After the recent reputation recalc I noticed my reputation had dropped about 1K and the vast majority of that came from the deletion of really old questions. And by really old I mean questions that had survived for over 2 years.

I hate to use the word unfair but I'm struggling to find a better way to describe the situation. On one hand I completely understand both the need to keep the site clean and for moderators to be able to override the majority vote. On the other hand the current system is basically asking users to predict future trends in moderation and punishing them if they're wrong.

For example I had a mildly popular answer on one of the recently deleted questions. I think I got 30-40 upvotes on the first day and then less than 1 vote per week for the next 2 years. The latter part was not a significant part of any days rep for me after the first day. But over a 2 year time span the cumulative effects added up. When the question was deleted I was rewarded with a nice fat single day -662.

Again, I understand the need to delete bad data from the site. But I think you need to balance the removal of bad data with the negative effects it has on people who are contributing. I propose a small change to this process to help balance the scales a bit.

If a question is < 6 months old leave the process unchanged. If it's over 6 months delete the question but leave the reputation gained / lost from it unchanged. Don't punish the people contributing due to a future change in what is thought to be productive / unproductive on the site.

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    Before Meta regulars rush to downvote this, I should mention that this subject is being debated very heavily in the moderation chat room right now. – mmyers Mar 2 '12 at 19:48
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    @mmyers why would this be a quick downvote for meta regulars? Even if people disagree with me, which is fine, it seems like a legitimate suggestion. I checked for dupes and didn't see any. – JaredPar Mar 2 '12 at 19:50
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    Downvotes on Meta don't necessarily mean a bad question. It finally got added to the FAQ, in fact. – mmyers Mar 2 '12 at 19:52
  • @mmyers ok, read the FAQ and it cleared it up. Guess it's been to long since I've spent time on this site :( – JaredPar Mar 2 '12 at 19:55
  • Related: meta.stackexchange.com/a/124282/1968 – Konrad Rudolph Mar 2 '12 at 19:57
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    Eh. I don’t care about the reputation loss (ok, who am I kidding? I do care – but I don’t think I actually lost a lot of reputation in the last recalc). I still think that vastly too many awesome questions get deleted just because they don’t fit some slavishly interpreted guideline. Also, I know this has been argued to death but I won’t shut up. The losing party in a democratic vote doesn’t simply disband, after all. – Konrad Rudolph Mar 2 '12 at 20:00
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    Sorry but this is quite one of the reasons I rarely am coming to stackoverflow.com anymore. All the hardwork and you get these very old great questions that first "CLOSED" then suddenly underneath that "DELETED"...with one moderator name. – JonH Mar 2 '12 at 20:06
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    I'd just like to note that while the absolute value of 600 rep sounds scary, that's 0.3% of your total rep. I find it hard to get worked up over that for an ancient post that's been off topic for a couple years and probably should have been deleted much sooner. – Ben Brocka Mar 2 '12 at 20:37
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    I don't think an answer cumulating 600+ rep should be considered "bad data". – Linus Kleen Mar 2 '12 at 21:09
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    It is considered "bad data" if the question is closed as Not constructive. If I were to ask a more up to date question, "Why isn't Windows 8 written in C#?" it wouldn't stay open long enough to accumulate any rep. How is that fair? – Bo Persson Mar 2 '12 at 22:04
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    @BoPersson it would be fair because it's being judged by the standards which existed at the time it was asked. The unfairness comes when a question is judged by the standards not from when it was asked but at some arbitrary point in the future. And then further by punishing people for believing in those old standards at that time – JaredPar Mar 2 '12 at 22:08
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    I'm very sympathetic to the "needing to predict future trends in moderation" argument while being not at all sympathetic to calls to keep that question. No good suggestion at this time. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Mar 2 '12 at 23:55
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    @NormanRamsey: The moderation chat room is a private room on chat.stackexchange.com for moderators and Stack Exchange employees. Pretty much everything that was said there has been repeated on Meta by now, though. Except with less swearing. – mmyers Mar 3 '12 at 18:28
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    @mmyers moderators are publicly elected. Why do they make decisions in secret? – JaredPar Mar 3 '12 at 18:40
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    @MichaelMrozek if they're not having the argument to come to a decision then what are they actually doing? Arguing so they can let off steam? – JaredPar Mar 3 '12 at 18:49

14 Answers 14


I think a key to understanding the issue is to realize that Stack Overflow is a game and a place to ask questions about programs. As a game, it feels very unfair to have rules that arbitrarily change over time and random acts over which the player has no control affecting their fate. In games where there are such random negative acts, there are typically corresponding random positive acts that benefit the player to balance them out, satisfying some sense of fairness. The fact that there are other characters with god-like powers who mete out the "unfair" actions whom you can't hope to defeat only makes the frustration with your negative game experience more palpable. I can understand how someone like @JaredPar, who has played the game fairly and well, might feel frustrated enough to simply find another game to play.

As a place to ask programming questions, SO has evolved over time. Questions that were once right and proper (including my favorite one, which will likely be deleted soon and which I won't link to in order not to hasten its demise) are no longer considered germane. Once SO was the programmer's "department store." There were lots of different kinds of questions that revolved around programming; not all of them about a particular programming problem. Now, SO has become more of a niche store. Granted, it's probably more like what Jeff et al had originally intended and there are more niche stores for programmers. On the other hand, it works less well for me because I only have limited time/attention I can give to the family of sites and I've chosen to stick with SO. The upshot of it for me is that SO has become less interesting to me precisely as it has gotten more narrow.

The last couple of days, with the rash of closures of both good and bad from the old days when SO wasn't so narrow, has served to highlight what I miss about the way SO used to be. It happened so gradually that it was hard to see why I found myself spending less and less time here. In some ways it feels like we've become less of a community and more of a collaborative help desk; it's become less of a joy and more of a job. When our pay (reputation) starts taking a hit, too, well ...

Enough nostalgia.

I'm in agreement with Jared, though less over the issue of fairness, than a sense that we should embrace our history. It's not that I don't think it's unfair (in the game sense), I just don't see us winning that war. It's fighting against the philosophy of those who brought us the platform. I'd like to see history preserved, though. Highly voted questions shouldn't be deleted. They should be migrated as appropriate or closed, locked, and annotated as historical anchors, preserving their content. Don't pick and choose, just let the guidance of the community at the time be the judge.

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    Your perspectives are somewhat... Skewed IMO. Moderators, while having more abilities, are not gods, nor do we play "the game" (if we do, we don't do it as mods). We aren't people to "beat". Our concern is not the game but the primary mission of delivering quality, however it is defined at the time by the site. – casperOne Mar 3 '12 at 15:04
  • That said, games always have rules that change; baseball raises and lowers the height of the mound, football changes penalties for certain types of tackles, etc. (these are sports analogies but the euphemism fits). My advice as a player is to adapt to the rules, and become a better player, assuming your primary goal is the game, and not quality as the site currently defines it. The best players always find a way to adapt if they wish to continue playing. – casperOne Mar 3 '12 at 15:06
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    @casperOne you're only reinforcing the observation that I made. You aren't looking at it as a game, but to understand the problem and the reaction you must look at it from the perspective of the game. You might not choose to do anything differently, but you have to understand that perspective. Personally, I would do things differently to "respect" the game because the "game" is the thing that actually makes it work. You don't want to get to the point where "the only winning move is not to play." – tvanfosson Mar 3 '12 at 15:08
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    @casperOne again, you're reinforcing my point. Baseball/football don't go back and change the outcome of previous games based on new rules. They retain their history. I have some nostalgia for the old days; my participation is lower now because the site is less interesting for me, but I do play by the current rules. I'm just suggesting that we retain our history, that we don't pretend that the old rules never existed. – tvanfosson Mar 3 '12 at 15:10
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    We do see the game part; we don't ignore it, but it's secondary to our primary goal (maintaining quality). Gamification does help you guys produce quality (mostly) and its a nice sleight of hand that it's gotten you to do so. The basic rules still apply though; provide quality, and you'll be rewarded. You've obviously done that, and it's paid off for you nicely. Keep doing that and the game will still reward you. It's just the new rep changes make what was always the case (displayed vs actual) more aligned, and this is really the pain point for you. – casperOne Mar 3 '12 at 15:12
  • In regards to maintaining history, there are currently a number of meta posts that are suggesting a mechanism to do that. I suggest throwing your weight behind one of those. There's really not a disagreement about history, it's just over where that history is stored. And remember deletions are soft, if that mechanism comes online and your efforts are reflected there, then you will still be rewarded for it. – casperOne Mar 3 '12 at 15:17
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    @casperOne don't miss the forest for the trees. moderation is all well and good, high quality questions are all well and good. NONE of it works without the game aspect. It's not incidental or a trick; it's the driver of everything else. Without the game and getting the game right you don't have high quality answers and participants that make the site work. Mess up the game and eventually the site dies. – tvanfosson Mar 3 '12 at 15:18
  • "The site dies" is a bit of hyperbole. That said SE makes the rules, we as mods help to enforce them. As the rules change, so to does the behavior of the moderators. We help to shape the game as best we can the same way you do, here on meta. – casperOne Mar 3 '12 at 15:20
  • @casperOne I really believe that if the game aspect goes too far wrong, this place becomes like MSDN forums. BTW, I'm not seeing any of these posts suggesting ways to deal with historical questions. Links? – tvanfosson Mar 3 '12 at 15:22
  • All due respect, moderators are not personal search engines. That said a search for "old question archive" in meta turned this up as the second result: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/122249/… – casperOne Mar 3 '12 at 15:26
  • @casperOne "links or it didn't happen" :-) – tvanfosson Mar 3 '12 at 15:30
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    @casperOne when they change the rules of baseball do they go back and time and also change the record books? No. – JaredPar Mar 3 '12 at 16:27
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    @JaredPar The official records, no. But even casual baseball fans know that its inherently unfair to compare performances across time, because the rules have changed. So you're just substituting one form of unfairness for another. Why is the unfairness that victimizes you any worse than the unfairness that victimizes a new user who didn't get to play under the old rules? Baseball can't go back and replay games under current rules. SO mostly can. – joran Mar 3 '12 at 17:02
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    @joran what you're saying is reasonable if the change is something like question votes are now worth +5 instead of +10 (which happened, btw). It's less clear that it's reasonable to delete a question and answers years after the fact when dozens or hundreds of people voted it up because one person flags it and one moderator agrees. There may even be a significant part of the community that thinks that the content still has value even if it wouldn't be allowed by today's accepted standards. One is a formula adjustment, the other is a value judgement reversing significant community approval. – tvanfosson Mar 3 '12 at 17:25
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    @joran - I don't doubt that there are large contingents on either side of the argument, but my impression from interacting with casparOne is that mods are simply responding to flags; it only takes one person to flag and one moderator to agree. My personal opinion (as I've expressed in my answer) is that they are failing to adequately take into account both the history and game aspects of their binding decisions. I can only hope that the restoration of several high-vote questions by the SO team means that I'm not too out of touch. – tvanfosson Mar 3 '12 at 17:35

First of all, the vast majority of these old, subjective questions should have been made Community Wiki from the moment they were asked. Making them CW immediately would have eliminated any rep you might have earned from them.

Second, the moderators should be evaluating these questions one by one, according to the following metric: Does this question (and its answers) help the site fulfill its mission (the spread of practical programming knowledge), and therefore make the internet a better place?

It doesn't matter if the question is on-topic or not; if it contains valuable information, it should stay. We can always explain to people why we don't allow similar questions to be asked anymore.

Don't get me wrong; it's a pretty high bar. It better be a damn good question, or have unbelievably good answers, if we intend to keep it here. This is not a free pass for old, bikeshed questions that clearly don't belong here.

Look at the tag, for example. Most of those questions are not of any value to anyone except the asker.

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    In this case though I didn't ask the question nor did I think it was a candidate for deletion. I still actually think is a valid question. I understand it's debatable but I could make a good argument for it being valid. Years later one person disagreed it was valid and I got hammered by it. That's a disincentive to contribute. – JaredPar Mar 2 '12 at 20:06
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    "Why Windows 7 isn't written in C#" might be fascinating to some, but it doesn't really have any practical consequences. – user102937 Mar 2 '12 at 20:08
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    @JaredPar: Perhaps it's a disincentive to contribute to borderline bikeshed questions, but that's a good thing in my opinion. – gnostradamus Mar 2 '12 at 20:10
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    A good chunk of new programmers don't understand really basic questions like this. They don't get the trade offs involved in switching between C# and C++ or the insane time commitment. For those users it is a valid question, especially the more general form. I've been involved in a lot of such rewrites and am constantly surprised about how little people understand it. – JaredPar Mar 2 '12 at 20:11
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    @gnostradamus if it's borderline and stays open for a year how am I to interpret it as anything other than valid? – JaredPar Mar 2 '12 at 20:11
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    @JaredPar: Ah, but what is considered on-topic has changed over the past couple of years. "Why Windows 7 isn't written in C#" probably would get closed if it was asked today. So the question becomes, what do we do with the old off-topic questions. The right answer, IMO, is to keep the stellar ones and cull the rest. – user102937 Mar 2 '12 at 20:14
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    @RobertHarvey and I'm fine with standards evolving. But to hit me with a 660 deduction for a changing standard? Do you honestly think that's fair? – JaredPar Mar 2 '12 at 20:17
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    Does this question (and its answers) make the Internet a better place? What a dangerous standard for your side to make. I think the overwhelming majority of these old fun questions are amusing, and might make people reading them smile, or even forward it to a friend. If that doesn't make the internet a better place, I don't know what does. Are you sure you didn't mean to say Does this question (and its answers) spread concrete knowledge? -- then you might be able to justify killing some of these questions. – Adam Rackis Mar 2 '12 at 20:18
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    @gnostradamus no, I'm equating time open with validity. If a question is open on the site for several days it's probably a safe bet it's a valid question. If it's open for years I consider it rock solid OK. – JaredPar Mar 2 '12 at 20:23
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    @AdamRackis: I see what you're saying. I changed the wording of that statement a bit. – user102937 Mar 2 '12 at 20:24
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    @RobertHarvey Why delete when that breaks the internet? Why not lock instead? : meta.stackexchange.com/questions/112910/… – George Stocker Mar 2 '12 at 20:27
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    Again I'm not arguing for old questions to stay around forever. I'm saying that if they stay around for a significant period of time even small contributions can have large cumulative effects. Small contributions which were deemed valid at the time they were made (and remained so for a long period of time). Delete the question if the standards have changed to make it invalid but don't punish users for a valid contribution. – JaredPar Mar 2 '12 at 20:28
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    @GeorgeStocker: Locking robs the community of a voice. Users can no longer vote to delete or vote to reopen, and they cannot maintain or update the post once it is locked. – user102937 Mar 2 '12 at 20:29
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    As long as SO ain't limited to app-dev/web-dev/... question, the question seems fine to me - it provides practical knowledge and fundamental understanding that is even transferrable / widely applicable. – Georg Fritzsche Mar 2 '12 at 20:30
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    @RobertHarvey That's sort of the point with historical questions. Keep the information, but realize that it's no longer the way we do business. We don't want them to delete it (since that breaks the internet), and we don't want it to be re-oepened. – George Stocker Mar 2 '12 at 20:33

I'm having trouble seeing how it could be viewed as a punishment, myself. In my opinion, rep isn't truly being removed — in the sense that it's simply being re-scoped along with the site. Your rep from things the site is no longer about is no longer being added to your "regular" rep.

Think of it from the opposite perspective as well — it would be just as much a punishment to the people who didn't lose rep if everyone kept all their previous rep. If I got 20k rep from out-of-scope stuff and someone else got 20k rep from hardcore C# questions, the system and users (who don't dig into my activity history) perceive me as having made equivalent contributions to the site. Hardcore C# guy is effectively devalued by me being over-valued.

Rep needs to reflect the current state of the site in order to be useful, especially since it's used for privileges. If I gained a whole whack of rep from things unrelated to the current site, you can't use that experience to say I should help run the current site.

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    How can you say "rep isn't really being removed?" My rep, and others, changed by over 1K. That's removal. – JaredPar Mar 2 '12 at 20:12
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    Yes I read your answer. You can call it a change of view all you like but the point remains that the rest of the world sees the users page as the reputation view. From that view (aka overwhelming majority of people) reputation was lost – JaredPar Mar 2 '12 at 20:19
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    +1, That second paragraph is a fantastic point. I don't think it could be expressed more clearly than that. "Hardcore C# guy is effectively devalued by me being over-valued." – Josh Darnell Mar 2 '12 at 20:19
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    So I did or didn't lose reputation? Your argument is extremely inconsistent. – JaredPar Mar 2 '12 at 20:29
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    @JaredPar Dude, I said Rep isn't truly being removed, in the sense that it's simply being re-scoped along with the site. If you're not interpreting the first half of that sentence in the context of the second half then just skip over it and move on. Yes, the number changed; but the units changed from "old-scope rep" to "new-scope rep" and those units are not directly comparable. Trying to directly compare them and say one is less than the other is like trying to say $1 USD < $1 CAD when you don't know the exchange rate. – user154510 Mar 2 '12 at 20:31
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    So my rep has a magic version number now? I can't seem to see it. – JaredPar Mar 2 '12 at 20:32
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    @JaredPar They don't version the scope, but that doesn't mean it doesn't change. I think you're being kind of ridiculous here. You don't need to like these changes or the way I phrased things, but picking on that instead of making an actual argument isn't useful. – user154510 Mar 2 '12 at 20:40
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    There's a clash here between different possible purposes for rep. This answer addresses reputation as a measure of your contributions to the site by its current standards. This has to be weighed against reputation as a user-motivator or as a measure of contributions to the community historically. I agree that it feels a little wrong/unfair for people to have standing for no-longer-acceptable contributions, but does it actually hurt? It just makes an already-weak indicator a bit weaker. Demotivating people by attacking their monotonically increasing number seems more likely to cause actual harm – Jeremy Mar 2 '12 at 20:57
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    You're making the argument that my rep isn't being removed. That is a ridiculous argument. It's a quantifiable value and it went down. – JaredPar Mar 2 '12 at 21:10
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    @JaredPar Try and focus on the 2nd paragraph. Matthew is a making a very valid point there that you seem to be ignoring. – Josh Darnell Mar 2 '12 at 21:21
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    @jadarnel27 I have read the second paragraph and I just don't agree. The question was around and valid for years. Both my rep for answering and the OP's for asking was deemed deserved for all that time. Only a recent policy change affected that judgement and we were both equally punished by it. My system supports equally keeping rep for the OP and answers. It's fair to all involved. – JaredPar Mar 2 '12 at 21:24
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    @JaredPar How many times do we need to go through this? Yes, your rep is lower now. Rep also means something different now. In one sense, one that I am using, that means that current rep is not comparable to old rep, that units are changing and not merely quantities, that it's a rescoping and not pure, unadulterated subtraction. You don't have to share that viewpoint, but it's a viewpoint and not an argument. The part where I make an argument is the second and third paragraphs, not the first. – user154510 Mar 2 '12 at 21:51
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    @MatthewRead The only people who believe rep mean anything different today than it did yesterday are those who spend too much time on meta. To everyone else it means the same today as yesterday. – JaredPar Mar 2 '12 at 21:54
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    @MatthewRead -- Arguing that rep is not lost because you have redefined rep is ... suck. I just think of all the times in history problems have been solved by redefining the meaning of the word rather than actually addressing the problem. Argue that the rep should be lost if you want, because it's better for the site. But to argue that it is not lost is just wrong, like in that math space you don't like to argue in wrong. – Russell Steen Mar 3 '12 at 0:14
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    And sorry, it took me a while to phrase this part, but... You claim rep is not lost because you redefined what it means to have rep, and you call math a tautology? Really? – Russell Steen Mar 3 '12 at 0:23

My major problem with this recently increasing trend is a different one...

Actual people have spent time and worked on those deleted posts in their own time; only for them to basically vanish.
If the focus of SO happens to change in the future, i don't want to suddenly see half of my posts gone.

Other issues with deletions are:

  • No useful way to get to those deleted questions unless enough rep & question id handy
  • No real way for community control over what's getting deleted (list of recently deleted posts is too limited and includes spam answers etc.), it only takes a small group to vote for the deletion
  • A single delete vote by diamond mod takes the mentioned "community voice" completely out of the picture

Why can't interesting questions stay around with a reason like here:

This question exists because it has historical significance, but it is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site, so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here.

Alternatively, don't throw them away completely and move them to another site or onto a "not SO" pile.


Here's a specific example I noticed today:

enter image description here

Those upvotes from ages ago were taken away and have removed the ability to reach the rep cap today. In fact, it appears that I can't even get my head above water today, it's like my rep cap is -24. Also, does this calculation take into consideration that those old upvotes might have been "free" upvotes because they were already above that day's rep cap?

I'm certainly not saying those deleted questions should not have been deleted; they probably should have. I'm saying that this is a "spooky action at a distance" where decisions made by somebody else in a room I don't even know exists causes annoying behaviour for me today.

I don't want to hear any crap about how 230 points is some miniscule percentage of my current total rep. I don't give a unicorn's ass about my current rep (the total number has been uninteresting to me for a long time). What I do like to see is >200 per day, from which I can see that somebody appreciated my answers today.

My Stack Overflow participation is basically a day-to-day experience, and having my contribution for today obliterated through no fault of my own doesn't seem right.

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    I'm not looking forward to the day when What's the difference between JavaScript and Java? is deemed unworthy. I'm not proud of that answer, but I seem to get a vote for it pretty much every day. Having over -5k on my daily rep graph would make the positive contributions disappear in the noise. – Greg Hewgill Mar 2 '12 at 21:07
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    I've got a couple of questions for which I have the same fear. I don't think I have quite a single 5K+ weighted question. But a small shift in policy could easily tank 10K+ of rep in a single day. – JaredPar Mar 2 '12 at 21:12
  • @GregHewgill now that you posted it - it will be closed. Its not constructive. – JonH Mar 2 '12 at 21:36
  • Are you sure this affects your ability to reach the rep cap? If so I would expect the team to view that as a bug. At worst it might affect whether you hit the cap on a past day when you gained rep from that post; it should have nothing to do with the current day. – user154510 Mar 2 '12 at 21:43
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    @MatthewRead: The top three votes on that screenshot aren't contributing to today's rep (if they were, they would have +10 beside them). No further votes from today are being counted, either. Have a look at stackoverflow.com/users/893/… to see what I mean. – Greg Hewgill Mar 2 '12 at 21:50
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    I don't remember where, but I remember someone telling me that the reputation lost in these cases does not affect the reputation cap. You'd still technically be at 200+ for the day, it's just that the history shows a negative amount for the day because of the deleted content. At least, that's how it's supposed to work. – animuson Mar 2 '12 at 21:52
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    @animuson: That's exactly my point. I don't care about history (and ancient deleted questions) when looking at today's rep. Take my rep away from the day(s) it was earned, not today. – Greg Hewgill Mar 2 '12 at 21:54
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    The problem is that your total rep changes today, even though it's due to rep earned in the past disappearing. Showing it in the same place where you would notice the change is better than making you search for some place in the past. – user154510 Mar 2 '12 at 21:57
  • @Greg: It's supposed to show up on the day that the content was actually deleted, because that would be the day that you actually lost the reputation. – animuson Mar 2 '12 at 21:57
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    @animuson: In some way that's technically correct, but can you see that it's not helpful to do that? – Greg Hewgill Mar 2 '12 at 21:58
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    @Greg: As Matthew points out, not showing it at the place where it actually happened would confuse a lot of users who want to know why they lost reputation. No one wants to search through a year of their history to figure out what question or answer of theirs got deleted. – animuson Mar 2 '12 at 22:00
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    @animuson: Fine. So why can't I reach the 200 rep cap today, even though I lost some rep from ages ago? – Greg Hewgill Mar 2 '12 at 22:08
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    @Greg: As I explained before, you have reached the cap for today. If you pretend like all the deleted content is not there (you lost 240 and gained 2 from deletions), you are sitting at 200 reputation from upvotes and 15 reputation from your accepted answer. The day still counts as a day you hit 200 reputation, it just doesn't display that way in your history. – animuson Mar 2 '12 at 22:11
  • @animuson: Okay, I want it to display that way in my history. I don't care about years-old questions that happen to have been deleted. – Greg Hewgill Mar 2 '12 at 22:39
  • @GregHewgill Sound like a feature-request, maybe you should propose it – Yi Jiang Mar 5 '12 at 11:03

I see the central issue here as one of fairness. The reputation system is sort of the bones of the StackExchange network and so we all want it to operate as fairly as possible. (Obviously, it will never be perfectly fair, but we should aim to make it as fair as possible.)

I think the reason that I disagree to some extent with @JaredPar in this instance is because we are operating under a different framework for what constitutes a fair reputation system.

It sounds to me like @JaredPar, and the many who agree with him, would say that a fair reputation system is one that applies rules and standards to a user's contributions only based on the current understanding of those rules and standards.

On the other hand, I have a slightly different view. I think a fair reputation system is one where each user's contributions are evaluated under the same rules and standards at all times.

I think this because I want reputation to mean the same thing for each user to best of our ability. If we are constantly applying different standards to different questions+answers this will gradually cease to be the case. So I would prefer that when our standards change that those standards be retroactively applied to as much content as possible, in order to maintain this particular concept of fairness.

Finally, I want to emphasize that I don't necessarily think I'm right about what the appropriate concept of fairness is for StackExchange. I'm open to being persuaded either way. I wrote this answer mainly to articulate what I saw as the two competing visions in the hopes that it clarifies the discussion, at least a little.

(And I agree with LarsTech's point about how votes over the rep cap long in the past may be handled. It does seem unfair to me that a user wouldn't get those votes back if a post is deleted that at the time had put them over the cap.)

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    Slight clarification. I do want the standards of the day to always be applied when grading content. But only when the grading is actually being done. I'd have no problem with people saying "this question no longer meets standards, hence we will award no more points for it". Whats happening today is standards are changing and content is being regraded based on new standards. When standards change they should be applied going forward. People shouldn't be retroactively punished for obeying what was correct at the time. – JaredPar Mar 3 '12 at 1:31
  • @JaredPar I think that's an excellent description that more starkly highlights our difference of opinion here. My view is that being fair necessarily entails retroactively applying the standards of the day. Or "punishing" in your view. – joran Mar 3 '12 at 1:36
  • at least we agree we understand each other's opinion :) – JaredPar Mar 3 '12 at 1:40
  • I feel like we should hug or something. Um. Ok, maybe not. – joran Mar 3 '12 at 1:43
  • Really interesting and reasonable point of view. Thanks for sharing! – abatishchev Mar 3 '12 at 1:44

OK, a slightly less angry, more reasoned response.

Shog9 says in a comment that the standard for SO should be that the question makes the Internet better by its very existence. This is a new standard. The old standard was that some questions were allowed just because they were fun---the classic example is probably "programming in a boat." The merit of these questions was heavily debated contemporaneously, and the community consensus was that while such questions might have been good in the early days, the number should be limited. And going forward, the number should be very limited indeed.

In any social system, there is always a gap between the real rules and the rules that are written down. What I don't understand, and I disagree with, is the deletion of our history by the sudden application of the rules that are written down to questions about which the real rules had been different for years. Moreover, some of these questions (and their answers) were continuing to draw pageviews and upvotes, so somebody was finding some value in them. (It adds insult to injury that many of these pages appear to have been deleted by unilateral action on the part of some moderator, but perhaps that appearance is misleading and is only the result of a flaw in the user interface.)

The demographics here are interesting. If we count Stack Overflow users with 200 or more reputation, about two-thirds of them have the Yearling badge. So even those of us with more than three years' activity are probably more than "1 percenters." But I do see a number of complaints on meta about what appear to be arbitrary deletions, and it wouldn't surprise me if Stack Overflow loses some of its most experienced contributors.

If the new people want the rules to be stricter, well, it's your community. But be prepared, at some unknown time in the future, for your successors to come along and erase what you value.

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    FWIW: the boat-programming question remains as one of the few examples of a question hard-deleted from the database with no chance of recovery. Almost three years ago. Not the best example for the old standards... ;-) But I disagree that "fun" is necessarily the opposite of "useful" - they're often orthogonal, but fun can be a useful means of communication. It just should be more than empty calories... – Shog9 Mar 3 '12 at 18:47

I have been on SO since the early beta days, but am by no means a prolific contributor.

I have always been happy to spend time answering a question if I think I have something worthwhile to add, but these days there are so many users, of such varied skill sets, that it is rarely neccessary, whatever I was going to write is usually already there - that is great.

For me, the rep is just feedback that people may have found something I wrote useful.

The reputation loss doesn't bother me that much - is not like it cost me money, or I gained any advantage in my professional or personal life from my relatively minimal rep of previously 4.something k, now about 3.8k.

The issue to me is more of "why did I waste my time?", the questions were broadly accepted by the community at the time, and collectively, many person hours of effort have now been thrown away.

This certainly is going to make me more hesitant to spend any time answering questions, as I have no idea what the community standards may be in the future. I am more likely to treat SO like Wikipedia - look for the answer I need, then leave.

To me, it seems a bit like revising or burning books from a previous era because they don't fit with current standards of political correctness.

Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, and many other classic works contain language that is considered offensive by most today (most specifically a word starting with n), but were accurate representations of language and social standards of their times.

Similarly, questions that had been in place for a year or more, were reflective of the community standards of the time, and should be allowed to stand as such.

If SO and the SE network are melting under the weight of the data and bandwidth, then OK, clear out old stuff if that is needed to keep it running.

But revision of history based on what is currently considered "right thinking" is a slippery slope.

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    +1 Solid point about the books, and the effort involved too. I've just had a question about 'How to become a programmer for hire?' deleted with a rep lost of 285. My answer was accepted on that and there were a lot of positive comments from people saying it was good advice. OK it's not core SO territory now, but we're throwing out questions that people demonstrably found useful because they no longer fit? – user132053 Mar 3 '12 at 22:16
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    +1 for "why did I waste my time" and book burning. – womp Mar 4 '12 at 22:23

I have been participating in SO since only just after the beta finished. I'm not an obsessive answerer by any means, but I was just about to break the 10K barrier.

But over the last week I've lost 10% of my rep - down to 9k.

Techies are notorious for not getting human psychology, but has any of these self-righteous moderators deleting vast amounts of SO history considered that you are likely pissing a great many people off? I'm not saying everything should be cast in stone and never changed, but I now feel majorly pissed off with SO. This site operates on goodwill and putting something back - indeed a young colleague asked me this week why I bothered participating and I replied precisely that. But no matter what the intellectual rational for the deletion this feels like a complete and utter slap in the face, and how people feel is important, because ultimately feeling good about participating in SO is why people come and answer questions.

At this rate you're heading towards the equivalent of voluntarily sitting exam questions. Which may be fine for the purists and people who like that kind of thing, but you're going to end up with a lot fewer more casual participants - some of which may have the answer to a question you need to ask. It's a very sad day indeed that the 'cake' question for instance has now been removed. I can't help feeling the person who decided to delete that was probably a very uninteresting human being indeed. And yes, the Internet was a better place for that question being asked.

It may not be entirely coincidental that my observation - made as recently as last week before this happened - has been that SO has peaked. Generally difficult questions now seem to attract fewer answers and people seem to take less trouble to refine what answers are supplied any longer. Basically SO is getting to be boring - and not as useful either.

Looking here I'm sure that I'll see a fair number of comments to the effect that how I feel about the system is irrational - but anyone saying that is absolutely missing the point - it's all about how one feels about the community. I notice several of the answers to this question go into great self-congratulatory arguments about the mathematical nature of awarding rep. I'm sure these people think that Sheldon Cooper is a nicely rounded human being too.

ASIDE: Noticed the heavily downvoted answer here from Norman Ramsey who is obviously also really pissed off to and threatens to walk. This is precisely my point - what purpose can it possibly serve to piss someone off with a 75k reputation, who has obviously put time and effort into SO and demonstrably knows things of value to the community, for the sake of intellectual purity? Myself I'd been putting more time again into SO recently to break the 10k barrier, and now, well frankly I feel like I can no longer be arsed if this sort of thing is going to happen. Again this may be irrational but it's how I feel, and how I feel makes the difference between taking time to answer questions or not.

  • +1 for self-righteous moderators – prusswan Mar 3 '12 at 21:16
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    It's not an uncommon human trait. At the risk of skirting with Godwin's law this sort of behaviour is awfully reminiscent of a political mindset which believes compliance with a certain set of ideas is more important than whether said ideas are actually correct. In other words what's going on here is simply zealotry. – user132053 Mar 3 '12 at 21:40

I had a similar problem, losing 1600 reputation in 3 days, all from the deletion of very old questions. The question I posted to meta was not as good as this one.

It seems to me that what is happening is that the community standards have changed. If those of us who have been around for a couple of years don't like the new standards, we can fuck off.

I'm fucking off.

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    It's not really that simple. Until recently, you would rarely find out about the deletion of older questions - rep wasn't often recalculated, reputation lost to deletion wasn't shown, and so folks tended to just... Not notice. Now folks are waking up in the bathtub full of ice with their kidneys missing, and it's time to face reality. Long-term, you're better off knowing - but right now, it sucks. – Shog9 Mar 3 '12 at 18:12
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    @Shog9, I'm sure this is true, but when my 3rd most popular answer (and personal favorite) is deleted, I notice. I didn't notice the reputation hit until afterward. I don't care about the rep. I care that the real rules (as opposed to the rules that are written down) appear to have been changed suddenly and without discussion. – Norman Ramsey Mar 3 '12 at 18:21
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    then let's change them. If you feel the question - or even just your answer - has merit, value, makes The Internet better by its very existence, then bring it up for review. Tag it, discussion deleted-questions specific-question and present your arguments for why it should be preserved. – Shog9 Mar 3 '12 at 18:24
  • @Shog9, sorry I can't seem to find you in a chat room. I guess I will post another answer because what I have to say won't fit in a comment – Norman Ramsey Mar 3 '12 at 18:27
  • I'm in The Tavern among other rooms. But posting an answer is fine. – Shog9 Mar 3 '12 at 18:34

The question in question was closed by a single moderator, but was deleted by the community. I was one of the deleters, despite the net 12 upvotes that cost me.

One point I haven't yet seen mentioned is that while our standards have changed over time, they do appear to be converging on a set of agreed standards. There is variation around that over time, but in the last couple of years, our standards about appropriate questions have remained the same. That particular question would quickly have been closed at any time in the past two years, and deleted not long after.

I now see that the final deletion vote was by a moderator. However:

deleted by sixlettervariables, Bo Persson, p.campbell, Josh Lee, BalusC, cHao, yoda, McDowell, Clive, Tim Cooper, marc_s, bmargulies, Bart Kiers, Wooble, Gamecat, C. A. McCann, Henk Holterman, John Saunders, Matthias Bauch, Serg, Cody Gray, skaffman, Robert Harvey♦ Feb 22 at 22:43

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    No, this question was deleted by a moderator. At least that's what the log on the question indicates. – JaredPar Mar 3 '12 at 17:46
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    I also disagree that they're converging. Instead the meta community just seems to be obsessing over a grand statement of purity instead of actually helping people. What real good does this rash of deletions have on #stackoverflow? Did someone looking for help suddenly gain enlightenment because this question was deleted? No. All it did was serve a fake notion of purity and piss off the core group of people who are focused on actually helping. – JaredPar Mar 3 '12 at 17:50
  • @JaredPar: I disagree that the question helped anyone, or that it ever could have helped anyone. How many duplicates of that question do we see today? I can't think of any. – John Saunders Mar 3 '12 at 17:52
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    The mod deletion vote was necessary because it's absurdly difficult for the community to delete these questions, some of them require over 100 delete votes from the community. – Ben Brocka Mar 3 '12 at 18:16
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    @JohnSaunders lack of duplicates is a poor argument for validity of the question. It can just as easily mean it's a very easy to search for question. The spread of votes over the years would also back that assertion. But here's the more important question: who was helped by the deletion of the question? Other than the meta community and the misguided quest of purity? – JaredPar Mar 3 '12 at 18:39
  • It was a thought. Everything else gets duplicated. If the "Windows/C#" questions don't get duplicated, then it doesn't mean nothing. – John Saunders Mar 3 '12 at 21:24

I don't want to post a long answer here, but wanted to throw in my .02:

It seems like the best way to make the internet better in this case would have two parts:

  • Delete questions that are no longer relavent.
  • Keep the contributors to the site incentivized by not removing their reputation gains on questions that clearly were accepted by the community at the time they were originally posted.

Looking back at the original question, this seems to be exactly what Jared said. I wish I could vote his question up more than once, since it seems to be both question and answer.


Reputation points have been compared to points in a game, or reward points in a loyalty program.

In my experience, sports and loyalty programs only retroactively remove points or change the record books if an investigation reveals that those records were accumulated fraudulently, not because the (powers that be) "community" has determined that they no longer want to incent the manner in which those points were earned.

If a college team wins a championship but with players recruited illegally, they have to vacate those accomplishments.

But if the rules change for competitive reasons, we don't recalculate the record books, even if the previous rules were unjust.

When basketball put in the shot clock, they didn't go back and remove wins from teams who had done stall tactics. When they put in the three point line, they didn't re-calculate the scores of games based on it. That would be absurd -- those teams were playing by the rules of the game at the time. Major League baseball systematically excluded blacks for half of its history, but we don't remove Babe Ruth's records.

The reason for this is that we want people to give their best effort given the current rules of the game. We don't want people out there worrying if their activity will stand the test of time.

An interesting border case is the "steroid era" for baseball. There wasn't a testing system in place of PEDs, and offensive numbers exploded. They way we seem to be dealing with this is discounting the offensive numbers from that time when it comes to things like Hall of Fame voting.

Perhaps that's the way forward for SO -- rather than having reputation scores, etc., reflect how well the content matches current community standards, we can raise some awareness of different "eras" of SO history. And that there was a time early in SO's history when it was easy to come by large number of points in ways that don't work today.


I don't particularly care about such rep drops, to be honest.

Life's not fair. Deal!

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