Stack Overflow frequently is on the first page of Google search results and I am surprised how often the valuable question has been closed for being off-topic despite numerous up votes and answers with up votes. How many points have topics closed for being off-topic received? Is there data to suggest that questions with points and quality answers should be re-opened? Should those who vote to close a topic that receives traction be "punished" when there are more people who find the question and answers valuable up vote more than votes to close?

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    From the first page alone alone, I count 18535 up-votes. But, honestly, upvotes are not a good indication of on/off-topicness. Remember this (10kers only)? If you feel strongly about a certain question, simply vote to re-open, if the community feels the same way, the question will be re-opened!
    – Dave Chen
    Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 3:28
  • @DaveChen That question made me want to slap some people!
    – animuson StaffMod
    Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 3:38
  • @Dave lol that question is hilarious
    – Pekka
    Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 3:46
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    Why are these comments instead of answers? Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 3:47
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    I'd also like to point out that upvoting is a +15 privilege while close-voting is +3000, and deleting +10,000. If anything, the users upvoting on a poor question should be punished! (But hey, I've voted on my share of poor questions, and voting should be anonymous -- and not carry any consequences, unless you're serially voting, in which case the system will handle that automatically.) The current system (closing, and voting) are (in my opinion) fine the way they are.
    – Dave Chen
    Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 4:18
  • Related: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/200122/… Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 7:05
  • Related: “Experts may have the best answers, but beginners have the best questions.” the-pastry-box-project.net/d-keith-robinson/2014-may-7 Commented May 8, 2014 at 23:48

2 Answers 2


Upvotes aren't really indicative of an on-topic question. They are indicative of a question that people may find useful, funny, or cool, but that's pretty much about it.*

Should those who vote to close a topic that receives traction be "punished" when there are more people who find the question and answers valuable up vote more than votes to close?

Think about what kind of a signal this would send. You would create a punishment for those users who care most about the site (and have earned the privilege to vote to close, something they get no reward for) on the basis of votes (which practically anyone can cast). It's difficult to think of a more effective way to discourage community moderation altogether.

* A huge fight was had on Meta over the past two years concerning what should happen to off-topic questions. There were two main camps: the deletionists (who argued that any off-topic content needs to be removed completely), and the those who argued that while off-topic questions need to be closed, they shouldn't be deleted altogether, but perhaps archived. Unfortunately, the deletionists won, so the current policy is not only closing but also deleting all off-topic content.


Getting the Data

You can do this using the Data Explorer though you may have to limit your query to a few months due to the volume of data and the limitations before something times out. Using this query counting closed questions with score over 0, I got a total of 480,607 score on closed questions, which means there were at least 2.4 million reputation gained on close votes (score is the sum of up- and downvotes, and it takes 2.5 downvotes to equal an upvote reputation wise, so the 2.4 million is the minimum in this case and is likely higher).

Why the Data is Useless

On-topic and upvoted are not correlated. An amusing off-topic post in a popular tag will likely get far more upvotes than a very good on-topic question in an unpopular tag. Judging usefulness or topicality based solely on score is probably not the right decision.

Just a couple months ago there was a whole lot of hubbub on buying croissants. The question has since been deleted, but needless to say it was quite popular. It was also off-topic.

Batch re-opening highly scored closed questions is (re-)opening pandora's box.

What You Can Do to Rectify the Situation

If you find glaring examples of a great highly-scored question that is on-topic for the site, you can cast a reopen vote and stick it in the queue where the community can decide. If you don't have the reputation to cast re-open votes, you can make a meta post asking why it is closed, and the community can vote to re-open it if they agree with your assessment.

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    It takes a lot of time to earn the reputation to cast reopen votes; time that many people simply don't have. And users with low repudiation don't tend to get prompt, useful answers. I'm with Jeremiah on this one, myself. Commented Dec 9, 2013 at 23:33
  • @Owen, Yes, it does take time -- time to understand the community concepts of moderating the quality of the site. If you aren't willing to invest in learning the standards, why should you be trusted to decide what falls within those standards?
    – jmac
    Commented Dec 9, 2013 at 23:49
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    No, more time than that. I had a good idea of the concepts and standards of this site a very long time before I had any real quantity of reputation here. The concept (in a wider sense) reminds me of Ashe Dryden's excellent blogpost The ethics of unpaid labor and the OSS community — not every site-user has the privilege to be able to invest the time to gain that much rept. The users with the rept are not representative of the whole userbase. Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 14:17
  • @Owen, I never said they are representations of the whole user base. Just because you are able to understand site guidelines doesn't mean that all users under 3k rep do. It's like a drinking age, or an age to be able to drive, or a voting age -- just because some people under that age are able doesn't mean that it is practical (or preferable) to do away with the limitation. I've been here a year and don't have the privilege on SO, but if it does mean that much to you, then participate in the community and get the rep.
    – jmac
    Commented Dec 11, 2013 at 0:14
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    I think you're missing my point. Not everyone has the privilege to invest the time to get reputation. I am arguing that the limitation is the fault here, not users' inability to devote time (for whatever reason) sufficient to acquire the reputation necessary. I think this is a general problem with many sites where editors are outnumbered by readers (Wikipedia has a bunch of related, but different problems, for similar reasons). But I think the core problem is that the community who are able to vote on things like this are not representative of the community of site-users. Commented Dec 12, 2013 at 12:31
  • @Owen, all rep does is gives you special tools (privileges), but those without the tools (like myself) can post here and get things done on the merit of their idea regardless of time invested in gathering rep. There are a lot of well-received posts from new users here (as well as low-rep users) regardless of their time spent investing in the site. If you have a specific issue about this, I suggest asking a separate question, but suggesting that rep requirements should be removed without an alternative suggestion would be anarchy.
    – jmac
    Commented Dec 14, 2013 at 16:28

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