Based on this question I think its worth a discussion about whether a question about Substitute for [X] in [Y] should duplicate Substitute for [X] questions?

  • I have reclosed the question, merged it into the original, and updated the question to request regional clarification.
    – hobodave
    Aug 14, 2010 at 23:59

5 Answers 5


My feeling is that yes they should, for these reasons:

  • The answers to Substitute for [X] should provide the substitutes, and the user should determine which of those substitutes they can get.
  • If we allow this we could end up with many substitute for [X] in [Y] questions which rehash a lot of the same ground.
  • How small a geographic area is acceptable for [Y]? the original question was about Thailand, do allow a similar question about Malaysia? Vietnam? Cambodia? Mainland Thailand? Certain islands?

I'm partially open to the idea of leaving it open for a little while and then merging the 2 questions, then if there are any new answers which come out of the regional question they will be 'findable' in the larger questions answers, but am definitely against keeping a whole slew of questions about substitutes for the same thing about long term...

  • The question was South-East Asia with an eye toward Thailand. But I intentionally left if a generalization of a broad region with similar ingredients available and a similar food culture. Also the answers coming out of the local question are different from those from the general - and will be different. Does it make sense to change the general which contains an implicit "In the west?" to one that has to cover essentially two questions "In the west?" and "In the east?" They are different cultures, with different ingredients available that will have different answers. Aug 11, 2010 at 2:08
  • The only one that wasn't mentioned in the general questions was earth chestnut, which it seems is only native to europe and north africa, so you are unlikely to find in SE Asia anyway.
    – Sam Holder
    Aug 11, 2010 at 7:01
  • I'm all in favor of local-sourcing. However, given the global nature of business today, I'd expect european ingredients to be available in Asia. But - I don't know, only having first-hand experience with (obscure) Asian ingredients in Europe. The mirror situation may not be in effect. Aug 11, 2010 at 9:27
  • @Tobiasopdenbrouw I'd expect parsley to be more readily available than earth chestnut everywhere in the world :)
    – Sam Holder
    Aug 11, 2010 at 10:01
  • yes, agreed! Aug 11, 2010 at 10:10

The guidelines for closing as a duplicate are very simple. Regardless of the subtle nuances of exactly how a question is worded, the test is straightforward:

  • Are there any potential answers to the new question that wouldn't make sense as answers to the old question?

It's that simple. And in this case, the test fails. "Localized" substitutions are still substitutions. Any and every answer given to the new question would and should be given to the original question.

Now, if the original question was ridiculously broad, it would be reasonable to make an exception. But I don't consider an ingredient substitution to be that broad.

It's also sometimes been the case on SO that the original question was very poorly-written and as a direct result received poor answers - in this case, we've sometimes told people on MSO to ask the "duplicate" question properly and vote to close the original question as a duplicate - there's no rule that says the duplicate has to be the newer question. But once again, I can't see how this would apply here.

If you can convince me that the answers to this question wouldn't simply be a subset of the answers to the original substitution question, I'll vote to reopen. For now - with sympathies - I've voted to close.

Remember, closing as a dupe doesn't mean we hate the question. Duplicates don't usually get deleted after closing; instead, both questions are retained to aid in searching, and any good answers get merged, and that makes perfect sense here.

  • It is a subset but with different information tagged on. The information of "these ingredients are available in south-east asia". If you merge it into the main question that information gets completely lost. And that information is what is extremely relevant and important to the question. Aug 11, 2010 at 3:35
  • Sorry I feel so strongly about this, but I've been running into this on a lot of cooking websites and its getting frustrating. The answers given don't apply out here. They assume "in the west", they work from what is available in the west. The answers given are things that are available in the west, and while some of them are available here, not all. Not even most. The information of what is available here is the important part. And I thought I'd phrased so that it should be obvious that the important part is which ingredients are available in south east asia. Aug 11, 2010 at 3:37
  • If it makes it clearer, I can rephrase it to point to the original question and ask "Which of these possible substitutions are available in south east asia?" Although I still think that, because people were answering with the west in mind, the possible substitutes listed in the original parsley thread don't include a plethora of possible eastern ingredients. Aug 11, 2010 at 3:38
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    I don't think asking which of these are available in SE asia is a particularly good idea. You have the possibilities, can you not now find out if they are available? Might be a good way to learn some new bits of the language (what's the Thai for celery tops?) :)
    – Sam Holder
    Aug 11, 2010 at 7:22
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    Also I'm not sure I buy the argument that the answers to your question are only things you can get in SE Asia. The only 'new' answer Earth Chestnuts are european and north african. I don't know, but my guess is that they won't be found in Thailand. You might get celery, but probably won't get european celery.
    – Sam Holder
    Aug 11, 2010 at 7:27
  • I didn't say the current answers were good. I'm saying that the potential for good and different, or at least more specific, answers is there. Aug 11, 2010 at 14:02
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    @Daniel: I understand your pain, but I'm not sure that the problem is what you think it is. It's not that people are simply assuming that every reader lives in North America. It's just that that's where most of our members are from, and that's what they know. If we had more members from SE Asia, I am certain you would see more relevant "localized" answers in the master question. But if we have very few, it doesn't matter how you ask the question, you won't get the answers you want.
    – Aaronut
    Aug 11, 2010 at 14:04


If a question starts out as a localized question and the general one is subsequently asked, it shouldn't be closed as a duplicate but they should still be merged and edited to make sense.

In the case where the general one is provided, it is pointless to introduce regionally specific questions. This is why questions are editable, and why community wiki exists. Editing the question will bump it up the active list and garner new answers.

The implication (made in the comments on that question) that we somehow need more questions just because SO has 600k are hollow.

  • The implication was not that SO has 600k questions so therefore we need more question. The point was that Stackoverflow, with in that flood of questions, have many questions that COULD potentially be merged into a single question but AREN'T because they are ever so slightly different with ever so slightly different answers. I can't count the number of times I've found 10 posts that have virtually the same title asking ALMOST the same question and found an answer to my question in only one of. They could have been merged, but then how would I have found my answer in the throng? Aug 11, 2010 at 2:10
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    @Daniel: If that's true, it's because too few people actually hunt down and flag duplicates on Stack Overflow. With 600k questions, it's hard work. It doesn't follow that we should accept anything here just to pad the numbers. Not saying your question wasn't good, but your specific argument presented here for keeping it doesn't really hold water.
    – Aaronut
    Aug 11, 2010 at 2:52
  • Yes, I'm firmly in the camp of good housekeeping from the start.
    – hobodave
    Aug 11, 2010 at 3:09
  • I'm not saying they are exact duplicates. The point is that there is different information in each question, however slight. And that new information leads to a different set of answers. Someone looking at the question one way may see a duplicate and the answers as a "subset" of answers to a previous question, but the previous question didn't elicit those answers because it didn't contain the information the new question does. And when they are merged, the new information in both question and answer are lost. Aug 11, 2010 at 3:45
  • I've always been in the inclusive camp because Q&A's are about learning. They are not encyclopedias. Things that are subsets of each other should not be merged, because learning is organic and specific to the asker. A previous question can cover a topic and not contain the information being asked for in a new question. And the moderators may not see the new information, because that information isn't necessarily important to them. But its important to the person who asked it. Aug 11, 2010 at 3:49
  • In the case of this specific question, the question asks for a subset of the ingredient substitutes with new information tagged on. The information is that these ingredients are available in south east asia. That information is what is most important to the question, not that these are parsley substitutes. And that information is NOT covered by the previous question. It won't be covered if they are merged. Aug 11, 2010 at 3:51

Don't close as duplicate.

  • How often will this kind of localization be relevant? Hobodave's generalization that we shouldn't have n sub-questions for n locations is a needless extrapolation, a slippery slope we won't go down. What's the likelihood of users from every country and county there-in asking, "can I get something to use for parsley in this town?" We should deal with these questions one-by-one, provided they are answerable and useful to the asker, and not already answered elsewhere.

  • Questions are good. Specific questions are even better. Asking questions that are meaningful to people because of their location and narrowly construed to be relevant to them is exactly what a questioner should do. "Localization" is just another word to make "specification" sound bad. Cooking answers may happen online, "in the global", but cooking, at the end of the day, is local. It happens wherever and exactly where you are when you do it.

  • Even questions which are local, aren't. People get ideas from targeted answers that apply more broadly to aspects of their situation. For example, one answer to the Thailand question was: "Can you find seeds anywhere? Parsley is easy to grow in pots, so you could manage even if you live in an apartment." That answer would not have been applicable to the general case of parsley substitutes and is informative for others who might not realize how convenient growing their own herbs is.

  • This site exists to be helpful to users, not convenient for moderators. If a person cannot find an answer to their question by searching first, they should be allowed--scratch that--encouraged to ask a targeted question which will be useful to them.

note: I realize there are examples of 'bad' localization questions, which are either unlikely to be answerable by anyone (Is the restaurant school in my town any good), or better re-phrased as general questions, if the local details don't add to the context. I just don't think this particular question was a bad one or that we need a blanket prohibition against local questions.

  • Said it far better than I could have. Aug 11, 2010 at 2:14
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    It's not an issue of localization. I don't believe that anybody said that the question was too localized to be of value. It's simply a duplicate. There aren't any answers to the new question that wouldn't fit equally well under the old question. This entire argument is a red herring.
    – Aaronut
    Aug 11, 2010 at 3:04
  • @Aaronut My tirade was motivated by Hobodave's logic that if we allow this question we'll end up with n-sub-questions for n-locations. I think that logic is problematic. Also, some localization issues will be relevant, especially if particular climates, available stores, or regional culture is relevant. The original question wasn't a duplicate, because it wasn't just looking for a substitute: it was looking for Parsley (or something like it) in Thailand, with all that entails. Also, this is meta; we're not just discussing that question, we're discussing the whole issue.
    – Ocaasi
    Aug 11, 2010 at 3:11
  • Questions about concrete issues like climate should be worded as such and will not be closed. We even have a high-altitude tag, and any of those questions are better than vague region-specific questions.
    – Aaronut
    Aug 11, 2010 at 3:26
  • I think the option to close & merge after a few days addresses these issues. What allowing the question to live on endlessly alone fails to address is the fact that someone searching for parsley substitutes might end up with half a dozen questions to look at the answers for, rather than a single question where all the best answers are near the top.
    – Sam Holder
    Aug 11, 2010 at 7:39
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    Also what if in the future Daniel finds a great substitute. Which question should he add the answer to? Just his, as it's a specific Thai substitute? Both? What if there are other questions about Russia, south america? Does he research if his substitute is available there and add to those questions if it is? A single source of information has to be better surely in the long run.
    – Sam Holder
    Aug 11, 2010 at 7:40


Let me ask this, because this is the most important part. Can you merge the localized question with the original with out losing location information? Can I still look at the original and see "These are the parsley substitutes that are available in south east asia." Because that's the important part. And that information is irrelevant to the original question, which just asks for parsley substitutes. I think if you merge them you will lose that information and thus completely defeat the whole point of the question.


I knew this would probably cause this, and I intended to because I think we need to stop and think about this. If you're living in the west it may not be readily apparent to you, but when it comes to questions about ingredients, substitution and how to do certain things in cooking - where you are located matters.

The west is a completely different food culture than the east which is different than Africa which is different than the Middle East. This isn't "Where can I find a substitute in my hamlet in Britain" or "Where can I find a substitute in my small town in america". In those questions, the general "What substitutes" works fine, because the answers come with an assumed "these are for the west".

However, when we're talking about "What is available in the East" the answers are going to be different, because the choices from which one may choose substitutes are completely different. There are some things that are common, but there are many things I can get here that simply don't exist out west. They won't be in the main parsley question. And there are many things that are common or at least findable out west that simply don't exist here.

When it comes to food and cooking, we need to allow localization questions at least along certain cultural boundaries. Because along those boundaries the answers change dramatically. The questions may seem like the localization question we've all been trained to disdain, but they are not. They are relevant. They are different questions with different answers. And it's important that we allow them or we'll just become "Food and cooking in the West" and lose an entire class of valid questions and users.

  • To answer your edit first, if we merge then the existing answers on your question will become answers on the original question. But the question will go I believe. Do you think that someone seeing the parsley substitute question who happens to know a parsley substitute that is only available in Thailand would not answer the original question just because if doesn't have a specific clause asking for things that are available in SE Asia?
    – Sam Holder
    Aug 11, 2010 at 7:08
  • The question is a good thing because it allows us to have this discussion which I believe is a good one. But I still maintain that none of the answers to your question provide anything applicable to you that wasn't already in the other answer (apart from 'grow your own' which is not really a valid answer to 'what can I substitute for parsley') and actually the other answers are generally better, as a few people point out that it depends on the dish. So maybe you would be better asking 'What can I substitute for parsley in [X]' which would be valid and helpful wherever you live.
    – Sam Holder
    Aug 11, 2010 at 7:14
  • I don't want to seem to be wanting to close it for closing it sake, but I think that my suggestion above of letting it live for a few days, garner a few answers then merge is the best of both worlds. This allows for the local aspect to be addressed whilst the question is fresh but avoids the 'information in more than one place' in the long term, so searches in the future for parsley substitutes will only have the one place to look. Admittedly they may find answers which are not applicable to their locale but at least they will find all the answers in one place.
    – Sam Holder
    Aug 11, 2010 at 7:18
  • Sam, you're missing a very important part of the question still though. It's not that the answers to the original parsley question contain parsley substitutions that happen to be available in South East Asia. The important part is that they are labeled as available in South East Asia, and labeled in such a way that someone else looking for an answer to the same question - what substitutes are available in this region - could find it. None of the answers contain any reference to SE Asia. If the answers are merged into the original thread, the location information is will be lost. Aug 11, 2010 at 7:59
  • Also, don't judge the answers to the question just yet. Of our 2k or so users, I expect I'm one of very few living and trying to cook in South East Asia right now. There aren't the "experts" available on the site to answer the question yet. Which I sort of expected. If, however, our user base grows as we all expect it to that will change. And the knowledge will be available to provide better and more specific answers. Aug 11, 2010 at 8:02
  • @Daniel, but the answers you have got are not all available in SE Asia (see my above comments to my and Aaronut's answers), they are effectively more answers to the original question, some of which may or may not be available in thailand. What do you expect to happen as the user base grows? people to answer both questions with the information about what is available in Thailand, as any answer to your question is also an answer to the other? why would someone who noticed the question you posted not notice the original one if that was the only one that existed?
    – Sam Holder
    Aug 11, 2010 at 8:43
  • Will you not have to watch both questions anyway just in case someone misses your question but answers the other question with something that is available in thailand? Would it not be easier for you just to watch the one question?
    – Sam Holder
    Aug 11, 2010 at 8:45
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    @Daniel: Closing a question for being a duplicate is not intended to be a punishment or a slap in the face. Don't take it personally. The entire point of it is to let the questioner know that there is already an existing answer that is a duplicate. There is no reason that a knowledgeable answerer stumbling across the "what are substitutes for parsley?" question who is from SE Asia wouldn't answer with "Well, in my part of the world we use ....". You can even edit the question to add a sentence such as "Can anyone give any regional substitutes as well? xxx is hard to find in SE asia".
    – hobodave
    Aug 11, 2010 at 9:20
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    This clarifies the original question, making it even better, and bumps it to the top of the active list as well.
    – hobodave
    Aug 11, 2010 at 9:24
  • @Daniel, update on your edit. If the question is closed as a duplicate, it will still exist, but new answers will not be allowed and a link to the duplicate will be in the question. if it is merged then it will also still exist (wording of your question preserved) but answers and comments will be moved to the question it is merged with and it will contain a link to that question
    – Sam Holder
    Aug 11, 2010 at 9:46
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    w/r/t your edit, in addition to the closed question still existing and being searchable as Sam points out, any region-specific answers from the new question could also easily be edited to say, "If you live in SE Asia and can't get any of the regular substitutes..."
    – Aaronut
    Aug 11, 2010 at 15:02
  • I have reclosed the question, merged it into the original, and updated the question to request regional clarification.
    – hobodave
    Aug 15, 2010 at 0:00
  • @hobodave Okay, I still think it would be better to have individual questions for these. Because I can think of other subsets of substitutions than regional. I think it is better organizationally to have the subsets have their own question - maybe each with a comment pointing back to the full list or something. But I'm okay with this organization for now. We can always change it again later in the future if the parsley substitution thread becomes over burdened. Aug 16, 2010 at 13:34
  • @Daniel not sure if you noticed, but a short time after merging the questions an answer was given that focused on SE Asia
    – hobodave
    Aug 16, 2010 at 17:43

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