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I see a lot of questions that are closed due to often not being constructive/ too localized etc. But what does this achieve? A lot of these questions become really popular and are not deleted or anything.

Doesn't this urge people to post similar "illegal" questions in the future? Some of the questions are interesting and I see why they aren't being deleted but it just makes it confusing because you can still get a lot of votes and thousands of views etc.

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    Many closed questions get subsequently deleted - we just don't see them any more. – Pekka Feb 7 '14 at 16:54
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    Why would closing them encourage people to post more of them? It's specifically telling them that the questions aren't allowed. One important reason for closing is specifically to indicate to readers that the question is not allowed. Leaving it open implies it's acceptable. – Servy Feb 7 '14 at 16:54
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    Theres always the hope these questions will improve and be reopened. If not they can be deleted. (Of course many just get fogotten in the middle ground) – Richard Tingle Feb 7 '14 at 17:07
  • If you see an old question with many upvotes but asking something very egregiously off topic, such as "what is your favorite IDE?", you can flag for ♦ moderator attention and request that it be historically locked, to prevent others from bumping (via edits) or attempting to reopen it. But only do this if the case is very obvious, or your flag will likely get declined. – Esoteric Screen Name Feb 7 '14 at 17:08
  • Closed as dupes are (sometimes|often) useful signposts from one way of searching for an answer to the (hopefully) canonical answer. – jball Feb 7 '14 at 18:09
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First off, let's just get some raw numbers in here so I don't have to hand-wave the rest of this. In the past year on Stack Overflow 2,822,242 questions were posted, and 307,870 of those were closed. Out of those...

  • ...190,330 were deleted
  • ...  44,323 were closed as duplicates
  • ...    6,654 were re-opened
  • ...  75,905 non-duplicates remain closed but not deleted

Duplicates are sort of a special case: they're not necessarily questions that are inappropriate, they're just questions that were already answered - so closing them and leaving them around helps to provide future readers with a path toward that existing answer, even if they're searching for terms not found on the original question. We generally don't want to delete them for this reason (although there are exceptions to this).

As you can see, the majority of closed questions - and generally-speaking, the worst of the worst - are deleted:

Why would you delete a question? Isn't closing it enough?

  • Some questions are of such poor quality that they cannot be salvaged. They're literally nonsense. Not every byte of data that is created in the world is infinite and sacred.
  • Some questions are so incredibly off topic that they add no value to a programming community.
  • The mental cost of processing these closed questions is not zero, particularly for users who are actively engaged and scanning questions to find things they can help answer.
  • If users see a lot of closed questions, they'll note that we don't enforce the guidelines, so why should they? Without any final resolution, asking questions that get closed becomes something we are implicitly encouraging -- a broken windows problem. If this goes on for long enough, we're no longer a community of programmers who ask and answer programming questions, we're a community of random people discussing.. whatever. That's toxic.
  • If enough of these closed questions are allowed to hang around, they become clutter that reduces the overall signal to noise ratio -- which further reduces confidence in the system.

Let me be clear: we do not seek out deletion, by any means. But we believe not having the guts to cull some of your worst content is much, much more dangerous to your community than letting it sit around forever in the vague hope that it will magically get better over time.

If there's a reasonable chance that a given question will be useful to other programmers, it's worth giving it a chance: closed questions can always be edited and re-opened, regardless of age, if it turns out there's sufficient value in doing so. The important thing is to get as many of the lost causes out of the way as quickly as possible, so that folks can find and focus on those potentially-useful ones. Some of this can be (and is) done automatically, the rest rely on trusted members of the community reviewing and voting. All in all, I think we do pretty well.

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    Thanks for an informative answer. I wasn't attacking SO in any way (I think it was perceived that way ), but I just wanted to gain insight into what happens with closed questions and do they actually help etc. Got my answer :) – DSF Feb 7 '14 at 22:05
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To prevent new answers from being posted.

  • But it doesn't? It's just a little label that says closed. Doesn't prevent anything? – DSF Feb 7 '14 at 16:56
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    Sure it does. Try posting an answer to a closed question. – user102937 Feb 7 '14 at 16:56
  • What I meant was that, I don't think it stops people from posting a similar question again. I may be wrong but that is my impression at least. – DSF Feb 7 '14 at 22:02
  • That makes sense, since the purpose of closing is not to prevent people from posting new questions. – user102937 Feb 7 '14 at 22:03
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On hold/closure is the junction between improvement leading to reopening or deletion. Some questions linger in the middle ground without going either way but it is there as a junction.

While a question is in an unanswerable state, it is essential that new answers cannot be added to it. This is for two reasons:

  1. The question is unanswerable; any answers posted will be guesses and speculation. This devalues the eventual question.
  2. More pragmatically, it signals in a very real way that the question cannot be answered at present and therefore encourages editing for improvement.

Some questions are purely off-topic and can never be salvaged; these will (if all goes to plan) be deleted eventually, however only 10k users can delete questions and so on hold is a useful stopping ground, even for these. These must not be answered or else the focus of the site will be diluted.

Duplicates are of course a special case and should not be considered "on hold"; in the case of duplicates the aim is to collect all answers in a single place to allow the best overall answer to be found.

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The importance of closed but not deleted Questions may vary from site to site, but as a rule deleted Questions are "embarrassingly bad" and closed rather signifies that no Answer should be added.

Indeed a closed Question might be a duplicate of another very good Question, so by closing the duplicate we try to avoid wasted effort and keep all the good Answers for it in one convenient place. Leaving the duplicate, with its link to the "original", has a potential to improve Search.

A closed Question might be off-topic, and by leaving it visible (perhaps in a migrated status) we communicate to the Community about that consensus. Moreover Questions closed for reason of off-topic, unclear, etc. may be edited to fit Community guidelines and then get reopened.

For these reasons closing and deleting Questions are separate processes and should not be conflated.

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