I know we've already had a question about duplicate posts on meta about it (the irony! :) but that question doesn't address the issue in exactly the same way I am wanting to address it:
One of our users is being very active in tagging what he feels to be duplicate questions. While I'm glad to have such a passionate user of the site, I am now starting to dread moderating as it seems every time I go to moderate I see his tagged-as-duplicates forcing me to review each one and make a decision on them.
The reason I dread it is not for the work but because I have very mixed feelings about closing duplicate questions. The original question may be very similar, but the exact use-cases are often different and the users are clearly different people. Further, older questions do not get the attention that new questions get, so often the only way to get a question answered is to ask a newer, identical one. So closing "duplicate" questions seems very problematic to me. And when a question is closed as a duplicate it feels very much like a negative to the original poster, and why embrace a mechanism that makes (mostly) new users feel bad about their first experience? (Talk about about the number of frigid users this will produce! But I digress... ;)
Here's what I propose: When a user finds a "duplicate" post they make yet another post, mark their post as
community wiki and they do their best to write a perfect SEO-friendly title, a perfect summary of the question, tag it as
<canonical> and add their best answer culled from the answers to the other questions.
In addition, at the very bottom of the question they would add a bulleted list of the other questions exactly like the following:
This question is the canonical version of these questions:
- [Question Title 1](http://wordpress.stackexchange.com/questions/123/)
- [Question Title 2](http://wordpress.stackexchange.com/questions/456/)
- [Question Title 3](http://wordpress.stackexchange.com/questions/789/)
Then later, StackExchange can add functionality to enable a checkbox for
<canonical> that would allow the poster to enter the URLs for the related questions. This could also have the result of the following within the StackExchange mechanism:
- Setting the canonical header in the HTML of the other questions to point to the canonical question,
- Merging all search results that match the related questions, and linking the merged search result to the canonical question,
- Listing the links to the related questions at the bottom of the canonical question,
- Linking to the canonical question on the page of the related question but above the text for the related question, and
- Setting a flag for moderator review to ensure the the other questions are indeed related.
This change could:
- Remove the "problem" of duplicate questions, turning them into a positive,
- Institute a formal structure for canonical questions, and
- Encourage and empower users to curate a canonical reference.
There really is nothing that's part of StackExchange network that does a good job of encouraging users to curate a canonical reference yet finding ways to create a canonical reference for each common question should IMO be the goal of a Q&A site. Giving users points for the canonical question and answers in some form could also really supercharge curation and result in a way to use the weeds to cultivate beautiful flowers in the garden (where weeds=duplicate questions, flowers=canonical questions, and the garden is the StackExchange mechanism and network of sites.)