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It seems that in the past year or two, the StackOverflow community has become too eager to downvote or vote to close a question that is not phrased perfectly at first. This tendency scares off a lot of people who may become valuable members of the community, and actively interferes with attempts to actually improve or answer a question.

Here's an example of one such question that I've seen recently (deleted by the author out of embarrassment over the downvotes, so only users with sufficient reputation will be able to see this example). It's a question that's reasonably clear; he's asking how to determine a file size using the draft web FileSystem API. He demonstrates what he's tried in the comment (fileEntry.size does not work as you might expect). And yet he got a rash of people telling him to Google it (which doesn't provide very good results), asking what he's tried (he demonstrated exactly what he tried, fileEntry.size, which doesn't work), read a blog entry that doesn't mention how to get the file size, downvoting him, and voting to close. His phrasing could have been a little bit better, he could have expanded on the question a little, but no one really gave him the time to do that.

In the meantime, I was doing some research and experimentation. The spec isn't the most clear, but I was able to figure out how to do it, and provide an answer. However, presumably because he didn't want to get more downvotes, he deleted the question. Now he's had a bad experience at StackOverflow, and my time has been wasted since no one else will now be able to find this answer via Google.

This isn't the only example of this happening, just the most recent. Sometimes, with questions that aren't perfect from the start, I find myself having to race against the close-voters to actually answer it or ask the right questions to get the questioner to be able to clarify properly. I feel that the community is being hurt by this; on a site where we're supposed to be helping people, we're just pushing them away.

Now, I understand frustration with people who just don't get it, and wanting them to just go away. But being too quick to downvote or close can be quite harmful. What can we do as a community to be more welcoming and more willing to help people improve questions that are almost, but not quite up to standards, rather than scaring them off?

I'll note that I've also seen many people on other forums (Hacker News, for instance) tell me that they avoid StackOverflow because of this over-aggressive attitude towards closing. For an example, see this recent thread, where lots of people, including people who have decently high reputation and so are not clueless newbies, indicate that they have been off-put by this behavior.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by slugster, Emrakul, Hugo Dozois, hims056, Martijn Pieters Nov 21 '13 at 8:13

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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I agree that the question might not be so bad as to deserve that many downvotes (I just voted to undelete), but the poster indeed showed no research effort (other than posting a commented out line of code with '???'. It would have helped the poster to have mentioned trying to research it ("I've done searches at Google and here at SO, and read the documentation at ..., and can't find any information." at least would have demonstrated a minimal effort). –  Ken White Nov 21 '13 at 0:00
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The thing is it's so difficult to tell the wheat from the chaff and there's 7,000 new questions daily, most of them chaff. The example looks awfully like a clueless "how to xyz" question. That's very unfortunate for the OP who likely isn't a native English speaker... it's not fair, but the onus here really is on the asker to be more verbose (at least a "I tried this and it did not work", instead of just a code block). I realize this sucks for many new users, I see incidents on a daily basis where I think "boy, this user isn't going to like SO, that's a shame".... –  Pëkka Nov 21 '13 at 0:00
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... but the solution must be something different from just "going easy" because that would mean the place drowning in crap. (More than it already does.) –  Pëkka Nov 21 '13 at 0:02
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@KenWhite Do people asking questions really need to write down every piece of research they've done before asking a question? I generally consider it obvious that I've tried Googling the question before asking. Now, commenting "have you tried Google" makes sense if you have tried Google and found the answer in the top couple of results; but that's not the case here, it's actually a little more involved to figure out the answer. I would prefer to encourage brevity than someone listing every possible obvious step, like Googling, that they've already done. –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 0:03
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@BrianCampbell: Of course not, and that's not what I said. "A minimal effort" is a far cry from "write down every piece of research". They should state some effort, not just say "How do I...?" and post a block of code that clearly doesn't work (three lines with one commented out and '???`). The question was the equivalent of a homework question (minus the details of the assignment given), and that isn't the type of question we want to encourage at SO, IMO. And I don't assume they've Googled the question, because I've seen more than my share of questions that clearly show they didn't. –  Ken White Nov 21 '13 at 0:11
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Also I agree @Brian that a question that has been downvoted and closed mostly has no realistic chance of being rehabilitated. That is an aspect of the system that is really demotivating for new users. Not sure whether the reopen queue has changed that in any serious way but from my experience it still is true more often than not. Also a preexisting -1 on a question makes me psychologically more ready to pull the trigger myself, and I'm sure I'm not the only one –  Pëkka Nov 21 '13 at 0:16
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@Brian: I voted to close (without comment) a question a while ago (can't find a link) that said "I need a Calendar class. Heres what I have so far: class Calendar { // What do I write here??? };. How is that beneficial to leave open? Do you really expect the poster to improve it if I comment? Trying to be supportive is great, and I'm all for it, but SO is not a "hold my hand and teach me" site. This site "drowning in crap" is exactly what happens when most of these types of questions are left open. –  Ken White Nov 21 '13 at 0:19
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@KenWhite That's a very dangerous attitude for a community to adopt. There's a reason that one of Wikipedia's main guidelines is to assume good faith. I've seen plenty of bad questions where not enough research has been put in. But if you take that attitude, of assuming someone is not asking the question in good faith, you can be too hasty in your judgement. That makes people feel attacked unfairly. I'm bringing this up since I feel that the StackOverflow community is going in exactly the wrong direction; assuming lack of good faith. –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 0:21
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@Brian: I just read this question. What constructive comment should I leave there, and how long do I wait for the poster to improve it before voting to close it ? –  Ken White Nov 21 '13 at 0:36
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In my opinion this is a side affect of the close vote queue serving up questions so quickly. Once the first close vote occurred the question was pushed to the very front of the close vote queue. What ensued was a wave of people furiously trying to work through nearly 100,000 close votes. As a result, the question was taken down. I don't think this is culture, I think it is a rough byproduct of a broken feature. –  Travis J Nov 21 '13 at 0:39
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@KenWhite - Showing effort doesn't really contribute to the long term value of the question though. Here's an example with 2,000 upvotes and no effort shown. As long as the meaning of the question is clear then I don't subscribe to the notion that every question must demonstrate it. –  Martin Smith Nov 21 '13 at 0:41
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@KenWhite Yeah, that comment that you made is good! I appreciate that you took the time to do that. That is exactly what I'm talking about; that question absolutely should be closed, but people shouldn't just be left mystified as to why. –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 0:42
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@Martin: There's no value added of having a lot of low-effort, no searchable content questions here. A decent description of the problem and some description of effort in trying to solve it provides more value IMO. The post in question was a sentence of about 10 words and a code block of three lines (one commented out). Find useful information that will be meaningful in a search here from that content. –  Ken White Nov 21 '13 at 0:48
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I think that most people treat downvoting and closing as kind of coming together. It shouldn't be the case and each of these actions should be ruled by separate logic. –  sashkello Nov 21 '13 at 1:19
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people in that HN thread complained about Googling for something and finding the answer on a question that's closed that's very likely to be the product of a different discussion, though - the closing of popular but off-topic questions long after the fact. Which many people vocally hate, both outside and on Stack Overflow –  Pëkka Nov 21 '13 at 1:20

6 Answers 6

Your question does not make sense. Here is why: needs some work and should be closed are the same thing. Sure, it would be great if people would edit questions themselves when they aren't clear, adding in things the OP put in the comments and so on, but there's no obligation to do so: if a question needs so much work it can't be answered in its current state, it should be closed. If a question can be understood, but is lacking in some way, it should be downvoted. Period.

You think they should get some time to fix up their question? That's exactly what on hold is. FIVE DAYS in which the question will not be deleted. They or others can edit it. If they edit it, it will automatically be nominated for re-opening. But you want on top of that some other grace period in which people see something that should be closed (so it can be corrected) but don't vote to close it? In fact, can't vote to close it? What would be the point of that?

If you want to edit these things into shape more power to you. And if you want to write nice comments explaining to people how they can edit their own questions into shape that's even better. The close voters, meanwhile, are providing the motivation those posters need to do (or provide information for) those edits. Because as long as you're open, you might get an answer without improving your question. And that's a path that does not lead to improved questions; it leads to "I've got mine" people who never think about the question again once they got their answer. Since questions and their answers are as much for the searchers as those who wrote them, this is a bad thing.

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You're right that people use closing as a way to indicate "needs more work". The problem is, closing a questions generally completely shuts it down; reopening is quite rare unless the question was already popular for some reason. –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 1:31
    
While the theory is that being on hold means that it should be improved, in reality people see it as a slap in the face and just go away or delete their own question (as, for example, happened with the question that I asked about in this post). In the meantime, I have on several occasions spent the time to actually answer the question (because despite the fact that it's not perfect, it is actually possible to understand if you think about it), and now I'm prevented from answering it until enough people vote to reopen it. –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 1:31
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Some people use close that way? You mean like some people use whiteboard erasers to remove whiteboard marker marks from whiteboards? Or some people use cars to move 1-4 people at up to 100 km/hr? I suppose some people do. Your point seems to be that some people think being put on hold means something other than being put on hold, and therefore we should let people add (possibly wildly wrong) answers to questions that aren't clear enough to answer, so that the tide of millions of askers doesn't shrink to a tide of hundreds of thousands of askers. Me, I think we should keep putting those on hold –  Kate Gregory Nov 21 '13 at 1:38
    
So, the "on hold" vs. "closed" distinction is a new one, and I don't know exactly how it works. I actually think that letting people answer wildly is fine; if someone asks a vague question, which could be one of three possible questions, then having people give three different answers, and letting the person asking choose the one they meant, is perfectly fine; at that point, people can edit the question to be more specific. Due to the limitations of comments, it can be really hard to provide all of the information necessary to help someone improve their question in the comments alone. –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 1:51
    
One problem is that closing is used for so many different purposes (saying it's off topic, saying it demonstrates no knowledge of the topic at hand, saying it's too vague, and so on). Some of these may indicate that it should be improved, while some of them indicate that the question is simply not appropriate for SO at all. –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 1:52
    
It may be better to have a different mechanism for "needs improvement" than for "this question is completely off topic". –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 1:53
    
Thinking about it a little bit more, we have a fairly confusing system at the moment, both for newcomers and experienced users like me. We have downvotes, which indicate that a question is poor quality (generically, without giving a reason). We have closing, which can indicate one of several things: it's off topic (and maybe can be migrated to another site, though a lot of times it can't be migrated to the appropriate site like Unix and Linux). It's not a question. It's unclear, or too broad. It's a duplicate. It's not a good fit for a StackExchange based site. And once closed, you can delete. –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 2:22
    
It's not really clear when you should close vs. downvote a question, other than more people have the right to downvote, so you frequently get both (even if, say, the question is a perfectly fine question for a different site). And while some of those close reasons indicate that the questions really just isn't appropriate, some of them are indications "this question needs improvement". But since they both have the same effect (stopping people from answering), and show up the same, they really feel the same to someone who isn't familiar to the site. –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 2:25
    
So perhaps part of the solution is to separate out the "needs improvement" from "not appropriate" close reasons, more than they are now. I still contend that too many people are downvoting and voting to close, but I think it would make a substantial improvement if there were some indication that a closure was a "this needs improvement" not "this is inappropriate". –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 2:27

Edit:

in response to the point by point arguments you've detailed in the comments, it's clear that the problem is that you are annoyed the community didn't share the same collective conscious as what you do.

To be crystal clear: just because a question "needs some work" that doesn't excuse it from the community's judgement. IOW, there is no reason why it can't be down or close voted - the onus is on the owner or the community to fix the question. That also means you. Did you take the time to fix the question?

Note that this is not a new "problem", there have been many steps taken in the past to alleviate it. Posting a new discussion question about it and leaving a prolific amount of comments is going to do little to "solve" it. All we have so far is that the problem hasn't got worse, you've got no suggestions on how to fix it, so this question isn't particularly productive (except it may help you vent and make you feel a little bit better).


You have an absolutely valid observation. However I'd like to point out a couple of things:

  • just because you understand (and can answer) the question that doesn't mean it should stay open. Through whatever circumstance it's still a terrible question that needs to be worked over.

  • while what happened is frustrating, you can't (and shouldn't try to) beat the community. A jury of your peers acted on what they saw, and the owner wasn't inclined to bring the question up to standard. Don't blame the jury, blame the owner of the question - they couldn't be bothered doing what was necessary.

  • your problem is not that the question collected down votes, but that it was deleted. You'll have to get used to this - you can submit a fantastic answer but there can be a bunch of reasons why it ends up goneburger.

  • you can't stop a user from deleting their own question. It can still be retrieved, but you'll need to rely on the community to support your viewpoint that it's worthy of it (the question would still need to be fixed). Moderators can also undelete but I don't know if any of the moderators would do so it if it was deleted by the owner - you would have to have an incredibly compelling reason and most likely the question would have to be disassociated from the user (that's a big hill to climb).

If the value in your answer is truly good enough that it shouldn't be lost, then consider recreating the question and then self answering it.

I'll note that I've also seen many people on other forums ... tell me that they avoid StackOverflow because of this over-aggressive attitude towards closing.

That's a shame, but the site cannot be all things to all people. The standards are there for a reason - this is a big site that generates a lot of traffic, it would quickly lose relevancy and accuracy (and therefore value) if there were no standards applied.

To be quite brutally honest, the most valuable resource on the site is not the people who ask the questions, it's the people who provide good answers. Questions are easy, answers are hard. Many of the good answerers are busy professional people with a level of expertise that demands a good dollar rate per hour. If you start allowing crap questions then you will quickly lose these people, (to put it diplomatically) the site will degenerate to the point where you only have non-experts answering the questions of other non-experts.

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"just because you understand (and can answer) the question that doesn't mean it should stay open." So, there are several reasons why answerable questions should be closed (they are homework, they belong on another site, etc). But some questions are closed for reasons that boil down to "they aren't answerable in the current form". However, if I am able to provide an answer, that indicates that they are, in fact, answerable. I've seen many cases (not just this one) of people claiming that a question is not answerable and then been able to answer it. –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 0:30
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"while what happened is frustrating, you can't (and shouldn't try to) beat the community. A jury of your peers acted on what they saw, and the owner wasn't inclined to bring the question up to standard." Sorry, I just don't buy this. This isn't a jury; this is a bunch of people who, in many cases, don't really know what they're doing downvoting on a website. I've seen this happen a lot more since the introduction of the review queue and extra encouragement to vote on questions; it leads to people who aren't really familiar with the topic at hand voting to close questions for some extra points. –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 0:31
    
A jury is deliberative; they get evidence presented from both sides, and are able to debate among themselves. Close votes and downvotes come from whoever happens to get peeved about some minor problem with a question. Since there's no way to vote against close before a question is closed, and reopening a question is much harder, I feel like the system is weighted fairly heavily in that direction. –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 0:33
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"You'll have to get used to this - you can submit a fantastic answer but there can be a bunch of reasons why it ends up goneburger." Please try to be less dismissive. I've been involved on StackOverflow for a long time, I know how it works. I feel like it's become less friendly in the last few years, and am trying, by posting this, to see if I can change that. I recognize that questions are deleted sometimes, and I don't have any problem with it in general, but coupled with the other problems described here, I thought it was worth pointing out that the effect was also to waste my time. –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 0:37
    
"That's a shame, but the site cannot be all things to all people." I don't want it to be. You'll note that I'm not coming here trying to ask that it's more accepting of open-ended questions, or anything of the sort. What I'm taking issue with is that the unfriendliness is off-putting to people, even for valid questions that just need a little fixup. –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 0:45
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"Questions are easy, answers are hard. Many of the good answerers are busy professional people with a level of expertise that demands a good dollar rate per hour. If you start allowing crap questions then you will quickly lose these people, (to put it diplomatically) the site will degenerate to the point where you only have non-experts answering the questions of other non-experts." As someone with 82k rep through nearly 1000 answers, I know what it takes to answer questions here. The unfriendliness is being off-putting to me, and if it doesn't improve, may lose me and more people like me. –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 0:48
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Some people who ask questions and avoid the site due to the unfriendliness may be people who could become valuable contributors answering questions if they are not pushed away. I started out here by asking a question, and stuck around because I got a helpful answer that taught me something about Ruby. I didn't ask a perfect question (the code isn't runnable as-is), and if I had gotten the kind of abuse that many new people get, I wouldn't have come back. –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 0:53
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@BrianCampbell Your first question showed example code, an error message, and gave version information along with a clear explanation of the problem. It's hard to compare that to the question you linked above in any meaningful way. –  Geobits Nov 21 '13 at 0:56
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@Geobits Sure, and I'm a native English speaker who has plenty of experience with online forums, and have been put off contributing to other forums in the past because I asked questions not quite perfectly and had people make fun of me for it. There's a reason that I avoid many technical IRC channels; when I've asked questions in the past, about things where I didn't know exactly what information to provide, I had people make fun of me rather than explaining to me how to ask my question better. –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 1:23
    
This really is not a theoretical issue for me; I've been quite hurt by this kind of behavior before, and there are places that I avoid because of it. When I first started contributing to SO, I found that it was a welcoming place, a nice change from earlier forums and IRC channels and the like. As time goes on, I'm seeing the kind of bad behavior that caused me to avoid those places coming up on SO. People are just defensively shutting people down rather than trying to help them learn how to ask good questions. –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 1:26
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@BrianCampbell I feel voting to close is not the same as making fun of someone, but that's just me. While I have seen some of the latter at SO, those comments tend to get flagged/deleted pretty quickly. –  Geobits Nov 21 '13 at 1:26
    
"it's clear that the problem is that you are annoyed the community didn't share the same collective conscious as what you do." Yes, I am. I feel that the community has lost its way, become unfriendly and in many cases unhelpful, and is going to lose a lot of valuable contributors due to that. I am posting this in the hope of pointing out what I think it bad behavior on the part of the community, and to ask if anyone has suggestions for how to fix it. It seems that your opinion is "nope, that's not bad behavior", and that I shouldn't complain about what I think is bad behavior. –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 1:38
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@BrianCampbell I can understand that you're upset/annoyed by what happened, but the truth is that there is only so much you can do to fix the "nice to newbies / non techs / non native English speakers" problem. While it can be intimidating, I would suggest that its actually good to have this apparent entry barrier. I'd also suggest that you're experiencing the same disillusionment that a lot of experienced users have struck at some time - there's no real fix for that except a holiday. –  slugster Nov 21 '13 at 1:53
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By giving lots of encouragement to nitpick slightly poor questions (review queue, badges for voting on questions, and the overall community attitude that we need to protect the site from hordes of unwashed masses), I feel like the site has started to become systematically unfriendly. And it's really discouraging that the response I'm getting isn't "huh, yeah, it has gotten kind of unfriendly around here, I wonder what we can do about that", but "no, you're wrong, we need to close these questions and set an example of people". –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 2:08
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@Brian you have a point there, and I agree there's dumb voting going on and blind adherence to a code that looks bureaucratic to those not entrenched in SO's rules. Still, look at the size of this whole thing (5 million questions now! 7,000+ new every day) and consider that the "unwashed masses" are a painful reality - in some tags more than others. –  Pëkka Nov 21 '13 at 5:39

While you may have a point about some questions, it's exactly as you say, what can we do to be more welcoming/friendly/less-scary?

From what I can see, there are a handful of options, but I don't see any of them as "good":

  • Tell people to be nicer : I can't see how this could possibly work, but it seems to be the general consensus from some that we should be nicer as a community. Without completely undoing the user-governed aspect of SO that makes it what it is, how can we do that? People suck, especially on the internet. Even if we outlined some key aspects to look for to spot a borderline question, how could you enforce it?

  • Discourage close-voting : Whether it's by limiting votes/day, weighting votes by user history, or anything else, the outcome I expect for this is that we get less closed questions overall. That means both the truly bad and the borderline get closed less, and we "drown in bad questions"

  • Discourage downvoting : The most straightforward way to do this is to make downvoting a question come with a rep hit like it does for answers. I swear I've seen a post around here about that, and the consensus was that it made truly bad questions less visible to those who could close, and more bad ones would remain open.

  • Change the privilege level : The most immediate effect would be less voters in general, which could be bad for reasons already mentioned. Second, if 3k isn't the right level, what it? At any given level, there are going to be people who have different opinions on a question.

From what I've seen, the mods do care about this, and have tried to address it. For example, the new close reasons seem much less "scary" and vague than the old ones did, and they even changed the wording from [closed] to [on hold] in an attempt to be friendlier. The dialogs tell the OP in fairly clear terms (IMO) what's wrong with the post.

I will agree that voting is skewed in favor of closing over opening, but I think that's a good thing in general. Yes, some questions do get hammered unjustly, but it's better than the other way around.

Of course, the SO-approved way to fix this problem is to edit it to be a better question. Instead of racing the voters to answer it, why not just edit it into something meaningful? If the OP doesn't want to fix it, and neither does anyone else, why should it stay open?

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"Tell people to be nicer" that's part of what I'm doing with this post; at least a few people who frequent meta.so will see it. Maybe someone can write a blog post that will get wider visibility as well. "Discourage close-voting/Discourage downvoting" I would actually favor this, though maybe doing so by discouraging them only via the review queue (I feel that lots of people make hastier close and downvote decisions via the review queue than via question they see naturally via the front page). –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 1:10
    
I'm not actually convinced that doing things to discourage close and downvotes would increase the noise. New users ask bad questions all the time, and the close votes and downvotes generally come too late to have prevented anything other than someone actually improving the question. Better to let bad questions just fade into oblivion; there's plenty of traffic so if no one answers a question, it will fall off the front page quickly enough. –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 1:11
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Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't low-voted closed questions get auto-deleted after a time? If they weren't being closed, those bad questions would stick around, unanswered. That reduces the answer/question ratio, clogs search with unanswered questions, etc. That's the definition of noise in my book. –  Geobits Nov 21 '13 at 1:13
    
"Change the privilege level" Yeah, I don't know if this would really help. Not actively encouraging people who don't know the topic in question to close a question would help; the review queue gives you questions that you know nothing about to review, and so if you don't know that topic, what you think may be a bad question may actually be perfectly answerable for people who do know the topic. –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 1:16
    
I didn't say "tell people to be nicer" is necessarily a bad idea, I'm just not sure it will have any effect. –  Geobits Nov 21 '13 at 1:16
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@BrianCampbell Discouraging down or close voting is not the answer, and piping more questions through a review queue will not necessarily improve them. This is not a new problem and you've suggested no solutions. Due to that your question has become more of a rant than a productive discussion. –  slugster Nov 21 '13 at 1:16
    
@BrianCampbell The queue only gives you questions you know nothing about if you don't use the filters available. When I do queue, I filter. Increased visibility to it might help new reviewers, but that's about the only option I see there. Is there any evidence, though, that the queue is the problem? Besides anecdotal "we were nicer yesteryear" comments, I haven't seen any(other than the obvious robo-review problem, which is not exactly the same). –  Geobits Nov 21 '13 at 1:20
    
@Geobits Ah, filters is a new feature since the last time I looked at the review queue. I haven't touched it in a while since it never seemed like a good idea to me to have people reviewing things they knew nothing about. I feel like filters should be automatic based on your normal question filters; what you have set your question filters to is generally what you are interested in and knowledgeable about. My only real evidence is that I had to fight less against what I found to be over-zealous downvoting and close votes before the review queue was implemented. –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 2:40

Every now and then I read these Meta-Posts about that whe should be nicer to new users, and we should guide each one of them until they understand how the system works.

You know what? I completely disagree with these suggestions.

I never had the problem that my first questions were not "good" enough, that they were downvoted or closed very fast. The help center (formarly known as FAQ) is very clear about how asking a question works, and you just need to view some questions to see which are acceptable and which are not.

It's not that hard. Once someone has written a question, s/he just has to read it once again and check:

  • Is the question clear?
  • Does it include example code?
  • Did I show my research effort?

That's it. As easy as that.

If someone did not read the rules, and therefore wrote a question that will be put "On hold" (not even closed!) - why should we manually explain the rules to that user?

By the way, I have written a proposal some time ago with an idea how to "force" new users more to really show research effort.

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If it is a bad question - Close it. If it is a mediocre question, help the author. Those "be nice to users" discussions are about the latter. This is a community website for people, and people need encouragement and words of motivation to improve themselves. What about an 8-year old who is just starting? You expect her questions to be of high quality? Should she feel bad about getting a question down-voted or closed? Do you not feel good when you gain reputation? What about a 40 year old who is changing jobs to make ends meet? Like it or not, there is a human aspect to SO. –  Domi Nov 28 '13 at 9:58
    
@Domi You must be 13 to participate on the Stack Exchange network. If someone is clever enough at that age to do some programming, we can expect some minimum quality of the question. I agree that we should be nice to users, and improving a medicore question is a good thing. What is about that 40 year old guy? He does not need to follow the rules because...? –  Uooo Nov 28 '13 at 10:14
    
I did not say that the guy broke the rules. I said, he posted a mediocre question. And that there is a point to the "be nice" kinds of discussions. –  Domi Nov 28 '13 at 10:19
    
@Domi I did not mention that I am against being nice to users, did I? I totally agree with you, a medicore question should be improved, and we should do that in a nice manner. –  Uooo Nov 28 '13 at 10:25
    
" I did not mention that I am against being nice to users, did I?" - In fact, you did (maybe not on purpose?): "Every now and then I read these Meta-Posts about that whe should be nicer to new users [...] I completely disagree with these suggestions." :) –  Domi Nov 28 '13 at 10:28
    
@Domi "Being nice" and "Being nicer" are two different things. It is important to be nice to users, but we should not need to bring them the rules of Stackoverflow on a golden plate and personally explain each one of them. The Stackoverflow community is nice to users, if they show a minimum effort put in their questions. –  Uooo Nov 28 '13 at 10:35
    
Again, my point (and the point of the "being nicer" discussions) is not about rule offenses. It is about being nicer and more convenient. What about a systematic approach of bringing rules, guidelines and helpful hints to new users posing mediocre questions that is better than a one-line comment without any links? –  Domi Nov 28 '13 at 11:11

"being too quick to downvote or close can be quite harmful. What can we do as a community"

We can stop having questions which have only been active for a few minutes show up in the close vote review queue.

Reproduce this behavior.

  • Click Review on SO main. Click Close Votes.
  • Click filter, use tag javascript
  • Look at the question asked (probably within the last hour)
  • Click Skip
  • Look at the question asked (probably within the last hour)..

Continue. It takes a long time to get past the 1 hour mark in a tag which is so active. Have to really hustle to close all of those if you want to start getting into the yesterday territory. A quick reviewer will be able to downvote and close their fair share of 20 questions (80% of which will be in the last hour).

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I agree with this. I feel like a lot of the bad behavior has started since the introduction of the review queues, which prompt people to downvote or vote to close questions by new users. Putting a lot of mediocre to low quality questions in front of people in a row can really make people bitter, and a lot less likely to extend good faith to the people asking the question. –  Brian Campbell Nov 21 '13 at 1:06
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See, and I think we need the opposite type of queue - one where questions must be reviewed before they even appear on the main site. This accomplishes the quality level we want and other than slowing down the ability of the OP to get answers immediately (which is halted pretty quickly for most closures anyway), it does so with minimal OP alienation. –  Aaron Bertrand Nov 21 '13 at 2:59

I feel like people are treating closing and downvoting as two things coming together (even throughout previous answers here, which I'm surprised with). They are not. Closing gives an opportunity to improve the question (if it is new), while downvoting only punishes them, since it influences the reputation and there is usually no constructive comment explaining it. While closing is not a pleasant thing for newbies, IMO it is closer to constructive critique which we should aim for when trying to make people use SO in a right way.

I usually try to stick to the following guidelines:

  • If a valid question is badly formulated, edit it.
  • If a question can be edited by OP to be a valid question, close it.
  • If a question is beyond salvation, then close it. If the OP is not new, downvote it, if it is OP's first question - consider if it is worth doing.

And in all cases above, leave comments explaining why and what you've done or what the OP should do. I don't think that starting wars with downvoters is worth it - most of them will never get back to the question again (if they do, let them learn by your example), but the user can always improve it or just learn to ask better questions in the future.

My opinion is that closing is good - it is a time out when OP can improve question or at least see the message why the question is closed and go through links with SO rules. It should not be discouraged, in fact, the quicker this happens, the better (yep, we all know the size of that queue, sigh).

Downvoting is not bad per se, but is often abused and in these cases serve no purpose. Most often no comments left (apart from some ironic one-liners) and so OP doesn't even know what's hit him or her. The culture of using SO in a proper way is hard to develop, not everyone is going to spend hours on meta reading huge discussions about how to properly treat this and that. Unless there is some feedback (i.e., reputation penalty), this problem won't go away. But for now all you can do is to follow the code of conduct you choose for yourself and lead by example :)

PS: I consider upvoting bad question just because you disagree with downvotes as another example of misuse of the system. Your vote shouldn't depend on the question score, only on its contents.

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Closing is a kind of punishment too, in fact more so because now you can't get answers (not just on that question, but if you persist and refuse to learn the rules, it gets worse when you hit a question ban or face moderator attention). Rep, after all is just some stupid number. Until you can convert rep to bitcoins or real currency, who cares? What does rep mean in the real world? –  Aaron Bertrand Nov 21 '13 at 2:55
    
@AaronBertrand I assure you, people do care (if they wouldn't then SO would seize to exist). Especially it concerns new users who are very limited in what they can do before they have some positive reputation. –  sashkello Nov 21 '13 at 4:46
    
@AaronBertrand Closing is certainly not pleasant, but it is providing benefit to community and if OP is willing to comply benefit for him or her as well (by learning how to properly use a wonderful SO site). If you think that any closed question should be punished further by downvote, then, well, I hope you are in minority. –  sashkello Nov 21 '13 at 4:50
    
Please don't shove words in my mouth, I said no such thing. I was just expressing that you are wrong if you think that closing a question is not punishment, or is less punishment than down votes. –  Aaron Bertrand Nov 21 '13 at 5:30
    
@AaronBertrand So, then you do the same. I never said that closing isn't punishment. I said that downvoting does not do anything but punish and thus is often useless. –  sashkello Nov 21 '13 at 5:34
    
Your third sentence reads to me like down-voting is a punishment while closing is just an opportunity. If that's not what you meant, please clarify your answer. –  Aaron Bertrand Nov 21 '13 at 5:36
    
@AaronBertrand They both are kind of dealing with bad questions. Downvoting is unexplained punishment, closing is closer to constructive critique, that's all I meant. Sorry if I wasn't clear enough. All I meant to say is that they should serve different purposes. –  sashkello Nov 21 '13 at 5:38

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