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The system in place for migrating questions on Stack Exchange is confusing and overly-complicated. But don't just take my word for it: go use it for a few years, try getting a bunch of decent questions asked on the wrong site onto the right sites reliably and without migrating a bunch of stuff that shouldn't be moved.

No, really: if you don't already know what I'm talking about, stop reading right now and go learn. Or at least, stop reading and go read all this stuff.

Still here? Cool. Then you know how much of a beast this thing is. But I'll summarize it anyway so we're all on the same page:

  • There are at most 5 migration paths defined for any site, and one of them is always meta. If the site you need isn't on that list, tough cookies.
  • To even get a site onto that list, you have to petition The Community Managers. And we're all bastards who think you're up to no good and will stonewall you as long as possible. Well, I am anyway. If you're on a beta site or asking for a path pointing to a beta site, I'll laugh right in your face. Even if the site has been in beta for 3 years.
  • Even when the site you want is on the list, you have to get at least 2 other people to agree with you and vote to migrate the question there. Three other people if you're on Stack Overflow. If you're even one vote short, the question won't get migrated - it'll just get closed as Off Topic, probably with a really generic description that doesn't even hint that there's another site where the question could be asked without any trouble.
  • If you decide to be a good guy and leave a comment pointing the asker to another site (in case the question doesn't get enough votes and is just closed as OT), and the asker goes and posts there, and then the question gets migrated anyway... You just contributed to an exact duplicate on another site and the mods there are probably saying really mean things about you behind your back.
  • Some sites get so many off-topic questions that are nominally on-topic elsewhere but which are too poorly-asked to migrate that they have custom Off Topic reasons defined that point to the same sites in their list of migration targets. Not only is this confusing, it can result in folks using one when they mean to use the other, and then wondering why the question wasn't migrated.

Now then...

Let's add an optional "migrate to" field to site-specific off-topic reasons

Site moderators are already able to define custom off-topic reasons. Let's give them the ability to also associate a "destination site" with these reasons:

OT reason editor

(There's been a bit of confusion here... This is the UI in which moderators create site-specific off-topic reasons, not the "other" field shown to folks voting to close)

If enough voters choose that reason (4 on SO, 3 everywhere else) the question is migrated; if >= 2 but <3 choose it, no migration happens but the explanatory text is still displayed below the question for the benefit of the asker:

Normal OT block

This is a much more helpful experience for askers, and not only does this put a site's moderators (and by extension, community) in charge of which sites they can migrate to, it gives them the ability to identify - in the close reason itself - specific reasons for migration.


  • the number of available off-topic reason slots would need to be increased somewhat to make up for the loss of off-topic migration slots.

  • Using heuristics beyond simply the number of close-votes when deciding whether or not to migrate would be an interesting way to build "don't migrate crap" into the system itself.

  • Guess what? That idea for putting migrated questions in some sort of limbo / review queue has been proposed many, many times before. Go read (and contribute to) those discussions if you're really interested in that; I'm not interested in re-hashing the same stupid argument in every single thread that mentions "migrate". Oh yeah - go propose "let's put all questions from new users into limbo" while you're at it. Have fun.

  • There are no plans to actually implement this in the near future; it was one of the things on my list from last year that I never got around to writing up, so I'm throwing it up now so that folks who are interested can discuss or help refine the idea. Which, if you haven't gathered yet, is why I'm trying to limit the discussion to stuff that hasn't already been discussed 9000 times. Kthxbye.

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What integer is >=2 and <3? –  Lance Roberts Jan 5 '14 at 23:38
2 and 3 on SO, 2 everywhere else, @Lance (yeah, this would be a lot easier to discuss if SO didn't have the "supermajority" requirement) –  Shog9 Jan 5 '14 at 23:39
How would this affect the overall ability to migrate though? Only two of our off-topic reasons reference other sites, and only one of them is in the five-high migration list. I feel like you're missing a huge piece of the puzzle here. –  animuson Jan 5 '14 at 23:41
So basically you are saying that, instead of stonewalling against duplicate site suggestions, you're now going to make it a free-for-all? (I'm not saying that's bad; I actually like your idea. I think it's better than the current system, but I wonder how it will work in practice, given our abysmal record with bad migrations.) –  Robert Harvey Jan 5 '14 at 23:42
I think this is just going to result in more crap being migrated. A lot of stuff is off-topic for SO, on-topic for SF and SU, but that doesn't mean it should be migrated. –  hichris123 Jan 5 '14 at 23:45
As I understand, beta sites are currently highly discouraged from being sources or targets for migration paths. Is that going to change with this? –  Kevin Jan 5 '14 at 23:50
Additional to "belongs on" or replacing them? There is plenty that mention general software or hardware that do not need to be migrated to SU. –  random Jan 6 '14 at 0:05
if this is implemented, I would very much appreciate if pressing Save Edits button would also trigger placing the question into queue for Suggested migrations review at target site. About half of questions migrated from SO to Programmers make me raise eyebrows. Workplace guys seem to have similar concerns about some questions migrated from Programmers. Etc... –  gnat Jan 6 '14 at 0:09
How would I then close a question that is about general computing, etc., on Stack Overflow, but which I don't want to migrate because it sucks or wouldn't be appropriate elsewhere anyways? What will happen to "Don't migrate crap"? –  Josh Caswell Jan 6 '14 at 0:14
Sometimes they just need to die meta.stackexchange.com/questions/186802/… –  random Jan 6 '14 at 0:17
That's not the solution I would have proposed - the OT but see also this other site close reason seems useful for cases where the OP should probably discover the site and learn about the limits of topicality on the current site but the question in question is probably a dupe and/or needs refinement. I.e. it fills the void between gem and turd. What fills that void when this is in place? –  Flexo Jan 6 '14 at 7:50
I think what I'm saying is: even for this close reason can we have a tick box for "but do not migrate this one". –  Flexo Jan 6 '14 at 8:02
What happens to the 5 sites then? If there are 5 off-topic close reasons do they all have to be migration targets? If they're not all migration targets are there less than 5 sites someone can migrate to? –  ben is uǝq backwards Jan 6 '14 at 13:10
Could the automatic migration be made contingent on a certain number of up votes or net score, to help limit the migration of crap questions? Or would that make the whole thing too complicated? –  joran Jan 6 '14 at 17:33
No, that's not a bad idea, @joran. Think about it a bit & post an answer, please. –  Shog9 Jan 6 '14 at 17:35

9 Answers 9

I like this idea, but I sense that there will be a lot of well-deserved opposition from sites like ServerFault and Programmers.

If it is implemented, I think one step towards solving any issues caused by it would be to pipe the migrated questions to the close vote/first post/etc review queue on the destination site. This will augment the migration rejection system by having bad migrations rejected as soon as possible.

I do see how this is different from normal migrations and why it will probably not cause the old migration wars: getting 4 people to vote on this is hard. More so if the choices for migration made by other sites are not displayed to the closevoter. (It doesn't look like they are, which may be bad UX, but it certainly makes bad migreations harded.)

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+1 for the queue idea, and 99% of what you said. But I have one quibble: I don't think that Shog is suggesting that every single user who wants to close a question will be able to type in a target site. I think he's saying that it will be an addition to what mods can do when creating the close reason. So if I, as a mod, created the close reason "Questions about etymology are off-topic. You might try asking on English Language and Usage" I could also fill in a little box that sets closure up on this reason to auto-migrate to ELU. And this is perma-saved in the custom close reason itself. –  WendiKidd Jan 6 '14 at 2:27
@WendiKidd Ah, I see. Fixed. –  Manishearth Jan 6 '14 at 9:58

Back when this was posted I probably would have favored it (had I seen it), but migration-related discussions since then have changed my thinking.

Don't make migration part of closing a question. Require that the question be closed as off-topic, period, and then separately give the community a way to migrate if appropriate.

As a moderator, half1 the time when I get flags suggesting a migration the question is already closed -- so I have to reopen it in order to close-migrate. That feels wrong -- the community did the right thing in closing the question and I have to backtrack. I'm not complaining about the extra steps so much as pointing out that we should pay attention to that nagging voice that says "wrong model".

The other half1 of the time, people propose migrating questions that are on-topic on the current site because they think they'd fit better somewhere else. That flies in the face of Respect the Community:

As members of a community, your first loyalty should be to that community. When evaluating a question, you shouldn't be looking to push it off on some other site; instead, ask if it could be appropriate and on-topic for you, the experts who the author decided to ask. Be a bit jealous of your site - don't blithely turn askers away simply because their question could be asked somewhere else. Don’t hit them over the head with your scope, help them tailor their question to fit into it - and if that means your site’s scope overlaps a bit with another site’s, so be it.

I want to make that second kind of migration harder, not easier.

So take migration out of the close discussion entirely. Once a question is closed, if it would be on-topic somewhere else, let's come up with a way to enable users to propose that -- preferably something better than flagging and asking a moderator to make a decision, but that's what they do now so we have that baseline.

1 Values are approximate; no actual frequency data was harmed consulted in the production of this answer.

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I like this idea to a point. The "migration" options are confusing when put with the "belongs on SU/SF" close reasons, plus the "why isn't X in the migration options on SO" questions are getting tiring, so hopefully this will give the source community some more control on what is a migration target. However, I have concerns given the community's track record with migration.

Frankly, given the challenges with community migration, I would support doing away with community migration completely, unless the target community has some input.

Let's have the everything else as described, but skip the automatic migration. When a post gets enough "migrate" votes, the let the target community decide to accept the question before it is migrated. And if they don't want the question, then just close it as off-topic.

I realize this sort of happens already, but the post gets migrated first and then the community deals with it, but I think that leaves the target community feeling like they don't have control as Stack Overflow is sending them crap that they don't feel belongs. So let's give them the control and force them to cast the deciding vote on whether they want the question or not.

Part of this is motivated by a user mentioned earlier this weekend on Meta. This specific user had every undeleted question he asked migrated to other sites, and when someone dared mention that his most recent question (SO 10K only) was off-topic in a comment, he began with the insults. I realize this is somewhat of an isolated incident, but when you make community migration easier, you also make it easier for someone to ask any random off-topic question on any site they want because they assume it will get moved to the appropriate location.

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What if it was placed in a queue on [target site], where it had to be accepted by 3 (like an edit) or 5 (leave no doubt) high-ish rep users? That gives SO a chance to guess, and the victims of that guess a chance to tell SO it's wrong. –  Trojan Jan 6 '14 at 1:39
@trojansdestroy that works, basically I would support almost any idea to give the target community a say before we just start dumping crap on their doorstep. –  psubsee2003 Jan 6 '14 at 1:40
@trojansdestroy This is what I was thinking while reading psubsee's answer! I think a migration queue is an excellent idea. –  WendiKidd Jan 6 '14 at 2:24

I liked this when I saw it at first, but upon reflection I think you're only making a very small improvement which is not worth the trouble.

The business about migration paths being hard to set up is something you can fix easily. It's a 100% human problem and you're the boss of the humans involved.

The confusion between “would be appropriate on X” and “migrate to X” is a real problem. But your proposal doesn't fix it. It merely gives moderators a bit more leeway, at the cost of increasing the number of site-specific close reasons.

No matter how much you cover your ears and sing loudly, the best people to determine whether a question is acceptable on a site is the people who use that site. Migrations should be decided by users from the target site. This isn't putting questions in limbo any more than they are now — except in rare cases where a migration path is set up and successfully taken, they are already put in limbo until a moderator intervenes.

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No, it's not. Because the author of that question can re-post it on the correct site at any time. Which, quite frankly, is why I've come to prefer OT reasons that point to another site to actual migration paths: they require some action from the asker to actually make the move happen. –  Shog9 Jan 6 '14 at 20:17
@Shog9 That's a different debate. I'm not fundamentally against removing migration altogether, but it is convenient for answerers. In fact, I would say that ideally migration should only happen to answered questions, or questions that are going to be answered before the migration (in whatever form) can happen. But questions that are going to be answered cannot be determined automatically. –  Gilles Jan 6 '14 at 21:03
@Shog9 I have the impression that a majority of questions that are migrated to ELL end up being "abandoned" questions, where the original OP never even makes an account. I very much like the idea that the OP has to take some kind of action for a migration to take place. It might not be worth the effort, but this could even be set up to be automatic... When a Q is closed as suitable for migration to site X, the OP could be notified and asked "Would you like to repost there?" And a positive answer could create/link an account and move the question. –  WendiKidd Jan 7 '14 at 1:16
@WendiKidd Some of these questions would be abandoned anyway, you'd just not notice it if it wasn't for the indication from account creation. The others show a difficulty with account creation, migration isn't the issue there but the strangeness that accounts are publicly and irrevocably linked and automatically logged in and yet somehow they're different accounts. –  Gilles Jan 7 '14 at 10:23

Migration is definitely confusing (one of my questions shows up on that list you linked!) and I have had quite a few debates on its use. And while I definitely think it's a good idea to do something about it, my initial instinct is that this wouldn't necessarily do it.

Let's take your example close reason. What happens when you have a really really terrible question, and this question also happens to be 1) asked on SO and 2) about "general computing hardware and software"? As far as I can tell, the crappy question would be automatically migrated to SU if enough people chose this close reason. I think there's a not-insignificant number of cases where the close reason applies, but the question probably isn't good enough to migrate. Unless we're adding a "should also migrate?" checkbox (which would probably be confusing), I'm not seeing a way to cast a vote for "this question is OT for this reason, but shouldn't be migrated elsewhere."

I also agree with what animuson said in his comment on the question. Not every custom close reason points to another site (in fact, at least on my own small beta site, I don't think any of them do... because if they did, under the current system that would be a waste of a custom close reason--just migrate!). So maybe the argument could be made that current OT reasons should be modified to point to potential migration targets. But then I think we lose a lot of leeway in closing OT questions which are simply OT, plain and simple (they don't belong elsewhere, either).

So... I don't know. I think this is an interesting idea, but that there are still a couple problems to work out. But I'm seriously 100% in favor of anything that makes migration less confusing, so I hope this meta discussion is fruitful and the community arrives at a modification that will do so! (Or maybe everyone will just disagree with me and say you're right and I'm wrong. That could happen too. ;P).

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It seems to me we often get re-posts of crappy questions that are closed on Stack Overflow but mention that they can be asked on Super User.

The OP of course just copy-pastes their question without improving it.

I definitely see the benefit in your suggestion for making things clearer, but maybe the "get help on Super User" part can be stripped for the message if the question does not end up getting migrated, or the message could inform the OP that the question needs to be improved.

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I like this idea quite a bit, perhaps because the sites that I am most likely to want to migrate something to (from StackOverflow) are small enough that they tend not to be part of the canned list of options.

However, I think it would be a good idea to put a brake on the migration via close votes by making it contingent on the question having a minimum number of up votes or net score. Requiring at least one up vote ought to filter out the vast majority of really crap questions from being automatically migrated.

Some complications would need to be ironed out, though.

What happens if a question has a score of -2, but three people vote to close and migrate to SuperUser, and then subsequently the question is edited and improved, receives several up votes and the score shifts to +2? Should the automatic migration be triggered at that point?

Or should you only have one shot at the automatic migration via close votes, and that is at the time the final close vote is cast?

My initial feeling is that the migration should be evaluated only once, at the time of the final close vote. If the question is later improved, the asker should flag it at that point and reference their edits in a message to the mods requesting migration.

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I think this would work well, especially since it would allow a site to build custom migration reasons for logically related sites that aren't on the migration list (mostly applies to broad sites like SO that have many logically related sites).

If this gets rolled out, then it should probably be with the guidance that the site-specific migration should be discussed on the per-site meta prior to implementation.

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No, don't do this. The issue of whether or not a question should be migrated needs to be dissociated with the issue of whether it is off-topic.

For one, making migration a side-effect of off-topic closure facilitates the migration of crap.

In addition, a site may need to have an off-topic reason that maps to multiple sites (unless you want to expand the list of reasons beyond three or five).

Please consider my alternate UI suggestion instead.

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