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The question under consideration is:

It is a routine question about mixing increments and decrements on the same variable in a single function call in C or C++ — a very commonly asked question about undefined behaviour. As such, there is no doubt that it needed closing and deleting. It was closed within 2 minutes and deleted within 10 minutes.

Approximate time line: asked 2012-09-23 18:49:25, closed 18:52, deleted 18:59.

The trouble is that there is no way I can see to provide constructive feedback to the user about what happened and why. From their perspective, they probably asked the question and it went into the bit bucket if they went to make a cup of tea and got waylaid by a phone call before they could see what happened.

I don't think that's all that welcoming; indeed, it is at least confusing and probably alienating.

Is there a way to get user1692773 any feedback?

There are a couple of themes in the comments below that I'd like to address:

  1. This class of question is very frequent in the C and C++ tags; at this time of year (early autumn), daily is probably not an exaggeration. As such, they do need to be closed. For 1 point users, down votes are silly, but the question should be closed and (eventually) deleted.

  2. From my perspective, the user asking the question needs to be given enough time to see the feedback, and it needs to be possible (for those motivated to do so) to give constructive feedback.

  3. On this specific question, a number of the comments were outright hostile.

Possible solution

In most respects, what I'd like to see is a 'marked for deletion' status when the question gets closed and deleted in the first 24 hours. While it is marked for deletion, the user who asked the question (and 10k users) could see it, and still make comments, and flag comments. The full deleted status would not take effect for the user who asked until the question is 24 hours old, or the user has looked at it again. Older questions marked for deletion are likely to have had activity that indicates there's a problem.

We need to get the question 'out of the system'.

But we also need to give the user a chance to learn why.

I can see that if we asked people to classify whether it is 'delete as spam' vs 'delete as bad question', then the 'delete as spam' would be chosen, even though the question is not spam.

I guess this proposal would give 'spam' 24 hours of life for those motivated to look for it. I am not convinced that would be a big problem, but I've not looked hard at the statistics.

The question was temporarily undeleted, so I've left what I hope is a constructive comment:

Welcome to Stack Overflow. If you're interested, there's a discussion about how this question was handled on Meta Stack Overflow. Your question got closed very quickly because it is a minor variation on a very frequently asked question (at this time of year, it is asked daily). However, it would be hard for you as a newcomer to know that. Please read the answers to the duplicate question, and also read the [FAQ]. Also, your output has spaces between the numbers but the format string does not!

share|improve this question
Related: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/57687/… –  Aaron Bertrand Sep 23 '12 at 19:20
Seems the problem is that people are too trigger happy on delete votes, especially so in this instance given that it's a duplicate. –  Flexo Sep 23 '12 at 19:20
Seeing the number of 20ks who are misusing the "delete immediately" privilege, perhaps it's time to reconsider whether or not 20ks even deserve that privilege. IMO, only spam and offensive posts should be deleted immediately - for which there are flags for that. –  Mysticial Sep 23 '12 at 19:21
I'd rather see immediate delete from non-mods "delayed" somehow (possibly until after the OP has viewed the question again or 24 hours have passed, whichever is sooner?) so you can safely vote to delete and then forget about it. –  Flexo Sep 23 '12 at 19:22
Yeah I agree, the whole value of closing a question as a duplicate is that if the question includes different keywords it gives a user even more ways to come to a solution depending on their search phrase. If you just immediately delete the question then it defeats that purpose. –  Aaron Bertrand Sep 23 '12 at 19:22
@Aaron: OK, let's say you can't delete duplicates. This question represents a common crap question that C or C++ gets at least once per day. Are you saying that after a year, we need to have ~365 versions of these crap questions all linking to the original? Are you suggesting that the question title, "i-would-like-to-know-how-the-following-code-works" is going to help someone find what they're looking for? This was garbage, and garbage should be deleted. –  Nicol Bolas Sep 23 '12 at 19:33
@NicolBolas - Why not edit the title to be more clear? Also, you could do the same thing with the post too. –  jmort253 Sep 23 '12 at 19:35
@NicolBolas: I don't think anyone is disputing that the question should be deleted. My contention is that the user needs enough time to be able to learn from the messages. The '20k early votes to delete' question has contradictory information about whether a low rep user will be able to see the comments effectively. And, in this case, the majority of the comments were hostile (I guess that since it is now autumn, the 'Summer of Love' is over). And there isn't an easy way to address the problem. Maybe the 'delete' should take effect in 24 hours after the question is asked. –  Jonathan Leffler Sep 23 '12 at 19:37
@NicolBolas that question falls into the auto deletion rules as I understand it. It probably doesn't add value by continuing to exist, but immediately removing it without the OP having a chance to see why win nothing. –  Flexo Sep 23 '12 at 19:37
@NicolBolas in this specific example, you may be right - I don't know near enough about the C++ tag or the frequency of this question to comment. I was speaking in general. If it's a crap question and we get one a day, ok, but I still think you're leaving out a variable: this is the poor guy's first question, and it has vanished without a trace, and potentially he has absolutely no idea why. He may ask the question again. If the same thing happens again, he may simply vanish himself. Would it kill the site to defer the delete leaving the Q there for a day or two? Maybe only for new users? –  Aaron Bertrand Sep 23 '12 at 19:40
@NicolBolas - Also, you're overlooking the fact that there is a slight chance there is a difference that just hasn't been exposed. Perhaps if the commenters tried to clarify instead of beat the poor guy to death, maybe he would have clarified something that would have made the post different and not a duplicate. After all, closing is designed to give the op an opportunity to fix his question. Whether or not he actually does fix it is beside the point. It can always be deleted later. As others mentioned, the 20k privilege should be used for spam. –  jmort253 Sep 23 '12 at 19:45
@jmort253 In this case, no there is no slight difference. It really has been beaten that hard to death a million times in every single imaginable way. But your point still holds, the "delete immediately" privilege should only be used for spam. –  Mysticial Sep 23 '12 at 19:47
@JonathanLeffler As per your edit, the "delete as spam" option should convert to the usual red spam flag that can be approved/declined by moderators respectively. That'll prevent people from abusing them to delete questions that are not spam. That way, the "delete as bad question" option can invoke the 24 hour timer. –  Mysticial Sep 23 '12 at 20:00
The main problem is that users can't access their own deleted questions, I've proposed changing this in the past (meta.stackexchange.com/questions/135362/…), at least with some limitations. I don't think allowing further comments on deleted questions would be a good idea, not enough users would see if something problematic would happen there. –  Mad Scientist Sep 23 '12 at 20:08
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4 Answers

up vote 14 down vote accepted

This question seems to be focusing on the wrong problem here. The problem isn't that we can't talk to them. The problem is that they weren't notified of what happened. Their question simply vanished from their perspective. And if they ask again, it will vanish again.

They weren't led to the duplicate, so they remain unenlightened as to what happened. They don't know what happened, and they can't track down the issue. No notifications were given or anything.

There need to be notifications on question closure and deletion, and the person asking the question needs to be able to find it again so that they can figure out why these things happened. That is what needs to be fixed. We need to be able to get rid of the garbage while still letting the person know why it is garbage.

In most respects, what I'd like to see is a 'marked for deletion' status when the question gets closed and deleted in the first 24 hours.

Why? Why does everyone need to see the garbage, when only one person would get anything out of it? We know it's garbage. We've identified it as such. It needs to be gone, but it also needs to be useful for the person who created it.

This is the wrong solution, and it harms the site. It also harms the user in question, because it leaves them more open to downvotes (thus getting them question-banned faster).

share|improve this answer
That is the problem — the question has (AFAICT) vanished completely for the user, who is no wiser for why it happened. Simply marking the question as 'scheduled for deletion 24 hours after being asked', leaving the questioner a chance to see what is going on would meet the criterion (especially if motivated people could add a constructive comment between 'marked for deletion' and 'deleted'). –  Jonathan Leffler Sep 23 '12 at 19:43
If a mod leaves a comment and then deletes the post within an hour, the poster does get a notification. Maybe the solution is give that same feature to 20Kers. Although I still think delete might have been abused in this case. –  jmort253 Sep 23 '12 at 19:48
But then it leaves it on the site for everyone else to see for 24 hours. We want to get rid of the garbage ASAP. Low rep users should not be allowed to negatively impact the site. We should make sure that they are informed of what happened, but they shouldn't be able to make the site worse just to help them figure out how they screwed up. –  Nicol Bolas Sep 23 '12 at 19:48
Then allowing these users to see their own deleted posts is the answer. We have this problem with question bans too when we have to get a mod to go unearth all their deleted content so they can lift the ban. –  jmort253 Sep 23 '12 at 19:49
Maybe the way to deal with 'not seeing the garbage' is to have the main queries not show closed questions, unless you use a check-box somewhere to indicate that you're OK seeing closed questions. –  Jonathan Leffler Sep 23 '12 at 20:04
And about the part with exposing the OP to more downvotes. Maybe that can be solved by simply locking votes on a question that's marked for deletion. (as if it's already deleted) –  Mysticial Sep 23 '12 at 20:06
I agree about the down-vote exposure, but the solution is that down-votes shouldn't be allowed on a question marked for deletion. And I'd be OK with 'up votes are not allowed either'. In the 'marked for deletion' state, comments can be added and flagged. A moderator can override (because moderators can override), but non-moderators — even with 100k reps — can't do much else with it. The key point is that the asker can see the question for long enough to learn from their mistake. –  Jonathan Leffler Sep 23 '12 at 20:14
@JonathanLeffler: "unless you use a check-box somewhere to indicate that you're OK seeing closed questions." That's a non-starter. Notice that SE has zero settings for you to modify. The SE owners have always been against settings pages. I don't agree with this, but we're not going to convince them otherwise at this point. So whatever you do needs to work for everyone. –  Nicol Bolas Sep 23 '12 at 20:24
@JonathanLeffler: "The key point is that the asker can see the question for long enough to learn from their mistake." Which would most easily be implemented by notifying them of deletion and allowing them to see their own deleted questions (though not in their list of questions/answers). This "marked for deletion" state is just an over-designed solution to something that is very simple: let the one person who benefits from being able to see the question see the question. –  Nicol Bolas Sep 23 '12 at 20:26
@NicolBolas, good point, are you aware of a feature request for this that we should be upvoting? –  Benjol Sep 24 '12 at 8:20
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You could favorite the user, and occasionally check back for them to post more activity, at which point you could comment on their new post. But I highly doubt that would be expected, never mind convenient in any way. The user was pointed to a duplicate, which should help them solve their immediate issue, and they should have received a notification.

And it is up to them to read the FAQ, not up to you to read it for them (nor to translate and rephrase so they get it).

I think you'll find that various requests to interact directly with a user have been vehemently declined. And I agree with that wholeheartedly, in spite of the fact that there may be a few situations where it is justified.

EDIT in order to give the user a chance to see the duplicates, I've voted to undelete (and at least one other user has). Unfortunately unless we either change the rule that low-rep users can't see their own deleted questions, or remove/limit/delay the ability for users to delete closed questions, it's going to be hard to eliminate this type of scenario from the site.

share|improve this answer
What notification were they given for the duplicate? Will they be able to see any of the comments, or the duplicate, given that the question was deleted? From other questions about 'can low rep users see their own deleted questions', I gather they can probably see nothing (there might be something in their inbox for the comments, but it is not clear that they're visible either). In general terms, I don't want to interact with the user, but I do think that they'll be completely in the dark about what happened, and that's not good. I'd do a one-time message to explain; the difficulty is how? –  Jonathan Leffler Sep 23 '12 at 19:20
They would have been given notification that their question was closed / deleted. I realize now that for questions a low-rep user would not be able to visit the question once it has been deleted. But in this case I don't think it should have been deleted. –  Aaron Bertrand Sep 23 '12 at 19:22
@AaronBertrand I didn't think there was any notification for delete/close - Jeff said something about not shouting "hey you suck" via notifications if I remember correctly. –  Flexo Sep 23 '12 at 19:24
@Flexo so when the question is closed, they get absolutely no notification, and when the question is deleted, there is no evidence of it on their activity page whatsoever? –  Aaron Bertrand Sep 23 '12 at 19:24
That's my understanding. I've only had one question closed once and nothing deleted though so I can't say for certain. I based my assumption off meta.stackexchange.com/a/123439/153020 where Jeff said "You should only send the user obtrusive 'in-your-face' messages about how awesome they are." which I assume is applied to close/delete. –  Flexo Sep 23 '12 at 19:28
This kind of question happens once or twice a day right now. Nobody wants to monitor all these users. Right now there are 65 posts linking to the same question that this one is a duplicate of. How many do we need? –  Bo Persson Sep 23 '12 at 21:57
And now we got another one :-( stackoverflow.com/questions/12560476/… –  Bo Persson Sep 24 '12 at 7:46
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There is a simple solution, even if Jeff doesn't like it: Allow the owner of a question to view it, even if it was deleted and when somebody views his own profile, list deleted questions.

share|improve this answer
"even if Jeff doesn't like it" - that's a fairly big obstacle. His reason is fairly valid, "it would lead to incredible amounts of whining" - which I imagine would result in a massive increase in the number of emails that they get. That's why we're looking for middle-ground such as a timed deletion. (but I'm definitely in favor of higher-rep users being able to see all their deleted posts from their profile) –  Mysticial Sep 23 '12 at 21:07
I'm not convinced that being able to see deleted questions leads to more whining than them disappearing without a trace. –  CodesInChaos Sep 23 '12 at 21:11
You have a good point there. Although, if it just disappeared, they're more likely to leave the site than to send an email. If this is one way to turn away "bad users", then I can understand why they made this choice. It's pretty well known that SE will go to extreme lengths to keep away bad content/bad users even if it results in some unintended (negative) consequences. –  Mysticial Sep 23 '12 at 21:14
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Could you go to the duplicate question, add a comment addressing them explicitly (e.g. with "@newbie") and say something like "This is the info you were looking for, it's just that you duplicated the question"

share|improve this answer
A comment like that invites a 'not constructive' flag, with justification, even though the intent is noble. Further, I think the @user notation only works if the person addressed has made a comment in the discussion where it appears. So, AFAIK, that won't help. –  Jonathan Leffler Sep 23 '12 at 19:28
@JonathanLeffler I've tested this on an answer of Chris' to a question where you did not participate. Let us know if you received a notification. –  Aaron Bertrand Sep 23 '12 at 19:32
@AaronBertrand: That's the last thing I need: attention drawn to my previous answers. –  Chris Gerken Sep 23 '12 at 19:33
@AaronBertrand: I have received no notification about the answer of Chris's; I got notification of your comment here (my question; all comments get notified to me). Chris: you're safe — I don't know which answer to go and look at, and don't need to know. –  Jonathan Leffler Sep 23 '12 at 19:40
@ChrisGerken No, comment notifications don't work that way. –  Anna Lear Sep 23 '12 at 20:17
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