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In recent years, I subjectively experience an increase of the following outcome for a stack exchange question: In the comments, some people are quick to claim that the question is duplicate, not meaningful, or in another way invalid. Often, in those cases, others rapidly join in (occasionally in less time what is needed to read through the thread of comments or even the question). This can happen, even if I was careful in the question to point out that I have, for instance, considered other questions and found that mine was different.

In many cases comments are constructive and sometimes hint at e.g. searching help on another site of the network or express other valid concerns helping the quality. In a too-large number of cases commentators try to tell me that I am asking the wrong questions and should rewrite it in a way that changes the meaning, such that potential answers to the new question are not of interest for me anymore.

Sometimes, a moderator (with moderator I generally mean anyone who has a direct influence on the decision if a question is closed or put on hold etc.) may indicate in comments that he is stopping it until his requests are followed. But at that point, I usually feel that the person asking will have a hard time if he does not want to alter the question's meaning. Others will quickly vote close as well and (if they do) make orthogonal comments.

Again subjectively, I see this happening at random, i.e. independently of whether I take more or less time to search for duplicates or better words. I experience this decision-finding concerning the relevance of my questions more as a rapid group-dynamic thing. As soon as the question has the 'possible-duplicate' tag the odds are that it will be closed, even if I carefully respond to the criticism in the comments or edit the question to clarify. After so many years, I often feel unable to predict whether one of my question will trigger interest or immediate rejection.

The question(s) that I have here is(are) whether this is really just subjective, or is there evidence that supports this impression? Are there possibly flaws in the voting system that may cause a moderator who reads my question only superficially to vote to close it? Would it not make more sense to leave it to the whole community to decide on the relevance using the existing voting system and to permit answers to be written at any time? And finally: Has anyone made attempts to measure statistically the importance of sociological factors for that decision-making?

Now, go ahead and vote to close this question, or tell me that it is wrong. In this case it can count as an answer too if you were too quick;)

Replies to the requests for improvement

  1. Further illustration

    To illustrate a bit further: After several minutes the question has received 5 down-votes. Not the value I usually get, and perhaps I provoked a bit. So I can deal with it. But the request is honest (I am not making anything up). However, my experience is that the question will not recover from so many down-votes. Even if I carefully defend it, people will not change their opinions and go read it again, take more time or try to understand my arguments..

  2. It is really a question, in the first place, but since several are trying to see a statement let me put it in another way.

    In moderating/voting decisions that cause a question to be put on hold or closed I would love to see the following spirit reflected. I am a moderator, or another role involved. I briefly examined your question (honestly it took me 30 seconds, because I am a speed reader and I am making hundreds of those decisions a day while working on a bunch of projects). Your question reminds me of something that I have seen here before / It does not seem interesting to me / I think it is inappropriate in another way, so I tend to flag your question as a duplicate or too broad or ...

    However, I see that you took an adequate amount of time and effort to ask your question in the first place. It is not entirely uninformed. You tried to formulate well and responded to concerns people had. I do not agree or have time to look at it in all detail, but I see that you are still interested for some reason.

    So, given that I am human (despite being a speed reader), I cannot exclude that your question is valid after all. Considering this, I will leave it to the crowd to decide if the question deserves a decent account. Maybe later you want to throw some points at it to stress further that you really would like to know. Certainly, I, am not in effect requesting: "Change your question into something else or I am closing it.".

    This may be a bit pointed, so don't take it overly serious. In a sense, I would like to see the spirit of a good teacher who will take you more serious when he sees that you are doing effort.

    I am not seeing the described problem as fault of the people but the rules of the system may be facilitating it. The voting based on a couple of quick opinions may not be doing it well enough.

    But the question, for real, is whether it is only me who is seeing this. I ask a lot of questions, more than I answer, so I may be more exposed than others.

  3. Example

    One or two have asked for examples (which in itself would be a kind of reply).

    Meanwhile the question turned itself into a close-to-perfect example for what I mean. Based on the comments, I have made several edits, honestly trying to respond to the comments and to make the question clearer. It has however been put on hold by a few. As far as I am aware, those have not contributed to the discussion or expressed which part of the question they do not understand. My previous experience is that they will not be coming back to activate the question again.

    So my subjective experience here (and in a few other cases) is that the moderators/voters, who put it on hold, in reality simply do not like my question. They would likely prefer me to write another question that is easy to answer for them.

    At the same time, the question has received an answer which has 5 up-votes. This seems to tell me that people think that it is a good answer to the question (which according to some, who only passed by, was not understandable). I consider that answer valuable (even though it seems to be in conflict with what happened here), and it would be great to have a few more, perhaps also by stack exchange users that are less active as moderators.

closed as unclear what you're asking by Patrick Hofman, iBug, Sonic the Anonymous WizHog, Ward, Rory Alsop Apr 5 '18 at 17:04

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    I'm a speedreader ... – rene Apr 5 '18 at 14:41
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    First of all, it looks like you're confusing elected moderators (those with diamonds) and regular users with moderation privilege. Who are exactly the users you feel are using their votes incorrectly? – rene Apr 5 '18 at 14:44
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because the question told me to vote to close it, and I want to honor the request. – Servy Apr 5 '18 at 14:45
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    Why do you see users pointing out duplicate questions as criticism? – Cai Apr 5 '18 at 14:46
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    So do you have an actual examples to back up your claims that questions are closed as duplicates when those questions clearly explain how the duplicate questions fails to answer the question being asked, or do we just have your assertion that this always happens? – Servy Apr 5 '18 at 14:47
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    @highsciguy so you basically don't know what the system does or what role the involved users have, yet you claim it is a problem that exists on all sites and now the burden is on us to prove the problem you fail to describe properly doesn't exist. Let me ask again, because this important: Who do you mean with moderators. Don't evade that question, just answer it. – rene Apr 5 '18 at 15:03
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    Folks, I think the question here might just be "Are gold tag badge holders using the dupe hammer a little too eagerly?" or something similar, please give the OP a few minutes to clarify. If you consider the dupe hammer, the question makes quite a bit more sense. – Tim Post Apr 5 '18 at 15:09
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    @TimPost not only gold tag badge users, I think. The concern here could be legitimate - I have seen too-eager closing happen when the question was misunderstood, and I will admit that I was a misled close-voter once. In town hall during our election, a user also asked how the new mod will help with such cases. I have only seen it happen very rarely, but I don't have a good overview on whether it could have become a common thing on some sites. – rumtscho Apr 5 '18 at 15:12
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    @rumtscho If a question is worded so poorly that the majority of the readers are misunderstanding it then having it closed is desirable. Clearly the question need to be edited such that it isn't being misunderstood by readers. A question being clear is important for it to be open. – Servy Apr 5 '18 at 15:14
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    @highsciguy So then can you actually link to said examples, rather than just asserting that they exist? – Servy Apr 5 '18 at 15:25
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    In my case, I have seen this happen only a handful of times. I don't doubt that the majority of questions which get closed or reworded deserve to be closed. But still, asking if the quota of undeservedly closed questions (through this too-eager mechanism) has been going up, is a reasonable thing to investigate. I am surprised at your flat denial that such things ever happen, and the insistence that all of these cases must be badly worded questions. – rumtscho Apr 5 '18 at 15:36
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    I noticed your edit, but it looks like you're talking about a culmination of several different things. What I mostly come away with is you being worried that even the suspicion of a duplicate, or potentially off-topic question is enough to get it shut down, and even if it's later discovered that this was in error, there's never enough people to set it straight, and you're seeing this more frequently? (I'm really trying to get a decent handle on what motivated you to post, there's just a lot it seems) – Tim Post Apr 5 '18 at 15:49
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    Folks we've got quite a bit of noise going on here. I think we can all agree that helping the OP here better articulate what they think is wrong would be a good thing, so let's let them have a little quiet to get that fleshed out? – Tim Post Apr 5 '18 at 15:51
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    @highsciguy Well, I don't know, it reads like a complaint to me. And I don't get it. E.g. "Would it not make more sense to leave it to the whole community to decide on the relevance using the existing voting system [...]" yet you barely vote! There are tools available, you can participate in moderation, but you don't. I do, and I can speak from experience. Just the other day two users voted (and commented) to close on a question that was on-topic. I pointed them to the relevant part of the help center and they revoked their close votes. – Modus Tollens Apr 5 '18 at 19:26
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    ... sad is to notice that Tim Post comments have largely been ignored. I admit I am intrigued too and would like to know if his interpretation of the question is indeed correct. At this point @highsciguy I suggest that if you are really interested in discussing the problem - whatever it may be - you try to move the argument to chat, discuss it a little there in a custom chat room and only then retry a new, more focused question – SPArchaeologist Apr 6 '18 at 8:19
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No, it would not be better to just remove the whole closure system and refuse to moderate content that the site currently has determined shouldn't be answered. The existing close reasons exist for a reason. The site has determined, through extensive experience, that it is not beneficial to allow answers to certain types of questions, and that the site is better off not allowing answers to those questions.

There are lots of discussions here on meta on why each of the various close reasons exist, and why each of those types of questions benefit from not being answerable. If you're interested in understanding why various types of questions are closed, there are lots of resources out there for you.

If you feel that a particular question doesn't meet any of the closure criteria, then that's certainly something that can be discussed (either on that question, or on meta). Questions that were closed erroneously, or that have been edited to correct the problems that required them to be closed, can be reopened.

If you feel a particular class of questions are actually useful to allow answers for...you should really look through the past discussions on those types of questions. While in theory you could create a meta question explaining why you think questions of that type are actually useful, all of the close reasons have been discussed to death. You'll want to be very sure that you understand, in detail, why the close reason exists, why those questions are considered problematic, and to be prepared with very compelling not previously discussed evidence for why these types of questions should no longer be closed. Due to all of the evidence supporting them thus far, it would take quite a lot to reverse such a position, so such a meta question would take a lot of work to prepare.

  • I like to say that I am not at all questioning moderation. The cases that I have in mind are usually quite technical and concrete (not like the one above) so no risk of endless discussion. I don't remember getting a question opened again. As someone interested in asking more than collecting reputation by answering, I perhaps perceive stack exchange less than a book that must be protected from pollution. As long as the search function has a good signal/noise ratio I am fine. It seems that this can be achieved by using indicators like the up-/down-votes. No one would ever find this one for sure. – highsciguy Apr 5 '18 at 17:17
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    @highsciguy Seeing questions get reopened is somewhat rare, but only because the authors so rarely actually make an attempt to fix the problems with them. When they do, the system tends to be rather good at reopening them. While you personally may want to encourage SO being filled with low quality content, the rest of us don't share your viewpoint. SO was built, from the start, to be a place with high quality standards that enforced those standards. There are lots of places where you can go if you don't want to have quality standards, SO is in fact unusual in having them. – Servy Apr 5 '18 at 17:21
  • "but only because the authors so rarely actually make an attempt to fix the problems with them" What shall I fix in the question above, based on the information I got? I edited it 2 times now and I tried to respond to take into account the comments. What do Patrick Hofman, ɪʙᴜɢ, Sonic Wizard, Ward and Rory Alsop want from me? – highsciguy Apr 5 '18 at 17:37
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    @highsciguy Are you referring to this meta question, because you haven't actually linked to any example question. If you're referring to the meta question I certainly don't see any of your edits as improving the question in the slightest. Obviously given that I answered I didn't think that the original question was sufficiently unclear that it couldn't be answered, although I can understand why others choose to close it. (I merely ignored the 90% of your question that appears to be irrelevant, including the entirety of all of your edits, rather than trying to decipher it, they didn't.) – Servy Apr 5 '18 at 17:43
  • I think that you perfectly understood my question. I also consider your answer a valid one. Given the developments above, which point in the opposite direction, I am not entirely convinced, but I would not even consider down-voting it. The title says essentially all. However, I had to add the other 90% because I needed to make clear that it is not supposed to be a provocation. It could be part of the problem that people don't read long texts. Strangely, many on stack exchange write very long answers. – highsciguy Apr 5 '18 at 18:02
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    @highsciguy After thinking about it a bit more, I'd say that I thought it was clear what your question was actually asking/proposing, but that your justification for why you were proposing what you were was largely incoherent. I simply answered your question as if you had provided no justification at all, since the justification you provided was so nonsensical. Others felt the need to close the question because so much of it doesn't make sense. Whether you think it merits closure or not it's still a really bad question either way. – Servy Apr 5 '18 at 18:05
  • Note that in my edits I have tried to respond to the bulk of the comments. Regarding your request for examples, for 'duplicate' claims, I could dig out one of my old cases in which I felt that this was the case. But the problem is that I really ask for the experience others have made (of course frustrated may have already left or never got into it). Listing examples, would be a bit like asking you whether you think that people of color steal after showing you a video of a colored robbing a supermarket. Also it would shift the focus on something that I don't find particularly relevant. – highsciguy Apr 5 '18 at 18:18
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    @highsciguy Your edits may well have been an attempt to answer the concerns raised in comments, but if so, you failed to succeed in that endeavor, as I don't see how the edits address the actual concerns raised in comments. One of those concerns, raised by many people I might add (including myself) is that you need evidence to support your assertions. You have provided none. That you continue to assert that something exists while refusing to provide evidence that it's happening hurts your proposal a lot. – Servy Apr 5 '18 at 18:23
  • I am asking explicitly (Its in the 90% other) if someone has decent evidence. But I am aware that the kind of statistical assessment that could be considered decent is hard to provide. Therefore, I would, for instance, also not insist that you need to proof "The site has determined, through extensive experience". Furthermore, everyone above wants something else and those who put it on hold have not said at all what I can do to change it (as far as I am aware). What shall I do in this situation? Add more explanation, reducing further the chances that people read till the end? – highsciguy Apr 5 '18 at 19:19
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    @highsciguy Putting forth a proposal for radical change, saying you have absolutely zero evidence to support that the problem you're aiming to solve actually exist, or that your proposed solution solves it, is just wasting people's time. Asking other people to provide a compelling case for your proposal for you is just being inconsiderate, and isn't likely to lead to people supporting your proposal. When a question is closed the close reason contains advice on how to improve the question, and links to a help center article with additional information. – Servy Apr 5 '18 at 19:24
  • I have said already that I don't have feed back from the people who put it on hold (or do I not see it). How can I improve my question in their sense. Which part do they not understand? The thing is that, for some reason, they just voted put on hold and left. Your request for evidence is an individual one Anyhow, you have well been able to write a answer. And you made clear that you don't see a problem. It would be superb if the site would permit one or two more answers. Maybe someone has a reference that we do not know. – highsciguy Apr 5 '18 at 19:33
  • @highsciguy I still have trouble understanding what kind of answer you are looking for, too. "Yes, I think it's subjective"? Or are you looking for statistical data, like closed question ratios for the last years? – Modus Tollens Apr 5 '18 at 19:39
  • @Modus Tollens An opinion like that of Servy is fine with me (especially if I could see more). Since I made the experience that asking explicitly for opinions (reading questions of others) is often rejected as being 'largely-opinion-based', I would however not ask for that. Anyhow, it would, of cause, be excellent if someone knows: "I know that here [] people have made a review of questions that have been closed to measure the quality of the moderation and, as they detail, it is ok.", In fact in this case I had expected that some may actually point to duplicates (which is fine if they are). – highsciguy Apr 5 '18 at 19:54
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    @highsciguy Rather than just assuming that there's some conspiracy, and that all of your awesome questions are getting closed and downvoted for no good reason, I'd strongly consider that you assume that your questions have actual problems, and that you do everything in your power to figure out how they can be improved and improve them. You will be far better off. – Servy Apr 5 '18 at 20:22
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    @highsciguy You're assuming that everyone that's closing your questions is doing so even though the questions aren't actually bad, instead of for the actual reasons given. You've stated as much. That's not a healthy assumption to make, as it's just going to result in you asking more bad questions, and getting the same result. – Servy Apr 5 '18 at 20:27

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