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I just noticed that in this week's Top Question list, 4 of the 15 Java-tagged questions are closed. Why do we, as a community, consider "top" questions "off-topic"? Put differently, why do the two mechanisms to rate question worth (voting and closing) disagree to blatantly, and which one is right?

Do we not agree on what belongs here? Is closing biased (does reopening not work)?

I find this question a particularly striking example: 21 upvotes, 2 favorites, 7 answers (4 of which have 5+ upvotes), and closed.

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As of last week, it was even worse on the month's Top Questions list. 6 of the top 10 were closed. Of the remaining 4, 2 were closed and reopened. – Mysticial Oct 3 '12 at 22:11
Hm, why do you assume that the two mechanisms to rate questions should (always) be in agreement? What would be the point of having two mechanisms then? We do, because popularity, quality and topicality are different things, and it's not (that) uncommon for a question to be beautifully formulated, but still unanswerable (thus off topic). – Yannis Oct 3 '12 at 22:30
Then let me ask: Why are unanswerable questions answered and popular? – meriton Oct 3 '12 at 22:51
Are they answered? I'm hoping you don't just mean that they have answers, anyone can type garbage in a textarea and hit submit. Are they sufficiently answered by one or a limited set of answers? Are the answers self contained? Can they be judged on technical accuracy by a bunch of software developers (remember: nothing is answered if it's not sufficiently peer reviewed). As for why they are popular, well, I'll answer that if you (or anyone else) explains to me why Bieber is popular. – Yannis Oct 3 '12 at 23:00
... and yet those "typing garbage in a textarea" probably think they have written an "answer", as do those who upvote those "answers", while others consider the question "unanswerable" and close it. That would seem to indicate that many users disagree on what belongs here. – meriton Oct 3 '12 at 23:28
Well good thing we can re-open closed questions then! – Yannis Oct 3 '12 at 23:55
FWIW, this particular question was requested to be moved to P.SE, which was denied by me, it's not off topic for SO IMO. I'm reopening this question (I don't think it should have been closed in the first place, and the community can close it again if they want), but I'd consider this meta question to be a good general discussion about closed top questions. – casperOne Oct 4 '12 at 19:11

I can think of 3 factors that come into play here.

  1. Those top questions got a lot of votes partially because they got a lot of views. When a question has a lot of views, the probability that 5 people will vote to close it increases. (Regardless of how many other people believe it should stay reopened.) This is one of the downsides of not being able to counter close votes.

  2. The algorithm for ranking "Top Questions" is heavily biased towards questions with a lot of answers. Why kinds of questions generate a lot of answers? The subjective and not-so-constructive ones...

    This goes hand-in-hand with the multicollider ranking algorithm which also heavily favors questions with a lot of answers. When a question makes the multicollider, it gets more views and more votes - and thus has a higher change of making the "Top Week/Month" lists.

  3. Now here I need to be careful how I say this as to not offend anyone. When something trivial gets massively upvoted, a bit of jealousy can sometimes float around. That might push people to close vote something that they normally would not.

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I guess whoever upvoted me right away and unupvoted a minute later didn't agree with the 2nd or 3rd bullet. :) – Mysticial Oct 3 '12 at 22:33
@Mystical - in reference to your point 3 - but is that a good practice? Wouldn't it be a better place if the down voters are mandated to provide bit of a reason for their action or some constructive feedback for the questioner in the form of comments? – Arham Oct 3 '12 at 22:35
I definitely believe that downvoting or close-voting out of jealousy is against the spirit of the site. But that said, human nature is hard to change. As far as coming up with ways to deal with it, that's another issue. The idea of forcing downvoters to provide feedback had been declined and beaten to death repeatedly. – Mysticial Oct 3 '12 at 22:41
@Mysticial Nope, that vanishing upvote was me trying to scroll down in my tiny mobile screen, and fatfingering everything. Switched to my laptop an hour later, read your answer, and upvoted (this time it will stick, promise ;). – Yannis Oct 4 '12 at 5:30
@YannisRizos Ah! Fair enough. thx :) – Mysticial Oct 4 '12 at 5:32

Mystical's answers are good here (especially number 2), but I'd like to add another to the list: voting and close-votes serve different purposes. Up-voting (and down-voting) is done for a huge number of reasons ("I think you're funny", "I've wondered the same thing", "well-stated", etc).

Close-votes, on the other hand, exist specifically to keep things on topic. Thus something that's interesting, funny, and well-liked may still need to be checked to make sure that Stack Overflow continues to act as a q&a site rather than a discussion board.

Voting and close-votes both serve to help regulate the site, but in different ways. A (terrible) analogy: Voting is "the house of representatives" - responsive but unsophisticated; whereas the close-votes are the supreme court: deliberate and in charge of making sure that populist whim doesn't move us outside the bounds of our constitution.

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