-4

I specifically have (the recently graduated) Motor Vehicle Maintenance & Repair in mind while writing this, but I'm going to go with the assumption this is applicable to some of the other smaller sites as well. This definitely does not apply to the larger sites. I'm also mostly thinking of the "unclear what you're asking" close reason.

This is feature request for the ability to have a delay between the time the first close vote is cast and the time the question appears in the close review queue, configurable on a per-site basis. Possibly only for certain reasons, like "unclear what you're asking". Order of magnitude is days.

There is often debate on Mechanics about closing questions (example). Some users prefer to put questions on hold quickly, others strongly prefer to wait. I am not sure what is right, but I would rather see consistent solutions based on site mechanics rather than unsustainable things like conscious clean-up efforts (these work, but rely on a lot of community effort, and run the risk of not working any more in the future if the core members responsible for these efforts move on).

I'd like the community to continue to function smoothly in the long run, and I think this must be accomplished through an effective site mechanic rather than through constant relatively difficult and unsustainable effort (especially as users who put consistent effort in inevitably move on in the future), and so I'm making this feature request with that in mind.

So, at least from my interpretation, the general arguments for waiting to put questions on hold there are:

  1. Putting questions on hold can be viewed as rude.
  2. Casting a close vote can be a conversation stopper.
  3. Putting a question on hold can be jarring to new users who aren't familiar with SE.
  4. It takes users on the Mechanics site longer to respond with details than it does for a question to garner 5 votes in the queue. Once the question ends up in the queue it tends to be closed quickly, especially because the queue is very small.
  5. Reopening takes too long.

Those are the points that seem to come up the most. I'm not including arguments against because I don't believe that's relevant to this post. Of all of the above, I find #4 to be particularly compelling.

This is based on the observation that once a question makes it into the review queue, it tends to get closed very quickly2.

So to that end, one site mechanic change that I think could be useful is to simply add some wait time before a question shows up in the queue. This way:

  • If the question is truly awful, it will still likely be closed quickly (the site has a relatively low volume and most users read most questions1). If the delay only applies to certain close reasons (like "unclear") it will also help a lot here.
  • Reviewers won't be notified for some time after that first vote, which gives extra time for the OP to reply and comment discussions to clarify points. If clarification is received, then "Leave Open" will be more likely to be selected in the queue.
  • If a user sees a question with a close vote, but personally wishes to give it more time, they can simply not add a close vote and just wait a few days for it to show up in the queue, thus removing the need for maintaining lists of questions to look at offline or in chat rooms -- which inevitably they forget about and the questions just sit around and rot until we make mass cleanup efforts.

One of the issues, I think, is that users are hesitant to cast the first on-hold vote, but once the question ends up in the queue, it becomes closed very quickly. That is, there is a bit of reasonable mob mentality, but that conflicts with the general desire to leave unclear questions open, and so that philosophy, while good, is fragile. I do not know if this is unique to that site or typical of smaller sites, but that is why I'd like to have it be supported by a site mechanic.

I think this idea will help back up the efforts there, and is generally useful on smaller, low throughput sites where similar patterns exist.

1 To be clear, even if most questions do have eyes, the fundamental problem for non-awful questions is basically that folks want to wait a few days before closing, which sounds good in theory, but this is difficult to do without expending a lot of effort maintaining lists offline.

2 Currently, I only have anecdotal evidence from other community members and my observations to back this up; I do not have the power to gather statistics on this.

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    I don't understand why reopening takes too long given point 4. If the queues are short and closing is therefore quick why is reopening different? Why isn't a question reopened in short order if it's been improved and therefore ends up in the reopen queue? – Robert Longson Sep 19 '16 at 8:32
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    Indeed. That is my argument too. Why is it 'insta-closed' but not 'insta-reopened'? – Patrick Hofman Sep 19 '16 at 8:32
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    @RobertLongson I think we don't have a lot of opportunity to really appreciate the reopen system there because not a lot of questions get closed in the first place, due to the above philosophies, and so there's not a lot of experience with reopens. The long reopens is a point I've seen raised before so I included it, but I also personally do not understand it. I'd like to let some of the others from that site chime in on this here. – Jason C Sep 19 '16 at 8:43
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    From my experience on smaller sites it takes way too long for questions to be closed. It's really frustrating to see clearly off-topic questions sitting there with 3 or 4 close votes for days simply because there isn't enough people reviewing close votes. – Cai Sep 19 '16 at 12:57
  • @Cai, mechanics.se is extremely quick about clearing out queues. We have enough devoted users that have reviewing privileges that it is very difficult to earn the Steward badge. – anonymous2 Sep 19 '16 at 15:00
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    You're talking about votes. You do realize close flags also bring a question in the queue? Although on SO there seems to be a threshold of 2 flags. – rene Sep 19 '16 at 20:13
  • @rene Yes, of course. I wish I had access to more SEDE info to make a better case. – Jason C Sep 19 '16 at 20:29
11

This already exists - in fact, it's been implemented for somewhere around four years now.

The default delay is... 15 minutes. No review tasks for the Close or Reopen queues will be created until the oldest pending close vote or flag or reopen vote or qualifying edit is at least 15 minutes old. No review tasks for the Late Answer or Low Quality review queues will be created until the post itself is at least 15 minutes old.

The rationale for this delay (for those queues only!) is pretty much what you describe: give folks a chance to provide feedback organically and give the author a chance to fix things before we drag a bunch of other people in.

It's possible to increase this delay, both globally and on a per-site basis... While I see little value in increasing this value across the board, if folks on a given site believe their topic or audience warrants a longer delay, then this is trivial to increase - just propose the change on the proper meta site(s) and let the people who'll be affected by it discuss the pros and cons of various values. If there's consensus, I'll make the change.

  • Is this something which needs be done at your level, or can this be done at the site mod level? – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Sep 19 '16 at 21:18
  • I'd need to change one or two configuration settings, @Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 - nothing that's exposed to mods. – Shog9 Sep 19 '16 at 21:25
  • Fair enough ... thank you. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Sep 19 '16 at 21:32
  • Re: Reopen; Does the delay only apply to reopen votes -> reopen queue? Or does it also apply to edits automatically putting questions in the reopen queue? – Jason C Sep 20 '16 at 16:44
  • Both edits and votes, @jason – Shog9 Sep 20 '16 at 17:01
4

I wonder how many questions are put on hold through the review queue. It seems from your post that 'closing through the review queue is the problem', but on the other side you say 'it is a low-traffic site, so it will get eyes anyway'.

I would like to see some statistics to back your assumption up. I don't think changing the threshold will have much effect on closing posts or not.

Even if it does, I personally think that is okay. We value expert users by trusting them the privilege to close posts and let them review posts. Why would we deny them this privilege for some other users think they do a bad job? Shouldn't the community decide on what to be closed and what not? Reviewers should enforce that policy, not their personal feeling about a post.

Reopening a post can take ages, yes. That is true. I think that is a sign of too less users actually reviewing (instead of the 'too fast, too much' I feel when reading your post). That should be a topic for the community to discuss and fix.

  • I really want to provide those statistics, and I put a lot of effort into trying, but I can't. For this I've been going on what other community members who have been there longer than I have describe, as well as my own observations. The thing is, "it will get eyes anyways" stops applying after the question moves off the first few pages; I've noticed during our large clean-up efforts that this happens a lot. But, unfortunately, no, I only have anecdotal evidence. – Jason C Sep 19 '16 at 8:13
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    Maybe an employee could gather the statistics for us? – Patrick Hofman Sep 19 '16 at 8:15
  • That would be nice. Also to be clear, even if most questions do have eyes, the fundamental problem for non-awful questions is basically that users on that site want to wait a few days before closing, which sounds good in theory, but most people forget unless they expend a lot of effort maintaining lists offline. Also, if a delay were added, I think it would implicitly communicate that philosophy to new reviewers in the future. – Jason C Sep 19 '16 at 8:17
  • But why focus on not-closing rather than fast-reopening? – Patrick Hofman Sep 19 '16 at 8:20
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    #1-3 are wrong. That is how SE works. The system has proven to work well on a lot of sites, even some low-traffic sites. Closing is not rude, it is a way to keep the quality high. As soon as we make closing equal to rude then we can remove the system entirely. #4-5 are to be fixed by the community. – Patrick Hofman Sep 19 '16 at 8:31
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    Join Jason & rene in chat, where they try to hash out statistics. – Shog9 Sep 19 '16 at 20:29
3

Seasoned mechanics.SE user here

We have a fair number lot of low-quality, unanswerable questions that remain open on the site. Having participated in a couple of extensive question cleanups, I can say that unanswerable questions most commonly lack sufficient information.

OK, one might say, close-vote it as "unclear what you're asking".

Here's the trouble with that suggestion though:

  • We (usually) deal with machines on mechanics.SE

    Consequently it can take time for the OP to get back with further information/clarifications. Immediately putting such questions on hold for lack of information is hardly warranted, and will likely drive away a newcomer. This is the primary reason why I don't mark questions for closure.

  • Once a close vote is cast, it accelerates the question's demise

    Mechanics.SE close-votes mainly come from the Review queue. It usually takes one vote to trigger the avalanche. This will further alienate new users ("Oh, I have to accepted into their secret society for them to answer my question").

  • Many new users come in with the preconceived notion that SE works like a forum

    We can't expect them to provide everything up front in the question. We do our best to educate them, but that won't stop the initial onslaught of low-quality questions. My concern is that marking their questions as "on hold" will leave them feeling disgruntled and want to abandon the site.

    (The tour page isn't going to help much because we can only point them to it after they've asked the question).

By introducing a delay, we're offering the inexperienced users fair notice to add more information to their questions. At the same time, we will not be forgetting about questions which really do deserve to be closed.

  • 1
    Indeed some good points, but I have some comments too. Starting with your point 2: not closing questions isn't a solution to make users ask better questions, educating them is. You say that the tour should be the solution but isn't because it comes after asking a question. Why don't fix that? Then we can expect users to ask good questions and closing them is 'warranted' because we have told them how to ask a question. – Patrick Hofman Sep 19 '16 at 12:22
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    -- continued -- Regarding your point 1: Posts are seldom instantly closed. It usually takes quite some time before a post gets closed on low-traffic sites (is my experience). A few hours is quite common. A user can provide quite some information in that time if he is sticking around. Usually they drop a low-quality question and leave. That is not an excuse not to close the question. We should expect an user in need of help to stick with the post for, let's say, an hour or so. If OP provides useful information in that time, don't vote to close. – Patrick Hofman Sep 19 '16 at 12:25
  • -- continued -- Your post doesn't discuss how changing the time it enters the review queue (as per the request) influences the closure of the question. In my opinion you just point out that waiting to close it is a good idea, which doesn't influence the review queue at all. – Patrick Hofman Sep 19 '16 at 12:26
  • @PatrickHofman regarding fixing the site tour, we're doing what we can. And we're talking about days here before users can get back (here's an example). The way I see it, what JasonC is proposing is a means by which we can vote to close a question but provide ample time for users to get back with further details/clarification. – Zaid Sep 19 '16 at 12:50
  • @PatrickHofman re: "We should expect an user in need of help to stick with the post for, let's say, an hour or so. If OP provides useful information in that time, don't vote to close.", that is a big ask of users who are posting questions out of desperation. If they don't see an answer, they'll move on. (Here's a classic example of that, the user never came back). – Zaid Sep 19 '16 at 12:53
  • "The way I see it, what JasonC is proposing is a means by which we can vote to close a question but provide ample time for users to get back with further details/clarification." No. He wants to prevent the item to end up in the review queue. It can and will still be closed from the question list. – Patrick Hofman Sep 19 '16 at 12:58
  • "that is a big ask of users who are posting questions out of desperation" You are giving up your free time to help someone and he can't site and wait for you for an hour? – Patrick Hofman Sep 19 '16 at 12:59
  • @PatrickHofman he mentions it in bold: "the ability to have a delay between the time the first close vote is cast and the time the question appears in the close review queue" – Zaid Sep 19 '16 at 13:01
  • Indeed, the close review queue. Not preventing it to be closed. (You know what the review queue is right?, not to be rude, just to check) – Patrick Hofman Sep 19 '16 at 13:02
  • @PatrickHofman right, so the question is voted, and we won't forget about it because it will eventually pop up in the review queue – Zaid Sep 19 '16 at 13:03
  • No, it ends up there because at least one user actually voted to close. Those votes count toward the required 5 votes. – Patrick Hofman Sep 19 '16 at 13:04
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    @PatrickHofman (repost) right, so the question is close-voted as per SE policy, and we won't forget about it because it will eventually pop up in the review queue. The eventually is key because it gives users a fair chance to get back and update in the meanwhile. If they do, it will (ideally) pass review, else it will get closed. – Zaid Sep 19 '16 at 13:15
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    I believe he was suggesting not putting the close votes in the queue at all until a day or so later. – anonymous2 Sep 19 '16 at 14:11
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    I can't see not closing questions being a good solution, it simply means you'll have low quality questions around longer encouraging people to post more low quality questions. People may not read the help but they're a lot more likely to look at a few questions on the main page... – Cai Sep 19 '16 at 19:40
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    closing question is intentionally reversible, if closure is making people not stick around you need to accompany your close vote with a friendly welcoming comment explaining exactly what closure is about, if they don't get it then they're unlikely to improve their post anyway. – Cai Sep 19 '16 at 19:41

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