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I started to think about this after the recent reputation "adjustment". It seemed weird that you would lose reputation when a question is deleted (or an answer you posted with upvotes gets merged into a comment).

Obviously those contributions (questions or answers) had some value to somebody at one time - otherwise they wouldn't have been upvoted. It is my fault that some question I asked 3 years ago - which was popular at the time - is no longer relevant or doesn't meet the current direction of the website? Or that I answered a question which was later deleted or deemed to be a duplicate of another. My answer still got up votes so it was useful to someone.

I guess what I'm most angry about is that some of my contributions to this community have been treated like scrap, with their existence permanently expunged from the record. The loss of reputation is minor when compared to the lost of my activity in this community. For many of my answers and questions, I've spent a lot of time communicating what I've done or my thought processes. Some of my intent was that I could direct prospective employers to my "body of work" to see what I've done, my experience, and my thought processes. My StackOverflow contributions have mostly taken the place of my blog posts which used to serve the same purpose. Now I'm thinking that my approach has been wrong and I should direct most of my efforts to my blog instead of Stackoverflow - where I can be the sole judge of when to expire my content. I don't believe that any content with upvotes should be able to be removed by anyone other than the originator of the content.

I do happen to believe that the current moderation process is too heavy handed at times and I don't really understand why StackOverflow needed to be subdivided into Programmers, but this permanent loss of "thought content" seems absurd - and I'm wondering if I should continue to contribute.

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was later deleted or deemed to be a duplicate of another - Questions with answers closed as duplicates rarely ever get deleted. They are mostly left in-tact as an "alternate route" to the question it duplicates. – animuson Mar 2 '12 at 19:02
Duplicates without answers get deleted all the time, as they should. – Rosinante Mar 2 '12 at 19:02
How can we not undelete this? – Won't Mar 2 '12 at 19:04
@Won't - I'm not sure you're right. My recent reputation shows "deleted How did you find your "dream job" (or great place to work)?" and clicking though to the link returns a 404.… – Vinnie Mar 2 '12 at 19:07
@Vinnie You need 10k to be able to see deleted questions. Otherwise it'll 404. – Adam Mar 2 '12 at 19:09
I'll see your dealbreakers and your what makes your life miserable answers and raise you three – Won't Mar 2 '12 at 19:11
@Anna - What's the point in that? Why isn't closing the question enough? Why is access denied? – Vinnie Mar 2 '12 at 19:12
I'm fairly pissed because a couple answers I'm very happy with having out there (don't care about the rep) should have been MIGRATED to programmers instead of deleted. – darron Mar 2 '12 at 19:14
I'm actually annoyed that this answer is deleted. One of my best answers. "Why is ^ called a caret?" "Because it doesn't look like a potato." The more I think about it, the more I agree with you. – Won't Mar 2 '12 at 19:14
Your premise "permanent deletion" is wrong, by the way. – slhck Mar 2 '12 at 19:18
You actually remember what was deleted, what about those who don't? – prusswan Mar 2 '12 at 19:20
@slhck - maybe - but if I can no longer access the content, the net result is the same. – Vinnie Mar 2 '12 at 19:20
@darron: Can you locate and flag for migration? No guarantee the destination site will want, but we can always look into it. If you can't flag, just @ me with the posts. – Won't Mar 2 '12 at 19:29
Comments seem to indicate that deleted questions/answers has become a way for select members of the community to hi-five one another in some form of moses code, leaving the rest of the community scratching their heads. – prusswan Mar 2 '12 at 19:30
While I agree with you in spirit as I'm not a fan of deleting valuable content, I don't agree "number of up votes" equates to value. Up votes only show popularity, nothing more. – Bob Mar 2 '12 at 19:30

Rep is a measure of your knowledge in the subject areas of the site, and how much other users trust you in those areas.

When the scope of the site changes to disclude particular areas, the rep gained or lost in those areas is no longer relevant. It skews how people view you. Nobody is denying that somebody valued your now-out-of-scope contributions, but we do need to prevent that from altering how people think you've been valued from in-scope contributions.

In other words, if I were to gain a lot of rep from just-for-fun questions like "What's your favorite programming joke?", people seeing my rep numbers now would think I must have provided great on-topic content, and they would be wrong. Expecting every user to audit the history of every user they encounter to avoid this would just not work.

Rep is certainly gamified and everyone wants to increase their "score", but it also serves important purposes for the site. If I got 5000 rep from joke questions and was at 10000 rep total, I'd gain access to a lot of tools where I'd start making decisions about site content — but I wouldn't be qualified to do so, because my experience would be so biased toward out-of-scope content. I'd be unlikely to be willing to close things out of scope and ill-equipped to deal with in-scope content, and so on.

While there are some circumstances where the "this is just how the site works" decrees are handed down from the people at SE, this is (largely speaking) not one of them. It's been hashed out on Meta quite thoroughly and while the decision to change the scope was by no means unanimous, it seems to have been approximately democratic. At the end of the day, real problems get solved better here if we keep the fun, or too-subjective, etc. questions for chat and blogs and forums and so on.

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This is less a question about the reputation effects and more about the inability to access the content. Looking into my recent loss of rep is what led me to notice the inability to access the content. The "lost" content is the bigger story here. – Vinnie Mar 2 '12 at 20:03
Matthew - I think there is one marginal benefit to questions like this -- it puts just a little more pressure on the team to make that archive! – Adam Rackis Mar 2 '12 at 20:13
I certainly have no problem with an accessible archive. I've certainly always though hiding your own content from you when it's deleted was silly; if you've already been exposed to it once, the harm's been done :P – Matthew Read Mar 2 '12 at 20:19
Yeah, but to SOME people SE isn't a game to farm rep. Judging questions on how they benefited people on rep is ridiculous. Don't count the rep on those, then. – darron Mar 2 '12 at 22:23
@darron I have no idea what you're arguing against ... I have never seen anyone say that you should judge questions based on the rep involved. Users are certainly judged on their rep, however; by-design from the beginning. – Matthew Read Mar 2 '12 at 22:42
@MatthewRead this 'question' is about deleting content. Your answer for why questions that are popular but out of scope should be deleted is that they skew rep. That's judging a question based on how they benefit someone's rep, not on the value of the question. That's my objection. – darron Mar 3 '12 at 1:23
@darron Not at all. My answer for why rep from deleted questions should be counted is that they skew rep. The reason why the questions are deleted are unrelated. I've focused more on the majority of the body of Vinnie's question than the title and the last sentence of the third paragraph; IMO we don't need another rehash about why these questions are being deleted. – Matthew Read Mar 3 '12 at 4:29
@MatthewRead While the word 'deleted' is not in your answer, the only way (that I'm aware of, easily could be wrong) with SE mechanics to avoid counting rep for a question is to delete it. This very much reads like a justification for deleting out of scope content. A justification entirely based on users' rep. Anyway... I'll drop it. I'd agree with you to some extent, although I strongly feel the answer should be to have a new mechanism to artificially lower the rank/rep value of such questions, while still keeping them online to avoid 'breaking the Internet' and preserving people's work. – darron Mar 4 '12 at 4:06

Several response observations:

  1. When you post on these sites, you grant a license to the content. In an important way, it's not exactly 'yours' any longer. Or, to put it another way, you can always post a copy on your blog for other audiences.

  2. Deletion has always been part of the picture. If your feel so strongly that it isn't worth your while to contribute due to the risk of deletion, well, ... don't contribute.

  3. Do you really think that content attached to a 'closed' question is going to impress anyone? We're not going to stop closing questions.

  4. As a percentage of total content, a tiny fraction is ever deleted. If you've managed to have a statistically significant fraction of your contributions deleted, I respectfully submit that you reconsider your criteria of what questions are good questions to answer, as opposed to voting to close.

The 'broken window' model is part of the basic theory of how these sites work. When new users see content, they always, always, assume that more of the same is welcome. When they see a tag for 'career development', they assume that 'career development' is on topic. That's why it's important to take this stuff away. This has been discussed here on meta in many questions at great length.

I wouldn't downvote a proposal to make it easier for the originator of some content to get access to it upon deletion; perhaps it should be emailed to the author?

I wouldn't downvote some scheme to give historical contributors a consolation prize in the form of some fraction of the rep they lose from the deletion of old, no-longer-suitable, content.

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I'm not asking you to stop closing questions, I'm asking that you stop denying access to content I've contributed. As to "Do you really think that content attached to a 'closed' question is going to impress anyone?" - maybe not so far, but who knows what content might be "lost" in the future as priorities and direction continue to change? As to your "don't contribute" comment, I guess that's the question I'm asking myself. – Vinnie Mar 2 '12 at 19:29

I definitely understand the value of moderators being able to overrule the majority as decided by the users. Sometimes the majority is simply wrong and keeping "fun" questions alive which don't really contribute meaningfully to the site.

My biggest gripe with the current set of deleted questions is timing. I'm seeing questions that are over 2 years old just now getting deleted. If the question has been around for that long then what's the point in just now getting rid of it?

These questions are around for years and even 1-2 votes a weak adds up to a good chunk of rep. Then suddenly we wake up and we're 700 down for the day because the Q was deleted. It's not possible for us to predict the future trend in moderation yet we end up getting hit pretty hard by it.

If the Q has been around for 1+ year and it's decided that it really shouldn't be there. I think it would be much more appropriate / fair / less shocking if

  • The Q was deleted from the site
  • Reputation gained from the Q remain unchanged

You let people contribute to the discussion for a year and then punish them for it with the current system.

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Tag cleanups. Some of us are putting significant effort into the problem that there are entire tags that are off-topic. To get rid of the tag, you have to look at all the questions. When those questions are wildly off-topic or non-constructive, they tend to attract delete votes. – Rosinante Mar 2 '12 at 19:27
@Rosinante yes but deleting popular questions years after they were asked is having pretty substantial rep effects on users. These questions are around for years and even 1-2 votes a weak adds up to a good chunk of rep. Then suddenly we wake up and we're 700 down for the day because the Q was deleted. It's not possible for us to predict the future trend in moderation yet we end up getting hit pretty hard by it. – JaredPar Mar 2 '12 at 19:31
somewhat paradoxically, I find myself think that all rep should decay with age. – Rosinante Mar 2 '12 at 21:17
As long as I've been around, there have been many people here very unhappy about large amounts of rep collected by posting humorous or chatty or opinionated content. When I watch the delete queue, the old questions I see deleted generally leave me feeling that upvotes were inversely correlated with value in 2008. The goal of the site is to encourage substance over opinion. – Rosinante Mar 2 '12 at 21:19
@Rosinante i don't quite agree with that but one change along those lines is if answers decayed. Essentially after a question is a few weeks old stop giving me rep for up / down votes. Some days I wake up at rep cap and I've contributed nothing to the site. It's great sometimes when I'm really busy but it does make me feel bad about it – JaredPar Mar 2 '12 at 21:19
@Rosinante note my previous comment was in response to your paradoxically one. You posted while I was typing :). – JaredPar Mar 2 '12 at 21:20

I tried to read through your question without skimming, but it was hard at times. With respect to moderators deleting content, I think this falls into two categories:

  • Content that is clearly spam, junk, not a real question, clearly off topic, etc, ad infinitum.

I think it's clear that moderators should use their golden hammers of Thor to purge crap like this from Stack Overflow as quickly as possible.

  • Popular content that used to be on topic, but isn't anymore.

I think this is a much harder question. Personally, I'd like to see moderators defer to the community and let them decide whether it should stay or go, but I'm an "inclusionist", so I'd like to see the content stay anyway. And of course the "exclusionists" argue, quite logically, that that content is no longer appropriate, and moderators are simply doing their job by removing content that doesn't comport with the site's standards.

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Your second point is being discussed right now. There will be a resolution soon. – ChrisF Mar 2 '12 at 20:08
@ChrisF - I'd love to be a fly on the moderator chat room wall :-D I assume there'll be a [featured] meta post concerning any resolution? – Adam Rackis Mar 2 '12 at 20:12
Adam - I would certainly hope so. – ChrisF Mar 2 '12 at 20:12
@Chris - oh, sorry, I thought you were a moderator here. Just PSE I guess :) – Adam Rackis Mar 2 '12 at 20:14
I think a lot of people think that :) While part of me would like to moderate on SO/MSO the saner part keeps saying "NO". – ChrisF Mar 2 '12 at 20:15
@Chris - moderating SO seems like it could be fun, moderating MSO seems like it would be terrifying – Adam Rackis Mar 2 '12 at 20:15
Hmm. You have a strange definition of "fun". – ChrisF Mar 2 '12 at 20:26

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