I have flagged this question for closing.

And I have given reason:

Question should be closed. Stack Overflow is not a Recommendation Engine.SO is not a recommendation engine. https://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/128548/what-stack-overflow-is-not/128562#128562

And I have flagged many questions (200+) like this which were helpful. What's wrong with this flag?

Why was this flag declined?

  • 1
    Might be because of I have written twice `SO is not a recommendation engine.'. by mistake :P Jun 13, 2012 at 6:58
  • 1
    – jscs
    Jun 13, 2012 at 6:58
  • 11
    Now let's wait for the "Why was this highly valuable question closed after this many years? OMG TEH ANGERRR" question. ;)
    – Bart
    Jun 13, 2012 at 7:02
  • @Bart: It's cycle. Yes this would :P Jun 13, 2012 at 7:06
  • Why did you flag it with a custom reason instead of using a close-flag? Jun 13, 2012 at 7:18
  • 2
    Because it was very old and inactive question. And people wants to have such references of books recommendations on SO. So it would take decades to have 5 close votes to it. That's why I have done custom flag, shouldn't I? Jun 13, 2012 at 7:22

3 Answers 3


First off, I'm glad you brought this up - I had it in my mind to contact you upon seeing those flags, but got distracted.

Let's talk about closing...

author, editor, closers

That's how the question you flagged appears as I write this. The author who asked it (3.5 years ago), the last editor, and those who opted to close it are all prominently displayed. Nothing is being done in secret here; everyone who has worked to bring the question to its current status is either immediately visible, or one click away in the revision history.

Now look at this one:

author, moderator

Again, we see the names of the author, the last editor (same as the author) and the person who closed it. However, there's something missing here: Bill didn't close that question because he was idly browsing the site and came across a poor question - he closed it in response to a moderator flag. But that isn't publicly visible. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, Bill alone felt that question should be closed, and Bill alone took action to make that happen. This is why the current election is such a big deal: moderators end up shouldering a lot more responsibility for what happens on the site than normal users. If someone incorrectly flags a question to be closed and a moderator closes it, the flagger never gets called out; indeed, they may never even realize their mistake.

So it's important that:

  1. You don't dump actions on the moderators that you can handle yourself. I came across one of your flags - marked "helpful" - that asked for a question to be closed which was NOT a recommendation question but merely included the word "recommend" in the title. It needed only a small edit, which the moderator responding to the flag dutifully made. You could've easily done this yourself.

  2. You do as much as you can to resolve a problem before bringing it to the attention of a moderator. You've now flagged dozens and dozens of questions with this same, copy-pasted message. So far as I can tell, you've made no edits to any of these, left no comments pointing out issues or encouraging the authors to improve their questions, cast no close votes, and done nothing to help the moderator responding quickly understand how a question that has been around for years, positively received by the community, with in some cases thousands of views... is suddenly in dire need of being closed.

In fact, I rather doubt you're even reading these questions - the results show all the signs of someone searching for "recommend" and pasting the same text into the mod message. I could write a script to replace you in under an hour.

So about the specific question where I declined your flag

I'm looking for an up-to-date book that teaches technologies like RDF, SPARQL, RDFS, and GDDRL- and frameworks to make use of them. Any recommendations?

This isn't a great question... But it's hardly terrible. The author has a specific problem, which he took time to explain, and the answers attempt to answer. I wouldn't have closed this. I didn't close it, after your flag brought it to my attention and I took the time to read it. Therefore, it was not a helpful flag.

Perhaps, if you'd taken the time to explain the problems you saw in that question - if you actually saw any problems apart from the word "recommend" in the title - I would've done something else. You could've left a comment, or put something useful in the moderator message...

But you didn't.

  • I have a feeling (just a feeling, based on my usage of flags and knowing how people react to things being measured) that in general, people want to flag because they get recognition for flagging (it used to be through flag weight, now it's through 'helpful flags' which can make a difference in a moderator election). Perhaps if we 1) Made editing and closing numbers just as visible (since those too are moderator actions), people would focus on the things they can do, instead of making others take those actions for them. Jun 13, 2012 at 15:37
  • It seems to me he did take the time to explain the problems. This Meta answer seems to highlight exactly this type of question as not welcome, and the flag linked to that Meta answer. I don't care if that reason was copy-pasted dozens of other times; in this instance it seems appropriate. If that Meta answer is wrong, then it seems that should be addressed. Jun 13, 2012 at 15:43
  • @Michael: that answer states, "Book recommendations, suggestions for tools, and product comparisons are not really what we do here. We cannot tell you what is the best" - no one was asking for the best book, or a comparison of books. The guy had specific requirements, which he stated. Read past the title.
    – Shog9
    Jun 13, 2012 at 15:47
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    I did read past the title; having specific requirements does not make it no longer a recommendation. If recommendations with specific requirements are OK then the Meta answer needs to be changed. Jun 13, 2012 at 15:50
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    @Shog9 The line you quote says "Book recommendations" though. Which is asked for twice in that question. In the title and at the end. Are we saying now that recommendations are just fine, as long as we don't hang the "best" qualification on them? That hardly seems right. I don't disagree with the other issues you raise, but that part does seem to conflict with what seems to be the general consensus.
    – Bart
    Jun 13, 2012 at 16:07
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    I fully agree with all but the end of this answer (so +1 from me). But, I think that specific question is a perfect example of the type of subjective (bad subjective) book recommendations that are not acceptable on SO nowadays. I would say some evidence of that is the quality of the answers it's attracted. Or are you saying that we should be more lenient in general about book recommendation questions? Jun 13, 2012 at 16:07
  • @jadarnel: I don't have any particular fondness for this form of question, but the author did go a bit beyond the usual "give me some links for learning X" format. I didn't look at the answers at all - they weren't flagged, and they weren't mentioned in the mod message. If I had looked at them - or if the message had even touched on the problems with them - it's possible I would have acted differently. The "book recommendation" issue should probably be discussed separately though; my personal feelings on these don't really align with either community consensus or the WSOiN answer.
    – Shog9
    Jun 13, 2012 at 16:29
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    Gotcha, thanks for clearing that up. "...or if the message had even touched on the problems with them..." - I agree, I think all the trouble could have been avoided by the OP (here) putting some more effort into the situation (rather than the copy/paste mod message). Jun 13, 2012 at 16:34
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    @jadarnel: yes, that was pretty much the point of this answer. When I see a flag that doesn't call out a specific problem, I'll spend a short time looking for one - if I miss the problem you saw but didn't mention, that's on you. Also... There are flag types for each close reason built into the system. When I see a flag in the "other" category, I tend to be looking for something a bit more unusual.
    – Shog9
    Jun 13, 2012 at 16:52
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    @Michael: that answer was terrible for all sorts of reasons. I've now revised it heavily.
    – Shog9
    Jun 13, 2012 at 17:17
  • @Shog9: So now will there be specific requirement with recommendation is constructive question according to new revision of answer? Jun 14, 2012 at 6:09
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    @Somnath: my recommendation is, if you're going to use a custom flag to ask that a moderator close a non-constructive question, use it to explain why the question is non-constructive - the WSOiN list is intended to help authors understand why their question is problematic, not moderators. "Question is asking for recommendations, answers are brief and not educational" / "question is asking for recommendations, resulting answers are numerous and discussiony" / etc.
    – Shog9
    Jun 14, 2012 at 6:17
  • @Shog9: We can make close votes directly if it is not constructive question. Jun 14, 2012 at 6:42

This situation brings up something that I've been chewing on for a while.

As a 20K user, I can flag things, but the flags automatically turn to close votes (since I have the power to close) in most cases. If I want any flags to go towards my 'helpful flag' count, I need to surpass 50 close votes every single day that I want to increase my helpful flag count. As it stands, that's a lot of effort to bump a number that means little compared to how many moderator-esque actions a user takes per day (closing, editing, deleting).

There's an old adage: If you measure it, you get more of it.

We've been measuring flag weight (and now, Helpful flags), so users are responding by wanting those numbers to go up. Those numbers don't go up if they do the work themselves, so they flag instead of taking the necessary action (voting to close, voting to delete, editing the question).

Perhaps below flag weight, we should have more numbers, or a number based on those metrics (an activity quotient, perhaps)?

I think it's useful to see the moderator activity a user takes, and I think it's more useful to see that number out in the open than hidden under some stats somewhere.

Here's what I said to Shog9:

I have a feeling (just a feeling, based on my usage of flags and knowing how people react to things being measured) that in general, people want to flag because they get recognition for flagging (it used to be through flag weight, now it's through 'helpful flags' which can make a difference in a moderator election). Perhaps if we 1) Made editing and closing numbers just as visible (since those too are moderator actions), people would focus on the things they can do, instead of making others take those actions for them.

  • 4
    I tend to agree with this. I also hate that close flags are effectively more powerful than close votes - one user with 15 reputation points on the site has a better chance of getting an arbitrary question closed than someone with 15K and years of experience using SO. Geoff and Emmett are working on something to attack both of these... Sadly, it'll do nothing for users who bypass the system by using the "custom" flag reason.
    – Shog9
    Jun 13, 2012 at 15:51

Flags should be used to bring Moderators up to speed with more pressing issues than closing a relatively old (although a bad, but not baby-killing-bad) question.

Considering that you have 3k+ rep, you should vote to close it, not flag it. There are custom views available for people 10k+ rep which show which questions have close votes - it's not like your vote won't be seen at all. Finally if you still feel you need to raise awareness about a question in need of close votes - drop by chat.

  • 6
    Correct me if I'm wrong - but such an old question might not receive enough attention to be closed via votes. I'm not sure exactly what the timeline of events was - but flagging old posts was an instruction given in the 2012 cleanup... IMO the correct action would be to VTC and flag so that a mod can cast his/her binding close vote.
    – Lix
    Jun 13, 2012 at 8:35
  • Can this be answer? I have flagged custom message for closing question, because of that flag is declined? Jun 13, 2012 at 8:40
  • 2
    I actually appreciate flags that alert us to once entertained, but no longer entertained questions so we can close them. It helps prevent people from finding them through search engines and asking something similar.
    – Tim Post
    Jun 13, 2012 at 15:26
  • are you saying that you'd refuse to act on a flag just because the post was old? With questions with large numbers of views / votes fair enough but for a bad unupvoted question with 2 crap answers an ordinary user doesn't have much of a chance of closing. Jun 13, 2012 at 17:58
  • @Ben I'm not saying I'd refuse to act on flags on old posts(do them all the time on Super User). I'm speculating what might have been the reasons for them being declined. Jun 13, 2012 at 18:02
  • cool beans :-). Jun 13, 2012 at 18:04

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