I notice that What is the single most influential book every programmer should read? and Strangest language feature have been undeleted by a Stack Exchange developer.

After long months of framing these pieces of garbage, the Stack Overflow community, with the help of moderators, had finally managed to close those close-worthy questions and delete them as part of a cleanup of the worst upvoted garbage questions.

Does this represent a sudden change to the principle that real questions have answers? Or that bad questions get closed then deleted?

I must say that when I see this, my first reaction is Why should I bother cleaning up the trash when it gets shoved back into my face? Should I continue to vote to close and flag posts on Stack Overflow?

And my second reaction is to wonder whether I really want to participate on a site that thinks that being able to write 10[a] in C is strange (if you know C, it's not strange) and that every single programmer must have read all of about 500 different books including The Alchemist and the Tao Te Ching. As a programmer, do I even want to be associated with Stack Overflow? If I show my SO activity on my CV, will this brand me as a second-rate programmer — meaning that Careers is targeted at second-rate programmers?

What is the change in policy that now justifies having these questions on the site? Does it affect only Stack Overflow or other Stack Exchange sites?

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    I thought 10[a] was indeed quite strange, and no, I'm not a C developer. Can't you just let the rest of us have a little fun reading this old material without getting so angry? Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 0:19
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    Also, to avoid burning your eyes with these awful, awful fun questions, I would recommend you stick with the "Newest Questions" feed on your favorite tag. Any silliness showing up there will be closed post haste, so hopefully that will keep your anger down :) Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 0:22
  • 8
    @AdamRackis Read it on Stack Printer. There's a lot of stuff I find strange in various languages. What I find strange is probably not what you find strange. And that is exactly why this is not a good question for Stack Exchange. It should be your blog post, with your list of strange features; and my blog post, with my list of strange features, and so on. Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 0:22
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    I honestly never thought it was possible for software engineers to get so worked up over rule-following until I saw the rage over old content here. I always thought I was a member of the coolest, most laid-back career field on earth. Apparently not. My deepest sympathy that silly questions like this evoke such anger from you. Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 0:24
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    If it's so good, why do the people fighting for it to stay on SO not also host their own CC compliant version? Or does the stank stain too much to attach their own domain to? @ada
    – random
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 0:24
  • 15
    @random - that's a bit silly, isn't it? Pekka had talked about hosting this stuff himself, then said how much work it'd be and that he couldn't (leading to the archive post). I work a regular job, consult, teach, and have a wife and kid. Telling me or any other engineer to just scrape this stuff and host it is absurd. Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 0:26
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    The getting "shoved back in my face" comment seems really over the top.
    – JaredPar
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 0:51
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    No one said to rehost the entire swathe of deleted crap. Just the small few that apparently are so golden they need to linger on SO like jock itch. Users keep coming back with all the time in the world in how good these certain few are but have a dearth of it when it comes to rehosting @ada
    – random
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 0:54
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    @Gilles: So... programmers aren't supposed to like jokes or fun? Or just us "second-rate" programmers do? (And do we really ask potential employers to look at the most popular questions on the site or do we ask them to look at our own best questions?) Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 1:59
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    Seriously, what the hell? First we get a bunch of people whining that questions were deleted. Now, once we've come around to a better solution (leaving the posts as they be, but locking them and adding a notice of historical significance), we get people bitching that they were undeleted? What is going to make you people happy? Some people like these questions, and they should be able to stay put just for that reason alone. If you don't like them, you don't have to look at them. They're not hurting your Internet by being there, and they're making other people's Internet better. The end. Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 4:11
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    "my second reaction is to wonder whether I really want to participate on a site that thinks that being able to write 10[a] in C is strange" And that makes me wonder if I want to participate on a site where users are so damn arrogant that they can't imagine someone wouldn't know every nuance of the syntax of a language. As you mention, it might not be strange to people who know C well, but not everyone has to know C well to ask a C question. That's the whole point of a programming Q&A site. If everyone knew everything well, they wouldn't have to ask any questions. Get over yourself. Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 4:14
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    @Gilles - there you go with your straw man arguments again. I'm quite confident old, extremely popular posts can be kept without the site devolving into Reddit. The real question is why this annoys you so much. Do you have some sort of OCD that makes you crazy knowing these questions exist, breaking current quality standards? Are you just an unhappy person? Are software developers in Paris not overpaid and under-worked like we are in America? Just lighten the hell up, dude. Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 17:28
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    +1 to @AdamRackis, and not just because he has a great first name. This is an incredibly inane argument...is it really hurting you? Can you really not live without a rigorous metric for distinguishing old and relevant (but not necessarily something we'd want as new) content from content that really is garbage? If we could come up with a specific set of exceptionless rules to define these things, we could moderate the site with software. We use humans so that they can employ judgement, as these things are subjective. Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 18:52
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    @Gilles Nobody doubts that these old (popular) questions violate current standards. The point is, letting them stay locked with an historical banner does no harm to you. It does not prevent you from asking or answering new questions. I don't know if you suffer from OCD and really really need the site organized perfectly, or if you're just an angry person, but deleting these questions serves no rational purpose. MOVE ON Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 19:45
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    There is no need to personally attack another user when they are discussing site policy and clean up. Making threats on another user's life is also expressly forbidden @pru
    – random
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 21:37

5 Answers 5


Self-serve second rounds, otherwise known as vomiting up your lunch or slight acid reflux, can only be a good thing. It shows us where we've been and how much things will not change or improve despite a community waking up and coming to its senses as it rolls over and smells the funk wafting in their face, ears beholden to the sound of thighs.

Do these Lazarus questions make the Internet a better place? By no longer being broken links from the Stack Exchange blog, they must surely do. Since when is linkrot of any kind useful? This is Pendleton reaching through the streams of time to communicate with Jesus that will forever validate its existence.

Stack Overflow is not some kind of Yahoo! where they float or bring up content and then sunset them when they no longer fit with the community sense. They hold tight and muchly to these; close to the breast and free from the waves of the ocean.

Can you spend countless hours reading through these lists and see the corner of your mouth turn up in a wry sense, drooling with mirth of times gone by? That's the best kind of quality indicator there is.

"List of book covers", "Hidden features of X" and "Strangest language feature" are now what you would call the fresh point of call for those to RTFM as to why a certain programming quirk is the way it is or does as it says it doesn't or how a hookah can help you refactor code like a snicker-snack.

As the 8-track repeats for us all, because there is no better place to host these, not even some curated blog or archive space, they must belong on Stack Overflow by way of default. You can try and flush it all you want, but that history is backing up on you with a megaton spin and no plunger is ever going to know victory.

  • 1
    The only thing worse than deleting fun questions is hyperbole. Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 1:53
  • Looks like someone is having a little too much fun with the vote button... lol
    – Mysticial
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 1:54
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    I can't tell whether this is for or against.
    – user102937
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 1:55
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    @RobertHarvey I read this as “someone was wrong on the Internet, but don't let this bother you”. Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 2:03
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    your attitude for preventing link rot certainly fits the mission of making Internet better but how much damage would it do to SO if it is followed consistently, by undeletion of many other popular questions? In that sense, I would prefer a "redirect" approach suggested recently by Jeremy as it would make much less harm to SO Q&A quality
    – gnat
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 10:41
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    @gnat Once again, I fully support archiving deleted content elsewhere and redirecting to it. I'm not motivated enough to set it up, but surely you'd think some of the anti-deletion people would be. Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 19:10
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    @Gilles: I'd say that you've accurately articulated the attitude of most, if not all, of the inclusionists (including the part about not being motivated enough).
    – user102937
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 19:37
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    @Gilles, as you maybe noticed I personally am rather strong deletioninst, but the issue of link rot seem to be turning me the other way around. Link rot hurt me in the past, essentially making me leave another programming community and it's quite sad to see that the story seem to be repeating at SO
    – gnat
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 19:45
  • @RobertHarvey I'm a deletionist. For me, plain deletion > motivation threshold > save the content. It seems that for every inclusionist, whine on meta > motivation threshold > save the content. Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 20:05

I'm getting really tired of the "framing garbage" argument that you keep throwing out. I've personally deleted over 38,000 posts on Stack Overflow, so I already know what to do with garbage, thank you very much. The discussion that we're having is about what to do with good content that doesn't fit perfectly within the guidelines of the FAQ, not garbage. If you don't understand the difference, then please stay out of the discussion.

  • 3
    A banana peel is trash. A 50-year old jalopy that drips oil all over the place is also trash. Maybe it belongs in a museum — so put it there, don't leave it blocking the street. Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 18:16
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    @Gilles To borrow your analogy, the car is locked in the garage and you're complaining about it blocking the street. Traffic isn't being blocked here. Questions are still being answered the same as always. Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 19:28
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    "If you don't understand the difference, then please stay out of the discussion." I am delighted to hear that from one of the old farts. Thank you, Bill, you just make me regain some hope about meta. Maybe there is, after all, some sane users left here in the madhouse? A heartfelt +1 from me. What's been happening here recently is seriously hurting SO.
    – sbi
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 19:47
  • 2
    @sbi - it turns out there's a class of uptight software developers who just have to rules enforced perfectly, with no exceptions, or they throw a fit. I honestly always associated abject rule following to minimum-wage grunt workers. I never knew (otherwise intelligent) knowledge workers were capable of such absurdity. (btw, I loved your post on the C++ books question) Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 19:58

Deleting useful content is not a good thing, especially when that useful content has thousands of links to it.

Dogma is one thing, but overall: Don't break the internet.

We ask people to post blurbs from linked answers so that if the link fails we still have the content, yet what you're proposing would make us as bad as those we're trying to overcome.

If a question has useful information, it should be locked, and a historical blurb should be placed at the head. That way we won't break the internet, and we can still let people know that questions like that are not tolerated any longer.

There are a good number of questions that do not contain useful programming content, and should be deleted.

Also: Just because you wrote a meta post saying we should delete old content, doesn't mean that was the position adopted by the community or by the moderators. It's a little disingenuous to act as if you've been betrayed by the community when there isn't any community consensus around these questions.


The referenced posts were undeleted and locked by an SE employee. That is their prerogative.

The pecking order goes like this:

Low-rep users --> High-rep users --> Moderators --> SE Staff

Think of the SE Staff as the Supreme Court. They are the final word. Note that reversals of this kind (made by SE employees) are exceptionally rare.

As to why the decision was made to undelete these posts, it would appear that, in SE's judgement, the value of their content outweighs their negative characteristics.

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    Note that reversals of this kind are exceptionally rare... must've been due to a dip in adsense because of @casperOne. Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 6:11
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    This answer seems wildly useless. "They were undeleted because SE employees are better than you". Obviously they can undelete whatever they want -- the question is why they undeleted it Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 17:49
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    @MichaelMrozek: You didn't see the last sentence in my answer?
    – user102937
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 18:22
  • 2
    @RobertHarvey I saw. It's conspicuously missing any explanation of what “the value of their content” may be. Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 19:09
  • @Gilles: You would have to ask the person who undeleted the question about that specifically.
    – user102937
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 19:10
  • 1
    @RobertHarvey I did. Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 19:22
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    @Gilles: And... what... did... he... say?
    – user102937
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 19:26
  • 4
    @RobertHarvey And… what… makes… you… assume… that… he… has… replied? Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 20:01
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    Just to hopefully derail this into another meme's area... I notice your hierarchy conspicuously is missing The Skeet. Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 21:44
  • 11
    @Andrew - Jon Skeet is not a level in the hierarchy; Jon Skeet is the hierarchy. Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 22:45
  • This explains how it was done (which we already know) but not why it was done (which the question asked), and especially why it was done in this particular fashion, without warning or discussion - although maybe they warned you privately, I don't know.
    – Aarobot
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 19:10
  • @Aarobot: Read the last sentence in my answer. Nobody was warned privately AFAIK, and they didn't discuss it with the mods first, which is fine with me; I rarely discuss my moderator decisions with the community unless they bring them up on meta. Note that the "Single Most Influential Book" question had delete votes cast against it by 15 community members, which qualifies it for deletion under the new rules anyway. The SE team still has the final say.
    – user102937
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 19:18
  • @RobertHarvey: After having read/listened to what little the SE employees have had to say about it (including the recent "podcast"), it's not apparent to me at all that this was in fact the reason. I heard several statements around (a) inbound links, (b) votes and (c) page views, but little if anything substantive about the value of their content.
    – Aarobot
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 19:24
  • @Aarobot: That's the only reason why a "Not Constructive" post would get resurrected. Nobody disagrees that these questions are out of scope for the site. The only discussion has ever been around whether their intrinsic value to the community outweighs their off-topic-ness.
    – user102937
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 19:25
  • @RobertHarvey: You'd think so, but in Joel's own words, the fact that people like it is apparently sufficient justification. Unless he's implying that anything that's liked has value, but that extension is pretty easy to disprove.
    – Aarobot
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 19:28

I think the reason this post has attracted such angry responses—from me and others—is because it seems to suggest that the existence of these old, popular questions is a personal affront to you. That un-deleting these posts constitutes throwing "trash in your face"

Instead of seeming so offended by these posts, can you instead point out actual, concrete problems that these posts present to the site? The posts are locked, so they can't be edited and bumped; new, silly answers can't be added, which would also bump them. They can't even be voted on.

The only possible problem is that they would create broken windows: people would see these posts, and think similar ones could be written today. But of course there's an historical banner intended to disabuse people of this notion. Naturally though there's nothing stopping people from ignoring the banner, or just not seeing it (it really should be more prominent, for what it's worth).

So with that I can only ask the following: is there any evidence that these old posts create broken windows? Can you show us floods of Meta posts from users whining that their new list question got closed, while that list question over there exists? I'm on meta more often than I probably should be, and I honestly have never seen a post complaining about a closed question with the justification that the "weirdest programming language exists", so my question should too.

  • 1
  • Also, meta.programmers.stackexchange.com Read Mark Trapp's comment (he was a moderator on Programmers, which has an even worse problem than SO with old content). Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 18:04
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    @Gilles - I read Mark's sweeping statement that leaving these questions locked "cheapens" other content, and he's entitled to his opinion. But I have yet to see actual meta posts from users saying "Hey, junk list programming question is (locked) over there, so why in the world did my new list question get closed". Does your meta search page have any examples? I abortively tried the first two links, then got tired of it. It seems the people opposed to locking these questions are long on ideology, and short on facts. Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 18:09
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    @Gilles - if this really is about making Stack Overflow better, and not just about dogma, then why not support some combination of my or Pekka's proposals to help keep these questions around, while minimizing any possible effect they could have as broken windows. Doing that should make all rational parties happy. Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 18:15
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    Amazingly the Meta.Prog.SE front page is almost free of historical baggage today. But consider that just Why … closed? find 167 questions, most of are complaining about closures and would be avoided if there weren't hundreds of similar questions still on the site. Or look at gems like What can we do about incorrectly pedantic moderation? , where the FAQ doesn't deter from copycat questions. Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 18:17
  • “Why not support … Pekka's proposal” Oh, you've changed from insults to slander. I did voice my support for his proposal. Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 18:19
  • 1
    @Gilles - my goodness. You've been quite insulting yourself. I find being accused of turning SO into reddit to be quite insulting, though I'm glad to hear you more or less support Pekka's post. What I'm most interested in, though, is where the specific meta posts are demonstrating how much these posts are broken windows. I'm a sucker for science, and I like to think about things in terms of testable predictions. That these posts are broken windows should predict lots of meta posts from angry people wanting to ask X because [some stupid list question] exists over there. Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 18:32
  • On the topic of why such questions hurt the site, you might want to read this. Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 18:34
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    @Gilles - I'm quite happy Mark closed crap on PSE and helped improve the site's quality. Good for him. Now can you please show me all the Meta posts demonstrating why having these old popular questions locked and accessible on STACK OVERFLOW encourages the asking of similar questions? No more rhetoric, just facts. Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 18:43
  • Srsly, meta is filled with this "it's not fair that I can't do it too" whining, and that's just the whining that hasn't been deleted yet!
    – Aarobot
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 19:01
  • 1
    @Aarobot - Most of your links deal with questions that were open at the time. I was rather unclear in my original question, but I edited it a bit above. Popular poll questions should not be open, should not be on the top questions lists, etc. They do create broken windows. My point is that locking them with an historic banner and de-listed them should eliminate the broken windows problem Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 19:01
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    @AdamRackis: De-listing/de-searching is the key point - that is currently not being done. The post notice itself seems wildly ineffective, which isn't surprising considering that it appears at the bottom and we are, as a rule, talking about people who don't bother to read that far before spewing. I'm all in favour of making these available as historical artifacts to people who are specifically looking for them, but until we stop advertising the questions by listing them in the top 10, we are, effectively, throwing trash in people's faces. Locked or not.
    – Aarobot
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 19:12
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    @Aarobot - good news - it looks like these locked posts are being de-listed -- last bullet - "last but not least" Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 20:10
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    Yes, I noticed that very recently. It will be interesting to see how the various factions react.
    – Aarobot
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 20:46

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