A couple of events in the past few days have caused me to reflect - yet again - on the direction we're headed with regard to deletion on Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange.

First, a moderator on one of our larger Stack Exchange sites resigned. This parting was not acrimonious - he just decided he wanted to spend time doing something else. But while thanking him for his help over the past year, I was reminded of just how much we ask of our moderators... For a volunteer job, it can be a tremendous amount of work, tedious and thankless, full of difficult decisions and often only noticed when someone disagrees with one of them. A combination of janitor and babysitter, full of endless messes and demanding parents. We do all we can to make their jobs easier, but still sometimes we ask too much of them.

And then... We rolled out massive changes to how reputation is reported. In theory, this should not have been terribly disruptive - there are actually no changes to how reputation is awarded or calculated. However, changes to reputation caused by the deletion of questions and answers is now reflected almost instantly, and the source of the loss or gain indicated in each user's reputation history.

This ended up being something of a big deal.

The controversy surrounding question deletion has been around for years. Folks have argued - often successfully - that some questions should be harder to delete than others based on their popularity. At the same time, we've come to realize that popularity alone is a poor indicator of either quality or usefulness:

These sorts of posts are wildly popular with the community. The cartoon question alone had over a million views by our extremely strict view counter — which easily translates to at least two million views, possibly three million. We don’t hate fun here, but we discovered that these posts become so popular over time that they truly start to drown out everything else on the site.

Unintended consequences

Believe it or not, the rules really haven't changed much over time. The process by which questions get deleted on Stack Overflow was first documented nearly three years ago - and the controversy surrounding it passed from UserVoice onto Meta Stack Overflow and continued unabated for years... Most folks just ignored it.

But during this time, two relatively small tweaks to the system, made with the best of intentions, conspired to dramatically alter the effective question lifecycle:

  • The limits placed on delete voters specifically to help preserve popular questions resulted in questions that were effectively deletable only by moderators... The end-result being, it makes more sense to flag for moderator attention than to vote.

  • Moderator-deletion was made exempt from community override. Step #10 in the Question Lifecycle involves trusted users being able to disagree with deletion and restore a question to full visibility... But now that only works if it's deleted by the community at large. If 60 trusted users delete an extremely popular question, it can still be undeleted - but if one moderator deletes the same question, the only recourse is to publicly petition for another moderator to restore it.

We trust our moderators. But we've put them in an impossible situation

Moderators are the most trusted users on our sites. As such, we give them the penultimate responsibility for determining the worth of a question:

This is why community moderators have real power; they need that power to intervene, educate, and refocus the community’s exuberance on more substantive content. People will fight you almost literally to the death over their right to be entertained, and to entertain others...

The only users able to override a moderator's decision to delete are other moderators, and certain Stack Exchange employees - and we do so only in exceptional circumstances. If a moderator had to spend every day looking over his shoulder, expecting to be called out and questioned on every decision, they would be hamstrung - no one needs or wants that much grief.

And so making them the focal point for controversy on the most controversial questions on the site is somewhere between counterproductive and outright cruel. If the intention was to make these questions almost untouchable, the end result was to make each moderator into a proxy-voter for a group of users willing to repeatedly flag questions they don't like. Instead of seeing the names of their peers listed below the deleted question, those trusted users who would vote to undelete instead see one name. They may well have voted for this person to moderate the site, but they didn't vote for the users who flagged - and may not even have argued publicly - for its deletion.

This would be bearable if there were a few dozen of these questions. But on Stack Overflow, there are hundreds. And it sets a terrible precedent, turning what should be a collaboration between trusted users and moderators into a poisonous "us vs. them" culture war.

The continued need for deletion

There are thousands of questions asked every day on Stack Overflow. Many, many of them are absolutely terrible, and must be deleted quickly for the good of all. And as time goes on, we need to be unashamedly deleting even older, more popular questions as they outlive their usefulness.

We need both moderators and trusted users willing and able to perform this task, pulling together on the same team, or the site will never survive. Therefore, it is absolutely essential to make the hard decisions on what stays and what goes publicly, in the open, and with full participation of all those who care strongly about each topic.

Technical Solutions

One thing that needs to change ASAP is the algorithm for calculating delete votes. Moderators shouldn't need to intervene except in... Exceptional circumstances. A popular but utterly pointless question. A bitter argument between factions. Vandalism. They don't need to be acting as proxies for everyone with an axe to grind, or an inability to let go of the past.

Another is the locking used on questions that are legitimately preserved in spite of their format being a generally poor fit for the site. These need to be more obviously abnormal in their visual appearance, and should be completely frozen - no voting (on the question or answers), no commenting, no editing, no flagging. A historical artifact should be exactly that - a piece of the past, lovingly preserved. Questions that can't be locked down like this long-term should be unlocked and open... Or at least, temporarily locked for other reasons.

Social Conventions

But at its core, this is a social, not a technical problem, and needs a social solution. Therefore, I propose the following protocols for handling controversial questions:

  1. Users who feel a question must be deleted - or has been deleted in error - can bring them up for discussion here on Meta. They must be tagged: discussion specific-question deleted-questions, and must remain civil and focused on the worth of the question itself. Multiple, specific discussions on the same question are disallowed.

  2. Moderators convinced by discussion of the lasting worth of a controversial question may lock it with the "historical significance" notice. At this point, it will be considered immutable - any arguments for a change to it must be raised here on Meta per #1.

  3. Moderators should largely ignore flags asking for deletion on old, popular questions. Flags are not votes, and flaggers are not necessarily trusted users. A moderator who feels strongly that such a question must be deleted should do so of his own conviction, prepared to stand and calmly defend his decision, as it cannot be overridden by voters.

  4. Users who disagree with the deletion of a question, but are unable to convince the community that it should be preserved on Stack Overflow, should copy the content of the question and answers, and re-post it off-site with attribution as mandated by the CC BY-SA license.

Let's work together

If we didn't all care about Stack Overflow, we wouldn't all be here on a Saturday talking about this. We may have conflicting ideas about what, exactly, is important... But let's try to keep some perspective. At some point, we're all deletionists, and all inclusionists - we merely disagree on the specifics of what should be included or deleted. So seek consensus, and if the rest of the community disagrees with you, strive to accept that gracefully.

11 Answers 11


My take on deletions

I despise the trigger-happy deletionism that is going on at the moment.

It is extremely discouraging and demotivating that we, users who just want to help others and share knowledge, have to constantly spend time combating arbitrary deletions.

It is completely contrary to the spirit that once characterized SO, back when the goal was to help people, it is that close to pushing away many users who have been with the site since it launched in 2008, and it is constantly threatening to remove information that everyone agrees is useful, just because it doesn't quite fit the formalized rules made up by Meta users. When did it become more important to satisfy Meta users than actually being useful?

A lot of people seem to have gotten the wrong idea about the point I'm trying to make, and are convinced I am some kind of demonic babykiller who wants to see MSO burned to the ground. So let me try to clarify a bit:

I am not against deletions per se. I obviously want spam deleted, and I do believe that there are questions that are such a bad fit for SO that they should just be deleted. I also believe that the countless polls and joke threads and other forms of popularity contests that SO used to have, are best deleted.

But if a question is about programming, if it is possible to give it a high quality and helpful answer, then I don't want it deleted. If people are adding useful information in comments, or calling the correctness of an answer into question, I don't want that deleted. Even if that leads to a comment chain that is long enough to trigger the automatic flagging process.

I don't think MSO users are evil, power-hungry authoritarian madmen. At least not all of them. I do believe that you are on MSO for a reason. That if you truly had no interest in steering the site, you would not participate on MSO. And this leads to the conclusion that if you are on MSO, it is because you seek some form of influence over the site. That's not a bad thing or something you should be ashamed of. But let's face facts: if a user is not on MSO, it is because they do not wish to participate in "steering" the site. If a user is on MSO, it is because they do.

And this means that MSO users are not representative by default. MSO users are a subset of SO users, and it is a subset with different goals and wishes. Thus, if the MSO community runs itself completely unchecked, it will diverge from the "rest" of the SO community. Somehow, there has to be a sanity check, a "are we sure that these proposed policies are good for other SO users as well?"

This is not a question of fairness. I know a lot of you are itching to spam me with comments like "that's how the world works, if you don't speak up, you don't get heard", or "MSO is an open forum, if you want influence, you just have to go there".

That is bollocks, for two reasons:

  • it is irresponsible. Anyone can contact your real-world government too, but few do. And yet, we expect our government to represent us all, and not just the ones who actively participate. Imagine a government which only favored the ones who "participated" (that would basically be members of the government, lobbyists and other interest groups). That just wouldn't fly. So why should it be considered ok on MSO?

  • it is not a question of "fairness", or "how the world works". It is a question of what is best for SO. And it is best for SO to retain everyone who contributes to making the site better. Someone who never visits MSO, but posts high quality answers, is an asset to SO. It is someone that SO should avoid alienating. And so, fair or not, policies which alienate or piss off these "non-meta" contributors, are harmful to SO. Even if MSO members think it's the best idea since sliced bread, it's harmful to SO if it alienates the SO members who aren't on MSO.

It is not about some SO users being "better" or more "pure" than others. In my first revision of this answer, people got the wrong idea that because I pointed out a distinction between "SO users who are on MSO" and "SO users who aren't", I was in favor of the latter group, and thought they were "better" or "more pure". I don't.

I merely think that the two groups exist, and that both are valuable assets to SO.

tl;dr Those who are active on MSO need to keep in mind that it is not enough to do what those on MSO want. "If you don't come to MSO, you don't get to complain" is not a valid answer, because that is effectively turning away skilled and knowledgeable people, SO's #1 resource.

The split between the SO and MSO communities (aka. the "meta police")

It is critical to ensure that it is also what those not on MSO want. Because there are a lot of SO users who are not on MSO, and SO would be a poorer place without them.

A lot of people here on MSO get upset when they hear terms like "the meta police". But the term exists for a reason. It exists because these subsets of the SO community exists: those who merely want to contribute on SO, and those who want to do the same but also influence the site through MSO.

If the actions, decisions, culture or consensus of MSO inhibits someone who is not on SO from contributing, he feels run over. He feels that the Meta Police just told him what to do.

MSO has real power. It's not a formal legislative body, sure, but it's where the governance of SO is discussed. It is where moderators go to see what "the people" want. It's where people voice their opinions about the site. If a consensus is formed on Meta that, for example, certain content should be aggressively deleted, then it will happen.

If something happens that alienates non-MSO users, and it was triggered by something occurring on MSO, then calling it "Meta Police" is very natural. And as offending as it may be to the well-meaning MSO members, remember that of you get past the wording, it is an indicator that MSO dropped the ball.

Clamping down on the usage of that phrase doesn't solve the issue. That's just another example of the "meta police" being out of touch and "oppressing" ordinary SO users.

We, SO users in general, need to address this division in the community. Please don't tell me that it doesn't exist, because that only shows how insulated those on MSO are.

If you're active on MSO, then you are being heard, and your opinions are, almost by definition, closely aligned with the MSO consensus. In short, you don't see the problem.

But if you're not on MSO, then you sometimes feel steamrollered by arbitrary and pointless rules, ideas, whims or fancies invented on MSO.

Those who are not interested in playing games on MSO, not interested in seeking influence, not interested in spending their time here, will always be in a minority in discussions such as this, and thus, by default, MSO will "drift" compared to SO as a whole.

And I'm not sure how to solve the issue. But a good start is to point out that it exists; that MSO is not naturally representative of SO, and (other) SO users are not necessarily happy with everything MSO is happy with.

If this question was asked on SO, the answers given would be very different. (but of course it can't be, because that would be off topic).

  • 2
    Thinking about it a bit more, I think allowing people to keep the rep is important in maintaining a culture where contributions are welcomed, and which encourages answers. I'd rather people get a bit too much rep because they answered content that got deleted, than if they refrain from sharing their knowledge because "it's not worth it". – jalf Mar 7 '12 at 12:10
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    Thank you for that edit. This is a much more thoughtful, on-topic, and I dare say useful answer - though I must hasten to remind you that at one time these questions were asked and answered on SO (off-topic though they were) and still attracted primarily a subset of the larger community; that's just the nature of the beast, regardless of venue. I've removed the comments that predate your edit, as I believe you've addressed most of the complaints. – Shog9 Mar 7 '12 at 18:14
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    It's the "useful" part that gets me. I learned a lot of interesting things from threads like "strangest language features". – womp Mar 8 '12 at 16:22
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    Agreed with Shog's latest comment re: your edit. I appreciate the time you took to clarify your position. I'm still left with the question of practicality, however: how are the "governors" to know what "the people" want unless the people speak up? Granted that "the people" should be kept in mind, that their possible points of view should be considered during decision making. The "governors" might just as well imagine the wrong desires as ignore them entirely, though. – jscs Mar 8 '12 at 19:48
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    @JoshCaswell how? They obviously can't, not perfectly, at any rate. But if you remember that "there are other SO users than me and the guys I'm discussing with here and now", I think we're off to a good start. I don't see a perfect solution. To be honest, I'm not sure I even see a satisfactory imperfect solution. But if you set out to make the SO community happy, rather than merely making the MSO community happy, that's better than nothing. – jalf Mar 8 '12 at 21:23
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    Except that (1) you still have no guarantee that the result is going to be representative, and (2) the majority may well be wrong. The best kind of democracy is the one where issues are discussed until a consensus emerges. Referendums and polls and votes aren't very democratic. They just let 51% of the user tell the remaining 49% what to do. Like I said, I'm not sure what the best solution is. – jalf Mar 13 '12 at 15:00
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    This is a great answer. You're absolutely right about separate communities: the larger one is the one that uses the main SO site for it's usefulness and doesn't care how it's run, and the smaller group is here on MSO and trying to run the site according to some guidelines set forth to prevent the site from deteriorating from a Q&A site into a discussion forum. I think a balance needs to be found where well-written and useful-to-SO-community content is preserved, even if it doesn't match the site's guidelines exactly. – Rachel Mar 13 '12 at 15:42
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    I have to say that in every community driven group there is a smaller (sometimes much smaller) group that is active in policy making: that it happens here is not because meta exists. Maybe we could do a better job of letting users know that policy happens on meta, but in the end it's their job to get involved if they want to be involved. And, yes, meta is a harsh environment, but that's is because it can have big effects. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Mar 14 '12 at 17:09
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    @dmckee: no, it is not "their job" to do anything here. We're all volunteers, remember? Please re-read my answer: the reason the non-MSO'er needs to be taken into account is not for their sake, it's for SO's sake. A MSO which pisses off this vast majority of the SO community is broken. You can make excuses for why it is as it is until the cows come home. That's not what I'm talking about. My point is that it needs to get better, regardless of why it is the way it is. – jalf Mar 15 '12 at 8:23
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    Or, to be blunt, non-MSO users don't need SO. But SO needs all the non-MSO users, because they make up the vast majority of its community. So it's up to SO and MSO to keep its community around to contribute. Saying those 98% of the community are doing it wrong is nonsense. Telling them it's their own problem if the site they contribute to kicks them in the nuts is both arrogant and self-defeating. – jalf Mar 15 '12 at 8:27
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    Yes, the ones complaining are volunteers. So are the ones they are complaining about. But we've been making an effort to make things better--and that takes time and causes frustration--while they have been happily ignoring the matter until they don't like the results. Try that with your [church|club|lodge|...] hospitality committee sometime. That's because MSO isn't made up of MSO users, but of Stack Exchange users who're active in policy discussion. And guess what, once people kicked up a fuss they got adjustments made--which is as is should be. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Mar 15 '12 at 16:06
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    Please re-read my answer. This is not about entitlement, it doesn't matter what your local church or lodge does, it is very, very, very simple: So is better off when its community, the entire community, is happy. Not just the 3% who also participate on MSO, but the remaining 97% as well. Because guess what, it's the remaining 97% who write 97% of the SO content. Saying "yeah but you can just come to MSO and participate if you want to be heard" is missing the point. It doesn't matter whether I, and other SO users are heard. It matters that we keep contributing – jalf Mar 15 '12 at 17:30
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    MSO has basically one goal, and one goal only: to keep people contributing to the main sites. Nothing else matters. It doesn't matter that your church has even worse leadership, it doesn't matter that "we" had the option of participating on MSO, it doesn't matter that "we" chose to ignore you and yours. All that matters is that MSO does not harm SO. And telling me that you have been making an effort to make things better, while us mere SO users have done nothing is beyond insulting. It is a perfect illustration of the problem I've been trying to draw attention to – jalf Mar 15 '12 at 17:32
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    And of course, your last paragraph is horribly wrong too. High-profile SO users have been leaving or feeling unwelcome for a long time. A week or two ago, this turned into something near a civil war, and you think it is as it should be? I beg to differ. It would be as it should be if (a) people who didn't engage in MSO were satisfied with SO, and (b) if policy changes could be made before riots started to break out in the streets – jalf Mar 15 '12 at 17:49
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    That last bit, "MSO has basically one goal, and one goal only: to keep people contributing to the main sites." is exactly right. I think this edit vastly improves the point you're trying to make and wanted to come here and say so - and I'd be tempted to stick that line right at the top, or bottom as a kind of conclusiony thing. At the end of the day, everything (closing, deletion, re-opening, undeleting) is about that. At heart, I probably have "deletionist" leanings, but I'm glad there's some "inclusionists" holding the mirror up. Two sides to every coin :) – user142852 Mar 19 '12 at 20:42

To throw some data out there (cause I love my science hammer)...

First off, everyone needs to be aware that the debate is essentially over old content. There was a period early in Stack Overflow's life where on/off-topic weren't well defined, and a lot of popular but pointless content was created.

enter image description here

This is a graph of popular questions (defined as a question that got a >= 20 score within it's first month of existence, deleted or not) as a percentage of all questions ask during that same month that remain undeleted.

Notice the first several months of SO were pretty wild. There's also a spike a little more than 2 years ago, though we were already clamping down after some perceived loss of quality.

Here are some of the questions (the first in each month "slot") to give an indication of how popularity has changed over time:

Should I learn C?

  • deleted
  • definitely a no-go today

Should developers worry about ageism?

  • deleted
  • ditto

Do you have a hobby development project?

  • closed
  • should probably be deleted

The Coolest Server Names

  • migrated, deleted
  • no-go today

What programming tools have you built for yourself?

  • deleted
  • ditto

What's your most controversial programming opinon?

  • migrated, deleted
  • ditto

Am I too young to worry about college right now?

  • migrated, deleted
  • ditto

What is your favorite C programming trick?

  • closed, historical lock
  • there's some useful stuff here

Good locations worldwide for a coder gypsy wannabe

  • closed
  • should probably be deleted

What is the coolest thing you can do in <10 lines of simple code? Help me inspire beginners!

  • closed
  • eh, I'd historical interest this; could see deleting

What are some advanced software development topics every developer should know?

  • closed, historical lock
  • another no-go today

Is it rude to refactor/improve team members' code?

  • open
  • wouldn't survive today, should be closed/locked

How do I handle a developer who was previously amazing, but now lack luster?

  • open
  • I'd delete this, there's no objective answer to this

The .NET 2.0 SDK Programs - What does each tool do?

  • open
  • This is a good question

What reasons are there to prefer glob over readdir (or vice-versa) in Perl?

  • open
  • also a good question

Java Programming - Where should SQL statements be stored?

  • open
  • mediocre question, not close/delete material

Programming Puzzle: Encoding a chess board state throughout a game

  • open
  • wouldn't survive today, should be closed and locked

Why doesn't the JVM cache JIT compiled code?

  • open
  • OK question

Why do we need tuples in Python (or any immutable data type)?

  • open
  • OK question

Career advice: I am best at what I hate most

  • migrated, deleted
  • wouldn't survive today

Help building a website using punched cards?

  • closed
  • ditto

How do functional programming languages work?

  • open
  • OK question

Why are mainframes still around?

  • open
  • probably wouldn't survive today, should be closed and locked

looping in two directions

  • open
  • mediocre question

Create a JVM programming language

  • open
  • borderline, I'd close and lock

What to do about a 11000 lines C++ source file?

  • open
  • should be closed, borderline on delete or lock

Why would you use HTML/CSS width 99.9% instead of 100%?

  • open
  • good question

Unions as Base Class

  • open
  • mediocre question

Is long guaranteed to be at least 32 bits?

  • open
  • good question

Is there any way to put malicious code into Regex?

  • open
  • ok question

Why is GHC so large/big?

  • open
  • borderline; objective answers I'd leave open

Running a Haskell program on the Android OS

  • open
  • OK question

Why is this program erroneously rejected by three C++ compilers?

  • closed, historical lock
  • ick

Contract.Requires throwing pex errors

  • closed as dupe
  • correctly closed

Why is this implemented as a struct?

  • open
  • good question

Named arguments and generic type inference in C# 4.0

  • open
  • ditto

Why do all these crazy function pointer definitions work? What is really going on?

  • open
  • ditto

Why avoid subtyping?

  • open
  • meh, mediocre question, good answer

Rake "already initialized constant" warning

  • open
  • ditto

Ways to improve performance consistency

  • open
  • good question

Find the index of the n'th item in a list

  • open
  • ditto

Haskell projects to study and learn from?

  • open
  • eh, should probably be closed

Is there a way to write this nicer?

  • open
  • ok question

While it's to a degree subjective, I'm pretty comfortable looking at these (effectively randomly selected) questions and saying that we're seeing a general trend of popular questions also being hard, on-topic, questions. More credence to "this is a historical issue, not a present day one". Makes me glad that most SE 2.0's are very "on topic"-focused, so they won't have to deal with this pain later in their lives (or at least, not as much).

Personally, I'm a fan of error-ing on the side of historical locks (though I do think the technical changes Shog9 proposes are necessary for moderators' sanities sake). However, I also think that our current (rather strict) on-topic requirements are a huge positive for Stack Overflow. In an ideal world we'd have always been as strict as we are today, basically.

One thing that's probably hurting feelings a little more than intended is the new "deleted post" event in reputation history. In particular, that the number is a little scary.

enter image description here

The flaw here is that the -999 isn't accounting for rep you got back as a consequence of the deleted post no longer pushing you to the rep cap. You get that rep mind (from votes that were, but are no longer, post rep cap), we just aren't displaying that at the moment as part of the rollup. It's a tricky query, but we're trying to fix that.

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    @Mysticial - here you go. Follows the same general trend IMO. – Kevin Montrose Mar 4 '12 at 3:28
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    Thx! I just looked through those, and by the looks of it, I think the trends are somewhat stronger for best-of-month query. – Mysticial Mar 4 '12 at 3:55
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    Very nice research. Thanks. – Norman Ramsey Mar 4 '12 at 3:58
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    +10 for well researched data. -9 because I can't actually vote more than once. – Andrew Barber Mar 4 '12 at 6:24
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    I think it's important to note that it is not just about historical questions. That's my beef in it. Moderators have become a lot more aggressive about deleting comment threads, even if they hold value. About deleting questions which deviate ever so slightly from the "formal" templates and rules required according to Meta. You had a few questions in your list which were mediocre, but attracted excellent answers. Such question would, if the current deletionism runs unchecked, rarely get a chance to attract those excellent answers. And that would be a shame for all – jalf Mar 4 '12 at 10:40
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    I think (based on my opinions and gut feeling) that the recent changes to rep simply drew attention to the rampant deletion. It's ongoing, it's still causing a lot of damage even to new questions, but now people can see it. And are reacting to it. – jalf Mar 4 '12 at 10:42
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    An example - even one - would help your argument considerably, @jalf. As a trusted user on Stack Overflow, you have access to this information - use it. – Shog9 Mar 4 '12 at 16:56
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    @Shog9: It was considered to delete a question that has — literally! — hundreds of links to it across SO and thousands throughout the web. Not because it was a dumb fun question, but because it fits the Q&A format a bit awkwardly. Really, what more examples do you need? – sbi Mar 4 '12 at 19:01
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    @sbi: well, that's one more example than we had a few minutes ago... But, that isn't a new question - which is what jalf is talking about here. – Shog9 Mar 4 '12 at 19:03
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    I didn't provide an example because there's been enough fuss about the one that springs clearly to mind and I don't want to keep going on about it. A certain comment-thread deletion a month or so ago ring any bells? In any case, I'm just a dumb old SO user, my interest is in helping people with their programming problems. You are the ones who wants to decide on rules, to guide the community, to shape the site. Surely you can find the motivation to examine the necessary data then? If MSO users want to impose new rules but refuse to research the issue first then I think we have bigger problems – jalf Mar 5 '12 at 7:12
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    Feel free to brush me off as lazy or unmotivated, or all the issues I draw attention to as "unfounded" or "baseless", if it'll make you feel better. This is your playground, not mine. But when I signed up for MSO, I did so in the belief that it was a place to voice your opinions about the direction of the site. I didn't read the clause that said you had to bring irrefutable evidence and documentation, if you wanted to be allowed to speak. – jalf Mar 5 '12 at 7:16
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    @Shog9: I look at page 1 on Meta, and what do I see? meta.stackexchange.com/questions/124590/… -- someone is pissed and/or confused that what he posted was deleted. Despite being legal according to the FAQ. I don't blame him. But please don't tell me that this rampant deletionism of current content is not turning away users today. The way things are going, I think you'll just have to look at Meta for a few hours if you want more examples – jalf Mar 5 '12 at 7:23
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    @jalf: considering that's exactly what I asked for in the question here, I hope that's the case. But it troubles me that you would make such a bold claim "it is not just about historical questions" with absolutely nothing to back it up. – Shog9 Mar 5 '12 at 15:07
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    @Shog9: Remember, jalf wasn't only speaking about question deletions, but also speaking of comment deletions, which many consider a big problem. Comment deletions have been a problem before. – sbi Mar 6 '12 at 9:31
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    @jalf, it troubles me because you are an active user, because I've talked to you before and consider you to be fairly intelligent, because you are a trusted user on Stack Overflow with access to many of the tools - if you wanted to bring up specific examples to back up your claims, you could do so. Yes, so can I - but that doesn't scale. Justify your own arguments, and demand the same from the rest of us - if there's a core philosophy here, that would be it. – Shog9 Mar 6 '12 at 14:28

Very, very well said as always.

I am very much in favour of SO's deletionism - I'm convinced the merciless focus on on-topicness and quality is what has made the sites great. It'll cause tears occasionally but it's for the good of the site.

To address point #4 though - the problem I (and I'm sure many other people) have, as stated before, is that the content, once deleted, vanishes completely off the face of the earth. If there's stuff people love and that has been popular for a long time, there is no reason for it not to be accessible somewhere.

Telling people to fetch and host the content privately and individually is a half-baked approach to the issue: for example, that was how it was done for the famous boat programming question, with the result that there seems to be no copy of it out there any more, because the privately hosted copies have gone down. That sucks.

To me, a properly set up archive hosted by a professional business with big servers is the only real solution, and there is no business more suitable for this than Stack Overflow. I realize this is a huge enterprise, and will take a lot of time to do. But I'm sure some sort of official commitment that this is planned (and that, by extension, all the contributions we are quarreling about are under no circumstances completely lost) would help the deletion discussions lose their edge a bit.

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    I didn't want to post this initially because it feels like I'm repeating an old argument or plugging my archive proposal (which really isn't my intention at all), but I felt repeating the "plz build an archive" argument is a counterpoint to 4.) that is worth making – Pekka Mar 3 '12 at 22:17
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    @casper well, that goes without saying. Somebody running a bordello is entitled to pretty much everything around here! :P Re 10k - true, but you have to admit that for most users, it is gone. – Pekka Mar 3 '12 at 22:22
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    @casperOne: It does vanish off the face of the earth... 10k users live in the Underground. – BoltClock's a Unicorn Mar 3 '12 at 22:24
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    @GGG et al., may I present: area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/38713/framed-garbage (Name and description negotiable.) – Jon Ericson Mar 3 '12 at 22:50
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    @JonEricson We need something else, frankly, just like chat was introduced as another dimension of the site, placing it all in one SE site would have such a cross-contamination of topics that it would be utter trash, and that's not the point, really. We want to take the stuff that has value, but is no longer applicable to the Q&A format and move it somewhere else where it can shine on it's own, but still have the relationship to the site that spawned it. – casperOne Mar 3 '12 at 23:10
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    What made SO great was the focus on writing damn good content, and *encouraging damn good content, and for the longest time, only the most trivial deletions were performed. And that made SO great. That made SO popular, that basically founded SO and SE. Then, two years later, people like you come along, and unilaterally decide that you need to start deleting stuff, because surely that will improve the site. Guess what: it won't. – jalf Mar 3 '12 at 23:55
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    You are at the verge of pushing away a lot of high-profile, very active senior users, simply because the site, under the reign of the Meta Police, no longer cares about creating good content, because it is so much more fun to remove content. – jalf Mar 3 '12 at 23:55
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    @jalf Many people have made abundantly clear that they want to remove what they believe to be harmful content, in order to promote what they believe to be good content. Everyone wants the same thing: a great site. You're deliberately ignoring that and deliberately being provocative. This only results in further dividing the community, turning debate sour, and making it impossible for me to believe that you have any good intentions. Alienating people is not going to get you very far. – Matthew Read Mar 4 '12 at 1:21
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    @jalf Jeff has directly addressed you and said if you aren't willing to be part of the solution, then perhaps you shouldn't be here. That begs the question why you're still being provocative and not constructive? – casperOne Mar 4 '12 at 6:10
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    @casperOne: jalf is a very active SO user (who has, with few more answers than you, amassed almost thrice your rep), one of the few dozen people in the world who know most about C++, the fifth-best user in the C++ tag. One user still above him on that list expresses the very same sentiments (not on meta, where he said he'd never go again, but on twitter, where this whole affair here makes big splashes and is seen highly critical), and so do others on that list. One or two days ago one of the few 100k+ users expressed the very same sentiments here. It's not just mad dissenters. It's your elite. – sbi Mar 4 '12 at 9:19
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    @casperOne: And it's always guys like you, with a few 10k of rep, and an interest in policing and discussing and moderating, who tell them to bend themselves enough to discuss it with you ad infinitum or GTFO. But not everyone who voices an opinion that's against yours is provocative, and not everyone who tries to avoid this madhouse called "meta", but can't hold back having their say when you guys screws it too badly, is unwilling to participate. Some may simply be more interested in answering questions — remember? that's what SO actually is all about — than waisting their time with you. – sbi Mar 4 '12 at 9:20
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    @casperOne: Some news for your consideration: this site, and this thread, are for discussing deletion It can hardly be "not constructive" to voice disagreement with an, on meta, widely held belief, can it? – jalf Mar 4 '12 at 10:24
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    @sbi "It's SO users vs. the meta crowd. Doesn't that strike you as much worse?" No, this is how you insist on framing everything. Every post you ever make reinforces this division, directly or indirectly. You address serious issues, but this constant subtext undermines any chance you have at affecting change (short of triggering a massive revolt). I agree with you about many things, but when I read your posts I just end up offended, rather than motivated to help. – Jeremy Banks Mar 4 '12 at 20:44
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    @jalf polarizing between Meta and non-Meta users, and acting like Meta is some elitist club that actually runs things, is still complete nonsense. Everyone has a voice (and a vote) here, and regular users' voices count as much as everyone else's (which often enough is exactly zero.) Of course those with the strongest views are going to air them the loudest here; that still has nothing to do with Meta as such. (oh, I notice that Shog has said pretty much everything that had to be said below. I will hold my tongue now.) – Pekka Mar 5 '12 at 19:27
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    @sbi as long as you keep treating me, a dedicated Stack Overflow user, and my views and thought processes differently because I also happen to participate in Meta, I can't take you seriously and I won't be wasting time trying to convince you otherwise. I regret that your views have been dismissed outright over the past couple of days, but it may partly have to do with your "us vs. Meta" rhetoric. As if Meta users had some sort of legislative power over SO. Just in case there's a misunderstanding: they don't. – Pekka Mar 5 '12 at 21:43

It's no wonder people are capable of war when they get this nasty about a few lost virtual non-existent points on the internet.

Here's my take:

  1. Half the problem here is that mega upvoted questions can only be deleted by moderators. On that particular example, I counted elsewhere that it would take 15% of all the 10k+ users in existence to voluntarily delete it. We need to alter the bar such that:

    • Moderators can refuse to overrule the community unless they feel the need to.
    • Those who wish to delete a question can vote to do so, assuming sufficient reputation.
    • It is practical to achieve a cleanup even on huge upvoted questions without requiring moderator intervention.
  2. The other half of the problem is the lost rep people are experiencing.

    Actually, this was never lost reputation in the first place. It was never gained. /reputation has existed as a route for a long time and has enabled all of us to bring our reputation figure into line with our posts at least once per day.

  3. Another half of the problem is that there is a disagreement with what should be cleaned up and what should stay. I personally (please do not debate this in comments to my answer) believe we have a three tier system:

    • Good questions.
    • Bad questions - those questions that do not fit the format quite so well, but are redeemable either because they are community maintained or have an outstanding answer.
    • Ugly questions - ones that are rubbish.

    There seems to be a very black and white "it's either good or bad" view. I'm glad we're considering a bit of a cleanup, but I think we really need to prioritise here and take a view that it is ok to leave some content alone whilst we work out a better location for it.

  4. Another half to this problem is Lounge<C++>. Not all of them and not all the time, but do a search of their room for the term "meta police". From the top results there in recent days (obscenities munged):

    oh, yeah, F*** the meta police :P

    we have one room and we generally act as a group in resisting the Meta Police

    If we decide we are fed up with the meta-police interfering with our work out in the trenches, and stop posting answers to C++ questions just for a single day, this might make a considerable dent into SO's shiny face.

    And we again have someone from the meta police watch over us. I really, really, really, do not believe this to be accidental anymore.

    Exactly how is this helpful? Or even remotely mature? "Resist the meta police" seriously?

    Ok, ok. I realise there are a number of users who perhaps frequent meta more than they should and do not contribute as much to SO. I realise the SO/SE split of content on meta is a problem; however, this sort of invective is more commonly seen in slashdot comment threads on anything remotely mentioning government.

    This is nasty, disgusting us-vs-them anti-community spirit nonsense. Make a note in your wikidot not to vote for me as a moderator ever, because I'd shut this down faster than you can say DCI Ninefingers.

  5. I believe there is an element of overzealousness and intolerance, both amongst inclusionists and deletionists, to see the viewpoint of the other or agree that a question should be left alone for a bit. Again, I refer you to point 1. Pick your battles - get rid of the really obnoxious stuff and let's sort out the other stuff in slow time, by agreement. Realise that a possible resolution might be locking and leaving, bad as it is. I personally think it should be moved to an appropriate place (all of the "junk") but I've survived on SO for two years+ with it where it is. Another 6-12 months will not hurt me.

    See also point 1 - have your say, vote, move on.

    The moderators have enough to deal with without all of this.

  6. Everyone wants their case to be made, nobody will do anything. I moved the C++ book list question into ; removed, reverted, updated, reverted. Honestly, what bothers me most is not that it was removed; it's more that a semi-acceptable solution was effectively rejected, placing the content back in jeopardy. Actually, the reverting of my edit didn't even re-instate the book link into the wiki, it was just select/delete. It was also deleted right after it was discovered by certain members of Lounge. Surprise? Fighting meta police?

    I've also taken the Vim tips top answer and prepared a blog post on the super user blog to cover it. Mostly it wasn't much work to do.

    My point here is that many users are happy to talk and whine about deletion, but how many of us are putting the time in to look after that content? Not enough, that's for sure.

    Oh and just for good measure, here's a SE rule violation. This is a screenshot from Teacher's Lounge, the moderator-only chatroom. The conversation is about cleaning up sites and one or two of the SO mods were sanity checking their thought process.

    enter image description here

    I can only include what I said here. hence the remaining details are blocked out, including replies, but the upshot of those comments was the deletion audit question (thanks to the other mods who suggested that format and to Robert for making it a question on meta).

    So maybe, just maybe, some of us believe in meta as a vehicle for ensuring we keep the community working together. Maybe, just maybe, some of us believe the community can and should handle its own cleanup. I have nothing against mods helping, I just think it's all round better if the community drives it.

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    Thank you for addressing the "meta police" meme. It keeps popping up and I've been absolutely stunned by the apparent vitriol behind it. I view Meta the way you've described in your last paragraph -- this is (sort of) a democracy, and Meta is just the place where discussions and decisions happen. I'm frankly sad to learn that there are a group who see it as authoritarianism or even oligarchism. – jscs Mar 4 '12 at 19:02
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    It is sort of a democracy, but one which has forgotten who it represents. You should be sad to learn that there is a group who sees it differently, and you should investigate why they feel that way, and what can be done to remedy it. If meta alienates people, it is a failure. – jalf Mar 5 '12 at 9:03
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    @DCI: "Exactly how is this helpful? Or even remotely mature? "Resist the meta police" seriously?" you're right, it's not helpful or mature. But it's a chat room, a lounge, an off topic place. It doesn't have to be helpful or mature. But it describes very well how a lot of people perceive MSO and the moderators. – jalf Mar 5 '12 at 9:06
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    Many people, or a few people? Let's describe the problem as it is, not with rhetoric and hyperbole - that's my point about Lounge<C++> here. It's beyond letting off steam and being off topic - it's an anti-moderator anti-MSO crusade. The problem with this is that rather than come here looking for a resolution and being constructive and seeing meta as a place you can engage, you get all angry and self righteous and all C++ tag defending. Then other users start doing the same. – user142852 Mar 5 '12 at 9:19
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    The fact of the matter is you're not the only ones who want the C++ book list to stay on SO in some form. You're not the only ones who answer on SO. You're not the only ones thinking about community-building, improving the internet, what's good for SO and SE etc. But there's no way I'm putting my voice behind that kind of behaviour. And yes, the whole affair makes me very sad. – user142852 Mar 5 '12 at 9:23
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    The C++ book list? What does that have to do with any of this? I'm not talking about the C++ tag at all here, and I don't see why you'd bring it up. But have you wondered why the C++ lounge is an "anti-MSO crusade"? Is it because we are bad people? Or is it perhaps because MSO is doing a less than perfect job, and the lounge is one of the few places where non-MSO users get together and talk? The "us-vs-them" talk is nasty, yes. The problem is that that is how MSO comes across. As a them, rather than us. If that is the case, why should it not be brought up? – jalf Mar 5 '12 at 10:23
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    So the C++ chat room is one of the four halves of The Big Problem™, huh? Well, has it occurred to you that the C++ chat room is also the most popular chat room? By far the most popular, I think. We get people asking questions about PHP, Java, .NET, their French language homeworks (I'm not kidding), and whatnot (with them assuring us they're only doing this because it's the single one room that's active and not dominated by kids screaming abuse at each other), so I maintain we have a pretty well mixed set of users there. – sbi Mar 5 '12 at 10:49
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    Regarding #1 -- the reason it takes so many deletion votes is that so many people have found that piece of content useful. It should be difficult to delete things that large numbers of people have found useful. – Billy ONeal Mar 5 '12 at 18:06
  • One more thought to this ridiculous accusation: Apparently, the C++ chat room also rules Twitter, where SO users were all up and in arms about this, too. (And got calm again since Shog's blog posting.) Yeah, it's a very good feeling to be that influential! – sbi Mar 6 '12 at 8:37
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    @sbi I am well aware of the prominence of the C++ chat room - I even said "not all of them and not all the time". To be more explicit, certain members have been peddling the "meta police" line repeatedly. My point is that is not a constructive behaviour. These changes could have been discussed and implemented with much less drama. I don't see the relevance of twitter to what I'm saying here, although I am glad a resolution was achieved. @Billy I agree, however, pushing it to the point only a mod can delete is too far. They're not there to make these calls - it's far better if we can by votes.` – user142852 Mar 6 '12 at 12:44
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    @DCINinefingers: you seem to insist that the "meta police" problem is nothing more than disgruntled users manufacturing an imaginary threat. Doesn't it occur to you that perhaps one should try to understand why they perceive this threat? If MSO comes across as a "police", then perhaps that, and not the users who call it "the meta police" is the problem? I don't want a meta police. But I use the term to describe situations where that is what we have. Where Meta strikes like lightning from a blue sky, to enforce its own arbitrary rules, regardless of what is actually good for SO – jalf Mar 6 '12 at 14:47
  • If it makes you happy, I can use another term from now on. But does that solve the underlying problem? – jalf Mar 6 '12 at 14:47
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    @jalf: Here's the thing. I'm generally on your side, as far as the actual debate goes. But your perspective on the moderation? No. The very term "meta police" speaks to both an unwillingness to actually try to use MSO for anything productive, as well as an unwillingness to accept that the rest of the community might decide against you. – Nicol Bolas Mar 6 '12 at 20:57
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    @jalf: When it comes right down to it, these questions aren't that important. Having all of them vanish would make the site less than what it was, but SO will still be here and be useful to people. Thinking that it is a moral blow to SO shows a lack of perspective. When participating in a policy discussion, you have to be willing to accept that maybe, just maybe, you won't get your way. If you're so obstinate that you'll take your ball and go home if this happens, then you're not likely to be able to participate productively in finding an effective compromise position. – Nicol Bolas Mar 6 '12 at 20:58
  • @Nicol: When it comes right down to it, no single question is important for the site's health. We are not talking about single questions, though, we are talking dozens of popular questions deleted with in a few days and weeks. IOW, we are talking a trend. And trends, even one single trend, can indeed be harmful to this site. Plus we are talking an attitude towards a group of users. And a single unfitting attitudes can certainly harm the site just as much. – sbi Mar 12 '12 at 1:29

In general I like the proposed solution. The one big issue I have is this rule

A moderator who feels strongly that such a question must be deleted should do so of his own conviction, prepared to stand and calmly defend his decision, as it cannot be overridden by voters.

This still lets one moderator decide the fate of a question on a whim after there have been thousands of contributions (votes, answers, etc ...) over a period of years.

This is the problem we're having today. One person shouldn't be able to erase thousands of contributions on a whim.

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    Moderation is anything but whimsy. People were elected to be moderators to use their best judgement and to handle the cases where the community can't—or won't—act: if it's so bad you don't trust specific moderators to act in a way that best represents the community they were elected to serve, that's a completely different issue altogether. – user149432 Mar 4 '12 at 1:00
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    @Mark - Not to be snide, but if that argument was true, half the meta homepage wouldn't exist at the moment. – Nick Craver Mar 4 '12 at 1:02
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    @NickCraver If it isn't, I'm glad I got out now. Because the moderator program completely and totally breaks down if SE doesn't trust them to use their best judgement. – user149432 Mar 4 '12 at 1:03
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    @Mark - I think it goes back to the enormous amount of contention over these posts, deleting them has a huge impact...while leaving them in some locked/frozen state does...what? Personally, I'm in favor of the historical lock and freezing all activity, it leaves helpful content for those who want it, and still serves as a place to point at what not to do (right there on the notice) while not harming anyone. Instead, we have moderators with one click deleting a lot of reputation in two clicks, and that's a big problem for a lot of people. – Nick Craver Mar 4 '12 at 1:07
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    @NickCraver The track record on MSO shows that having so many “historical locks” creates a huge amount of contention: “That question is still on the site, why can't I also have mine?” (99% of users don't notice the notice) “Why doesn't my question warrant a historical lock?” “Don't discriminate against new questions!” … – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Mar 4 '12 at 1:14
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    @Gilles - The notice on those questions directly answers the "why can't I also have mine?" question. "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." The ones made today can be closed or deleted immediately with no impact, and anyone complaining can be pointed to the notice. Pretending the notice doesn't exist is a strawman argument. – Nick Craver Mar 4 '12 at 1:17
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    This still lets one moderator decide the fate of a question on a whim after there have been thousands of contributions -- Your comment suggests that you believe the moderators are somehow out of touch, that they are elected by the community, but are otherwise ill-equipped, or somehow ignorant of how SE works, little Napoleons who take delight in deleting questions and watching you squirm. I can emphatically assure you this is not the case. – user102937 Mar 4 '12 at 1:21
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    @RobertHarvey I can emphatically assure you that's how moderators are perceived by people who don't participate in meta. – JaredPar Mar 4 '12 at 1:23
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    @JaredPar The people I talk with who don't participate on meta don't have this perception. You'll have to do better than that. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Mar 4 '12 at 1:43
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    @NickCraver You asked what the harm is in allowing questions to be on the site in a locked state: every day those questions are used as advertisements as the type of content Stack Exchange allows elsewhere on the web. Yes, the historical post notice is a CYA for when someone attempts to ask a similar question, but if a question is off-topic or outside SE's scope, leaving it around cheapens the property values of all the other questions that are within SE's scope and gives people who participate in those questions undue gravity for things like community moderation, perpetuating the problem. – user149432 Mar 4 '12 at 2:21
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    @NickCraver If you have a specific problem with a moderator or a specific action they took, take that moderator aside and either educate them on what they should do or replace them. But hamstringing or scapegoating moderators who are tasked with making unpopular decisions based on what they believe is good for the site is asinine. Moderators shouldn't be blindly doing what flags say, but they shouldn't be avoiding doing what's right because people with conflicts of interest rage all over MSO to get what they want. – user149432 Mar 4 '12 at 2:23
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    @Mark - Again, personally, I totally disagree that your reasoning they're harmful means they do more harm than good, they're still very much in the positive. As for specific issues and discussing those, that's exactly what we did for several hours yesterday. My point was moderators won't be right 100% of the time, thinking that is the case is pure arrogance. No one is right 100% of the time. When things like this arise, we come to meta to discuss them...which is exactly what's happening right now. – Nick Craver Mar 4 '12 at 2:30
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    @NickCraver Expecting trust to do what's right isn't the same as arrogantly assuming moderators are infallible. Moderators are going to make mistakes from time to time, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be trusted to unilaterally act when they feel it's necessary. If there is a specific moderator that acts on whim and deletes things all the time without thinking, that's a problem with the moderator, not moderation. The vast majority of moderators don't do that, and carefully consider the gravity of their actions: the clause in question is essential to doing that job effectively. – user149432 Mar 4 '12 at 2:42
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    @Gilles: You might want to drop into the C++ chatroom and ask how moderators and the meta crowd are currently perceived. Be sure to wear an asbestos suit, though. Oh, and what I see coming by at Twitter is quite scalding for you guys. – sbi Mar 4 '12 at 9:44
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    @sbi I've read some C++ chatroom transcripts. Yes, there are people who like to spout insults at moderators there. Reminds me of Usenet. Why on earth would I want to go there? And your being proud of that baffles me — what are you trying to achieve? – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Mar 4 '12 at 18:06

I guess I'm more of a Deletionist (certainly more so than @jalf's ilk) but I do think that some folks have gotten a wee bit too aggressive with the deletions.

I generally agree with Shog9's list, although I think that SE should pony up some sort of official server space and official procedures for the questions that end up being "deleted" but preserved elsewhere. Otherwise, I fear it just won't happen.

It is indeed sad that things have gotten so acrimonious. In the hopes of fostering some cross-Deletionist/Inclusionist understanding, I'd like to lay out one factor that I think has been driving the aggressive closures/deletions.

I take it as a given that the rules/standards regarding what's on-topic here have changed somewhat, and that that's ok and to be expected in a community that has grown in size.

Inclusionists are right to feel that it's unfair that old, popular questions can be suddenly deleted and removed forever. That's legitimately a bummer. (Unless the actual content is bad, even if "popular". Bad content should be deleted.)

There is, however, a flip side to that coin. Like it or not, the community has rather aggressively clamped down on "fun" questions that used to be allowed, and on occasion produced some great content. Recent comers to SO (the site I'm most involved with) are essentially being told:

Hey! Welcome to to SO! See all that awesomely fun looking content sitting around that generated boatloads of rep for many of us? Yeah, we really had fun making all that, and we're going to keep it around because we really love it. But you? You cannot use SO to create such fun things! Any such attempt on your part will be ruthlessly closed, and complaints about it will be downvoted into oblivion on Meta.

That kinda sucks (although I personally am fine with the current standards), and doesn't feel particularly fair either. Human nature being what it is, I think that situation can lead to some vindictiveness aggressiveness, intentional or not.

(Of course, that's not to say that there aren't plenty of content related motivations for deletions that are more reasoned and thought through. I'm just saying this may also play a role.)

My hope is that both Deletionists and Inclusionists can recognize that each side has reason to feel that they (and their contributed content) have been treated unfairly at times as a result of these changes. But I think that Shog9's general framework is a decent compromise, allowing both for good content to be preserved somewhere and also to allow the same standards to be applied to each user's contributions at all times.

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    I can handle debate between Deletionists and Inclusionists, because that implies we're working together towards a solution. Throwing around stuff about '(real) SO Users' and 'Meta-police' isn't taking us anywhere that I want to go. – Benjol Mar 6 '12 at 6:32

I think I have something to add by writing about two particular corners of this.

First: There is a pool of old questions that combine very high vote counts with very low alignment with the current guidelines of the site. To avoid repeating other aspects of this whole complex discussion, I'll cheerfully stipulate that a few of them might deserve historic preservation.

For the last few months, I've been routinely flagging questions like this when I see them in the deletion queue. It seems that some diamonds have felt that this is a reasonable process. Presumably, the mods see my rep with my flag, and consider a suggestion from me. I doubt that I'm Pavlov ringing a bell here. What mods have been doing is effectively reducing the delete threshold from unbounded to about 10 when at least one person who has some credibility suggests it. Is this really terrible?

This question instructs, or proposes to instruct, me to create a question here on meta, instead. I'm not going to call that idea crazy, but it seems an awfully large amount of work for the majority of high-voted bits of uselessness.

How about, instead, capping the maximum number of delete votes as 10, but then automatically queueing up high-voted content for moderator ponder afterwards? Or, at the 10'th delete vote, mark the post 'historical' and auto-create a meta post to discuss deletion?

Second: I really don't understand the value of preserving poll or list questions, no matter how highly votes, no matter what. Once a list of books is locked, it is obsolete. Newer, better books, can't enter the list. (Not that anyone could have found them, anyway.) In the end, I end up having more sympathy for the silly subset of the historical questions. Some of them remain good for a laugh.

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    Yes, this goes back to the problem of requiring a ridiculous number of votes to delete some of these questions. This (reviewing the lists of questions on the 10K tools page) is exactly the workflow we want to encourage for experienced users, but when your vote is effectively worthless it saps that motivation. – Shog9 Mar 4 '12 at 21:43

I really don't understand the charm of deleting posts. Unless a post is actually spam, what are you really accomplishing by deleting the post? You might be keeping the site on topic, but more likely, you're just driving away users. I don't see any reason to delete a post that is even broadly on topic, except when there is an existing stackexchange site that can better answer the question, and then, it should be migrated.

A new (or noob) programmer might ask a question that he or she thinks is perfectly relevant, while an experienced programmer will view that question as moronic or low-quality. Similarly, a user who has found stackoverflow on google a few times may ask a question that seems reasonable to them, but doesn't fit in the exact definition that stackoverflow is currently looking for. In both of these cases, deleting the question will just drive away a user that might someday become a contributing member of the community.

tl;dr> Migrations should be encouraged, deletions ought to be a last resort for VERY low-quality questions, or questions that are totally off topic.

Edit: This was my opinion on the matter, but my conclusion above matches the rules for deletion very closely. I don't think that the OP is in line with StackOverflow's stated deletion guidelines.

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    With over 2 thousand new questions every single day, spam isn't even close to the biggest problem on Stack Overflow. A shocking number of questions are asked that lack even the most basic information, are not even remotely on topic, or simply make no sense. That Stack Overflow remains at all usable in the face of this is a testament to the efforts of those trusted users and moderators willing to get rid of them before they become overwhelming. That's why I say we're all deletionists, because you would be hard-put to spend a day watching new questions on SO and not find plenty worth deleting. – Shog9 Mar 4 '12 at 18:32
  • @Shog9 - The mods do seem to have been delete trigger happy rather than considering migrations. I have had a few question just wiped from historys when they could play nicely on programmers etc But yet there is lots of 'crap' still just locked and closed on the site. – redsquare Mar 4 '12 at 18:39
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    Moderators are not necessarily best equipped to find a new home for every off-topic question. Close-voters can vote to migrate instead of flagging or simply voting off-topic, and anyone can simply greet a new user and suggest a better venue for asking. @redsquare – Shog9 Mar 4 '12 at 18:44
  • @Shog9 This point was raised in the comments but without explanation it just got deleted. The question was hardly off-topic either. – redsquare Mar 4 '12 at 18:46
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    @Shog9 I did say "totally off topic" was valid. If the mods aren't equipped to deal with the number of questions that come in, and have such a hard job, then it sounds like we needs more mods, instead of just using that as justification for doing a lower quality job. – Case Mar 4 '12 at 18:48
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    @Sharon: there are over 3.5K users who can vote to close or migrate on Stack Overflow. If folks are instead asking for questions to be deleted, that's not something adding more diamond-moderators will help. But we're speaking in abstract here: if you have examples of questions that were deleted that you feel should not have been, post them. – Shog9 Mar 4 '12 at 19:16
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    @redsquare None of the questions that sparked this Meta discussion would play nicely on Programmers, please leave us out of this, we have absolutely no interest in hosting those questions. – yannis Mar 4 '12 at 19:21
  • @Yannis Rizos Very short sighted I must say. How are you assuming which question I am talking about.... Also what is all the 'us' speak? – redsquare Mar 4 '12 at 20:47
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    @redsquare Note that I'm commenting on the questions that sparked this Meta discussion, which are well documented through various MSO posts. If you meant some other question, please enlighten me. As for the "us" speak, I am representing the P.SE community as an elected community moderator. We are not SO's dump site, we have long established that we don't want SO's old crap and we are perfectly capable of browsing SO ourselves and migrating questions that we decide fit our scope better than SO's. And we've already rejected all questions that sparked this Meta discussion. – yannis Mar 4 '12 at 20:58
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    @redsquare Feel free to drop by our chat room and suggest any question you think might be suitable for Programmers. But please refrain from suggesting our community as an alternative when you don't even have an account on our site. – yannis Mar 4 '12 at 21:02
  • @Shog9: a genuine question: as a 10k user, I can see questions deleted by a moderator, correct? And there ought to be a window between the bad post being posted, and someone getting around to deleting it. Thus, I should be able to see the countless nonsensical, worthless, meaningless question that our brave mods are protecting us from, yes? How come I don't? How come every time I refresh the SO front page, the vast majority of questions I see are much better than that? – jalf Mar 5 '12 at 8:49
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    @jalf: you won't ever see deleted questions on the front page (or any of the questions lists). In fact, what you see is a mix of questions designed to appeal to your interests. But sit and watch /questions/ for a while. – Shog9 Mar 5 '12 at 15:05
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    @jalf, or hang out on the review pages, you get to see plenty of crap that way. – Benjol Mar 6 '12 at 6:40

I understand what the OP is saying. But there is one major problem: how do we know when a discussion is over?

Gilles and jalf are never going to agree. There will always be unreasonable people on various sides of issues. So how do we decide what we've decided? How do we say what the actual policy will be?

The OP effectively suggests personal moderator accountability:

Moderators convinced by discussion of the lasting worth of a controversial question may lock it with the "historical significance" notice. At this point, it will be considered immutable - any arguments for a change to it must be raised here on Meta per #1.

A moderator who feels strongly that such a question must be deleted should do so of his own conviction, prepared to stand and calmly defend his decision, as it cannot be overridden by voters.

There's one big problem with this: there are no rules for the community holding a moderator accountable for their actions.

If a moderator wants to delete something, it's gone. It can only be undone by the actions of another moderator. And then the previous moderator can just do it again. Stack Overflow has no mechanism to actually discipline a moderator for bad behavior.

Moderators are supposed to enforce policy, not create it. The problem is that they are effectively creating policy in this way, because their enforcement of it is what makes it policy. The community can downvote and upvote posts however it wants, but in the end, it is what the moderators do that creates policy.

Thus far, our moderators have been reasonably good about listening to community input. But there's nothing in place that guarantees this. There are no checks and balances, so there is the feeling among some that it's just moderator rule: convince a moderator to be on your side, and it's done.

Yes, we do get to go over their heads by containing the site maintainers directly. But that is only for clear and serious problems. If there's no policy yet, if there's no real decision or no real idea of what the policy is, then this would be an inappropriate way to deal with a moderator doing something. There are no rules for the community evicting a moderator by vote for example.

I'm not saying that there should be. But if there aren't going to be ways of dealing with these corner cases, then we should heavily consider giving moderators the power to set policy like this.

So what we need is a way for the community to directly and definitively decide what the policy is. Not just MSO threads and voting, some kind of system where everyone decides what the policy will be.

But there's something else: problem of the "invisibility" of MSO.

Decisions of major policy importance affect all site users. But unless a person frequents MSO, these discussions are completely invisible to them. And thus, once the decision is made (regardless of how that happens), those users who were ignorant of it suddenly have to work under new rules. Posts disappear, with no warning or explanation. Information moves, etc.

Now yes, people who don't visit MSO have effectively given up governorship. But the problem is that there's a lot of stuff on MSO. Some of it is governmental, but most of it isn't. It's people asking why they can't ask questions anymore, or making feature requests, or reporting bugs, or whatever. A lot of posts pass through MSO; if all you're interested in is governorship issues, frequenting MSO has a low signal-to-noise ratio.

Obviously not today, or for the last few days when the debates on this have been big. But look at the top posts for a regular day. Most of these debates fly under the radar. The only reason this one doesn't is because there have been a large number of threads created about various sub-issues around the main issue.

There is no way to know, from just Stack Overflow, when important policy is being debated. This means that policy changes can happen without the input from people who don't want to deal with the other stuff that happens on MSO.

This needs to be fixed. This is a technical issue, not a social issue. Maybe this would be a good use of the message bar thing. If some important issue is being discussed on MSO, we put a message up on SO (or any other site where it happens) that tells everyone about it, with a link to the debate in question.

  • Moderators are accountable to other users (recently deleted items are shown in 10k tools), other moderators (you can always ask another moderator to review a deletion), and the employees. If you think a moderator is acting outside the established policies, contact us using the "Contact Us" link at the bottom of every page and we'll investigate. That email address goes to employees alone and isn't accessible by moderators. – Adam Lear Mar 6 '12 at 21:38
  • @AnnaLear: My point is that when there are no established policies, when the question of whether a moderator is acting as the community has decided is uncertain, there's nothing that can be done. At least, nothing specifically built into the rules. – Nicol Bolas Mar 6 '12 at 21:43
  • Fair enough. My comment was more of an aside than an argument against your answer. Just saying that there are avenues available to review any moderator's actions. – Adam Lear Mar 6 '12 at 21:49
  • -1 for "unaccountable moderators" (see Anna's comment). +1 for addressing the subject matter split of Meta, and +0 for suggesting a technical solution that I don't think would work but is at least a constructive option/interesting idea. – jscs Mar 6 '12 at 21:54
  • @JoshCaswell: I've clarified my answer to point out what accountability I'm talking about and to focus the issue more on where the decision of policy lies. – Nicol Bolas Mar 6 '12 at 22:34
  • I appreciate your revision to address my (and Anna's) concern. You're suggesting, essentially, that the Q&A format of Meta is not suited to "legislation" (codification of rules and policies)? It's certainly true that policy and even technical (software) information is scattered and sometimes hard to access here. – jscs Mar 7 '12 at 6:50
  • @JoshCaswell: Pretty much. We've got a half-dozen threads here that have debated the issue back and forth. A solution seems to have emerged, but I certainly can't trace how that solution came to be, or any formal declaration of what the solution even truly is. I get some vague ideas that there are changes to how "historical" questions are presented and such, and moderators deciding not to delete certain questions without comment and such. But I don't get the sense that the community made a decision. It's more like the community argued for a while, and a decision appeared. – Nicol Bolas Mar 7 '12 at 7:01
  • @JoshCaswell: There simply never seemed any real end-game to the discussions. It was proposal, counter-proposal, antagonism, counter-antagonism, calls for calmness and reason, etc. I never felt that the community itself really made a decision. – Nicol Bolas Mar 7 '12 at 7:02
  • Yes, I agree entirely with that impression. The resolution in this case came from the site maintainers, and it's actually not completely clear that it's resolved for everyone who was involved in the discussion (haven't seen commentary from sbi or jalf, and now Gilles is trying to get the new mechanism repealed). – jscs Mar 7 '12 at 7:07
  • @JoshCaswell: I commented on the blog post. sbi tried to do the same, but it never appeared. He suspects he's on a special "moderated" list. ;) nevertheless, he seems happy with the resolution. I like it from a technical point of view, but I'm not sure it's going to fix the social side of the problem – jalf Mar 7 '12 at 10:23
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    A lot of the justification for the deletes is that it wasn't the mods acting on their own behalf; they were merely exercising the will of the community as expressed on MSO. So, now I find myself upvoting all inclusionist questions/answers/comments and downvoting all deletionist questions/answers lest anyone get the idea that there is a community consensus in facor of deletionism. I don't really like this type of partisanship, but it seems to be the only way to keep the deletionists from hijacking SO. Not sure it's worth fighting for, though. – JohnMcG Mar 7 '12 at 16:27

Warning, this is a bit of a rant. I'm not an active SO user, only lurking occasionally, but it's this type of over-zealous moderation that has turned me completely off from SO. I've lost track of the number of times a search has lead me to SO to a question that was closed before getting an answer because it "had no value to the community", but it was exactly what I needed. Another that has happened frequently is a question being marked and closed as duplicate, but the linked question wasn't even close, and the closed question was of course the one I really needed the answer for. Yet another thing I've seen several times is a mod editing a question and completely changing the meaning, which the original author had to re-edit to fix. I know I'm not alone in this either, several other people I've talked to have had the same experience. The problem has only gotten worse over time, and I've found that the more obscure the issue I'm trying to solve, the less SO is useful, because I know it will have been closed (without answer) or deleted anyway. Discussions like this one tell me it'll only get worse for the normal casual users.

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    I think you are confusing moderators and users with edit/close-vote privileges. Closing question as duplicates is most often done by the community, which includes also you (if you were more active). – Felix Mar 5 '12 at 1:36
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    Sorry, but this post has little to nothing to do with the discussion to which it's attached. We're talking about deletion here, mostly of old, off-topic or subjective questions. If you have issues with what you think are useful questions being closed, I encourage you to, first, look around on this site, since that is discussed in many places, and then if necessary to post a question about specific instances of closings that you believe were in error. Your generalizations aren't particularly useful as items for action. – jscs Mar 5 '12 at 1:44
  • the more obscure the issue I'm trying to solve, the less SO is useful -- this is true of any forum. If you want to know some silly detail about C's sizeof that could be answered with three minutes and the K&R book, you'll get six answers in three minutes. If your questions are actually obscure, that'll drastically reduce the audience that could answer it. If the question is just un-answered, feel free to edit the question to improve it to the point of being answerable or post a bounty on it if it is decent. For incorrect duplicates, please leave a detailed moderator flag. It happens. – sarnold Mar 5 '12 at 11:37
  • @Felix - when the community can close and edit questions, this is the same as a moderator in other forums. Basically SO is giving limited moderator privileges to the community, which is part of the problem as far as I can see it (questions are closed/edited far too frequently). – Darrell Mar 5 '12 at 15:15
  • @JoshCaswell This was initially meant as a comment on jalf's answer above (basically agreeing that the moderation of SO is too heavy handed), but I was on the mobile site, there wasn't a way to see that I had too many characters for a comment - the "add comment" button would just silently fail. It wasn't until later when I went to the full site that I realized I was even limited in the character count of a comment - but I didn't want to spend the next hour editing my post (the 3 line editing window on the mobile site sucks for anything serious, and even the full site isn't great on a phone). – Darrell Mar 5 '12 at 15:20
  • @sarnold What I meant by this is that when there is an obscure question posted to SO, it is very likely to be marked as closed before there is an answer, because it isn't deemed good enough for the community or as a duplicate when it really isn't a duplicate. Many times that I end up on SO with an obscure issue it is like this, and I either find the answer on the MS forums or end up wasting the rest of the day scouring documentation and figuring it out. SO has diminishing value the more obscure of an issue I'm running into because of this heavy-handed (community-driven) moderation. – Darrell Mar 5 '12 at 15:25
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    @Darrell hang on, your issue is that the community can edit and close? Sounds like you might need to find yourself somewhere else. These things are foundational to Stack Overflow and have been part of the process since the very beginning. This post is about community led deletionism, not community editing or closures, all of it is a foundational part of community moderation, something SEI believes in quite strongly, but your complaints seem off topic for this post. – wax eagle Mar 5 '12 at 16:01
  • @waxeagle Every time I come to SO from a Google search and I find that the issue I'm having has been asked already but has been closed without an answer, SO fails me. This happens a lot, especially with obscure issues. I see this deletion question just a continuation of the same - only worse, as one person's question (and several people's answers) are simply gone from the site instead of archived. Community moderation isn't the problem here, it's the heavy-handed application of it which is perpetuated all the way down the stack. Users feel it's OK to act this way because the mods do. – Darrell Mar 5 '12 at 18:37
  • @Darrell they aren't gone, they are in fact available, you just have to have the rep (10k). – wax eagle Mar 5 '12 at 18:40
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    Could you post a few URLs of problems you've searched for in the past and found them closed or deleted? (They can be improved and re-opened...) Some posts I vote to close are help vampires; pls send me teh codes questions aren't fun to answer and we don't need to encourage this behavior. Some posts I vote to close just don't have details. What are the best practices for using Java? and similar questions are just too open-ended to ever have an answer. What book ...? is just wrong for the site -- new books come out daily, APIs move, etc. (cont) – sarnold Mar 5 '12 at 23:29
  • (cont) Out of the fifty questions I see on the freshly-asked questions page, sometimes they all look fine. Sometimes I vote to close ten or fifteen of them because they're a poor fit, a user re-asking the same question an hour later, etc. If we didn't have some sort of quality guidelines in place, I know I'd spend much less time here. I detest standard "web forums" with passion -- inanity rules, spelling is ignored, and half-understood things are passed around like sacred knowledge in gnoestic sects. I do not want SO to become like web forums. Voting and closing lets the cream rise. – sarnold Mar 5 '12 at 23:39
  • The vast majority of the deleted content ought to be deleted. The recent furor here is over some small amount of mostly-useful but no-longer-on-topic content that's being deleted -- and I agree, it's being deleted far too easily. – sarnold Mar 5 '12 at 23:43
  • @sarnold Unfortunately I don't have any of the URL's or even remember the searches that led to them - most of the ones I remember were several months or more ago, and I've moved on to new things. Anything I've been looking help with lately has been relatively simple - the company has finally started shifting from WinForms to WPF, so I'm still in the teething stages of learning that and haven't had the chance to hit anything very exotic yet, which is where I've found the problem happen in the past. – Darrell Mar 6 '12 at 12:55
  • @Darrell: Dang. :( Oh well, next time you spot one, you know where to come. :) – sarnold Mar 9 '12 at 4:31

A few responses, noted in the spirit that I realize you are working hard to make this the best place it can be for all involved.

  • "We trust our moderators."

Sure. We also generally trust doctors, teachers, cops, soldiers, etc. We also recognized that they are in positions of great power, and we put in safeguards to ensure that they do not abuse those powers. They are human beings, subject to the same pressures and temptations as everyone else. Observing this isn't "bashing" them; it's acknowledging human nature.

In my view, meta discussions and the position of moderator will tend to attract people who have a particular passion for those positions, which will tend to be people who will be somewhat more inclined to use their tools than the rest of the community might prefer. So it makes sense that there be some checks and balances and accountability.

It seems apparent to me that any belief that there was community consensus in favor of these deletions was profoundly mistaken. I'm not sure how anyone can look at this question and see anything like a community consensus in favor of deletion.

  • "we need to be unashamedly deleting even older, more popular questions as they outlive their usefulness."

I still don't see why. I could just as easily assert that we need to unashamedly embrace out history of older, more popular questions even as they outlive their usefulness.

  • "We're all deletionists."

Well, we're all "big government" people in that almost everybody things there are certain things the government ought to do. That doesn't mean that everyone will be eager to be recruited for the latest government program.

I am not a fan of this particular deletionist campaign, and I am not inclined to contribute to it.

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