Don't merge topics!

Continuing the discussion from Moving posts into an existing topic doesn't keep chronology:

I don’t agree with any of the options proposed to resolve how to merge posts and my comments have moved too far from the topic to reply within it.

Don’t merge topics at all. Come up with another solution.

IMO, at the risk of upsetting others because I don’t mind expressing this strongly, there is no generally acceptable method to merge two or more conversations without bastardising the merged conversations in some way. I see the issue as very clear cut. I’m also optimistic that there is a better range of possible solutions.

It’s similar to the practice of photoshopping (merging) people - the absent, the dead, the imaginary - into a family photo. You can do it but it isn’t generally a good idea and doesn’t feel right. Although, I guess early photography was built on preserving the memory of dead people - after all, they were the only ones who sit perfectly still for the full exposure. :slight_smile:

So maybe this is not a good example but it expresses the idea that this feels wrong. :anguished:

Where do you stop?
If you have to do it for two conversations then you potentially have to do it for many. The more posts that are merged then the more issues can be expected to emerge.

What happens when further new posts are created on the same topic? A better and more logical solution would be to beef up the moderation or to improve the automated topic checking at the point of creating a new topic. For example, inputting a new topic title and searching could be combined more than once up until the posting of the new topic. That would give people more than one opportunity to realise there is a better path to take.

There are better things to do

How do you decide which topic remains? When combining topics of similar quality and merit this becomes a rather arbitrary exercise which will reduce the apparent contribution of one or more of the users who started the topics. That’s not fair and may prove to be wrong if merging topics is made very easy.

My assumption is that the conversations should be preserved as they occurred. If preservation is no longer a key driver then there are better things to do than just merge topics.

I’ve have seen many topics that add little or nothing to the quality of the discussion in a forum. If there is moderation of conversation quality then something should be done to reduce the noise and I would hide, archive or delete those topics. If there is no moderation for quality of discussion by such methods then why is there such a need to merge topics that are useful and similar?

There are better solutions e.g. wiki
The solutions proposed don’t seem to be required for the problems documented here:

If the advice or solution needs to be in one place or is too important to repeat why not wiki it in a new topic? Even then, some of the reasons for multiple topics will still occur - e.g. didn’t search for the right terms - but at least there is a proper solution to save typing.

Is the process of resolving an issue less important than the solution? As long as the two topics are cross-linked then anyone can see what is happening. Some people will learn from the journey as much as the final solution. Merging the topics loses/obscures/denigrates that journey.

Like the original issue, there are solution posts that superficially appear to be the same or nearly so but which are significantly or radically different. To merge them and reduce the solution to one topic may lose the subtle or deep differences.

Again, if the correct solution is desired then it should be in a wiki too more clearly help anyone else with the same sort of issue. There is then one point of reference for a comprehensive description of the solution that can be linked to for every new topic on ths same issue.

The proposed solutions are worse than the problem

I do not want a batch of old comments to appear as new comments even if they don’t appear in the latest notifications. The topics still has great potential to be confusing and it will not be obvious why unless it is signposted as merged. I won’t necessarily join it at the start or read the end so some alert would need to be visible everywhere in the merged topic. Why should the discussion be converted into a sort of email-like melange when the two different topics make sense standing on their own?

I would also find it confusing to have two topics merged in an interleaved manner. I read the topic as it occurs and don’t want to read it as someone else wants it to be.

People do not stop making mistakes, don’t even realise that they have made mistakes, and commonly produce confusing behaviour. Why is there a requirement to correct this? If it is for clarity then there are better solutions. If it is for tidiness then the topics would be better fit into a hierarchy of categories using another solution than Discourse.

Feature request example

The ability to merge forum topics, especially in feature requests, the same question or idea gets posted multiple time.

I copied this from a web search because it makes a more compelling case. In a category of feature requests it makes good sense that each feature should only be documented once. But there are many reasons why it should not: The main one I want to focus on is that the superficially similar topics actual cater for different people who, for example, use different language and word pictures. If they don’t know the correct terminology or way to describe the issue or feature request then there is a good chance that someone else doesn’t either. Retaining the posts is useful but how do you retain the original flavour.

You “need” to create a new post to retain the original topic description. If you don’t retain that then why not just delete the repeating posts?

Anyway, one solution is that there can be more than one category for feature requests. A plebeian/lay category where suggestions are made then a canonical/professional category where the requests are refined and single features combined by the “priesthood”.

But even with features more clearly delimited there will generally be overlapping scope, shared descriptions and other interdependencies. Merging request topics does not remove this issue.

1 Like

I agree that cross-posting can create a confusing mess with no perfect fix. Best to nip it in the bud.

Do you think making the Educational Modal more aggressive would help? eg. cover the textarea instead of only the preview pane, light box it, prevent the topic from being created, redirect to existing topic?

I think there is plenty that can be done to avoid double topics. But actually, how high do you think the number of message boards is that got converted to Discourse? There is a lot of baggage that sometimes needs cleaning up, topics that are redundant etc, but for the most part, you don’t wanna start deleting things. So you want to merge, so users who contributed to a certain issue, are being kept in the loop, their contribution doesn’t get invalidated.

Fully agree. There are a number of functions like this which have a completely different use case for a migrated forum. Merging user accounts is another example.

Depending on how many replies there are, I think closing a topic with a type of “please continue discussion here” post, and adding a type of “also discussed here” post in the active topic can often work fairly well.

I don’t think that it materially changes the debate whether the topics were originally imported to Discourse or usser created in Discourse.

The desire to remove clutter and tidy up the forum does not have to invoke merging of topics. Archiving a topic leaves preserves the discussion better than merging but ensures that redundant topics don’t take up space in the active discussion space: on the top page, in the random topics at the bottom of the page and in the digest emails.

The case for merging user accounts has far better justifications. Particularly where an existing Discourse user has more than one email account or where an imported user had multiple accounts in another product. Such changes are far less likely to materially impact topics because it is much less likely that they would be using both accounts in the same topic.

Merging user accounts should not affect the two big weaknesses of merging topics which is either or both of the impact on the chronology of posts and the resequencing of topic posts.

Add another “similar to” search before creating the topic
@Mittineague, I don’t think that it needs to more intrusive or limiting than it is now. I’m also wary about making adding a topic more difficult or slower.

Except that there is a natural hiatus which is the moment I hit the + Create Topic button. This is the moment when you know that the user has finished typing and this is the last chance to prevent a duplicate topic. That is a good time to display a refreshed “similar to” list of topics.

Identifying similar topics needs improvement
If I create a topic with a title similar to another topic then it should show. It doesn’t always.

I started a new topic “Do not merge topics” and while I was adding the comment text the similar topic list appeared and this topic “Don’t merge topics!” was not in the list. The only changes that I made in the title were to remove the contraction and the exclamation mark. I would have expected the search to find this current topic.

I’ve read the various continuing topics on this issue. They indicate the many difficulties of getting this working well:

I don’t know how many Discourse sites would want this extra complexity to save on redundant topics. But it should be worth experimenting with.

Standardise the linking of similar topics should take some pressure off merging topics.
I’d like to see standardised links after the first post of each topic for a group of similar topics. They could look just like the sequence of continued topics where links after the first post point to the previous topic. It wouldn’t need the continuity links at the end of the topic because, unlike a continuing topic, the similar topics would not necessarily be closed.

Example of the continuation link on the closed topic:

The “similar to” links at the end of the first post in the continuing topic: