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If you look through the first several pages of top-voted questions, almost all of them are old and would now be considered non-constructive or off-topic. Some are closed, but it seems like most of them are locked instead.

Is there any reason that locking is preferred to closing in these cases?

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

There is a bit of an inconsistency, and I'll do my best to explain it.

Stack Overflow has evolved rapidly over the last few years mostly through trial and error. At the original public beta, almost any question that was even remotely programming related was entertained, and many users had fun answering open ended questions.

We abruptly realized that questions that invite protracted subjective discussions were more of an administrative headache than a valuable resource to someone who is trying to get their job done and learn something. The rules shifted a bit in an effort to make the site more objective.

Not long after that, Stack Exchange 2.0 launched, allowing our community to create sites specific to a special interest. You can find the incubator here.

One of the first sites to launch was this site which was originally named not programming related, after the close reason we used to have when closing a question that dealt more with the dynamics of being a programmer rather than programming itself. Initially, the problem we had with users wanting fun more than knowledge transferred to that site, but the moderators brought it under control. They welcome somewhat subjective questions, but the question must invite thoughtful and reasonably concise answers.

A few questions remain on Stack Overflow that aren't at all a shining example of questions that should be asked, simply because the founding community cherishes these questions because they illustrate how, if not why we've evolved as a community. The questions remain locked, they gather no additional noise while demonstrating the metacognition that prevented us from becoming another Yahoo Answers.

In essence, what you are seeing can be ascribed to growing pains.

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Thanks for the explanation, Tim. However, despite only becoming particularly active recently, I've been on SO since the private beta (I've userid 1114) and had a general idea of the history. I was wondering more about what criteria decides which of these old questions should be closed, instead of locked. To me, it seems inconsistent, even in questions that were entirely open until recently. I'll understand if it's just the opinions of particular moderators, but was wondering if there was something more that I was missing. – Jeremy Banks Sep 3 '11 at 20:48
I realize now that I was mixed up about "locked" and "protected" when making this post. Things sort-of make sense to me now. – Jeremy Banks Sep 3 '11 at 22:47
@Jeremy Banks - Ah, I see where the confusion was. Yes, a lot of them were protected by a moderator or the "community" user not long after the protection feature was implemented. – Tim Post Sep 4 '11 at 4:41

Questions that are closed but not locked are vulnerable to being reopened by misguided souls, led astray by tasty memes and subjectivity. Locking prevents any activity on questions that SO has determined do not deserve any further mindshare.

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I have seen questions that are both closed and locked. – Marcelo Sep 3 '11 at 18:09
@Marcelo - um, yes. I mention why above. – Michael Petrotta Sep 3 '11 at 18:16
In the past, locking and closing were separate actions. Now, locking implies closing. There may be some artifacts left over on old posts like the ones we're talking about. – Pops Sep 3 '11 at 21:42

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