Previously. April 11, 2010 10:04 PM   Subscribe

When people link to previous discussions of someone's AskMe question, is this a chastisement or someone being helpful?

Hi there. While I understand the value of linking to previous AskMe questions that are similar to what a poster is asking about, it kind of bothers me that people seem to think that just because something has been discussed before it should not be again.

The simple fact of the matter is that other people who may have not contributed to the discussion before could add insight the asker is looking for.

I may be misreading the reasons people link to Previous discussions, but it seems like in many cases asking the same question can lead to different, and even better, answers.
posted by elder18 to Etiquette/Policy at 10:04 PM (28 comments total)

Oh, I wouldn't read anything bad into it I think it's mostly helpful.
posted by nola at 10:11 PM on April 11, 2010

I think it depends on how it's done. Two situations are rarely identical, but they can be quite similar, so pointing the OP at information that they might find useful is helpful. Suggesting that the OP has somehow failed in their searching or is somehow otherwise deficient is not.
posted by Solomon at 10:14 PM on April 11, 2010

I think it's meant to be helpful to the poster, because it gives them another resource for advice. I agree that it can be snarky at times, but often it seems to be an attempt at being helpful be people who have long AskMe memories or who are really good at using the search function.
posted by MadamM at 10:16 PM on April 11, 2010

I've only seen it in situations where it's helpful. I don't usually think to bother - but I always appreciate when others point out that the problematic relationship / psychological problem / etc. has been ongoing and described more fully in the past.
posted by moxiedoll at 10:18 PM on April 11, 2010

I do this often, if I remember that we've talked about x problem before. I do it because I imagine that the poster would be interested to have more replies to their question.

Sometimes I remember the previous one because I know there was an answer in the thread that I thought was especially good, so I'll go digging for it (and since I know it's there somewhere, I probably search more deeply than an average poster checking for doubles).

There are certainly topics that come up again and again ("what are some fun word games?" is a recent one i noticed), and for those, I think the link to the previous thread can often be more comprehensive. Plus it may help the poster, if answerers have lost their enthusiasm for a given topic, to know there was one really comprehensive thread on it two years ago.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:19 PM on April 11, 2010

AskMes don't really get dupe callouts, at least as far as I've noticed over the years, inasmuch as everyone's situation is a bit unique -- and so best to assume it helpful.

Now, someone's previous comments called out in a thread, usually showing apparent hypocrisy, that you can assume is intended as hostile, and dupe callouts on the front page usually fall into the "I hate to tell you this, but" category.
posted by davejay at 10:31 PM on April 11, 2010

people seem to think that just because something has been discussed before it should not be again.

This may be in part due to the double post ethos on the blue carrying over into the green. Not justifying or apologizing, just noting. In the situations that come to mind, it's a general (not place- or personality-specific) issue that, had the asker done a cursory search of the site, would have been cleared up without having to ask another question. But whether to search and/or whether to ask is each asker's prerogative, as it's each answer's prerogative to answer anew or point towards a previous question. Helpful either way; pay intent no mind.
posted by carsonb at 10:49 PM on April 11, 2010

is this a chastisement or someone being helpful?

Sometimes the former, sometimes the latter, sometimes an ungodly combination of the two.

posted by pompomtom at 10:51 PM on April 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Wait. Should we run from ambiguity or should ambiguity run from us?
posted by Pronoiac at 10:58 PM on April 11, 2010 [21 favorites]

Why do you assume that the running is necessarily from?
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:18 PM on April 11, 2010 [4 favorites]

posted by LarryC at 11:29 PM on April 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

When I do it, I'm trying to be helpful.
posted by flabdablet at 11:59 PM on April 11, 2010

Usually helpful, from what I've seen.
posted by rodgerd at 2:56 AM on April 12, 2010

It's not only helpful to the poster but also to the commenters. For example many times there is a good answer in the previous thread which serves as a good jumping off point.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:41 AM on April 12, 2010

I don't speak for anyone else, but when I do it, it's in the spirit of "responses to this similar previous question may be helpful in addition to the ones you receive in this thread," not "you shouldn't have asked this because it was already asked."

Plus, as others have noted, it's very rare that there are true duplicates in AskMe. Even if the wording were to be exactly the same as a previous question, often the passage of time can change the answers. Heck, I've been thinking about reposting pretty much this exact question because I'd like that too and wonder if there's any new answers since it was posted 1.5 years ago.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:07 AM on April 12, 2010

When I previously a question, what's going through my mind is "ooh! ooh! I know I saw this before and there were lots of great answers and probably no one remembers that question or can find it and I am going to save the day!" And a lot of times when I know that one thread is there, it takes a long time to dig it up, so I don't fault the OP for not knowing it had been asked before.

When I get previouslied, though, sometimes my reaction is, "but... but I already read that thread, and my question is different and special!" Then I get over it, because if it's a question with a clear answer it's answered, and if it's an open-ended question, people are not going to be deterred from answering by previouslies.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:16 AM on April 12, 2010

I think some chastisement is in order for whoever keeps posting those "Just got a new iPhone!! What are your fave apps guise??" every damn week.
posted by dontjumplarry at 4:39 AM on April 12, 2010

people seem to think that just because something has been discussed before it should not be again

BZZT petitio principii 5 yd penalty PLAY BALL
posted by ook at 4:47 AM on April 12, 2010

I'll post the link simply because I know the previous question exists but I'm not sure if the poster does. It's hard to find things if you don't know they exist.
posted by smackfu at 6:34 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

For the less human-relationsy questions, I think there is a rather pointed "If you'd bothered to search AT ALL..." message to these links. And I don't think this is a problem.

posted by hermitosis at 7:31 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

We delete snarky comments that are basically just links to JFGI or an earlier question. When I'm telling someone there's been an earlier question related to their question I try to say "I asked a similar question and the answers were helpful, have you seen it?" to make it clear that I'm trying to be helpful and not just "Hey dumbass, we already talked about sticky worm yoyos!" That said if it's your cat in a tree, previous cat/tree questions may not be helpful. Or they might. We almost never delete AskMe questions as doubles, so people are pretty much free to ask identical questions, we even have a wiki page about them.

That said, it's nice when the posters meet the community partway [not saying you did or did not do this elder18, I'm not sure what you're talking about specifically] and say "I did search for this topic and I found this and this but they weren't relevant to my needs for this reason" sort of thing. Always a helpful part of any question-asking process.

It can be a it frustrating to read yet another "What's that creepy puppet" question when if people had searched for creepy puppet, they'd have found it. Also that book, it's by Ray Bradbury.

And people are crabby. This means people are crabby when someone doesn't search as well as they think they should, and people are crabby when people link to previous questions if they perceive it's being done in an impertinent way. Tough to win there. Asking an identical question is usually frowned upon though a very similar question a few years later is different because, yeah, the community is different, can't step in the same river twice sort of thing.

tl;dr "previously" is usually fine, but let us know as always if people are being jerks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:52 AM on April 12, 2010

Whenever I've done it, I was sincerely trying to be helpful. Lord knows I don't read every askmefi post so I assume that others (OP or not) may not have seen it and might find the relevant thread it useful.
posted by Kimberly at 8:06 AM on April 12, 2010

There was once a member who repeatedly posted personal AskMes that were very similar in tone and content. Thinking 'This one, again?', I browsed a previous AskMe from them and noticed they had not responded or acknowledged any of the answers in it, so I linked to it in their current AskMe with something along the lines of, 'This could be helpful.' I think I got called out over it.

Q: Was I being a jerk, or was I trying to get clarity out of someone who clearly wasn't finding what they were looking for and could have made it easier to help those who were trying to help them?

A: Both, in all likelihood.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:14 AM on April 12, 2010

When I do it, I'm trying to be helpful, thinking maybe the poster didn't see the previous thread or knowing that there were some really good answers in the previous thread.

If I'm asking a question that seems similar to others that have been asked, I'll make note of it in the question itself and say something like, "I saw this thread but it didn't quite answer the question for me because of X, Y, or Z." People are far less inclined to be snotty* when you point out you've done the required research beforehand; at least, that's been my experience.

Then there was that one time I asked a question and someone answered with a link to a thread that was the opposite of what I asked. I did get a little put off by that.

*I've never thought anyone who points to an already existing thread has been snotty in pointing out the thread.
posted by cooker girl at 8:33 AM on April 12, 2010

I spend most of my time in Ask, and I've very rarely felt myself or anyone was snarked at by a "previously" link. The ones I notice, anyway, tend to be framed as "oh, this might be useful too," or just "there's this." Not saying it doesn't happen, just that I don't remember it.
posted by Alterscape at 8:44 AM on April 12, 2010

I thought the same thing when I saw a response in this question.

Those are trickier situations, to be sure. That question in particular was a collection of hot button topics and I'm surprised it went as well as it did.

Linking to or discussing a poster's previous own questions and comments is a much greyer area. We have had a few question askers who, for whatever reason, ask a lot of questions about very similar topics and don't seem to have really built on the answers that they've been given before. Again, not speaking to this specific question but generally.

So, people in the thread notice this and start pulling out specific information from other threads to add to whatever the new situation is. While this is technically not against the rules, there are definitely ways to do it appropriately and ways to do it less appropriately.

And you see the same "irritable nerd is irritable" phenomenon where people get actively pissed off that "Hey I TOLD you to seek therapy and here you are untherapized and mopey, wtf?" and we try to have people keep that in check somewhat.

That said, AskMe is specifically useful to a lot of people because the people interacting there are real people and not just two-dimensional cutouts asking questions in a world devoid of context. So you have people looking at people's profiles for their locations and looking up their past questions for clues on what is going on. And there's no way to really tell people not to do this, so we stick to having people be reasonable about it and talking to them when they're not.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:51 AM on April 12, 2010

When I do it, it tends to be like, "Hey, this person asked the exact same question and marked a best answer, so, boom, problem solved, dude." I mean, it's sort of implicit that the person asking has just wasted their question for the week and should feel kinda dumb for asking something that was already asked and answered, but since they aren't the type of person to search for the same keywords or anything and I don't make it explicit, it's unlikely they'll pick up on the smirking.
posted by klangklangston at 10:27 AM on April 12, 2010

it kind of bothers me that people seem to think that just because something has been discussed before it should not be again.

Has anyone ever said this?

When I give a "previously" link as answer in an AskMe question, it's because I think the OP might find a helpful answer to their question by going to the link. That's my understanding of the purpose of AskMe: giving people helpful suggestions to solve their problems.

If what I really meant was "This should not be discussed again," then I wouldn't give a link with no comment; I would say, "This should not be discussed again."
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:42 AM on April 12, 2010

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