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Motivated by Preserving backwards compatibility when adding new keywords

While it's not exactly easy to say that any particular answer here is a duplicate of any other, I'm left with the distinct feeling that these 13 (as of writing) answers don't really present 13 distinct ideas.

We've seen this problem come up on Stack Overflow before. It gets much harder to deal with as sites age and answers get ossified (with higher vote counts) and as sites become more popular (and pull in more people who think "I can answer that too!" without thinking about how their answer differs from what has already been said).

I think we should plan out strategies in advance so that we don't end up with 182 explanations (of which 34 deleted) of a trivial task that definitely doesn't admit that many approaches.

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  • $\begingroup$ I've been saying this since day 1! $\endgroup$
    – Seggan
    Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 14:09

2 Answers 2

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I believe the best solution is to comment first, then downvote and delete duplicative answers, with a few important clarifications:

  • An answer is duplicative if all of its substance is included in other existing answers, although not necessarily the same answer.
  • This only applies to questions with many existing answers. For questions with few answers, there is still some value in new answers which rehash the same points if their explanation is substantially better, and people can read each answer and vote based on the quality of explanation in addition to the substance of the answer. It's only when there are a large number of answers that this becomes infeasible. Better explanations can still be proposed as improvements to the existing answers (use edits for minor improvements, comments for more drastic proposed changes).
  • There needs to be some leeway in time; if two answers posted in a short space of time repeat each other, there is a fair chance that the author of the later post didn't have a chance to see the earlier post while drafting their own. Punishing the later answerer in that case is unfair, particularly because we want people to spend time crafting good answers, not to reward speed.
  • "Comment first" means ask the author to clarify whether they checked the other answers first, and if they intended to contribute something beyond what was already said. Link to the other answer(s) as relevant. It may be that the author did intend to contribute something new, but didn't express themselves well enough, in which case editing to improve the answer into a genuine contribution is better than deleting. Otherwise, the comments at least let the author know why their answer is being downvoted and deleted, and they have the option to delete it themselves.
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    $\begingroup$ I'm more worried about answers overlapping in complex ways. For example: there fundamentally are four ways to do something; six answers present each pair of them. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 20:26
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    $\begingroup$ @KarlKnechtel If the six answers aren't all posted at the same time, then the sixth answer would be presenting two approaches that had already been presented in existing answers. So my suggestion here would apply. $\endgroup$
    – kaya3
    Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 20:32
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, I skipped past the first point too quickly. Fair enough. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 20:36
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This is more a comment than an answer, but might still be useful for the planning.

IMHO, the incentives on the site(s) favour/push towards separate answers by individuals. You (expect to) get more points for your own answer than for contributing to another answer. Also, in time answers accumulate points, but answer editions do not.

As far as I know, there is no way for an answer to have more than one author sharing non null reputation for authorship.


Another unrelated point is that when there are many answers it requieres more effort to read them all before posting... So if "there is something I badly want to say" it is tempting to just go and post. That is where kaya3's answer comes in.

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