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Who can protect and unprotect questions?

  • Diamond moderators
  • Users with at least 15,000 reputation, with the following restrictions:
    • The question must be at least a day old
    • A user can un-protect a question protected by him or herself, but not one that has been protected by someone else
    • The system (via the Community user) will automatically protect a question that's had three answers from low-rep users deleted.

For at least one Beta site (The Workplace) it may be the case we get a decent, non-closed question which rises in popularity on the "Top Questions" listing.

We discussed in chat it might be beneficial to be able to proactively protect questions which show up on the "Top Questions" list (indeed, the name itself is protect) - however sometimes this happens really fast and a moderator may not be available for an hour or two.

I don't know if this is a problem unique to (The Workplace) given the relative ease people can have "answers" to questions.

My suggestion is:

  • Allow any of the 15k user group protect questions on the "Top Questions" list, regardless of question age

Link to a discussion on Academia which is relevant

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2 Answers 2

I'm not so sure that "proactively" protecting questions is beneficial. You could be missing out on good answers from people who aren't already established on your site before you even run into any problems.

Not every popular question will attract spam and crappy answers from new users and not every popular question even should be protected, nevermind right away.

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Then why is it called "Protect" ? –  enderland Jan 18 '13 at 0:32
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@enderland Probably because when something bad does happen, you want to "protect" the question from more badness. –  Anna Lear Jan 18 '13 at 0:32
    
I guess that kinda makes sense, but it just would be really nice to be able to have any of the trusted users be able to immediate slap "protect" in those sorts of situations –  enderland Jan 18 '13 at 0:34
    
"who aren't already established" is an incomplete description. I'd add ...and who don't want to invest time and effort into getting 10 rep points to walk over protection before posting an answer –  gnat Jan 18 '13 at 8:43
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...wouldn't that be more precise? Don't get me wrong, I generally like a "feature" allowing someone like Herb Sutter just land in the question from web search and post an authoritative answer, merely wonder about precise description of this... "feature" –  gnat Jan 18 '13 at 9:09
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@gnat I can't quite tell if you're arguing for or against protection here. To me, "don't want to invest time and effort" is strictly speaking accurate but also overly dismissive. If someone new to the site wants to come in and post a good answer, that's not the right time to be pedantic over a feature definition. In my experience many (most?) popular questions never attract the levels of crap from brand new users that'd warrant protecting the question, proactively or not. –  Anna Lear Jan 18 '13 at 16:22
    
@AnnaLear as of now, I am trying to figure if protection can be done in a way that has negative implications - and you see I believe protection would have these - keep it somehow under control. As for 10-rep-clarification wording, now that you pointed at it, I see that it isn't nice, wish I could spell it in a less patronizing way. Regarding experience with hot questions, mine appears to be opposite, I wrote about it at Prog meta recently –  gnat Jan 18 '13 at 16:45
    
...on a further thought, "explanation required" notice looks worth considering instead of straightforward protection in hot questions. On one hand, "explanation notice" doesn't set 10-rep barrier and on the other it may help enforcing community moderation: if memory serves I happened to successfully flag garbage answers asking mods to delete answers that violate notice. What's your take on that? –  gnat Jan 18 '13 at 19:06
    
@gnat I think that post notice is a useful tool when applied to questions and backed up by moderating the answers that violate it. It is completely useless, in my opinion, when applied to individual answers. –  Anna Lear Jan 18 '13 at 19:14
    
@AnnaLear right, applying to questions was what I meant here, sorry for being unclear –  gnat Jan 18 '13 at 19:20
    
reasoning based on "missing out on good answers" looks wrong in the face of recently discussed goal of the hot questions: this is explained in more details in another answer that refers your to back it up –  gnat Feb 27 at 10:02

I'm less unsure than my esteemed colleague: proactively protecting questions is a stupid idea, and you should never do it even if the system does allow you to do it.

All "protect" does is prevent answers from folks who've never gained any reputation on the site. It's great for stopping spam and kibitzing on certain types of answered questions (hence the logic in automatically protecting questions with three deleted answers from low-rep users), but can be counter-productive if a question hasn't been conclusively answered yet. Even on answered questions, the existing answers may go out of date, or may attract someone with unique expertise who could contribute something of lasting value but for this restriction. "Protected" status does not expire - that should tell you right away that it's meant for the long-term, not temporary bumps in activity. From the blog post announcing this feature:

We needed this because some of the more popular Super User questions attracted a lot of noise from random drive-by users who didn’t understand how our system works — users who helpfully provided so-called answers like “thanks, this worked for me!” or “I have this problem too, can anyone help?” And lots of them.

Now, there are certainly questions that are very likely to attract crappy answers, and some of these are pretty easy to identify. They should be closed and/or edited to discourage such answers.

A very popular question that starts to attract noise can be handled in a number of ways. Answers can be down-voted, deleted, or improved. Moderators can temporarily lock the question, if it has one or more satisfactory answers already. If it's a real train-wreck, it can be closed and deleted. And, of course, it can be protected - but realistically, this should only be done if it's already well-answered and attracting a large amount of attention from new users. In those rare cases, if the question is still too new for you to protect yourself, just flag and ask a moderator to do so. They are just the sort of exceptions that moderators are around to handle.

In response to some of the comments: don't let some abstract ideal of perfection (a good, popular question with only one answer that conclusively solves the problem for everyone for all time) get in the way here. I'm more surprised to find a common problem asked about without multiple answers of varying quality and helpfulness - this is really only a problem if bad answers become so numerous that they outrank and obscure helpful ones, so focus your efforts on those cases. A question with five answers, where one of them is lazy and low-ranked probably isn't worth your time unless it is distracting.

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Keep in mind I am ONLY suggesting this for questions popular enough to appear in the "Top Questions" dropdown. And, of course, it can be protected - but realistically, this should only be done if it's already well-answered and attracting a large amount of attention from new users. These cases are not so rare on The Workplace. Though, I suspect, this might be a symptom rather than the root cause (mediocre answers not consistently being downvoted...). –  enderland Jan 18 '13 at 4:12
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Even on The Workplace, you're really only getting a few of these a week at the most. –  Shog9 Jan 18 '13 at 5:26
    
"only... few a week" hm. Hmmmmmmmmm. With amount of effort involved in these (explained in details by Workplace moderator at their meta), community activities involved in maintaining flash in the pan stuff start looking more like 24x7 police duty don't you think? –  gnat Jan 18 '13 at 8:36
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@gnat: As jmort notes, temporary popularity isn't really worth chasing. If a question isn't likely to generate good answers - from anyone - then leaving it around, even protected, just creates more busywork. See also: blog.stackoverflow.com/2012/01/the-trouble-with-popularity and blog.stackoverflow.com/2012/02/stack-exchanges-greatest-hits –  Shog9 Jan 18 '13 at 15:42
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@Shog9 well per my reading here we discuss questions capable of generating good answers. Thing is, other kind questions - ones that "aren't likely" capable of that - are closed pretty fast at WP, so there are no problems managing these no matter how popular –  gnat Jan 18 '13 at 15:57
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@gnat: then the remaining important consideration is that the question does generate good answers. Regardless of source. If it's bringing in outsiders, it becomes an opportunity to demonstrate what is expected and valued on TWP. –  Shog9 Jan 18 '13 at 16:00
    
@Shog9 "an opportunity to demonstrate" I hate to be the one to tell you, but per my observations this opportunity seem to be the first thing sacrificed in unprotected hot questions: "...human interaction, many to many interaction, doesn't blow up like a balloon..." (related: recent discussion at Programmers meta) –  gnat Jan 18 '13 at 16:13
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@gnat: if the question is going off the rails, closing it while edits are made, or locking until discussion is concluded are probably appropriate. These sites aren't meant to be private mailing lists where only the insiders' opinions matter... If the crap answers can't be deleted, then the question is poorly specified - locking out new users to protect a sloppy question sends entirely the wrong message. –  Shog9 Jan 18 '13 at 16:27
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Incidentally, @gnat, the auto-CW threshold on Programmers was dropped to 15 to discourage excessive discussion - given the topic, this might be worth doing on TWP as well if "police duty" becomes a burden. –  Shog9 Jan 18 '13 at 16:36
    
@Shog9 I know the history about 15 auto-CW threshold and per my observations it makes perfect sense. Regarding "protective question edits", this doesn't look as simple as you describe, I highlighted some tough things about it in that question at Prog meta, "quite unfair to over-police text etc"... Sloppy questions are easy stuff indeed... –  gnat Jan 18 '13 at 16:48
    
...these can be quickly closed as NARQ / NC and edited into a perfect shape without the need to hurry –  gnat Jan 18 '13 at 16:50
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@gnat: to try and bring this back around to the topic at hand... If you're not seeing a large number of poor answers from folks with no previous (rep-earning) participation on the site, then "protect" isn't going to accomplish anything. There are some questions on TWP that fall into this category, but not very many; some - probably most - of your examples on Programmers also fail this test, with multiple low-ranked answers from folks with hundreds or even thousands of reputation on the site. –  Shog9 Jan 18 '13 at 17:22
    
@Shog9 hm we seem to estimate different things. To start with, I evaluated answers quality ("I'd downvote") not looking at the score (for score, I only did a second quick "sanity check" over 10+ scored answers). And it felt like answers under about +10 were just a random mix of good and bad ones. As for high rep users posting trash, my point was not that it doesn't happen (it does) but that it is possible to manage in "regular" questions but way too hard in hot ones. Does that makes sense? –  gnat Jan 18 '13 at 18:06
    
I'm not entirely sure what you're getting at there, @gnat - but feel free to drop into The Tavern if you want to chat. –  Shog9 Jan 18 '13 at 20:25
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@Shog9 Take a look at this question from TWP that was 'featured' on the hot questions list. At least three of the answers with negative votes were all by people who were posting on TWP for the first time (two entirely new users). When that question became hot, the moderators weren't around, and when the US wakes up the rest of the users had to do cleanup. Not cool. –  jmac Jun 14 '13 at 4:00

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