A couple weeks ago, I asked for help: How can we stop premature deletion?
And I got some fantastic responses. A big thanks to everyone who participated in that discussion - you're the reason I don't completely hate Meta Stack Overflow.
The big takeaways from that discussion were:
Show users their deleted content. By far the most common response, and understandably so: without this, it's always a trade-off between cleaning up trash and letting the asker know what they did wrong.
Delay deletion. There were a few different takes on this, including "pending deletion" votes that would only take effect after a period of time had passed, and straight-up blocking normal deletion votes for a period of time with spam/offensive flags and moderators able to take care of the worst stuff in the interim.
Improved oversight for deletion.
That last item gets into an area we'll have to discuss in depth later on, namely: stuff that shouldn't be deleted at all. It's important - but it'll have to wait a little bit longer.
Joel, Jaydles, Robert & I met last week to discuss the first two and "quick deletion" in general. Here are three short-term changes we'd like to make:
1. Authors should see their deleted questions (if they have a link)
This doesn't go quite as far as this old feature request, but it does solve the most fundamental problem: if I have my question open when it's deleted and refresh the page, I'm not presented with a 404. It would also make support easier in some cases - for instance, automatic deletion of abandoned questions.
Note that the primary rationale given for declining the old feature-request - authors able to undelete their own content - was fixed a while ago; the concerns over making deleted stuff permanently visible in your profile are still somewhat valid, however.
2. Restrict quick deletions on anything asked "in good faith"
This wouldn't even have to be a system-enforced restriction, although that's probably a good idea. The idea is simple: don't delete any question that isn't blatantly abusive.
- Spam? Kill it.
- Gibberish? Erase it.
- Rants? Banish them.
- A too-localized, vague or overly-broad programming question? Meh. Just close it and move on.
If we did have to restrict deletion, it helps that there are already flags that cover most of the really bad stuff... Flags that automatically delete once a sufficient number accumulate on a post. But that still leaves a lot of rubbish laying around, so we'd also want to...
3. Automatically delete closed and abandoned questions after a short period of time
It's hard to ask folks who already feel they're drowning in an ocean of filth to hold their breath a little longer. I think mog said it best:
I'm getting burnt out on playing janitor
I've felt that way. There's not much of a reward in helping to moderate Stack Overflow. No one compliments you when you close an off-topic question, or even notices when you delete a terrible one. You hold out some hope that if you keep at it, the site will keep being something you enjoy - and maybe that the folks whose writing you enjoy will keep enjoying it as well. But you know in your heart that it's a treadmill to oblivion; with the volume of questions Stack Overflow gets every day, even closing the bad ones is hard - keeping up with deletion is proving to be impossible:
Now, it's a bit unrealistic to say that every closed question should be deleted, even when that's the recommendation; still, there are currently 48 thousand closed questions on Stack Overflow that have no up-voted or accepted answers, score <= 0, haven't been edited since they were closed, and don't have any pending re-open votes...
If we deleted those automatically, that would cover 70% of the questions deleted manually in the last month, and 73% of questions deleted within 2 days of being closed. Forget delayed deletion - for the majority of questions, no one would need to bother deleting them at all.
Automatic deletion already accounts for the vast bulk of all questions deleted. Why not just expand that to handle the stuff we can be fairly certain won't ever be revived? Abandoned questions, already evaluated by the community and closed, with no recent activity to indicate any interest in re-opening them.
Right now, automatic deletion only kicks in for questions over 30 days old. I think we could drop that considerably - say, to 7 days - and get rid of more cruft, faster and with less effort than we're doing now by hand.
We haven't settled on a concrete criteria for what "closed and abandoned" should mean yet. Here are some ideas - look 'em over & see what you think:
The goal is to capture anything that's contributing nothing to the site now, and shows no signs of any effort by anyone to correct the deficiencies that are preventing it from being a useful question. I think if we get this right, then we can afford to look at manual deletion - by moderators or high-rep users - as more of an exception-handling task and stop mixing the time-sensitive deletion of overtly abusive posts with the convenience of just voting to delete as soon as a question - any question - is closed.