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Problem

A problem I've noticed on certain networks is that questions which have potential, need improvement, and could be salvaged are quickly down-voted and closed and even deleted within the first few hours.

This kind of self moderation skips the possibility of training users to ask better questions over time in a constructive way. By instead leaving a comment suggesting how questions could be improved when applicable, instead of being cut down instantly for asking a "bad question", users can instead be educated on how to make their questions better.

I've experienced this myself with great success on many sites where my questions showed effort to meet the scope definitions, but I needed a little help here and there to really get the feel for how to mold my curiosities into good questions on various networks where the scope can be a bit odd. This avoided the negative feelings of a bunch of down-votes being laid on my questions, and I felt like I was in a friendly place where people where willing to help teach me to become a productive member of their community.

But with current mechanics for voting I find the opposite can happen, depending on the behavior of a community's most active members. Even one or two users who like to pull the trigger and kill questions rather than improve them can, over a long period of time, cause a lot of damage instead of the alternate possibility of improving the question output quality of thousands of users. This effect is compounded, when you consider the looming factor of the first positive or negative or close vote greatly increasing the likelihood that the next person will follow suit. Basic human psychology.

Anyway, I've created my case, now I'll suggest a potential solution.

Solution

When people view a new question in the question queue, they want to either answer it, close it, vote on it, or a combination of the three. And if they don't do that right away, the question moves down the queue, and more pile up, so leaving a comment suggesting improvement may be forgotten and a poorly worded question gets through. That's probably why some people down-vote and vote to close without suggesting improvement, creating the bad effects described above.

But what if we had (and this is a very open, rough draft beginning to a solution) a mechanic for allowing users to vote to put a question in a temporary "potentially improved" state where the question could be salvaged if the user follows commented suggestions for improvement.

During this state:

  • negative votes are not shown until the state ends
  • the question is hidden from being displayed in the unanswered question queue
  • the question will be put on hold automatically at the end of the period, and the negative votes cast will be shown.

and if users vote that the question has been improved before the state's timer ends, negative votes cast are discarded, never having been revealed to the user, and everyone wins. People can cast the votes when the question gets into the queue, and the negative actions are tallied but withheld temporarily, meanwhile the user gets an opportunity to improve his question with no bad feelings, follow the advise in the comments, and potentially improve his question and have a good experience on the network.

With a mechanic like this, or something similar, maybe a twist, such as including this mechanic as an option when voting to put the question on hold, perhaps would be intuitive and require fewer changes for the UI.

A benefit to this strategy is that it's purely user driven, doesn't require an advanced algorithm for each site on the network to launch as a feature like a related solution in the comments would, and a few users with enough rep can effectively and proactively utilize this tool to protect its newer users from the itchy trigger fingers of other users on their network, creating a more friendly environment while not damaging the effectiveness of self moderation in any way.

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    Related: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/251737/… (tl;dr - I think the triage and help improvement queues are the kind of feature you are talking about - though they only exist on Stack Overflow, for the reasons listed in the answer by Shog9). – Oded Mar 8 '16 at 13:33
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    You mean activating the Triage on other sites? – Shadow The Curly Braced Wizard Mar 8 '16 at 13:33
  • @ShadowWizard I'm just now reading about this Triage thing. – Viziionary Mar 8 '16 at 13:34
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    OK, if that's what you want, it's already asked. Edit: oh, that's exactly what @Oded said. :) – Shadow The Curly Braced Wizard Mar 8 '16 at 13:35
  • @ShadowWizard Reading about that system, its complex so I could be misunderstanding, but I dont think it really covers all of the effects of something similar to the purely user-driven feature I described. The first requirement is that the question has to score poorly based on an algorithm. 1) Good luck having a good algorithm designed for each graduated community on the SE Network, it'll take years. 2) The algorithm will sometimes be wrong. What I'm suggesting is quite different. – Viziionary Mar 8 '16 at 13:37
  • @Oded in addition to my comment toward Shadow Wizard, I'd also point out the issue with that solution is that it requires a surely complex algorithm to be designed for each graduated site on the SE network, good luck getting that done. My solution only requires a small change to the UI and relatively simple code written once and launched across the network. – Viziionary Mar 8 '16 at 13:52
  • I just fail to understand people sometimes. I go through the effort of explaining a problem with a system and working out a good solution, and people down-vote the whole thing without so much as a word of explanation. Its hard to understand how not one of the 30 people reading this could have vaguely liked the idea. – Viziionary Mar 8 '16 at 14:59
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    I thought this was the purpose of changing the wording from "Closed" to "On Hold" when a question receives enough close votes. A closed question can still be edited and reopened. It just needs to be edited into a question that's good enough to convince 5 other people that it should be reopened. – Kevin B Mar 8 '16 at 15:28
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    @Viziionary re your most-recent comment: you assume that (a) effort alone should be rewarded and (b) you've proposed a good solution to a real problem and so (c, implicit) there's something wrong with people's reaction. Consider instead the possibility that people disagree with you. – Monica Cellio Mar 8 '16 at 15:51
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    similar, but more fundamentalist meta.stackexchange.com/questions/92939/… – Won't Mar 8 '16 at 16:20
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    I still say we should implement this perfectly reasonable proposal, which has sadly been closed. And then locked. – Adam Davis Mar 8 '16 at 16:37
  • @MonicaCellio no no, I just think they should mention why they disagree, if they did that'd be fine. I'm just saying since I put time into trying to improve a problem and writing it into a proposal, people should probably explain their disagreement rather than just voting it down. A comment would only take a moment. – Viziionary Mar 8 '16 at 20:30
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We have this now in a combination of sort of subtle features, along with what you're coming to know as the Triage queue.

We look at quite a few things when a question is asked, and the analysis begins at the point that someone starts asking their question. We look at how many times they had to submit the question prior to it actually posting, previous question history of the user (if there is any), and the quality of questions that have been coming in recently from their network neighborhood (offices, universities, etc). There's also a bunch of machine learning stuff, and a dozen other heuristics I really don't want to explain out of worry that people would try hard to work around them rather than trying harder to ask better questions :)

If there's anything that leads us to believe that the question could probably benefit from a little help from more experienced users, the following happens:

  • The question isn't given very much visibility
  • The question enters the Triage queue (or could possibly go straight to the Help & Improvement queue)
  • If the question is marked as a candidate for the Help & Improvement queue, we give the question visibility only after someone has done something to it in that queue.

What this essentially does is gives the question a much lower profile until someone has had a chance to work on it, which makes 'diamonds in the rough' much less likely to be closed and deleted before they can be clarified and answered.

Stack Overflow's question volume makes any system like this inherently imperfect - you can't sieve 100% of the gold when there's just so much darn sand. But it does a pretty good job, and it's still under active testing and improvement.

Locking votes actually takes away signal that we really need in both directions. An up-vote or two on a new question that was flagged for triage really helps reviewers sort accurately. We also need the down-votes, because that's how certain parts of the system learn. The next best thing is just giving the question a low profile, making sure it's not in people's faces until someone with some experience has had a chance to take a look at it.

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    I've seen a few references to low visibility for triage questions but is it documented how it works? From my observations they aren't on the home page but I'd be interesting to know where (if anywhere) they are visible outside the queue. – PeterJ Mar 9 '16 at 10:19
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    @PeterJ They're less visible in places where people commonly go looking for questions to answer (e.g the home page, /questions or tag sorts in the default sorting order). If you drill down, you can still pretty easily find them. We're not so much hiding them as just not putting them in people's way until we're a bit more sure of them. It's not documented yet because we're still not settled with the nav stuff we've been working on, not quite fully baked yet. – Tim Post Mar 9 '16 at 11:06
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For a long time we had a "closed" question status, which changed to "on hold" for the reasons you gave.

It sounds like you want to adjust the "on hold" further, but I'm not clear why. On hold questions already handle the situation pretty well.

  • They're still visible and editable for improvement and suggestions
  • They automatically close/delete later if they are not improved
  • The community puts them in this state and takes them back out again once they've improved

I'm failing to see how this suggestion actually improves the situation, and you haven't provided any evidence that there is a need.

When a question is placed on hold, the op is given very specific guidance on what is lacking and what they need to change or improve. Further, it doesn't require a lot of suggestions and ad hoc comments - so the "close vote" operation actually helps provide that guidance. As long as the OP pays attention to why their question was placed on hold, they will have the tools necessary to change it so it can be taken off hold again.

Further, putting a question on hold does one very important thing your suggestion does not - it prevents new answers. We used to have a big problem where people would add answers to very off topic and marginal questions because (1) they could and (2) they would get reputation for doing so.

This provided positive feedback to people posting these terrible questions, and they learned that they could ask a lot of junk questions on the site and get what they needed.

So your suggestion would also have to deal with that.

Once you've added that little change, though, then the only big difference between your suggestion and "on hold" is that the negative votes are hidden.

Hiding votes is a step in the wrong direction

The community is open specifically so we can self-determine the direction not of each individual question and answer, but of the site as a whole. If you want to promote a certain type of question and try to sway the community to your side, you vote. Sure, you can make a meta post, but the actual direction of the site is determined in the trenches by the people actually doing the work, and the voting as well as the comments are clear indicators of support or disapproval of individual posts.

Over time small changes in how the users actually use the site become big determinants on the site's definition. Take, for example, Programmers.SE. I started that in area51 for a completely different reason, and when it took off the community that the idea attracted found that it was unsustainable, and the community changed directions. While there were discussions in meta about it, the primary direction change happened in the question queue, with the voting. People simply voted up what they wanted to see and voted down what they didn't want to see.

It worked. And it only worked because people could see the downvotes as well as the upvotes.

We can't take away the voting score from the community.

As such, I don't believe that this suggestion really offers anything significantly better than the existing "on hold" functionality.

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