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To resolve the frequent issue of poor question unfairly gaining answers, and thus paving the way for more poor questions to be asked

I Propose

EDIT: From feedback, have changed net vote threshold to 5 (to at least match that of the current 5 users at 3k rep) END EDIT

If a question has 5 net downvotes, the question is put on hold automatically, and no answers are allowed until the question is resolved/has been edited and net votes are > -5.

The net vote threshold could be perhaps different, to avoid grey area questions being on hold unfairly, but this also needs to be high enough to allow for early action.

On hold note, something such as:

This question has been put on hold via community voting on the question, and cannot receive answers. To resolve this, edit and improve the question.

This proposal would assist in stopping poor questions from receiving answers, as currently questioners not wanting to put in any effort know they will likely get an answer eventually.

This could also help improve site quality by making people improve their questions before they can have answers, so answers are only given to decent questions.

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    I... actually like this idea. Not sure why I can't find a serious downside, though. – John Dvorak Oct 13 '14 at 15:45
  • Thats a great request. But -4... maybe -6? – nicael Oct 13 '14 at 15:45
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    One downside is that it's now possible for low-rep users to close a question. Also, this will be hell to implement to work with actual reopen votes. – John Dvorak Oct 13 '14 at 15:46
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    I guess a user could un-downvote and upvote it to get it reopened when it's on the edge, post their answer, and undo to place their answer and "lock" their post instead.. – Unihedron Oct 13 '14 at 15:47
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    @Unihedron I have a solution for that, if you're willing to venture into the territory of closure being user-dependent. Just ignore one's vote for the purposes of the ability to post their answer. – John Dvorak Oct 13 '14 at 15:49
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    I'm not convinced we need any kind of automated close voting. Also, I'm not convinced your feature would discourage answers to crap questions. If anything, it would encourage people who answer crap questions to also upvote them. That wouldn't be good. – yannis Oct 13 '14 at 15:51
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    I see one big downside with this. If nobody tells OP what's wrong with his question, there's no way for him to improve it enough. And downvoting is often just a drive-by thing. – Vogel612's Shadow Oct 13 '14 at 15:57
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    It shouldn't really be closed. It could have a notice that it is quite a low-quality and instead of answer box it could be something like "this question was considered to be low-quality (etc etc), please edit (link to the editor) it to clarify or improve (etc etc)" – nicael Oct 13 '14 at 15:57
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    @Vogel612 maybe a net score + one closevote = closure with that closevote reason quoted? – John Dvorak Oct 13 '14 at 15:58
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    @nicael if a question gets -3, it's unlikely an outside editor will be able to salvage it – John Dvorak Oct 13 '14 at 15:59
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    reading through brad's answer I found another one.. This feature would make upvotes something to counter downvotes, and that's IMO not the correct use of upvotes, and should be discouraged.. – Vogel612's Shadow Oct 13 '14 at 16:00
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    The implementation of this needs working on. You're allowing 3-4 users with 125 rep each to close a question, where originally you needed 5 users with 3000 (and for a good reason). The limits need rethinking. – Madara Uchiha Oct 13 '14 at 16:12
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    @SecondRikudo not that 3k rep were any guarantee for knowing site scopes and being somewhere in the vicinity of sanity... – Vogel612's Shadow Oct 13 '14 at 16:13
  • @Vogel612 it's the filter decided upon by Stack Exchange. It's there for a reason, and it's definitely more effective than 125 rep. – Madara Uchiha Oct 13 '14 at 16:25
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    @Vogel612: "If nobody tells OP what's wrong with his question, there's no way for him to improve it enough." A huge banner shows up underneath closed questions explaining exactly what's wrong and how to fix it. We provide loads of material explaining how to write proper questions, and there are hundreds of thousands of excellent examples. If an OP can't spot that, that's their own problem, not ours. – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 13 '14 at 16:56
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This is an interesting proposal... In particular, it's interesting because the stated goal is not to hide lackluster questions (which has been proposed before, and which is partially supported already), but rather to prevent them from being answered - in other words, it suggests the use of closing for a purpose that closing is actually well-suited to perform!

Others have raised some well-founded concerns with how this might play out, and I have my own thoughts that I'll get to in a moment... But first, let's do some simple data-analysis to see if this even has a slim hope of making a difference.

The nature of questions that get downvoted to a score of -5 today

I'm using internal data so as to include deleted questions and accurate vote timing, but the queries are simple enough and most can be run on the public data if you wish to see how they stack up on sites other than Stack Overflow. I'm using Stack Overflow because there are relatively few posts that score <= -5 anywhere else - Programmers has only 2809 questions meeting this criteria, an order of magnitude fewer than the number of closed questions - in practice, it's unlikely this would have much of an effect outside of SO.

select count(*) "Total questions scoring <= -5",
  count(case when AnswerCount > 0 then 1 else null end) "with answers",
  count(ClosedDate) "currently closed",
  count(DeletionDate) "currently deleted"

from Posts q
where PostTypeId=1
and Score <= -5

...gives us:

Total questions scoring <= -5 with answers currently closed currently deleted 
----------------------------- ------------ ---------------- ----------------- 
124441                        49035        104940           101272            

Ok, that's a lot of bad questions, and a not-too-shabby portion of them with answers that could in theory have been blocked. How many of them would have been blocked?

select count(*) "with answer posted before -5 threshold reached"
from Posts q
where PostTypeId=1
and Score <= -5
and 
 (select min(CreationDate) from Posts where ParentId=q.Id) < 
    (select top 1 CreationDate 
      -- inaccurate for questions that recieved a mix of votes or had funky retractions
      from (select top 5 CreationDate from Posts2Votes 
        where VoteTypeId=3 and PostId=q.Id and DeletionDate is null
        order by CreationDate asc) x
      order by CreationDate desc)

This isn't intended to give us a perfectly accurate answer to the previous question - just a quick estimate, gained by comparing the timestamp of the first answer with that of the 5th downvote.

with answer posted before -5 threshold reached 
---------------------------------------------- 
43275                                          

Ouch. A whopping 88% of the answered, heavily-downvoted questions already had an answer by the time that 5th downvote arrived. It appears we may be running into the same problem here as we did with close voting: it takes too long to get 5 people to spend the time to vote on questions, even (or perhaps especially) painfully-bad ones.

Not seeing a lot of potential here, I'm afraid.

Other problems

Now, you can argue (and have argued) that folks might be more willing to downvote if they had a bit more of a goal to work toward... But frankly, I'm skeptical: most folks don't seem to want to go out of their way to find and rate crap; we had to put an awful lot of work into the close review system to even get close to making that work - what's next, "downvote review"? We're essentially just re-building the vote-to-close system with a lower privilege threshold and lighter-weight criteria for reopening... Which brings me to my primary concern here:

The amount of work required to close bad questions is entirely too high

Not surprisingly, this is the same problem I see with the existing close system - it just wasn't designed with the current volume of questions in mind. Getting 5 people to collaborate on anything is a small victory; getting it to happen repeatedly for thousands of questions a day is pushing your luck. First, folks get careless... Then they just give up. After all, this isn't their trash - why should they log time every day to pick it up when the folks dropping it don't care?

Here's the kicker: it's a lot of work for purely arbitrary reasons. We make up these rules; it could be 5 votes or 15 votes or... 1 vote. Reopening could require an equivalent amount of votes, or... no votes at all - why not just reopen when someone submits an edit? If we want more people voting to close, we could just lower the rep threshold for the privilege and be done with it, no need to hook up downvote and close... But you do have to decide,

Who do you want deciding what is permissible to answer?

Remember, the original idea behind linking privileges to reputation is to capture a certain measure of trust and experience based on actions. There are probably lots of folks who know what a good question looks like - or a bad one - without ever having seen a single post here before... But there are also plenty who don't, or won't. So the system is set up to require you to prove it: if you want permission to decide what others can or cannot answer, you first must contribute a bunch of well-received posts of your own. Once you've become a "co-author" of the collaborative work that is a Stack Exchange site, you get to participate on the editorial board...

It can be awfully hard to see it when you're up to your eyebrows in dung, but there's a very real advantage to not letting everyone who happens to spend a few minutes on the site make decisions that require input from multiple other people to reverse. One of the more depressing things I observed while evaluating the potential for single-vote closing was the number of reopen votes from high rep users that just... age away. When the folks who've helped to build a site aren't empowered to protect it from upstarts who don't respect the same goals, it disrespects the work they've done and diminishes their ownership.

An alternative: out of sight, out of mind...

Let's go back to the original problem statement here:

the frequent issue of poor question unfairly gaining answers, and thus paving the way for more poor questions to be asked

Now, why is this a problem? Here are a few arguments...

  • Poor, answered questions set an example that poor questions get answered. There's some amount of truth to this, but I suspect less because of the "broken window effect" and more because of how it selects for answerers: folks who insist on good questions are starved, while those willing to answer anything are fed. Faster closing doesn't help much here, even if that were possible - we'd just be starving more people.

  • There's less motivation to "fix" answered questions. Why learn to ask better questions if less work produces the same results? If we're not educating the people who ask questions here, we're doing them a disservice.

  • Fixing answered questions may invalidate existing answers. This is a particularly frustrating catch-22: the question must be fixed or deleted. Deleting also removes the answers; fixing makes the answers invalid. There's no solution that doesn't make someone unhappy.

  • Answered questions are harder to delete, and waste the efforts of the answerers when they are deleted. Even when poor-quality questions eventually are closed and deleted (and as you can see above, tens of thousands are) if they've been answered then the work of those answering is wasted. This is contrary to the goals upon which these sites were founded.

The solution here isn't to block folks wishing to answer questions - surely that's why we're all here in the first place! Rather, we need to do a better job of making sure the questions they answer are more suitable for answering. I believe the proper solution here is a combination of changes:

  1. Make low-quality questions less visible immediately. Don't wait until they get downvoted - figure out if they're problematic and immediately tuck them out of sight until/unless they're fixed. Not just on the homepage, but on tag pages as well.

  2. Encourage both askers and answerers to fix questions they care about. We're taking baby steps in this direction with some new badges, but we could be doing so much more: how about a message shown to folks answering these questions warning them that their efforts may be wasted if they don't take a minute to also fix the question itself? And, combined with #1, a message shown to folks revisiting questions that are languishing, encouraging the same?

  3. Edit or die should really be our mantra here; many low-quality questions could be fixed, but many won't be - and if no one cares to fix them, even if warned (#2), they need to be quietly removed as quickly as possible. This sets a better example for everyone using the site, while removing the noise that is increasingly a problem for those looking for a solution.

We're working on specific designs for all of these changes as part of the ongoing .

  • very thorough answer. I would only add a reference to se-quality-project, to help readers see that new badges, managing questions visibility and improving auto-deletion are parts of a broader, strategic effort – gnat Oct 14 '14 at 15:16
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    This, the last 3 points have been my gripping since long ago. I very much like the "Edit or die" stance. People need to be aware that there should be a bottom of what is acceptable as question and if they don't abide then their effort will be wasted. – Braiam Oct 14 '14 at 15:39
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    Good idea, @gnat. – Shog9 Oct 14 '14 at 16:14
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    Regarding "number of reopen votes from high rep users that just age away"... perhaps your remark is about SO, but at another place, answering tons of crap questions is the recipe for being a high-rep user. I'm not sad to see their reopen votes age away. Your item #2 does not look hard to implement: an inbox notification "a question you've answered has been closed. Consider revising the question to avoid its deletion." [exclude dupes from this] – user259867 Oct 14 '14 at 16:58
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    First off, @James: if you have a lot to say, you can edit your question, post a separate answer, or even post a whole 'nother question/proposal. We're flexible; you don't have to shove everything into comments, and probably shouldn't try. – Shog9 Oct 14 '14 at 19:48
  • Beyond that... Whatever you name it, you're still proposing a new system that both behaves and requires behaviors different from those that exist today. That's not inherently bad, but it does mean we're not leveraging behaviors that already exist in order to get better results - in other words, it's a gamble, and while past performance doesn't necessarily indicate future results, a lack of past performance isn't exactly encouraging when you're looking to place your bets. – Shog9 Oct 14 '14 at 19:50
  • My suggestion: start simple, and do some thought experiments. What might change if, say, a single downvote on an unanswered question closed it, and a single edit on such a question reopened it? What might go wrong if answering was blocked on negatively-scored questions? What if everyone over [trivial rep threshold] was able to close and reopen 0-scored questions with a single vote? Even simple systems can and do have massive effects on how folks behave; so start with that before you pile on the complexity. – Shog9 Oct 14 '14 at 19:54
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    @Shog9 You are right. should have just put in an answer. Removed my comments, answer to follow. Is it worth getting stats of all questions with votes of say -3 with an answer, and how many users viewed the page with rep above (say) 1k? To get an idea of what rep threshold would be viable based on how many X rep users view these sorts of questions? It's not perfect, but perhaps will give an idea. – James Oct 15 '14 at 3:51
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    With some queries, I've sometimes seen some significantly different results if I queried the entire history of SO, versus querying only up to one year back. Rules, customs, demographics have changed and thus how people vote, answer, close has changed over time. So I don't find queries that go over the whole history of SO to be particularly convincing when it comes to reasoning about the impact a change would have now. (BTW, neither queries in the post here can be run on public data since they use tables or fields that are not available to the public.) – Louis Oct 15 '14 at 11:25
  • If the problem is that someone answers a bad question quicker than it can be closed, would it be feasible to disincentivise people from answering negatively scored questions by reducing the amount of rep that the answerer receives for upvotes/accepts to negatively scored questions? – Robert Longson Oct 16 '14 at 17:02
  • How many questions on SO get an answer before they get a 6th down-vote? Asking since a user can just up-vote a question to remove the 5th and locking vote to allow an answer to be posted. – Joe W Oct 16 '14 at 18:58
  • In the history of Stack Overflow, roughly 35 hundred, @Joe. – Shog9 Oct 16 '14 at 22:36
  • That's complicated, @Robert. We'd have to keep track of the score of the question at the time at which each vote was cast; easy enough to figure out, but expensive and really hard to explain in a way that'd make sense to most folks. – Shog9 Oct 16 '14 at 22:37
  • Percentage drops slightly when limiting these to the past year, @Louis... But not by very much. Instead of 88%, we're talking about 76% - or just shy of 13 questions per day where answers might have been blocked. – Shog9 Oct 16 '14 at 22:47
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    I personally see more than 13 Qs per day which could have been blocked, & I only see 15% (ish) of PHP tags only (Qs do have other tags, of course). Let's remember these stats are just a rough idea really. They're scenarios like =< -5 dvotes on Q with an answer - "A whopping 88% of the answered, heavily-downvoted questions already had an answer by the time that 5th downvote arrived" but that'll likely change with this/similar proposal in place, votes would come more quickly. Currently, a Q with -3 or -4 is enough to signify a bad Q & other users may not vote additionally. – James Oct 16 '14 at 23:56
16

I was originally going to write a feature request for this myself, based on a discussion a few moderators and I had. While this might be controversial, I think it's an idea worth exploring for a site like Stack Overflow.

We all understand that the largest problem facing Stack Overflow is the increasing volume of low quality questions flooding the site. Close votes are an attempt to stop bad or off-topic questions from being answered, but in order for something to be closed, it has to fit within one of the stated reasons. Close votes can take a while to process (as evidenced by the close vote queue), letting bad questions linger on the site. They are unable to scale to the size of the problem.

If we were to do this, I'd suggest applying the automatic placement on hold to occur at a net score of -5 (to at least match the number of close votes we'd otherwise require). I say a net score of -5, because you don't want highly upvoted questions that happen to accumulate five downvotes to be closed in this manner.

A new close reason of "very low quality" could be used for these questions. Such a close reason should be applied by the Community user (to not expose the voter identities) and would include a clear statement that the question did not meet the quality standards of the community. It could have a nice link back to the appropriate section of the Help Center on how to ask a question here.

Substantial edits to improve these questions would still place them back in the Reopen Votes review queue. Perhaps we could present a notification to voters once such edits were made to give them a chance to change their downvote or vote to reopen. This would allow the people who actually make an effort the ability to recover from an initially poorly asked question.

Now, I have my doubts as to whether providing answers to bad questions actually causes more to be asked, but this would effectively stop arguments about that. On Stack Overflow, bad questions in popular tags can accumulate five net downvotes in minutes.

This might allow us to focus our efforts on closing down truly bad questions, make this process more effective, and allow it to scale in a way that close votes cannot. When coupled with the refinements to the question ban system currently being implemented, this might help deal with really bad questions and bad askers at the source.

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    "upvotes aren't meant to counter downvotes" and IMO shouldn't ever be! – Vogel612's Shadow Oct 13 '14 at 15:59
  • closing-by-downvotes could be less error prone if it is complemented by an option for asker to reopen at their discretion (triggering mod-attention flag if this happens). This roughly follows the way how LQ review is designed to work for "lightweight" deletion of answers – gnat Oct 13 '14 at 16:01
  • @Vogel612 do you think they would be used in such a way, and that it would actually make a difference? – John Dvorak Oct 13 '14 at 16:01
  • I'm still not convinced. How many of the answers to these questions would have been prevented if the questions were automatically put on hold/closed? There's also potential for a group of users systematically targetting posts that they don't like (from chat for instance), which may or may not be a good thing. It also doesn't say anything specific about why the question was put on hold/closed as it'll be using a generic message rather than something more specific (and helpful) to that post. – JonK Oct 13 '14 at 16:03
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    @JanDvorak This answer explicitly mentions this use of upvotes as a protection mechanism, and yes it would change things. Think about net-score. Also upvotes aren't meant for this. They aren't meant for "this post is not bad", but for "this post is good" and that's horses of vastly different colors sometimes. – Vogel612's Shadow Oct 13 '14 at 16:04
  • @Vogel612 - Perhaps "counter" is the wrong word to use here. I meant to say that a question with four upvotes and five downvotes should not be closed in this manner. You don't want highly upvoted questions closed because five people happened to over time place downvotes on them. – Brad Larson Oct 13 '14 at 16:05
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    "that gives others the chance to counter mistaken or too aggressive downvotes with their own upvotes" Ugh, this again. Who decides that person A's downvote is "mistaken"? Person B? Why? What makes their opinion so much more special? Cancelling-out votes is not any voter's job!! That being said I absolutely agree that we need to take net score into consideration, essentially for the same reason. – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 13 '14 at 16:05
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    @BradLarson that's already mentioned in the question. It's explicitly about net score and not overall downvote count. – Vogel612's Shadow Oct 13 '14 at 16:06
  • I've removed that part of my answer, because it was poorly phrased. Sorry about the distraction. – Brad Larson Oct 13 '14 at 16:07
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    I am concerned that this would remove accountability. If you vote to close, your name gets attached to the closing message. You can't hide. Closing-by-downvote though, as you've described it, wouldn't do that. Someone with a grudge (and a few sockpuppets) could close questions way too easily. – ale Oct 13 '14 at 16:20
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    Another concern is that this may not scale appropriately on smaller sites. A site where it's hard to get people to vote at all, for instance. – ale Oct 13 '14 at 16:21
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    @AlE. - Only a small handful of times have I seen sock puppets used to coordinate downvotes at others, and those were very easy to pick out. They can already do a lot of damage with coordinated spam flags, for example, yet I can count on one hand the people who have attempted this. Coordination is far more likely to come from chatrooms, and most of the people active in coordinating things there have the ability to cast close votes anyway. – Brad Larson Oct 13 '14 at 16:33
  • @AlE On those sites, nothing would change. – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 13 '14 at 16:50
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    Agreed with Brad. Sock-coordinated spam flags require raising 5 accounts to 15 rep (easy) and works on any question. Sock-coordinated downvote closures require raising N accounts to 125 rep (harder) where N is the required negative score plus the question's current score. It's strictly harder for pretty much any question that has already gained a decent amount of attention. – John Dvorak Oct 13 '14 at 16:50
  • "upvotes aren't meant to counter downvotes and IMO shouldn't ever be!" They don't? Someone votes me up I get +rep, then someone votes me down I get -rep. Isn't there some element of countering here, even if just my total rep? How much more bad activity do you really expect from this feature than is already in place now? Arguably, more people would downvote bad questions than did previously because it has an actual affect on something - closing a bad question. Besides, net votes means a few grumpy/unjustified downvotes wont themselves close the question, and will be countered by upvotes anyway. – James Oct 14 '14 at 0:04
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My initial instinct upon reading this is that downvotes and close votes are orthogonal. Close votes typically indicate that a question is either off-topic or unanswerable… whereas downvotes instead or as well indicate that a question is poorly researched, formatted and/or phrased.

But on further thought I see no reason to add a closure reason that is, essentially, "your question sucks and does not constitute a net positive to this site" — your proposal adds this and automates it. Disabling help vampires and whatnot is a wonderful tangential benefit.

I like it.

I'd incorporate Care Bear's suggestion of allowing questions that have been closed in such a manner to be re-opened by a single vote from a 3K user. I think this is the best balance between providing a useful safety net against abuse of this power (though I honestly think that such abuse would be very rare; I see no indication that users are presently abusing downvotes to any sort of substantial extent) and over-complicating things.

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    I think the closure reason is essential. Tell the questioner that their question sucks and needs attention, otherwise how do they learn, how do they know what happened? Without it they just see a closed question, no notes or explanation, and probably open a new question as a result. The message doesn't need to be harsh, just factual. – James Oct 13 '14 at 17:50
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    @James: Every single closed question is accompanied by a big banner with handy links to factual information. "No notes or explanation" is totally false. There is also the Help Centre with its wealth of advice, and hundreds of thousands of good examples from which to take inspiration. There is no excuse for posting poor questions. Simple as that. – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 13 '14 at 17:53
  • I followed the exact line of thought as you did and was already writing a comment why those two things are different when getting the idea of that new close-reason. But I'm still not entirely convinced of this feature as I don't really want mere downvoters to put questions on hold (which, let's be honest, more often than not means question-death), but maybe it's just a matter of an appropriately low vote threshold. – Christian Rau Oct 15 '14 at 7:58
  • @ChristianRau: "mere downvoters" I think you grossly overestimate the extent to which new users downvote. Indeed, it seems that many of them hate downvotes! – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 15 '14 at 9:34
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit Sure, in fact everybody hates them (except for some initiated few who know better). Still, I wasn't only after the new users anyway. I wasn't talking so much about the privilege-based user category than the action-based category user. – Christian Rau Oct 15 '14 at 9:48
  • @ChristianRau: "everybody hates them" what?! – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 15 '14 at 11:06
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit My experience is that even highly experienced users (judging by rep at least) often pretty much refrain from downvoting. At least people do by far not vote as often as they should, and this doesn't seem to be limited to new users, I think. – Christian Rau Oct 15 '14 at 11:08
  • @ChristianRau: I've never had this experience with any highly experienced users. – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 15 '14 at 11:11
  • I think that "lightweight deletion" of answers in LQ queue makes an excellent example of how "silent voting" can be utilized right: answerer has an option to undelete at their discretion, but this raises automatic mod attention flag. Similarly, asker can be given an option to reopen at will if their question is closed by downvotes but this would raise a flag (alternatively: push it to LQ queue) for a more thorough review – gnat Oct 16 '14 at 13:05
  • @gnat The analogy is flawed. LQ-deleted answers are rarely undeleted: for one thing, OP usually does not even notice deletion, for another, there is no benefit to them to keep the answer undeleted when it is not appreciated. It's rather different with questions, where OP needs an answer, and is probably revisiting the question to see when it arrives. They'll be undeleting as long as they can... Besides, massively downvoted questions end up auto-flagged for LQ queue anyway. – user259867 Oct 16 '14 at 13:16
  • @CareBear well as long as this stops at least part of lazy askers who fire and forget (until notified about answer or comment), I would be fine with that - note that closure doesn't notify asker. As for your reminder about how DVs push it into review queue, thanks for that, upon further thinking I'd say that asker reopening without edits looks worth a mod attention flag – gnat Oct 16 '14 at 13:28
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    @gnat In what sense does this "stop" those who fire and forget? If they have forgotten, they no longer care if there is an answer or not (e.g., because they got it elsewhere, or homework is past the due date), so it makes no difference if the question is on hold or not. (The q-ban takes notice of closed questions, but it takes notice of massive DVs too.) I think if you want lightweight closure, the better way would be: can be reopened by a single vote of a 3K user. – user259867 Oct 16 '14 at 13:41
  • @CareBear those who fire and forget expect to be notified when answer is posted; since the question is (silently) closed, no answers appear, there's nothing to notify them. My point is, they don't just re-check their dumps every minute or so to notice; if the system throttles them so that they notice closure after a few hours, that's already a good thing (sort of a hell ban - they don't get the answers but they don't know about it) – gnat Oct 16 '14 at 13:45
  • @CareBear ...this approach matches outcome to author's effort. Those who care, have an easy way out - just edit and get back to us. Those who care too little are throttled - just stop bothering us until they notice that something happened. Those who don't care at all, well, they just get out of our way – gnat Oct 16 '14 at 14:24
  • @CareBear: "can be reopened by a single vote of a 3K user" Ooh, I quite like that... – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 16 '14 at 16:14
8

No. This would give too much power to users with way too little reputation.

Currently it needs 5 users with 3K rep each to put a question on hold. With what you suggest, the threshold will drop to X users with as little as 125 points to do the same.

Only users who have had their share on the site should be able to close question.

However, I would embrace adding a confirmation dialog of some sort when answering a heavily downvoted question like "This question appears to be off topic or low quality, sure you want to answer?", same way like we get to confirm second answer on same question.

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    Arguably this is not giving power to lower-rep users. This is giving power to the artificial intelligence that is Stack Overflow to autonomously close questions that we've already told it are absolute rubbish. That is, low-rep users already have power to say that they think a question's crap, and five people saying this already shows that a question should probably be closed, so this feature would just be "closing the loop". In a sense. At the very least I've seen zero indication that downvotes are abused, and I don't think it's particularly likely that anyone would start doing so. – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 13 '14 at 16:43
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit I bet that if such thing will be implemented, we'll see sharp rise in question downvotes. – ShaWiz Oct 13 '14 at 17:41
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    Why's that then? – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 13 '14 at 17:52
  • "Only users with their share on the site should be able to close question" - Users with 125 rep are allowed to downvote, thus deemed worthy of identifying a bad question/answer. While allowing their vote to lock poor questions is a step further, surely it's comparative to what they can already do - post poor questions, poor answers, and comments, upvote poor questions/answers. Otherwise if we're saying these users cannot identify a bad question enough for their vote to count towards it being locked, perhaps they shouldn't be allowed to downvote at all? 125 rep users are not "noobs". – James Oct 13 '14 at 18:51
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit people love power, I admit for example looking more closely at questions with tags where I have a gold badge so that I can use the dupe hammer. That's why more users will downvote, and while not bad by itself, it means just more use in the unfair power that used to belong to users with over x20 reputation. – ShaWiz Oct 13 '14 at 19:53
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    @James no n00bs, but also not veteran users. One can pretty easily reach 125 rep in half a day, if not couple of hours. You really think he can get to know Stack Overflow in such a short period of time? Or, worse, one that retagged 62 questions, spending about one hour to do it? – ShaWiz Oct 13 '14 at 19:55
  • 2
    Noobs hate downvotes. I don't see why they'd pile them on now even if they managed to figure out that it enabled them to close questions. Heck, noobs hate questions getting closed, too. – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 13 '14 at 20:04
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    @ShadowWizard "You really think he can get to know Stack Overflow in such a short period of time" - depends on the person. Rep doesn't reflect amount of time reading on Stack. Let's say "no" - so if they cannot get to know Stack in that time, why do we let them downvote? They can do plenty of potential inaccurate-voting/annoyance with their current downvote privilege alone. So we trust them with that downvote & accept it's valid, so why not also valid in putting a Q on hold? Besides, 3k+ users are not necessarily any better, or have more intelligence - proven by open/close battles. – James Oct 13 '14 at 21:57
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    This is a little bit worrying, but not nearly as concerning as the idea that upvotes would suddenly become a tool to thwart closing. You know, the votes that you get at 15 rep and grant 2.5x the rep that downvotes cost? – Shog9 Oct 14 '14 at 2:06
  • @Shog9 excellent point which I've missed! Do you plan to post your own answer, officially explaining the reasoning against the feature? – ShaWiz Oct 14 '14 at 6:21
  • Sure, why not... – Shog9 Oct 14 '14 at 14:43
7

The problem I have with this is the alarmingly lower barrier for question to be closed.

  • You currently need 5 users with 3k or more to close a question.
  • You propose that 3 or 4 users with 125 or more will be able to implicitly close a question by downvote.

I propose a different thing: Every 2 points net below 0 score will count as one close vote from Community♦.

So for example, if a question has -5 and two close votes, if I pile on my close vote, the question will be instantly closed with: Put on hold by UserA, UserB, Second Rikudo, Community♦.

That means that without the intervention of higher reputation users, you'd need -10 to close a question with the power of just downvotes, which sounds more reasonable.

  • How would this work if the question started getting upvoted after the close? – AJ Henderson Oct 13 '14 at 16:34
  • It's instantly reopened, close votes are reapplied. – Madara Uchiha Oct 13 '14 at 16:36
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    I think the entire purpose is to lower the barrier for a question to be closed. I don't see that as a particularly bad thing: currently, I see no evidence that undeserved downvotes are being widely slapped on questions, by low-rep users or by anyone else. And if it doesn't work out then we can just remove the new feature. – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 13 '14 at 16:41
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    Your proposal is essentially the current method + a few downvotes, which is a slight potential improvement, but will still be too slow. 5 mins or less is needed to close before someone posts an answer and the crap question wins again. Downvotes are not only quick, but simple to understand for everyone. The list of possible close reasons can be confusing as to which one to choose, and they take time/a few clicks - so people are less inclined to bother with them. – James Oct 13 '14 at 22:15
  • Also, either close questions with flags, or downvotes, not a bit of both. We want people to know simply -5 downvotes means that poor question will be closed. If you have to try to tell people X downvotes and Y flags to lock the question, many will not bother. Also, which flags count towards downvotes to close? e.g. "dupe" and "off topic" are not the same as eachother, let alone "on hold awaiting question improvement". – James Oct 13 '14 at 22:35
5

This would not make a difference. There are fewer than 7000 non-closed questions with the score at most -5 on Stack Overflow. When a question gets this much attention and this kind of negative reaction, it is much more likely to be closed than to stay open.

I think that this proposal by Shog9 is a better idea toward the same end: use the input from downvotes to delete answered questions, without bothering to close them.

  • 4
    The goal here is not only to close questions like those 7000 questions but also to have an effect on the dynamics of how a question gets to the point of being closed. What you'd have to look at is how quickly those questions that have been closed acquired downvotes and compare it with how long it took them to acquire enough close-votes to get closed. It is not that rare that I run into heavily downvoted questions that still need close votes to close them. With the proposal here they'd already be closed by the time I get to them, and I could do something else with my time. – Louis Oct 13 '14 at 17:41
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    Although Shog9's idea is great, it's nothing to do with this one. Shog is talking about cleaning up old unanswered posts, we're talking about stopping bad questions in their tracks and stopping people answering crap questions. Making the questioner improve before they can get answers. Perhaps after 30 days of them not doing so, Shog9's script will then clean it up! So, both should be implemented! – James Oct 13 '14 at 22:05
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    @CareBear, your point seems to make an argument FOR this proposal - "7000 non-closed questions with the score at most -5 on Stack Overflow". So there are 7,000 questions on SO, all with -5 score, yet "not closed" - the current system is not working, then? – James Oct 13 '14 at 22:08
  • @James 7000 is a drop in a bucket: 0.085% of all questions, or less than 1 per thousand. – user259867 Oct 13 '14 at 22:18
  • @CareBear 7,000 isn't a drop in the bucket just because it's a small percentage of total questions from since time began! Your single scenario of stats isn't enough to argue this proposal wouldn't make a difference. You need to look at more stats. For example, when of those 7,000 posts are from this year alone? They could be old - so irrelevant as new systems are fixing old issues - or new so possibly relevant. Also, what about closed questions, which you wont have stats for? And is very relevant - user posts crap question, gets his answer, closes his question so no-one can see his dirty work. – James Oct 13 '14 at 23:00
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    @James You are the one making the proposal: it's up to you to demonstrate how it would make a positive difference on the site. – user259867 Oct 13 '14 at 23:07
  • @CareBear I could list many pros and cons, but no-one would read my (yawn) question. Also, it's up to the community to raise and discuss the pros and cons. Many minds etc - I've seen many ideas/arguments which I hadn't thought of (of course). Even yours here, which while I disagree, it's very much a valid opinion which needs to be considered as much as any other! Others might agree with you! – James Oct 13 '14 at 23:19
5

Place questions with X net downvotes on hold automatically?

In the past I have proposed in chat to lower the threshhold for closing negatively scored questions.

This proposal may be the extreme of what I suggest, or perhaps taking it to a logical conclusion.

I think it would be consistent with the current moderation strategy of the sites to lower the close vote threshold by one close vote for perhaps every 2 net downvotes. I would still require a minimum of 2 votes to close/put on hold (which would kick in at a net score of -6).

Such a table would look like this:

Score     Close Votes required to Close/Put on Hold
  0       5
 -1       5
 -2       4
 -3       4
 -4       3
 -5       3
 -6       2
 -7       2
 -8       2
 -9       2
...

and so on.

This would put poor new questions on hold more quickly and give newer users a minor voice in putting bad questions on hold, while ensuring quality review.

Newer users are an untapped resource in this area. I'd like to put their ability to contribute to greater use.

Applied to reopening

I'd like to apply the same principle to reopening:

Score     Reopen Votes required to Reopen
  0       5
  1       5
  2       4
  3       4
  4       3
  5       3
  6       2
  7       2
  8       2
  9       2
...

This maintains symmetry in closing and opening, which is an important strategic goal for StackOverflow and sites. In my conversations with StackOverflow stakeholders, they have made it clear that this is important to them.

If we make it easier to fix and reopen closed questions, that's a small concession to more quickly shutdown the bad questions.

Note that this is still a higher threshold than gold tag badge holders who can close and reopen duplicate questions with a single vote.

Locked posts

There should be no impact to locked posts, as you cannot vote to reopen them.

  • So you propose that two users can re-open any of the many questions that are (rightly) closed but highly upvoted? (e.g., as happens due to Hot Network Questions or due to older questions that no longer meet site standards) That seems like it'd need some careful thought/analysis. – D.W. May 27 '16 at 21:08
  • @D.W. I'm pretty sure that locked material won't reopen. For example, you can't vote to reopen this – Aaron Hall May 27 '16 at 22:14
  • I'm not talking about locked questions, I'm talking about closed questions. Most closed questions aren't locked. – D.W. May 27 '16 at 22:18
  • 1
    I can close/reopen Python questions as dupes with a single vote. I don't think we view that as a problem. – Aaron Hall May 27 '16 at 22:20
  • That doesn't really respond to my comment. Yes, I know of the existence of the dupe-hammer for people with a gold badge. No, that is not a replacement for careful analysis of the possible implications of allowing any two people with 3K rep to re-open any highly upvoted, closed question. Moreover, the dupe-hammer only allows closing as a duplicate or re-opening a question that was closed as a dup, and only within the tag you have a gold badge -- it doesn't allow re-opening arbitrary closed questions (e.g., ones closed as off-topic). – D.W. May 28 '16 at 0:15
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    We currently allow any 5 people to do the same. So, what's the harm? Say 2 "rogues" reopen some undeleted but closed questions. Is the community harmed? No, the community liked the content, else the votes wouldn't be so impressive. Are the moderating users harmed? No, they've greatly benefited from increased bandwidth in shutting down new junk, they won't mind shutting back down any scary outliers you're warning us about. Are the investors in SO harmed? No, we've improved both shutting down bad and reopening good content, which should improve user engagement. Win/win/win. – Aaron Hall May 28 '16 at 1:03
0

Just wanted to collate and touch on some of the excellent community feedback, and my own further thoughts as a result, to make this a more well thought out idea.


TL/DR

For those not wanting to read, I think we know what is mostly needed and why, so this TL/DR addresses the most important issues raised so far.

The two most important issues raised seem to be:

  1. Changing the current question voting system to include something else that would seriously alter why people vote (upvotes to stop question close etc)
  2. Drastically reduced rep threshold for closing questions (from 3k to 125)

To resolve both of these issues (in 1, I'm that good):

  1. Any downvote made on the question (using the current vote system, unchanged) from users with X rep will count towards a total close vote threshold

X can be something everyone feels is sane.
While it alters the current voting system to include something else, I don't think it seriously alters it (not with 1k rep needed for it to count).

This is simple enough for users to understand what/how happens.

If we say 1k rep required for the vote to count, and the total vote count to close is 4 net downvotes, I'm sure with the influx of additional votes this will bring, and requiring 1k rep, we'll be somewhere near..?

Sure more people will vote up/down knowing the affect, but 1k rep is a sane level I think. Plus, users with 1k rep are not likely to unfairly/wrongly manage to get a net of -4 downvotes, not considering there will also be upvotes if the other votes were unfair.

These thresholds can be debated, but the basic idea seems sound.
It's about getting that sweet spot whereby more votes are given to make close quicker, but not unfairly (hence 1k and -4 total net).

Note, this idea does not add downvotes to any flag downvotes, as this is still a new close reason separate to current ones in flag - i.e. "Your question needs work before it can be answered".

END TL/DR


Purpose of this proposal

  1. Close poor questions more quickly than the current system (flags)
  2. Stop poor questions undeservedly receiving answers
  3. Make it effortless and more simple for users to close the most common poor questions

Expanded:
1 & 2 - Will work together, poor questions closed quickly wont receive answers, questions more likely to be improved, or better next time (not essential, closed and no answer is key).

3 - Closing being as effortless and simple as possible will hopefully bring about more votes, which will all also aid in the speed of closure.

What it's not for

  1. Not to replace or add to the current specific close reasons
  2. Not to be (directly) added to any part of the current flag system
  3. Not to drastically lower the required privilege level to close questions (original proposal did, has been addressed here)
  4. Not to stop arguably ok questions from receiving answers

Expanded
1 & 2 - This feature shouldn't be another flag option, that would defeat the strive for faster question close. Also, flags are confusing to some users (which one to choose), however are more time consuming to all users than a downvote. Flag = 4 or 5 clicks, downvote = 1.

3 - The poor questions this proposal is to close doesn't really need 3k rep. Dupes, off topic, etc, do require 3k rep and will still be handled with flags.
Perhaps slightly lowering required rep to close for this feature only (1k?) will provide more votes, thus closing questions quicker than current flag, but without lowering the required rep to a worrying level (again, this is not 1k rep allowed to close in the current flags).

This lower requirement can be done by anyone with X rep downvoting on the question and will count towards the close. Say -4 net downvotes by users with 1k rep or above.

Users with 3k rep are not necessarily better at making close decisions as 1k-2k rep users, certainly not in judging a simple poor question to downvote, which we entrust with 125 rep (downvote, not close).

4 - Questions which are arguably ok will likely not receive enough net downvotes to close it, due to up votes and not everyone downvoting grey area questions.
This proposal is more for closing the utter crap questions with no code, no effort, etc, than dupe, off topic, or others which require more site knowledge.
Users with 1k rep are not likely to unfairly/wrongly manage to get a net of -4 downvotes, not considering there will be upvotes if the other votes were unfair.

Technical

If we say total of -4 net downvotes by users with 1k rep or above closes the question, with message (eg) "Your question is closed as it requires work, code, or something else before it can be answered [link to help centre how to ask etc]".

Re-open is also by 1k rep users (why not?) simply voting above the threshold of -4 net downvotes.

I suggest no time time delay between total net downvotes getting to -4 and question being closed.
However a time delay from total net downvotes getting from -4 to above and question being re-opened. 10 mins?

Perhaps time delay is lowered for every increase in net votes from -4.
So at -4 question closed. 1 upvote from 1k rep user re-open in 10 mins, 1 additional upvote from 1k rep user re-open in 5 mins (or time delay as it is if time already below 5 mins, etc).
Something along those lines.

Perhaps the downvotes for the new close reason should be added into the queue somehow. I don't know enough about how the queue works to add input here.
I'm sure there are many other technical considerations (re-open from other flags - when question edited, etc)

And what happens if question is closed from this proposal, and there are flags for other close reasons? I'm sure that will be handled somehow similar to currently with different flags to close. A decision as to which one best fits etc.

I'll leave all that to the more experienced and site devs.


I think these ideas/thresholds will work well, but as always, chew thee fat...

  • I would vote down right away if (if!) managed visibility and auto-deletion improvements were implemented. But... they aren't, and we don't even know how and when (if ever) we'll get these. In the absence of said features, this looks like a sensible, solid alternative – gnat Oct 15 '14 at 8:50
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    @gnat I know, just need something to reduce the crap and allow our time to go towards more deserved users (even if this is just in the interim). The auto-deletion is fantastic in theory, but I'm not convinced that scripts could ever accurately identify the plethora of scenarios of good and bad aspects to questions (even with highly skilled coders). Possibly to a degree, could weed out the common ones, but then it's not a perfect system. – James Oct 15 '14 at 16:08

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