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A couple weeks ago, I asked for help: How can we stop premature deletion?

And I got some fantastic responses. A big thanks to everyone who participated in that discussion - you're the reason I don't completely hate Meta Stack Overflow.

The big takeaways from that discussion were:

  • Show users their deleted content. By far the most common response, and understandably so: without this, it's always a trade-off between cleaning up trash and letting the asker know what they did wrong.

  • Delay deletion. There were a few different takes on this, including "pending deletion" votes that would only take effect after a period of time had passed, and straight-up blocking normal deletion votes for a period of time with spam/offensive flags and moderators able to take care of the worst stuff in the interim.

  • Improved oversight for deletion.

That last item gets into an area we'll have to discuss in depth later on, namely: stuff that shouldn't be deleted at all. It's important - but it'll have to wait a little bit longer.

Joel, Jaydles, Robert & I met last week to discuss the first two and "quick deletion" in general. Here are three short-term changes we'd like to make:

1. Authors should see their deleted questions (if they have a link)

This doesn't go quite as far as this old feature request, but it does solve the most fundamental problem: if I have my question open when it's deleted and refresh the page, I'm not presented with a 404. It would also make support easier in some cases - for instance, automatic deletion of abandoned questions.

Note that the primary rationale given for declining the old feature-request - authors able to undelete their own content - was fixed a while ago; the concerns over making deleted stuff permanently visible in your profile are still somewhat valid, however.

2. Restrict quick deletions on anything asked "in good faith"

This wouldn't even have to be a system-enforced restriction, although that's probably a good idea. The idea is simple: don't delete any question that isn't blatantly abusive.

  • Spam? Kill it.
  • Gibberish? Erase it.
  • Rants? Banish them.
  • A too-localized, vague or overly-broad programming question? Meh. Just close it and move on.

If we did have to restrict deletion, it helps that there are already flags that cover most of the really bad stuff... Flags that automatically delete once a sufficient number accumulate on a post. But that still leaves a lot of rubbish laying around, so we'd also want to...

3. Automatically delete closed and abandoned questions after a short period of time

It's hard to ask folks who already feel they're drowning in an ocean of filth to hold their breath a little longer. I think mog said it best:

I'm getting burnt out on playing janitor

I've felt that way. There's not much of a reward in helping to moderate Stack Overflow. No one compliments you when you close an off-topic question, or even notices when you delete a terrible one. You hold out some hope that if you keep at it, the site will keep being something you enjoy - and maybe that the folks whose writing you enjoy will keep enjoying it as well. But you know in your heart that it's a treadmill to oblivion; with the volume of questions Stack Overflow gets every day, even closing the bad ones is hard - keeping up with deletion is proving to be impossible:

closed questions by week

Now, it's a bit unrealistic to say that every closed question should be deleted, even when that's the recommendation; still, there are currently 48 thousand closed questions on Stack Overflow that have no up-voted or accepted answers, score <= 0, haven't been edited since they were closed, and don't have any pending re-open votes...

If we deleted those automatically, that would cover 70% of the questions deleted manually in the last month, and 73% of questions deleted within 2 days of being closed. Forget delayed deletion - for the majority of questions, no one would need to bother deleting them at all.

Automatic deletion already accounts for the vast bulk of all questions deleted. Why not just expand that to handle the stuff we can be fairly certain won't ever be revived? Abandoned questions, already evaluated by the community and closed, with no recent activity to indicate any interest in re-opening them.

Right now, automatic deletion only kicks in for questions over 30 days old. I think we could drop that considerably - say, to 7 days - and get rid of more cruft, faster and with less effort than we're doing now by hand.

We haven't settled on a concrete criteria for what "closed and abandoned" should mean yet. Here are some ideas - look 'em over & see what you think:

The goal is to capture anything that's contributing nothing to the site now, and shows no signs of any effort by anyone to correct the deficiencies that are preventing it from being a useful question. I think if we get this right, then we can afford to look at manual deletion - by moderators or high-rep users - as more of an exception-handling task and stop mixing the time-sensitive deletion of overtly abusive posts with the convenience of just voting to delete as soon as a question - any question - is closed.

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You employees are getting a whole lot more verbose. Are you paid by the word now? –  random Mar 25 '13 at 22:38
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Whatever the reason, it's certainly not subconscious desire to put readers to sleep before they get to the punchline. I guarantee it. –  Shog9 Mar 25 '13 at 22:39
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Closed should not be just about creating a path for deletion. –  Lance Roberts Mar 25 '13 at 23:10
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@LanceRoberts: It isn't, but there's really no point in keeping questions around that have no hope of rehabilitation. –  Robert Harvey Mar 25 '13 at 23:12
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Unless you're going to improve every single question that gets closed, then that's not entirely true @LanceRoberts Either way, they're not advocating deleting good content, so I don't see what your issue with the proposal is –  Ivo Flipse Mar 25 '13 at 23:15
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I agree that there are plenty of closed questions that could be deleted, but it's a subset, not the whole. –  Lance Roberts Mar 25 '13 at 23:20
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For example, a question was deleted today that had a good Eric Lippert answer, gone forever now. –  Lance Roberts Mar 25 '13 at 23:21
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So long as the roomba doesn't achieve self-awareness... –  Anna Lear Mar 25 '13 at 23:25
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@mmeyers, I'm only 9k on SO, so I can't see it yet. Robert is right that is wasn't legendary, but I thought it was good, so no reason to delete the question which I had flagged to change to a 'too localized' close reason from NARQ. Makes me not want to flag for close reason changes again. –  Lance Roberts Mar 25 '13 at 23:35
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Does your graph use the DatePosted or the DateClosed/DateDeleted? If its the first, it may be skewed a bit because older posts have had a much longer period of time to accumulate delete votes. I noticed this discrepancy when I was writing queries to look at Close trends for Programmers.SE, and the two graphs look quite a bit different. –  Rachel Mar 26 '13 at 14:44
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It's creation date, @Rachel - that said, you'll notice that I cut it off about three months ago; as you say, the skew is pretty noticeable otherwise: once you hit mid-February, you start to see the effect of the existing automatic deletion: i.stack.imgur.com/OsQOy.png –  Shog9 Mar 26 '13 at 16:15
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If you do allow users to view deleted questions if they have the link, will you be leaving comments from deleted posts in their Inbox or on the Responses tab in their profile? I know there have been times when I open/close my inbox without clicking on a message (usually because I clicked on a different notification, or clicked too fast and closed it by accident), and then when I open it again the comment on the deleted post is gone –  Rachel Mar 28 '13 at 15:49
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Wait, about the "closed and abandoned" part - doesn't closing a question force it to become de facto abadoned? It's awfully hard to have your question become de-abandoned if there's no way for anyone to answer it. :/ –  JamesTheAwesomeDude Apr 26 '13 at 6:07
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+1: Bravo! And I definitely welcome the day when you implement "Improved oversight for deletion." I've definitely seen people abuse their delete vote privileges. –  Jim G. Apr 27 '13 at 19:31
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@James: you can still edit closed questions and vote on them (including voting to re-open). But yeah, a good many closed questions are abandoned. –  Shog9 Apr 27 '13 at 19:35

10 Answers 10

up vote 62 down vote accepted
+50

The following changes are live now:

  • Deleted questions will be visible to their authors, regardless of those authors' reputation. They won't be linked to anywhere that they're not already linked, but if someone knows where to find their question and it's been deleted, they should always be able to view it.

  • Delete-voting within two days of closing is disabled on questions scoring -2 or above, regardless of the voter's reputation.

  • Automatic deletion of closed, abandoned questions for questions meeting the following criteria:

    • Closed more than 9 days ago
    • Not closed as a duplicate
    • Score <= 0
    • Not locked
    • No answers with a score > 0
    • No accepted answer
    • No pending reopen votes
    • No edits in the past 9 days

For recent examples of the sorts of questions that will be deleted, you can view results from SEDE.

Linking from the profile was added in June 2013, under some conditions.

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I think we should enable pings for comments on deleted posts (if they're not already enabled). Sometimes a user beats me to leaving an appropriate comment, and it's annoying to have to type it out again just so I know they'll see it it and not be left to wonder where their question/answer went. –  voretaq7 Apr 23 '13 at 20:52
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The second point is downright brainless. Bad stupid questions with no effort put in them/which make no sense/whatever, need to be destroyed. –  H2CO3 Apr 23 '13 at 21:34
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@H2CO3: It's those sorts of questions that should have -2 or worse, which makes them candidates for deletion under this new scheme. –  Matt Apr 23 '13 at 21:37
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@Matt Not enough. The site is already much more cluttered with noise like these "questions" than it would be acceptable... and now developers are pulling moderation tools out of the hands of users? –  H2CO3 Apr 23 '13 at 21:38
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@ShaWizDowArd: if that was true, I don't think H2CO3 would be complaining so loudly. The idea here is to restrict speedy deletion on posts that might have some redeeming value, even if it's not enough to ultimately salvage the post. Posts that were asked in good faith, even if they're off-topic or duplicates or whatever, those can remain long enough for the asker to maybe learn something from the experience, but if a post gets heavily down-voted and then deleted, so be it. –  Shog9 Apr 23 '13 at 23:22
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If author can see own deleted questions, why don't we show it in his profile? (i.e. in to questions tab) –  hims056 Apr 24 '13 at 5:10
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@hims056 If that is the case, this feature request would be status-completed. Jeff must be very disappointed to see this happen as he is still alive. (He actually edited his comment to remove the part that could lead to a potential assassination, maybe things have changed?) –  Antony Apr 24 '13 at 5:13
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@Shog9 The restriction in only being able to delete after the post has been closed for 2 days only applies to posts with a score of >= -2 though. For example, this question came up in chat yesterday which resulted in it getting swiftly deleted. Many times the community is quick to delete highly downvoted questions, even if the OP hasn't had a chance to login and view the comments explaining why the post is bad and what needs to be done to fix it. This doesn't teach the OP anything –  Rachel Apr 24 '13 at 16:19
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Oh, right. That is what I meant. I don't think that's desirable. If the user has accepted their own answer (zero-score), and the question is downvoted, I don't think the justifications for exclusion apply (the question has been closed out / abandoned, and is very unlikely to be improved upon ). –  jadarnel27 May 1 '13 at 18:15
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@Shog9: "...no one...sees deleted posts listed in profile questions and answers lists. That's been true for 10K users...for years, no reason to change it for this." Yes, there is: >10k users are much less likely to have questions deleted than new users. New users should see why their question was deleted, with comments. That's the whole point of showing them. They're not going to magically know they need to bookmark it. They may do that, but there is a very strong reason indeed for listing deleted questions in their list of questions (only when they're looking at it). –  T.J. Crowder May 6 '13 at 15:59
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It seems like if you want people to learn and ask better questions, you should let them know if their questions were deleted so they can go back and try and improve. All the current system does is frustrate and confuse low rep people like myself (and I speak from experience) –  JockM May 6 '13 at 17:24
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@Shog9: Perhaps you've never heard of the "many paths" rule of UI design. Not helping new users in the ways we can, including giving them links to their deleted questions, just begs for more bad questions for no good reason. Harm in not letting them find them? They keep repeating mistakes. Harm in letting them find them? ________________ It's not even a hard call. –  T.J. Crowder May 6 '13 at 21:20
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@Shog9: I think you're making the mistake of failing to see just how frustrated and turned off people are if they post a question, then come back and it's just gone. Again, and I can't say this enough: There is no harm in making it possible for them to readily find those questions (for instance, via their profile, or via comment links in their inbox). There is very real and clear harm not doing so. And if you're not bothered about those people, why make the half-change that's been made? It makes no sense. –  T.J. Crowder May 8 '13 at 21:33
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@Shog9: "The change as it stands solves the immediate problem of helping folks who do come back looking for something they've asked, wondering why it was removed" No, it doesn't, except in the edge case where they've bothered to bookmark it. I don't bookmark questions I ask, I expect to be able to navigate there. Again: What. Is. The. Harm. In. Listing. These. For. Them. ?! Why this three-years-and-running obstinance to doing such a simple and obvious thing? Why keep them in the dark? Why actively hide information from them? –  T.J. Crowder May 8 '13 at 21:52
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@Shog - it seems to me the logical solution here is to hide deleted questions by default, but allow users to show them if desired. I have to agree with TJ here, that the harm is virtually zero, and it quite likely could help some people. And I can't imagine this would take much development effort. At all. –  Adam Rackis May 9 '13 at 6:43

I think you should tighten the automatic deletion, using all three bullet points you outlined above, and show people their deleted questions (if they have a link).

I've long thought that automatic deletion could help immensely with this problem if the time frames were shortened, and keeping the deletions out of the user's profile (until they get to 10K rep) would alleviate most of the "whining" that Jeff Atwood so eloquently talks about.

It would also give the mods true "comment and delete" ability, instead of this "almost, but not quite" ability that they have now.

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"comment and delete" ability - do you mean, as in Allow diamond moderators to comment on deleted or locked items feature request? –  gnat Mar 26 '13 at 8:03
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@gnat No, I guess Robert meant posting a comment explaining what's wrong ("This question is aweful. Deleting it.") and then hitting delete. With the OP seeing what the issue was and what happened since they can still view deleted questions. –  slhck Mar 26 '13 at 13:49
    
@slhck you mean, somehow making mod comments reach / notify the targeted user? (as of now, comment notification gets abducted by aliens if commented post is deleted) –  gnat Mar 26 '13 at 13:55
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@gnat Yes, that'd be a solution for this problem, if the user can see the deleted post. –  slhck Mar 26 '13 at 14:02
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Unfortunately, it appears that users still don't get notified when their questions are closed. I think we should at least give users a notification so that they will have a chance to improve their questions before they are deleted. –  Anderson Green Jul 25 '13 at 17:24

If system-assisted early deletion is the tradeoff for removing the early delete votes of 20k users, I can get behind that. I'd probably be most comfortable with the third of your options, although I honestly couldn't find anything as an example worth saving even in your second option's query.

I'm a big fan of the change in closed question wording to emphasize editing questions into shape and better explanations for why questions were closed, but we have to help that out by making sure that questions which could possibly be redeemed live long to have a chance. Removing 20k early deletion votes is one way to keep some of these alive longer, and you can feel safe that bad questions you forget to return to can be caught by the safety net. Really terrible stuff can still be flagged (like it usually is today) and moderators can remove those exceptional cases earlier.

One request I would have is to change the wording on the page people get when visiting a deleted question. Currently, that page reads (to <10k users):

This question was removed from Stack Overflow for reasons of moderation. Please refer to the FAQ for possible explanations why a question might be removed.

This makes it seem like every deleted question was removed by moderators. This question is an example of the kind of misunderstanding that can occur as a result. Now, in that case the ability for someone to see their own deleted question would have prevented that part of the problem. Still, I think the wording here could be improved for other outside visitors (or those who answered a now-deleted question), particularly if the system is going to be deleting more of these for us.

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+1 on revising the removed question text. –  user7116 Mar 26 '13 at 2:39

As a mod, more automatic deleting greatly lessens two of my biggest concerns as a mod:

Getting rid of crap

Having closed, clearly low quality content on the front page is embarrassing. So is having it on the first page of /questions. But when do I manually delete it? A day is too soon. After two days I'm likely to forget. But at the moment, that crap's unlikely to be automatically deleted unless it's answerless, downvoted and closed. Closed I can almost always count on, downvoted, usually, answerless not as often. But the 30 day wait is killer.

Having the community do deletions

This is practically impossible on certain early-mid beta sites or recently graduated sites where there just aren't many users with the delete privilege. I feel like I should let the community make these decisions moreso than me, but it just...doesn't happen. Sometimes it can't happen. But if we don't require high levels of coordination between vanishingly rare top-rep-tier users, this problem goes away.

I'd feel a lot better knowing this junk will, for the most part, handle itself. There's clear paths to keeping the content as well (just edit/fix/reopen/upvote it) so I'm not concerned with the baby being thrown out with the bathwater. At least not a baby no one upvoted, who wants that baby. No one.

Now aside from that, I have one concern: I'm not sure an accepted, unupvoted answer should keep a post around. Off topic questions often get an off topic but correct answer or a "you actually answered my question! I give you this checkmark" accept. Keeping those around doesn't help anyone and it only takes the OP to prevent a deletion. In my opinion, someone else should have to indicate that the answer is useful before we start keeping around the question forever.

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your concern looks reasonable - accepted answers immunity feels indeed slippery to me. As explained in hotness formula post, "accepted answers are a fine social contract, but not a good data point for question or answer quality" - meaning it doesn't really indicate a valuable content. I can imagine this as sort of protection for new users who might need time to get rep for upvote privilege, fine - but even then, I can't see how keeping zero-score, unattended answers is justified for more than, say, a year –  gnat Sep 25 '13 at 15:08

The plan of attack you outline sounds great. I assume the work you have done recently to mark duplicates differently than regular closed questions will factor into the auto-deletion routine, but make sure duplicates closed under the old system get distinctive treatment too :)

The most applicable bit I see for smaller sites is the ability for OP's to see their own questions if they have a link. This is particularly meaningful in that they will get an inbox ping or two with comments from a mod if something is manually deleted. Auto-deletion might be silent and they might not have a link to follow, but if there is something they need to read then they would have the link.

Let that Roomba roll!

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Yeah, I'm ignoring duplicates for this discussion (and in the example queries I wrote) - while some duplicates are worth deleting, that's probably not something that should be done automatically. –  Shog9 Mar 26 '13 at 3:24

I like this. On sites like Physics, the community doesn't participate much in deletions (and we don't have enough active high reps anyway). As a mod, I could do it, but none of us have really felt the need for it. This seems to solve the problem.

However, come to think of it, do we really need to delete the posts? The point is to avoid the broken windows problem. Instead of deleting them (making them unsearchable and unreadable), here's a radical idea:

Just make them hard to get to.

Basically, any 7 day old closed post will be hard to get to unless you specifically search for it. If I search for something, I should get a little link at the top that more or less says "There are 30 old, closed questions that have been excluded from this search. [Include all closed questions]". Such questions should also disappear from all question lists (like the "highest votes" list). This cleanly avoids the broken windows problem. A visitor won't ever come across these, and neither will a regular user unless they explicitly search for it. Deleted questions sometimes have good answers. In other cases there are meta discussions about these. There are many times when I want to see a q on SO, and can't -- because the deletion army got there first. Giving them the silent treatment instead of deleting them avoids such annoyances, while still solving the broken windows problem.

I'm not entirely sure of this; but I'd like to put it out there :)

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Deletion already is the silent treatment with a high rep bar for getting back to them. I think that serves more purpose than sweeping them under the rug. I don't think we really want people being able to dig them up even on Google. If there is good content, then the work should be put in to get them open. –  Caleb Mar 26 '13 at 10:26
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@Caleb: The pages can always be noindex ed. It's just a closed question. Whats wrong with letting others dig them up if they have to? –  Manishearth Mar 26 '13 at 10:29
    
To be clear, I'm not saying that the delete button should be removed. Deletion should still be an option. However, the silent treatment seems like a saner option to me. –  Manishearth Mar 26 '13 at 10:34
    
Just because you hide your broken windows in the back yard instead of the front doesn't change the fact that they are still lying around. What sort of questions are better off for being left to rot in the weeds rather than being taken to the dump or restored into presentability? –  Caleb Mar 26 '13 at 11:53
    
@Caleb: All of them. Other users may try to improve them. There's no "rot" going on here. The other day I needed to see a bunch of closed-then-deleted questions on EE as part of a meta discussion. There is a discussion on a specific question on MSO every day, and more often than not the question is deleted. –  Manishearth Mar 26 '13 at 11:59
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The broken windows thing says "don't leave bad stuff out in the open". We're not. The silent treatment is equivalent to deletion in terms of keeping content hidden. Your argument about rotting in the back yard can be applied to deletion as well (nothing is ever truly deleted). Just that the back yard has higher walls in this case. –  Manishearth Mar 26 '13 at 11:59
    
You're basically describing two forms of deletion, Manishearth - "soft deletion" and "softer deletion". For the vast, vast majority of deleted questions, there's zero value in making them searchable; this would essentially be an archive for those rare exceptions - which is a pretty major change to the system for a tiny, tiny minority of questions. –  Shog9 Mar 26 '13 at 16:37
    
@shog true, which is why i'm unsure of this. However, to me it doesn't seem to be a major change -- it's just as major a change as the roomba. All that needs to be done is tweak the search and add noindex links to headers. There will not be any "softer deleted" state in the database(unlike the roomba which will flip the deleted column on for every post). –  Manishearth Mar 26 '13 at 18:24
    
Deleting closed questions causes problems. In the case of manual deletions, it takes up time, and may lead to hasty deletes. In case of the roomba, we still have a loose ends problem. Also, as Nicol says, "I have a general aversion to any automatic deletion of content". This proposal solves the broken windows problem, and elimimates the need for deletion of closed questions, and any problems that come with it, by replacing an active system with a passive one. –  Manishearth Mar 26 '13 at 18:25
    
Basically, this eliminates the need for our current soft deletion system for closed questions (course, blatant crap can be deleted), and replaces it with a passive system that won't bother anyone andneeds no supervision. In my eyes, that's an improvement :/ –  Manishearth Mar 26 '13 at 18:30
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@Manis: I'm not necessarily the best equipped to comment on this, but... From what I've seen, there are a ton of places in the code where the delete flag is checked in order to determine what to display and what not to. You're talking about adding another check to most/all of them. For, again, the tiny, tiny fraction of deleted posts that anyone actually cares about. Auto-deletion is reasonably simple - the functionality already exists and already accounts for the bulk of deleted questions; there's effectively no special handling for auto-deleted vs. mod-deleted. –  Shog9 Mar 26 '13 at 18:55
    
@shog fair enough. I can't come up with anything more than: question lists, seaech, user page, tag page, but that's just me :s –  Manishearth Mar 26 '13 at 19:05
    
I think Nicol's suggestion to hide closed posts in some of these scenarios would make more sense and cause considerably less confusion. As soon as there's another status, there needs to be some sort of indicator for it, and then we need to decide whether or not they make sense to show in related lists, auto-tweeted posts, feeds/newsletters/multicollider/anythingAPI, data dumps, 10k tools, review... I mean, think about it: most of the site is either displaying questions, or displaying links to questions. –  Shog9 Mar 26 '13 at 19:19
    
@shog ... My suggestion is also to hide closed questions from certain areas of the site. The only difference is that I'm talking of 7d old posts, he's talking about all closed post; I'm talking about hiding it from search and certain question lists, he's only talking about the main page. –  Manishearth Mar 26 '13 at 19:57
    
Yeah, but again: how many of these questions shouldn't just be deleted? You can already filter out closed questions from search results if you need to; I don't know that delisting them by default is a great idea - particularly if we're cleaning up the worst of them reasonably quickly. Re-reading your answer here, I'm still not really clear on what you're trying to accomplish - if it's hiding questions that are just noise, well... We should just delete them. If it's hiding questions that have some value but aren't generally acceptable for some reason, then: when/where are they acceptable? –  Shog9 Mar 26 '13 at 21:18

I'm not a big fan of automatic deletions because there's no oversight, and no warning to the user that their post went missing.

But if you did increase the automatic deletion window to items older than 7 days instead of 30, I'd like to see the posts be:

  • closed
    • as something other than duplicate
    • over 7 days ago so the user has time to see the closure reason
  • no answers
    • something answered is much more likely to have the OP coming back to the post to re-read the answer
    • the answerer may come looking for their answer so they can copy parts of it into another answer (I do this all the time)
  • no upvotes
    • if a post got rep, users are likely to come looking on meta for their missing rep when the post gets deleted, thus increasing moderator workload instead of decreasing it
  • no reopen votes in the past 14 or 30 days
    • if someone made an attempt to reopen something, it was probably valuable to them in some way, so give the post a larger window of to stay visible before deleting it
  • no activity for at least a week
    • no one is trying to fix or reopen the post

The whole point of automatic deletions is to reduce the moderator workload, and it wouldn't make sense to have the process trigger a lot of "Where did my question/reputation/answer go" posts appearing on meta as a result of the change. You want to be sure you only get rid of posts that are no longer useful to both the community and the OP.

With that said, there are many posts which are not useful to the community and could probably be deleted, but that are useful to the OP (mostly localized posts). If you had some way for the OP to see their deleted posts from either their profile or from some non-publicized url path, then I would be much more in favor of looser automatic deletion requirements.

I've personally had multiple occasions where I've gone to look for an answer I got in the past, only to discover I'm unable to find the post in my profile anywhere because it's been deleted. Sure the question wasn't useful to the community and I could understand the deletion, but the answers that were posted were still very useful to me.

And last of all, on your point of

Restrict quick deletions on anything asked "in good faith"

Here's my problem with that: not every user sees a post the same way.

  • One person's version of "spam" may be another person's version of "answering questions", particularly when someone is trying to publicize their personal blog.

  • One person's version of "gibberish" may just be another non-english speaker's version of "trying to get answers"

  • One person's version of "rant" is another person's version of "asking a question"

In all cases, deleting content as soon as it's closed does not teach the user anything.

You have a whole army of community users who are happy to help out with site maintenance, however most of the time they are looking at recently active posts, and not older posts that have been closed for a bit.

If you provided this large group of users with a way to say "delete this post in X days unless it gets significantly edited or reopened", then you will have many more users stepping up to help out with site maintenance, thus reducing the moderator workload.

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  • Closed, no answers, and no activity for at least a week (32K)
  • Closed, no up-voted/accepted answers and no pending reopen votes (61K)
  • Closed, no upvoted or accepted answers, scoring <= 0, no reopen votes, no edits since closed (48K)

I have a general aversion to any automatic deletion of content. That is, actual information that could be useful to someone. So if a closed question does have an answer, I think a human being needs to be involved in deciding whether it should go away.

Perhaps we should have tiers. The first tier is what you mention first: no answers, no activity for a week, and closed; such posts are a priori contentless (also, not closed as duplicates). The second tier is the second thing you mentioned, and it kicks in after, say, 3 weeks of inactivity with no pending reopen votes (ie: the answer(s) were never accepted or upvoted).

That should cover most of the cases, while still making sure that someone has given some minimal review to the utility of the content. That is, people saw it and didn't upvote anything.


We may want to consider not showing closed questions on the main page, unless they have been edited since they were closed. That will at least deal with the issue of "broken windows" on the main page.


If we allow users to see their deleted questions, we also need to make sure that users are informed that their question was deleted via an inbox message. Otherwise, how would they get such a link?

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Moderators can ensure that users do get notified by leaving a comment prior to deletion. It might be worth expanding this functionality to comments from other users in some situations, but I don't think pinging someone about a question they've ignored for >= 1 week is going to help. I think making closed questions slightly less visible could be reasonable - not sure if the front page is that important, but tag pages and /questions might benefit. –  Shog9 Mar 26 '13 at 16:20
    
@Shog9: "I don't think pinging someone about a question they've ignored for >= 1 week is going to help." That would only be true if they never come back. Is automatically dropping them a note something that expensive that it needs to be avoided? People should know when they've had actions taken against their content. Even if it takes them a month or two to come back; if they drop in with a new question, they should see that their old one was rejected so that they don't do it again. –  Nicol Bolas Mar 26 '13 at 16:45
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That's a more specific scenario, and I think makes for a better action item... Why not warn folks who go to post a question if their previous question(s) have been poorly-received? Forget deletion - if UserX's previous question was closed or heavily down-voted, give him a little reminder when he hits /questions/ask to the tune of, "Your previous question, 'How do I shave my dog as a programmer?', was closed - please review it for guidance on avoiding such problems this time around." –  Shog9 Mar 26 '13 at 17:00
    
One way to get such links would be to add a new "Deleted" tab that appears only if the user has deleted (or recently deleted) questions. (Maybe it could also appear for users who posted answers to deleted questions to give them a chance to go in and salvage their content for possible later reuse.) Yes, it entails a mod of the user interface, but IMHO, it would improve things with regard to deleted questions. –  RobH Mar 26 '13 at 17:16
    
I have to be honest, I'm not overly concerned about the ability of folks to find this stuff right now; in general, if they forget it exists that's just as well. In specific scenarios, it might be useful to give them a link - otherwise, it's more important that folks who still have a link are able to find out what happened. @RobH –  Shog9 Mar 26 '13 at 17:25

I really love the idea that the early deletion for 20k users can only apply to certain topics like

  • Spam
  • Hate-Speech
  • ...

Kill that stuff immediately. (That is what early delete votes are for IMHO)

But what shall be done with the other posts?
Currently the early delete votes are used on VLQ so they don't have to come back 2 days later.

So I suggest, that you can vote to delete, but this vote will take effect until the 2 days are over.
In this time the OP or some other person can try to salvage the question.

So what should happen with with the votes before the question was edited

  1. Discard the old votes?
  2. Keep it and hope some people vote for reopen, do not delete?

I prefer the 2. way because this won't lead the OP from editing his question with please don't delete it.

So I suggest that you have to give a reason (multiple choice) to do a early deletion vote.
If the reason is not good enough for the early deletion, count it as "delete it later".

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Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!

It's very dangerous to get into more auto-deleting. For now I'd just ask to please make sure and exclude Closed As Duplicates; let the stubs hangout and help searches.

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I'll probably add more to this as I think on it. –  Lance Roberts Mar 25 '13 at 23:08
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Couldn't disagree more. –  Robert Harvey Mar 25 '13 at 23:08
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did you happen to look at as any of the queries I linked? –  Shog9 Mar 26 '13 at 1:23
    
@Shog9, I hadn't before, thanks for thinking of this upfront. –  Lance Roberts Mar 26 '13 at 4:18
    
The world is full of clear and present dangers. Sometimes the benefits outweigh the risks and action is called for. The risks can also be mitigated. There are also dangers in not acting. Are you sure you're not crying wolf before the wolf shows up -- perhaps even before you determine if they live in this forrest? –  Caleb Mar 26 '13 at 11:50
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@Caleb, it's just a warning. We've had huge problems with deletions in the past. –  Lance Roberts Mar 26 '13 at 13:11
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The problem is that they tend to clog searches, pushing away the legit results. General Reference questions create low-quality dead ends for Googlers –  Pëkka Mar 26 '13 at 13:53
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Not sure why people vote to delete because they disagree, but they definitely highlight the problem we have with deletions on these sites, Improper Usage. –  Lance Roberts Mar 27 '13 at 18:27

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