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With the SO community growing, I see more and more frivolous closings. It's natural considering the number of potential close votes is increasing, and the number of close votes required is always exactly 5.

I think that's only part of the problem -- the more hidden issue is that people seem to throw out close votes mindlessly sometimes. I can imagine a few theories:

  • Flaunting their ability to use the close vote system
  • People may see it as a structured way to downvote. It's a way to downvote and choose the reason via a fixed list.
  • The close voting system is so intuitive that it can be a knee-jerk reaction. For example if something is just arguably on topic, or where an answer could involve subjective reasoning in any way, users may click that close button instead of giving the benefit of the doubt.

I am not sure it's a problem worth solving at the moment, but is this flag being raised? Is this what is desirable for SO? I think you could make the argument either way actually.

On one hand, we want to embrace interesting questions even when they press the limits of being on topic or answerable.

On the other hand, bigger community means we should be more discriminating with questions. I'm just not sure the same old close voting system accomplishes this in the right way.

Edit: continuing the investigation of @ConradFrix, here is a graph showing the average score for closed questions (in red), and the average score for all questions (blue). The data is strange; basically for a long time the closed score was actually higher than the average score.

Here is the query.

It would suggest that my observations do not represent the trends of the site, and that as time goes on, the opposite effect is actually happening: Lower percentile scoring questions are being closed, at the same time that a higher % of questions are being closed.

I am pretty sure that if we added a "Close votes per user" and "Average Rep of Close Voters" -- to try and visualize "close vote quality & diligence" we would see an increase over the years, meaning the watchdogs of the site are being more and more diligent in closing questions, which would then indicates frivolous close votes are not happening.

I'm not curious enough to add those metrics to the query.

graph

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7  
The number of questions to be closed is also increasing, at approximately the same rate. It could even be a greater rate, if you consider the big-city effects SO is experiencing. Disagree with premise that we should embrace off-topic and unanswerable questions, -1. –  Kevin Vermeer Oct 12 '11 at 16:50
    
I don't see how you think I implied we should embrace off-topic or unanswerable questions. I am saying that because of the way closing works, the bigger the community, the more effect frivolous close-votes make. The voting system otoh balances out because while there are more upvotes available there are an equal amount of potential downvotes. For close votes though this balance does not exist. Imagine impeaching a president based on a fixed number of votes with no opposition. –  tenfour Oct 12 '11 at 16:59
3  
Do you have data that shows a significant number of questions are being closed that should not be? I think this question will just spin without that data. –  Michael Petrotta Oct 12 '11 at 17:11
    
Of course I don't have any data, I'm a lowly user :) Just my unrecorded observations. –  tenfour Oct 12 '11 at 17:13
2  
Well, go out and gather some! You have as much access, as a "lowly user" to that data, as any mod. Trawl though some closed questions and gather examples. Or use the Data Explorer. –  Michael Petrotta Oct 12 '11 at 17:15
1  
@tenfour - You wrote "On one hand, we want to embrace interesting questions even when they press the limits of being on topic or answerable." This was how you implied ... this. –  Kevin Vermeer Oct 12 '11 at 17:17
    
My understanding of "press the limits" does not involve crossing them. There are a lot of interesting old questions which survived closing because they were good / interesting for this community. These questions would never pass 5 minutes nowadays. Sorry I can't think of examples but surely you must know what I mean. Not things like "list of cool language features" but questions that require wisdom of the answerer, which can often be mistaken for subjectivity. –  tenfour Oct 12 '11 at 17:22
    
Thanks for your input everyone but I need an umbrella. –  tenfour Oct 12 '11 at 17:25
1  
Links or it didn't happen. You can't assert there's a problem without showing us at least some evidence. You may not have access to all the tools for oversight available to higher-rep users, but you can certainly start here. FWIW, a lot of those older questions survived closing because folks re-opened them. There were battles... Some evidence of this can be found in the revision histories, but originally closing / reopening wasn't logged in this way, so you'll have to take our word for it. –  Shog9 Oct 12 '11 at 17:27
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Doesn't it follow that with all these people with the ability to cast "Close" votes there are just as many people who can cast "re-open" votes? –  Al E. Oct 12 '11 at 18:54
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See also "The Closing Problem" –  Pops Oct 12 '11 at 20:58
    
@PopularDemand: thank you, he describes exactly what i'm saying. My thoughts however have been a bit scattered around my comments but I think he says it more eloquently, and provides actual solutions. Actually fear of mine is that his and my question are being downvoted so much because people don't like the idea that we close fewer questions -- implying that we lower the standards of the site. That's not what I believe at all, and I think that's a completely separate discussion. But if closing worked well in the past, I believe it should be amended to support the future. –  tenfour Oct 12 '11 at 21:12

2 Answers 2

Fixed number of close votes + growing community = more questions being closed

True, but:

growing community = more questions being asked

more questions being asked = more *bad* questions being asked

more *bad* questions being asked = more questions needing closing

Using transitivity, we can substitute back into your original equation to get:

Fixed number of close votes + more questions needing closing = more questions being closed

So yes, I would say that is desirable.

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You have missed the point. The important thing is "fixed number". 5 close votes in a small population worked fine before. Now when the population doubles, the same fixed number of close votes means questions of better quality will be closed. –  tenfour Oct 12 '11 at 17:01
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Actually, I'm afraid you're missing the point. If the community doubles, they will bring more questions that need closing with them. These additional questions will occupy the fixed number of close votes. If fact, we might need more close votes to deal with the increase of bad questions! –  John Oct 12 '11 at 17:04
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Keep in mind I'm talking about frivolous close votes. A question 2 years ago might have gotten a single frivolous close vote. It's a good question, but someone voted to close it for whatever reason. Because we require 5 votes, it remains rightly open. When the SO population grows 5x, it means this question will be closed along with a much higher proportion of questions. It means that where 5 votes served as a buffer before, it is now barely a margin at all. Imagine the population of SO is 1 billion. Does this now illustrate why 5 close votes is obsolete? –  tenfour Oct 12 '11 at 17:08
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@tenfour In your example, you have one frivolous VTC(vote-to-close)-er, and he VTCs one question. If the population grows 5x, we now have 5 VTC-ers and they each VTC one question. However, The questions have also grown 5x because of the additional people. The odds of our 5 VTC-ers VTC-ing the same question out of 5 million is very slim. (5 million = (SO's current Q# = ~1Mil) x5) And if a question that old manages to collect 5 VTCs, it might actually be a bad question. Remember: (In most cases) All 5 votes have to be cast within 48 hours to close a question. –  John Oct 12 '11 at 17:14
    
(Continued) That's a terribly small window for a question 2 years old. –  John Oct 12 '11 at 17:16
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Ok I see why you were thinking that. The assumption I'm making (again, just based of my observations) is that VTC do gravitate towards the same questions. People see that it has one VTC and follow the leader, and there are more people to follow now. What I observe now is questions being closed quickly, then a war of close-reopen ensues. The battle is strange because it's turn-based :) But, I feel that I am the only one making this observation so it's apparently not a problem... I at least wanted to post my observations. –  tenfour Oct 12 '11 at 17:19
    
@tenfour - Even if frivilous close votes were randomly cast on good questions, if the ratio of users with close votes to questions asked remains constant, growth would not lead to more closed questions. Do you have any evidence that frivolous close votes get cast at all? –  Kevin Vermeer Oct 12 '11 at 17:20
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@tenfour - VTCs gravitate towards questions which need to be closed; the system works as designed. –  Kevin Vermeer Oct 12 '11 at 17:21

So I wrote this query http://data.stackexchange.com/stackoverflow/s/1951/closed-questions-stats. This does indeed indicate an 90% uptick in closing in September. But if I had to guess I think that's from Zombie Poke.

Otherwise there's been a slow increase in closing but even at ~2% I don't think that's a crazy amount.

The drop in closed question score may correlate with downvotes becoming free and the age of the questions may be a factor due to the natural accrual of votes over time. Also the very high numbers for 2008 may be due to the change in attitude towards poll questions (dates reflect post date not close date)

|MONTH|YEAR|Avg Closed    |postcount|closecount|Open Post |ClosePercent     |CloseVotesButNotClosedPercent 
|     |    |Question Score|         |          |with Close|                 |
|     |    |              |         |          |Vote      |                 |
|-----|----|--------------|---------|----------|----------|-----------------|----------------------------- 
8     2008  36.211267      26317     142        3          0.539575179541741 0.0113994756241213            
9     2008  21.50151       95787     331        30         0.345558374309666 0.0313194901187009            
10    2008  22.243902      83716     246        23         0.293850637870897 0.0274738401261408            
11    2008  16.688442      63089     199        6          0.315427412068665 0.00951037423322608           
12    2008  11.082191      62170     219        7          0.352259932443301 0.011259449895448             
1     2009  7.610108       80860     277        8          0.342567400445214 0.0098936433341578            
2     2009  9.470085       85761     234        11         0.272851296043656 0.0128263429764112            
3     2009  8.480314       91773     254        5          0.276769856057882 0.00544822551295043           
4     2009  4.744075       93622     211        6          0.22537437781718  0.00640875008010938           
5     2009  6.017921       109804    279        5          0.254089104222068 0.00455356817602273           
6     2009  4.7411         118611    309        6          0.260515466525027 0.00505855274805878           
7     2009  5.281733       131763    323        10         0.245137102221413 0.00758938396970318           
8     2009  4.659649       126918    285        5          0.224554436722923 0.0039395515214548            
9     2009  2.95977        124539    174        7          0.139715269915448 0.00562072924947205           
10    2009  3.468181       135978    220        15         0.161790877936137 0.0110311962229184            
11    2009  3.323232       147288    198        9          0.13443050350334  0.00611047743197002           
12    2009  3.444444       144289    252        12         0.174649488179972 0.00831664229428439           
1     2010  6.716867       163738    332        5          0.20276295056737  0.0030536588940869            
2     2010  5.187654       157344    405        9          0.257397803538743 0.00571995118974985           
3     2010  4.375939       178416    266        7          0.149089767733836 0.00392341494036409           
4     2010  3.280991       166723    242        7          0.145150938982624 0.00419858087966267           
5     2010  3              172703    453        12         0.262300017949891 0.00694834484635472           
6     2010  1.250731       183270    1025       13         0.559284116331096 0.00709335952419927           
7     2010  1.17731        200319    1190       13         0.594052486284376 0.00648964900982932           
8     2010  1.278056       207083    1194       28         0.576580404958398 0.0135211485249876            
9     2010  1.102877       196254    1147       21         0.584446686436964 0.0107004188449662            
10    2010  1.048745       207896    1395       21         0.671008581213684 0.010101204448378             
11    2010  0.655263       229557    1520       22         0.66214491389938  0.00958367638538576           
12    2010  0.736731       227482    1432       27         0.629500356072129 0.0118690709594605            
1     2011  0.807397       259573    1568       30         0.604068990226256 0.0115574424150432            
2     2011  0.440156       266519    2047       33         0.768050307857976 0.0123818564530109            
3     2011  0.27824        325905    3001       44         0.920820484497016 0.0135008668170172            
4     2011  0.408506       305991    3268       36         1.0680052681288   0.0117650519132916            
5     2011  0.265474       316237    3635       51         1.14945436492251  0.0161271451474685            
6     2011  -0.010025      314479    3591       118        1.14188864757265  0.0375223782828106            
7     2011  -0.159292      317943    3729       2686       1.1728517375756   0.844805515454028             
8     2011  -0.195262      337733    4179       3574       1.23736798003156  1.05823239067547              
9     2011  -0.729349      321949    7312       6998       2.27116717244036  2.17363619703742              
10    2011  -1.77254       23436     488        488        2.08226659839563  2.08226659839563              

See Troyen's comment regarding the high Open Post WITH Vote Count after 7/2011 and how it relates to What Happened Here? Voted to Close 4 Days Ago, but No Close Votes Today?

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1  
Regarding your last paragraph - I think that's more to do with newly-free downvotes on questions. –  Michael Petrotta Oct 12 '11 at 18:22
    
way to ruin a perfectly good idea with facts ;) –  Some Helpful Commenter Oct 12 '11 at 18:56
    
What's Zombie Poke? –  Chris Frederick Oct 12 '11 at 18:59
    
That was the code word for facebook.stackoverflow.com –  Some Helpful Commenter Oct 12 '11 at 19:02
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Cool, yay for data! Too bad SO don't publish how many votes wither away without leading to a closing. That would be important to see in this context as well –  Pëkka Oct 12 '11 at 19:19
    
@Pekka if you mean Posts that have close votes but aren't closed then yes they do have it. See update. I'm a little mad now though because you have to scroll now. Although there's a pretty shocking rise in 7/2011 of posts with closed votes that are still open. I wonder what it will look like in 6 months –  Some Helpful Commenter Oct 12 '11 at 19:46
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7/2011 is when they changed close votes to expire on a sliding window (or not at all if the question hasn't been viewed 100 times), which is probably why there is a dramatic increase in open questions with close votes. –  Troyen Oct 12 '11 at 20:14
    
@Troyen that's awesome. Its amazing how many site changes you can see in the data –  Some Helpful Commenter Oct 12 '11 at 21:23
    
I think you meant avg(case when closeddate is not null ... else **NULL** end) instead of 0, right? –  tenfour Oct 13 '11 at 7:55
    
@tenfour Doh! I've updated the query and the post. Thanks for picking up on that. –  Some Helpful Commenter Oct 13 '11 at 14:34

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