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On SE site XYZ, there is a Meta question asking if questions of type ABC are in scope (the answer is not obvious from existing site policy or help pages).

Community is about evenly divided, with ~50% voting for in-scope and 50% out-of-scope; with the difference between the two being far smaller than either amount of votes - say, 10+ votes either way, with difference being 1-3 votes.

Is there established policy on how ABC questions should be handled in such a case?

  • Default to staying open, because there was no consensus that they are out of scope?

  • Default to VTC, because there was no consensus that they are in scope?

  • Free-for-all, with each question pulling its own luck depending which voters to open/close are in which camp?

This question applies both to guidelines for close-empowered users; as well as to moderators in case such questions generate vote wars or strife.

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    It's a great question. The problem (IMO) with anything other than free-for-all or coming to a consensus is that there is no real way to enforce voting behaviour (inclusing vtc). – Cai Oct 30 '16 at 21:16
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    @Cai - But there is. If there's an actual rule to follow, and voters vote contrary to that rule, a moderator flag can bring in binding moderator vote to reverse the "incorrect" state. Incorrect-according-to-meta-policy VTCs/VTROs are indeed one of the "exceptions" where moderator's binding votes are fully legitimate as a tool, even to users like me who are extremely leery of binding votes overall. – DVK Oct 30 '16 at 21:16
  • Of course, but that's not really enforcing voting behaviour but counteracting unfavourable voting and long-term that's just going to make people unhappy. – Cai Oct 30 '16 at 21:19
  • @Cai - unfortunately, on a contentuous issue, people will ALWAYS be unhappy. At least, with a consistent approach, there will be less unhappy people (those who don't have a strong opinion, but hate inconsistency) – DVK Oct 30 '16 at 21:30
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    When thinking in this space I find this answer by Shog9 to be helpful: meta.stackexchange.com/a/124915/215590 – PolyGeo Oct 30 '16 at 22:37
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    @DVK: You may want to reconsider leaving a +6/-18 answer accepted. That looks kind of sketchy. – Nathan Tuggy Nov 3 '16 at 2:24
  • @NathanTuggy - not my fault if a flood of TL regulars have different preferences from mine. Accepting the answer that helps the OP best is OP's prerogative (as I was at one point lectured on, early in my SE career :) – DVK Nov 3 '16 at 2:33
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    @DVK: That's true, but your assumption that the downvotes are all coming from a chatroom's inhabitants (and, for that matter, that the opinions of diamond mods on various sites should be dismissed lightly) is quite dubious. For example, I downvoted, and I'm not a diamond anywhere. So while you certainly have the right to accept any answer, I don't think you're using it wisely here. – Nathan Tuggy Nov 3 '16 at 2:36
  • @NathanTuggy - the most unwise thing was following my OCD and even mentioning option #3 (which I hate with a passion) in the first place. But there's no takebasies once answers are posted – DVK Nov 3 '16 at 2:40
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    @DVK On the side-note the accepted answer is also form a diamond. – Ankit Sharma Nov 3 '16 at 12:57
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    @DVK If talking in civil way and asking for some clarification is called attacking in you dictionary then it's better to not even talk about it. – Ankit Sharma Nov 3 '16 at 14:07
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    @DVK As the person who posted the accepted answer, I'm forced to concur with Nathan. From another answer from that same diamond about accepting answers specifically to meta discussion questions: "you should accept the highest-voted answer" :-) – Rand al'Thor Nov 3 '16 at 14:44
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    This discussion is more turning into conspiracies and personal agendas. I think Rand's answer was not right so I downvoted it, now you can accused me for being blue and targeting you or for being member of AoN chatroom but better keep me out of it from next comment onwards. – Ankit Sharma Nov 3 '16 at 16:25
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    @DVK Happy playing culprit game, I am not interested. – Ankit Sharma Nov 3 '16 at 16:36
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    It makes no difference which one is "accepted". Consensus and acceptance are unrelated – phantom42 Nov 3 '16 at 17:42
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Simple. When the community is divided, how do you keep the maximum number of people happy and the level of dissatisfaction to a minimum?

  • Closing all questions of type ABC would prevent the ~50% who want them in-scope from participating in questions of a type they enjoy - perhaps the types of question which brought them to the site in the first place, and without which they might have little reason to stay around.

  • Leaving open all questions of type ABC would mildly inconvenience the ~50% who want them out-of-scope - they occasionally see a question of a type they don't like, which they can downvote and move on, or simply put the tag on ignore.

  • A free-for-all with questions being closed or left open according to who sees them, as well as being inconsistent, would also be likely to lead to frequent arguments on meta over specific questions (with no canonical policy consensus to point people to) and close/reopen wars as different factions vote the same question closed, open, and closed again. Not only would this keep both factions perpetually bickering with each other and neither satisfied, but those who don't really care either way would also get irritated by the constant drama over ABC questions.

So the optimal course is the first of your three options: default to staying open. This enables the pro-ABC people to participate on the site in a way they enjoy, and the anti-ABC people can simply not participate in ABC questions and instead focus on the types of questions they enjoy.

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    You're weighing 50% people being seriously inhibited by closed question against 50% being mildly inconvenienced by leaving them open. This seems a rather arbitrary and subjective judgement, especially if we consider that the natural consequence of this is never closing a question at all, since leaving them open hurts less. But a lack of consensus to close is also a lack of consensus to leave open. Thus the only reasonable approach seems to be judging each individual question on its own merits. And once all users do that and close/reopen accordingly, that's community moderation in practice. – Christian Rau Oct 31 '16 at 17:54
  • @ChristianRau In the specific case which I (and presumably also the OP) are thinking of: one user from the in-scope faction has already deleted their account over this; several other users from the in-scope faction believe ABC questions to be the most interesting on the site (so we can expect more people leaving if they all get closed); and nobody has yet shown me any way in which any member of the out-of-scope faction would be harmed by leaving these questions open. – Rand al'Thor Oct 31 '16 at 22:34
  • Granted, those are details I wasn't aware of at all (and that aren't adressed in the question and answers). (Though, I do know which questions you speak about and even agree that they should be in-scope and the most interesting questions on that site. However, I adressed the general site policy problem here.) – Christian Rau Oct 31 '16 at 22:43
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    No one is ever "harmed" by leaving any question open. That doesn't mean we leave every question open. – phantom42 Nov 1 '16 at 3:50
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    Accepting the highest downvoted answer seems wrong idea to me. – Ankit Sharma Nov 3 '16 at 12:54
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    accepting an answer on meta is meaningless, so it doesn't matter. clearly the other answers represent the community "consensus" much better than this one. – KutuluMike Nov 3 '16 at 13:20
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    @KutuluMike Agreed but it's better to not accept any answer in this kind of situation rather then accepting some doomed answer – Ankit Sharma Nov 3 '16 at 13:46
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I prefer your third option:

  • Free-for-all, with each question pulling its own luck depending which voters to open/close are in which camp?

which I think equates with a more impartial wording of:

  • Allow such questions to be voted on (including vote to close) as they present themselves to each user eligible to vote i.e. a case-by-case basis

I think that a strength of the Stack Exchange model is that it allows users who have committed to the model, by achieving different reputation levels, to cast votes (up, down, comment, close and delete).

I think another strength of the Stack Exchange model is that it uses a minimum of enforced policy that enables it to allow communities to evolve rather than be locked to policies that sometimes become outdated.

By all means try to provide scope guidelines using per-site Metas, but I think changing the scope of a site more formally, as defined in the content of the /help/on-topic and /tour pages, should only be done when community consensus is much clearer than the opinion split that you describe.

As an example, on a site I moderate and am an active user of, I make no secret that I think questions asking for recommendations should be explicitly off-topic (like they are on many SE sites) and I would like the community to endorse me changing the /help/on-topic page to say that - see Should questions asking for product, service, data and learning (course, book, website) recommendations be closed?

However, community consensus is not behind me to do it so all I can do is to keep editing my question to try and make my case clearer, and in the meantime exercise my downvote when I think any question is not useful, and my close vote on any question when I assess it to be off-topic according to the /help/on-topic and /tour pages, and any Meta Q&As where consensus is clear.

Unfortunately, I feel my hands are tied on closing any recommendation question for the reason that it is asking for a recommendation, but it is the community's current consensus that we should not do so. This is my personal "policy", and not an SE or site policy (nor do I think it should become one).

  • While this is a very thoughtful answer, it doesn't seem to address the situation I meant (perhaps not clearly enough), which is that /ontopic and /tour don't actually cover the situation at all. Meta is all there is. – DVK Oct 30 '16 at 22:02
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    And an example of the situation you meant is ... ? – PolyGeo Oct 30 '16 at 22:04
14

Meta is about arguments and discussion, it's not just about polling the community about their opinion. The score of the answers doesn't matter as much as the arguments they present.

The purpose of a meta post about a type of question that might or might not fit on the site is not to simply poll the opinion of the community, but to examine why that kind of question might be problematic or not. The goal shouldn't be to just cast your vote, but to convince the other side.

There is no generic default answer, and I don't think there can be one. Both, leaving them open and closing them by default have consequences, there is no neutral choice. I'd argue that the default should be the side that is closest to the established scope and rules of the specific site and the network in general, but that is vague and subjective enough to be useless in a contested case like you describe.

The point where it all breaks down is when both sides have enough votes to get into close/reopen wars. At that point the moderators will have to step in, and at least half the users will be unhappy with the result.

But the decision also doesn't have to be entirely black or white, especially cases that are more about broad or subjective questions and not specific topics can often be solved by rephrasing the questions just a bit. It might be worth it to spend more time looking for a compromise, sometimes there is a place for a good one.

  • "The score of the answers doesn't matter as much as the arguments they present." 1000 times yes. – Web Head Nov 1 '16 at 5:07
9

I'm not aware of an established policy for handling this case.

I think the best solution is to

Allow such questions to be voted on (including vote to close) as they present themselves to each user eligible to vote i.e. a case-by-case basis

with perhaps an unenforced recommendation to leave them open. In other words:

  1. users with the privilege to cast close/re-open votes are free to cast such votes according to their personal preference (i.e. they are not bound by what the meta voting record happens to be that day).
  2. such users are advised to leave such questions open, but...
  3. that advice is not enforced in the sense that moderators will not cast a binding vote-to-reopen.

Rationale for each of the points

(1)

Meta is a great place for the community to present arguments for and against site policy proposals. It's also a great way for the community to show broad support for a policy, if the voting generates a clear consensus. However, it's not very useful if it generates a divided voting record. There are at least two problems with meta in that case:

  1. If the voting between opposing opinions is close then the majority opinion can easily change over time. One day the majority opinion is to keep the questions open but the next day the majority opinion could change to closing such questions. What are you going to do in that case? Suddenly reverse the policy? I don't think so.
  2. Nearly everyone can vote on a meta question (since the reputation requirement is quite low) but far fewer users have earned the privilege to cast close/reopen votes (which has a much higher reputation requirement). Low-rep users could end up casting deciding votes on a contested issue if meta dictates policy, but such users are less invested in the site. On the other hand, if a user has invested enough time into the site to earn the privilege to cast close/reopen votes then s/he should be free to exercise that privilege.

(2)

The point of closing a question is generally to prevent users from wasting time answering bad questions (and to discourage posting another bad question like it in the future). There's no point in posting an answer to a question that is unclear, subjective, a duplicate, etc. But if the only problem with a question is that it may or may not be in scope then there's not much harm in letting users who like it post an answer to it. The users who don't like such questions can just try to ignore it. The question has already been asked so it's already been on the front page.

Furthermore, there's already a way to discourage users from asking certain kinds of questions: downvote. It doesn't even cost rep to downvote a question, either. I find that downvotes can be more effective at expressing community disapproval of a question than closing it.

(3)

Moderators are human exception handlers, but this isn't really an exceptional issue that a human needs to (or can) resolve. A moderator casting a binding close or re-open vote on a contentious question is a heavy-handed solution that is sure to upset the half of the community that disagrees with the moderator's action. As a moderator, I prefer to stay out of such disagreements anyway since I will surely have to defend myself on meta for casting a close or reopen vote on a contentious question.

4

This question was prompted by a discussion on SciFi.SE about whether questions should be closed as "too broad" if they ask about something that applies to multiple sci-fi or fantasy "universes."

For example, a question about why vampires behave in such and such a way would have a wide range of answers depending on whether you're talking about classic Dracula, Dracula as re-imaged by Fred Saberhagen, vampires in Buffy, or sparkly Twilight vampires, or many others.

An example of an SE site dealing with a similar type of broad questions is https://christianity.stackexchange.com/

Christianity.SE encompasses any faith that self-identifies as Christian and requires that questions be specific to a certain faith tradition. A question like "Why do Christians believe such and such?" will get closed as too broad, unless it's made more specific, as in "Why do Catholics believe such and such?" or "What's the Seventh-Day Adventist interpretation of something or other?"

This isn't really an answer to this question, but I think it's an indication that these types of broad questions should probably be closed.

1

Adding to other two great answers, please note that those who are opposed to questions of type ABC being on-topic, they can just ignore them by choosing not to see questions in the tags that they don't like to see.

If they do that, they don't even have to read what they don't like and there will be neither conflict nor vote wars again.

It is problematic for a user to keep close-voting a question just because 50% or so users on the site agree to his/her opinion.

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    This only works if such questions fit under a specific tag. For example, Mathematics has a never ending debate about questions consisting of little more than problem statements copied directly from textbooks, assignments, tests, etc., and there isn't a tag that fits all and only these types of questions. – user642796 Oct 31 '16 at 11:16
  • @ifajra I believe the OP's example is related with one specific topic. – Rathony Oct 31 '16 at 11:18
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    I'm pretty sure I know what site and type of question prompted the OP's question, and it's not a specific tag, it's a certain type of very broad question. – Ward Oct 31 '16 at 14:42
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    @Ward Can you show me an example? – Rathony Oct 31 '16 at 14:43
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    I think the OP is looking for a general answer, not related to the specific SE site that prompted the Q, so I'm inclined to leave it to the OP to post (or not) which site it is. – Ward Oct 31 '16 at 14:45
  • @Ward I see. My answer could be helpful to some users. I think. I will leave it at that. – Rathony Oct 31 '16 at 14:51
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