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I notice that What is the single most influential book every programmer should read? and Strangest language feature have been undeleted by a Stack Exchange developer.

After long months of framing these pieces of garbage, the Stack Overflow community, with the help of moderators, had finally managed to close those close-worthy questions and delete them as part of a cleanup of the worst upvoted garbage questions.

Does this represent a sudden change to the principle that real questions have answers? Or that bad questions get closed then deleted?

I must say that when I see this, my first reaction is Why should I bother cleaning up the trash when it gets shoved back into my face? Should I continue to vote to close and flag posts on Stack Overflow?

And my second reaction is to wonder whether I really want to participate on a site that thinks that being able to write 10[a] in C is strange (if you know C, it's not strange) and that every single programmer must have read all of about 500 different books including The Alchemist and the Tao Te Ching. As a programmer, do I even want to be associated with Stack Overflow? If I show my SO activity on my CV, will this brand me as a second-rate programmer — meaning that Careers is targeted at second-rate programmers?

What is the change in policy that now justifies having these questions on the site? Does it affect only Stack Overflow or other Stack Exchange sites?

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closed as off-topic by Gilles, Undo, hims056, Aziz Shaikh, Flexo Apr 23 at 6:34

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question pertains only to a specific site in the Stack Exchange Network. Questions on Meta Stack Exchange should pertain to our network or software that drives it as a whole, within the guidelines defined in the help center. You should ask this question on the meta site where your concern originated." – Gilles, Undo, hims056, Aziz Shaikh, Flexo
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

I thought 10[a] was indeed quite strange, and no, I'm not a C developer. Can't you just let the rest of us have a little fun reading this old material without getting so angry? –  Adam Rackis Mar 3 '12 at 0:19
Also, to avoid burning your eyes with these awful, awful fun questions, I would recommend you stick with the "Newest Questions" feed on your favorite tag. Any silliness showing up there will be closed post haste, so hopefully that will keep your anger down :) –  Adam Rackis Mar 3 '12 at 0:22
@AdamRackis Read it on Stack Printer. There's a lot of stuff I find strange in various languages. What I find strange is probably not what you find strange. And that is exactly why this is not a good question for Stack Exchange. It should be your blog post, with your list of strange features; and my blog post, with my list of strange features, and so on. –  Gilles Mar 3 '12 at 0:22
I honestly never thought it was possible for software engineers to get so worked up over rule-following until I saw the rage over old content here. I always thought I was a member of the coolest, most laid-back career field on earth. Apparently not. My deepest sympathy that silly questions like this evoke such anger from you. –  Adam Rackis Mar 3 '12 at 0:24
If it's so good, why do the people fighting for it to stay on SO not also host their own CC compliant version? Or does the stank stain too much to attach their own domain to? @ada –  random Mar 3 '12 at 0:24
@random - that's a bit silly, isn't it? Pekka had talked about hosting this stuff himself, then said how much work it'd be and that he couldn't (leading to the archive post). I work a regular job, consult, teach, and have a wife and kid. Telling me or any other engineer to just scrape this stuff and host it is absurd. –  Adam Rackis Mar 3 '12 at 0:26
The getting "shoved back in my face" comment seems really over the top. –  JaredPar Mar 3 '12 at 0:51
No one said to rehost the entire swathe of deleted crap. Just the small few that apparently are so golden they need to linger on SO like jock itch. Users keep coming back with all the time in the world in how good these certain few are but have a dearth of it when it comes to rehosting @ada –  random Mar 3 '12 at 0:54
@Gilles: So... programmers aren't supposed to like jokes or fun? Or just us "second-rate" programmers do? (And do we really ask potential employers to look at the most popular questions on the site or do we ask them to look at our own best questions?) –  Jon Ericson Mar 3 '12 at 1:59
Seriously, what the hell? First we get a bunch of people whining that questions were deleted. Now, once we've come around to a better solution (leaving the posts as they be, but locking them and adding a notice of historical significance), we get people bitching that they were undeleted? What is going to make you people happy? Some people like these questions, and they should be able to stay put just for that reason alone. If you don't like them, you don't have to look at them. They're not hurting your Internet by being there, and they're making other people's Internet better. The end. –  Cody Gray Mar 3 '12 at 4:11
"my second reaction is to wonder whether I really want to participate on a site that thinks that being able to write 10[a] in C is strange" And that makes me wonder if I want to participate on a site where users are so damn arrogant that they can't imagine someone wouldn't know every nuance of the syntax of a language. As you mention, it might not be strange to people who know C well, but not everyone has to know C well to ask a C question. That's the whole point of a programming Q&A site. If everyone knew everything well, they wouldn't have to ask any questions. Get over yourself. –  Cody Gray Mar 3 '12 at 4:14
@Gilles - there you go with your straw man arguments again. I'm quite confident old, extremely popular posts can be kept without the site devolving into Reddit. The real question is why this annoys you so much. Do you have some sort of OCD that makes you crazy knowing these questions exist, breaking current quality standards? Are you just an unhappy person? Are software developers in Paris not overpaid and under-worked like we are in America? Just lighten the hell up, dude. –  Adam Rackis Mar 3 '12 at 17:28
+1 to @AdamRackis, and not just because he has a great first name. This is an incredibly inane argument...is it really hurting you? Can you really not live without a rigorous metric for distinguishing old and relevant (but not necessarily something we'd want as new) content from content that really is garbage? If we could come up with a specific set of exceptionless rules to define these things, we could moderate the site with software. We use humans so that they can employ judgement, as these things are subjective. –  Adam Robinson Mar 3 '12 at 18:52
@Gilles Nobody doubts that these old (popular) questions violate current standards. The point is, letting them stay locked with an historical banner does no harm to you. It does not prevent you from asking or answering new questions. I don't know if you suffer from OCD and really really need the site organized perfectly, or if you're just an angry person, but deleting these questions serves no rational purpose. MOVE ON –  Adam Rackis Mar 3 '12 at 19:45
There is no need to personally attack another user when they are discussing site policy and clean up. Making threats on another user's life is also expressly forbidden @pru –  random Mar 3 '12 at 21:37

6 Answers 6

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Self-serve second rounds, otherwise known as vomiting up your lunch or slight acid reflux, can only be a good thing. It shows us where we've been and how much things will not change or improve despite a community waking up and coming to its senses as it rolls over and smells the funk wafting in their face, ears beholden to the sound of thighs.

Do these Lazarus questions make the Internet a better place? By no longer being broken links from the Stack Exchange blog, they must surely do. Since when is linkrot of any kind useful? This is Pendleton reaching through the streams of time to communicate with Jesus that will forever validate its existence.

Stack Overflow is not some kind of Yahoo! where they float or bring up content and then sunset them when they no longer fit with the community sense. They hold tight and muchly to these; close to the breast and free from the waves of the ocean.

Can you spend countless hours reading through these lists and see the corner of your mouth turn up in a wry sense, drooling with mirth of times gone by? That's the best kind of quality indicator there is.

"List of book covers", "Hidden features of X" and "Strangest language feature" are now what you would call the fresh point of call for those to RTFM as to why a certain programming quirk is the way it is or does as it says it doesn't or how a hookah can help you refactor code like a snicker-snack.

As the 8-track repeats for us all, because there is no better place to host these, not even some curated blog or archive space, they must belong on Stack Overflow by way of default. You can try and flush it all you want, but that history is backing up on you with a megaton spin and no plunger is ever going to know victory.

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The only thing worse than deleting fun questions is hyperbole. –  Adam Rackis Mar 3 '12 at 1:53
Looks like someone is having a little too much fun with the vote button... lol –  Mysticial Mar 3 '12 at 1:54
I can't tell whether this is for or against. –  Robert Harvey Mar 3 '12 at 1:55
@RobertHarvey I read this as “someone was wrong on the Internet, but don't let this bother you”. –  Gilles Mar 3 '12 at 2:03
your attitude for preventing link rot certainly fits the mission of making Internet better but how much damage would it do to SO if it is followed consistently, by undeletion of many other popular questions? In that sense, I would prefer a "redirect" approach suggested recently by Jeremy as it would make much less harm to SO Q&A quality –  gnat Mar 3 '12 at 10:41
@gnat Once again, I fully support archiving deleted content elsewhere and redirecting to it. I'm not motivated enough to set it up, but surely you'd think some of the anti-deletion people would be. –  Gilles Mar 3 '12 at 19:10
@Gilles: I'd say that you've accurately articulated the attitude of most, if not all, of the inclusionists (including the part about not being motivated enough). –  Robert Harvey Mar 3 '12 at 19:37
@Gilles, as you maybe noticed I personally am rather strong deletioninst, but the issue of link rot seem to be turning me the other way around. Link rot hurt me in the past, essentially making me leave another programming community and it's quite sad to see that the story seem to be repeating at SO –  gnat Mar 3 '12 at 19:45
@RobertHarvey I'm a deletionist. For me, plain deletion > motivation threshold > save the content. It seems that for every inclusionist, whine on meta > motivation threshold > save the content. –  Gilles Mar 3 '12 at 20:05

I think everybody's being a little too cocky right now.

Personally, I don't let my love and understanding of the system get in the way of my even greater love for great, entertaining content. And "garbage" is going way too far.

What use is it to delete some of the gems of Stack Overflow's history? That's exactly what a lot of these posts are—pieces of this site's history. Some of these defined what the future of the site would be.

So people ought to get over this hotshot attitude, trying to convince people to delete questions that are significant to this site's history. Here we have bits and pieces of the life of Stack Overflow, the actual veins and bloodline of the system as we know it today, and here you guys are trying to get rid of them.

I'm sure you all have things in your lives that you regret doing, or look back on and are embarrassed about. But it's those things in your lives that made you who you are today.

So just stop and think about what you're doing here. You'll realize that you may just be going a bit too far in terms of advocating the rightness of questions on this site and blinding yourself to what the true value of these questions are.

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Very, very well said. If I had your maturity when I was 14—or now even—I'd probably be a millionaire :) –  Adam Rackis Mar 3 '12 at 18:04
@AdamRackis: Wow, thank you. That's probably the nicest thing I've heard on this site! :) That's a very inspirational thing to hear coming from you. –  Purag Mar 3 '12 at 18:06
+1 for pointing out the historical value of these questions. Some of the newest beta sites are going through similar growing pains, and sometimes it's helpful to look at more mature site's history to help come up with a plan. And yes! Very well said! –  jmort253 Mar 3 '12 at 21:58

I think the reason this post has attracted such angry responses—from me and others—is because it seems to suggest that the existence of these old, popular questions is a personal affront to you. That un-deleting these posts constitutes throwing "trash in your face"

Instead of seeming so offended by these posts, can you instead point out actual, concrete problems that these posts present to the site? The posts are locked, so they can't be edited and bumped; new, silly answers can't be added, which would also bump them. They can't even be voted on.

The only possible problem is that they would create broken windows: people would see these posts, and think similar ones could be written today. But of course there's an historical banner intended to disabuse people of this notion. Naturally though there's nothing stopping people from ignoring the banner, or just not seeing it (it really should be more prominent, for what it's worth).

So with that I can only ask the following: is there any evidence that these old posts create broken windows? Can you show us floods of Meta posts from users whining that their new list question got closed, while that list question over there exists? I'm on meta more often than I probably should be, and I honestly have never seen a post complaining about a closed question with the justification that the "weirdest programming language exists", so my question should too.

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Also, meta.programmers.stackexchange.com Read Mark Trapp's comment (he was a moderator on Programmers, which has an even worse problem than SO with old content). –  Gilles Mar 4 '12 at 18:04
@Gilles - I read Mark's sweeping statement that leaving these questions locked "cheapens" other content, and he's entitled to his opinion. But I have yet to see actual meta posts from users saying "Hey, junk list programming question is (locked) over there, so why in the world did my new list question get closed". Does your meta search page have any examples? I abortively tried the first two links, then got tired of it. It seems the people opposed to locking these questions are long on ideology, and short on facts. –  Adam Rackis Mar 4 '12 at 18:09
@Gilles - if this really is about making Stack Overflow better, and not just about dogma, then why not support some combination of my or Pekka's proposals to help keep these questions around, while minimizing any possible effect they could have as broken windows. Doing that should make all rational parties happy. –  Adam Rackis Mar 4 '12 at 18:15
Amazingly the Meta.Prog.SE front page is almost free of historical baggage today. But consider that just Why … closed? find 167 questions, most of are complaining about closures and would be avoided if there weren't hundreds of similar questions still on the site. Or look at gems like What can we do about incorrectly pedantic moderation? , where the FAQ doesn't deter from copycat questions. –  Gilles Mar 4 '12 at 18:17
“Why not support … Pekka's proposal” Oh, you've changed from insults to slander. I did voice my support for his proposal. –  Gilles Mar 4 '12 at 18:19
@Gilles - my goodness. You've been quite insulting yourself. I find being accused of turning SO into reddit to be quite insulting, though I'm glad to hear you more or less support Pekka's post. What I'm most interested in, though, is where the specific meta posts are demonstrating how much these posts are broken windows. I'm a sucker for science, and I like to think about things in terms of testable predictions. That these posts are broken windows should predict lots of meta posts from angry people wanting to ask X because [some stupid list question] exists over there. –  Adam Rackis Mar 4 '12 at 18:32
On the topic of why such questions hurt the site, you might want to read this. –  Gilles Mar 4 '12 at 18:34
@Gilles - I'm quite happy Mark closed crap on PSE and helped improve the site's quality. Good for him. Now can you please show me all the Meta posts demonstrating why having these old popular questions locked and accessible on STACK OVERFLOW encourages the asking of similar questions? No more rhetoric, just facts. –  Adam Rackis Mar 4 '12 at 18:43
Srsly, meta is filled with this "it's not fair that I can't do it too" whining, and that's just the whining that hasn't been deleted yet! –  Aarobot Mar 7 '12 at 19:01
@Aarobot - Most of your links deal with questions that were open at the time. I was rather unclear in my original question, but I edited it a bit above. Popular poll questions should not be open, should not be on the top questions lists, etc. They do create broken windows. My point is that locking them with an historic banner and de-listed them should eliminate the broken windows problem –  Adam Rackis Mar 7 '12 at 19:01
@AdamRackis: De-listing/de-searching is the key point - that is currently not being done. The post notice itself seems wildly ineffective, which isn't surprising considering that it appears at the bottom and we are, as a rule, talking about people who don't bother to read that far before spewing. I'm all in favour of making these available as historical artifacts to people who are specifically looking for them, but until we stop advertising the questions by listing them in the top 10, we are, effectively, throwing trash in people's faces. Locked or not. –  Aarobot Mar 7 '12 at 19:12
@Aarobot - good news - it looks like these locked posts are being de-listed -- last bullet - "last but not least" –  Adam Rackis Mar 7 '12 at 20:10
Yes, I noticed that very recently. It will be interesting to see how the various factions react. –  Aarobot Mar 7 '12 at 20:46

I'm getting really tired of the "framing garbage" argument that you keep throwing out. I've personally deleted over 38,000 posts on Stack Overflow, so I already know what to do with garbage, thank you very much. The discussion that we're having is about what to do with good content that doesn't fit perfectly within the guidelines of the FAQ, not garbage. If you don't understand the difference, then please stay out of the discussion.

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A banana peel is trash. A 50-year old jalopy that drips oil all over the place is also trash. Maybe it belongs in a museum — so put it there, don't leave it blocking the street. –  Gilles Mar 3 '12 at 18:16
@Gilles To borrow your analogy, the car is locked in the garage and you're complaining about it blocking the street. Traffic isn't being blocked here. Questions are still being answered the same as always. –  Bill the Lizard Mar 3 '12 at 19:28
"If you don't understand the difference, then please stay out of the discussion." I am delighted to hear that from one of the old farts. Thank you, Bill, you just make me regain some hope about meta. Maybe there is, after all, some sane users left here in the madhouse? A heartfelt +1 from me. What's been happening here recently is seriously hurting SO. –  sbi Mar 3 '12 at 19:47
@sbi - it turns out there's a class of uptight software developers who just have to rules enforced perfectly, with no exceptions, or they throw a fit. I honestly always associated abject rule following to minimum-wage grunt workers. I never knew (otherwise intelligent) knowledge workers were capable of such absurdity. (btw, I loved your post on the C++ books question) –  Adam Rackis Mar 3 '12 at 19:58

The referenced posts were undeleted and locked by an SE employee. That is their prerogative.

The pecking order goes like this:

Low-rep users --> High-rep users --> Moderators --> SE Staff

Think of the SE Staff as the Supreme Court. They are the final word. Note that reversals of this kind (made by SE employees) are exceptionally rare.

As to why the decision was made to undelete these posts, it would appear that, in SE's judgement, the value of their content outweighs their negative characteristics.

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Note that reversals of this kind are exceptionally rare... must've been due to a dip in adsense because of @casperOne. –  Lorem Ipsum Mar 3 '12 at 6:11
This answer seems wildly useless. "They were undeleted because SE employees are better than you". Obviously they can undelete whatever they want -- the question is why they undeleted it –  Michael Mrozek Mar 3 '12 at 17:49
@MichaelMrozek: You didn't see the last sentence in my answer? –  Robert Harvey Mar 3 '12 at 18:22
@RobertHarvey I saw. It's conspicuously missing any explanation of what “the value of their content” may be. –  Gilles Mar 3 '12 at 19:09
@Gilles: You would have to ask the person who undeleted the question about that specifically. –  Robert Harvey Mar 3 '12 at 19:10
@RobertHarvey I did. –  Gilles Mar 3 '12 at 19:22
@Gilles: And... what... did... he... say? –  Robert Harvey Mar 3 '12 at 19:26
@RobertHarvey And… what… makes… you… assume… that… he… has… replied? –  Gilles Mar 3 '12 at 20:01
Just to hopefully derail this into another meme's area... I notice your hierarchy conspicuously is missing The Skeet. –  Andrew Barber Mar 3 '12 at 21:44
@Andrew - Jon Skeet is not a level in the hierarchy; Jon Skeet is the hierarchy. –  Adam Rackis Mar 3 '12 at 22:45
This explains how it was done (which we already know) but not why it was done (which the question asked), and especially why it was done in this particular fashion, without warning or discussion - although maybe they warned you privately, I don't know. –  Aarobot Mar 7 '12 at 19:10
@Aarobot: Read the last sentence in my answer. Nobody was warned privately AFAIK, and they didn't discuss it with the mods first, which is fine with me; I rarely discuss my moderator decisions with the community unless they bring them up on meta. Note that the "Single Most Influential Book" question had delete votes cast against it by 15 community members, which qualifies it for deletion under the new rules anyway. The SE team still has the final say. –  Robert Harvey Mar 7 '12 at 19:18
@RobertHarvey: After having read/listened to what little the SE employees have had to say about it (including the recent "podcast"), it's not apparent to me at all that this was in fact the reason. I heard several statements around (a) inbound links, (b) votes and (c) page views, but little if anything substantive about the value of their content. –  Aarobot Mar 7 '12 at 19:24
@Aarobot: That's the only reason why a "Not Constructive" post would get resurrected. Nobody disagrees that these questions are out of scope for the site. The only discussion has ever been around whether their intrinsic value to the community outweighs their off-topic-ness. –  Robert Harvey Mar 7 '12 at 19:25
@RobertHarvey: You'd think so, but in Joel's own words, the fact that people like it is apparently sufficient justification. Unless he's implying that anything that's liked has value, but that extension is pretty easy to disprove. –  Aarobot Mar 7 '12 at 19:28

Deleting useful content is not a good thing, especially when that useful content has thousands of links to it.

Dogma is one thing, but overall: Don't break the internet.

We ask people to post blurbs from linked answers so that if the link fails we still have the content, yet what you're proposing would make us as bad as those we're trying to overcome.

If a question has useful information, it should be locked, and a historical blurb should be placed at the head. That way we won't break the internet, and we can still let people know that questions like that are not tolerated any longer.

There are a good number of questions that do not contain useful programming content, and should be deleted.

Also: Just because you wrote a meta post saying we should delete old content, doesn't mean that was the position adopted by the community or by the moderators. It's a little disingenuous to act as if you've been betrayed by the community when there isn't any community consensus around these questions.

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