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This is a cross-post from meta.programmers. I think the discussion also belongs here and to be honest, I’m really angry at the moment and I want this to get some attention.

Executive summary: deleting sucks. Don’t do it. You’re destroying the internet.


The deletion mafia has struck again. We had this discussion before on Meta.SO.

Case in point: the question What do you say to people when they say that programming is not demanding? was deleted.

Can we just please, please agree that this is not constructive behaviour and that questions – even ones that get closed for valid reasons – should not be deleted except when they are really disruptive?

The question above (cached copy here) wasn’t a great question but it got great answes and I had linked to it elsewhere. It is just really annoying that such questions get deleted, and it completely runs counter the spirit of the Internet: do not let links go stale.

I’m serious about this. Pervasive deleting destroys these sites. It’s a bad attitude and it needs to stop.


Proposal: I propose to actually revoke deletion rights from power users. It’s a completely useless ability. The few deletion that are actually necessary (e.g. for legal reasons) can easily be done by moderators. Granting deletion rights to many users directly leads to abuse. And I’m arguing that almost every deletion is abuse.


Related:
Should popular questions be so easy to delete?

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That teaches you to link to pages on SE when you know deletions happen –  RichardTheKiwi Mar 19 '11 at 11:20
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I agree with you. I voted undelete. –  user150926 Mar 19 '11 at 11:21
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That one was deleted by a site moderator; I don't know the full context, but asking on the site's meta is the best option. I would offer my regular undelete vote, but I can't - it would be binding. I don't want to strong-arm it... –  Marc Gravell Mar 19 '11 at 11:30
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@Marc Gravell: I have noticed a few moderators say something like that, "I would vote to X but my vote would be binding". Maybe moderators should be given the option to cast votes as either binding or non-binding. –  Brian Reichle Mar 19 '11 at 12:36
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@Brian: see meta.stackexchange.com/questions/41062/… –  Andreas Bonini Mar 19 '11 at 12:47
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-1 for re-hashing this ancient issue and for posting it in an obviously accusatory and inflammatory tone. You want to talk not constructive behaviour, let's talk about making broad sweeping statements railing against a critical feature because one your favourite questions happened to get singled out as crap. –  Aarobot Mar 19 '11 at 14:41
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Please avoid cross posting. The request to have this question undeleted belongs on meta.programmers, and the request to remove the delete feature belongs on meta.so. Posting the same question on multiple sites is discouraged, however posting off-topic questions (or mixing off topic into on-topic questions) is certainly discouraged. –  Adam Davis Mar 19 '11 at 16:25
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Flushing a toilet is a waste of water. I propose that from now on we ban flushing toilets. –  user27414 Mar 19 '11 at 19:50
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@ChrisF: If you can't, by looking at the question, immediately tell why it was deleted, deleting it might have been wrong. –  sbi Mar 19 '11 at 20:06
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@sbi - the question itself is a bad question - which is why it was closed in the first place. The vast majority of answers are one liners - so it's not eliciting well thought out, reasoned responses. Two of the answers are links to xkcd comics - not a good sign. There were a couple of good answers, but on the whole the question didn't add anything to the site. –  ChrisF Mar 19 '11 at 20:11
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@Brian - I am not an elected moderator of that site; I'd rather "house rules" etc... –  Marc Gravell Mar 19 '11 at 21:14
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@sbi: Please don't conflate the deletion of long-running complaints here on meta by the dev team with the deletion of poor questions on individual Stack Exchanges by their moderators. The two have practically no relationship whatsoever. –  Aarobot Mar 20 '11 at 6:57
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@Aarobot Yes: this was an accusation. Thanks for noticing. What’s wrong with that? As for inflammatory, nope, sorry. There’s nothing inflammatory with decrying a fundamentally flawed behaviour. –  Konrad Rudolph Mar 20 '11 at 10:03
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@Konrad: What's wrong with that? The fact that you do it in the same breath as lamenting other users' "non-constructive behaviour". Opening a dialogue with guns blazing is the epitome of unconstructive and your apparent obliviousness to all the prior dialogue makes it especially obnoxious. Next time, if you want people to listen to you, choose a specific issue instead of mixing them up and cross-posting them like Adam says, and at least pretend to entertain the possibility that other people have good reasons for the things they do. –  Aarobot Mar 20 '11 at 15:10
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@Shog9 But as others have noted we had this argument before – and the agreement I remember was that entirely too much gets deleted. I admit that I hadn’t anticipated such a huge controversy, else I would have argued my point better to begin with. For me it was straightforward: the question isn’t great but it’s on-topic, it got great answers, generated a lot of interest – such questions should never be deleted, links to it shouldn’t go stale. –  Konrad Rudolph Mar 21 '11 at 8:07

5 Answers 5

I think deletion powers are a tricky problem. On the one hand, I agree with you. It's incredibly frustrating when good questions (or more commonly, poor questions with exceptional answers) get deleted. It many cases it only takes a small cabal of power users with a bone to pick, and voila - mass deletion of borderline or even good content. It's hard to notice, because only a small number of users can even see such actions. And even when it's noticed, it's incredibly tough, antagonistic and unrewarding to get them back. Once a question has been deleted, it becomes a case of "guilty, until proven innocent".

On the other hand, sites like Stack Overflow get a lot of really terrible questions (those are just a few at random from the last few hours). They are closed quickly, but after that, they just sit around uselessly. They're not valuable, they are indexed by Google, and they are noise. No one ever needs to see them. They will waste the time of anyone who visits their page. They reduce the quality level of the site and make it harder to find the good stuff.

It would be nice to be able to leverage the community to clean them up.

In your specific case, the problem was heavy-handed moderation from a true ♦ moderator, which is always going to be a difficult case. Moderators need the power and authority to make big decisions, but oversight of their actions is important, and they have a special responsibility to be sensitive to their power (see Marc Gravell's comment above). I think bringing the issue to meta, on a case by case basis is the correct thing to do here.

There have been steps taken to address problematic deletions (see the other comments and answers) by users, which I think cover most of my former objections, so I withdraw my other proposals.

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in general see my answer. #4 already happens, we auto-delete migration stubs after a while. –  Jeff Atwood Mar 19 '11 at 14:29
    
Also, as Jeff points out, #1 is somewhat addressed by the fact that the upvotes on a question increase the number of delete votes required to remove it: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/50523/… . –  Brad Larson Mar 19 '11 at 15:15
    
I agree with everything you say, up until the list of changes at the end. –  Mark Rogers Mar 19 '11 at 16:07
    
@Mark Rogers, Jeff Atwood, Brad Larson: All good points. I had forgotten about the modifications to the deletion criteria, which largely cover what I was aiming for. I withdraw my proposals. –  ire_and_curses Mar 19 '11 at 16:35

Closing is not enough. By the time a reasonable, but off topic question is closed, it has accrued an answer or two, and the person who asked it gets what they wanted, even though they posted a question that isn't allowed on the site.

If we do not delete questions which are inappropriate for this site then people will understand that such questions still result in answers and reputation, and they will ask them more frequently than they already do. This will drop the signal to noise ratios, and the site would lose it's laser sharp focus. Experts would get fed up with the low signal to noise ratio and leave.

We must aggressively protect our niche, and deleting is one of the very important tools for this.

Further, if we remove deletion we're going to have to fundamentally change how the site operates. Deletion removes reputation accrued to bad questions, so removing it allows yet another way to game reputation. Deletion removes the question from google search results, and for bad questions with no answers, people would end up here via google, and see that their question isn't answered here, simply because they used the same terminology as the person who wrote the bad question. This is bad branding.

Lastly, if a question lasted long enough to get several great answers, it's quite possible that it ended up in the data dump prior to deletion. You can get that information out of the data dump. Worst case, you post a message on meta asking that a 10k user give you the content so you can repost it on your site.

The end game for Stack Exchange is that a site will exist for every reasonable question, so ultimately your request will come to pass simply due to the fact that we will have a place to migrate good, but off topic, questions.

Until then, though, it's critically important to maintain a very high signal to noise ratio, avoid rep gaming, and make sure we don't pollute search engine indices.

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+1 for this, although "reasonable" in your second-to-last paragraph is a subjective term on its own - if a question was deleted for being not constructive, as opposed to off-topic, then it's probably never going to find a home on Stack Exchange. –  Aarobot Mar 19 '11 at 14:36
    
@Aarobot Yes, I could change "reasonable question" to "question which meets the given site's FAQ guidelines for what constitutes an acceptable question" but I'm trying to be a little less verbose in my writing. Edit away if you have a better phrasing for that point! –  Adam Davis Mar 19 '11 at 16:14
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people will understand that such questions still result in answers and reputation, and they will ask them more frequently than they already do - Imho simply removing reputation from closed questions will solve this problem in the same way. I'm also not a fan of deleting. –  Ladislav Mrnka Mar 20 '11 at 23:13

The issue in this case (and I don't actually disagree with it) is that a diamond mod issued the delete.

Other than that, this has all been discussed before:

The Great Question Deletion Audit of 2010

And there are rules around it, which a diamond moderator is immune to

Should delete votes be limited like close votes?

I don't think there's much of value in the particular question under discussion, but I will save that response for where it belongs -- meta.programmers.

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I agree with Adam's answer: protect your niche, do what you have to do and remove what you want. But don't just delete those popular (but bad) questions. They are not a problem but an opportunity: to reiterate my previous suggestion, move them to an "outcast.stackexchange.com" (so previous external references to those questions are still valid, since they would be automatically redirected to "outcast"), strip any reputation gained from those questions (no rep gaming), and explain in their new page why they have been moved (educate). –  VonC Mar 19 '11 at 18:19
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@VonC: someone else had that idea... It became Programmers.SE (and changed focus into something approaching useful). I doubt it'll get tried again. –  Shogging through the snow Mar 20 '11 at 1:02
    
@vonc there is no reason questions like that need to exist in our network -- programmers is more subjective, but it is not "anything goes" and questions and answers must be constructive to be of lasting value –  Jeff Atwood Mar 20 '11 at 1:45
    
@VonC: Opportunity for what? You left out what should have been the most important part of your argument. And, incidentally, reputation and "rep gaming" really don't enter into it at all. –  Aarobot Mar 20 '11 at 7:00
    
@Aarobot: uh? "educate"? last word of my argument: helping to transform the popularity of those questions, which had an impact and a lasting value (for the wrong reasons) for a lot of people into a way to help them: a/ discover there is a lot more behind "favorite cartoon" and make them discover what Stack Exchange is all about b/ understand why "favorite cartoon" type of questions won't be allowed on Stack Exchange. –  VonC Mar 20 '11 at 8:15
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@vonc so if there is lots of trash on the street with little "please don't litter" signs placed next to them, people will understand that it is bad for there to be trash on the streets? –  Jeff Atwood Mar 20 '11 at 8:19
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@Jeff: I understand those questions must not exist on a normal Stack Exchange site; that is why I propose for those to a/ keep a winning value for you as essentially a static content for educate and advertise newcomers to the constructing value actually proposed by all the other Stack Exchange, while b/ keeping their (frozen) content available to the many casual visitors who knew about their content (while not realizing this wasn't the right kind of answer): win-win. Again: an opportunity to advertise and educate about what Stack Exchange is really about. Lasting value to me;) –  VonC Mar 20 '11 at 8:21
    
@Jeff: essentially yes: no questions of those kind will have ever the opportunity to get that big (in number of views, favorites and votes: which is why it was upsetting to see them "vanish" in the first place), because they would be closed much more rapidly, with a comment pointing to that kind of old, historic question. And if one still falls through the cracks, you have a natural place to move them to, instead of just deleting them, while keeping the content of the original SE site clean. –  VonC Mar 20 '11 at 8:25
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@vonc this is irrelevant; there is usually enough time (a day or three) when such things hang around to educate. They do not need to be immortalized in granite for future generations to admire. –  Jeff Atwood Mar 20 '11 at 8:25
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@VonC: I frankly find that a BS explanation and the same tired old explanation everybody else uses for objectionable content. "Educational" is every bit as subjective and open to interpretation as "opportunity". I'm not buying it, and referencing the cartoon thread as being "a lot more behind [...]" just undermines the rest of the argument, as there really was nothing else to find in there. –  Aarobot Mar 20 '11 at 14:59
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Anyway @VonC, from experience we've all seen that these broken windows certainly do not help to educate people on the proper usage of SO/SE, they just encourage copycats. Even if they're closed, there's a large subset of people who won't notice or care. And it's true that there is a subset of simpletons who, if you delete them, will think "oh, I guess I must be the first person with this idea!" but they are vastly outnumbered by those who will recognize the lack of any similar questions as a red flag. –  Aarobot Mar 20 '11 at 15:02
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@Konrad: Honestly I'm sorry if this comes off as rude or elitist but you really need to start by reading the old meta discussions and blog posts and even the original podcasts before coming in here and venting. This issue has been debated a thousand times over and you seem to be coming in here with no context whatsoever. Your 89k Stack Overflow reputation only makes it all the more painful that you don't already know the answers to the questions you're asking. –  Aarobot Mar 20 '11 at 15:05
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@Aarobot So you’re basically saying: if you don’t participate in meta, your opinion isn’t welcome? Sorry, that doesn’t work. It’s a pity that SO mixes technical discussions (meta) with off-topic (also meta) – as a result, participating in meta is utterly time-consuming, which is why I don’t do it. Were the two distinct, I would undoubtably have known about the discussion beforehand. That said, I read all blog posts and have heard all the old podcasts so I’m reasonably well-informed, I believe. –  Konrad Rudolph Mar 20 '11 at 16:36
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@Konrad: no, he's saying if you don't read meta then you're arguing a position that has been rebutted countless times already, and wasting all of our time by failing to add anything new to the discourse. Start with the posts that've been linked here - folks took the time to dig them up for you, you could at least give them that much... –  Shogging through the snow Mar 20 '11 at 16:42
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@Shog9 I agree that that’a a problem but from what I gather the discussion is all over the place and cannot simply be read up. I did read all of the links provided here and I didn’t find a definitive discussion of deletion. For the last discussion about deletion that I actively followed the result was that yes, much too much gets deleted, let’s discourage it. –  Konrad Rudolph Mar 21 '11 at 7:59

Keep in mind that the question was not actually a question.

It may not be physically demanding but it sure is mentally demanding.

There are several ways I could close this question. I could close this question as not constructive, or I could close it as not a real question. I could also close it for being argumentative; it's not objective, and it's not a good subjective question.

It's clear what the question asker thinks about this subject, which makes it inappropriate. By stating his/her opinion, we not only encourage a lot of "me too" answers, but he/she also opens the door for some argumentative answers. This is not what Stack Exchange is about, since there are already several forums on the Internet that encourage this type of traffic.

With that said, this question could have been improved by leaving out the opinion in the question. However, because of all of the answers, I think it was too late to fix the problem.

If the problem was caught early, even after being improved, it still might be closed, but at least it wouldn't show a blatant disregard for the information in the Programmers FAQ.

In my mind, if too many of the rules are broken in a question, then we just don't want it in our community at all. These types of questions aren't what Stack Exchange is about, and they won't help the site attract and keep professional experts.

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For context, this is the particular bit of content it seems people are upset about losing:


What do you say to people when they say that programming is not demanding?

Ask them if writing a small 100 page novel in English without a single spelling or grammatical error is mentally demanding.

Further explain to them that this novel is actually someone else's story that you have to write as they explain it to you.

That person only speaks Chinese (luckily you are bilingual), so you have to translate it from Chinese to English as you go.

Then to top it off, the person isn't exactly sure what the story they want is, so they can only help you get it right by informing you when you have done it wrong from their vague descriptions.

You have to complete this in 3 days.

(In rare DailyWTF stories: Your boss insists on helping, despite being semi-illiterate)

Now is it demanding?

Written by: Dan McGrath


Is this interesting content?

Yes

Does this content make the Internet a better place?

Possibly

Does this content belong on programmers.se?

That totally depends on the community running the site


Should we make engine level changes that make it impossible to remove content from a site?

No, I don't think so


The community and moderators should have the right to decide what content they think belongs on the site, for example:

What if the most awesome answer ever is posted on SO, it gets 100s of votes, but turns out to be off-topic. An example could be a question regarding employment law, with an answer by a prominent lawyer in the field. Great content, however, off topic.

Leaving content like that on SO, sets a bad example and sends a totally wrong message to people visiting the site. We have no place in the network for such content at the moment so we are stuck with the unfortunate task of deleting it.

I think the best way to solve this orphan great content issue, is to simply provide it in the data dump, perhaps include all deleted posts with more than X votes with in a "we have no home for this content" dump. Then others that feel like the content needs a new home can host a web site where it can thrive. As it stands 10k users on the respective sites can grab the content and host it elsewhere if they feel so strongly about it, provided the licensing terms are filled.

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You seem to have the wrong question quoted. There's nothing "great" about it. Unless we're into typos of "grate." –  random Mar 20 '11 at 23:25
    
ahhh @random ... will I be seeing you in the SO meetup next month? –  waffles Mar 20 '11 at 23:27
    
If it was last year, yes. But you'll have to see the IP of last user activity to see why this year is kind of out. –  random Mar 20 '11 at 23:31
    
@random, that is why we need scram jets –  waffles Mar 20 '11 at 23:35

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