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This question is mainly motivated by the following case, which I have just noticed on Stack Overflow:

The Python question was posted on April 21, but got closed and ultimately deleted on May 1. Unfortunately there were some pretty good answers in there, especially the top-voted one by ghostdog74, which I am sure took plenty of time and effort to write and revise.

The JavaScript question was posted 12 hours after the Python one, and received roughly the same amount of answers, of similar quality, especially the accepted answer by CMS. However, in this case nobody bothered to cast a single close vote, but more importantly, the JavaScript question is still there for public reference, unlike the Python version which got deleted.

I understand that both question are subjective, and probably should have been a community wiki, but I find it difficult to consider them argumentative or off topic.

So my question is, should we vote to close the JavaScript question so that we delete it, or should we vote to reopen the Python version?

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6 Answers 6

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I can't imagine that those questions are the first ones to ask how to best learn python/javascript.

So if these questions are duplicates they should be closed. If there are any especially useful answers these should be merged into the original questions and the rest should be deleted.

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Good point. Note the the Python question was closed as "Subjective and Argumentative" when I posted this question, and it was deleted. The JavaScript question was equally subjective, so I was simply questioning the inconsistency between a healthy open question and a closed + deleted one. As was discussed in other threads, I agree that the existence of an open outlaw question doesn't mean that all the others should be reopened. My main motivation was to understand how the community intends to handle such a case. "Delete them both, or open them both?" –  Daniel Vassallo May 27 '10 at 4:14
    
... Because let's face it. I'm sure everyone understands that it's frustrating to write an long comprehensive answer, revising it, adding links, responding to comments, etc, and then it gets deleted after 2 days. It happened to me, and I'm quite sure it happened to you as well (although that might not be the best example). And I could really sympathize with the author of the python answer, which he revised over the course of 25 hours, only to get deleted after a couple of days. –  Daniel Vassallo May 27 '10 at 4:21
    
... Merging isn't always the right answer. Take the JavaScript question: It was asked in the context of "learning the language in one weekend"... Now you could argue that this wasn't really such a good question, but some of the answers (disclaimer: one of them mine) took great care in responding within that context: ie. supplying resources that could be consumed within a couple of days. –  Daniel Vassallo May 27 '10 at 4:35
    
... Which boils down to: If I encounter other subjective questions like the JavaScript or Python ones I cited, and there are no obvious exact duplicates... Should I bother to respond? or should I pass?... Because I don't really fancy responding for the effort to be sent into oblivion. (... and please believe me it's not about the rep, or the badges.) –  Daniel Vassallo May 27 '10 at 4:50

UPDATE: This thread was posted just a few hours before deletion votes became rate limited. The concerns highlighted in this answer will hopefully be mitigated by this feature. Nonetheless, I appreciate that about 200 of the most popular deleted threads are being audited in The Great Question Deletion Audit of 2010, which is what I intended to incite with this answer. Thank you Jeff, for listening and responding promptly.


I say that the Python question should be undeleted (at least).

I have to admit that I do not frequent the 10k moderation tools very much, and I appreciate the guys that keep the trilogy sites clean by monitoring this often. However, just from today's "Recently Deleted" questions, I cannot help but wonder whether questions such as the following had to be deleted:

On this, there seems to be an "official policy" on the SO blog that defines the properties of questions that should be deleted. Quoting:

Why would you delete a question? Isn’t closing it enough?

  1. Some questions are of such poor quality that they cannot be salvaged. They’re literally nonsense. Not every byte of data that is created in the world is infinite and sacred.
  2. Some questions are so incredibly off topic that they add no value to a programming community.
  3. The mental cost of processing these closed questions is not zero, particularly for users who are actively engaged and scanning questions to find things they can help answer.
  4. If users see a lot of closed questions, they’ll note that we don’t enforce the guidelines, so why should they? Without any final resolution, asking questions that get closed becomes something we are implicitly encouraging — a broken windows problem. If this goes on for long enough, we’re no longer a community of programmers who ask and answer programming questions, we’re a community of random people discussing.. whatever. That’s toxic.
  5. If enough of these closed questions are allowed to hang around, they become clutter that reduces the overall signal to noise ratio — which further reduces confidence in the system.

(I added the bold and bullet numbering myself)

It is probably points 3, 4 and 5 that are a bit of a grey area, where the community may disagree what constitutes clutter, mental cost, or a broken windows problem. On the other hand, I guess classifying questions as "literally nonsense" and "incredibly off topic" should be quite straightforward.

I think that one of the problems is that deleted questions do not get enough visibility for others to counter-react with undelete votes. The reasons for this were recently described by mmyers a few days ago.

In fact, I would propose that while the deletion process remains as is, we could submit a post on Meta whenever we encounter a deleted question that got deleted and with which we disagree. The post should contain the arguments in favor of its resurrection, and the community would get some visibility and enough information to make an informed decision on whether to cast an undelete vote or leave it as it is. Maybe this post by Jeff Atwood and this one by Greg Hewgill could be taken as examples.

In the log run, I think this could also serve to refine the policies of what should be deleted in the first place.

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Regarding easier facilitation of counter-reaction to deletion, I asked meta.stackexchange.com/questions/49967/… –  polygenelubricants May 24 '10 at 5:03
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There are some (too many, IMO) who take their "moderation duties" to the extreme. They should be using their powers in moderation. –  Randolpho May 24 '10 at 19:38
    
Are there repeat offenders regarding poor deletion decisions? Does the SO moderation tool rep need to be upped? –  rlb.usa May 24 '10 at 20:55

I have just cast the final (for now) vote to reopen the original python question. By no means should it have been either closed or deleted.

Keep in mind, however, that the moderation process is a "democratic" one. There are currently two very diametrically opposed opinions on the subject of moderation. Most agree that stupid questions or obviously duplicated or spammy questions should be removed. But it's that subjective/argumentative thing that is a huge bone of contention. It's quite possible the question will be re-closed or even re-deleted.

Alas that I can only cast one vote on the subject.

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Actually, you can cast two votes on the subject, which you did when you voted to close it. –  Gnome May 27 '10 at 2:21
    
@The Cat: Heh... good point. In my defense; I reopened it because it was not deserving of a subjective/argumentative/offtopic close (it was one of those). When it was pointed out that it was a duplicate, I voted to close as a dupe. that was well deserved. –  Randolpho May 27 '10 at 2:53
    
I guess I don't see the distinction or understand the need to "fix" the close reason: the comment listing dupes was posted before it was closed the first time. –  Gnome May 27 '10 at 3:20

I recommend "Never delete any question with an accepted answer."

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Quite a few "incredibly off topic" questions get posted everyday, and sometimes they receive a couple of answers within the few minutes they remain open. Then it takes 2 days for a question to be eligible for deletion, so the problem is that the OP would have enough time to accept an answer for a question that almost everyone would agree with its deletion. –  Daniel Vassallo May 24 '10 at 19:43

This question seems to be particularly in the water at the moment. Most of the recent discussion has been about duplicates, not 'subjective' or 'off topic.' For duplicates, recent discussion has centered around 'flag the question so that a diamond can merge it.' Several of us with janitorial tendencies have been switching from 'click delete' to 'flag for moderator attention' for dups with interesting answers.

There still seem to be some quirks even in this process in terms of arranging things so that the maximum value is preserved. A recent suggestion is that the sites need a new condition for a question that would preserve the question and title but send the reader to some other question to read or write answers.

On the non-duplicate front, there is a side-effect of deletion that we can't entirely sweep under the rug: the rep game. I believe that it's relevant to some of the items you list above, as follows:

  1. Someone opens a subjective or humorous or troll question without ticking off Community Wiki.
  2. Like flies to carrion, a swarm of upvotes arrives.
  3. The question is closed, often after multiple iterations of close/reopen.
  4. Deletion wipes out all the dubious rep. Leaving it closed does not.

I know that I have a visceral reaction when I see 'how do you pronounce C++' with 20 upvotes and no community wiki, and I suspect that I'm not alone. (No, I haven't seen that, but I've seen plenty of other 'how do you pronounce' noise.)

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I have been following the discussions about duplicates, and I really appreciate the effort that is being made to preserve valuable answers by merging. Also I cannot but agree with you about the "how do you pronounce" questions, et al... However, if I may ask, what are the main reasons for when you vote to delete questions such as this? This question might have been subjective, but on the other hand the top-voted answer gave quite a neutral and objective answer to that IMO. What would have been the cost if it remained closed instead? –  Daniel Vassallo May 24 '10 at 0:14
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Sadly, I think the more common end result is that the question is left open after multiple iterations of close/reopen. Seems like almost anybody can reopen these days. –  Aarobot May 24 '10 at 0:40
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@Daniel: 1. the overall tone and content of the question degrades the overall site. Mild profanity, opinionated bloviation. To me it reads as a piece of venting thinly disguised as a question. Recent posts have quoted Atwood on the 'broken windows' effect. 2. The only people who are actually qualified to answer this question are MS employees. All other answers, however cogent, are guesses. Who needs it? –  Rosinante May 24 '10 at 2:05
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@Daniel as for 'how do you pronounce,' I'm sorry. I'm a cynical old git. I don't believe that one of these OPs really is really ignorant of the answer, or really cares. –  Rosinante May 24 '10 at 2:07

There's a subtle but important difference between the two questions, that being that the JavaScript question specifically asks for online resources, whereas the python question seems to merely ask "how do I learn python?"

It may seem like splitting hairs, but it's all in the wording. If I ask a question, "how do I build an e-commerce site", it would rightly get closed as nonsense. But if the question is "what are some good resources on building e-commerce web sites", that's not so bad (as long as it's CW).

The former seems like it's asking us to do the work, to write up a long tutorial or a bunch of bullet-point "best practices" for them to follow. The latter respects other people's time and assumes that answers will consist of mostly outbound links, not private tutoring sessions.

I think that the python question would be okay, if it were reworded and converted to CW. The JavaScript question should also be CW. With the appropriate phrasing, neither are truly subjective.

I'll vote to undelete the first one if and only if I see it converted to wiki mode and if somebody more familiar than I with the subject matter can edit it to sound less subjective.

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Good point, but I think deleting a question when it could have simply been rephrased appropriately is especially unfortunate when there are some valid answers in there. –  Daniel Vassallo May 23 '10 at 23:55
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@Daniel: Hindsight. It makes sense now, looking at both questions for comparison, but if I'd only seen the one question in isolation I might have done the same thing. In any event, that's why all deletions are soft. –  Aarobot May 24 '10 at 0:43
    
Seriously, "how do I build an e-commerce site" gets closed as nonsense? I've never seen this happen to a question. –  rlb.usa May 24 '10 at 20:54
    
@rlb: I've seen it happen plenty of times. The reasons vary, it's usually Not a real question but I've also seen people go with Off-Topic or S&A. Maybe you don't see them because they get closed so fast, and by the time you look they've already been bumped down. –  Aarobot May 25 '10 at 13:58

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