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What should we do with old, very popular closed questions?

I refer to moderators closing posts based on a strict interpretation of policy, regardless of their value to the community. It is somewhat duplicative of Are moderators closing good questions as "Not constructive", but argued a lot differently.

Consider, for instance, https://stackoverflow.com/questions/1332574/common-programming-mistakes-for-scala-developers-to-avoid. This has 11K views, 122 up-votes, 3 down-votes, and 130 favorites. AFAICT, there were no close votes - it was just closed by the moderator. Despite being closed a while ago, it continues to be at the top of the [scala] FAQ list. As a Scala newbie, it immediately attracted my attention, and is well worth reading and re-reading.

The "not constructive" tag says:

We expect answers to generally involve facts, references, or specific expertise; this question will likely solicit opinion, debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion.

This post was up for two years before closing. Answers are entirely based on facts, references, and specific expertise. While of course the notion of what's a "common" mistake is open to opinion, in general, the answers have little opinion, and have not caused significant debate, arguments, or extended discussion. They do constitute an ad hoc poll, but in my opinion that's a good thing; the truly common mistakes rise to the top over time as people vote.

While in general the directive to avoid open-ended questions is good, it should be considered a means to an end, not a cast-in-stone rule. The end is to have useful posts with solid answers that attract a lot of eyeballs - isn't it? If so, this post certainly qualifies.

As this post is closed for a longer and longer time, the answers will become stale. Scala is still evolving.

I've seen this kind of closing by other moderators on other posts as well, so I'm commenting here to raise a more general flag.

I'd prefer answers that provide some reasoning - not just a general reference to the FAQ.

I suspect some answers may deal with:

  • AFAICT, there's no way to reopen a moderator-closed post by vote. You can just nominate it to be reopened.

  • The "reopen" button should provide a way to provide rationale. Moderators can't mind-read, AFAIK ;-)

Another possible disposition, which I disagree with, is to move this kind of post over to programmers.stackexchange.com.

  • There's a reopen button right there on that question that I could use if I chose to. – Flexo Feb 16 '12 at 19:07
  • This post was up for two years before closing -- I don't think the "Not Constructive" close reason has been around for that long. – user102937 Feb 16 '12 at 19:12
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    @awoodland - I did use the reopen button. It provides no way to provide rationale, and it doesn't count up as a vote. The note that it's been nominated for reopening disappeared after a while - I'd guess after a moderator had reviewed it. – Ed Staub Feb 16 '12 at 19:14
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    There's doubtless a dupe for this, but consider the following: "strict interpretation of policy [vs] value to the community" A community is defined by its policy, and how tightly it adheres to policy. If we allow these posts to remain, we should not make them exceptions - we should figure out what is wrong with our policy and adjust it to allow them. If we agree that new question of that nature hurt us, though, then we should acknowledge that the old ones do as well. We should not hesitate to demand the highest quality for every question - even the popular ones. – Pollyanna Feb 16 '12 at 19:15
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    @EdStaub - votes timeout after a while without attracting more votes. This happens without moderator intervention. If you want to justify your reopen vote there's comments or you can flag as other and write a compelling argument. – Flexo Feb 16 '12 at 19:16
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    @Robert - my point in noting the two years was that if the answers were going to go bad - comment-wars, etc. - it would have happened long ago. So the "likely to solicit" reasons for not-constructive clearly don't apply for this particular post. – Ed Staub Feb 16 '12 at 19:16
  • @AdamDavis: Aye, there's the rub, exactly. – user102937 Feb 16 '12 at 19:17
  • @Adam - "A community is defined by its policy, and how tightly it adheres to policy." sounds distinctly authoritarian. When the only metric of quality is adherence to a policy, the policy will never change. Look outside the box. This post would be a good start for a book, for heavens sake. But I agree with the notion that tweaking the policy should be considered, if only to make moderation easier. In a high-favorite, high-vote, high-traffic case like this, I'd definitely try to get input from scala developers (in this case) before closing. The moderator isn't a scala user. – Ed Staub Feb 16 '12 at 19:26
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  • This position has also been argued by Jeff Atwood: Stack Overflow: Where we hate fun. He suggests that a post with community support (upvotes, views) that also "makes me better at my job" is not necessarily a bad question, even though it doesn't meet the FAQ requirements ("2 out of 3 ain't bad"). – ire_and_curses Feb 16 '12 at 19:35
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    @EdStaub While there is likely a balance to be maintained (this is a gray area, not a nicely defined thin line that definitively separates good from bad questions) we have to recognize that one of the major reasons stack overflow works is because we attract and keep expert programmers. This laser-sharp focus and strong preference for objective, on-topic, strictly Q&A format site keeps them around. If you've hung around any large community that failed to strictly police content you've noticed that the best of the best tend to migrate away due to poor signal to noise ratio. – Pollyanna Feb 16 '12 at 19:38
  • @EdStaub - currently the requirement is 100 total views, which that post easily had at the start of your vote. The post I linked to was a request to change that to be 100 views since the start of the vote. – Flexo Feb 16 '12 at 19:55
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    @EdStaub The content is licensed cc-wiki. If it is as valuable as you claim, why don't you write an article, blog post, or similar and post it elsewhere on the internet? Eventually google will pick it up, and if it does disappear here not only will you have preserved it for yourself, but for others. Just because it doesn't belong here doesn't mean anyone is arguing that it shouldn't exist at all - it's one of the major reasons the content is licensed cc-wiki. – Pollyanna Feb 16 '12 at 20:01
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    @AdamDavis: Nobody ever does this. They always argue that the questions should stay, but no one ever bothers to make an attempt to preserve the content. – user102937 Feb 16 '12 at 20:13
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    @RobertHarvey Thus demonstrating just how high regard they hold that content in... – Pollyanna Feb 16 '12 at 20:14

There are only two potentially legitimate use-cases for these kinds of questions (what used to be categorized as "Community Wiki") that I know of:

  1. To serve as an extended Tag Wiki, and
  2. To provide a canonical answer to a question that is asked a lot.

Neither of these use cases is properly supported at the moment; attempting to ask such questions nowadays almost certainly results in closure.

Some community members have done some extremely good work on questions such as this one: Git for beginners: The definitive practical guide. You don't see anyone clamoring to delete that question. It would be nice if there were a way to accomodate such material in the Tag Wikis.

But there are so many of these questions that are just lists of random thoughts, and are not really well-maintained. Those questions don't help anyone. Recommendation questions are especially problematic, because they are honeypots for one-rep users to post their linky-spammy answers.

Closing a question does not prevent its maintenance; it only prevents new answers from being posted.

  • Re Git for beginners - you closed it yourself nine months ago! And as far as "clamoring to delete" - AFAICT, no one was clamoring to delete the scala question either - it was just one moderator. And there were only 3 downvotes, which for something this widely read is very close to 0. – Ed Staub Feb 16 '12 at 19:40
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    I fear that at some point, someone/something is going to decide to delete posts that have been closed beyond a certain length of time. If the post were "protected", I wouldn't be so concerned. (Yes, I think it's that valuable.) – Ed Staub Feb 16 '12 at 19:54
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    Closing != deletion, although it's often the first step towards deletion. Git for beginners won't get deleted by any moderator unless several people vote for deletion first, and it will never get community-deleted, since one delete vote is required for every 20 upvotes on the post. – user102937 Feb 16 '12 at 20:10
  • @Robert Be careful. That could be interpreted as a challenge ;) – Daniel Fischer Feb 16 '12 at 20:34
  • @RobertHarvey, please elaborate "one delete vote is required for every 20 upvotes on the post". What is the rule? Is it documented somewhere? – Michael Freidgeim May 18 '13 at 18:34
  • @Michael: See meta.stackexchange.com/a/51071 – user102937 May 18 '13 at 20:21

this question will likely solicit opinion, debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion.

Unless somebody actually did a study of the most common Scala mistakes, this is really asking "what do you think the most common mistakes are?" -- there's no right answer, it's just asking for a giant list of people's opinions. It also has 24 upvoted answers, which seems to pretty clearly indicate there's no right answer; it's an extended discussion of every confusing thing people have come across in Scala. That's 3 of the 5 criteria listed in the close reason right there

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    Michael, this is all arguing from policy. Read the high-vote answers. This is good stuff! Do you want to get rid of highly-read, high-value content just because the policy says to? – Ed Staub Feb 16 '12 at 19:58
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    @EdStaub It's not like the policy was chosen at random and we're blindly following it -- it was chosen because SO is a Q&A site, not a "list cool stuff" site – Michael Mrozek Feb 16 '12 at 21:15
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    This is not a "list cool stuff" post. It's a preemptive answer to a lot of questions that developers would rather not need to ask one by one, as they blunder into various non-obvious language gotchas. – Ed Staub Feb 16 '12 at 21:26

Keep in mind that "high value" doesn't directly correlate to "belongs on Stack Overflow." We make no argument as to the value of many of these posts. But the community at large, by the policies set by the community, feels that these posts are not a good fit for the Stack Overflow Q&A format.

As a contrived example, consider the following question:

"What's the most effective marketing strategy you've found for iOS apps?"

Useful answers to this question are of significant value to anybody interested. Nobody's denying that. But it's not on-topic for Stack Overflow.

The next logical step, then, is to propose that we somehow archive these high-value questions so that the content itself isn't lost. This has been proposed. And it appears that the more dedicated users are even taking action to make it happen, which is fantastic. Indeed, you are also free to do the same if you wish.

Conversely, if you can put together a good Q&A format for a site where such questions could reside, Area 51 would be where you'd propose it. Be aware, however, that such proposals tend not to do well there. Sites proposed that directly fit the model but for a specific subject do well. Sites proposed that slightly adjust the model for the same subject do not do so well. (Much to my dismay, as I've had an idea or two that were quickly rejected and closed there. But such is the way of democracy.)

It's also worth noting that closed != deleted. The community doesn't want further "answers" added to questions which are not a good fit. Existing content, however, is still preserved and available for all to see. (Unless the community sees fit to delete it as well.) Think of it like saying, "This question has good information, so it's staying here. But it's no longer a good fit, so it's not accepting new answers." So the question still exists, it's just preserved and no longer a living question.

In fact, another course of action you have is to try to improve such a question. In most cases, this may be a lost cause. Some questions are, at their very core, polling or opinion-soliciting and should just be closed and left as-is. But if you find a closed question that you want to resurrect, you are well within your freedoms to edit the question and then flag it for moderator attention requesting that it be re-opened with your edits.

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    David, thanks for your thoughts. The example is wrong, though, because in the scala case, the question is entirely on-topic - it's just of the wrong form. The high-vote answers would all be perfectly valid as answers to specific questions - but few would know to ask the question till they'd already made the mistake! Thus, a lot of the value of the post is hopelessly enmeshed in it being "not constructive". – Ed Staub Feb 16 '12 at 21:10

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