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Ironically, a similar question has been asked before two years ago... We need to be more careful about closing questions as duplicates... but that was about questions with answers that might answer the (non)-dupe, while these are merely related.


It seems like questions are being marked as duplicates any time they are related and have one or more notable or distinctive things in common (especially if they're about a less-travelled destination). Sometimes, questions are marked as duplicates that address some side-issue or element mentioned as background in a question, but don't address the thing the asker actually asked for - as if people are using "close as duplicate" when they mean "you might also find this interesting or useful".

Here are some recent duplicates that left me scratching my head:

  • What time to buses and marshrutkas leave from Tblisi for the Red Bridge? was marked as a duplicate of a question which had no content in either question or answers about the one thing the asker actually wanted to know (what times they leave), about buses only (excluding mashrutkas), between Tblisi and Baku by any route (not specifically via the red bridge or from the rail station which the asker asked for), that was from 4 years ago with a comment mentioning that it's now out of date.
  • Flight path over a war zone, such as Syria and Iraq in 2015, asking about flights over an extremely serious active war zone shortly after the Russian military joined in the fray with modern high-tech weaponry, was closed as a duplicate of a question specifically about flying over Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan (very different countries and situations), asked at a time when fighting in these areas was largely limited to ground-level, sporadic, low-tech militancy or civil disturbances or low-altitude drone strikes, asked and answered before MH17 was shot down, before every airline re-assessed its policies and risk assessment of flying over conflict areas. The situations of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2014 and Syria and Iraq in 2015 are very different, especially in terms of risk to air traffic.

In both cases, the answers to the old question obviously didn't answer the new question. The questions had some limited overlap, but were asking for or about different things. Also, both got their x5 close votes after someone had commented pointing out that they weren't dupes

There are some other similar ones as well, but I can't find them right now.

Can we please only close as duplicates when the questions are duplicates, and instead cross-link as related when questions include some related content but would need different content for proper answers?


Update - I don't entirely understand the response to this question. +10 votes (great!), but both example questions are still closed (huh?), and neither of the two answers below addresses the particular type of voting I'm describing or the circumstances of these examples.

No-one seems to disagree when I say these questions shouldn't be duped, and no-one has attempted to argue that Iraq = Iran or that "Mashrutka times" = "Bus frequency", yet they're still marked as dupes. I'm also still seeing some high-rep users reaching for the "close as dupe" button in situations where on other sites, people would simply cross-link as related.


Update #2 - a month later, one of the example questions got re-opened, but despite a detailed explanation of why the two questions aren't dupes here on Meta, the Georgia-Baku question attracted a mere one re-open vote (I can finally see them now! :-)). Plus one comment below, pointing out that mashrutkas look a bit like buses. In case anyone's unclear, mashrutkas and buses are as different as ride-share cars and taxis.

This is why I think there's a problem here. It seems people have no problem at all with piling-on close votes without stopping to check if they really are dupes ("I don't know what a mashrutka is, but, meh, who cares, I'll vote to close anyway"), but there's no equivalent enthusiasm for re-opening incorrectly closed questions on non-mainstream topics, even when the difference has been explained at length ("I don't know what a mashrutka is, so, meh, who cares, I won't vote to re-open").


Update #3 - we've just closed a question about journey planning (how to find journey options that minimise time spent in the air) as a duplicate of a question about travel-related psychology (how to overcome a fear of flying)...

One has answers recommending journey planning websites with particular features, the other has answers talking about seminars and anxiety reduction techniques. Someone interested in one question might find the other interesting, but clearly, neither question's answers would answer the other:

"How can I overcome a fear of flying?" "Try Rome2Rio or HipMunk". Nope.

"How can I find cheap routes that involve less air time?" "Try an airline's fear-of-flying seminar, then read a book when you're on the plane". Nope.

They're obviously different questions, and it'll take hours or days to re-open in which time people with useful information to share will lose interest. This is clearly still a problem.


Update #4 - Seriously, this is getting ridiculous now. This morning alone we've got:

There seems to be a small destructive hardcore who close-vote without thinking, and who don't care about the consequences for other users. What can we do about it?

  • It doesn't seem very clear to me that the first question excludes Mashrutkas. If I look up how a Mashrutka looks like, it could well be qualified as a bus. – drat Nov 25 '15 at 1:07
  • @drat have you ever traveled by mashrutka? Saying "mashrutka = bus" is like saying "taxi = private car". The whole approach to how they are organised and scheduled is different – user568458 Nov 25 '15 at 7:35
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Answering from another angle, there is an (understandable, even when I don't share it) weariness about poorly formatted questions or common topics that apparently leads people to scramble to find some reason to close what feels like a new variant of the same old question with minimal effort after only a cursory reading. Marking a question as a duplicate is the path of least resistance, you can get rid of a “bad“ question without writing anything, engaging with the OP, arguing endlessly about what's subjective or not, etc.

It's good you bring this up again, I usually try to comment or, when I can, write an answer to give the question a chance but the truth is that I have seen it times and times again, probably did it too on occasion, and I don't think we will ever be able to entirely avoid it.

Good news is that this site has reached a size that makes it possible to find 10+ people to look at the close/reopen queue on a regular basis so if you can make a good case (maybe edit the question a little if needed) it's not too difficult to get a question reopened.


I notice that I was one of the people who voted to close the Syria/Iraq question (I now nominated it to be reopened). I have zero recollection of all this so I can only speculate but maybe the framing makes a difference. At the time it was closed there was no reference to Syria and Iraq in the title, it felt like a generic question about “war zones” even if it's true that it always mentioned many other details.

  • I think this fits the behaviour I see. It look like people are responding, "ugh, another question on topic area X, I can't be bothered with that, where's the nearest question about X", without even really comparing the questions, which isn't a good attitude. I'd dispute "it's not too difficult to get a question reopened", though - see my latest update about the ill-fated mashrutka question. – user568458 Dec 10 '15 at 15:50
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    Also there's a certain irony if people are responding to perceived laziness and new users unwittingly doing the wrong thing, by... lazily doing the wrong thing, even though they're experienced enough to know better – user568458 Dec 10 '15 at 15:53
  • @user568458 Let's say easier than it used to be, then ;) It's not 100% but I have the feeling it's getting better, not worse. Also editing the question really helps, even when the content does not change that much because it bumps the question, increases exposure and give people an opportunity to revise their vote. – Relaxed Dec 10 '15 at 16:15
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The actual text of the Duplicate link/close reason says something like "This question already has an answer here. So I close vote/flag when I know that a question is answered somewhere else, even if the questions themselves do not overlap.

That said, there are cleary some overzealous close voters - if/when I see a close vote that is obviously wrong, I normally flag for moderator.

  • But neither question had an answer to the question asked on the linked non-dupe, either. I think I did flag one, after commenting, but it seemed to make no difference – user568458 Nov 15 '15 at 10:16
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    Yes, some people are overzealour with close votes, seemingly just herd-following. There was a recent visa refusal question, with some close votes for unclear. I retracted my vote after all the information requested was provided. (At least) two people came along after this and added more close votes. – CMaster Nov 16 '15 at 11:20
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    The actual text is “This question has been asked before and already has an answer.” (my emphasis). It's not at all like the one you remember. I don't have a link at hand but we had some lengthy debates about this and IIRC both Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky weighed on the issue on the main meta site. Bottom line: “duplicate” always meant identical question. – Relaxed Nov 27 '15 at 13:54
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    @Relaxed Not sure if this is the discussion you're thinking of, but here's confirmation from SE staff (shog9) that duplicates should be the same question. It suggests some other other possible actions that can be taken if you can't "find an existing question that covers the exact same issue" (such as an answer that explains why a different question's answer also applies here, with a cross-link and a quote), and links to various related discussions. – user568458 Apr 26 '16 at 11:10
  • So you see a comment saying it's already answered and reflexively vote close without checking whether that comment is true? Hmmmm. – WGroleau Sep 2 '16 at 15:47
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I didn't vote to close nor to reopen any of the questions. But following the last update of the OP, I think maybe giving a perspective on that will be useful for the discussion. I'm referring to this part specifically (emphasis mine):

It seems people have no problem at all with piling-on close votes without stopping to check if they really are dupes ("I don't know what a mashrutka is, but, meh, who cares, I'll vote to close anyway"), but there's no equivalent enthusiasm for re-opening incorrectly closed questions on non-mainstream topics, even when the difference has been explained at length ("I don't know what a mashrutka is, so, meh, who cares, I won't vote to re-open").

My philosophy on this is that if I go through the close queue and I see a question with a close vote on a question with a topic I'm not familiar with (usually most of the non-obvious visa questions for instance), I will simply 'skip', as you rightfully say it wouldn't be fair otherwise. So for instance seeing the question above I'd probably see 'marshrutkas', not knowing what it is, and if I don't have the time and motivation to research the topic, I'd 'skip'. (Of course to be fair, as Relaxed said in his answer, there's probably cases where a question is badly written and marking it as a duplicate seems like the best/easiest option, but that wasn't the case here)

Now, the same of course applies to reopen votes. If I'm not convinced that the question is not a duplicate, I wouldn't reopen it. I always read the comments before voting to close or to reopen, and if there's some controversy I'd usually go and try to find out more, but if I don't have time or feel that I cannot judge whether it's really a duplicate or not, I would not vote to reopen. In this case I actually did an online research on what a 'mashrutka' after this Meta question came up: from what I can tell it is a sort of shared taxi on more or less scheduled routes which stops on demand. This sounds exactly like the minibuses/vans that I encountered around SEA, and this definitely goes into the broad definition of 'bus' for me. Linked with the fact that the OP on the question asked about 'busses and mashrutka' I decided that an updated answer on the other question would also answer his question and hence I must have voted either 'skip' or 'leave open', I can't really remember which one now. My point is, I did re-evaluate the question and make a informed decision.

Sorry for this being a bit long winded, but I don't think at this point this is an issue of people being indifferent any more. You pointed out those questions which in your opinion where wrongfully closed as duplicate, people saw your post here and went to revisit those questions. One got reopened and the other didn't, but at this point I think it's safe to assume that if it didn't get reopened by now (after you bumped this post twice and a lot of people have seen it) that the community decided this question is a duplicate and thus I think you should accept this as a result of a democratic process and not a sign of indifference.

  • As someone who's traveled quite a lot in the FSU I'd be more likely to assume someone asking about buses was also interested in trains than I would assume someone asking about buses also wanted info on mashrutkas. Mashrutkas are great but the experience will be daunting for some - largely unregulated, chaotic boarding, no certainty about arrival time or route, crazy drivers, usually poorly maintained vehicles. They're an acquired taste. When people ask for bus info in the FSU it's usually because they prefer slow, sedate relative comfort. – user568458 Dec 15 '15 at 9:56
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This question: Chance of getting UK Standard Visitor visa without booking flights for application? was originally marked as a duplicate. The OP complained, and I looked at the canonical question/answer vis-a-vis the OP's question.

If you really want to split hairs, OK the OP's question is framed in a different way. So I reopened the question and did the best I could to provide an answer. I feel deep down that it's the second or third time I have provided the same stuff about flight bookings. Even the image is a repeat upload.

Having said that, my overall objective is to have ALL UK and Schengen visa questions marked as duplicates. If you research the 'visa-refusal' tag, you will see the community saying basically the same thing over and over again.

For your question...

There are three or four in the TSE community who have been gifted with the Hammer of Mjolnir. They can use that hammer to close duplicate questions with a single vote. That hammer is ridiculously hard to get. The people who got it are pretty sharp and know the subject area in depth. I haven't seen a case where somebody used the hammer when they should not have, but I'm sure it will happen.

In the coming months we will have two more users getting hammers and over the next year I expect there will be a half-dozen more. It means closure will be much more precise.

In other cases, we follow the basic SO model which is to vote and if five people agree, the question is closed. If you think the community is getting trigger happy and you object to a specific case, you have some options...

  1. Raise your objection as a comment to the question
  2. Raise your objection in META
  3. Raise your objection in chat (this is effective sometimes)
  4. Flag it per CMaster's answer (to whom thanks)
  5. Cast a 'reopen' vote which puts it into the review queue
  6. Use Markdown Pad to compose a canonical question with a canonical answer and upload it all at once
  7. Add a new answer to the canonical question which covers more area

I have done all of these so this answer comes from personal experience. All of these options work.

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    First, neither example was a dupe-hammer. Second, both examples got their x5 votes after someone had commented pointing out they weren't dupes, so it looks like some close voters are just piling on without doing the normal checks. Third, raising objections on meta is exactly what I'm doing (since I can't yet cast reopen votes). Finally, it seems to be niche topics disproportionately affected where fewer users are able to cast reopen votes - hence me asking people to be more careful – user568458 Nov 15 '15 at 10:15
  • Also I think the "how do deal with shengan questions" issue is a separate question with its own meta threads, I'd prefer to not get into that here – user568458 Nov 15 '15 at 10:18
  • "close with a single vote" is too much power for anyone to have. – WGroleau Sep 2 '16 at 15:50
  • @WGroleau there are about 9 people on the site who can close with a single vote. And there will be more next month and the months thereafter. You should take it up with SO staff if you are unhappy about it. – Gayot Fow Sep 2 '16 at 16:00
  • I probably will. I'm to exactly unhappy, but after having posted that we are safe from inappropriate closures by it requiring five votes, only then to hear that it only takes one in some cases.... – WGroleau Sep 2 '16 at 20:22
  • @WGroleau indeed, if you want to end that sort of thing, or postulate some guidelines about it, SO is the right place, but I would post here in META also so as to be sure there is a body of supporters behind you. But certainly get SO staff involved. – Gayot Fow Sep 2 '16 at 20:37

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