discussion. The only link back from the original question to any exact duplicates where an interested party could find additional answers is the "Linked" section in the sidebar near the (always wordy) related questions section, and the authors of answers aren't informed that the question was closed (to theoretically go and add the same answer to the original question).

I'm sure it's a platform issue more than a UX.SE-specific one (but given I feel it's a UX issue with the site, perhaps this is an appropriate place to discuss the possible solutions).

  • The possible vs exact wording is awkward. here's a meta.so post about it which explains...part of it. I still don't like possible and exact being used in the same context at all. – Ben Brocka Jun 29 '12 at 14:05
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The ideal solution to this problem is to carry out the claim in the "closed" message (which says "its answers may be merged with another identical question") and then exclude the issue from search results (so the duplicate question can die gracefully).

If that's not possible/feasible, my alternate proposal to resolve this issue would be to move the "Linked" answers to beneath the answers for a question, where the existing "Not the answer you're looking for?" text is, perhaps above it saying:

Not the answer you're looking for? Try these exact duplicates:

Or browse other questions tagged…

Ideally the list would be limited to questions with answers (since closed questions with no answers aren't likely to help anyone).

I'd also like to see the template for closed answers changed to more explicitly link to the original question. First, change the "Possible Duplicate" text to the more authoritative "Duplicate", and ideally move that content into the "closed" block, changing it to something like:

Closed as exact duplicate of Should registration be optional on an e-commerce site? by JonW♦, Patrick McElhaney on Feb 22 at 13:58

This question covers exactly the same content as earlier questions on this topic; its answers may be merged with another identical question. See the FAQ for guidance on how to improve it.

  • We can merge the posts, but generally don't unless they were exact to the letter copies or if the duplicate was of no value. See my post for why; we like to keep dupes around for searchability – Ben Brocka Jun 29 '12 at 14:00
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A couple of these happen because we're trying to minimize the damage; closing is a reversible action, so posts can stop being duplicates. I think this might be why there's the "possible duplicate" wording.

I know that's why the posts aren't merged; it'd be a big mess if a post were mistakenly closed as dupes and the answers were permanently moved over. In addition, the answers often have slightly/significantly different wording due to the wording of the original post; even if the real solution to both problems are the same, people might have answered in slightly different ways, so merging can lead to an even more confusing mess.

Merges can be manually performed by moderators if two questions are closed as dupes and they are exactly the same, generally meaning exactly the same text. This usually happens because of reposts. We generally don't do this, as the post which was merged (and thus lost all answers) will eventually be deleted.

Duplicates are left as they are to allow searchability; the titles and wording are always a little different, which means you might find the dupe, not the root. Leaving the prominent link to the root means you can find the answers without too much pain. Ideally the duplicate won't have answers or won't have very many.

If the root question is missing an answer, by all means answer the root question. This is a manual process for now due to the potential ugliness mentioned above.

Additionally, non-logged in users are automatically-redirected to the root question when they hit a duplicate via Google so they see the "canonical" post with (hopefully) all the answers.

For now, remember this is a good reason to close dupes early; dupes with answers are...problematic.

  • Right, but if I as a user find a question that interests me that isn't closed, I'm unlikely to realise there are other practically identical questions on the same site with answers that may be relevant to me. I think the "not the answer you're looking for" block seems perfect for linking to other duplicate questions that have answers. – Kit Grose Jun 30 '12 at 12:43
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There are two other things that indicate that the question has been closed as a duplicate:

  1. The word [closed] is appended to the title, both on the questions/home page and on the question itself.

  2. The question chosen as the duplicate target is automatically inserted into the question right at the top. The confusing wording of "possible" and "exact" has been raised before and I agree is less than ideal.

I know people skim over stuff, but that's a lot of information to miss before getting to the close reason at the bottom of the question.

  • Sorry if I implied the design made it hard to identify closed questions, I don't think that. I just think finding the best answer to a question that IS closed across the n identical questions on the site is unreasonably difficult. – Kit Grose Jun 30 '12 at 12:44

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