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While I am all for deletion of off-topic questions, I am not comfortable with some consequences related to the way how it is done now.

Namely, I am concerned about the fact that popular questions tend to have a lot of references from outside of Stack Overflow / Stack Exchange. As a result, the way how it is done now, deletion breaks such links, which seems to make a substantial contribution to link rot.

Although I understand that this is not intended but rather a side effect, I think that this does not fit well with the stated mission "to make the Internet better" (quote source).

  • I wonder if there could be a way to perform clean up for popular off-topic questions that would be less damaging for outside resources that refer to these questions?

One approach that comes to mind is to establish a redirect to some other URL where visitors could 1) view the content they were expected to see and 2) realize that the content does not belong to SE topics anymore.

I would like to stress once again that here, I am concerned only about broken links at resources outside of Stack Exchange.

  • update Related issues were also recently mentioned at SE Podcast:

    ...Are we on the same page that there exists a class of question that’s awesome enough that it can’t be deleted? What do we do about people who just noticed that their amazing internet artifact was deleted, and they’re mad?


For the reference, a sample screen shot is shown below, with resources suffering from broken links to example deleted question marked red.

http://i.stack.imgur.com/7tfnY.jpg

  • Note. At screen shot above, search for exact title of particular question has been used as a means to pull a (probably incomplete) list of Internet resources that may refer to that question.
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33  
We vote to close the Google page reporting those links as "too localized." –  kiamlaluno Feb 24 '12 at 16:01
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That question...yikes. Worst example of what you can find when you join the SO community. –  user7116 Mar 15 '12 at 14:23
    
The fact that something is "popular" is irrelevant to formal logic of the proposition as currently posed. –  CodeGnome Jul 21 '12 at 15:54
2  
The fact that popular questions are being deleted is alarming, to say the least. –  Anderson Green May 31 '13 at 3:31
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5 Answers

Absolutely.

While I don't agree that deleting popular questions is necessary (as opposed to merely closing them and prefacing them with an explanation), I do accept that the deletionists have a point and want to keep SO "clean".

However, the side-effects of the cleansing are IMHO currently unacceptable. It is not acceptable to delete useful and interesting (and, yes, fun) content and rely on third parties to have cached it. It is not acceptable to dangle interesting links in front of people's searching eyes and lead them to a 404 on a regular basis.

A solution should be found (a kind of archive, for instance), and while we're waiting for this solution to materialize, deletions of popular content should be postponed, with closing & prefacing an IMHO acceptable interim solution.

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1  
Fully agree, and it's especially pathetic when you consider that it's encouraged to edit answers when link rot happens on this site. It's like we encourage link rot in one direction and discourage it in the other; hypocritical much? –  Izkata Sep 7 '12 at 21:31
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One way that could address the link rot without compromising SO quality would be to modify 404 page to make it display the link to archived / "museum" copy of the deleted question.

Archived copy could look similar to how questions are rendered by Stack Printer.

This way,

  1. Visitors brought by links from external resources would be able to view the intended content.
  2. SO quality would not suffer from presence of inappropriate questions.
  3. It would be clear that content like this is not welcome at SO anymore.

http://i.stack.imgur.com/CeBnX.jpg

update

URLs for "museum copies" could also be obtained the way recently described by Jeff Atwood:

...

if you give the url of the page to http://liveweb.archive.org and wait five minutes, it will archive that page. How about that?

Also you can enter http://liveweb.archive.org/http://www.website.com/page to have it happen without visiting the page...

I suppose for already deleted questions, we could also undelete, wait 5 minutes, let it archive, then re-delete.

If the question archived then re-deleted like above is indeed popular, it is quite likely that no other changes will be needed at Stack Exchange side, as its popularity will make the respective page from liveweb.archive.org flow to the top of Google search results which is already referred to at 404 page

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Shog and his team have been working on a new look for locked questions. The goal is to try to make these questions stand out and look different, so it's clear to visitors that the post in question doesn't represent Stack Overflow, but is more of an historical relic.

I'd love to see this effort pushed to completion—make the historical message more prominent, change the color theme slightly, etc. Once this is done I think we can minimize link rot, and minimize broken windows by using this new and improved "locked" format to display these old, off-topic questions.

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TL;DR

The question presents an association fallacy that correlates bit-rot with deleted questions.

  1. Deleted questions break inbound links.
  2. Bit-rot is bad.
  3. Therefore, all deletions of questions are bad.

Defining "Deleted"

One potential problem here is that there also exist posts that really should be expunged. This may include posts with sensitive data such as passwords, or proofs of Godwin's Law. The current system clearly differentiates between closed questions and deleted questions; are we really proposing a new system that also needs to differentiate between just sort-of deleted questions and really, really deleted questions?

Responsibility for Link Rot

Preventing link rot is one of the reasons why link-only answers are frowned upon. Answers should include actual information so that the loss of a supporting link doesn't preclude the transfer of information.

Likewise, Stack Overflow is not responsible for outside sites that use links to SO as answers rather than as a bibliography. Maintaining links is the responsibility of the author or webmaster, and if links are being used for anything other than supporting information, "You Are Doing It Wrong.™"

Conclusion

Inbound bit-rot is not SO's responsibility. It will not speed up universal entropy in any appreciable way, bring on a new Dark Age, or trigger the heat-death of the universe in our lifetime.

Leave well enough alone.

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I don't see your point here... you searched for the exact title of the deleted question and surprise, surprise! — the link leads nowhere. What did you expect?

If outside sources relied so heavily on an SE question, they should've taken steps to cache/store data in case of link rot, especially given that SE content is CC licensed. Their link rot is not our concern.

If, on the other hand, you had pointed to a good, on-topic question on SO that suffered from link rot because it was linked to one of these deleted questions, then you might have a case here (in which case, all that's necessary is a 10k user to copy info). However, I'll wager that you'll be hard pressed to come up with some decent examples of these.

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2  
I searched for the outside resources that refer to particular question, using exact title as a heuristics to estimate amount of such resources –  gnat Feb 24 '12 at 11:34
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"Their link rot is not our concern." Well, yeah, I guess... but that attitude doesn't exactly match our ethos of making the internet a little bit better place. –  Won't Feb 24 '12 at 16:03
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I thought most of the traffic was meant to come from search engines? –  Purag Feb 29 '12 at 6:48
    
@Purmou I sure found out about SO from Google. –  CoffeeRain Feb 29 '12 at 15:54
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So you really want to tell the world: "Hey, see something on here that you like? Well you better save it, 'cause it might not be here tomorrow" –  Adam Rackis Mar 9 '12 at 16:53
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@AdamRackis yeah to me this sounds like you describe. Similar to what Yahoo told the world when they erased Internet history by pulling the plug on GeoCities. As far as I can tell, the world does not really appreciate messages like that. "These guys found the way to destroy the most massive amount of history in the shortest amount of time with absolutely no recourse..." –  gnat Mar 14 '12 at 12:56
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That question IS rot, if the link rots with it I'm not sure what we're worried about. –  user7116 Mar 15 '12 at 14:22
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