I noticed that in this question, "HTML buttons vs hyperlinks for navigation", Michael Zuschlag provided a much-upvoted answer that he directly copied and pasted from a similar question on UXExchange.com.

Charles mentions in the comments of the question that "this shows there really isn't a need for both sites", which is certainly a good point, but I have to wonder whether duplicating content across different sites is what StackExchange was really meant for. Obviously there's currently no way to close a question and redirect it to UXExchange or vice-versa, and perhaps we shouldn't want that anyway, but I do wonder whether we should perhaps discourage copy/paste answers and instead promote original material.

How do you guys feel about this?

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3 Answers

Well, since UXExchange has been slowly dying for several months now, I really do think the best course of action would be to only have a single site, regardless of which site it ends up being. I know that people made the argument that UX and UI are two separate things (or really, one is a subset of the other), but in reality, there just isn't enough traffic between the two to warrant two separate stack exchange sites.

Regarding copying/pasting or not, I think that since UXExchange isn't part of the 2.0 "stack", there's nothing really wrong with copying from there to here. A lot more people are at least finding this content than they would if it was just on UXExchange.

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This issue raises a number of questions whose answers may decide what policy we adopt. Keep in mind, that since I have practiced copying and pasting (and so obviously didn’t think there was anything wrong with it), my questions likely betray a “pro” bias, so take them for what they’re worth:

  • I think we can all agree that copying someone else’s answer from another site and posting it as one’s own is wrong. It’s okay to quote a passage from someone else (e.g., a style guide) as long as it is clearly marked and attributed as a quote. But is copying one’s own work wrong?

  • Cross-posting is traditionally discouraged on the internet but mostly for mass posting of irrelevant information. Is that the issue here?

  • Cross-posting is also discouraged to minimize the volume of content a user has to wade through. That is why we avoid duplicate questions within a site. But does it apply to duplicate questions between sites?

  • I suspect the answer to the above question depends on how much overlap there is in the user populations between UIX and UXX. If the typical user routinely searches both sites for an answer to a question, then duplicate postings add to the workload. But if we are largely separate communities, then it’s a convenience to copy the content and save redirecting the user to another site (which they may not be a member of).

  • Is it in fact unfeasible to redirect a near-identical question on UIX to UXX or vice versa? Can we thereby quasi-merge the sites? Should each site cross-advertise the other to encourage users to search both places before posting a new question? Should we follow Charles Boyung’s example on HTML buttons vs hyperlinks for navigation and refer the asker to the other site? Partly the answer to this once again depends on how much overlap there is in the communities.

  • This may be a larger issue than UIX vs UXX. For the record, I’ve also copied text from my postings on the original StackExchange (at least to UXX), and I’ve copied relevant passages from my blog, which is dedicated to solving user interface design problems. I can see myself even copying from one of my answers on the old Joel On Software – Software Design forum, if I haven’t already. For that matter, I have also taken some of my text in UIX/UXX and expanded it into a blog post. Is it really important that UIX have unique content, or just good answers to common problems? Naturally, if the problems are common then there’s a good chance they’ve been addressed on other forums and blogs.

  • If we choose to frown on copy-and-pasting, how much copying and pasting is too much? My answer to UIX’s HTML buttons vs hyperlinks for navigation differs from UXX’s button VS. link by only a couple trivial words. On the other hand, my answer to UIX’s Should hyperlinks be blue? shares some text with UXX’s Should link always underline?, but also includes new information and even a slight shift in my position.

  • What do upvotes represent anyway? Are they an acknowledgment of the amount of effort that went into the answer, which shouldn’t be given for a simple copy and paste, or do they strictly represent how helpful the answer is as a service to readers? If someone has a good solution that she or he happened to write down before the question was asked on UIX, should that be rewarded or punished?

  • If the issue is that a copied response makes it look like the responder to worked harder than s/he did, then should such copied posts also include text saying “This answer is based on a posting I put on (source)”?

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The situation as it stands now is pretty depressing. I wish UXExchange could have been merged over as-is on day one. At this point, I barely use either one.

To answer the question though, I think best practice should be to provide a link and possibly a blockquote of the relevant passage for any third party content. Just cut and paste without attribution is poor web citizenship.

On the bigger topic, if there was a UX.stackexchange, that would be ideal...of course losing my 4000+ reputation points would be a bummer, but such is life.

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