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That's right, I'm starting this out with a pun. Featuring a Poison song. I'm good with it.

TL;DR

We're looking at replacing [closed] with [on hold]. This sort of thing was proposed in a popular post before and rejected. But we think it's worth revisiting, and that we can address the prior concerns by adding one thing: after five days, if the post isn't re-opened, it'll go back to displaying as [closed]

Boring Background

By now, you pretty surely know we're working on improving closing network-wide. So far:

What's wrong with "closed"?

One key goal we've throughout this process has been to optimize for improvement, not argument. The more specific close reasons and re-open queue changes go a long way to helping that. But there's another issue that pops up before you even see the specific problem:

enter image description here

The word "closed" sounds final. Now, we don't mean it to - but right out of the gate, we're leading with a word that tends to evoke finality. Sure, things can be "closed" for repairs, but that's not the most common use of the word. Think of when someone says they've "closed" an issue, or an application, or or a real estate purchase, or a forum thread.

In each of those cases, it means that the process in in question is:

  • no longer eligible for additional revisions, and

  • won't be considered any further

So, before we even tell you what you can do better, we hit you with:

Consider yourself closed!

Now, the language in some reasons already encourages editing, and the updated ones will be even better at it, but before we even get to that, we hit them with a big, bold Closed.

It's a little like having someone respond to a proposal you wrote with:

REJECTED

My first response is somewhere between frustration and defensiveness. Why was it rejected? Who decided? Who can overrule them? I am ready to debate something, and will go all Lincoln Douglas on you, bro. So, when they go on to say...

Your submission was too conceptual, and we're looking for pieces with more tangible examples.

...sure, I'm reading it, but its in the context of preparing my retort.

"'Too' conceptual? Who is the arbiter of that? Were they elected? Who can vote? Just noob-haters?"

Now, imagine that they conveyed the exact same problem, with one minor tweak:

Revisions requested - your submission was too conceptual, and we're looking for pieces with more tangible examples.

Other than the word "rejected", it's exactly the same, but my reaction is dramatically different. I'm starting from, "Okay, they're open to my idea if I can improve it" vs. "I'll teach them to shut me down!"

Should we just change "closed" to "could be even awesomer"?

If all closed questions started with, "could be even awesomer," we'd lose some of what "closed" was really effective at:

  • Conveying "no response necessary" - Unlike "more awesomesauce", the final nature of the word "closed" is good at conveying that you can't currently answer the question. We can solve that problem by using "on hold," (hat tip) which can do the same thing, but without the final and provocative lead-in that "closed" has.

"On hold" would work great during the initial period, when we're optimizing for post improvement. But it still fails pretty badly at some other things that "closed" is great at conveying after those first few days:

  • No more of these, please. Closed questions are signposts that convey what doesn't belong here. The final nature of "closed," is actually quite helpful in that regard. Unredeemable questions being "on-hold" ad infinitum incorrectly imply that they just need some encouragement and pluck.

  • Establishing, ahem... closure. Having questions listed as "on-hold" months after closure would make the site look sloppy and unmoderated. It impiles a long queue of unresolved items.

Blah, blah, background, cheap "McBain" straw man argument. So what can we do about it?

Well, I'm glad I pretended you asked. Since we believe that...

  1. We'll get more improvement if we start with language that invites edits, not debates, but
  2. When that fails to happen, "closed" was near perfect at conveying what's not wanted

...we've come up with a proposed change that is actually very minor (yes, after all that talking):

For the first five days after a question is closed, questions will display as [on hold] rather than [closed]

  • Combined with better clarity on what to fix, this should give questions their best shot at being improved right after closure (which gets them added to the re-open queue)
  • If the question is not reopened within five days, the indicator will automatically change to [closed]
  • During the [on hold] period, the only difference is the temporary verbiage change; all the closing mechanics remain the same, so it still can't get new answers, etc.

That means there's no loss of signpost value after the first five days, no change in closers' workflow, and less arguing - there'll always be some, but posting this on HN makes you sound crazypants:

"Those SO fascists have put my question temporarily on hold and asked me to fix something!!"

Seriously. You can't make these shorter? Did you want something?

Always! We want your input. Any tweaks we should consider? Anything else we should add? Tell us what you think.

Part of the close reason rework project:

  1. Changes to "close as duplicate" (part deux)
  2. Help us make "Off-Topic" close reasons clearer to the OP
  3. Help us make "Not Constructive" and "Not a Real Question" closures more effective
  4. Every "close" has its thorn: replace "close" with "on hold" for the first five days
share|improve this question
44  
Your call is important to us. Please hold for the next available representative. Due to our call volume, it could take up to 5 days for us to please hang up and try your call again later. Thank you for using Acme Community Moderation [click] –  Robert Harvey Mar 25 '13 at 20:38
45  
My two cents on first reading: On hold might not be the best choice here, it may be understood as "do not touch your post, things will eventually resolve themselves without your input", whereas we want the term to mean "absolutely do improve your post, and then we can reopen it". I'll try to suggest something less equivocal, if I'm able to. –  Frédéric Hamidi Mar 25 '13 at 20:41
5  
cheap "McBain" straw man argument MENDOZAAAAAAA!! –  Ben Brocka Mar 25 '13 at 20:47
18  
Seriously? You can't make this question shorter? –  juergen d Mar 25 '13 at 20:52
6  
Comic sans? -1. Also, how about instead of "on hold" you use "in purgatory"? –  Won't Mar 25 '13 at 21:03
3  
@Won't, I thought long and hard about it, but he's literally a comic strip character. –  Jaydles Mar 25 '13 at 21:06
12  
Alternate proposal. Replace [Closed] with [Please Delete Me]. –  Anthony Pegram Mar 25 '13 at 21:07
4  
What happens with questions that cannot possibly be improved enough to be reopened? Such as "what book should I read when starting out in brainfetc?" –  Won't Mar 25 '13 at 21:10
14  
Since you're starting with a poetic pun, let me counter with Shakespeare. "What's in a name? that which we call a close / By any other name would smell as sweet;" –  balpha Mar 25 '13 at 21:23
2  
Definitely a +1 for '80's hair metal reference. –  slugster Mar 25 '13 at 21:40
2  
"On Hold" implies that it will be released back to normal at some point, and doesn't necessarily lead to the user to understanding that his/her question is on its way to being closed. Are you going to make sure the text explaining "On Hold" is clear that it is pending closure, and won't just be going back to normal after the hold message expires? –  Rachel Mar 26 '13 at 18:22
21  
Have you considered usability by non-English natives? “Closed” is a very basic word, taught early in the curriculum. “On hold” is more difficult, and the meaning isn't so easy to grasp from a dictionary (just the fact that it's a two-work idiom makes it harder). Furthermore, even to English natives, where “closed” is bad for conveying something final, “on hold” may be just as bad for conveying something that is outside the asker's control. –  Gilles Mar 26 '13 at 18:55
3  
Still have a problem of 50K+ questions needing closure or "on holdness". Will this address that and put all 50K pending into a hold status? –  staticx Mar 27 '13 at 20:25
29  
I'd suggest "Needs improvement" instead of "on hold". Seems more suggestive of what will happen if nothing is done, and explains why it's on hold –  Brad Mace Mar 28 '13 at 0:37
6  
seems like a perfect compromise to me -- softer language at the start, then hardening a bit to closed. I upvoted the "on hold" language suggestion on the original topic, too, for the record! –  Jeff Atwood Mar 28 '13 at 19:23

12 Answers 12

This appears to be quite complicated. I imagine closed was chosen for a reason back then.

In retrospect, I suspect the problem is that we want to sample a whole gamut of "improvable" questions into only a few types of feedback. Technically, the spectrum of responses to improvable questions goes from something like the ideal:

On Probation

[Our community of moderators] have voted to put this question on probation because of the following issue(s):

It's unclear what you’re asking (5 votes) - Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking.

To the less ideal (but still understandable in some circumstances):

Please Improve This

[Our community of moderators] have (once again) voted to close this question because, sigh, of the following issue(s):

It's unclear what you’re asking (5 votes) - Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking.

So I tried to find a middle ground.

I tried Google. I tried applied linguistics. I tried a thesaurus. I tried patience. I tried French words translated into English, but that failed. I tried tea. I tried meditation. I tried car analogies. I tried asking my wife, and that query is still running on her side. I tried malice. I tried Pokémon moves. I tried the usual incantations.

And in the end (but that's probably because I'm seeing the world through programmer-tinted glasses), I did not find anything better than stating the bare, technical truth:

Answering is disabled until this question is improved.

[Our community of moderators] have voted to disable answering because of the following issue(s):

It's unclear what you’re asking (5 votes) - Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking.


Now for the short suffix we append to the question's title. Let's recap the requirements we are working with:

  • It must be short and preferably an adjective,
  • It must not sound definitive and it must not be harsh,
  • It must signify that the question has to be improved to be answered.

[answering disabled] (or [answer-locked] as Ben Brocka suggests) state what happens, but do not convey the reason why (and the former is not that short). That said, to me they sound neither definitive nor harsh, so maybe one of them can do the trick.

Otherwise, I'm afraid any suffix that outright implies the question is not good enough to be answered can (and will) be considered as harsh by someone, someday. Therefore, I think our best bet is to turn the problem around and consider the positive properties of the question (namely that it can, and should, be improved).

[improvable] is too generic: most questions, even the best ones out there, can technically be improved.

So I would suggest [redeemable] or one of its synonyms, e.g. [fixable] or [rectifiable]. (But not [amendable], it makes me think of making amends, so definitely too harsh.)

share|improve this answer
39  
Your bare technical truth suggestion here is actually pretty good. Never mind couching it in fancy diction, just say what's happening (or not happening). All the other suggests I see fail in way or the other. Either they encourage action which isn't going to help or they encourage action that could help. Just describing the what and why of what's happening leaves that more at the discretion of the reader. –  Caleb Mar 25 '13 at 23:26
9  
+1, Last one is pretty good. –  user7116 Mar 26 '13 at 2:08
12  
I rather like this no-nonsense approach. That said, Laura's right - we'd need a short version too, and 'unanswerable' is (IMHO) worse than 'closed'. –  Shogging through the snow Mar 26 '13 at 4:38
1  
@Jaydles, "It essentially leads with "we won't let people answer this because it isn't good enough."" That's because it isn't. We're programmers, not their mothers. (I still say leave the system as is. We have 5 million questions, we don't need this new crappy one, even if fixed up to qualify to arguably be a duplicate of another question on the same topic that we probably already have.) –  Anthony Pegram Mar 26 '13 at 13:42
4  
@AnthonyPegram, this has to work on all sites, not just SO. And good moms, good programmers, and good communicators in general all know that when your goal is to to influence others' behavior, it's more effective to try not to lead with things that the listener is likely to reject when possible. One other key point is that the problem isn't always "not good enough". It's often plenty "good", just not for here (a very well-considered question that is simply too broad, too opinion-based, etc.) –  Jaydles Mar 26 '13 at 13:45
2  
@Rachel, sure. I tried Calm Mind followed by Future Sight followed by Last Resort. Alas, that did not work. –  Frédéric Hamidi Mar 26 '13 at 18:31
2  
[pending] . . . –  Robert Harvey Mar 26 '13 at 18:48
3  
Sure. But the moniker on the title isn't really for the OP, it's for the rest of the community, who presumably already knows what it means. The grey box is for the OP. –  Robert Harvey Mar 26 '13 at 18:55
4  
I like @Robert's [Needs Attention]. –  user7116 Mar 26 '13 at 19:10
2  
None of your suggested short examples seem to directly indicate the status of the post. "redeemable" from what? That's not the state itself. –  Ben Brocka Mar 26 '13 at 19:26
2  
@Ben, true. The exact state of the question is [answering disabled]. [locked] is already used for another state, and plain [disabled] is partially wrong and counter-productive (we want to encourage editing the question) IMHO. –  Frédéric Hamidi Mar 26 '13 at 19:31
2  
@sixlettervariables seems almost like [URGENT], like something someone would append to their post. Every question needs attention, that's not really a state either. It's only really "needs attention" for the OP –  Ben Brocka Mar 26 '13 at 19:51
3  
I do not like [fixable] or [redeemable]- not all closed questions are either of those things. Cue a flood of "StackOverflow classified my question, GIVE ME CODEZ TO MAKE IPHONE APP, as 'fixable,' so it must be a good question! Why was it deleted??" –  David Robinson Mar 27 '13 at 20:30
2  
@FrédéricHamidi: First, questions deleted by moderators would still lead to such complaints ("why tell me my question is fixable but then not let me fix it?"). Secondly, I think the site would suffer if all questions had to exist either for five days or until a moderator could delete them. –  David Robinson Mar 27 '13 at 20:50
4  
I don't see why we couldn't keep [on hold] for the short text, works fine for me. –  Benjol Mar 28 '13 at 6:45

This question needs your attention!

too broad - There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.

(New example language taken from this post.)

share|improve this answer
4  
Interesting. This can backfire because Really Bad Questions (TM) do not actually need our attention, but I like how it involves the whole community instead of the questioner only. (Oh, and the retroflex click is not really needed IMHO, bold is enough ;) –  Frédéric Hamidi Mar 25 '13 at 20:47
1  
I assume this would only show to the original poster? Possibly nix "your" for the general case? –  Ben Brocka Mar 25 '13 at 20:48
    
I took your "replace this with the new verbiage" literally. Feel free to roll back if you think that's distracting from the main point you're making. –  Jaydles Mar 25 '13 at 20:53
3  
I like the call-to-action - not too negative and stresses urgency. –  Mike B Mar 25 '13 at 21:00
    
I'm wondering if the call to action couldn't be moved to a separate paragraph; especially if we show multiple close reasons. Thinking something like P1: Too broad: Blah blah blah P2: Once you've edited the post to address these issues blah blah blah –  Ben Brocka Mar 25 '13 at 21:41
2  
@BenBrocka: The phrase "Closed As" is a visual indicator to the OP that something happened that changes the status of their post. It is not merely "informational only." To make it work your way I think you would have to change the opening phrase in P1 to Your question is too broad. –  Robert Harvey Mar 25 '13 at 21:55
    
@FrédéricHamidi How would you define "really bad questions"? I wouldn't consider vague or ambiguous questions to be "really bad", because in most cases, it would be possible to ask the OP to clarify their intentions, instead of simply ignoring the question. –  Anderson Green Jun 13 '13 at 1:45
    
I have to agree with @FrédéricHamidi, most questions that I vote to close don't deserve anyone's attention. </grim> –  Fabrício Matté Jun 13 '13 at 20:37
    
@FabrícioMatté: Mostly, that message is meant for the OP, not the community. –  Robert Harvey Jun 13 '13 at 20:38
    
Oh it makes sense now then. +1 –  Fabrício Matté Jun 13 '13 at 20:39

How about:

This Question Needs Work!

[Our community of moderators] have voted to close this question because of the following issue(s):

It's unclear what you’re asking (5 votes) - Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking.

You can edit this question any time in the next 5 days and we'll submit it to our community of moderators for review. If they feel the problem is fixed, your question will be returned to active status. Otherwise, we will permanently mark this question as closed.

For users with rep > 250, [Our community of moderators] would be replaced with names.

Example language from this post

share|improve this answer
5  
But a question is never permanently closed... Closing can always be undone by five 3k users or a moderator.. Other than that, great! –  ɥʇǝS Mar 26 '13 at 4:19
    
I say unleash McBain on the question if it isn't dealt with in 5 days. One of my least likely tasks on SO is to try and find salvation for closed questions. –  cpilko Mar 26 '13 at 4:34
4  
"After this grace period, it becomes harder to reopen your question." for the last line? –  Won't Mar 26 '13 at 10:26
5  
Nice, but let's not use false titles here (I am surely not a moderator,) hence: Our community of self-appointed policemen of the Information Superhighway has stopped your question for not containing enough actual information to be allowed on the road. Please add more information, and the community will carefully consider releasing it again. –  Monolo Mar 27 '13 at 16:19
    
I like the suffix (I'm a bit on the fence about the title), but I'd remove "in the next 5 days" and "Otherwise, ...". –  Dukeling Mar 27 at 1:57

There's another side to this. From what I've seen on Quora, their "this post needs work" messages are largely ignored. While these messages don't have an "or else" clause, they do attract the occasional downvote, and are rather similar in nature to this feature. We may have a similar problem with anything of the form "Please improve this post"- folks may just ignore it.

We need something scary, but not as scary as "closed" (which just makes the OP give up)

How about:

Your question will not be answered in its current state, please improve it

Answering has been disabled on your question because it has the following issues:

  • vague Your question is vague or incomplete, please fix this by adding more details [...]

Answering will be re enabled on your question once the above issues are fixed.

Basically, the title here grabs the attention of the OP, without scaring them off.

As for the replacement of the [closed] text, "on hold", "awaiting improvement", and "disabled" make sense to me, though the second one is rather long.

share|improve this answer
    
I think just leave the text at [closed]... I mean, we're still "closing" the question, just using a different name. –  ɥʇǝS Mar 28 '13 at 2:46
10  
@Seth: No. "closed" brings back memories of fora. On a forum, "closed" means death to the thread. This is why so many folks whine about it -- let's not give them a chance :) –  Manishearth Mar 28 '13 at 5:11

So glad that something is being done... however...

[On Hold] has different connotation problems than [Closed] does, as brought up by Frédéric Hamidi:

  • It might imply that the user shouldn't touch it
  • It doesn't explain what should happen (or by who — everyone should fix questions, but usually administration places something on hold)

While it's certainly much less offensive, it doesn't do anything to further the plan of action; and as a result it might just be conveying false hope (as Robert Harvey's joke illustrates).

There are a ton of good suggestions about post notice language in the answers here, but none that suggest what was posted as a comment way down the chain. I thought I would make it an answer so it could get the visibility it deserves.

For the primary marker that's added to the question title, I think we could convey meaning best with:

[Needs Improvement]

I like this because, unlike [fixable], is not simply an assessment, but a statement of need.

share|improve this answer

Why don't you just state the reason for the closure as the heading?

Possible suggestions:


Your question appears to be off topic.

Your question doesn't seem to deal with a problem with programming languages or software development tools. That may make it off topic for Stack Overflow. If you can, please edit your question to bring it on topic. Then we might be able to answer it.

Your problem appears to be much too specific.

Your question only seems to be relevant to a specific place, time, or situation. That means it isn't useful to a large number of people. Please edit your question to add details to make the question useful to many people. Then we might be able to answer it.

Looks like you're asking for opinions.

Your question may be just asking for opinions, recommendations, or what people think is the best or their favorite. If you can, please edit your question to ask for facts rather than opinions. Then we might be able to answer it.

We can't tell what you're asking.

It's unclear what you're trying to ask in your question. Please edit the question to add details and clarify what you're trying to ask. Then we might be able to answer it.

Your question seems to be too broad.

Your question may be answered in too many different ways. Please edit your question to focus on a specific problem. Then we might be able to answer it.

Your question might not look like a question.

Please edit your post to make it into a true question. Then we might be able to answer it.


I've tried to make the language on these suggestions as plain as possible. I encourage improvements.

share|improve this answer
    
My comment would be that these seem to be equally or even more likely to put a user on the defensive than the existing system that we're trying to change. –  Rory Mar 27 '13 at 23:07
    
@Rory s/is/appears to be/ –  Brad Mace Mar 28 '13 at 0:36
    
Made some changes. –  Peter O. Mar 28 '13 at 1:31

For the first five days after a question is closed, questions will display as [on hold] rather than [closed]

I understand that this will be simple to implement, however this is not a good solution from the users perspective.

  • If a user have been active in twenty-something of the last 30 days, 5 consecutive calendar days is ok.
  • If a user have been active in four of the last 30 days, 5 consecutive calendar days is not ok.

We cannot expect or require that users should be visiting the site every single day. People that just logs in once a week are welcome too. So make the timing relative, five days of activity.


If the question is not reopened within five days, the indicator will automatically change to [closed]

This then OUGHT TO1 be communicated clearly to the user then, because otherwise the user will be left wondering "Hey, my question changed from [on hold] to [closed], what caused that?". And if the only reason is "time passed", this information should not be hidden away in some question on meta. I think that would be disrespectful.

So then if the user is effectively told "Hey, your closed question is temporarily called 'on hold', but it is still closed so it makes no difference" I ask myself, what's the point?

I am a bit thorn over having given a upvote for this question, because the issue raised with the term closed (aka rejected) having too negative value as well as it will not invite to improving is a big problem such an important question. But the suggested solution really does not cut it, in best case it barely scratches the surface.

Of all the suggestions I like [Needs Improvement] most, because it does not imply any badness about the origin, only that is not good enough and it is a clear call to action for improving it, which really is the core behaviour we are aiming for, right?

1 http://www.rfc-editor.org/rfc/rfc6919.txt

share|improve this answer
4  
Hmm. On the one hand, you make a good point about some users not visiting every day. But on the other hand, if you've just asked a question, I think it's reasonable to expect that you'll be visiting more frequently. Even new users who don't know about edits or comments should be interested in checking for answers; else why would they have asked in the first place? –  Pops Apr 9 '13 at 18:18
    
How about three days starting from the user's first login after the question has been put "on hold", up to a limit of, say, two weeks? –  Kyle Strand May 1 '13 at 21:16

I suggest

[edit needed] This question needs to be cleaned up before it can be answered.

share|improve this answer
    
I'm going to go ahead and suggest this in the comments on Frederic Hamidi's answer. –  Kyle Strand May 1 '13 at 21:11

This feels like yet another misguided attempt to be "nice" to people. Bad idea. You forget that whenever favoring one group or trait, you implicitly unfavor some other group or trait. Put another way, you can't cater to everyone. You have to chose. So who would you rather make feel at home on this site, the people that are here for high quality and as a result spend time providing lots of answers, or those that can't be bothered to read the rules and just blurt out badly formed or off topic questions? Like it or not, that is the choice.

The current closing system works well and it should feel a bit like you got kicked in the butt. After all, you were either lazy (didn't read the rules), stupid (Huh? Why is "which language is best" not constructive?), or arrogant (my problem is so important I'm going to ask anyway, maybe I'll get away with it). Filtering out people like that is a good thing. Asking a valid question really isn't hard, as proven by the fact that most questions don't get any close votes at all. Why do you want to cater to those that won't or can't be bothered at the expense of those that are here for high quality?

Stop and think this thru. At best you're going to get a lot of back and forth with lazy, stupid, or arrogant people, and a few questions might be salvaged as a result. Maybe some of them can be turned around and become good citizens eventually. That's a pretty small upside.

Now consider the cost. All that annoying back and forth with people that can't write comprehensible and proper questions for this site is a time drain and mental drain on the people you rely on to give their free time to make this site great. Everyone's time is limited, so time spent walking some moron thru what should be the self-evident process of formulating a proper question is time taken away from writing good answers. Even if someone decides they're not going to diaper and burp the morons, it still noises up the site, makes the good stuff harder to see, and presents the overall impression of a high drivel level.

The Life-cycle of Forums

This issue is the tip of a much bigger iceberg that has unfortunately been looming closer and closer here lately. There seems to be a cycle that internet forums go thru. I am using "forum" in a larger context than usual to include any mechanism people can congregate and discuss things on the internet, including mailling lists, what are normally called "forums", and sites like this one.

Unfortunately, they all seem to go thru the same cycle. I think it's not inevitable, but without active management to the contrary it apparently is. Unfortunately it's usually site management that precipitates the eventual downfall. We are just starting to see that here.

Initial Growth

A new site is a cool place to be, if it gets enough of the right people. Things are run loosely and the site is fairly free-wheeling. A few experts attract more experts, and it becomes a rewarding place to hang out. Ordinary mortals discover the site along the way. Some ask good questions, and some write crap. The good questions get great answers and the crap ones are uncerimoniously sent home without a cookie. Quality is high, the key contributors are active and satisfied, new users are coming along. All is great except that volume is low, or at least lower than management wishes it were.

Maturity

The site has grown and is well beyond critical mass. Most of the key experts that are going to hang out here have already found the place. There are a few new ones here and there, but most of the growth is now coming from the unwashed masses. Volume is up, and by and large the quality is good. The Old Guard act as gate keepers to keep the quality up, although it's getting a little tougher now that most posts are from unsophisticated users. That's OK though, the bad stuff can be weeded out and the remainder are usually a bunch of good questions and helping people with their real-life problems. In short, the site is mature and working well.

The Downhill Slide

In a way, things are working too well. Due to a higher level of unsophisticated posts (not a bad thing by itself), a larger fraction are poorly worded, lazy, or otherwise not appropriate for the site. That by itself is to be expected. The problem in this phase is that when a few of the users that got turned away, some of the more recent members identify with them and complain from inside. The voice of the inside crowd has shifted from the smaller more expert original core, now seen as elitists by a ever larger fraction of the membership, to the more recently joined and less expert growing base. This latter group is looking out for themselves (as all groups do). What they want is access to getting good answers, unlike the original core that want a place for high quality discussions. In a way, they want to turn the site into a "worker's paradise" (Yes I know such political analogies are kindof abnoxious, but think about it carefully, there are more similarities to the referenced political movement that it may first appear) because they identify themselves as "workers".

As a result, there are endless drawn out discussions about how "newbies" should be treated, even though the issue isn't someone's newness to the site or the topic but rather their ability to read and follow the rules and ask good questions.

Eventual Death

The clamor gets the attention of site management. So far so good, but here comes the fatal mistake. Inevitably (as far as I have seen yet), management figures they should be "nicer" to everyone. After all, turning away users doesn't seem like a good idea. A bigger site is a better site, so if potential new users are being alienated that must stop. It starts slowly. At first "bad question" aren't allowed to be called "bad" anymore. They are only questions that have not yet been revised to be "good", or some such. Eventually you can't call a bad idea a bad idea anymore. Words like "bad", or "silly" are outright banned. First "RTFM" is banned, then telling someone only to read the manual and siting the page number is banned without more hand-holding. Pretty soon it's hard not to run afoul of the sensors and the nice-police. Those that actually know anything and are there for good quality discussion get dissollusioned and leave. Now everyone is ever so PC, but all the talk is drivel by the clueless talking to the clueless. Eventually those that were using the site to get good quality answers find they aren't getting them anymore, and the collapse of the worker's paradise is complete.

The Moral

Is this cycle inevitable? I don't know, but so far it seems to be true for every site that has been around long enough. I have noticed evidence of the Maturity phase on EE lately, which is the SE site I am most familiar with. If the cycle can be avoided, it seems it can only be done by a determined management effort. They have to have the guts to say in effect "No, this is crap, go away". I understand why that is difficult, and being nice to everyone sounds like a simple and reasonable stance. However, you have to think about this really carefully and note that you can't ever actually be nice to everyone. You can favor one group over another, even if it's not immediately obvious that someone is being unfavored. But they are. Every time you pick a winner, you are also implicitly picking losers. In this case, the losers are those that are actually providing most of the wealth of the site, but they have been around long enough that this is too easily forgotten.

So, management, do you have the guts? What's it going to be? Are you going to make a stand, or take the immediate easy way out and make the cycle inevitable. It's your choice, it's here now, and you can't sidestep it. Think carefully. Very carefully.

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The "why" has been explained at lengths in Jaydles' question. You seem to keep forgetting that while "read the rules" or "RTFM" might seem like a sound advice, to a newcomer who does not know about "the rules" or is drowning in the 50,000 pages reference manual things might appear not as easy. Which is very likely the reason he is reaching out for help. Just hammering those questions with a "closed, goe awway!" is ... well, not constructive as it basically does not help anyone. –  syneticon-dj May 21 '13 at 23:11
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I gotta give you some props here, because you hit on something I think a lot of folks miss: there is a rather well-worn pattern that forums follow. That said, a very large part of SE's design - both the software itself and the culture surrounding it - are aimed squarely at subverting this pattern. A small admin team will never respond quickly enough to prevent the inevitable decline (either from low-quality posts from an influx of new users, or the backlash caused by it); a solid core of invested users might, if given the tools to do so constructively. So that's the area where we invest. –  Shogging through the snow May 21 '13 at 23:47
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I don't feel that "on hold" versus "closed" -- particularly if the wording reverts to closed after five days -- is really that big a change. And as I am sure @shog9 knows, choice of words matters a lot more than you'd think.. look at all these expensive "entitlements" our congressmen are giving to those hungry poor people, for example! It might be good to soften the language a bit, but bear in mind the actual process of closing is basically identical. –  Jeff Atwood May 22 '13 at 0:24
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@Jeff: My point is that it's not good to soften the language a bit. –  Olin Lathrop May 22 '13 at 13:06
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@Shog9: That sounds nice in principle, but how do you get around the problem of this "solid core" shifting to more recently-joined users over time who identify themselves with those being turned away due to writing bad questions than the original core that cares about high quality discussions? Put another way, the newer users see themselves more as takers than givers, and identify with other takers. How do you prevent them from becoming the majority of this solid core you talk about? If the site is run hostile to the givers, then the givers eventually leave and nobody is left with anything. –  Olin Lathrop May 22 '13 at 13:21
    
Two things to consider there... #1: takers - the proverbial "help vampires" - tend to avoid putting serious effort back into the communities they attach to by definition. #2: there's imbalance in the system itself between privileges granted to folks who ask and who answer: the reputation (and thus privileges) granted for upvotes on questions is half that for upvotes on answers. –  Shogging through the snow May 22 '13 at 16:58

I've recently noticed the "On hold" tag instead of "Closed" but it hasn't helped me improve my questions or others' questions and hasn't made any difference in my experience.

I agree that specifying what "On hold" means would help both the asker and those who might want to answer:

"Answers can be posted only after this question is improved"

Is a phrasing that I believe might entice experienced users to improve the question.

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I would put the word only directly before after. I think it would aid clarity. –  TRiG is Timothy Richard Green Feb 23 at 22:43
    
@TRiGisTimothyRichardGreen: good call, incorporated your suggestion –  Dan Dascalescu Feb 23 at 22:47
    
Any chance to A/B test this vs. the current "On hold" message? –  Dan Dascalescu Feb 24 at 1:01
    
Replace pithy jargon with a boring explanation of what it means? Now you're just being silly. –  Shogging through the snow Feb 24 at 2:25
    
@Shog9: if that was supposed to be funny, the humor was lost on me. I'm thinking that many SO users may not be native or experienced English speakers, and clarity would help. –  Dan Dascalescu Feb 24 at 2:33
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I was being rather tongue in cheek, @Dan - see previous discussions of this problem as well as the top answer in this thread - everyone knows this is an issue, but finding a solution that works is... hard. –  Shogging through the snow Feb 24 at 2:42
    
My solution was inspired by the first answer; I've just reworded it to sound more encouraging. What about going ahead with the third phrasing from the top answer and see if we can find an even better solution later? –  Dan Dascalescu Feb 24 at 4:02

I'm concerned about the transition from "[On Hold]" to "[Closed]" without any real change in the state of the question. It's counterintuitive and confusing.

On the other hand, I do like the idea of softening the blow of closing a question. The current system of marking a question as "[Closed]" doesn't immediately suggest that the user should improve it so it can be re-opened.

My suggestion:

Instead of marking a question as "[Closed]", use a gentler term (perhaps "[On Hold]", perhaps something else) that encourages the user to improve it.

After some time in this state, transition the question to "[Closed]" -- and make this a real change of state.

I'm not sure just what the transition should be. Perhaps while a question is "[On Hold]", the poster can re-open it unilaterally, say by making a substantial edit and asserting that the problem that caused it to be put on hold has been solved. After 5(?) days, the user can still edit the question, but re-opening it requires votes from other uses, as we do for closed questions now.

As Manishearth's comment points out, letting a user unilaterally re-open a question could be prone to abuse. Perhaps we could just require fewer votes, even just one, to re-open an "[On Hold]" question. The main point I'm making is that changing the label from "[On Hold]" to "[Closed]" with no real change of status is bound to cause confusion.

Perhaps there should also be a mechanism to skip the "[On Hold]" state and go directly to "[Closed]".

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Your modified suggestion for on hold behavior is way too open to abuse, imo. Aside from that, it's the same as the original suggestion (the gentler term bit and all). –  Manishearth May 15 '13 at 21:28
    
@Manishearth: I see your point. But my main point is that the transition from "[On Hold]" to "[Closed]" should reflect a real change of status, a feature that the original proposal lacks. See the next-to-last paragraph of my updated answer. –  Keith Thompson May 15 '13 at 22:23
    
It's not supposed to be a real status change, though. It's just a psychological trick. We want closing to be instantaneous, and to behave the same. However, we don't want to scare newbies off with "[closed]", as "closed" in forum speak usually means "dead forever" (which leads to unnecessary bickering and whining when they can just fix the goddamn question) –  Manishearth May 16 '13 at 5:01
    
@Manishearth: I understand that, in the proposal, the transition from "[On Hold]" to "[Closed]" is not supposed to be a real change in status. I'm saying that I think that's a bad idea that will cause confusion. I think it would be better to leave it as "[On Hold]" indefinitely or to make the transition a real one. –  Keith Thompson May 16 '13 at 15:06
    
Agreed. Is it true that the only difference between "on hold" and "closed" is that the triggering event occurred in the last 5 days? I'm still not sure. –  bmm6o Jun 27 '13 at 1:51

This question has been temporarily suspended pending the following revisions requested by the community:

  1. And then this is a list
  2. Of the various things that
  3. The users who voted to close the question
  4. Are required to input in order for their closing vote
  5. To count at all.

And then the community can also vote as to whether or not they think any (or all) of the reasons for suspending the question are valid.

And when the question is edited by the OP, the closers receive notification and they have the option of removing their objection to the question at that time.

I think this would go a long way toward improving the quality of the questions on SE, and it would have the added side-benefit of reducing 'drive-by closings' done by zealots that don't feel they have to explain themselves.

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While I like the verbiage, the main thrust of your post has been proposed many times. Please see Require comments along with question closure votes, Require a comment regarding the close reason, Should a user have to add a comment when they vote to close?, etc. –  Josh Caswell May 15 '13 at 1:32

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