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I like the changes to the close reasons and the mechanism itself a lot and I think it is a significant improvement and clarification over the old system. But there is one aspect that I think has the potential to do more harm than good, and that is the new ability to use custom close reasons:

  • Closers can enter a free-form reason ("Your question appears to be about 'Cat Grooming', which is off-topic for Stack Overflow.") Free-form reasons will be presented as a comments, but the close dialogue will refer the reader to the comments for more info
  • Free-form reasons picked by closers will be available to subsequent close-voters on that question as one of the selections from the list

I don't think it is a good idea to let any user with the ability to close define a custom close reason. While this specific implementation avoids some issues by delegating the actual custom close reason to comments, I still think that custom close reasons have more dangers than benefits. They might make the opinion of a few close voters appear more official than it actually is, though the implementation reduces this danger somewhat by putting the custom close reason into comments.

But I also found that the predefined close reasons are an important tool to provide guidance and keep the close votes in check. We don't close questions just because we don't like them, but because they violate some clear rules that we have set up previously. With the new ability for each communtity to set up their own off-topic close reasons, we have everything we need to define our own rules. A close reason should be something the community discusses and debates, and something that should be decided with clear support of the community. It should not be something a handful of users can just put into a text field.

Any user can still add a comment with specific that are not explained in the close reason, but without the official backing that free-form close reasons would provide.

I don't think we need free-form close reasons, forcing any new close reason to go through the process of being defined as a site-specific close reason is a good thing in my opinion. So I propose to remove the option for free-form close reasons entirely.

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    Which brings up the question. How does it works when 5 users give 5 different custom reasons ? – ʞunɥdɐpɐɥd Jun 12 '13 at 19:24
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    I have a lot of reservations about the usefulness of the freeform field, but I also think it may be a bit premature to call for its removal before we see it in action. – Adam Lear Jun 12 '13 at 19:24
  • @ʞunɥdɐpɐɥd The default "fallback" close reason will be shown on the closure and the question will have 5 comments on it that the voters typed in. – Adam Lear Jun 12 '13 at 19:25
  • @AnnaLear I agree that observing it is the right way to do this, I assume that if the feature got this far that it has some considerable support inside SE. But I think this is an important decision, and it is useful to discuss the more general aspects of this. – Mad Scientist Jun 12 '13 at 19:27
  • @MadScientist In case you're wondering, I'm the idiot who voted to close this. Fat fingers, tiny mobile screen, apologies. – yannis Jun 12 '13 at 19:31
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    @Yannis Don't worry, we'll soon have a fix for your fat fingers – Laura Jun 12 '13 at 19:32
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    @Yannis And here I was hoping when I saw your comment that you'd have used a custom close reason, just for the irony. I was disappointed. – Servy Jun 12 '13 at 20:04
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We shared your concerns, and the comment approach was designed specifically to minimize the "official" appearance of free form reasons.

But the goals we had were two-fold:

  1. Ensure we can still close anything that's deemed off-topic, and
  2. Ensure that the poster can generally understand what made it off-topic, especially since the short description often doesn't achieve that (tons of programming question types are OT for SO).

The problem we faced was this:

  • If you only allow pre-picked specific reasons, (no free-from, and no generic,) there's no way to close a question as OT on Stack Overflow for being about "monkey grooming".
  • If you try to solve this by offering a totally generic, "Not Programming" choice on the list, you run the risk that it will often be chosen, which brings us back to a state where many people get a question closed because it's not about "Programming" even though it's obviously about Programming. They haven't learned what to do next time, and incorrectly think the "mods and cranky old users" close newbies stuff indiscriminately.

Again, we shared your concerns, and will keep a close eye on this feature, but we think it's the best balance for the goals we were trying to acheive.

  • I'm fine with keeping a close look on this feature. But I still think that forcing the process of each site to discuss and define their specific close reasons would be beneficial. The problem of such a generic "not programming" close reason could be avoided in such a process. – Mad Scientist Jun 12 '13 at 19:38
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    @MadScientist, I agree 100% - the hope is that this will each site more ability to clearly convey what they've decided isn't allowed. (On Skeptics, they'll be able to have in-line feedback to a user for "questions about an assertion that is not commonly known or directly linked to a credible source", etc.) – Jaydles Jun 12 '13 at 19:40
  • And the notability requirement will be the first thing we request as a custom close reason once this goes live. My point is that the custom close reasons for each site already solve the problem you're trying to solve with the free-form close reasons. But lets just see how this feature works in practice, and how the users will actually use it. – Mad Scientist Jun 12 '13 at 19:45
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The top offender for me was "Off Topic" posts that aren't in the pre-selected list (DBA, ServerFault, etc). I would have to mark as a generic "Off Topic", then go back and comment with the correct site. I like to be able to mark as off topic with a comment.

  • There's no guarantee that any given off-topic question has a home on some SE site anyway. – Robert Harvey Oct 18 '13 at 22:54
  • Such questions are not being discussed here. – Joe Frambach Oct 18 '13 at 23:07
  • Then I'm not sure what point you're making in your answer. Off-topic with comments doesn't really have anything to do with migrating questions to another site, and there are good reasons why some sites don't appear in the list. – Robert Harvey Oct 19 '13 at 0:10

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