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There has been a lot of debate about deleted posts over the years. The classic example is the old discussion about handling old popular posts, upon which consensus has never been reached and the opinion of the majority has varied over time (deletion is currently favoured). More recent is Pekka's request that a meta thread be undeleted and the related discussion about the appropriateness of deleting such meta posts (this suggestion wouldn't resolve that situation, but it would improve it).

Much unnecessary conflict comes from the fact that deletion is not the optimal solution in most cases, but the Stack Exchange software doesn't provide a better alternative.

How often is it actually necessary that content be made entirely inaccessible to most people? Occasionally there will be an genuine need for deletion, such as when copyrighted content is posted illegally. However in most cases posts are just deleted not because they're inherently harmful, but just because it's either useless or misrepresentative of the site, and someone wants to get it out of the way.

We're currently forced to choose between deletion, which wipes content of the site and breaks links, and locking, which preserves broken windows in question listings and inappropriate reputation gains.

I request the alternative of delisting questions. Delisted questions would behave like locked-and-deleted questions except that they would be visible to anybody with a direct link. A background color and notice would make it clear that they're not meant to represent the site. If you wanted to absolutely minimize their impact they could even be noindexed and removed from search2.

simple mockup

This might seem like a lot of trouble and complexity1 but, as was discussed in podcast 27, it's important to preserve the web when possible. Stack Overflow shouldn't be breaking links and taking content off the web without a good reason.

(Partially a repost of my answer here.)

1 If deletion were modified, instead of replaced then it wouldn't really increase complexity, but I thought people might prefer this.
2 An isdelisted option would be nice.

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Related: Do not lock old questions –  user149432 Dec 18 '11 at 23:05
Just so I understand; what you are requesting is basically the same as lowering the "view deleted" privilege to 1 reputation, right? –  Andrew Barber Dec 18 '11 at 23:06
"Preserve the web" for constructive content. Take off Dive into Python and Dive into HTML5, you are breaking the internet. Take off "What is your best programmer joke?" .. no not really. And the question you linked above should not be used seeing that random actively maintains it. –  phwd Dec 19 '11 at 1:34
@brucelee What's the harm in leaving it on the site, if it's unlisted? What's the need for deletion? –  Jeremy Banks Dec 19 '11 at 1:42
@JeremyBanks Because it is noise, which detracts from the useful content of the site in many ways. Google and other external links will remain, meaning the content will for all intents and purposes still be there for 'anonymous' users. –  Andrew Barber Dec 19 '11 at 1:50
To make sure it is not used as an example. Users usually don't read notices. And keeping it visible to all while giving the background a change is just throwing the question under the rug. How will the top voted questions look? Yup just one pile of off-topic fun questions. Delist it from the sorting links? How will users ever find it now? Give it /delisted? If you give it that then who is to stop someone from arguing to fix the scope to allow questions that match the delisted scope so that it can be placed there? –  phwd Dec 19 '11 at 1:52
@brucelee Agreed. The only reason the deleted posts show up at all now is for historical-administrative purposes, and because it's limited to those with access to the moderator tools, it doesn't create a general noise level for the site at all. –  Andrew Barber Dec 19 '11 at 1:54
is it just me, or is that diamond huge? –  studiohack Dec 19 '11 at 4:47
if this is now completed can we have this list de-listed instead of deleted? –  Alex Coplan Mar 10 '12 at 12:47

4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

This is now completed. Questions locked for historical significance will no longer show up in question lists.

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But how do we (i.e. newcomers) find them? From the blog post it seems like all you've done is keep old links from breaking. –  Matt Fenwick Mar 12 '12 at 23:38
@Matt - They're available via search, or searching via google. –  Nick Craver Mar 13 '12 at 0:03
Just to check on this - this only works so long as the actual lock message for historical significance is attached, right? The historical lock also, unlike other locks, also applies to all answers, but this effect is lost if the message is removed. I was curious if the same applies to this extra effect as well. –  Grace Note Jan 5 '13 at 16:09

I agree that it would be nice to preserve old content rather than let it vanish from the face of the web. But I disagree with that content staying in place. Questions are closed because they do not belong here. So they should not appear as being on Stack Exchange. I don't think it's a good idea to preserve the old link, either, because this doesn't make it apparent that the question is no longer really on Stack Exchange. On the other hand, they should be found via Google, so they must be listed somewhere. Web pages that you can only find if you have the link are so 1994. Hence deleted questions should be visible outside the Stack Exchange platform. Like… on StackPrinter (only more complete).

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Come on, they're at least so 1998. –  Jeremy Banks Dec 20 '11 at 13:07
@JeremyBanks Are you refering to Google? I was refering to Altavista. Or to “cool URIs don't change”? That's the point: closed questions are uncool, we want them to take the hi(n)t. –  Gilles Dec 20 '11 at 15:17

Delisting is an excellent idea.

Kind of like youtube's "private videos" -- it exists on the Internet, just you need the specific link. In this case the URL is a form of password. I like it.

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The problem with that is that it falls off of the community's radar when the contents of it are edited. This prevents the great bulk of people that would flag or rollback malicious content from seeing these changes. –  MDMarra Dec 23 '11 at 1:54

Because you don't use an absolute (deleting is always harmful overkill), I can't absolutely oppose your premise. I am sure that sometimes, something is deleted which I would think should not be deleted. I advocate careful application of delete votes. I like the weighted system that requires more delete votes on popular questions. No two people will agree if the weight applied is "correct", but I think it's a good principle.

But I do disagree with your solution, because I believe that many questions which get deleted do very much need to be deleted. Offensive posts, for instance. Outright spam. Defacement. Etc.

But I further believe that plain-old "bad posts" also should be deleted sometimes, and why is simple: they dilute the content on the site. Even if they are not linked from anywhere (which makes me wonder why you even want this...), there will be already-saved links to some of these posts.

That is: I suggest to you that the 'breaking of links' is exactly what is intended in these cases.

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I should correct my clarification from earlier, because I may have misunderstood what I was confirming: this would only probably apply to questions. If someone posts a spammy or offensive answer this wouldn't display it and if it's a question nobody will bother linking to it. I also was suggesting that this would probably be available as an alternative to deletion, not a replacement. –  Jeremy Banks Dec 19 '11 at 4:36
The weighted system, for what's it's worth, would only address the problem of breaking links. It wouldn't solve the problems of broken windows in the top question lists, which is "diluting the site" in a much more significant way than showing users disclaimered off-topic content instead of a 404 when they follow a popular link. –  Jeremy Banks Dec 19 '11 at 4:42

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