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I am resurrecting a discussion of Closed vs Deleted. It seems that there was consensus some time ago, as these questions showed:

Deleting Closed Question of No Value is not happening (Oct '11) - This question actually addresses the reasons to delete, Off Topic (almost always delete). And other examples followed.

Deleting Closed Questions (Dec '13) - Which, interestingly, begins "Deletion of closed questions is not happening to the extent required." No answers were offered, but a member commented and agreed with the effort.

The purpose here, now, is to get a pulse of members' thoughts on this. The CM statement on the status "closed" is that it's a limbo state, during which time a question is a candidate to improve for potential reopen, or to be deleted if the reopen never happens.

Recently, there has been objection to the deletion of questions that may have had 'good' answers that were highly voted. This, of course, forces the question of whether a 'bad' question (say off-topic) can somehow be turned valuable by a well crafted answer.

In Dec '16, we had the Meta question How do we discourage high-rep users from answering questions that are clearly off-topic? which gives a nice list of examples of this happening. In one case, the question is voted +68, and the top answer +148. To be clear, I'd be just as happy to see the question edited and voted open. If it's closed, it's closed for a reason.

I would like to hear from members on both sides, those who would look at the Meta posts I linked and agreeing with that, have no objection to continued deletions, as well as those who would prefer otherwise.

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I'm in two minds on this.

On the one hand, it seems unfriendly to delete content that people have written, generally in good faith.

On the other hand, I do think off-topic questions clutter up the site, and also encourage more of the same to be posted. Mostly they get high votes because of HNQ, and I don't think the votes actually reflect the quality.

So I'm just going to sit on the fence for now :-)

  • Of the eight questions that @JoeTaxpayer posted in the other meta question, you agreed with me that four of them should really be reopened. Isn’t that proof enough that it would be a mistake for a moderator to begin quietly deleting these questions with no discussion? – Ben Miller Mar 26 at 12:34
  • @BenMiller I don't plan to do it myself, but I don't have a strong view that it shouldn't happen. I do sometimes strategically downvote old questions that are on the borderline of the Roomba threshold, if I want to express a non-binding view that they should be removed. I think for the highly voted ones it's best to have meta discussions first - but that said it's also open to people who would like them to stay to kick off discussions first. FWIW I think money.stackexchange.com/tools also gives some visibility on things that are deleted (though maybe it doesn't show mod-deletions) – Ganesh Sittampalam Mar 26 at 22:54
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Should more effort go into reopening some of the closed questions?

I've been mulling this conversation over for a while. We have two conflicting problems that we're trying to reconcile here. We want to keep the site clean, but there are some questions that might be salvageable with some effort. We close questions that are off-topic knowing that with effort the questions could be improved and reopened. It takes time and effort to edit a question to be a better fit for this site. Whose responsibility is it to make those edits?

The OP (the most motivated party who wants an answer) often a new user asking that doesn't have enough context about what is on-topic to make the edits. They are easily discouraged and they're not terribly invested, so the level of abandonment is high. We have some responsibility to be nice and to point them in the right direction, but that's often not enough.

The invested user base (anyone with enough rep to vote to close or reopen) sees an ever increasing volume of low quality questions and probably make some close votes in a reactionary way. Arguments might sap motivation, etc., but the core users can and should be doing the bulk of the work here. Still we are all volunteers, all we can do is ask for help.

The moderators have to deal with flags, spam, and everything else that crosses the site and there are fewer of them. As far as I'm concerned they should be calling balls and strikes when arguments break out, and doing cleanup that can't be done by high rep users.

In the end, some questions are closed that could be salvaged with some effort, but if that effort is not made, they probably shouldn't hang around forever.

I have dozens of deleted posts, and I started looking through them today to see if there were any I still cared about. I found a few, but not many. There were some poorly written questions that I answered that were closed, and I didn't put any effort into getting them reopened. That was my bad, and I probably should have acted before they were deleted. If I put the effort into answering a question that I felt was close enough to on-topic, I should put in the edits required to make the case for reopening. So my final conclusion is that the majority of the responsibility for editing a question to make it unambiguously on topic is:

The answerers who are often high-rep users who are interested enough in the topic to spend some time answering. If they're motivated enough to provide an answer, they should also put some effort into advocating for the asker.

I believe that if we put some effort into encouraging high-rep users to own the questions they answer, we'll have fewer questions with good answers staying closed long-term.

If no one puts the effort in to reopen them, should they be deleted?

Generally, yes. With probably a few exceptions.

Most of them have probably been abandoned. Unless someone is willing to put in the effort needed as discussed above, new answers with updated information cannot be added, so even if the information in the answers was good (though off-topic) they may become outdated, and again, the motivation appears to be lower to maintain content on questions that are closed.

  • I like the suggestion, if I am not reading too much into this, (I'll paraphrase) That those who have 'good' answers on closed questions should take some initiative to edit the question to move it to 'on topic'. I'd be happy to see that flurry of activity. And also more effort/acceptance to delete the questions that can't be saved. – JoeTaxpayer May 10 at 20:03
  • @JoeTaxpayer That's a reasonable summary. It might not be obvious to some users that their previous work has been deleted. There are no reputation losses or notifications. It might simply be ignorance. Frankly, the one you undeleted for me today was still gathering votes until the delete in March, and I hadn't much motivation to improve it until I thought more about why my answer was good and why the question was bad. If the answer is good, the question can probably be saved with some effort. – Nathan L May 10 at 20:10
  • And yet, even with an open invitation, Candidates For Editing and Reopening gained little traction. – JoeTaxpayer May 10 at 20:13
  • I did a wholesale rewrite of money.stackexchange.com/questions/78863/… in order to save it. Did I go too far? – Nathan L May 10 at 20:30
  • Thank you for taking time to think about this, putting yourself in the place of others, and writing this answer. I have a few comments. – Ben Miller May 10 at 20:37
  • Often there is disagreement on whether a question should be closed or open. Questions often get closed with very little explanation, and it is not clear what edits would be required to appease the close voters or motivate potential reopen voters/mods. Due to the systemic bias towards closing questions, it is very difficult to reopen a question, with or without edits. – Ben Miller May 10 at 20:42
  • Usually, a meta discussion is required to reopen a question, and we just don’t have the collective time or energy to address all of these. Of course, it doesn’t take a meta discussion to close a question, putting the burden of effort squarely on those of us who think many of these should be reopened. – Ben Miller May 10 at 20:44
  • @BenMiller - I was hoping that inviting Nathan to edit with an eye towards reopening would gain me some goodwill with you on this issue. I still believe that there are bad deleteworthy questions, but would be happy to see members work towards the edit/reopen. – JoeTaxpayer May 10 at 20:45
  • Closing and deleting questions takes very little time and effort, and there are plenty of users on the site who like to click the close button on every question that they don’t like. The real time and effort that is spent on this site is from those of us who answer, edit, and lobby for reopening. I ask that the mods keep this in mind when considering deleting a question. – Ben Miller May 10 at 20:50
  • @BenMiller I am aware that closing is easier than reopening, however, when I get ahead of the close votes with an edit, I rarely lose that battle. I have frequently edited questions in the close vote queue for that reason. I opened another meta question for the cases where I worry that the edit I think is needed would conflict with the author's intent in asking the question. In some of those cases I gave a contrary answer, but it has elsewhere been discouraged to write answers for off-topic questions, so I don't do that much anymore. How many others are editing and lobbying for reopening? – Nathan L May 10 at 20:53
  • Could others be encouraged to make that effort with a comment on their answer? – Nathan L May 10 at 20:54
  • Every time I post an answer, I believe the question is on-topic. If the question subsequently gets closed by others as off-topic, it doesn’t mean that I answered an off-topic question; it means that there is disagreement on whether the question is on-topic or not. Sometimes I am able to discern a way to edit the question to try to please those that closed the question, and sometimes I feel that no edits are needed and the question should simply be reopened as-is. – Ben Miller May 10 at 21:00
  • @BenMiller I'm not asking about you. I know there are plenty of other closed questions without answers from you, but with answers from other high-rep users. My answer and my above question to you is about whether they could be better engaged in this effort. – Nathan L May 10 at 21:07
  • I have to assume that when other high rep users answer questions, they also do so in good faith, believing that the question is on-topic as-is. – Ben Miller May 10 at 21:15
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    "what’s the harm in leaving it alone indefinitely?" - Because the logical conclusion is that the effort to maintain any on-topic list is pointless. "I can post at Money.SE, ask for a product/service recommendation, and it might be closed but the Q/A will remain undeleted for all time." I view this issue as gray, not looking to delete the current near 1000 closed question wholesale. But your counter-offer is to keep every one of them in 'closed' status. – JoeTaxpayer May 11 at 11:40
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I think that closed questions that have been closed sufficiently long should be deleted. Unless there's a specific, case-by-case reason for them being kept open ("historical" reasons, usually), if a question is closed because it's not a good question or not a good fit for the site, it should be deleted.

It seems like this is more a question of 'should we close as much as we do', then I'll tend to fall on the side of 'keeping more questions open', though I tend to think we do okay on that front for the most part. Either way, though, that's a different discussion than delete/not delete closed questions.

Keeping closed questions around for long enough for people to have expressed opinions on their closed status and then not deleting them afterwards just means we have more examples of poor questions on the site; it's not likely to be found by anyone (since it's not indexed) and not likely to be reopened at that point.

  • A couple of points: The discussion of "should we close as much as we do" is linked to the discussion of "should closed questions be deleted," because having questions deleted by moderators removes those questions from consideration that have potentially been closed when they should not have been. It doesn't hurt anything, in general, to leave closed questions visible on the site; they are clearly marked as "closed," so it is not like anyone could point to those questions and say that their own new question should be allowed on that basis. – Ben Miller Mar 25 at 18:44
  • Fellow Joe, I'd invite you to take a few minutes, and look at the Candidates For Editing and Reopening. These are the high voted questions that are potential ones for an edit/reopen or just vote to reopen as is. 3 should already appear in the reopen queue. – JoeTaxpayer Mar 26 at 11:01
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I understand, philosophically, the idea that old, closed questions should be deleted. However, the issue that we have on our site is that there is a lot of controversy on a lot of closed questions. We don't have agreement right now on what should be closed and what shouldn't.

The system, in general, is biased towards closing questions. It takes at most 5 votes to close a question. (Often questions are closed with fewer than 5 votes.) While questions are acquiring close votes, there is no explicit way for users to vote to keep a question open. After the question is closed, 5 more users can vote to reopen a question, but this rarely happens for a number of reasons: the question can't get bumped to the top with new answers, the users who thought that the question should have remained open have already seen the question and interacted with it before it was closed, and they don't get notified when the question gets closed. And moderators are reluctant to reopen questions closed by other users unless a meta discussion about the question occurs. In addition, reopen votes expire fairly quickly, and there is a waiting period before a reopen vote can be reissued.

Despite the fact that there is no explicit way for users to vote to keep a question open while it is in the process of being closed, there are de facto methods for users to express their desire to keep a question open. When a user upvotes a question or posts an answer to a question, they are in effect expressing their opinion that the question is on-topic and should remain open. I understand that it is often said that "high votes don't equate to on-topic," but at the same time we can't ignore that high votes (or even just a few positive votes) indicate that there were users who thought the question had merit.

As a result of the bias toward closing questions, we have a lot of questions on our site that have been closed, and yet I (and others, I think) believe that many of these were closed in error and should be reopened.

We could discuss each of these questions on meta and try to come to consensus on which ones should be reopened, which ones can be reopened with edits, and which ones were closed legitimately. However, this activity will take a long time to complete, and it is debatable if this is a valuable use of all of our time and effort.

A viable alternative is to simply refrain from manually deleting closed questions en masse. By not deleting these questions, we honor the desire of the users and moderators who originally closed the question, and we also don't destroy the hard work of the users who spent their time and effort answering these questions that they believe are actually on-topic. This also allows the debate on what constitutes an open-worthy question to continue without putting an artificial timetable or deadline on it.

Stack Exchange has an auto delete feature (dubbed the Roomba) that automatically deletes questions under certain criteria. Closed questions with no positive score answers will eventually be deleted without any user action necessary. There really is no reason why users must go around deleting closed questions with any urgency.

To be fair, I think there are rare times when manual deletion of questions is warranted. We want to delete questions whose presence is actively harmful to our site or to our readers. Spam should be swiftly deleted, as should posts with abusive language. Sometimes we get questions where the OP decides to post their bank account number; those need to be deleted quickly as well. But off-topic questions with negative scores do not need to be manually deleted; the Roomba will clean that up. And for questions that are closed as off-topic yet have good answers from respected users, we need to recognize that there is not consensus whether this question is really on-topic or not. And waiting some arbitrary amount of time before deletion doesn't really address the issue. One thing moderators might not realize is that manual deletion by a moderator is final; it is not possible for ordinary users to vote to undelete, and it cannot be undone by any process except another moderator action.

I have seen people make the argument that you shouldn't look at answers in deciding whether or not a question should be closed; that you can't turn an off-topic question into an on-topic question by writing an on-topic answer. However, what that argument fails to take into account is that a good answer can show you how a question you originally thought was off-topic really is on-topic. This happens all the time; users read a question and immediately think "Too broad; This can't be answered concisely," or "Primarily opinion-based; This can't be answered objectively." They might issue their close vote, but if someone comes along and answers concisely or objectively, that answerer has proven the close-voter wrong. If an answer is written that is an on-topic answer, perhaps it means that the question simply needs a minor edit to be kept on-topic.

In conclusion, I don't see any need for our moderators to blindly follow some convention from other Stack Exchange sites in deleting closed questions without considering the opinions of the users who have voted up and answered these questions, indicating that they believe the questions should not have been closed.


Edit: I would just like to point out that my answer here is the compromise option. Some users want to delete lots of questions, not content with them being closed. Others (myself included) think that many of those should be reopened. The compromise solution is to simply leave them closed and not deleted, but able to be re-opened or re-closed if the consensus changes in the future on any individual questions, preserving without officially endorsing the work of answerers.

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    I don't think the system is as biased towards closing questions as you suggest. Whenever you cast a reopen vote when there are none there, it should push the question into a review queue and other users look at it too. If you do see close votes on a question you disagree with, I would suggest actively leaving a comment explaining why. Future close voters are more likely to read those and take them into account than just the existence of an answer. – Ganesh Sittampalam Mar 24 at 10:04
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    @GaneshSittampalam There is definitely a systemic bias toward closing questions. While there is both a close and a reopen review queue that work in a similar way, new open questions garner close votes from simply being on the front page, whether or not it is in the review queue. And once the question is closed it drops off the front page because it is older and no new answers can be added. – Ben Miller Mar 25 at 18:58
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    @GaneshSittampalam I agree that comments are a way to make the argument for keeping a question open before it is closed. I have begun posting those types of comments recently, and have seen good results from that. However, that doesn't do any good once the question is closed; it requires me to notice that a question has started to acquire close votes and post my rebuttal as a comment before the remaining close votes are cast. – Ben Miller Mar 25 at 19:02
  • if you post a comment and then vote to reopen, the reviewers in the reopen queue will see your comment. – Ganesh Sittampalam Mar 25 at 19:06
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    @GaneshSittampalam Yes, but that necessitates that four other users visit the review queue and vote to reopen. Close votes are often issued without going through the review queue. – Ben Miller Mar 25 at 19:10
  • The reopen queue is generally empty or nearly empty. I think the only reason things are getting left closed is that enough members have voted "Leave closed" when reviewing: meta.stackexchange.com/a/269856/132930 – Ganesh Sittampalam Mar 25 at 19:23
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    @GaneshSittampalam Yes. And yet, in the case of a recent question, when a question gets bumped out of the close queue due to users clicking “Leave Open,” it may still get enough close votes from the front page. However, if a closed question is no longer on the front page and gets bumped out of the reopen queue, it doesn’t stand much of a chance. – Ben Miller Mar 25 at 21:14
  • I guess you could edit if you really want to get it back on the front page. But overall, I think the balance of opinions amongst users is that most of these questions should stay closed. – Ganesh Sittampalam Mar 25 at 21:20
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    @GaneshSittampalam I don’t think we can make that generalization at all. As I said in my answer, upvotes and answers are signs of support for the question, and many of these supposed off-topic questions closed by a handful of users have plenty of both. – Ben Miller Mar 25 at 22:09
  • OK - the balance of opinion amongst users with the reputation and inclination to express an opinion. I think most of the upvotes come via HNQ from users who don't know or care about what's on-topic. – Ganesh Sittampalam Mar 26 at 5:42
  • @GaneshSittampalam For the HNQ questions, even if most of the upvotes came from outside the site, that still leaves some upvotes (and answers) that came from our own users. Please make sure that you aren’t biased against questions that hit the HNQ. – Ben Miller Mar 26 at 10:16
  • Even so, I explicitly disagree with the idea that upvotes+answers mean people think something is on-topic. Clearly you do, but you also cast reopen votes anyway. Many people just jump in because something looks interesting. We have the close/reopen process (with a higher rep threshold) specifically so that questions can be judged for their suitability independently of their attractiveness. – Ganesh Sittampalam Mar 26 at 11:00
  • @GaneshSittampalam I agree that we disagree on what should be reopened. :) I recognize that it may be a long time, if ever, that many of these good questions (in my mind) get reopened. That is exactly why I humbly request that moderators refrain from deleting these questions. It ends all discussion, and there is nothing positive in that. I still have not seen any reason from anyone yet that explains why these questions must be deleted, other than “they clutter up the site,” which is really meaningless. – Ben Miller Mar 26 at 12:19
  • space.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/149/… and the linked security.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/681/… expand on the "clutter up the site" rationale. – Ganesh Sittampalam Mar 26 at 23:07
  • money.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/415/… mentions that not cleaning up bad content was a reason it took us longer to graduate (though I guess as we're not subject to graduation being revoked, this isn't a direct concern) – Ganesh Sittampalam Mar 26 at 23:09

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