# Should questions closed as “not a real question” and “off topic” get an automatic downvote?

We currently have five standard close reasons network wide:

• exact duplicate
This question covers exactly the same ground as earlier questions on this topic; its answers may be merged with another identical question.

• off topic
Questions on Stack Overflow are expected to generally relate to programming or software development in some way, within the scope defined in the faq.

• subjective and argumentative
It's impossible to objectively answer this question; questions of this type are too open ended and usually lead to confrontation and argument.

• not a real question
It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form.

• too localized
This question would only be relevant to a small geographic area, a specific moment in time, or an extraordinarily narrow situation that is not generally applicable to the worldwide audience of the internet.

After dealing with the recent influx of 1,000+ flags per day on Stack Overflow, I have come to believe that some of these close reasons, when invoked, should be followed by a downvote from community on the question.

Specifically:

• Not a Real Question
• Off Topic (excluding questions that get migrated elsewhere)

Maybe it's just flag fatigue, but I've seen a lot of users who really should know better -- not newbie 1 rep users, but users with hundreds or thousands of rep -- asking egregiously off topic and/or unanswerable questions.

Having community downvote these OT and NARQ questions at the time of close would accomplish a few things:

1. earlier tripping of our protection heuristics for new users, that is, no more asking 10 questions in a row that don't get downvoted, but all closed
2. a disincentive for users who feel they can "try the waters" and float egregiously off-topic or utterly vague questions in our community, at no risk
3. no more using up daily downvotes, at a cost of -1 rep, to the users who helped close these questions and genuinely feel these questions should be actively discouraged by downvotes (as I frequently do)

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What happens with questions on the fence that get migrated to say Programmers ? Or is it just automatic downvotes for questions closed as OT that are not migrated. –  phwd Mar 28 '11 at 5:02
@phi migrations are not relevant, only close as off topic where it stays on the site –  Jeff Atwood Mar 28 '11 at 6:48
@Jeff could the protection mechanism not be changed to take closed questions into account instead to address 1.)? –  Pëkka Mar 28 '11 at 9:03
@pekka except that some closes are benign. Others.. not so much. –  Jeff Atwood Mar 28 '11 at 10:31
@Jeff A good metric would of course look at what kind of closings, and how many. A user with > 2-3 NarQ closings should score high - individual incidents not at all, or very low. –  Pëkka Mar 28 '11 at 11:33
I'm breaking out in a cold sweat because I want so badly to vote to close this question as OT... ARGHHHH..... CAN'T.... STOP.... MYSELF...!!!! –  user27414 Mar 28 '11 at 13:12
I like this proposal but -1 is a ridiculous amount of penalty especially for users who really should know better. Confiscate some random gold badges, ban for a decade, mail bomb their account with a capitalized Faq. -1 is nothing compared to pity votes and probably some answers. If you have to penalize, penalize heavier. –  systempuntoout Mar 28 '11 at 15:10
The off-topic close vote on this post is hilarious! –  LeakyCode Mar 28 '11 at 20:38
Would this mean they also automagically get deleted after 30 days @Jeff? Because I'd definitely support anything that get's rid of closed questions. Though currently you only delete automatically delete unanswered questions, I'd favor adding closed (except dupes) questions as well. –  Ivo Flipse Mar 28 '11 at 20:47
@JeffAtwood What happens to off-topic votes on questions that should be migrated but don't have a pre-set migration path? I'm talking about a situation where someone votes to close as off-topic and flags the post for a mod to migrate to another site. Do community votes get cleared when the migration is performed? –  Anna Lear Mar 29 '11 at 15:03
What about questions that are voted for migration, but are closed as OT because there's no tag in common between the question and the target site? –  Gabe Apr 4 '11 at 7:58
There needs to be a way to stop any new upvotes being given as well. –  Ian Ringrose Apr 14 '11 at 10:36
@JeffAtwood Care to mention what it is you actually completed? –  Ivo Flipse Apr 14 '11 at 11:39
@Jeff feature requests usually have an answer outlining how and where something was implemented. That answer then gets accepted. I think that should be done here as well for consistency's sake, but I guess it's your call - shrug –  Pëkka Aug 28 '11 at 10:38
@JeffAtwood I'm sorry but it's not EXTREMELY OBVIOUS because there's a lot of discussion below. Any and all of that discussion may have altered the scope of the OP, even in subtle ways, so it's not clear at all that the "Status Complete" only applies to the OP. –  Django Reinhardt Jan 23 '12 at 17:15

I think that the sort of people who chronically post NARQ or OT questions don't care about reputation as much as we think, or would hope, that they do. That said, if all this accomplishes is earlier trigger of "Sorry, we're no longer accepting questions from this account", great.

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I believe the downvotes also serve as a signpost to the community. When you see a downvoted question, it makes you think more carefully about wording your own questions correctly and taking into account the site's topic. –  jmort253 Mar 28 '11 at 4:38
@jmort253: I think that's an overly-optimistic view of the folks who post these kind of questions. –  Michael Petrotta Mar 28 '11 at 4:41
I never posted those kinds of questions because I learned from the mistakes of others. I was using Stack Overflow long before I ever posted my first question or answer. Of course, you're right that not everyone will learn. –  jmort253 Mar 28 '11 at 4:46
I don't care if they don't care about rep. As Jeff Atwood said, the downvote trigger some protective measurements and that eventually stops them in their tracks. –  Toon Krijthe Mar 28 '11 at 8:48

I like the spirit of the suggestion very much, but I would much prefer a silent rep loss for the OP that doesn't show in the voting indicator, maybe even as much as 5 or 10 points for repeat offenders.

I frequently downvote bad questions, and check back a few hours later to see whether anything has changed so I can remove the downvote. I often find that my downvote has been pity upvoted even though the OP has not improved anything at all. The same thing is bound to happen to community downvotes (although admittedly, pity upvotes after a closing occur more rarely.)

The user base should be educated about doing more downvoting on terrible content. Maybe that is an issue that needs separate looking at.

Also, if it's not already happening, some types of closings should be calculated into the "Sorry, we no longer accept questions from this account" algorithm (with the closing counting like one downvote).

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+1 for "rep loss for the OP that doesn't show in the voting indicator" –  marcog Mar 28 '11 at 8:52
Pitty upvotes are the prelude of more evil to come. They feed the flames that power the doomsday engine. They kill kittens (and unicorns) with a smile and they erase your harddrive on a blue monday when it rains. By december next year they will take over and all is lost. Why you ask? Simple they stop the spark of the learning experience so the clueless stay clueless without any hope for improvement. –  Toon Krijthe Mar 28 '11 at 8:53
the last time we looked at the data, pity upvoting existed more in users' minds than the actual votes –  Jeff Atwood Mar 28 '11 at 10:55
@Jeff, I'm quite curious, how did you analyze the data? I've wondered about the actual impact of pity upvoting on many occasions, but never figured out a way to separate pity upvotes out from bad upvotes that would have been cast whether or not there was a downvote before. –  Pops Mar 28 '11 at 13:58
Even though I'm not really on board with the silent rep loss, +1 for "some types of closings should be calculated into the 'Sorry, we no longer accept questions from this account' algorithm." –  Pops Mar 28 '11 at 14:00
@Pop a valid metric might be questions that got voted to a negative score, received upvotes after that, and eventually got closed. But that isn't going to catch every one... I'd be interested to learn about that, too. –  Pëkka Mar 28 '11 at 17:25
Heh. We made a post on Skeptics' meta to encourage our users to downvote heavily. Generally, I find that most SE sites don't downvote nearly enough. –  Borror0 Mar 28 '11 at 20:48
there is no actual pity upvote problem per the data: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/93356/… –  Jeff Atwood Aug 28 '11 at 9:42

no more using up daily downvotes, at a cost of -1 rep, to the users who helped close these questions and genuinely feel these questions should be actively discouraged by downvotes (as I frequently do)

If that's your goal, then consider: five users down-voting and NaRQ voting will result in a closed question with a -5 score. A community vote at the time of closing will boost this a little, but doesn't really sate the urge when voting.

How about setting it up like the spam flags? Each close-vote implies a down-vote (but doesn't cost the caster rep), which evaporates if the question is never closed.

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+1 for the evaporation idea. I've had several people close vote my questions and then later realize it's an OK question. –  John Mar 29 '11 at 0:59
@John: actually, close votes already evaporate (I forget what the time-period is, but it's not terribly long). Here I'm just saying the implicit down-vote should go with it. –  Shog9 Mar 29 '11 at 2:01
Yes, I know. I'm just agreeing that the vote should go with it. –  John Mar 29 '11 at 3:07

As a mod on Writers.SE I just closed a question that was clearly off-topic. Apparently this was implemented across the SE sites. I fully support it for StackOverflow and other popular sites, but I question the wisdom of having this feature on the beta sites. The beta sites are, in many ways, still figuring out the list of on-topic versus off-topic questions and are trying to grow their user base. When new users show up and ask clearly off-topic questions even if we gently try to close them (if they cannot be edited into something on-topic), this may seem like a much firmer smack than necessary - more like a slap in the face than a tap on the wrist.

Is this feature strictly necessary for the beta sites? I think not. For the rest of the sites I can support it, but not for those still in beta, public or private.

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if you feel it is warranted, you should upvote it. I believe the -1 is correct in the specific case you cited, and in the general case as well. –  Jeff Atwood Mar 29 '11 at 15:53
@Jeff - just curious here: would your response be different if it was the question the journalist asked on SeasonedAdvice? –  justkt Mar 29 '11 at 16:01
Joel has his own opinions about this, but he didn't actually see what she asked. cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/5161/… and comment left "recipe requests/swapping are considered off-topic here. Were happy to help you with any techniques or issues you may have with a specific recipe. You can view our current rules and contribute your input at meta.cooking.stackexchange.com – hobodave♦" –  Jeff Atwood Mar 29 '11 at 17:04

This seems reasonable for Stack Overflow, and perhaps for other launched sites. But please do not do this on beta sites. On a beta site, it's important to have some latitude to try borderline questions, and these should not be punished. People can still manually downvote the egregious cases — it's rare to reach the daily vote limit on a beta site.

Like others have said already, the automatic downvotes should be rescinded if the question is reopened or migrated (even if the migration is triggered later by a moderator).

Another point which I think hasn't been mentioned yet: if a question is migrated, then closed on the target site, there shouldn't be an automatic downvote.

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It depends on the beta site. By now, on Skeptics, we're pretty much done with experimenting. On the other hand, we get too many bad questions from people who should know better. –  Borror0 Mar 28 '11 at 21:42
@Borror0: I think Skeptics is the exception rather than the rule. Even on Unix (a very “stable” site), I think automatic downvotes would have been premature before launch. On Scifi (admittedly an extreme in the other direction), automatic downvotes would still be premature now, 2½ months in. –  Gilles Mar 28 '11 at 21:56
@Borror0, I not think Skeptics has anything possitive to give... –  Ian Ringrose Apr 14 '11 at 10:42

My initial opinion was "no, this isn't a good idea".

However after reading the whole post and understanding the increasing volume of such bad questions I was convinced this is a good idea - mainly as it will automatically block serial OT'ers. As mentioned before, most such people don't really care about reputation.

My additional two cents are to apply the same logic for Answers that get rightly flagged as "Not a real answer" or "Not welcome in our community" - the member posting such answer should get rep penalty and eventually be blocked from posting new answers.

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Oddly, I was just considering posting a question arguing for my personal policy: if it's worth voting to close (save for migration), it's worth downvoting. I'd be happy to be proved statistically wrong, but I see little evidence of the pattern of 'close, improve, reopen'. Most of what I'm voting to close is awful, and the OPs do not improve them. Most of the reopens are the results of tug-o-war over bikesheds -- as far as I observe.

So I'm all in favor of this notion, especially as modified by Shog9 to increase the sting.

A further thought. If votes are really supposed to rate the content, not the behavior, then 'increasing the sting' isn't really apropos. The original downvote rates the content. If you want to add a flag-like sting to the user, then something else should be added on top. For new users, going into 'poor question purgatory' is enough. For those repeat offenders with thousands in rep, a few downvotes is hardly a sting at all, and something else is called for.

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There is no point in "inproving" a closed quesion, you get better results by asking a new quesion that is clearly better then the closed question. –  Ian Ringrose Apr 14 '11 at 10:39
The problem with giving a downvoting, it is often becomes +4 (or +9) due to someone not liking new users getting down voted. –  Ian Ringrose Apr 14 '11 at 10:40

I've seen many questions closed wrongly. They were written by people with poor English skills, and closed very quickly before there was enough time to edit and fix them. I've also seen questions closed off-topic that weren't, or that just needed clarification to show that they weren't; again, it happens so quick there's no time to fix them.

One possibility is after 24 hours (or so), if the ratio of down to up-votes is at a certain amount, then apply the community downvote. This will give time for people to change their votes after an edit. I don't think this would work unless you gave notification to downvoters of those posts after they've been edited (only in the same delay timeframe). You could just show the edit notification in one of the dropdowns.

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Ideally, and I hope this is already planned, but the downvote should be retracted if the question got reopened. That largely reduces the impact of wrongful closings (in so much as it inspires more activity to fix the question, and results in no impact after the reopening) –  Grace Note Mar 28 '11 at 16:30

I'm in general in favor of this approach, with a few caveats:

For low-rep users, even one point feels significant. (It took me a long time before I cast my first down-vote, because it felt immensely difficult to earn reputation.) So I'd like to suggest the first incident for new-ish users be a notice "Hey, your question was closed as offtopic/NARQ, read http://tinyurl.com/so-hints for more advice on avoiding this. Next time it'll cost a point."

For high-rep users, one point feels insignificant -- a -1 score on a question is often replaced by a pity +1 vote, and a few iterations of a borderline question might generate +18 or +27 rep. (I'd love to know the ratio between pity-voting bringing up rep on borderline questions than decent questions that just never get voted on at all.) So repeat offenses feel like they should scale with the ratio of closed questions and reputation of the poster: -1, -10, -20, -1%, -2%, etc.

Kinder on the kind side and meaner on the mean side.

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I believe this should be measured against reputation. If you have less than 100 reputation on the site then you should be immune to the Community downvotes affecting your reputation. In fact, instead of a downvote, perhaps new users should receive an email with a link to the FAQ.

For users over 100 reputation, we can then start applying the automatic downvote for closed questions. Perhaps 100 is too low. This number could be adjusted based on perceptions of when the rules start to click based on reputation. I've definitely seen 3000+ users asking some very poor questions that were worthy of a downvote.

It's also important to point out that downvotes don't just affect offenders. They are signposts that inform the community that a certain behavior is not appreciated or expected. Therefore, since most of the off-topic questions are posted by new users, we would fail to effectively utilize this powerful community tool.

My suggestion is to close off-topic questions, assign them to the Community user, and then assign the downvote. We will spare the new user from the psychological impact of the downvote while still making it clear to the community that the question was not appropriate.

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I'm not a fan of babying users in the manner you are describing. In the adult world, actions have consequences, and there is such a thing as a stupid question. –  Jeff Atwood Mar 28 '11 at 4:49
@Jeff - That's interesting. I always thought the philosophy was to guide new users with a "gentle -- but firm -- intervention." Can the Community User tell the difference between a really dumb question and a user who is just new and didn't yet grasp all of the rules? Am I perhaps being too easy on the newbies? I believe some of the newbies with language barriers take more time to grasp the rules and don't have the same advantages as native-English speakers. –  jmort253 Mar 28 '11 at 5:08
@jmort when we didn't have 3,000+ questions per day I was willing to spend more time with newbies. We have big city problems now, and hand-holding doesn't scale -- the burden is on squarely on the question askers to put in a reasonable amount of effort, or they'll be waved off. Not in a mean way, but in a civil "if you don't bother to put in any effort, we won't either, sorry" way. –  Jeff Atwood Mar 28 '11 at 6:49
No immunity. New users sometimes need the extra push in the right direction. –  Toon Krijthe Mar 28 '11 at 8:46
It's likely that new/clueless users don't care about downvotes, rep damage, not being able to answer more questions (using this or that disposable account) etc, but as part of "sending a message" anyone helping an obviously poor question could be penalised in some way for "aiding and abetting" stupidity? –  Poldie Mar 28 '11 at 12:29
@Jeff - I'm disappointed that SO has become so unfriendly to newcomers. Actions have consequences indeed: being so unwelcoming to new users will drive them away and slow growth. –  user27414 Mar 28 '11 at 13:22
@status-declined, slowing growth is actually a good thing if it's because we're limiting new members to only the good ones. But yeah, I definitely had some posts early on that are... questionable at best. –  Pops Mar 28 '11 at 14:04
I began at SO less than a year ago, with a very short lurking period. My rep is now 1700 on SO and probably around 2500 across all sites; not stratospheric, by any means, but I've managed without any hand-holding. I think it's important to remember that a lot of things that are "nice" when a site is small become albatrosses after a while. Social scalability requires some compromise. –  syrion Mar 28 '11 at 20:59
@Jeff: jmort253 is probably speaking as the moderator of a low traffic SE site. He's a moderator on Project Management, which has 240 visits/day right now. At that stage, every new user counts. –  Borror0 Mar 28 '11 at 21:45
@Borror0 - I think you said it best. If I was moderator on an already-successful site, I would probably want to keep out the rifraf too. If you sell a $1 burger you're going to attract a$1 crowd. @Jeff - I can understand your point, and for a large site like this it makes sense. You have your experts, so the newbies either need to measure up or stomp away and have their tantrums elsewhere. –  jmort253 Mar 29 '11 at 4:12

I'd second @jmort's point about handling low-rep users differently, though I think I'd limit the difference to just sending a mail as well as downvoting.

I also wonder whether sympathy upvoting might be a problem? But would adding a comment about 'automatic downvote for x-reason' make things worse?

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Many closed questions already get negative votes. I generally don't see sympathy upvoting as a problem. Plus, that brings up another question. Should the Community user vote anonymously without leaving a comment? –  jmort253 Mar 28 '11 at 4:48
@jmort the close message is the comment –  Jeff Atwood Mar 28 '11 at 4:52
@Jeff - I guess if you apply the logic that Community downvotes anything closed, and there are 3 downvotes, it's logical to assume that one of those downvotes is the Community user. –  jmort253 Mar 28 '11 at 5:10

I think this might be more effective if any existing upvotes are stripped away at the same time Community casts its downvote.

Instant feedback (karma) and all that.

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