There's much discussion about deleted questions. One suggestion on how to deal with them is, delete them, but collect them in a separate archive. That seems to be being pondered by the SE team, but it is nowhere near implementation yet. Shog comments here:

[...] Right now, the archive is SO - locked, annotated and immutable. When there's something better, we'll adjust for that

So how about taking that literally and, for certain questions, showing them to everybody as they are shown to 10k+ users? That means, with the normal "deleted" look, completely locked, but still accessible to everyone.

Background: The way 10k+ users see deleted questions is like this:

enter image description here

the entire body has a greyish backdrop, clearly signaling that this question was deleted.

To help prevent confusion over why some deleted questions are inaccessible, and some are visible, there could be an additional banner on top saying something like,

This question was deleted for reasons of moderation. Because of great demand, we continue to display it here as a courtesy to the community. It is subject to removal at any time; if you feel it is worth preserving, please store it locally for your convenience.

How I think this would do good:

  • It would mellow down the indignation of non-10k+ users interested in the question. Currently, the question is withdrawn from them completely and more or less arbitrarily, following a mod or higher-rep user decision. I can see how that can make you angry - it feels pretty arrogant and in your face.

  • It would fix the link rot caused by these deletions. SO could still send a 404 (or a 410 gone) so the questions get withdrawn from the Google Index.

  • It would still clearly convey the message that the time for this kind of content on SO is over.

Let me be totally clear: this is not a proposal to make all deleted content accessible to the public. This is about battled, loved, high-traffic, high-vote questions only. The measure could be applied to those questions until such time as a decision is reached on an archive solution.

At the very least, it could be applied as a grace period of 30 or 60 days after deletion for any future deleted questions.

As to which questions to apply it to: I guess the simplest formula would be popularity - a mix of views and upvotes. Also, seeing as we are explicitly encouraged now to contest deletions on Meta, maybe those contestations would have to be taken into consideration to some extent. I don't know.

As to the threshold, that's tough to decide and would surely have to be a separate discussion.

It's far from being a long-term solution for anything, but it could be a short-term patch to ease the pain of deletions a little and help things until maybe one day an official archive comes into existence.

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    I don't hate this. 404ing might be dangerous though.
    – Shog9
    Mar 4, 2012 at 1:16
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    Overloading deletion like that seems confusing, but somebody was talking recently about changing how "locked for historical reasons" questions look, to make it more obvious that they're closed down. I could see making questions locked for that reason show up this way (or in some special way -- making it look exactly like deleted questions is probably confusing) Mar 4, 2012 at 1:18
  • alternatively, we could have the stuff stay there, but close the questions and correct for the disproportianate votes (e.g. set the Q on 5 votes and CW it). That could work
    – sehe
    Mar 4, 2012 at 1:18
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    @Shog scanning the list of status codes 410 looks interesting too, might fit better
    – Pekka
    Mar 4, 2012 at 1:19
  • Then people will just continue arguing that they should still have the reputation for the deleted question because it's still visible on SO.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Mar 4, 2012 at 1:20
  • @animuson yeah, there will always be some argument... but I find that one easy to refute. The stuff is still deleted, nothing changes except that the rep threshold is lowered to 0 for some cases where it's in the public interest.
    – Pekka
    Mar 4, 2012 at 1:26
  • @Michael I agree it is a tiny bit confusing that some deleted questions just vanish and some remain, but a banner might help clear that up as a courtesy to the community. I like the idea of lowering the "you can see deleted questions" threshold better than adding another "locked" mode, mainly for its simplicity (because it's just tweaking something that already exists)....
    – Pekka
    Mar 4, 2012 at 1:31
  • @Pekka'sReputationBordello The locked mode I'm referring to actually already exists :). For example, here Mar 4, 2012 at 1:35
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    @Michael I thought you meant a new locked mode. I think Deleted > locked :) "deleted" in the sense of "in the recycle bin, might vanish any time" makes it clearer that this question is really no longer a part of SO. (Even though it may stay in the bin indefinitely)
    – Pekka
    Mar 4, 2012 at 1:41
  • Similar to what Won't describes here. I think applying it to just old questions might be a mistake. But old questions that are now off-topic and not a good fit for SO would be good candidates. Mar 4, 2012 at 7:48
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    @Pekka - I think we're getting close to a rational solution to this fiasco. For old popular questions I'd like to see the historical significance banner made more prominent, combined with a new, different color scheme (though preferably not the ugly gray deleted theme). I'm quite confident SE engineers are smart enough to make this content visible without being a broken window. A heartfelt +1 for helping to come up with a rational solution to this that doesn't involve making good content inaccessible. Mar 4, 2012 at 19:44
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    @Adam yeah, this might indeed help things! I see your point re the colour scheme, but I think the "deleted" state (albeit ugly) would be ideal for a number of reasons - it's already there, and removing the grey is trivial for anybody with a bit of HTML knowledge. A userscript could also be whipped up. I fear that adding a fifth state besides active, closed, locked, and deleted would be confusing, and lead to further discussions (like whether rep should be granted for those questions and answers....)
    – Pekka
    Mar 4, 2012 at 20:15
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    @Pekka - then again, creating this fifth state -- locked, big historical banner, no rep garnered -- would really help with the archive implementation later. If we could get all the popular, fun questions to slowly but surely be moved into this state, we could move them en mass to the archive later. Mar 4, 2012 at 20:33
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    It's not always about rep. This is easier to argue and it's much less of a slap in the face. As I said in a different place, to me this would say "This content doesn't fit what we're trying to encourage" instead of "We think your contribution is crap and we can't stand that our name was ever on the page at all"
    – darron
    Mar 4, 2012 at 22:52
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    We're taking a hard look at this internally, perhaps as a stopgap for your other proposal. Mar 6, 2012 at 4:24

3 Answers 3


After quite a bit of deliberation, I've come around to supporting this solution as well, for the following reasons:

  • The grey background is a striking visual indicator that clearly communicates the fact that something is different about this question. By contrast, post notices appear at the bottom of the post and are very easy to ignore.

    Consider the fact that, when these types of questions were open, people used to post duplicate answers en masse; that's clear evidence that users can't read. The dark background doesn't require them to read anything, it's right in their faces.

  • The fact that they are actually in a deleted state removes the rep bonus. This is important. A lock and post notice communicates to new members that they can't ask about that specific topic anymore, but still leaves the impression that crowd-pleasing frivolity is a quick and easy path to fame and rep points.

    "Deleted but visible" - especially with the new "real-time rep" system - should effectively communicate the idea that even if they are successful in walking the line, they will eventually be reset to where they should be.

  • This solution would, once and for all, settle the debate over whether the demands to keep these threads alive is born from an earnest desire to keep "useful" or "valuable" content alive, or if it's... some other reason. It seems to satisfy all or at least the majority of the inclusionist complaints, particularly regarding potential 404s ("breaking the internet") and potentially throwing out good content with the bad.

I'll also echo the recommendation that these not show up in search results, and also, in my opinion, they should hide not only the vote arrows but also the vote tallies. After all, this is about preserving the content, not the votes... right?

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    Hiding the vote tallies is an excellent idea; it reinforces the idea that the material is no longer a "full member" of the site.
    – jscs
    Mar 6, 2012 at 0:59
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    I'd also add that all the comments should be purged. If comments are treated as ephemeral and second-class citizens everywhere else on the network, there is no reason to enshrine a 3 year old lame pun forever on that page. Mar 6, 2012 at 1:14
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    82% of the reason I read SO is for the lame puns. Why does everyone want to take away my primary source of fun all of a sudden? SO UNFAIR! Mar 6, 2012 at 3:49
  • @CodyGray: I've had a laugh at some of the lame puns. But on the other hand, I don't shed any tears when they get deleted. I'd like if people could enjoy their fun in moderation without the disturbing emotional attachments. But, seeing as how they can't, preserving just the "best parts" isn't a bad idea.
    – Aarobot
    Mar 6, 2012 at 4:10

As to which questions to apply it to: I guess the simplest formula would be popularity - a mix of views and upvotes. Also, seeing as we are explicitly encouraged now to contest deletions on Meta, maybe those contestations would have to be taken into consideration to some extent. I don't know.

As to the threshold, that's tough to decide and would surely have to be a separate discussion.

I like this except that the decision as to which deleted questions remain visible and which do not should not rely solely on a popularity contest via number of upvotes. I fear that would allow lots of questions with popular, but genuinely bad content to remain visible.

I would lobby for there being two deletion vote options:

  • Delete (invisible)
  • Delete (visible)

and the number of votes necessary for each option would then scale with popularity, with the relative thresholds for each option depending on vote count, or some such algorithm to be determined by folks smarter than me.

I guess I feel that high-rep users on the site itself ought to have a fairly direct hand in choosing which deleted questions remain visible.

  • I agree that it should not entirely be about vote count. There should be some way to make exceptions... but it could be automatic for sufficiently high vote counts yet subject to moderator corrections.
    – darron
    Mar 4, 2012 at 22:46

I don't think this is an ideal solution, because there will still be people who think the question is on the site and therefore grounds for justifying new similar questions. But I do think this is a good medium-term solution. I have no objection to content staying like this for an indefinite period of time until a better separate-site solution is implemented.

One thing I would add is that the questions should not turn up in a Stack Exchange search, in particular searches for questions ordered by votes.

I don't know what the proper behavior with respect to Google would be. It would be best for those questions not to turn up in a Google search, because they give a skewed idea of what the site is about. But I believe Google dislikes having different content for viewers and for its bots; if that is a problem, then so be it (it would take a while for the deleted questions to stop turning up on Google anyway).

I don't know if views really matter here; a simple vote threshold could suffice. If these posts do not confer reputation, I don't see to much opportunity for gaming the system.

  • Yeah, deleted stuff wouldn't show up in the SE internal search, like it is with deleted questions at the moment. And they would be phased out from the Google index - whichever way is optimal there, the 410 gone status code looks good but there may be other ways.
    – Pekka
    Mar 4, 2012 at 1:32
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    because there will still be people who think the question is on the site and therefore grounds for justifying new similar questions But the convenient thing about those people is that they will just be wrong. When they make those arguments, it will be a simple matter of quoting the message at the top of the linked question and showing them the door. We already close questions here on Meta along the lines of "why can't I post my question to Stack Overflow?" with extreme prejudice as a duplicate. I fail to see what the difference would be here. Why can't this be a long-term solution? Mar 4, 2012 at 7:50
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    I disagree with most, except for the gone from the onsite search bit. This could work long term... it could act exactly like 'deleted' does, except it simply doesn't break the link. I'd still prefer it to be reachable from Google. Users from Google should immediately see a banner stating this is historical/off-topic-but-valued and that it does not reflect what the site wants now. I see how there's a rep balancing issue to fix, but you don't have to go piss off every non-10K user who contributed one of these just to solve that particular problem.
    – darron
    Mar 4, 2012 at 22:43
  • blocking 'em from search is a good point as well
    – Ben Brocka
    Mar 5, 2012 at 0:41
  • The 410: gone header would solve the google problem nicely. I agree that it should not turn up in search.
    – nhinkle
    Mar 5, 2012 at 5:40

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