Some sites have a topic matter such that questions could become irrelevant or irreproducible. Example scenarios:
Server Fault: "Never mind, we decided to reinstall the OS on the faulty server, and now it's no longer a problem, but we don't know exactly what caused the problem, and we can't even test your answer."
Stack Overflow: "Never mind, we worked around the problem by using a different approach altogether. It turned out to be an XY problem."
Super User: "I tossed out the crappy router and bought another one that works better."
In all of these cases, answering the question won't help the OP, but it may help others. If you answer the question, it's hard to tell whether your answer is authoritative or speculative, and will likely never earn an acceptance checkmark.
What should the author of the question do?
Three bad ideas, in my opinion, include:
- Leave a comment on the question that says "never mind".
- Edit the question to say "never mind".
- Add a status-norepro tag, similar to such tags on Meta sites.
The problem with those is that they leave the question in an Unanswered state.
Ideally, you should
Delete the question.
But this would not be possible if it has existing answers.
Post the reason for the question's obsolescence as an answer, even if it seems silly, and accept it as the answer.
In a broader sense, throwing out the equipment that caused your problem is a kind of answer, since it did "solve" your problem. It's even possible that such an answer might be helpful to others — especially if it was an XY problem. Accepting it as the answer then takes the question off the Unanswered Questions list.
Posting such an intellectually uninteresting answer and accepting it yourself just feels so slimy, though! I can understand if users who earnestly attempted to help you answer the question feel offended. It's also unhelpful to the next person who stumbles on the question via Google.
Close the question.
Closing has the advantage that nobody can waste time trying to answer it. Conceptually, it feels like the Right Thing to do. There are some procedural hurdles, though:
- You have to convince five users or a moderator to help you close it. The question is already irrelevant. The last thing you want to do is waste more people's time on it!
It's not clear what the reason for closure should be. Stack Overflow offers this standard off-topic reason:
This question was caused by a problem that can no longer be reproduced or a simple typographical error. While similar questions may be on-topic here, this one was resolved in a manner unlikely to help future readers. This can often be avoided by identifying and closely inspecting the shortest program necessary to reproduce the problem before posting.
However, Server Fault and Super User do not have a standard off-topic reason for this purpose. Arguably, obsolescence does not make the question off-topic per se. Closing due to obsolescence should be analogous to closing for "unclear what you are asking".
What can be done to help authors indicate that their own questions are obsolete? (I've posted one suggestion. Please vote on it or add other proposals.)