I think we need to specify what we expect new users to do when they come here. At the bare minimum, I think that is:
- they should do a cursory search to see if their question has been asked already
- they should read the FAQ or at least lurk around for a few minutes to see how the site operates at a basic level
I don't think it's reasonable, or practical, to expect new users to do anything more than that.
So let's take the ideal scenario. A new user is trolling the web to see if they can't fix a problem they're having with a game. They land on Arqade, see it's a site devoted to answering questions about gaming problems, and they think "hey, maybe I can ask here!" They pull up the FAQ and see there's nothing that appears to prohibit their question. They also take note of what reputation is and how much you need of it to do various things like comment and use chat.
Then they do a search and find a question that's pretty close to what they're looking for, but it's unanswered.
This is where Stack Exchange breaks down for new users. The only three options available to them are:
- Ask a new question, which is a functional duplicate of the unanswered question.
- Leave an answer on the unanswered question with a "me too" response, providing more information that might help a potential answerer.
All three options, frankly, suck. I can see why there are people who wish to allow users, who have no other option but to leave, to ask duplicates. And SE definitely supports some amount of duplication. But looking at this, I can't help but feel that this is still a poor experience for everyone involved: for new users who aren't getting the help they need, and for regular users who may not be aware of which questions are getting a pass on the duplicate department.
That is, I'm all for saying SE is messy, but having guidelines that amount to something like:
if it's a new user asking a question, rather than helping educate them on best practices so they can get the most out of using Arqade, let them ask their duplicate questions and get no answers like the other versions
is really unsatisfying. We have an opportunity to show Arqade's commitment to quality in action, but we squander it as a reaction to too many new users getting their questions closed.
So, I'd like to propose something else: as regular users with thousands of reputation and tons of experience with the site, we should consider putting some of the work back on ourselves in cases where, as desaivv put it, our heart goes out to a new user and we want to help them.
For example, when a new user does something less than ideal (asks a duplicate question because the original is unanswered, leaves a "me too" answer), consider leaving a polite comment recognizing the problem (new users can't really contribute to outstanding unanswered questions) and explaining something to the effect of:
- To keep quality high, we don't want to duplicate the same problem so people get confused when one version gets answered but all the others just fall by the wayside
- If they're interested in giving Arqade a try, before they know it, they'll have enough reputation to revisit this question and finally get an answer
- Arqade is constantly updating, and if they check back in a couple of days, we might have an answer
Obviously that's pretty verbose for a comment, but covering the gist of these points is probably enough. The expanded version might even be fodder as part of a Skeptics.SE-esque "new user welcome message" that we've been casually talking about doing here.
Secondly, and this is of course entirely optional, if you see a question that keeps getting re-asked or has lots of views or what-have-you but we don't have a good answer for, consider placing a bounty on it yourself. Bounties are one of the two ideal ways to get a question attention (the other being updating the question with the latest information), and what better way to illustrate their usefulness than to lead by example? If new users conclude "hey, bounties get hard questions better answers", it gives them something to work towards so they can eventually get their own hard questions answered here, too.
To that end, I put my money where my mouth is and placed a 500 point bounty on the LAN question we've been duping everything to. It's obviously a major problem that people are having, as evidenced not only by the number of duplicate questions we get, but the number of "me too" answers it got. Hopefully we'll get a great, complete answer, and this particular problem will wind up being substantially less of a mess that it is right now.