When I google a programming question and the search results bring a Stack Overflow link, I always click that link. That’s because I know that (1) it is very likely that there will be good answers to the question and (2) the best answers will be at the top. That’s awesome.

It may happen occasionally that the SO link in the search results does not contain what I am looking for. The link can be to a page that contains words that I used in my search, but the question itself is unrelated. That is how search engines work and there is nothing I could do about it.

Now, it may be frustrating if that SO link in the search results was not only unrelated to my search but also a closed and negatively voted question. In that case, the SO question is net trash that pollutes the search results. For example, let’s say that you searched for “java arrayoutofboundsexception” in Google or any other search engine and in the search results you found a SO question. It may happen that that question was closed and negatively downvoted (say -3), but not deleted. A SO question in that situation would be, for example, “What are all run time exceptions in Java, like ArrayOutOfBounds and NullPointerException”. I think that question would be downvoted and closed. If not deleted, it would be trash found by search engines. If that happens often the good reputation of SO links in search engine results could be affected.

Do you think these questions should be automatically deleted in SO? Or is still better to leave it as it is, where it is up to users with very high reputation (10K+) to delete questions? Perhaps the best solution would be to lower the required reputation for deleting questions? Or maybe lower the required reputation and allow users to vote to delete?

  • Thanks for the answers. I am now convinced that automatic deletes would be a bad idea. It sounds very fair that it is up to the community (and not to any automated procedure) to decide that a question should be removed. Moreover, the fact that negative voting gives lower priority to the question in search engine results addresses the main problem that I described in my question here. I did not know that and I marked that answer as the correct one. The other answers/arguments were all also interesting to read. Thanks – b.roth Oct 16 '09 at 8:14

Should the negative voting and the fact a question is closed, get it a lower priority in the sitemap file? (That way Google will tent to show over stackoverflow questions higher up in the search results)

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    this already happens – Jeff Atwood Oct 15 '09 at 9:48
  • I didn't know about the sitemap... That is really interesting. – b.roth Oct 15 '09 at 10:25

After just reading the title I would like to say that I'm not comfortable with automatically deleting any content from the site.



Usually, it’s garbage-in, garbage-out. Bad questions beget bad answers. If you sort the Stack Overflow question list by votes and sink to the bottom of the barrel, you’ll find some truly horrible questions, as you might expect. But you’ll also find something you probably didn’t expect — some amazingly good answers!

Now, these are questions judged by community votes to be of so little merit that I’d usually delete them without a second thought. But I can’t, because a well-intentioned Stack Overflow user has poured his or her heart into an incredibly insightful and helpful answer. Deleting the bad question would bury the good answer, too. It’s the web forum equivalent of turning lead into gold, and it happens far more often than I ever would have predicted. (This is also the reason why voting on questions should be, and is, independent of answer votes.)

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    It's the stack, new questions are added to the stack and we need to remove bad stuff so it wont overflow :P – Ólafur Waage Oct 15 '09 at 10:53

I don't think they should be automatically deleted... As other users have noted, there are terrible questions with good answers, and really what needs to be done in those cases is to edit the question and then re-open.

However, deletion is important, for the reasons you bring up. It's boring and time-consuming, but when I get the chance I do try to go through closed questions and vote for deletion on those that don't provide any value. Hopefully, this becomes more common as we continue to add users to the ranks of those able to delete.


Negative voting is a matter of opinions and sometimes a question can still be valid, even though several members have some negative feelings about it. E.g., when I asked a question about how to check if the Windows version is a pirated version or not, I did get several negative votes from members disagreeing with the fact that I would build in anti-piracy code in my own code for a product that wasn't mine. I needed this functionality to warn the user about possible security risks that might occur with pirated software and had to add some explanations to make this a bit more clear.

There can be more topics that could be downvoted simply because they're not very popular topics. Asking code for a keylogger or code to modify existing executables to include additional code to them will also risk being downvoted real fast. (Hacking-, virus-related.) Doesn't mean those questions are invalid, just that some people feel strongly against the use of such code.

Or, some easier example, when people ask questions about LSL, the scripting language for Second Life, some members will probably downvote those or even vote to close the question simply because they don't consider a game script as a programming language.

Or maybe a few other examples... This question is about vim versus emacs. It's almost voted into oblivion with a -41 downvote. It's the most downvoted question so far, since it's highly argumentative and subjective. And it has only one answer, explaining why it's such a bad question. It's a great example of bad questions and thus should need to stay!

Another question is about convincing a professor to use c# instead of Java. That's because the asker thinks C# is much better for research and teaching. Matter-of-opinions, though but hey, he has the right to have this opinion. It actually has quite a few interesting answers, with one answer having 18 upvotes!

Just take a look at the most downvoted questions and you'll be amazed with the amount of valuable information they still offer. The questions might be bad, but the answers still add value.

  • Yes, I agree that downvoted questions are not necessarily bad. But what about questions that are not only downvoted but also closed? My understanding is that closed questions are the ones that the community deemed for some reason bad (inadequate, incomplete, etc). – b.roth Oct 15 '09 at 10:29
  • Downvoted and closed questions can still contain a few practical answers, including a reason why it was closed or alternative solutions. Thus, it's more practical for a moderator to decide if a question has any value, instead of doing this in some automated way. – Wim ten Brink Oct 15 '09 at 12:05

I've had a question on SO that was heavily downvoted and closed, not because it wasn't programming related or a bad question, but because it didn't relate to a lot of other's programming environments. Sometimes opinions on SO just work that way. I ended up just deleting it myself to get the 'Peer Pressure' badge (and as usual in these kind of circumstances, telling myself that I'd never do that to anyone else).


It should be left to moderators and not automatically deleted, because moderators can edit questions as well as delete them.

Recently on SO there was a question which every answerer misunderstood, and as a result everything was getting downvoted. Instead of deleting it, someone edited the question so people could understand it. Then the question and on-topic answers got upvotes.

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