Ask Ubuntu will be 4 this year and as we toddle off into the future, we leave a trail of posts behind us.
Some are historically excellent, some were never that good and never got answered, and some have answers that no longer apply [to a problem that might still exist].

We've just had a couple of meta posts pop up asking for advice on how to deal with these age related problems so I thought it a good idea to ask how other SE sites cope with their older posts.

To compound the issue, Ask Ubuntu is slightly different to other SE sites. We only allow questions about "supported" Ubuntu releases on Ask Ubuntu. When something falls out of "support", it stops getting security updates and thus becomes —for lack of a better word— dangerous and we mark it as off-topic (we have a custom message that tells them they need to upgrade and how).

Another more Linux-specific thing is the evolution of drivers. Instructions from five years ago on how to install a wireless driver would probably destroy a modern Ubuntu install but the problem still exists. This is a common frustration when we get users arrive at Ask Ubuntu and tell us they followed a Ubuntu Forums guide from 2007 and everything broke. Shocker. We don't want to be that site in 2018.

It's also not just a problem of what to do. We could close and delete the one or two if they ever caused serious problems but we have 28,180 questions asked in 2010 and 2011. All of those questions are about releases that are now off-topic. I am familiar with questions like How to deal with obsolete answers? but how are we supposed to deal with these at our scale? We still have incoming that needs to be dealt with.

I am really looking to find out how other SE sites might already handle this before we discuss it on our own meta. I have a few talking points you might want to cover but I'll welcome any opinion:

  • In the cases where something is unanswered but the question would normally (if asked today) be closed as off-topic, should we be looking to close or delete these as off-topic?

  • What should we do about old answers that no longer apply? Sometimes things are just no longer required and some times they become outright incorrect. Our example is about Spotify which used to require a premium account to be used on Linux. Should we aim to maintain every accepted answer?

  • Is there any way to automatically highlight that an old question is (in Internet years), "older than time itself" and that readers from the future should take it with a pinch of salt... Or are the timestamps enough for this? Is there anything we can do to not be the site that breaks everybody's computers?

I'm almost certainly not asking enough questions so even if they don't fall directly into these questions, I'd love to hear from other sites on how they deal with age. If it's at all important, make sure you let us know what site you're talking about.

  • In cases where real harm coud be done and maybe a tag out-of-date like done on meta?
    – rene
    Jan 24, 2014 at 10:39
  • 3
    @rene Apart from the fact that meta tags are not really allowed, what purpose would that serve? A tag just sits there—I don't think many people would notice it.
    – slhck
    Jan 24, 2014 at 10:51
  • @slhck I'm not saying I'm wildly enthousiastic about meta tags either. I'm only looking if a solution within the bounds of current available functionality would answer the question. A non-meta tag but ubunto specific distro version tag could be an alternative. That is not meta per se but ensures you at least addressed the concern raised.
    – rene
    Jan 24, 2014 at 11:05
  • @rene Questions on Ask Ubuntu are already tagged with a specific release.
    – slhck
    Jan 24, 2014 at 11:10
  • @slhck I didn't see that on the provided example but if that is in general the case tagging is not the way to go.
    – rene
    Jan 24, 2014 at 11:13
  • 2
    Unfortunately the version tagging is a bit inconsistent. Some version-specific issues are tagged with a version tag (eg 11.10) and plenty of issues where the version doesn't matter are tagged that way too (we're trying to fix this). In the case of Spotify it wasn't the version of Ubuntu that made the difference, it was Spotify changing its requirements.
    – Oli
    Jan 24, 2014 at 11:13
  • FWIW, I think the existence and application of this close reason is a travesty. Sites and those steering them should be encouraged to open their doors and ask how other sites manage their business. MSE should be that venue.
    – Oli
    Apr 8, 2019 at 10:57

1 Answer 1


What should we do about old answers that no longer apply?

Can users still install or use those old releases? My guess is that they can, so there can still be some interest in those old questions - outright deletion is not really an option. The answers may be for releases that are now "unsupported", but that doesn't mean the answers are wrong. In fact they are still as correct as the day they were tendered, they just happen to be for a release that you no longer care for. (Regular users shouldn't care for those releases either, but you can't stop them using those old distros on those magazine CDs).

Is there any way to automatically highlight that an old question is ... "older than time itself"... ?

A custom page header on those old questions would be great - it tells users to tread carefully and make sure the information they're looking at is appropriate for their version. That may be a bit of work for the devs to achieve though. So your option of a custom close reason (site moderators have the capability to craft custom off topic close reasons) is an excellent one, this will be displayed prominently under the question and the explanation can categorically spell out that the information may no longer be applicable. There doesn't need to be any release specific information in the close reason (i.e. it can be generic), just direct them to a wiki page with the details they need.

The best thing about the custom close reason is that the community can help apply it. Boom. Makes your job way easier.

In the cases where something is unanswered... ?

For unanswered questions, delete them. Clear the trash. They can't be answered anyway once they're closed. Once again you can use the community to cast delete votes.

  • 1
    So, are you suggesting to apply a kind of historical lock to them?
    – Mołot
    Jan 24, 2014 at 11:04
  • It's also a fair whack of work for us moderators. Applying a post notice is four or five clicks per question... And we'd need to review ~20,000 questions a year (as new things get old). An opt-out system (where every old post gets a notice unless we deem it temporally-universal) might work better. We could then just review the higher-voted stuff.
    – Oli
    Jan 24, 2014 at 11:08
  • And I agree with you about not deleting old answered questions, but what about the things that are three years old without an answer?
    – Oli
    Jan 24, 2014 at 11:10
  • @Oli - check my edit. The community can assist with it.
    – slugster
    Jan 24, 2014 at 11:14
  • @Oli Three years old without an answer? That shouldn't happened, unanswered questions get pruned automatically (after a year, I think?).
    – yannis
    Jan 24, 2014 at 11:56
  • @Yannis Good call. We only have 4 unanswered, unclosed questions from the 2010/2011 period (through quirks of being reopened).
    – Oli
    Jan 24, 2014 at 12:25
  • @slugster "they just happen to be for a release that you no longer care for" This is not strictly true, there is a big loss of functionality, because the old releases (including ISO installer, updates, every software package etc.) are actually deleted from the original servers. An old install CD will get a 404 and fail if the user chooses the default online install. Even with an offline install, the user will later be unable to run any update, or install any software, unless they figure out how to manually change the repository URLs to point to a historical archive.
    – bain
    Aug 10, 2014 at 12:11
  • @bain This question is 8 months old, I'm guessing that something should already have happened. If these unsupported distros cannot be installed then I guess that makes things easier.
    – slugster
    Aug 10, 2014 at 12:53

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