Prompted by the recent closure of this question as a duplicate.
Yes, the jurisdiction topic again. I don't visit meta too often, though I have been aware that answers from jurisdictions not matching the question are encouraged1. However, I did not realize that we might start to close questions as duplicates cross-jurisdictionally as a result, and would like to voice my opposition2 to that for the reasons below.
Note: I'm using block-quotes for formatting & ease of reading; it's not my intent to directly quote any particular user, these are just paraphrases of various arguments I've seen for preferring a single question with answers from multiple jurisdictions to multiples of similar questions for different jurisdictions.
Often jurisdictions handle certain legal questions the same way, so we should mark them as duplicates.
No, that makes answers possibly duplicate, but not the questions. A question-asker wouldn't generally know in advance whether two jurisdictions do in fact share the same answer. Even worse in my opinion is when the user is directed to the duplicate question and there isn't actually an answer applicable to the jurisdiction they are looking for. In fact, quoting some rational when the ability to target answerless questions when closing as duplicates was removed (retained in marginal cases):
[...] the proof is in the answers. If the question looks the same, but the answers aren't solving the asker's problem, that is not a dupe – that is a legitimate new question. [...]
Quoting from the Stack Exchange FAQ on how duplicates should be handled:
According to Stack Exchange co-founder Joel Spolsky, we should only close real duplicates, and according to co-founder Jeff Atwood, there are three kinds of duplicates: cut-and-pastes, accidental duplicates, and borderline duplicates (requiring judgement as applied by the community).
Questions may be duplicates if they have the same (potential) answers. This includes not only word-for-word duplicates, but also the same idea expressed in different words.
On main sites, the main point of closing questions as duplicates is to point users to better answers;
I would argue cross-jurisdictional questions could at best be considered borderline duplicates. But to me they fall short. While questions may be duplicates if they have the same potential answers, that's not usually the case here at Law.SE because possible legislation citations and case law will likely be different. It's not just about whether X is illegal: we're an educational site, it's also about why X is (il)legal and that will almost always produce different answers.
Also, while programming languages and jurisdictions aren't exactly the same, it's interesting to note that the Stack Overflow community seems to prefer not closing questions with different programming languages as duplicates even if the answer is appropriate for multiple programming languages.
The site might get overwhelmed and/or wasn't designed to handle too many of the same question for different jurisdictions.
Stack Exchange is a for-profit company that is attempting to rely on good Q&A design for it's business. While it's far from perfect there are a few ways to handle this:
- Tagging the question. This provides easy distinction between questions. As a bonus they are easily searchable using
[tag-search-syntax]. Note this is something that doesn't apply to answers, even if those answers use
- If answerers are tired of seeing the same question for different jurisdictions over and over again, they can downvote the questions because they are uninteresting. This is a natural disincentive for asking questions just to do so, or for gaining reputation. In fact, downvoting questions used to cost reputation, encouraging more users to downvote uninteresting questions was specifically identified as a reason for removing this reputation cost.
Is getting overwhelmed with too many of the same question an actual problem we're facing? In this respect, I feel like closing questions as cross-jurisdictional duplicates is a solution in search of a non-existent problem. Furthermore, I would argue the alternative could be worse. Imagine 5 of the same question differing only by jurisdiction each with 3 on-jurisdiction answers. If we force these questions to close as duplicates, we might then end up with 15 answers on the same question. As I've already covered, answers are harder to search for jurisdiction. It would also be more difficult to compare and vote informatively for the answers of the same jurisdiction as there's no way to sort answers by jurisdiction. Also, a question having too many possible answers was a reason for closing questions as "too broad" (though I notice that "too broad" is now effectively "needs more focus," don't know if the guidelines have changed on that).
The question-asker should start a bounty on the older question requesting an answer for a newly specified jurisdiction.
No, this is a barrier to site participation. New users won't even have the necessary reputation to start a bounty (unless given association bonus from another SE site, but then just barely). Even users with sufficient reputation might not want to sacrifice the reputation as it might lead to loss of privileges granted at certain reputation levels. And some just value their internet points.
Additionally I would argue that's not what bounties were designed for. The list of available reasons for starting a bounty doesn't include "I need an answer to a slightly different question."
- While I understand they are linked, I wanted the focus of this meta-question to be about question duplication and not off-jurisdiction answers, so this is a footnote. For many of the same reasons I outline above, I'm not even really in favour of encouraging off-jurisdiction answers, but don't think they should necessarily be discouraged either as they can at least be interesting and may still help the question-asker. Anecdotally, I feel off-jurisdiction answers get less votes than they otherwise would under a same-jurisdiction question, so I don't think I'm alone in thinking this way.
- Except in the case of federalism. Eg. if someone asks a nevada question, but it's actually a matter of federal law, then by all means close it as a duplicate of a united-states question. Or even a california question, but that latter question should probably be retagged to united-states in this scenario. Please no one mention the european-union.