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I got this flag decline message recently:

Flagging to close (not a real question) – Sep 27 at 16:21

declined - Then why didn't you use that reason when flagging? Also, declined because I found no evidence to support, and irony

EDIT: I want to clarify that the validity of this exact flag is not in question, it's the fact that the mod thought I had a "flag to close" option, which only exists for users with less than 3000 rep. My suggestion below is to give this option back to users with over 3000 rep, perhaps on the condition that the question is old.

I had already voted to close the question, then flagged it a few days later once it seemed clear to me that the question was not getting any more views (which also means close votes) and that the OP wasn't going to bother clarifying it any time soon.

For users with "vote to close" rights, the "doesn't belong here" flag option is not available after casting a close vote (I'm guessing the mod had forgotten this). If a close vote hasn't been cast yet, the flag just casts one for you instead. (I'm assuming this does not also send a mod flag, please clarify if you know for sure).

The vast majority of my 650 flags are something like:

"Other" -> "Flagging to close (some_existing_close_vote_option)"

99% of the time the flags are marked "helpful" and the question closed by the moderator. I use this especially for older questions that have fallen out of the spotlight.

Would it make sense to have a flag-to-close option available for users who already have vote-to-close rights? I mean, users without VTC rights can do it, why shouldn't everyone be able to, at least after a certain amount of time (say 1 week? more?).

I do get tired of typing out the same generic custom flag message for questions that are very obviously in need of closing. Is there any way we could have more options for this, so experienced users can continue to help moderate the site efficiently?

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Can you include a link to the specific question you're referring to? –  George Stocker Oct 8 '12 at 3:10
    
I was hoping not to, because surely it will detract attention from the issue at hand. If you can see my flags, it should be about the tenth down. Is it relevant to what I'm suggesting? –  Wesley Murch Oct 8 '12 at 3:13
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I flag to close things as well. It sounds to me like you may have just misjudged one... and the moderator probably didn't realize you were over the vote-to-close threshold... –  animuson Oct 8 '12 at 3:21
    
@animuson: It's not that I was out of close votes or anything like that, it's that there is no such thing as a "flag to close" for users who have VTC rights. Period. It's only available for users with under 3K rep. I'm suggesting there should be a better way to "flag to close", ignore the validity of this exact flag, it's just what brought my attention to this issue. Is there something I can do to clarify my post? –  Wesley Murch Oct 8 '12 at 3:26
    
I really don't see anything wrong with using the other field to explain it. I wouldn't say the moderator expected you to use a canned reason, but more just didn't look to see that you weren't capable of using the canned reason. Ultimately, your flag was declined because the moderator disagreed. What's the problem with the system? –  animuson Oct 8 '12 at 3:32
    
@animuson: I'm suggesting that there be generic "flag to close" options, perhaps after a certain amount of time. Exactly what < 3K users get. Apparently, at least one mod does not realize that these don't exist, at all, so there is obviously some amount of confusion, probably not limited to this single moderator. And, in addition, I feel I could help moderate more efficiently if I didn't have to type out this generic text each time. –  Wesley Murch Oct 8 '12 at 3:34
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One way to partially solve this problem is to change the CV decay algorithm. Instead of 100 views all time, it should be X views from logged in 3k users after the first close vote. That way, the CV should "stick" long enough for the question to go into the CV queue. –  Mysticial Oct 8 '12 at 3:54
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I've got 1700 helpful flags, and probably somewhere around 50% of those were custom flags whose text was just "not a real question". I raised these flags in situations like those you describe: low-visibility questions that needed to be closed. Aside from believing this to be a perfectly appropriate use of flags, my understanding was that when the custom flag reason was identical to the text of an established close reason, the post would go into the 10k flag queue, possibly easing moderators' workloads. I do think that making this easier would be helpful to everyone. –  Josh Caswell Oct 8 '12 at 6:55
    
Checked your SO profile quickly, you seem more than competent in JS, perhaps an easy solution would be a userscript, similar to / based on Pro Forma Comments for moderation attention flags. Write a few thorough messages once for your more typical flags (for example: "This is a very old question that probably won't get any more attention, please close") and only type when you want to make slight changes to specifics. –  Yannis Oct 8 '12 at 8:07
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4 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

One thing to note is that there's a big difference between close votes and flags: a close vote still requires 4 other people (or a moderator seeing the question through other means) and agreeing with it whereas a flag can sometimes come off as moderating by proxy - you flag something and a moderator show up to unilaterally close it.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, nor are most question necessarily wrongly closed like this, but it does short-circuit community moderation to an extent so I'm not sure we want to make it easier. There's a reason we limit close votes, after all.

I appreciate that you're trying to help clean the site up. That's pretty awesome. But I'm certain that not everyone would use the feature you propose responsibly and, for me, there are good reasons to avoid effectively creating unlimited close votes.

(As a side note, this isn't a huge issue on most other sites, but the Stack Overflow flag queue in particular is very busy. This isn't a reason to stop flagging stuff that needs attention, but it is something to consider if you're flagging something that may be borderline. Does it really need moderator attention or can it wait till you have close votes again? Can the community handle in the meantime either way? Or does it simply need an edit and/or a guiding comment?)

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Mostly I'm using these flags for very obvious close-fodder that's over a year old, usually found in the sidebar, and it's not because I'm out of close votes (actually I didn't realize they were limited) but because I didn't think anyone else would see it. I think you're right that the feature may not be used properly enough to be worth implementing. I would like to return tomorrow with some additional thoughts, on my mobile now in bed about to go to sleep. Thanks for the insightful reply. –  Wesley Murch Oct 8 '12 at 5:57
    
How would using flags to ask moderators to close create "unlimited close votes"? Flags have a daily limit as well. –  Josh Caswell Oct 8 '12 at 6:56
    
@Anna Lear. +1 Voting up: but it does short-circuit community moderation to an extent so I'm not sure we want to make it easier. 100 times, this. –  George Stocker Oct 8 '12 at 13:10
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Regarding moderating by proxy, I'd also like to point people at this great answer by Shog9: meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/135774/… . When people rage about unfair moderation on the site, it's much easier to defuse those arguments when there are five community members voting to close instead of a lone moderator. –  Brad Larson Oct 8 '12 at 15:51
    
@Brad, Anna, anyone - Can you help me understand this (in regards to "short-circuit community moderation"): If it's not desirable, why is the option to do so available to 15 rep members who have earned flagging rights? –  Wesley Murch Oct 8 '12 at 16:13
    
@WesleyMurch - We still want newer users to be able to alert us to items that really need attention like spam, rude behavior, or truly terrible questions that they cannot yet vote to close. Once you have the ability to vote to close yourself, there's a reason that we hide the standard close vote flags, because we want people at that point to flag us only when there's a real problem that the community won't be able to handle by themselves. This includes flagging older or less viewed questions that won't accrue enough close votes by themselves, and we're glad to step in and handle those. –  Brad Larson Oct 8 '12 at 17:10
    
@BradLarson: However, "flag to close" for low rep users is of course not limited to "truly terrible questions", so it's curious to me that a flag would be preferable to a close vote (which lower rep users of course cannot do), especially considering that their judgement may not be as good as someone who spends a lot of time on the site. A quick glance at the flag queue suggests that a huge amount of flags are from lower rep users for closing a question, which does of course draw attention to any 10K+ users that review flags, but then wouldn't the same be accomplished from a 3K+ user? –  Wesley Murch Oct 8 '12 at 17:48
    
...but nevertheless, I withdraw my proposal and no longer believe this issue is important. I just don't understand some of the reasoning behind these decisions or opinions, and to be honest I'm not too concerned about it and understand that my opinion is not shared with many others. –  Wesley Murch Oct 8 '12 at 17:49
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@WesleyMurch Close flags from lower rep users go into the 10k queue first (and now show up in /review), so regular users get a first crack at handling them before diamond moderators have to get involved. Custom flags bypass this and go straight to moderators. –  Anna Lear Oct 8 '12 at 19:09
    
Thanks for the clarification Anna, that makes good sense, but to me it only provides more evidence that users over 3K should not have to use a custom flag just to close a question. But of course, it's come into question whether we should be flagging for this reason at all and it seems there is no consensus. I think I'll try just casting votes from now on and pay attention to see if they are followed up by the community or not, but it will have to be a really slow day for me personally to hang around SO reviewing flags and close votes, but as long as others are willing to then it should work. –  Wesley Murch Oct 8 '12 at 19:11
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Moderators do not scale as well as the thousands of users that can vote to close. Flags are meant to bring things to our attention that need our attention. Sometimes a question could be 'not a real question', or 'not constructive' and not need our attention.

The community has the ability to close things. If the community isn't doing that where it should be, then we ought to fix that problem. More moderators will not fix that problem.

Sometimes I mark flags where people have voted to close as 'helpful', but didn't close the question. Sometimes I want to see the community step in and handle these issues.

Regarding your specific issue, If I had encountered lots of flags from you where you voted to closed then 'flagged', I would have likely (just once) declined a flag to let you know, "Hey, this isn't the preferred workflow. If it were, the site would let you do it. Only get us involved if we're really necessary, otherwise let the community work it out."

There are hundreds of flags in the moderator queue every day. If we wanted to spend extra time closing every single question that could be closed, we'd just spend our time in the review queue.

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This is similar to what ThiefMaster told me in chat, that these kinds of flags are just annoying. I didn't consider the effect of the /review queue though (which I do not use at all, I just flag em as I see em)... do you suggest I just stop flagging these then? I mean, look at this, this is what most pages of my flag history look like: i.stack.imgur.com/NZrjy.png –  Wesley Murch Oct 8 '12 at 3:49
    
Moderators are human. Some of us tolerate such repeated flagging, others do not. Much like Thiefmaster, I get annoyed when we're brought in to handle relatively benign matters. It's like bringing a bazooka to a knife fight. If it's a really slow day, and there are no other problem questions, then sure, flag this stuff. But that's never the case. There are always question on the front page that can use your help. –  George Stocker Oct 8 '12 at 3:55
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I'm sorry, but this isn't making sense to me. "tolerate such repeated flagging"? Is that not one of the primary jobs of a moderator, to handle flags? Especially valid ones, where action was taken and the flag marked helpful? Once again, please, I am not concerned that one flag out of hundreds was declined. –  Wesley Murch Oct 8 '12 at 3:57
    
@WesleyMurch if what you were flagging was a 'primary job', then the system would have let you vote to close something and then flag it for closing. That specific workflow is what I'm referring to. There's a reason the system doesn't let you do it: It's not preferred. We prefer the community handle those types of matters. By all means, if there are other types of issues to flag, do it; but don't work around the system and then get upset that we're telling you not to work around the system. –  George Stocker Oct 8 '12 at 3:58
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@WesleyMurch I suppose that if you're going to go the route of flagging, at least explain that the question is too old to get close-vote velocity. That way the mod reviewing it won't be left wondering why you flagged instead of CV'ed. –  Mysticial Oct 8 '12 at 3:58
    
@GeorgeStocker: I'm not upset, but you haven't officially told me that I'm "working around the system". This is not for my personal benefit. If your're saying that I should stop these kinds of flags, just cast the vote and move on, that's fine - I just need to hear it. –  Wesley Murch Oct 8 '12 at 3:59
    
@WesleyMurch "Doctor, it hurts when I do this." "Don't do that." That's exactly what I'm telling you here. The actions we want you to take are easy, the ones we don't want you to take are hard on purpose. –  George Stocker Oct 8 '12 at 4:01
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I've been under the impression for a very long time, both from my flag feedback and discussions on meta, that this was a legitimate reason to flag a post, especially older ones. If you're telling me it's not - then just come out and say it. Otherwise you're just telling me that it should be "harder" for me to help. –  Wesley Murch Oct 8 '12 at 4:04
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George, two of the more senior (in terms of length of service; no disrespect meant to you) have clearly stated -- meta.stackoverflow.com/a/89851 and meta.stackoverflow.com/a/105716 -- that flagging for closure is perfectly acceptable on questions that haven't acheived "close velocity". Several other Meta answers exist with this same view -- see the questions I've linked above. If this needs to change, then so be it, but escalation of close votes is, AFAIandWesleyK established practice. –  Josh Caswell Oct 8 '12 at 4:04
    
@JoshCaswell Something you'll find is that not all moderators agree. I think that we've enabled a culture of letting moderators step in and clean up things that really should be handled by the larger community. As I've said before, we don't scale nearly as well as the thousands of users that vote to close. You can't deny that. –  George Stocker Oct 8 '12 at 4:08
    
I certainly understand that you have different points of view, and can respect that. But when you say that flag-to-close is not among the "actions we want you to take", that seems to be your disagreement with your fellow moderators. You must do your work as you see fit, but you can't be surprised when Wesley follows the guidance he's been given by other moderators. Hopefully the new review queue will be able to tip things towards letting the community handle the bulk of necessary closures. –  Josh Caswell Oct 8 '12 at 4:15
    
@JoshCaswell By "We", I mean "The system and me." With as much care as the Stack Overflow dev team has put into the workflow for various actions, I can almost guarantee that the reason this is the way it is is because it was designed this way. –  George Stocker Oct 8 '12 at 4:17
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Closing a question is supposed to be a community thing, from what I have seen the ♦ moderators will seldom step in and close a question (including casting a close vote as their vote is binding).

Voting to close and then following it up at a later date with a flag should not be a short-circuit way of closing the question. When you cast a close vote that question then appears on the close vote queue for other 10K users to review. If your close vote decays before the question gets closed then either:

  • the question wasn't reviewed by many/any once it hit the queue
  • the community disagrees with your close vote

IOW the system is working fine, it's debatable whether there needs to be YAFR (yet another flag reason). You should dig out a link to the question you flagged - if it is a question that requires closing then the attention raised here should get it done. But at the very least we will be able to see the question in question.

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So even on blatantly off-topic questions from '09 (for example), you suggest that I just cast a close vote and walk away? I think you are incorrect about "moderators will seldom step in and close a question". Once again, I don't feel there's any reason whatsoever to link to the specific question as it will only cause focus to be lost, don't you agree? –  Wesley Murch Oct 8 '12 at 3:32
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Not to disagree, but I summarily close questions that are clearly and unambiguously off-topic all the time, whether they have additional close votes or not. –  Robert Harvey Oct 8 '12 at 3:34
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By the way, "YAFR" isn't going to mean I flag less, it just means I have to type out the custom message each time which is inefficient, and apparently there is confusion about this issue judging by the decline message I got. Check this screen shot for evidence: i.stack.imgur.com/NZrjy.png Also, these flag reasons already exist for lower rep users, so they aren't "new" at all. Plus, you suggest that "the system works fine" yet urge me to link to the question here, on meta, so others can decide if it needs to be closed which to me doesn't make a lot of sense. –  Wesley Murch Oct 8 '12 at 3:45
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Please see the related questions I've linked from my comment on the question. Your answer does not correspond at all to established practice. –  Josh Caswell Oct 8 '12 at 3:57
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I don't see how this feature would be useful at all. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the current system of using the other option to type it in manually. I'd actually encourage that method, because it requires the user to put that much more effort into the flag in order for it to go through.

The problem here is that once you earn the vote-to-close privilege, there really isn't any point where offering this dialog would help anything. If you give them the option immediately, it would only encourage people to go straight to flagging and skip the vote-to-close process, because it doesn't require any more effort than actually voting to close. If you offer it after some set amount of time, those who don't care to wait or those who just don't know about the feature will use the other option anyways.

You seem to be most confused about the reason you were given. You're assuming the moderator doesn't know about the features of the site. It's more likely they just didn't realize you actually have the vote to close privilege, and thus don't have the option to select from the canned reasons, which is why you typed it out. Normally when users flag for a canned reason, it's because they don't have the vote-to-close privilege, so seeing someone type it out in that way, not knowing they can't use the canned reason, might look a little odd. In fact, one moderator has asked me in chat before if I actually typed out "not constructive" in the flag reason because they don't normally see those until later on.

While it is very easy to figure it out by clicking through to their profile, I wouldn't be so quick to blame the moderator for not doing so (they may not have even looked at your name). They do get a lot of flags, and they may have been busy. They reviewed your flag and deemed it invalid. So what if part of the reason given was irrelevant?

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So you're saying it's better that I have to type it out rather than make a couple clicks, because helping moderate the site should be harder for experienced users? "those who just don't know about the feature will use the other option anyways"... Do you feel that is justification for not having this (already existing for lower rep users) feature available? I get your point though about the last 2 paragraphs, but don't agree with the rest. –  Wesley Murch Oct 8 '12 at 4:19
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I want to reiterate that these kinds of flags make up the majority of my 587 moderator attention flags, 552 deemed helpful... and that most of my declines were back when I was under 3K rep. This is the first decline on a "flag to close" I've ever gotten, so either it's a legit flag reason or the mods are sending me the wrong feedback in 99% of the cases. –  Wesley Murch Oct 8 '12 at 4:22
    
Well, you're requesting a feature that would be fairly hidden and not widely used. Also, as an experienced user, you should only be flagging for closure when you know a flag is absolutely necessary. So yes, it should be harder to flag. –  animuson Oct 8 '12 at 4:22
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