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I often help beginners, which means that I am offering bits of advice (say, on how to break a problem into manageable, searchable pieces) on questions that end up being downvoted. This tends to result in the OP, horrified at losing a few points, deleting the question whilst I am preparing a comment or an answer. Thus, the gamification system discourages low-rep users from getting good answers and wastes the effort of people who have commented or who are in the process of answering.

Refreshing a deleted question, of course, brings up this message:

This question was voluntarily removed by its author.

This contains no way to offer the user the prepared advice (which, because of previous wasted efforts, I copy to clipboard before submitting). My strategy to mitigate this is to put Firefox into offline mode, click on the back button to see the questions list prior to the deletion, get back into online mode and click on the user's profile. From there, if they have other questions, I compress my offering into a comment and offer it there, if only so it is not wasted.

A better way to deal with this would be to show the user's handle on the deletion page, either for a preset duration (a day perhaps) or only for the session for users who had previously seen the question. This will make it easier to get in touch with the OP and ensure that the effort is not as wasted as it would otherwise be.

One could argue that the user's deletion shows that they are not bothered about being helped; that is undoubtedly true in some cases, but I'd suggest that we're also seeing a minor downside to gamification. In other words, the user's psychology has encouraged them to strenuously avoid losing imaginary internet currency even though getting an answer to their question should be more important to them.

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Since there is not native way to contact users, this is moot, isn't it? – juan Jun 24 '13 at 19:42
Earn another 4.5k rep and you can see deleted posts. – juergen d Jun 24 '13 at 19:42
@juergend - that's fine for me, I'll get there one day! But I am asking on behalf of all <10K users who might be frustrated with this problem. I can't be the only person to have been annoyed by this :-). – halfer Jun 24 '13 at 19:44
@halfer, your effort is not necessarily wasted, but it may be a waste to post it under a question so bad it was deleted. Instead, you have two alternatives: either wait for the question to be asked again in a better form and post your original answer (benefits: instant answer), or possibly post a better question yourself and self-answer it (if you think both the question and the answer are useful enough to the community). – Frédéric Hamidi Jun 24 '13 at 19:46
@jmfsg - I agree that commenting on the wrong question is non-ideal. But, having prepared some help, I take the view that it is better to offer it and feel that the effort has not gone to waste, even if it is in the "wrong" place. (Private messaging on the site would help here, but afair that's not going to be implemented, which is fair enough). – halfer Jun 24 '13 at 19:48
I agree with the problem, but not with the solution. Possibly allowing direct communication is the way forward – Richard Tingle Jun 24 '13 at 21:27

From there, if they have other questions, I compress my offering into a comment and offer it there, if only so it is not wasted.

This strikes me as an undesired behavior. Such a comment would be noise for all future viewers of that question- they weren't looking for a comment saying "By the way, on your other deleted question..." And unlike an answer to a question, it wouldn't be useful to any future viewers, since they wouldn't know how or where to find it.

The other alternative is to hunt for contact information in his profile, which also seems like a negative behavior. If he's deleted the question, it's a safe bet he doesn't want to be contacted about it.

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Thanks for your reply. However my final paragraph was essentially a rebuttal of your thesis - the idea that, having deleted the question, the user no longer wishes to know the answer or be contacted in relation to it. My point was that gamification has encouraged the deletion of the question despite their still wanting to know the answer. This happened just now in the last half hour, to which the OP in question responded: "Hey, Thanks for the help. I wasn't sure how to ask the question [continues]". I'm sure I could dig out many more examples from my archives :). – halfer Jun 24 '13 at 19:53
@halfer: I took a look at that question (hope you don't mind that I linked it here). I think the exchange isn't worth generating five off-topic comments on a question from last November- the purpose of commenting is to ask or provide clarification. I can't see the original question without a direct link, but from context it sounds like the kind that isn't worth answering- in other words, we answer at our own risk. – David Robinson Jun 24 '13 at 19:59
@halfer: I'm not saying you did anything wrong in commenting to him: just that we don't want a feature that implies "The user deleted his own question, but if you still want to respond, here's a link to go find one of his old questions!" – David Robinson Jun 24 '13 at 20:01
It's fine to link, no probs. I'll probably delete the stray comments, once the user has seen them and any conversation has been had. You may be right that spending time is "at own risk" - I guess the purpose of this meta question is to explore if there's anything that can be done. If the answer is "no", then fair enough. – halfer Jun 24 '13 at 20:06
Ah yes, agreed - I don't think the UI should actively encourage commenting on the wrong question. It would be better to offer a private messaging system, but as I mentioned above, that's been rejected here, and it would be a big system tackling a small problem! – halfer Jun 24 '13 at 20:08
(The dead question is here, for interest). Yup, it's NARQ. – halfer Jun 24 '13 at 20:10

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