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The "Very Low Quality" (VLQ) flag reason is really annoying me.

It is the analog to the mommy mommy flag (which my 1.5-year-old child raises quite frequently). It provides no real clue as to what the flagger really wants us to do with the post.

  • Does she want us to close the question?
  • Does she want us to edit it into shape?
  • Does she want us to delete the question?
  • Does she want us to ban the user?
  • Does she want us to jump around and have a party?

Should we get rid of this flag reason?

Is it just me? Should and can we replace it with something better?

EDIT I accepted Jeff's answer. The tougher wording has heavily decreased the amount of very low quality flags. We now see only about 25% of the amount we used to and they are usually valid. Additionally, we now only allow very low quality on posts with a score of 0 or lower.

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..must resist flagging as low quality... in seriousness though, doesn't it imply that it needs deleting? It says (paraphrasing) that there are serious issues that are beyond salvaging. Presumably then the only logical choice is to delete the thing since it's providing no value and can't be fixed. –  Alconja Jun 3 '11 at 1:13
@Alconja well, Jarrod could not resist :) ... looking at the existing low quality flags I don't get that impression ... it is unclear what to do with these posts. –  waffles Jun 3 '11 at 1:18
@Alconja, that may be the intended purpose, but not how people are using it. –  Rebecca Chernoff Jun 3 '11 at 1:21
@Rebecca & waffles - silly me for assuming people would use things for their intended purpose. :) If you build it, they will come ...and break it. –  Alconja Jun 3 '11 at 1:32
Possibly related question: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/78626/… –  Andrew Grimm Jun 3 '11 at 3:48
@waffles, are you saying that denying the flag (and the resultant decrease in flag-weight) isn't sufficient punishment for "Low-quality flaggers"? –  Mike Pennington Jun 3 '11 at 8:00
Nobody knows what this flag means. Had one guy flag a question as "low quality" that had 11 effing upvotes! I left a comment to him asking why, he responded it was "off topic." –  Won't Jun 3 '11 at 15:03
@Won't note that the VLQ option isn't available for any post with score of 1 or higher any more. Definitely a valid complaint. –  Jeff Atwood Jan 2 '12 at 11:06

4 Answers 4

VLQ means the flagger thinks this post is beyond saving -- no amount of editing or polishing will turn this particular turd into gold. It is a call for a pooper-scooper. To clarify this, we are making the language a bit stronger:

very low quality

This question/answer has severe formatting or content problems. This question/answer is unlikely to be salvageable through editing, and might need to be removed.

Essentially this is synonymous with flag for removal. Both for the post and implicitly for the user who created that post … if they accrue enough of them.

The presence of the VLQ flagging option -- and note that we now only allow VLQ on posts with a score of zero or lower -- is exactly like a "no dumping" sign. It tells flaggers, and anyone else that cares to look, that toxic waste (aka extremely low quality content that can't be salvaged through any sane amount of editing) is not allowed in our community. It's right there on the sign in the flagging options: we don't tolerate posts, or users, that consistently pollute our system by dumping crap in it:

No Dumping - $500 fine sign

Whereas a downvote means "maybe this user is just having a bad day", a flag for low quality means this post, and possibly this user, are totally stinking up the joint and need to be ejected from the premises ASAP.

(And note that in cases where you feel very strongly, you can vote down and flag as low quality to hasten that process.)

edit: two changes we're making to improve the handling of this flag.

  1. The VLQ flag now carries a downvote from community. It is like "spam flag lite", meaning, no reputation penalty but like spam, it incurs a downvote from the community user.

  2. If a post is edited, any pending VLQ flags are now cleared (without harm) from the post. It is unclear that a post is still VLQ if it has been edited since it was flagged.

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Ok, so regarding that last parenthetical: why not make the flag act like spam flags, where it also subtracts from the post's score, at least unless/until it's dismissed? I mean... if it's so bad that it needs a moderator-ejection, is there any reason why it shouldn't be down-voted? And yet, there are plenty of low-quality posts without down-votes. I donno... Something stinks about this, and I sincerely hope it's just reluctance to lose 1 point. When there's a borderline question without a single critical comment, without a single down-vote... What are mods supposed to do about a flag? –  Shogging through the snow Jun 3 '11 at 3:49
If our intention with "low quality" is for it to be "flag for deletion" we should rename it to that, at least that way it is unambiguous –  waffles Jun 3 '11 at 3:51
@waffles that's nonsensical; why do we delete things? Because we don't like Java? Because the user had the impudence to use String.Empty instead of "" like God intended? Everything is predicated on quality. –  Jeff Atwood Jun 3 '11 at 3:59
Looking at some of the current low-quality flags on SO, they don't seem to be beyond saving, and they aren't posts should be ejected asap. –  Rebecca Chernoff Jun 3 '11 at 3:59
@shog9 so you are proposing flag for low quality + downvote would take a post to -2 (minimum) plus the flag? That's pretty nuclear. –  Jeff Atwood Jun 3 '11 at 4:00
That's how the flag is supposed to be used, but it doesn't seem to be how it's actually used in the wild. I can't recall a low quality flag that called for an immediate removal of a post. In my (albeit anecdotal) experience, "low quality" flag is synonymous with "I don't feel like editing it, but maybe a moderator will". –  Anna Lear Jun 3 '11 at 4:07
@rebecca I don't agree; I think most of those should be removed, with the normal variance for "sometimes bad questions manage to get great answers" –  Jeff Atwood Jun 3 '11 at 4:12
@Jeff: if the posts and possibly users really and truly "need to be ejected from the premises ASAP", then a -2 score is pretty tame... That aptly describes spam after all, so why not expand the behavior of spam votes to anything of exceedingly negative value? Of course, this assumes users aren't using this flag for borderline posts they simply can't be bothered to edit or close... or for posts they simply don't care for but don't want to down-vote. I mean, who would do that, right? –  Shogging through the snow Jun 3 '11 at 4:38
@shog the elephant in the room is that even hideously bad questions get good answers on Stack Overflow. Our incentive systems are almost too effective. So a parent delete of the question is a slap on the wrist saying to users "don't answer crap, or your work runs a very real risk of being thrown away." I just ran through all ~15 of the current low quality flags and they are about 80% accurate in my opinion, which is a clear net win. I grant you that 'quality' is sometimes in the eye of the beholder to a degree, but.. our system is better with this in place. –  Jeff Atwood Jun 3 '11 at 5:02
@jeff: in that case, wouldn't a nice negative number next to the question help to indicate "crap" to potential aswerers? –  Shogging through the snow Jun 3 '11 at 5:32
@shog they're too busy answering the crappiest of crap questions, and extremely well. No matter how many negative votes the question gets, they'll still earn +40 or more for a good answer... and if the question is closed, that doesn't affect their ability to continue to gain rep from their good answer to that godawful question forever. Until I click "delete" on the parent question, that is.. (now, if the answer is Eric freakin' Lippert quality I won't be deleting the question.) Anyways, point being: edit crap questions before answering, or just.. don't answer at all. –  Jeff Atwood Jun 3 '11 at 5:42
@Jeff I've never understood the difference with closing as NaRQ (for questions) or flagging as NaA (for answers). Your rewording doesn't clarify anything for me. –  Gilles Jun 7 '11 at 19:15
@JeffAtwood I guess this goes out in the next build? BTW, could you make it such that retags don't count towards clearing the flag? I don't think a post that was bad enough to get a VLQ flag should be counted as "improved" by mere retagging. I would go the extra mile and consider all edits with < x % of content changed to not count towards clearing the flags, but I guess that might be harder to implement –  Lorem Ipsum Jan 20 '12 at 0:35
@lun they don't stack. Max of -1 from community. It should be deployed now AFAIK. –  Jeff Atwood Jan 20 '12 at 17:36
Making the standard "no amount of editing or polishing will turn this particular turd into gold" seems to conflict with your Don't Polish Turds mantra? –  Brad Mace Aug 7 '12 at 2:30

Silently convert them to down-votes. Complete with the normal rep-deduction for the flagger/voter.

This suggestion has been misunderstood, misinterpreted as a joke even... Which is fairly appropriate, given its brevity - perhaps someone should have flagged it VLQ! So I'll elaborate a bit...

‘Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant:
But over its terrible edge there had slipped
A duke and many a peasant;
So the people said something would have to be done.
But their projects did not at all tally:
Some said, "Put a fence around the edge of the cliff"
Some, "An ambulance down in the valley."

There is a never-ending stream of new users on Stack Overflow. Users who really don't "get" the whole "Q&A" thing. Folks whose entire experience with user-generated content is comprised of participation on forums, or Twitter. Reddit users...

A great many of them have nothing useful to contribute. If, upon encountering their first worthless answer we delete it with prejudice and move on, that's probably ok - if they don't come back, we've lost nothing of value. Building a fence just causes them to leap the fence before plummeting to their demise... We're better off funding the ambulance.

So no worries, right?

Except it sends the wrong message. Or rather, it doesn't send any message at all - a user with a history of this sort of answer might get a message from the moderators, or might get silently question banned, or might just get deleted. We've not only built a cliff that's easy to fall over, we've somehow made the landing so painless that folks repeatedly jump until their skull cracks on the rocks below. And the folks standing at the top are encouraged to just call 9-1-1 and quietly wait for the next clumsy oaf to stumble along...

We've put up a "no dumping sign", and then built a system to silently make trash disappear. There is no $500 fine - we'll cheerfully clean up after you... Until we get fed up and just kill you.

Indeed, we're far more careful about marking overtly malicious posts: Spam and Offensive flags result in an automatic down-vote (from the Community user though, not the flagger). This prompted my revised suggestion:

Why not make the flag act like spam flags, where it also subtracts from the post's score, at least unless/until it's dismissed?

BTW: there's another problem with VLQ... Folks still don't differentiate between VLQ and "Not an answer" when it comes to answers. And there's no feedback there either; both flags will tend to result in the answer being removed.

I like the idea of an automatic down-vote because it fits well into our existing system. Down-voted posts are de-emphasized, and less likely to waste readers time until the flag is handled. Authors of down-voted posts are encouraged to improve them. Voters are encouraged not to take down-voting lightly. And any reputation lost to a down-vote will eventually be restored once the trash is taken out. For the vast majority of users posting crap, it won't make any difference. For the majority of flags, it won't seriously inconvenience the flagger any. And for the handful who really just need a brisk slap in the face, it's immediate feedback telling them that this isn't Reddit.

We can have the fence and the ambulance.

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Ingenious :) However I am pretty sure we can do better –  waffles Jun 3 '11 at 1:30
Hehe, this was my initial cop-out suggestion. q: –  Rebecca Chernoff Jun 3 '11 at 1:31
there is a subtle but important difference between a "this is not useful" downvote and "this is a health hazard to our community" VLQ flag. –  Jeff Atwood Jan 2 '12 at 13:38
I am not sure I understand the florid language in this post. The $500 fine is that, after leaving enough of your dog's poop in the park, you will be barred from bringing your dog to the park -- you get permanently blocked from asking and/or answering. That said, I don't necessarily oppose adding a free community downvote on VLQ posts, and spam/offensive is certainly the closest cousin to VLQ in that it implies "this is a health hazard to our community" not just "meh, not useful". There is an important difference there. Spam is malice, VLQ is stupidity as malice. –  Jeff Atwood Jan 3 '12 at 1:00
I could live with that, @Jeff. If VLQ is intended to be "offensive-lite", then the down-vote and potential deletion (and eventual banning) but without the -100 penalty for deletion certainly fits. Users who aren't concerned about seeing -1 next to their posts right away won't be missed. –  Shogging through the snow Jan 3 '12 at 1:07

I always assume "low quality" is a flag for removal. If the post can't be salvaged through editing then I close it as "not a real question" to give the OP a chance to edit it into shape themselves. After time it can be deleted.

I've already stated elsewhere what I think of "low quality" flags on answers, but given the number of low quality questions we get every day on Stack Overflow, I think we still need the flag for questions.

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But ... they could have just flagged the post as NARQ in that case? Why do we need two different ways to flag something as NARQ? –  waffles Jun 3 '11 at 1:40
@waffles: Good point. If you're going to remove it for answers you might as well just completely get rid of it. –  Bill the Lizard Jun 3 '11 at 1:47
undeleting this because I think it's still relevant. The stark reality is that our worst users are not capable of answering -- they don't know enough to even begin generating an ultra-low quality answer; all they can do is pump out ultra-low-quality questions ... endlessly. –  Jeff Atwood Jun 3 '11 at 3:20
@waffles: NARQ is a close category, not a flag category. Sub-3K users could flag saying "This should be closed because of X", but that's free-form text, not multiple-choice. –  Andrew Grimm Jun 3 '11 at 3:47
@Andrew It's a flag category as well, but you gotta dig for it a bit. Flag->it doesn't belong here->NARQ. This only works on questions, though. –  Anna Lear Jun 3 '11 at 4:09
There is the situation I have encountered (as a 1.2K user) where a question is low quality, and beyond my capabilities to suggest edits to improve it. Here I would flag as low quality implying "I think this is so dire it should be removed, but if you are capable of improving it by editing it, please do so". –  Chris Walton Jun 3 '11 at 16:21
@waffles because there's a difference between a "not great, edit and try again" NARQ close and "girl don't go away mad, just go away" VLQ flag. –  Jeff Atwood Jan 2 '12 at 13:40

I think the need for the flag outweighs just how much it clogs up the queue, however I would suggest (if we're going to revise it):

  • Lower the flag if a post is edited. If it's still low quality after that, someone else can flag it. 80% of the LQ flags I service need no servicing, one or several other users have edited the question constructively. In fact, most of the time I have to dig through revisions to see if the flag was valid at the time it was raised. That takes time.

  • Show that a question is flagged by saying "This post may be in need of editing, if you can improve it please do"

  • Using the flag costs a down vote

  • Editing a post marked as "May be in need of editing" gets you 1 rep.

  • Posts that keep getting flags are presented to moderators.

In other words, I don't see why the community can't be handling these almost 100% of the time. Moderators can then deal with the stuff that can't be salvaged.

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#1 is not bad, but you have to remember at 3,600+ questions per day, and climbing -- it is no longer sane or rational to believe that every question is sacred and must be edited to be saved. Some of these are trash and need to be thrown away. Also, FYI: we auto-reject about 15% - 20% of all incoming questions these days as of a few weeks ago ... so you aren't seeing the vast stream of garbage flowing down the river that used to exist. –  Jeff Atwood Jun 3 '11 at 5:39
@Jeff - Yes, it is a lot better and the catches are good. And you are correct, most of these were ideas that came to mind when the river of crud was more free flowing. But, since it came up and all, I figured why not toss them out. –  Tim Post Jun 3 '11 at 5:48
I am having Sam look at #1 (lower flag if post is edited), I can't see any harm at all in clearing VLQ flags as valid on edit, and a lot of possible benefit in less thinking as we look at the flag queue. It's definitely true that an edit after a VLQ flag makes the original flag suspect. –  Jeff Atwood Jan 2 '12 at 12:20
That makes sense. The flag is supposed to mean this is a train wreck with no survivors, it needs to stop jamming up traffic. Honestly the whole public flag weight thing was a bad idea. Declining flags begs two questions now: "Is this flag valid?" and "How much time am I going to waste on Meta defending myself when someone argues with my decision on what to do with the flag?" The real 'think sink' here is flag weight. –  Tim Post Jan 2 '12 at 20:21
and yet, public flag weight produced a massive cleanup of the site, making it better for everyone –  Jeff Atwood Jan 3 '12 at 0:52

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