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According to http://meta.stackexchange.com/a/92006/141361, we automatically delete old question with negative/0/1 scores (depending on time passed) and no answers.

I'd like to suggest extending something like that to closed questions as well.

In general, closed questions with no good answers are bad for the Internet, because they represent a dead-end page; a page with a question and no good answers, and it can never receive any other answers as well. If anyone ever Googles for that, all they get is a useless page. A useless page with our branding.

I propose to automatically delete these questions, to make the Internet a better place. My proposed criteria:

If a question is more than 30 days old, and ...

  • It is closed (except if it's closed as duplicate)
  • It has no answers (or if we feel more strict: it has no answers with score 0 or more)

... it will be automatically deleted.

The big difference from the policies linked in the other post is that now the question score doesn't matter - the reasoning is that, again, if it's closed and unanswered it's a Bad Thing, no matter how it is scored.

Notice - I don't just propose it to deal with a theoretical problem, I have noticed quite a few closed questions get upvotes (e.g. "cool" questions that are closed because they are prohibited by site policies). If would be great if those won't require manual cleanup later.

EDIT: according to the data found by Conrad and posted below, we might have thousands of these dead-end questions with over a million views between them, on SO alone.

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I think you should take into account either question score or close reason. Some questions are closed as duplicates, but they have value in sticking around because they provide another avenue for someone searching to find the actual answer for their problem, even if they didn't know the "correct" search terms. –  Troyen Feb 15 '12 at 19:00
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@Troyen of course I did not mean duplicates :) it was so obvious to me it slipped my mind. Regarding score, though, my whole point is that it should indeed be discarded, because no matter how upvoted the question is, it has no answers and cannot get any answers. –  Oak Feb 15 '12 at 19:07
    
    
This was implemented @KatieK: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/78048/… –  ben is uǝq backwards Jul 29 '13 at 21:51
    
@benisuǝqbackwards - Hmmm, maybe I'm missing something, but Jeff's "formally document the exact policies" post says that only closed questions with "score of 0 or less" are auto-deleted. –  KatieK Jul 29 '13 at 21:58
    
Ah, sorry just made a fool of myself then... you're right but I can't agree with deleting all closed questions with a positive score... some are more than worth keeping. –  ben is uǝq backwards Jul 29 '13 at 22:02
    
I agree with Sam's answer, @KatieK - we can't in good conscience automatically delete closed questions that have potentially-useful answers. That leaves just over 6K questions on SO - it's not a big win. Also, it'd do nothing for the close review backlog, since by definition those aren't closed. –  Shogging through the snow Jul 29 '13 at 22:44
    
@Shog9 - Hmmm, I don't see an answer from a Sam? Oh, d'oh about the CV queue - my logic there doesn't hold up. Wow - there are only 6000 open questions on SO? I can see keeping closed questions with upvoted answers, but not so much for a low PV / no answers question that somehow managed to get an upvote. –  KatieK Jul 29 '13 at 22:54
    
oh, looks like Sam is waffles again, @katie - sorry for the confusion. And that'd be 6K-some questions that're closed, have no answers, and weren't closed as duplicates. –  Shogging through the snow Jul 29 '13 at 23:08
    
@benisuǝqbackwards If you don't mind me asking, why do you think that some are worth keeping? What value do they have? Keep in mind my proposal is only about questions with no answers, and that cannot receive additional answers. –  Oak Jul 30 '13 at 4:45
    
They can receive additional answers @Oak, they can be reopened. I don't necessarily think that they are all worth-keeping but there will be some in there that will be.... –  ben is uǝq backwards Jul 30 '13 at 6:50

5 Answers 5

I like this. The grace period allows people to turn a question around while helping to automate the janitorial process.

If the site as a whole (and this applies to the owner as well) doesn't have the time/inclination to try and improve the question (which doesn't have anything good in the way of answers already) to the point where it can attract/be good content, then there's no reason we should keep it around.

The only side effect I can see of this which might be detrimental is that it might stop people from casting delete votes for obvious content, thinking "oh, it will get cleaned up automatically". I think we have to make sure that's not the only impact and if it is, how much of an impact it really is and if this justifies that impact.

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Agreeing with you this frequently is turning my worldview upside down –  Adam Rackis Feb 15 '12 at 15:49
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@Adaum Frightening, no? It's really part of a very targeted psychological/propaganda campaign targeted specifically at you. Is it working? –  casperOne Feb 15 '12 at 15:53
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You have a point in the last paragraph, but keep in mind that for SE 2.0 sites, community-deletion is still very rare. –  Oak Feb 15 '12 at 15:53
    
Possibly - might be related to my sudden urge to buy a mac, notwithstanding the fact that I'm a .net developer –  Adam Rackis Feb 15 '12 at 15:58
    
@Adamac Hey, same here! Going to install Windows 7 on the MBP laptop though. Going to get 16GB RAM and replace the optical bay with a 2nd HD. Are things awkward because they're too similar now? –  casperOne Feb 15 '12 at 16:17
    
@AdamRackis: .NET development on my Mac is thoroughly enjoyable. (Using Parallels instead of a fully-installed host. 4 GB and 2 cores assigned to the guest OS works just fine for me. I'd up it to 8 GB if I had more than 8 GB of RAM on my 13".) There's also the added benefit that I can manage the VM very effectively to keep it clean of installed software. This results in a kind of sanity check that things I develop on my employer-supplied workstation and checked in to source control can still build/run on a clean checkout to a clean machine. –  David Feb 15 '12 at 17:05
    
@David and casper - with the sh1t I'm reading about Win8, I might just might take the plunge for a MacBook on my next machine late this year. All those morons in Redmond had to do was take Win7 and make it run and boot faster, but no, they decided adding piles of crap....sorry, I'm ranting... –  Adam Rackis Feb 15 '12 at 17:11
    
@Adamant-about-macs Woah, woah, woah! Bitter much? =) There's still a desktop, don't worry. –  casperOne Feb 15 '12 at 17:26
    
Heh - I'm debugging a legacy-system-bulk-import-from-csv right now - I guess I'm not the most congenial at the moment. –  Adam Rackis Feb 15 '12 at 17:39

Let me just say that sometimes questions without answers are very useful!

Ah I'm not the only one who had this problem!… and we both use ⟨insert crappy software/distribution/hardware/whatever here⟩, so the issue is probably due to this and not to this!

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I'd assume this would be rare, especially given the question is closed so probably not a good match to the site to start with. Plus, one cannot add this observation as an answer anyway. –  Oak Feb 15 '12 at 21:26
    
@Oak: Comments are possible on closed questions, that's a way to start a conversation. Plus, I really don't think deleting any kind of human produced data makes the Internet a better place. Nobody care about useless digital stuff lying around; did the world ran out of hard-drives recently, or? –  Stéphane Gimenez Feb 15 '12 at 21:32
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@StéphaneGimenez Sometimes I've tried to search for stuff on StackExchange (using both the built-in search and google site search) and I had to sift through a bunch of dead or outdated results before I find an actual answer to something. So I think appropriate deletion does make the Internet a better place, by making it easier for visitors to find what they are looking for. –  Troyen Feb 15 '12 at 21:47
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@Troyen: Improve your search engine and add a “recent results first” option (and make it on by default if you want), deleting is just not a good solution. –  Stéphane Gimenez Feb 15 '12 at 21:51
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Can't help but be reminded of this xkcd strip. –  Alconja Feb 17 '12 at 0:53

Updates based on comment

Here's the list of questions that meet your criteria. There are 10,654 of them. Many of them have been merged, deleted (due to the existing sweep) or migrated.

Even if we remove merged and migrated posts its still 10,072. While this only represents .38% of all questions, this does represent 1,216,070* views of bad pages.

Removing these pages does make the internet better and is a worthwhile pursuit.

*StackExchange has a very conservative view count. Its likely to be 3x this.

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Thank you for adding data to the discussion. I'd like to note, though, that (1) it also applies to other sites - e.g. there are also 90 in superuser, 80 in Ubuntu, 36 in programmers, 64 in mathematics, etc. (2) maybe it's worth also checking how many are there using my stricter criteria - only nonnegative answers - which should include more posts, and (3) I concede that these represent a low percentage from the entire question count, but I still think those are 1128 Bad Pages that should be removed from the Internet. Removing a thousand bad pages will make the Internet a better place :) –  Oak Feb 16 '12 at 18:31
    
@Oak I messed up the query. AnswerCount equals 0 only when all answers are deleted. I've updated it to include AnswerCount Is Null. This dramatically increases the number of items. Also your point #3 is well taken. I've completely reversed my humble opinion on this. –  Some Helpful Commenter Feb 16 '12 at 19:13
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@Oak Adding Questions that only include answers that are Less than 0 is pretty marginal –  Some Helpful Commenter Feb 16 '12 at 19:16
    
I think this data is important so I've linked this in my answer (okay, I admit, I think it's mostly important now that it agrees with me more :) I would admit, though, that view count also represents the views before the questions were closed - e.g., when they were still being debated - so not all of those views were necessarily during the unanswerable state of the question. –  Oak Feb 16 '12 at 19:47

"Automatically delete" is a bad idea. It's a doubly bad idea to delete content that the majority of voters find useful.

Let's work through a test case:

  1. User taras.roshko asked a question about the .NET source code. (Aug 30 '11 at 10:13)
  2. User Marc Gravell♦ commented with an answer to the implied programming question. (Aug 30 '11 at 10:21)
  3. User casperOne♦ commented that the actual question could not be answered as only the .NET developers have access to the information. (Aug 30 '11 at 13:44)
  4. The question was "closed as not constructive by casperOne♦, Will♦ Aug 30 '11 at 14:38"

Therefore the total time the question had to collect answers was 4 hours and 25 minutes. If Marc had answered instead of commented (not that he should have) the question would be safe. But since nobody decided to provide feedback in the form of an answer, this question would be deleted under the proposal.

What the proposal must show is that the internet would be a better place without this particular question than with it. And the evidence shows that 13 people thought the question was good and nobody thought it was bad—just not answerable at the moment. In my opinion, closed with no answers is the perfect end state for this question and it currently provides a small, but not valueless artifact for future Googlers.


As programmers, we don't like unanswerable questions. But the reality is that there are many questions that are legitimately without answer. These are not really good fit for the sort of site that StackExchange hosts. An answer form Joe Programmer to the above question will be speculative rather than authoritative. That's why it makes perfect sense to close these questions. Why encourage people to make guesses?

But not being a good fit for the site does not mean that a question ought to be deleted. In fact the site benefits by communicating to users:

  1. That a question will not likely be answered on the site, and
  2. Why the question was closed.

At least this way there's a chance that askers of duplicate questions will avoid asking.

On Stack Overflow, at least, many of the questions really ought to be migrated to where they might get answers or at least the right audience. Some questions in Conrad's query ought to be migrated to Super User, Server Fault, TeX.SE, etc.


Finally, the proposal does not mesh well with what I understand is the current protocol for deletion. This is not a technical problem, but a social one. A technical solution at best will clear the way toward a true social solution.

In this case, automatic deletion merely hides or delays the problem. Is that really the way we want to proceed in the future? Do we need to make the same mistakes again in order to learn from them?

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For your downvoting convenience, allow me to supply your rationale: -1 for "Automatically delete" is a bad idea. –  Jon Ericson Mar 22 '12 at 19:05
    
The way I see it, you raise 3 possible cases in which these questions might be useful: (1) if they have useful comments, (2) if they are better migrated than deleted, and (3) if they can be used to educate other users for close reasons. Regarding (1), comments can indeed be useful - but that's not what they are for, and I think we can safely say that information useful for other people interested in the question will generally reside in answers, not comments. Regarding (2), I think very few questions older than a month end up being migrated, and anyway a question without answers is not that... –  Oak Mar 22 '12 at 19:11
    
... valuable, it can just be asked as a new question in the other site. Finally, regarding (3), I agree this can be helpful to guide new users - but I argue that this is a tiny benefit compared with what I consider the big problem with these questions, which is that (as I have wrote in the question above) they represent dead-end pages to the Internet at large, pages with unanswered, unanswerable questions. Way too many times have I reached such a dead-end place when trying to solve some issue. I don't want Stack Exchange to make it even more likely. Also bad for our sites' reputation. –  Oak Mar 22 '12 at 19:14
    
@Oak: My contention is that only humans can estimate the value of an unanswered question. I contend that knowing a question is unanswerable is nearly as good as getting an answer. My test case question is actually better off for not having an answer in the system. (And by the way, what are question comments for if not to provide useful information that does not meet the criteria of an answer?) –  Jon Ericson Mar 22 '12 at 19:29
    
Well, when you hover over the "add comment" button it says "ask author for clarification about this post", so I assume that's the primary motivation behind comments. Also, you wrote "knowing a question is unanswerable is nearly as good as getting an answer" - and with that I disagree: it's not that these questions are inherently unanswerable. They may theoretically have useful, even valuable, answers. But because the questions were deemed inappropriate for the site and closed, they are in practice unanswerable on our site. And in that regard I don't see how it helps random Internet users. –  Oak Mar 22 '12 at 19:42

Once you remove the 0 score questions (ones that are going to be deleted anyway within a year) we are left with a measly 2153 questions it's really just a drop in the ocean.

I do not support automatically deleting anything that got a bunch of upvotes and views, the list is tiny and the community can easily work through this - I do not want another deletapocalypse.

So, the main question we are left with is: should we be deleting closed "0 vote" questions more aggressively than we do general unanswered 0 vote questions (happens after a year).

The beauty of the current system is that it is easy to explain. I worry about adding such a rule ... it would also need a bunch of complicated sub-rules like

  1. no active re-open votes
  2. not flicking from closed to open to closed.
  3. not a migration stub (that gets nuked anyway)
  4. not merged

I do not find the large amount of complexity this introduces is worth the gain of removing 8000 questions. Keep in mind, when questions are closed they are often negatively voted so they get cleaned earlier.

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