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Motivated by the deletion of

On one hand, I disagree with these closures, because:

  1. These questions were (and still are) very popular
  2. They have some good information in them (or at least the first one does) and it feels like bad sportsmanship to remove good information from the internet, particularly when it was contributed by your fellow users

Number 2 in particular bothers me. A lot.

On the other hand, I do agree that:

  1. The community of 10k users should be able to decide which closed questions they wish to delete on their own without me intervening
  2. These questions should definitely remain closed, because they either have an absurd # of answers, or are duplicates (though some duplicates need to stick around). Which means they are eligible for deletion … forever.
  3. These questions wouldn't survive more than 10 minutes if asked today on Stack Overflow, so in some ways they are artifacts from the past, like dinosaurs in an era of mammals.

There is some related discussion in:
Should popular questions be so easy to delete?
People abusing deleting questions?

While I normally favor code solutions here, I am not sure I like the idea that once a question gets 400 upvotes it should become extremely difficult to delete. It feels like mob rule.

Official policy on the blog:

The Stack Overflow Question Lifecycle

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i'm a little confused by the second example you link to. it was neither old nor popular –  Kip Dec 24 '09 at 4:14
    
@Kip: get more rep. Then see: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/33780/… (SLaks requested that the second example be undeleted, as it contained his most popular answer, one that had achieved some amount of success on Redd or Diggit or Slashdot or something) –  Shog9 Dec 24 '09 at 4:40
    
@Shog9: ok well i edited this question to point to the answer, since jeff is talking about the answer and not the question. –  Kip Dec 24 '09 at 20:16
    
@Jeff Atwood - Here's another good example that I refer to often. I've duplicated it locally in case it gets removed, but it's obviously quite popular/useful. stackoverflow.com/questions/751876/… –  DougW Nov 18 '11 at 21:27
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@Jeff Atwood "YOU HAVE A CRUMMY ACCEPT RATE!" –  bobobobo Nov 18 '11 at 21:28
    
All point taken, (esp dinosaurs.. it's kind of like saying the posts are "cheating" or enjoy special status because of birthdate..), still keep them. Why does it hurt you to protect your first great children? –  bobobobo Nov 18 '11 at 21:31
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Keeping around artifacts from the past isn't necessarily a bad thing—birds after all are direct descendants from dinosaurs. Sure, some users will ignore the historical significance only message that would adorn these question if un-deleted. But please, please don't govern based on the lowest common denominator or internet morons. –  Adam Rackis Nov 18 '11 at 22:16
    
Why doesnt someone simply edit stackoverflow.com/questions/751876/… so it has the form of a question and answer. Everyone here has enough rep to do that. –  Toby Allen Dec 11 '11 at 14:06
    
How do highly upvoted answers get (and remain) closed. Could it be that all the upvoters are "low rep" and all the closers are high rep? Maybe we need to attribute a fraction of a close/reopen vote to low rep up voters, and see how the balance plays out under this plan. Moderators shouldn't vote for the "community," but MAY vote for those who can't vote for themselves. And the site does have a practice of "grandfathering" old posts that wouldn't "survive more 10 minutes if asked today" if they have historical importance. –  Tom Au May 19 '13 at 16:38

9 Answers 9

I wasn't going to post on this, but I've noticed one item missing from this discussion, and it's the magical ability of diamond mods only: That of locking a post.

Certainly, for our historical posts which we don't necessarily want to delete, but also don't necessarily want to encourage copycats in the future (EG, the polls), a lock with an edit by the diamond mod who's locking it might go a long way. For example, placing a disclaimer similar to the following at the top of the post:

This post is from the early days of [Stack Overflow|Server Fault|Super User], and while we recognize its historical significance, we also recognize that the current community of users will likely close similar posts. Please feel free to read and learn from this post, but refrain from creating similar posts just because this one exists.

Just a thought. It gets us past the "deletion" problem (IE, continuing to provide to Google Juice and historic reference we all love), while also discouraging future users from citing this as a reason their off-topic and typically closed question should remain.

As a further bonus -- this one just occurred to me -- locking makes it really difficult for the post to "bump" -- only Community will be able to do that, as no new answers, no new comments, not even edits are available.

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I think this will be the only workable solution... Anything else is likely to lead to more arguments (everyone's a bit blind when it comes to deleting our own stuff). –  Shog9 Dec 24 '09 at 4:43
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Nice text. I don't think that it will deter many people, but it is necessary to try. –  dmckee Dec 24 '09 at 17:43
    
+1 although I'm not sure about the disclaimer being at the head of the post. I'd like something like that as perhaps a mouseover for the part of the post that indicates it is locked. –  David Hall Dec 24 '09 at 21:59
    
I've seen the disclaimer on other locked posts and think it's the best solution. It's obviously popular, and will get organic search page landings, so deleting it outright is a detriment here. –  casperOne Nov 18 '11 at 21:04
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even this doesn't really work, for the two reasons at the bottom of blog.stackoverflow.com/2012/01/the-trouble-with-popularity that is 1. broken windows and 2. opportunity cost –  Jeff Atwood Feb 13 '12 at 1:24

For poll and GTKY questions, I think you need to take more into account than just the number of views and/or votes. Personally, I'd like to know:

  1. Are there a lot of inbound links?
  2. Are there a lot of inbound searches?
  3. Has the question and/or answers collected a steady stream of votes over time, or was it amazingly popular for a few days/weeks only to die off soon after.

Much as I hate to say it, a question that brings in a lot of new eyes is probably worth keeping around... Even if we're then faced with slapping down all the "me too" questions arising as a result of it. On the other hand, a weekend "blowing off steam and getting to know your fellow coders" question probably doesn't do anyone any good: the users involved already had their fun, and now it's just one more thing for new users to point to when they try to do likewise and are stopped.

I kinda like the idea of locking a question when it garners more than a hundred answers. Automating that might be too much, but encouraging moderators to do it manually could go along way towards a compromise between deleting popular topics and endless noise. Locked, fossilized relics could avoid the deletion of valuable content without encouraging further participation...

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merging is quite rare, for the record -- that's when the two are utterly identical in every way. At least, I do maybe one merge a week, if that. –  Jeff Atwood Dec 24 '09 at 0:44
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Would you merge more often if doing so didn't destroy the "signpost" left by the duplicate? –  Shog9 Dec 24 '09 at 0:51
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It would be nice if merges made the link to the deleted post serve as an automatic redirect. Without broken links, there's more advantages to deleting. –  Ether Dec 24 '09 at 1:59
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+1. Feeding into this, how many mods are currently on SO in particular? Should there perhaps be more (percentage-wise), since it seems to be considerably more active than SU or SF? (I could be wrong; I admit that I'm not very active on the other two portions of the Trilogy.) –  John Rudy Dec 24 '09 at 4:18

Deletion is harmful overkill; we need a new alternative.

There's never been a real consensus on this issue, and I think the limitations of the Stack Exchange software are to blame: we're forced to choose between (1) leaving broken windows here or (2) creating broken links on other sites (this is particularly likely for popular questions). Neither of these are desirable.

How often is it actually necessary that content be made entirely inaccessible? We should have the alternative of delisting questions throughout the site while letting them remain accessible to anyone who follows a direct link.

Delisted questions would otherwise behave like questions that that have been locked and deleted. A background color and notice would make it clear that they're not meant to represent the site. They could even be noindexed and removed from search if you wanted to absolutely minimize their impact.

simple mockup

This might seem like a lot of trouble and complexity but, as was discussed in podcast 27, it's important to preserve the web when possible. Stack Overflow shouldn't be breaking links and taking content off the web without a good reason.

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This was posted on its own here, where it was status-declined. –  Jeremy Banks Feb 5 '12 at 1:22
    
...then later status-completed. –  Jeremy Banks Nov 28 '12 at 2:43
    

Perhaps there needs to be some sort of protection around these dinosaurs? Maybe based on number of votes and or answers?

I feel similar to you Jeff - I don't like the idea of removing good information from the internet. For me it is an historical question - those dinsoaurs from the wild west days of SO (to mix metaphors horribly), while no longer being alive, they are part of the history of SO and of the internet.

I'd hope that the site can keep that history so that in 10 years time we can go back and chuckle at our past selves.

I do think it needs to be some sort of code solution, since the social dynamic actually changes, and the meaning to a certain reputation changes. It used to be that 10k users had been around for a long time and had attachment to the history of the site, but that of course is going to become less true over time.

That said - this answer is just me wanting my preference to be enshrined - everyone has bias, so to remove that bias, just basing it purely on reputation and the voting power associated with that makes sense.

Still, sometimes, the majority is wrong. AND - it is your baby Jeff, so your bias has to have some additional weight.

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+1, although I disagree with the assessment of 10K+ users. Although by and large it will be true, I've been around since the earliest days of SO -- excluding the beta -- and I've yet to reach that landmark. However, that's for lack of interesting questions to answer much of the time (at least recently) ... :) –  John Rudy Dec 24 '09 at 4:20
    
@Mark - hi, yes, I'm the same as you, around since beta and still far away from 10k, which is actually my point, 10k reputation will over time become less and less a mark of someone's historical attachment to SO. Not that that is bad, they shouldn't have to correlate at all, they measure different things. But if the question is about the history of the site then a disconnect arises that perhaps can't be resolved by a purely reputation based system... –  David Hall Dec 24 '09 at 21:56

For duplicates

Have you considered a 301 redirect for (closed,deleted,duplicate) questions. You already have merge so if any information needs to be merged to the original it can be. There really is no value in the second example living as 2 entry points to the site.

For polls of doom

I was only half joking when I said we need a polloverflow for all your polling needs. But perhaps the info should be rolled up into a cohesive answer and shipped to a wiki section.

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Agreed for duplicates. –  Vanav Dec 23 '09 at 23:57

I'm going to focus my answer on the second link (the answer to the duplicate question). I know the issue of what to do with duplicate questions has been rehashed many times, but I feel more needs to be said about this example.

Sorry, but I just don't think duplicates have much value...

The primary argument for why duplicates should be kept around can be found on Jeffs blog post on handling duplicates:

There’s often benefit to having multiple subtle variants of a question around, as people tend to ask and search using completely different words, and the better our coverage, the better odds our fellow programmers can find the answer they’re looking for.

So basically, the benefit of a duplicate is that it should make finding content easier, either because it allows for using different search terms or because the duplicates have a lot of views and a good ranking in Google.

This is a good idea in theory, and at first I agreed with it. However, I have yet to see any solid evidence in practice that keeping duplicates around does in fact make the duplicate content easier to find. The only evidence I see is that they aren't working, in that questions keep getting asked over and over again. If they were easier to find, people shouldn't keep asking them.

Here are a couple examples of such overly-duplicated questions:

If duplicates had their intended effect of making content easier to find, why are these questions still getting asked ad nauseum? Maybe people just aren't trying to search in the first place, in which case duplicates are useless.

As if duplicate questions weren't annoying enough, do we have to deal with duplicate answers too?

The second example in the question brings up another point: What incentive is there for people to close duplicates instead of just repost duplicate answers and reap more Rep and badges? And what's worse, the poster of that answer wasn't apparently satisfied with the hundreds of Rep and gold badge he got, he had to go and repost verbatim the same answer for another question 2 days later!

Not only is this very bad form, in my opinion, but it points out how some people may not even bother voting to close duplicates when they can get Rep by just copying content from another question. Instead of closing it and supplying a link to the duplicate, it just leads to more redundant clutter. It seems silly to award this behavior by allowing the duplicate to linger and the answers to gain votes that they don't really deserve.

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I agree strongly with your second point (not enough data to know whether or not your first one holds water - would be nice to see some referral logs for dup-linked questions). IMHO, this is a great argument in favor of locking and/or automatically redirecting... –  Shog9 Dec 27 '09 at 18:34
    
I find duplicates useful because often times new information is posted in a duplicate question and if other programmers are like me, we'll look at multiple pieces of information, pull it all together to come up with the solution.. More the merrier –  staticx Dec 28 '09 at 15:36
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@Roboto: True, but any new information posted to the duplicate should really be posted in the original for the sake of direct comparison between answers based on votes. Also, I think having information spread out over a set of duplicate questions could end up being more confusing to someone searching for an answer. If a noobie finds three duplicate questions, each with a potentially different accepted answer and varying substantially in vote scores, that may add to their confusion regarding what is the best option. –  gnostradamus Dec 28 '09 at 17:05
    
gnostradamus: Accepted answers are not the right answer.. that's why there are upvotes and downvotes. Accepted answers are a social contract yet they are not necessarily the right answer. Dupes are good for finding the right answer.. I say keep them. They are good for archival purposes and leading to the correct answer. –  staticx Dec 28 '09 at 17:17
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@Roboto: The upvotes and downvotes for answers on different questions are not comparable. One answer might have more votes simply because its question was asked at a time when more people were viewing it. For example, the popular answer linked in the above question has over 140 votes, but it is basically a rehash of answers in the linked duplicate that only have 10 or so. That isn't comparable, and that's why having answers distributed over duplicate questions is just a source of confusion. I'll have to respectfully disagree with you on the utility of duplicates. –  gnostradamus Dec 28 '09 at 17:34

Yes

Burninate them!

Old questions that have no place¹ on Stack Overflow² — like “how do I pick my nose as a programmer” or “favorite programmer manga” or “MUMPS-11 tips and tricks” — should be deleted. Keeping them around is bad for Stack Overflow, because:

  • The list questions (such as tips-and-tricks) might contain useful information, but it's drowned in the mass. The information should instead be posted on individual, searchable questions.
  • The off-topic questions (“as a programmer”) have no lasting value. We have chat now.
  • These highly upvoted questions are what new users tend to flock to. They do not inspire confidence in the quality of the sight. Yawn, yet another forum. Pass.
  • Bad questions are regularly put forward as an example of why we should have more bad questions (the bad question copycat of the day).

Keeping them locked on the site is not a good idea, because it doesn't do anything towards fixing any of the problems, and even exacerbates them. Locking prevents any community feedback against these questions (can't downvote, can't close, can't delete). Locking should be used to prevent problematic actions, not to prevent cleanup.

(Locking prevents answers. How is that useful? When there are 100 answers on a question, why does it matter that someone posts a 101st? If the 101st answer is presumed not useful, why would it be less useful than the previous ones?)

Sure, the contents of these threads might belong on the Internet somewhere. They might belong on the Stack Exchange network somewhere. But not on the main questions and answers sites. If you want to host a deleted.stackoverflow.com (reddit.stackoverflow.com?), fine. But please don't react to litter by putting a finely-crafted frame around it.

framed rubbish

¹ Note that this does not necessarily apply to the email validation question. This one is different, because such a question definitely belongs on the site. Once, not once a week. Generally speaking, duplicates should remain, closed as such, though they can be deleted if they are not useful as additional search fodder.
² Or any other SE site.

share|improve this answer

I think, 10k users of the community should mark questions for deletion, but not actually delete them. Marked for deletion questions would then be reviewed, and if they contained useful information and answers, good structure and fully coverage (like the 1st example), leave them closed forever. If not, delete them.

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Since old deleted answers are visible to moderators, that review could be done for older posts as well as new deletions going forward. –  Ether Dec 24 '09 at 2:12
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Supposedly, closing the question was "marking it for deletion". That is, if you see a closed question that you don't think should be deleted, you vote to re-open it. In practice, there are lots of questions that don't get the delete votes but stay closed anyway... Still, if you see a question closed that you don't want deleted, consider either voting to re-open. –  Shog9 Dec 24 '09 at 2:25

We have something of an aristocracy on SO with diamond mods, 3K users and 10K users. The aristocracy can close and delete posts regardless of the will of the people. To some extent, this is actually a good thing. More trusted users who have spent more time on the site often know better than the newcomers what's best for the site. However, in cases like you pointed out, the will of the people is overwhelming and clear. These posts should be immune from high rep users. I'm not sure what the thresholds should be, but at some point questions should be delete-proof and even close-proof.

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"The will of the people" is not absolute. "The will of the people" could be to turn this into a discussion site, in which case, my personal answer is "no". –  John Saunders Dec 28 '09 at 5:05

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