One of the main arguments against keeping old, fun posts in a locked state is that they create broken windows, which serve as an advertisement for the types of questions which are acceptable—notwithstanding the historical notice stating the opposite. I've never found that argument convincing, but I certainly wouldn't want to encourage behavior that makes Stack Overflow worse, so I'd honestly, sincerely, without any trolling like to ask those that do believe this to drop the hammer on me.

If this claim is true, I would expect Meta to be rife with posts from indignant users claiming that their question was closed, while that "weird programming feature" question over there exists. I would think coming up with about two dozen such meta posts from the last 6 months would be trivial; surely this problem is big enough to manifest itself at least once per week.

To be clear, I've seen Meta pages filled with posts containing "why question closed". I know plenty of questions get closed, and plenty of people complain. I'm talking about people specifically complaining that "old junk exists, so my new junk should, too".

Finally, let's not waste time digging through all the closed Stack Overflow questions looking for stuff that seems similar to these purported broken windows. There are tons of junk questions that come into the front door of Stack Overflow every day. This junk comes in many flavors: here's a wall of code, now find my error; here are my program requirements, now someone write it; spam; and, of course, non-constructive crap that might look similar to some of the old favorites. But just because some old junk questions exist, and some new junk questions get asked, doesn't mean the former caused the latter—post hoc ergo propter hoc.

No more rhetoric, no more arguments, no more anger. Just data.


There's been a bit of confusion as to what I'm asking above, and it seems I could have been a bit clearer. A lot of answers and comments below deal with open questions on Stack Overflow and Programmers.SE creating broken windows, with one answer even quoting me to show how keeping questions open and active can create broken windows. The people writing these answers are correct; keeping off-topic questions open and active does indeed cause these problems.

This question is intended to ask whether broken windows would be created by keeping questions like the strangest language feature closed and locked, delisted from "top question" pages, and with a big bright prominent banner proclaiming to all that the question exists for historical purposes only, and is not a good example of an on-topic question.

So the bottom line is, I was wondering just how many meta threads there were asking "why can't I ask X when Y exists" Where Y was locked at the time of asking (which would likely be reflected in the answers).

  • 4
    Nice thought. Unfortunately, most of those indignant comments, that I've seen, are attached to just-closed questions. And most of those are deleted. Mar 5, 2012 at 16:13
  • @Michael - do those questions usually show up in some tags more than others? I've been extremely active in the JavaScript tag before and I've seldom, if ever, seen anything like that. Mar 5, 2012 at 16:17
  • 7
    @MichaelPetrotta: but apparently, they come in such volume that it should be easy for those who delete them to start saving copies to make their argument. Like Adam, I am and have been quite active on SO, and I seldom see these "broken windows", not even for a second or two before they get deleted. In any case, the question is absolutely valid, isn't it? If we're going to make an argument that these "broken windows" are harmful, then it makes sense to establish the presence of broken windows.
    – jalf
    Mar 5, 2012 at 16:23
  • @Adam, I usually see them in far-off-topic closures: What career path should I follow, What's the best X, etc. Mar 5, 2012 at 16:32
  • 3
    @jalf, I don't think this question is being approached in an objective, or "Kevin Montrose-style", as Adam puts it, fashion. Without taking a position myself (and I see merit on both sides) I sense slant, and that's going to poison this experiment. Mar 5, 2012 at 16:33
  • 3
    @Michael - I do have my biases, and I won't hide them. But I think I proposed an honest, accurate criteria by which my position could be falsified. Mar 5, 2012 at 16:38
  • 1
    @jalf - there's a certain irony. Deleting these questions is what seems to cause the many, many meta posts Mar 5, 2012 at 17:00
  • I see that, @Adam. I just don't think that evidence will be very useful in this debate, for the reasons I've outlined. Mar 5, 2012 at 17:01
  • Oh, it's so fun to see the correlation between my comments on MSO and downvoting sprees against me on SO! Mar 5, 2012 at 19:27
  • @Mihael - that's as inappropriate as you can get. Expect a few +1s when I get back from lunch. Mar 5, 2012 at 19:34
  • Thanks, @Adam. I can't prove causation, of course, but good grief, this whole question deletion issue seems to stoke tempers. Mar 5, 2012 at 20:12
  • @Michael - no doubt. +2 from me - even though you're now dangerously close to overtaking me on SO ;-) Mar 5, 2012 at 20:13
  • I think you should add that the question the person is using as a justification also has to be "locked for historical reasons", as that is the proposed solution that some people are opposing.
    – Benjol
    Mar 6, 2012 at 6:44
  • @Benjol - I should have added that, but given what the top three answers are below, and the new changes on locked historical questions, it looks like this might finally be a moot point! Mar 6, 2012 at 15:56
  • 1
    I feel the misinterpretations (or not) are coming from the following statement: "If this claim is true, I would expect Meta to be rife with posts from indignant users claiming that their question was closed, while that "weird programming feature" question over there exists." This is the statement in your question which is misinterpreted (or not). You should update this accordingly to be less ambiguous. I love the empirical setup, but you should clarify further what you are after. End your question with a short complete definition of which post would be evidence. Mar 6, 2012 at 23:54

9 Answers 9


These arguments you describe have been made on Meta. Questions have been posted following the general form of:

Why was my question (link) deleted? I'm just asking about the coolest hidden features of x, and there are lots of other questions of that form, like (examples).

I know they exist because I have personally answered and/or voted to close them. I could probably go and dig up links, but there seems little purpose in doing so. Most of them have been closed as duplicates, and then later deleted. Only 10k+ users will be able to see them, and it really misses the point how many of those questions get asked.

The fact is, a far greater number of people come to Meta asking why they can no longer post questions of any kind. (Yeah, yeah, you wanted data, but this is plain as day, all you have to do is watch the recent questions page on Meta for a week; anyone who's a regular participant on here knows what I'm saying is true.) This is evidence that our automatic post ban system is working. People who post consistently low-quality content and show no indication of improving are no longer allowed to keep trying. It's the same "broken windows" logic, but applied in a slightly different way. The point is, the overabundance of those questions has not given anyone significant pause about the automatic post ban system. So obviously the real battle is not trying to figure out ways to deter people from asking stupid questions on Meta (and if it is, well, it's time to give up, because that ain't never gonna happen).

No, it seems to me that the point is making it incontrovertibly clear what our standards are on Stack Overflow. It's easy to close the aforementioned questions as duplicates of the canonical Q&A on the subject because it's completely clear what the violation was and what the current situation is. There's a clear guideline, you violated it repeatedly, and you pay the associated penalty. Like all rules, our goal is and should be consistency.

The argument people are making with regard to leaving the old, highly-valued but now off-topic questions on the site is that they are sending an unclear message about what our content standards are. The fact that people might come here to Meta and use them as examples is only a side-effect of the real problem. The real problem is that if we allow some of those questions, regardless of the date, it makes our decision to enforce the standing rules against new questions seem arbitrary and capricious.

The thing I don't understand is why the simple solution to this problem has been rejected by the "deletionists". That is, simply providing indicators that make it exceptionally clear that the viewed content is no longer allowed on Stack Overflow, but is retained only for historical purposes. To me, the beauty of this strategy is that it allows us to retain the content that one group wants to retain, while avoiding the harms cited by their opposition. In other words, it is a balance: exactly what one should be seeking in the case of seemingly deadlocked conflict.

If we provide multiple, exceptionally clear visual indications that an old question no longer meets the content guidelines for SO, then we avoid the problems described above of our enforcement of the rules seeming arbitrary and capricious, and the side-effect of people coming to Meta complaining that their new question (following the same model) was closed.

If and when people do come to Meta complaining that their question was closed and citing the historical exceptions as evidence, we can do what we at Meta do best: leave snarky comments and close their question as a duplicate of the canonical "What are these 'historically significant' questions, and why can't I ask new ones in the same vein?" question. You know, the same one that will be linked on the "historical significance" notice that appears on the page with each of the historically significant questions.

In other words, the people who might hypothetically make this argument if we retain these old questions will simply be wrong. They will have failed to read the guidelines that were clearly provided. We all know that we can't do anything to force people to read, but as long as this is all made clear and consistent, there can be no legitimate argument made and no one can be truly offended by what they perceive as an arbitrary enforcement of the rules.

I just don't understand what the other harms of leaving these questions on the site are. As I've said many times prior in comments: if you don't want to read these questions, you don't have to. They're not hurting your Internet, but they are hurting the Internet of people who might want to read them.

As long as we solved the "mixed signals" problem, we can just leave the questions alone, locked, not as broken windows, but as historical stained glass windows in a cathedral. You can look, but you can't touch.

I think some people, during the course of this discussion, have been either intentionally or inadvertently obscuring the distinction between those old, historically significant questions that actually have something useful to provide to the site, and those that are just garbage.

I see absolutely no point in keeping garbage around, but I think we should do everything within our power to keep potentially useful information alive and accessible on the Internet. I realize that this is incredibly subjective, but I think, like pornography, most people know it when they see it.

For example, there is a big difference, apparent to literally everyone, between The Definitive C++ Book Guide and List and Questions every good .NET developer should be able to answer? versus UNIX man page jokes? and Programmer's food. In other words, there's a glaringly obvious difference between those old potentially-bikeshed questions that actually provide a high volume of useful information, and those that are just purely nonsensical fun. Jeff seems to make the same argument here; I'm not sure how and why that got forgotten in the recent haste to bring the site up to ISO 9000 compliance.

And in the edge cases, we should err on the side of preservation, rather than obliteration. At least until we follow Shog9's advice and have a thorough discussion on the merits of each question here on Meta. Then, depending on the consensus, and only then, should we consider deleting the question for good.

We decided through experience that these types of questions are not generally a good fit for a Q&A site like Stack Overflow. They tend to attract poor quality answers and discussion, which are two things we obviously don't want to encourage. That's why we've modified our guidelines so as to no longer allow them. But these old questions are exceptions. (Or, at least, some of them are—the exceptional ones.) They managed to attract high-quality answers and accumulate lots of useful information from experts. They did this despite the general tendency of this type of question. But that's no reason to throw out the baby with the bathwater. That information already has been and likely will be useful to others in the future. On balance, taking the risk isn't worth it to allow these types of questions. But the risk has already been taken, so there's just no good reason not to preserve those where the outcome was, despite all odds, positive.

  • 2
    People posting on meta complaining that they've been banned? Show me your evidence! No, but seriously, I find your logic is airtight. That's probably the best argument I've heard for not deleting this stuff, and I'm really glad I posted this now. Thank you. Mar 5, 2012 at 18:17
  • btw - are you sure, by your definition of garbage, that you're comfortable losing this answer: stackoverflow.com/a/108535/352552 :) Mar 5, 2012 at 18:53
  • @Adam I can confirm what Cody says here - these "why was xyz deleted, I saw abc question that does the same thing" questions do come up frequently, I've seen my fair share of them, too.
    – Pekka
    Mar 5, 2012 at 19:31
  • 1
    I wish you could have said this in two paragraphs. Anyway, I have now taken the time to read the essay, and while I still believe two paragraphs would have said the same, I wholeheartedly agree. +1 from me.
    – sbi
    Mar 5, 2012 at 20:00
  • @Pekka - thanks. I'm curious if you also agree with Cody that people complaining about being banned completely is far more common? That is definitely something I've seen a lot. Mar 5, 2012 at 20:03
  • @Adam it is definitely more common than people using live historical off-topic questions as precedents, although to me that doesn't weaken the argument that those are a problem. I guess people complaining about blocks is proof that the system works (although I suspect there's a percentage of innocent users who get blocked unfairly, and I can't imagine hearing their cases being much of a priority with the team... but I do trust that overall, things are working mostly well.)
    – Pekka
    Mar 5, 2012 at 20:06
  • @Pekka - you're right that the old posts are a problem, but I think deleting them creates bigger problems. I think Cody makes a good case for just making it clearer that these posts are historic artifacts. Mar 5, 2012 at 20:17
  • @Adam yeah. My opinion is shifting towards the "show questions permanently as deleted but to everyone" proposal rather than establishing a separate archive (although that might still be the right place for really far-out stuff like the boat programming question)
    – Pekka
    Mar 5, 2012 at 20:23
  • @Pekka - or the favorite snack question. There's an answer there that got four upvotes that literally said "I like cake". I guess I missed some crazy times in Stack Overflow back then :( Mar 5, 2012 at 20:28
  • @Adam yeah. There's some crazy stuff out there... and I love most of it. The "worst UI" question has given me at least 7 hours of straight laughs, and taught me a lot in the process.
    – Pekka
    Mar 5, 2012 at 20:30
  • @Pekka - btw - if Shog opts for "show deleted stuff to everyone" option instead of a better lock message like I prefer, how easy would it be for you to whip up one of those crazy user scripts to make the ui look nice (instead of delete gray)? I'd literally make a non-trivial donation to your favorite pub. Mar 5, 2012 at 20:34
  • @Adam I'll try to conjure one up if no one else does, but there are much more competent people in that department here on Meta... Don't worry though, a userscript is bound to materialize if this becomes a reality.
    – Pekka
    Mar 5, 2012 at 20:37
  • @Pekka - fair enough. It might wind up being a moot point - locking with an intelligent banner might be the direction Shog goes. Mar 5, 2012 at 20:41
  • Cody - people at SE are listening to you meta.stackexchange.com/questions/124692/… Mar 5, 2012 at 22:04

I don't think of the "fun" posts as broken windows. I think of them as the equivalent to Il Colosseo. Il Colosseo

Nobody can deny that this structure is broken down and decrepit.
Neither can they deny that it is an important part of history and worth preserving in its current state.

This is exactly why the "Historical Significance" lock reason says:

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.


I would offer a different take on what is typically being described as "broken windows" with respect to the current discussions surrounding closing old questions. The "broken window" metaphor doesn't really apply; these aren't (largely) eyesores, they aren't the sort of things that cause you to think - what a crappy place to hang out, I certainly want to avoid this place. In large measure they are questions (and answers) that people have found helpful. Note: I'm not principally talking about obvious joke, poorly worded, or improperly formatted questions, but rather questions that were once deemed on topic or acceptable by the community, but are no longer since [take your pick] (a) the scope of acceptable questions has narrowed or (b) we've started enforcing the acceptability standards more stringently.

A better way of thinking of these questions is as building types that no longer fit into the current zoning for the property. For example, high quality residential buildings, but in an business zone. Using this metaphor gives us a much better way of understanding both sides of the issue and, perhaps, of finding a resolution.

When zoning laws change, existing structures are often grandfathered in if they don't fit the new zoning requirements. We don't tear them down, necessarily, but we don't build any new ones. We don't use the presence of a grandfathered structure to argue the permissibility of a new structure of the same type.

There are exceptions to this rule. Sometimes, the current structure is so far outside the new zoning requirements (joke postings), that we do go in and clear them all out. Housing tracts next to a nuclear waste dump, for example, just don't work. But, we give a lot of warning and not just in places where nuclear waste engineers hang out.

Sometimes, we create a new zone where the existing structure would be a better match and encourage the resident/business to move to that zone (i.e., migration to a new site as it's created). Again, we often give a lot of notice and work with the "owners" of the existing structure when we do this.

Sometimes, we just let the existing structure stand. It's "close enough" to the current zoning that it's not too bad a fit and, maybe, there isn't enough demand for that type of zoning to warrant creating a special zone just for it. If people find it useful, though - say like a corner grocery in a residential neighborhood - what's the harm? We protect it to make sure that it doesn't become a hangout for crackheads. We don't build a new supermarket next to it, but we also don't tear it down and throw out the hard work that went into building it - even if it's now slightly outside the norm of buildings we'd build in this neighborhood.

Yes, there are broken windows in buildings. Most of them are in the right kinds of buildings for the zone they're in and they should be cleaned up, if possible, or torn down as necessary. But a different kind of building may or may not have broken windows or feel like it harms the neighborhood. Letting a good business stand in a residential neighborhood is both respectful to the people who built it when the zoning was different and helpful to the people who still find it useful.

  • 3
    Slow clap. That was very, very well said. Thank you. Mar 5, 2012 at 17:15
  • 5
    Most of this seems quite logical, but I disagree with "they aren't the sort of things that cause you to think - what a crappy place to hang out, I certainly want to avoid this place". I think most regulars forget about this page: stackoverflow.com/questions?sort=votes. A user that goes there is going to get an extremely bad idea of what SO is about. I knew about SO from the time it was in beta, but didn't sign up until 2010. Why? All the SO questions I stumbled across were questions like that, and I thought it was yet another place to make giant lists of stuff that amuses us, so I left Mar 5, 2012 at 17:56
  • 1
    I keep arguing against these types of questions because I know what impression they can give some users -- it's the exact impression I had of SO for a long time. I've come around to the "let's lock them but keep them open" reasoning, if only because so many people are incredibly attached to them, but I promise that being buried on page 150000 of the newest question list doesn't mean people don't see them and judge SO accordingly Mar 5, 2012 at 17:58
  • 1
    @Michael - I actually agree with you. How 'bout that :-) I think these locked posts should be removed from that page (and any similar ones). That should be a simple fix. Mar 5, 2012 at 18:02
  • 3
    @MichaelMrozek - then the correct thing to do is add a "historical" flag to the question (think of it as a Historical Landmark designation plaque) and filter that view so that it doesn't look at "historical" questions. You don't tear down the corner grocery store just because it might keep someone from moving into the neighborhood. You fix it up so that it's not what people focus on when they're thinking about moving in.
    – tvanfosson
    Mar 5, 2012 at 18:03
  • 1
    @tvanfosson That'd be good, but it's not just that view, it's that randomly stumbling across those questions by following links from other sites (and they are linked a lot, as that was one of the big arguments against deleting them) gives users the wrong impression. We've already got the "locked for historical reasons" lock message, so if we add some special cases to that to make it not show up in certain lists then I would think everyone would be happy (it might even be a solution to this problem I mentioned ages ago) Mar 5, 2012 at 18:20
  • One quibble -- the "broken windows" concept (which IMO is invoked here too frequently) doesn't refer to making an area appear undesirable; it's that it presents an atmosphere of lawlessness and toleration of crime, that will send a cue for more serious infractions.
    – JohnMcG
    Mar 5, 2012 at 19:24
  • 1
    @JohnMcG fair enough, but I most often see it invoked as "tolerance of crap." People conflate "off topic" with "crap" in that sense. I'm just saying that there is a different way of looking at stuff that wasn't off-topic (or was at least tolerated) when it was posted. I think that there's room for an old, clean, well-lighted business in a modern residential neighborhood IF there's no better place for it.
    – tvanfosson
    Mar 5, 2012 at 19:32
  • 1
    I do like your proposed solution of the "historical" flag causing the question to be hidden from the top-voted/most-popular/greatest-hits lists. That's a totally reasonable compromise. I don't think that zoning is such a great analogy, because the frequency at which you'll see a builder just go right ahead and start trying to build a commercial building in a residential area (or vice versa) is somewhere between seldom and never. Instead, they either lobby to have the zoning changed, or ask for a zoning variance in advance of building. That's much more manageable than requiring cleanup.
    – Aarobot
    Mar 6, 2012 at 0:30

Here's a crazy thought: some people want to preserve the ancient "list of X" and such questions, and others want them deleted because they show up at the top of the "Questions by votes" list.

Why not put them at the bottom?

This could be done by setting the upvotes to zero (I don't want to hear whining about losing rep), or, better, by setting the upvotes to the negative of the current upvotes (shut up about losing rep).

Alternatively, a bit could be added that says "ignore the upvotes and pretend they're zero".

This bit would only be settable by moderator action, unless we make it a 10 or 20k privilege to vote to set the bit.

  • That's just what we need. More reasons to label moderators as despots.
    – user102937
    Mar 5, 2012 at 18:33
  • I'm very pleased to be called a despot. It means I'm affecting change. Mar 5, 2012 at 18:35
  • 7
    @John - it's even simpler than that. These questions already have a flag -- they're locked. Just hide locked questions from the Questions by votes lists. Bam -- everyone's happy. Mar 5, 2012 at 18:51
  • btw, John, I mentioned you in an SO question some time ago. Easy rep if you're interested stackoverflow.com/questions/7321554/… Mar 5, 2012 at 19:03
  • 3
    @AdamRackis: I answered. Also, I'm ok with using the "locked" flag. Just don't show those questions at the top, and I think we solve a large part of our "broken windows" problem. Mar 5, 2012 at 19:33
  • 1
    Slowly but surely I think we're approaching a consensus on this as a site. Here's hoping. Mar 5, 2012 at 19:35
  • "effecting" change. Mar 5, 2012 at 19:37

Sounds simple enough:

Example 1:

you misunderstand. I like PSE. I like that there's a place where open-ended questions that call for speculation can thrive. Stuff like that is a joy to read. I just wish you all wouldn't be so self-righteous. It's like you're trying to compensate for how much less serious your content is compared to Stack Overflow.

Example 2:

well, for the question linked above there's this answer which is a joke, and this one which is pure speculation. They sit at +8 and +6 currently. Granted, the top answer is wonderful and has lots and lots of nice data. But speculative / non-serious answers seem to do just fine at PSE. And great. I liked both of those answers, and I thought the joke answer was pretty funny. I just wish you all would relax a bit.

Example 3:

I wish instead of flaming on me, and throwing a tantrum every time something bad gets migrated, you would just explain the criterion that allows for speculation-friendly questions like the above, or this one, but not ever anything SO tries to migrate. Currently that question is at +3, with 8 answers, almost all of which based around anecdotes or speculation.

And then there's the slew of answers on this question, including one from SE's very own Shog9 no less:

I'll say it again: lead by example. When the migrated questions fit with questions already open/popular on the site, you just sound hypocritical criticizing SO users for not reading the FAQ - your own users aren't doing so either!

  • I'm terribly sorry I drew the wrong conclusions about P.SE based on upvoted content (with upvoted answers) I repeatedly found on your front page. But I fail to see the relevance here. Furthermore, broadcasting some of my old comments doesn't really betoken behavior I would normally associate with a moderator. Mar 5, 2012 at 18:23
  • 9
    @AdamRackis: this is precisely the definition of broken windows. You saw that the windows were broken, so you threw more stones! Mar 5, 2012 at 18:25
  • 1
    Yes, thanks for an excellent example of this problem. I have no idea why there has been a brash of people complaining about the moderators recently, considering how civil all of their discourse is... Anyway, Programmers has its own unique set of problems, discussed at length elsewhere. Let's not bring those over to Stack Overflow. Mar 5, 2012 at 18:26
  • 1
    And in case I didn't stress this strongly enough, all my arguments above were based on content I repeatedly saw on the PSE FRONT PAGE -- not old broken windows. This entire post is an angry non sequitur Mar 5, 2012 at 18:26
  • 2
    @AdamRackis It's a good thing I'm not a moderator then. And if you're not interested in people providing evidence that refutes your argument using your own activity, I humbly suggest you revise your question to ask something less hypocritical.
    – user149432
    Mar 5, 2012 at 18:26
  • 1
    @John - these were not broken windows. They were brand new posts that were bring received quite sanguinely from the PSE community. Mar 5, 2012 at 18:28
  • 5
    Mark is probably the most qualified person here to describe the collateral damage these questions can cause... on not just one site but two. Don't forget, P.SE was originally supposed to be the repository for these old questions.
    – user102937
    Mar 5, 2012 at 18:29
  • 2
    @Mark - my humblest of apologies. They were on the front page, and active. The posts to which I refer are locked and closed, and therefore inactive. A visitor to SO will not see them. A visitor to PSE, me at that time, did see them. I drew conclusions of what was acceptable for PSE based on what I saw being well accepted on your front page. Sorry if that was irrational. Mar 5, 2012 at 18:31
  • 1
    @Mark - try to follow along. The comments above were about active, open questions on PSE. I'm looking for evidence, direct evidence, not rhetoric, that old, closed, locked with an historical banner questions on SO directly encourages new bad content. You know what, never mind, I think Cody has already provided what's probably the most intelligent answer I'll get. Mar 5, 2012 at 18:34
  • 1
    I think it's plainly obvious how directly calling out individual users meets both of those criteria. You've turned this from a discussion about a problem to one centered on certain people. Worse yet, you've tried to pretend (initially and again now) that you're not doing that, choosing to hiding personal attacks behind a veil of constructive discussion. If you don't see the problem, I'm not sure there's anything else I can say. Mar 5, 2012 at 18:34
  • 1
    @John - they're linked in the comments that Mark printed above. These comments were about a completely different issue: what's acceptable on PSE. I drew incorrect conclusions about what was on-topic at PSE based on what I found on the front page (things that were active, *upvoted, and attracting new content), and Mark helpfully corrected me. This entire post is a joke, and it's not related to what I asked above. Mar 5, 2012 at 18:36
  • 1
    @CodyGray What personal attacks are you referring to? These are direct quotations from someone (namely, the person asking for evidence) used evidence of old, bad posts as examples of what people can ask now.
    – user149432
    Mar 5, 2012 at 18:37
  • 1
    @Mark - No, actually it doesn't because, and I hope I can say this clearly this time, the questions I linked to in those comments were not closed at the time. They were open and active, with lots of upvoted answers. You then saw this, and unilaterally closed them (since you were a mod back then). I'm asking whether old, ancient, closed and locked questions on SO do harm. Do you now understand why this answer is unrelated to what I'm asking? Mar 5, 2012 at 18:48
  • 3
    @AdamRackis Your question makes no mention of the requirement that the broken window called into question must be closed prior to the questioning: in fact, you explicitly said you didn't want this to be a discussion about closures or dredging up old stuff on Stack Overflow. To me, it's seems like you keep moving the goal posts to ensure nobody can provide functional examples of a problem that really does exist, but at least update your question when you realize the received answers aren't matching what you want.
    – user149432
    Mar 5, 2012 at 18:53
  • 4
    Sigh I thought it was clear to everyone that the (purported) broken windows on SO are closed. I don't particularly care that PSE lets their broken windows stay open and active. The old popular posts on SO have been closed for some time, most locked, or getting there. My post was not about closures, but whether old closed / locked questions caused new ones to be asked. I said I didn't want to see new, closed questions that are similar to old closed questions, since the former doesn't prove the latter. You are familiar with the post hoc fallacy, right Mark? Mar 5, 2012 at 18:58

I can't abide by the restriction that you suggest because us grumpy fun-haters are reasonably successful in getting rid of the junk that comes in, gets promptly closed and just as promptly defended by pointing at those wonderful big lists from early in the site's history.

In other words you ask us to ignore the evidence that we've dealt with.

In the last six months I've been spending more time on physics, sci-fi and other newish sites than Stack Overflow, so I don't have any recent example. I offer an old answer of mine that recently got some upvotes...

My reason for wanting them gone is that people generate new ones in a genuine effort to be good citizens, and then we come running in to stomp them. No fun for anyone.

In principle the "historical significance" banner should be sufficient, but...

  • The historical significance banner is in dire need of improvement. I don't doubt that crap comes into SO -- I've voted to close my fair share too. I'm just try to get evidence that the old posts are causing a lot of this new junk. Junk comes in many flavors, and I'm just not convinced that much of it's caused by these old posts. Mar 5, 2012 at 17:53
  • Frankly I doubt that copying gradfathered posts is a particularly big component---bad post have got to be dominated by laziness, poor communications skills, self important demands and just plain not getting what we do here---but they are a contribution and one that we can do something about. Mar 5, 2012 at 18:18
  • @dmckee: And something is being done about them. They're not going to be listed under "best of" anymore. Indeed, the historicals aren't even going to be searchable anymore. Isn't that good enough? Mar 6, 2012 at 23:36

A few recent meta questions from people complaining about a closed question when other similar questions remained open:

Keep in mind that a lot of the evidence is in comments that people have left under questions. “Why did you close my question when X is still open?” Only a trickle of these find their way to Meta.

For a lot more evidence, look at Programmers, where the problem was markedly worse.

  • 1
    For links 2 and 3, having these questions open is a huge problem. Is will create broken windows. That's why I want these questions closed and locked with a painfully clear historical banner prominently displayed atop, disabusing any readers of the notion that the question represents an example of an on-topic question in today's world. Mar 6, 2012 at 23:18
  • Link 4 was just a purely garbage question, and link 1, well, OP was just too stupid to understand that broad best practices questions are off-top, but the community quickly educated him...On your programmers link, that discussion between Mark and I related to questions that were open on PSE. This whole issue is about closing and locking old SO questions, so Mark's whole point was a non sequitur. Mar 6, 2012 at 23:21
  • Did this question or this question contain a banner? I can't see it any more. If it did that would be the evidence @AdamRackis is after, otherwise not. That's what he is looking for. He is looking for empirical evidence of a question with a banner which people still refer too as far as I understand it. Mar 6, 2012 at 23:35
  • @Steven - those are both very, very old questions that have been deleted. The question here is, if we take old questions like those, un-delete them and put a lock and clear banner on them saying that they exist for historical significance only, will users still be lulled into thinking that they represent good examples of on-topic questions Mar 6, 2012 at 23:39
  • @AdamRackis Try thinking your comments through. I greatly value the intent of this question, and I understand the misconceptions some have with it. Edit your question to solve those. My comment was clearly not a counter argument against what you are trying to achieve here, so I don't see why you interpreted it as such. I was stating what would make this answer a valid answer or not. I don't have the privileges to see deleted posts. Mar 6, 2012 at 23:44
  • @Steven - sorry, I didn't realize you were < 10K. My bad. If I had known that I would have answered differently. In any event, no, they're just really really old questions that were deleted. Sorry for the misunderstanding Mar 6, 2012 at 23:48
  • @AdamRackis No problem, I know (from own experience) it's easy to loose your temper when you feel like whole Meta is against you while you have the best of intentions. It can be terribly hard to understand why people don't understand what you are after. I'll give you some guidelines on how to help you in your cause on your question as it doesn't fit here any more. Mar 6, 2012 at 23:52
  • @Steven - sure thing, but even on my comment above, I really, really, wasn't angry. In the least. It seemed like an honest question and I tried to answer it as such. Sorry if it came off as curt. Trying to do too many things at once here :) Mar 6, 2012 at 23:55
  • @AdamRackis I wasn't implying you were angry per se, but when you loose your temper you tend to miss certain parts of a conversation. :) Glad it is resolved. Mar 6, 2012 at 23:59
  • 2

A few that I can find.

Lack of consistency

https://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/96870/do-you-get-irked-by-the-attitude-on-se ("This one's not closed" statement made in a comment.)

Why are some book suggestion posts accepted, but not mine?

  • I think most of these such questions have been deleted, so unless you're 10k+ (or better yet, a moderator), you're going to have a hard time finding them. I'm also not sure what the point of amassing a collection of links to these questions is. No one is denying that they occasionally get posted, even those like me who advocate relaxing our present-day standards for the historically interesting content. Mar 14, 2012 at 5:45
  • @Cody: A good point. I'll be quite surprised if this gets expanded much, but I found one clear case and I figured it was worth adding here.
    – jscs
    Mar 14, 2012 at 5:47

Currently, the question of “broken windows”, be they real or perceived, pertains mainly to “bike shed” type questions from the good ole days. (wipes a half tear from eye)

Going forward, it may indeed pertain to “all this crap about dinosaur languages like c#” – “do we really want to project an image of a site about languages that haven’t been used for 20 years” - especially when sorted by votes.

Entropy happens, change happens, can’t stop that.

Personally, I think applying community standards, contemporaneously, is a great thing – nobody wants to see the front page littered with “plz send me teh codez”.

So, thank you to all who give their time and do great work in keeping the site focussed and useful.

Where it becomes a matter of some contention, is extemporaneous application of these standards – people get upset when their efforts, which were acceptable by the standards of the time, are consigned to the great bit bucket of oblivion.

From a personal/business perspective, I have generally encouraged programmers/contractors working for us (a very small company) who found solutions to unanswered questions on SO as part of our work efforts, to post them on SO (providing no trade secrets etc), so that they may be of use to the broader community, but also so they serve our business needs by being recorded somewhere, and don’t need to be solved again.

I would like to think that our company will be such that we will always be using relatively current technologies, and we won’t be needing consult ancient archives of old problems. But I don’t know that, and from a business perspective I need to make a best effort to not lose knowledge that we spent time discovering – if it is going to end up perceived as a no longer relevant eyesore, should I tell my people to just post it in our internal wiki instead? (we try to keep that product specific)

If I instruct people to double work it I will get grief from the suits. Wherever it’s possible I would prefer to share it with the community.

The issue of reputation loss is not a big one to me, but is to many people. (must admit to being briefly affronted, but told myself to get over it)

When I had the time to “play the game”, it was a motivating factor, and I do believe that the reputation system has contributed greatly to the success of the site. People like to be acknowledged, even if it’s just a number.

This is something that needs to be considered in the broader picture of the economics of reputation, especially if SO/SE are still around in 5…10…20…50… years.

Would it be appropriate that I could vote in moderator elections from an aged care facility, whilst lamenting that these young whippersnappers have no idea what they’re talking about?

I don’t think that would be fair.

So, a couple of ideas/discussion points, not bulletproof, but this is not an easy problem to crack – I don’t know if anyone has adequately solved these issues before.

This has been said before – archive.

When something no longer fits – send it to the retirement home – don’t just kill it. Grandpa shouldn't drive or operate heavy machinery - but not a reason to shoot him.

Debating the merits of individual questions from way back when just won’t scale when whole technologies no longer fit.

Chances are, some poor intern somewhere will be tasked with patching a legacy intranet app with IE6 requirements in 20 years’ time – I think the internet would be a better place for him/her if they don’t have to fight that battle all alone, and all the effort that went into that battle was not lost.

Give reputation a half-life or other decay mechanism – sure – keep a historical total and maybe even a hall of fame, but maintain a useable reputation value.

This may help to level out the playing field for newcomers, and not give an undeserved gravitas to my input (crotchety old fart who used to know stuff), compared to the input of someone younger, smarter, and more up to date than I.

If a question passes current standards, stays active for at least x months, and people earn points from asking or answering – let them keep the points even if the question is sent out to pasture– if the points decay over time, then the basis of their usable reputation score should trend towards current standards.

Points accrued on technologies of yore won’t allow me to have a say in a community where I’m no longer relevant.

Anyway, just some thoughts in an effort to be constructive around this issue.

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