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When a question is a bad one, possibly irredeemable, it will (hopefully) get closed. This prevents further answers from being added. The question can be edited and re-opened.

However, when hypothetical new user NiceGuy sees their question closed, they often react badly--sometimes with good reason. Yeah, they left me suggestions for editing the question to make it more acceptable, but I put thought and time into the question, and now it's closed? What the hell are those elitist Stack Exchange people thinking? I hate this site!

Seriously, closed is probably a bad word for this state. Can we change this to something else, like frozed or even suspended? People interested in cooking or bicycles or writing see the word "closed" and think, "That's it, this is done. A lost cause."

As a mod on Bicycles, I sometimes see a bad question, one that will attract bad answers unless I close it quickly. So I'll close it, and then the community will complain. I understand their point--let's edit this, not close it--but in the meantime, the bad question will pile up bad answers, wasting everybody's time. (It doesn't help that the first answers on a question will tend to get the most upvotes, regardless of quality.)

Let's say we make this change. I'll use the same case of hypothetical new user NiceGuy again:

NiceGuy posts a question on a site, comes back the next morning and sees the question hasn't gotten any answers yet--because the question is "Frozen/suspended pending additional information". It would be much more encouraging to NiceGuy to see that we think there's a good question in there, that we want to help it be a better question. I want to avoid seeing that big, bold [closed] appended to the title.

I suspect that I'm going to hear that we want to drive these users way, that we want to lose them. The cost of quality is to drive away the forum rats and twitter hounds.

I think that more people can learn to write good questions if we help them in this way.

What do you think? How, exactly, could this be implemented?

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I have been here and tried this. –  Pops Oct 11 '11 at 19:00
    
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On SO I don't see any problem in driving away new users unless they prove very quicker that having them will make SO better for long standing current users. Other sides are a very differnt case, in that they need new users. –  Ian Ringrose Oct 12 '11 at 8:30
    
@Ian - Nevertheless, any fix to this would be applied network-wide, not just on SO. Unless the dev team starts doing features only for beta sites? (Which is where this kind of thing would be needed in any case.) –  Neil Fein Oct 12 '11 at 14:40
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Ha! I refuse to gloat. But... yeah, I'm happy right now. –  Neil Fein Jun 26 '13 at 2:49

6 Answers 6

up vote 3 down vote accepted

We now use "on hold" to initially describe "closed" questions.

There are some nuances to the implementation - the biggest one being that after 5 days of no edits or attempts to reopen the question, it will once again say that it's "closed" - but we took large steps towards softening the phrasing of the closing experience overall and the specific close reasons.

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I don't think the answer to user confusion over what X means is likely to be "add Y so the user must understand X and Y".

I've found that commenting when closing help immensely. Try something like:

This question has been closed for $reason. It can be re-opened if it is edited to $standard.

  • I prepend "Welcome to $site!" if the user is new/low rep.
  • I always link the $reason and/or $standard to appropriate documentation, be it a FAQ entry, SO blog post, or meta post.
  • I finish up with a specific editing suggestion or additional explanation if there's room in the comment.

If you want to do things like that more quickly/easily, try the pro forma comments script.

Commenting on close is a lot simpler than creating yet another question disposition that users must understand.

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Oh, I do that. I comment indicating why I closed, and where it makes sense, try to guide them in the direction of editing into a better question. My problem is that the title "My Question that I Love Dearly [closed]" makes people jump and react badly, until they're used to the site. –  Neil Fein Jul 12 '11 at 4:45
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Someone who can't be bothered to read and understand the comment on their closed question probably can't be bothered to edit it so that it properly fits the site to which it was submitted, so I'm not sure what there is to be gained by creating another disposition for users to understand, and the added drama inherent in deeming some off-topic/narq items "worse" than others. –  HedgeMage Jul 12 '11 at 4:50
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Additionally, it occurs to me that there are also positive effects of using what some perceive as a "strong" term: it motivates users -- especially users who don't grok why we enforce the format -- to improve their questions. The disparity between how many questions get fixed after a comment explaining the problem vs. a comment accompanied by closing indicates that it's the closing that elicits the most corrections/improvements. –  HedgeMage Jul 12 '11 at 4:56
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I agree with HedgeMage's last comment, although I'd also point out that it is much rarer than we'd all like to hope that the original poster ever comes back to edit/improve a question, no matter what types of comments well-meaning community members might leave. I don't have any official data on this, but in my personal experience on Stack Overflow, this type of improvement is the exception rather than the rule. It's worth encouraging where possible, but hardly worth breaking our backs over. –  Cody Gray Jul 12 '11 at 5:05

I suspect that I'm going to hear that we want to drive these users way, that we want to lose them. The cost of quality is to drive away the forum rats and twitter hounds.

That's exactly the answer you're going to hear with respect to Stack Overflow. But the situation is potentially very different on the other Stack Exchange sites, particularly the SE 2.0 sites, that aren't absolutely overflowing with users and questions. Jeff has termed this the "big city" problem on Stack Overflow. We can't afford to do too much hand-holding when it comes to bad questions and users who can't/won't follow the guidelines.

Of course, I agree that such hand-holding is more important on the other SE sites, but I would argue that such hand-holding is the job of the moderators (and other dedicated, high-rep community members). Any of the first posts by a new user are listed on the /review page for easy, well, reviewing. Monitoring this page is very important to welcoming new users and leaving constructive feedback on how to improve their questions.

I don't think the problem lies with the word "closed" itself, but rather with the fact that the question is closed without any indication of how the asker can improve it. If the moderator (or community members) who closes the question takes the time to leave a comment explaining what (s)he thought was wrong with the question, some possible suggestions on how to improve it, and a reminder that once the question has been improved or fixed it can be flagged for moderator attention to be immediately re-opened, that's when the new user is going to feel embraced by the community.

Absent that, no one's going to care that their question has been "frozen" rather than "closed". All they're going to see is that they haven't gotten any useful answers, and in fact, "those elitist Stack Exchange people" have prevented their question from ever getting any useful answers.

Most frequently, the apprehension that I see surface over the fact that a question has been "closed" stems from a general lack of awareness or understanding of the ability to re-open closed questions. Particularly the ability of moderators to re-open questions with a single, binding vote. We already have checks and balances built into the system to solve these types of problems. If the question is truly not salvageable and never gets re-opened, then your initial suspicions were right: we probably don't want that question on our network in the first place. It's probably not worth worrying about.


Beyond all of the above, you've proposed an entirely new feature ("frozen" questions in addition to "closed" questions) which will only increase the complexity of the site(s) and consequently raise the barrier to entry even higher. That seems self-contradictory to me, as the implicit goal here is to make these sites more friendly to new users.

If you're proposing that instead of closing any questions we simply "freeze" them, then I very much disagree. Some questions are actually bad and their presence is actively harmful to the site. Granted, these may be relatively rare, but they do exist, and I think they should be closed immediately, rather than frozen. So obviously we'll need to have both options available.

That raises a few more questions: Is there a separate dialog or UI for community members to vote to "close" or "freeze" a question? How do we make everyone aware of the guidelines for when to use which of these methods? And what are those guidelines in the first place?

And it's not clear at what point a question should go from "frozen" to officially "closed"... Is it after a certain period of time in which the asker fails to improve the question? Is it after a certain number of votes by other members of the community?

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This is almost always about questions that have been closed with guidance for improvement. That "closed" in the title is like a slap in the face. It's hard to see that when you've been hanging around with us elitist bastards for any length of time. :) –  Neil Fein Jul 12 '11 at 4:55
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@Neil: I'm sorry, I just don't see the word "closed" as a slap in the face. I don't think we're all that elitist around here, but maybe I am personally and that's why I don't see it. But even if the word "closed" is a slap in the face, I honestly don't understand why "frozen" or "suspended" would have any different connotation. The point still lies in explaining to the new users that they can edit and reformulate their question in order to comply with our standards, and thus get it re-opened. You always have to follow the rules when joining a new community. That's not necessarily elitist. –  Cody Gray Jul 12 '11 at 5:04
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@Cody, [closed] carries the connotation that the question is never going to be answered, whether that is true or not. You never get a second chance to create a first impression. –  Mark Ransom Jul 12 '11 at 5:30
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@MarkRansom I disagree: we close doors, drawers, files, books, etc. every day with the intention of re-opening them. Unless it's a very new user AND there was no explanatory comment, I'm not sure how that can be misunderstood. –  HedgeMage Jul 12 '11 at 5:36
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@HedgeMage, I consider it more in the context of "case closed" which means it's never going to get reopened. Even if there's a comment, the initial reaction is going to be to the word "closed" which will automatically generate a defensive posture. –  Mark Ransom Jul 12 '11 at 5:40
    
@MarkRansom: I'm still not sure that I agree with you about this, probably because I tend not to assign connotations to words beyond their actual denotative meanings. But regardless, do you really think that "frozen" or "suspended" avoids this negative connotation and prevents the user from assuming a defensive posture? It still seems to me that the problem is not merely one of word choice, but rather one that stems from a lack of understanding. –  Cody Gray Jul 12 '11 at 5:43
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@Cody, I'm afraid I haven't thought deeply enough about this to have a good alternative wording. I just know that certain words have a loaded emotional impact, and for a good portion of the population "closed" is going to be among them - in this respect I must agree with the OP and disagree with you that the word itself is important. –  Mark Ransom Jul 12 '11 at 6:00
    
"Locked for improvement." "Revision requested." "Pending." I don't think a comment on an old question is gonna get much attention, but finding a formulation which makes clear the closing is reversible and dependent on improvement is not difficult, and it'd be a HUGE improvement. –  Ziv Feb 28 '12 at 22:20
    
@Ziv: posting an answer with a suggestion of your own is a good way to bump the question up and attract some attention. Additionally, you might consider offering a bounty on this question to attract even more attention. You're right, I'm personally not going to do anything more with your comment than read it. :-) –  Cody Gray Feb 29 '12 at 2:26
    
Thanks. I looked around afterwards and saw some similar proposals; it's not just a matter of the phrasing. A very popular proposal was declined. I might be able to make a case applying specifically to 2.0 sites in Beta. Thanks for responding though :) –  Ziv Feb 29 '12 at 5:09

My observation is that the word "closed" has connotations that drive user behavior - "closed" feels the same as "killed", even if there are helpful hints to improve the question.

One unforunate byproduct is that questions keep getting repeated. One recent example of many here. This one had a happy outcome, but cluttering the site with duplicate questions even temporarily doesn't help anyone.

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The terminology in the use of the word "closed" is not the issue. That's a red herring.

The important bit for smaller SE 2.0 sites is to treat each new user that shows some glimmer of hope with tenderness and understanding. (Bear in mind, some users are obviously not redeemable from the start, and the close reasons should suffice for them.)

For these semi-perhaps-maybe-salvageable users, community moderators should leave a helpful, explanatory comment on the closed questions. A light, personal, welcoming touch will mean a lot more than anything we could possibly automate.

Also, this is certainly far more tenable on SE 2.0 sites of which most get between 2 and 20 questions per day …

http://stackexchange.com/sites?sort=questionsperday&expand=true

… compared to the 150+ on SU, 100+ on SF, and 3,600+ (!) on SO.

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Well you want something other than ["closed"] after the question.

You've faced this question before when you implemented voted editing for low-rep users: that the edit is in ["what state?"]

It's a feature/flag that should perhaps be for mods only (users vote-to-close but not vote-to-limbo).

"discuss"! "discussion"! That's the right text: [discussion] or [comments] or [question] (very neutral) or [learn more].

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StackExchange is not for discussion, so [discussion] is misleading. [question] is redundant when applied to a question. [comments] is also redundant because the poster gets comment notifications in their inbox. [learn more] would be just plain confusing as an indicator that a question has been prevented from collecting answers. –  HedgeMage Jul 12 '11 at 4:53
    
@HedgeMage How about [edit] then or [editing]? Or [improve]; or [needs work] or [editme]. –  ChrisW Jul 12 '11 at 4:58
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I have no idea what this answer says. What do you mean by "what state?" And what does the last line say about discussion and comments? The Stack Exchange sites are Q&A sites, not discussion-based forums. Questions that are only seeking discussion are clearly off-topic here and deserve to be closed. I can't see a good reason to "limbo" those. And if you've enclosed these terms in brackets because you're proposing an addition to our tag system, then I very much disagree. This is a blatant misuse of the tag system. It's designed to categorize content. These are meta-tags at their worst. –  Cody Gray Jul 12 '11 at 5:01
    
@ChrisW Again, I think you are creating more confusion, not less. Having mods label some questions (and only closed ones) as needing edits/work/improvement implies that things without that label shouldn't be edited/worked on/improved. –  HedgeMage Jul 12 '11 at 5:02

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