9

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:

  1. Leave a comment on the question that says "never mind".
  2. Edit the question to say "never mind".
  3. Add a 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

  1. Delete the question.

    But this would not be possible if it has existing answers.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.)

  • 2
    I call this category of questions: Overcome by events... although in addition to your list above I'm equally concerned by questions abandoned by the OP, who never responds to comments and doesn't even bother logging into the site a year later (or more). – Mike Pennington Dec 12 '14 at 2:18
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    Example scenario 2 (Stack Overflow) really calls for an answer by the OP explaining the misunderstanding that led to the question, and the nature of the XY. Other people may very well hit out on the same false path when faced with a similar problem. – Josh Caswell Aug 21 '15 at 5:26
9

One thing you are forgetting is once asked a question is for the community and no single individual. It doesn't really matter if the OP isn't interested in getting more answers. Sure, the OP asked the question and gets to mark the solution but if it is a legit issue, then the solution needs to exist to allow for new possible solutions and to help others with the same problem.

But effectively there are 2 types of issues

  • True problems that anyone and everyone would run into
  • Localized problems that are caused by local issues that are probably not relevant to anyone else.

True issues are never obsolete. Just because you solved your issue doesn't magically make the issue disappear from the face of the earth. Others may have the same problem and want to know what you did. If the answers provided didn't actually solve the issue, then the only real solution is to leave your own answer (and accept it) to explain what your solution was and why it solved your problem (so these issues fit into Option 5)

If the issue is localized and not a real problem, then voting to close as whatever close issue is applicable on the specific site it the correct course of action (these issues fit into Option 6) - but it isn't the OP that gets to unilaterally decide that. The community should be a judge.

0

I suppose there is always option 7: just abandon the question. Don't comment, don't edit, don't answer, don't accept. Internet labour is free, so it's OK to waste more people's time solving a problem that you no longer care about. After all, there is a chance that someone else might stumble upon a useful answer years later, and it could save them the trouble of having to ask a question.

0

I'm in the pro vote-to-close camp on this one. If the question is closed due to no longer being reproducible by the OP, then this forces people with the same issue to open a new question, which can then be answered. Ideally, they would reference the closed question in their new question.

If the new question gets an answer, then the old, unanswered, and closed question can then be marked as a duplicate of the new and answered question.

Related: Close an old question of a duplicate I just asked?

-4

Question authors should be allowed to close their own questions unilaterally. If users are able to also declare their own questions off-topic, unclear, or too opinion-based, that would be a bonus that helps improve the quality of the site!

For the close reason, some sites should have an "Obsolete" option, perhaps with a field for a brief explanation. It seems like there used to be a "no longer relevant" choice, which later became "too localized", and it finally disappeared.

The premise for previously rejecting this feature request in the past is now obsolete (ironically):

how is it no longer relevant? No other user in the world will ever have that problem? If so, then see "too localized" – Jeff Atwood♦ Feb 8 '10 at 11:00

The option to close a question as Obsolete should only be available to the author of a question (and maybe moderators). That prevents UI clutter for everyone else.

Perhaps questions closed as Obsolete should automatically be flagged/queued as a candidate for deletion.

  • 6
    I'd expect a lot of users to close their perfectly good questions for this reason as soon as they get an answer, even if the question is entirely applicable to other people. Having a close reason like this can make sense (and may sites have site specific reasons along these lines, see SO's "no longer reproducible" reason for an example) but the post owner doesn't need a unilateral close vote for it. Just because they don't care about getting any more answers doesn't mean the community doesn't care about getting more answers for that question. – Servy Dec 5 '14 at 19:57
  • @Servy Suppose we make the explanation field mandatory? – 200_success Dec 5 '14 at 20:00
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    How does that prevent them from putting, "I got my answer" as the reason and closing a perfectly good question? – Servy Dec 5 '14 at 20:06
  • @Servy It might actually be beneficial for the author to signal that they no longer care by unilaterally closing it. Existing answers remain preserved, and can be voted on, so what's the harm? The next person to come along with the same problem, and who doesn't find any of the existing answers helpful, would ask afresh. Arguably, that's the right outcome, since it gives us a question whose author actually cares. – 200_success Dec 5 '14 at 20:08
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    No, we don't want every single person with the same question asking it over and over again. The whole idea of SE is that questions get asked and answered once. If someone thinks of a new answer to an existing question they should be able to post it. They shouldn't have to wait for some person to ask it again to post it. SE is specifically designed to have no problem working with a good question from an author that is no longer active. The author isn't needed at all to curate the content. We also don't want the same questions asked over and over, with various answers scattered all over. – Servy Dec 5 '14 at 20:10
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    @Servy If I understand you correctly, you seem to be saying that there is no such thing as an obsolete question. I suppose, then, that Option 5 would be your recommendation? – 200_success Dec 5 '14 at 20:15
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    It's certainly possible for a question to have no possible value for any future visitors. I'm not saying that every single question is going to have value to every future visitor. You're asserting that no question ever has value to any future visitors and that they should always be closed once the author has their answer. That's just not what SE is about. If the community thinks that a post has no value for anyone else, they can get rid of it. If the author doesn't see a use for it anymore by the community does, it should still stay. – Servy Dec 5 '14 at 20:17
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    If a question has obsolete answers, it still possible to write a new answer that reflects the current state of art. Like @Servy said, questions that are useful just to the OP are already closed by the community; there is no need for a single user to close them, especially if it's the user who asked the question. – kiamlaluno Dec 6 '14 at 4:01
  • @kiamlaluno This discussion is talking about questions in which the author is no longer interested in receiving answers. For a discussion about obsolete answers, go here. – 200_success Dec 6 '14 at 23:17

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