I'm curious as to why questions get closed at all. I understand that certain sects of SO adhere very strictly to the (frankly, esoteric) FAQ, but I'm at a loss as to why this functionality exists at all.

The reasons for my confusion are quite obvious:

  • 'Closed' questions are still findable via Google.
  • 'Closed' questions still allow commenting.
  • The only thing that's really prevented is providing ongoing information with regard to the original question.

So why bother closing a question at all?

To be very clear. I'm not asking why questions get closed (although that's certainly a black box for pretty much all the users on the site as well), I'm asking what the point of having this functionality is at all since it seems to be essentially useless.

Please keep in mind I'm not commenting in any way on the criteria used to close a question, I'm simply confused as to why the function exists at all.

For example, I recently posted this question: Does SSL alone prevent SQL injection?

It was a valid question I had, since I was confused about the relationship between SSL and SQL injection attacks. I got an excellent answer from Jeff Olson, helped out at least one other person that had the same question, and now it's closed because it's "not constructive".

Here's the rub ... you can still find the question via Google, you can still comment on the question and the answers, but it's now closed so if anything changes in the future with the relationship between SSL and SQL injections it's now impossible to keep the information relevant.

How is this a good thing?

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    Nope. Not a duplicate. I'm asking what is the point of closing a question at all? I'm not asking why questions get closed. It seems to me that closing a question is useless functionality for the software. – AJB May 14 '13 at 22:40
  • Seriously? All the endless hullabaloo around closing questions and no one has a good answer as to why it's possible at all? – AJB May 14 '13 at 22:47
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    How long did you take to type up this question? That'll probably answer your comment. – BoltClock's a Unicorn May 14 '13 at 22:48
  • @BoltClock'saUnicorn, about 3 minutes. How is that relevant? – AJB May 14 '13 at 22:50
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    "the purpose of the closure is to prevent question from picking up new answers, which in turn is intended to make it easier to edit the question into a better shape and reopen (to me, this is the main purpose of question closure at all)" - from an answer in the duplicate of your revised question – gnat May 14 '13 at 22:52
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    @AJB Meta Stack Overflow is not as active as Stack Overflow. Responses don't always happen in under 10 minutes :) – Patashu May 14 '13 at 22:53
  • @gnat, thank you for providing an answer. However, that makes no sense. Questions get closed to new answers (new information) in order to make it easier for the original question to be better-formed? I don't see either a casual or direct relationship between the two. – AJB May 14 '13 at 22:54
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    @AJB imagine like this: 1) your question sucks, 2) it starts picking downvotes, hurting your reputation, 3) you attempt to edit it to improve but 4) some sucker just posted an answer that is invalidated by your edit 5) your edit gets flagged and rolled back 6) you continue getting DVs and loosing rep - just because 7) no one was fast enough to save you from this by a timely closure – gnat May 14 '13 at 22:58
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    @gnat, so by your logic the closing of a question has nothing to do with dissemination of information and everything to do with arbitrary social scoring? Quite frankly that makes SO look pretty pathetic. – AJB May 14 '13 at 23:01
  • @AJB I guess I write not what you read. It has everything to do with simple sequence outlined in steps 1) and 3) "question sucks" -> "edit it to improve". Social-scoring is only an incentive for askers to put effort in improving – gnat May 14 '13 at 23:05
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    It doesn't have anything to do with preserving rep. The steps are actually 1) your question sucks, 2) someone answers it anyways with an equally sucky answer, 3) you -- or someone else who manages to divine your intentions -- edits your question out of suckitude, 4) it picks up a decent answer, but 5) that crappy answer is still around. Closure jumps over step 2 and encourages you to engage in step 3 as quickly and thoroughly as possible in order to have the chance to proceed to step 4, which is what you wanted in the first place. – jscs May 14 '13 at 23:38
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    It's possible for a question to be closed incorrectly, of course, but I'm saying that's the workflow that's enabled by the closure functionality, which is what you insist you're asking about. Incorrectly-closed questions can and do get re-opened. If your actual issue is that you're miffed because your question was closed and therefore you think that closure in general should be abolished along with slavery and temperance, then there are 8,000 other people who have come before you with the same "idea" One such: The closing process is flawed – jscs May 15 '13 at 0:53
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    P.S., I've voted to reopen the question you've linked because I think that it was not correctly closed. The answers seem entirely factual to me. I will say, however, for "whiteboard" rather than "keyboard" questions like that, you might want to look into Software Engineering rather than SO. – jscs May 15 '13 at 1:07
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    @JoshCaswell I'm not so sure the question belongs on Programmers. I think it's somewhere between the two sites, if it was originally asked on Programmers, I probably wouldn't close it (but it would probably get at least a couple migration votes for SO). In any case, I think the better site for it is neither SO nor Programmers, IT Security has a much larger concentration of security experts. That said, since the question was re-opened on SO, it should stay on SO. – yannis May 15 '13 at 5:20
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    @AJB Programmers has a FAQ, and it's a lovely read ;) The rule of thumb for choosing between Programmers and Stack Overflow is that Programmers is focused on conceptual questions (design, architecture, etc), whereas Stack Overflow is focused on technical questions (implementation issues, programming tools, etc). – yannis May 15 '13 at 5:21

Closing is a tool that is used when a question, as first written, does not belong on the site. It's a temporary state that sets a question up for one of three fates:

  • The question may be edited until it fits the site, and then reopened. Being closed prevents answers like "I can't be sure because you didn't provide code, but it's possible you need to ... " which generally need to be removed once the question is complete. It also motivates the asker to improve the question - although perhaps someone could come up with a useful guess, answers won't be posted until the question is reopened, and that depends on it being edited into shape

  • The question may be closed as a duplicate of another question. It will stay around, perhaps be found by Googlers with problems, and act as a signpost to the "master" question. No answers can be added to the duplicate because that would just fragment the knowledge. Anyone reading the question who wants to answer it can answer the "master" instead

  • The question may not be salvageable, or may not have been posted by someone willing to salvage it, in which case closure is a waystation before it is deleted.

Some questions sit closed as non-duplicates forever, and seeing those you may think the state is pointless. What you don't see are the hundreds of questions that were closed and improved, then reopened without a clutter of obsolete answers, or the hundreds of questions that were closed and deleted.

Closing is good, when it's temporary. Permanent closing is a small side effect that should not be taken as representative of what closing is for.

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    Permanent closing means "This question was good enough to survive deletion, but not good enough to be considered a quality question for the site." – user102937 May 14 '13 at 23:18
  • There are nearly 50k 'permanently closed' questions. They are hardly the unusual case, and deletion has become more difficult. – Rosinante May 15 '13 at 0:32
  • @Kate Gregory, I see what you're saying, and it makes sense (especially your second point) except for the fact that using the language "closed" when what SO really means is suspended pending revision is obviously pretty poor UX. Also, what if the OP disagrees with the "moderators" that closed the question? Take my example here: stackoverflow.com/questions/16490234/… – AJB May 15 '13 at 0:51
  • Continued from above ... Take the above example. There's nothing wrong with the question, yet it's closed. Why? I have no idea. I'd improve it if I could, but I can't see how I would improve it. No one suggested any improvements and other users were even moved enough to comment on how they disagreed with the "downvoting" of the question. So what do I do with that? – AJB May 15 '13 at 0:53
  • @RobertHarvey if that's the methodology that SO uses to qualify its questions then I would say that SO needs to seriously revisit its UX design. And hire a copywriter. – AJB May 15 '13 at 0:54
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    @AJB: You may be pleased to hear that SE staff are currently working on making it more clear that "closed" means "suspended pending revision": Every close has its thorn: replace "close" with "on hold" for the first five days – jscs May 15 '13 at 0:55
  • @JoshCaswell, good to hear. But this has been going on for the past couple years. We're all programmers. It's not that hard to change the display text. – AJB May 15 '13 at 0:57
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    @AJB it's super hard to agree on what to change it to :-) – Kate Gregory May 15 '13 at 1:06
  • 'Suspended Pending Revision' – AJB May 15 '13 at 1:08
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    "Suspended" was suggested at that question, @AJB, but the answer was deleted (by the answerer), I think because of objections made that the term is already used for another feature. – jscs May 15 '13 at 1:13
  • Okay, how about 'This question is temporarily suspended pending revisions requested by the community' ... and then list the things that people input as areas they would like to see improved. In fact, this would go a long way to both improving the quality of questions and curbing the obvious zealotry problem on SO. If you think the question deserves a downvote, or needs to be suspended, then step up and explain why, otherwise what good is a zealous vote to close? – AJB May 15 '13 at 1:17
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    Sounds like you should go post an answer at "Every close has its thorn", @AJB. – jscs May 15 '13 at 1:18
  • @AJB not sure if you noticed, but this question was closed for about 5 minutes. It is impossible to tell unless you click the revision history... now imagine how many questions are on SO that were closed at some point. – Kate Gregory May 15 '13 at 3:42
  • it's worth noting that dupe closure isn't necessarily permanent. Question can be edited to clarify the difference with dupe-target and reopened. That is, if edit doesn't invalidate existing answers – gnat May 15 '13 at 9:33
  • @KateGregory, I didn't notice ... and to be honest, that's a great illustration of how "closing" is a terrible methodology for curating questions. – AJB May 15 '13 at 17:36

Closing a question:

  1. Prevents new answers,
  2. Gives the OP the opportunity to improve their question before it gets removed, and
  3. Provides the community the ability to moderate questions, in essence deciding what kinds of questions are on-topic.

So why do we have closing at all? It's quite simple, really.

  1. Forums suck,
  2. Forums suck,
  3. Did I mention that forums suck?

Closing is our way to curate questions so that folks can't just ask anything they want. Like they do on ... um, forums.

  • Since my previous comment on this answer was deleted for some reason (the magical power of SO) I'll re-iterate: SO sucks at curating questions. The current system is full of friction and counter-intuitive to the assumed purpose of Stackoverflow. To be honest, I'd rather have a forum. – AJB May 15 '13 at 17:46
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    There are certainly plenty of those to choose from. Knock yourself out. – user102937 May 15 '13 at 17:47
  • Not with the same depth of intelligence or userbase as SO. Which is the only reason that I keep coming back here. It's certainly not because I have some profound respect for the curation skills of the organization, which I believe to be deeply flawed. – AJB May 15 '13 at 17:48
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    The curation is one of the big reasons we can attract experts here. No expert wants to sift through the relentless flotsam of a forum. – user102937 May 15 '13 at 17:48
  • Prove that your curation skills are why experts are attracted to SO. I don't believe that's true at all. I think the reason experts hang out here is simply because of the Q&A format of the articles (which could stand to be improved itself). – AJB May 15 '13 at 17:49

The function of closing a question is to prevent further activity on the question, which both prevents it from showing on up the various lists of recent activity (e.g. home page) and also prevents the community from spending (wasting) more time on questions that aren't appropriate for the site.

Questions may also be deleted, which makes them no longer visible to users of rep < 10,000. Closing a question is less severe than that.

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