For forums with feature request / bug report categories, it’s not uncommon for duplicate bug reports / feature requests to be filed. For all forums, there’s the issue of people not liking to use the search feature and immediately jump to posting whatever is on their mind. The forum I’m part does have feature requests / bug reports, and while we don’t use Discourse (yet), both the existing forum software and Discourse do not provide good ways for dealing with both duplicates and people who neglect to use the search feature (yes I’m aware Discourse suggests similar posts when you’re drafting your own, but more on that later).
With duplicate reports/requests, I’ve noticed that even when someone points out that it’s a duplicate feature request, no matter how nice or mean they word it, and regardless if it’s the first reply on the topic or not, discussion still continues. Forum members will prefer to discuss features / bugs on the most recent topic, probably because one or all of the following:
- it feels wrong for them to resurrect a topic that hasn’t been posted on in so long
- they want to respond to someone’s suggestion/outlook but it’s only on the new topic and not the old one
- they didn’t see the “this is a duplicate topic” post and continue leaving feedback on the topic
It’s really difficult to manually moderate that kind of stuff and merge topics so often – I really like the way Discourse headed with the automatic flagging system that took the workload off the moderators’ backs, and duplicate post flagging could do some good.
As for posting topics before using the search feature, it becomes a problem because:
People make a goof every now and then and forget to use the search feature, but similar to how even though birthdays are rare, only taking 0.27% (a single day) of the entire year, so many people exist on Earth that there are countless birthdays per day, because of the volume of members on the forum it’s not uncommon to see posts that could have been answered by searching because there are such a large amount of people tripping up occasionally.
Since there isn’t a “should have searched” flag to slowly eat away at their trust level and boot them out if and when they continue to ignore the search feature because they don’t feel like using it, manual moderation is the only way to get rid of these people. “Oh you should have used the search” isn’t exactly “this guy should be removed” material, so this results in these people never being removed and they continue to poison the forum. This manual moderation babysitting is also the exact opposite direction of the one Discourse is going in the event that moderators actively work to oust these types of people.
Just linking to topics where the question has already been answered does not motivate people to use the search feature in the future (this comes from personal experience – they don’t realize they’re inconveniencing others when they could have just searched it themselves), telling them “please use the search feature” (either on their topic or in a PM) comes off as rude, and since you’re calling them out they get super defensive about it or they just don’t care that they’re inconveniencing other people and in either case telling them doesn’t work.
Looking back at “Your topic is similar to”,
forum members may forget that it exists after a certain period of time, ignore it and not care about it, or close it because it gets in the way. It also may not provide perfect matches to similar topics and posters would assume there was no similar topic even though they would have found it through the search feature. Additionally, we’ve had problems with topics where they start repeating themselves ever couple of pages – people are lazy and don’t want to read the whole topic before posting so they end up asking the same questions over and over and over. We can’t start booting people left and right for this because so many people do it, and just telling them not to doesn’t stop them from doing that in the future. I’d also like to point out that StackExchange has the “your topic is similar to” notification as well, but the community can still flag topics as duplicates – it’s because the “your topic is similar to”, while helpful in solving the problem, does not solve the problem completely.
Getting a PM that says your post/topic has been hidden because it was flagged by the community and knowing that if you continue that behavior you will eventually get booted from the community provides excellent motivation to improve behavior, and I’m sure the Discourse team knows that very well. It would be amazing if there were flags for duplicate posts / should have used the search feature or read the topic in general so duplicate posts and people who are too quick to post manageable, and preventing moderators from having to babysit the forum with manual moderation every time this occurs. When flagged for being a duplicate topic, it should automatically either be merged with the original topic or closed and linked to the original topic (merging it directly might result in weird results). When flagged for not using the search feature / reading the topic, the post should be hidden automatically like if it were spam and the poster notified in their inbox that it had already been answered (with links people provided to the post(s) that had answered their question).