Currently, new users who repeatedly ask extremely low quality questions, as defined by various hidden metrics, eventually get a "question ban". They can still use the site, but they are not permitted to ask questions.
This is enforced at the IP level, and is permanent.
The argument has generally been that the threshold of the hidden metrics are so low that it only catches the absolute worst of the worst. The people who cannot be educated as to how to ask questions properly or to do even basic research. I believe Jeff is on record as saying that they simply do not want such people here.
I find that there are a few problems with this.
The first is purely technological: an IP address does not uniquely represent a human. Every time there is a perma-question-ban, there is a tiny chance that someone else adopts that IP address in the future, comes to the site, and is told that their question is not wanted, despite never having been here. Something as simple as moving into a new house can do that.
Yes, it hasn't happened yet. But every perma-question-ban increases the chance of it just a bit. As the number of these bans increase, it will eventually happen. Maybe Stack Exchange will have been overtaken by some new technology that makes it even easier to get questions answered. Or whatever. But given things as they are, there is the small chance that someone will be question banned through no fault of their own.
That is, admittedly, a minor point. A far more significant point is this: people change.
Generally, low-quality questions are asked for one of the following reasons:
- The person is rather immature. They don't really know any better and aren't interested in being corrected by others. This typically afflicts the young, though admittedly there are some surprisingly immature netcitizens out there.
- The person is ignorant. They don't know enough about what they're talking about to be able to ask actual questions from the community. Them getting question-banned generally requires repeated attempts to engage the community in their ignorance, so some degree of immaturity or pig-headedness is often a factor.
- The person is simply a buffoon.
- The person isn't a native English speaker.
The thing is, #1 and #2 are all solvable. Not by us of course; we still have standards and a website to maintain. But these are all solvable, as with many things, simply by the passage of time.
Consider the immature asker. Most of the time, this is a young person, perhaps 13-15 years of age, who picked up some programming book and maybe did a few tutorials online. They have a little knowledge, and we all know how dangerous a little knowledge can be. Thus, they encounter a problem and come here to drop a question on us.
A bad question. Maybe a lot of bad questions.
But here's the thing: that 13-year-old is going to grow up. Sometime around the 17-20-year-old range, they start to understand more about the subject matter. They understand more about how to ask a question, how to do research on their own, etc. They are now capable of asking real, viable questions.
But they can't. All thanks to a couple of incidents from years ago that they can barely remember (assuming their IP address hasn't changed, of course).
My point is that people who ask bad questions don't always stay that way. People grow up, learn more, and learn to speak English better.
What would happen if we went from permanent question ban to, say, 1 year? Would it negatively impact the value of the ban?
I don't think so. Or if so, then not by much. If a bad user is question banned from the site, then they're gone. They leave; generally, question banned users don't hang around. And odds are, they're not going to be sitting there, counting the days until their ban from that site they asked 3 questions on a year ago expires. They got their hint and are gone, probably to some other community.
The only people who would return are those who either were directed here by a search or were interested in joining back up again for other reasons. If a year has passed, it is now possible that such persons have reformed on their own. And it is possible that they have not.
Let's say that 25% of the people who were question banned return after one year and ask again. And of those 25% of people, half of them actually ask reasonable questions. In which case, the question-ban-for-a-year system will only be 12.5% less effective than the current system.
To be fair, both of these numbers are invented out of nothing. But putting a time limit on the question ban would have the effect of allowing a person (who manages to hold onto their IP address) to mature and become a productive asker of the community.
So the question is this: should we allow for the possibility of a former bad asker to mature on their own, by imposing a time limit to the question ban? Would making the question ban finite (but still lengthy) weaken the system too much, or are we missing something without it.