12

I recently noticed a relatively popular question (34 upvotes on the question, 42 on the top answer) get deleted on Stack Overflow (https://stackoverflow.com/q/29876518/1108305). This question was closed since it was pretty clearly off-topic for the site, as it wasn't about software development. The popularity of this question also wasn't merely historical: a significant number of upvotes to both the question and answer occurred after the question was closed for being off-topic, meaning that it was still providing perceived concrete value to users. This particular question was deleted by seven users casting deletion votes, so clearly it was perceived by a number of users to be worthy of deletion.

Both the Stack Overflow help center and the Stack Exchange help center list only one primary criterion for when to delete questions: ones of no lasting value.

Closed questions that are of no lasting value whatsoever should be deleted.

There are additional caveats about being cautious about deleting questions, but they seem to narrow down that focus, rather than broaden it to include more categories of questions to be deletable.

However, if an off-topic question is popular, it clearly has had value to a number of users, as they found it helpful enough to upvote. In this specific case, it was still receiving upvotes post-close, so it clearly still had concrete value to current users. So either I'm misinterpreting the meaning of "no lasting value" overly broadly, or there's more reasons to close a question than just lack of lasting value.

Doing some searching on the SO & SE meta sites didn't turn up a ton of questions that were tagged with both and , let alone ones that dealt with popular questions specifically, so I don't know that this has been discussed too much over the years (or if it has, I'm just searching poorly).

The only noteworthy one I found was how to deal with link rot caused by deletion of popular off-topic questions?, which discusses the consequences to external links to deleted popular off-topic questions. A notable thing about this is that it treated deletion of off-topic questions — even notable ones — as a desirable thing, and apparently something self-evident enough as to not need explaining or defending:

While I am all for deletion of off-topic questions, I am not comfortable with some consequences related to the way how it is done now.

With that all being said, what actually are the Stack Exchange guidelines for deleting closed popular questions in specific, and closed questions in general? Is there more to it than just it having "no lasting value"? As someone who is getting closer to 10,000 reputation on Stack Overflow and the associated privelege to delete and undelete questions, how would I know whether a particular popular off-topic question should be merely closed, and which should be deleted?

Given the identical guideline text between the Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange help center, it feels likely that this may not be a site-specific issue, and the general guidelines might transcend a specific site. Though I could of course be wrong in this.

Note that Should we allow a mere 5 reopen votes to nullify any number of delete votes? doesn't appear to answer my question. That question is asking how to ensure the voting system works as intended to delete undesirable closed questions. What it doesn't cover is the point of this question, namely what qualities a question should have to be considered for deletion. Put another way, the other question works just as well if we presuppose a question should be deleted; it doesn't particularly seem to change based on the criteria the community feels should be used to determine deletion-worthiness.

Specific example

I don't want to distract too much from the general question with the specific example I encountered. The very short version is that this closed question was closed as being a general computer use question, rather than being a programming question. It being off-topic is certainly the case, as it was around how to download a particular type of multi-document video format. If you want more detail than this, you can check out the edit history for this meta question, but I don't want to throw the discussion off-track by getting too into the specifics of a single question.

18
  • 1
    Delete votes never expire, so I'm not surprised they took this much time to eventually trickle in. Jan 24, 2022 at 5:18
  • 7
    For the general case: instead of considering lasting value for some users you can also consider lasting value for the site itself, i.e., in the case of SO the goal to build a repository of programming Q&A. An off-topic question by definition does not contribute to this goal and is therefore of no lasting value. The fact that it has value for some users doesn't change that, for example many people might be interested to know when the Winter Olympics start but a question about this should be deleted on SO.
    – Marijn
    Jan 24, 2022 at 6:47
  • 5
    This is basically a dilemma between "value to the readers" or "value to the site". Off-topic questions, by definition, are not valuable for the site though. The problem is, most users only know and reach SO from the search result, and they can upvote as long as they think it's useful, including upvoting off-topic Q&A. One compromise is to suggest "historical lock" instead of "deletion", but it will prevent any interaction including upvote and downvote (except mods), and is kind of debatable for this specific case. Jan 24, 2022 at 7:04
  • As this really is about a specific question this is best asked at MSO
    – Luuklag
    Jan 24, 2022 at 7:32
  • 1
    @Luuklag — But it's not about a specific question. It's really not. I want to know — in general — why popular off-topic questions are eligible for deletion. There are two SO examples here, but I can't imagine this question is specific to programming off-topicness. The only reason for the specificity in the question are because it's the question that drew my attention to the issue, and because commenters said the additional context would help them understand the situation.
    – M. Justin
    Jan 24, 2022 at 7:34
  • 1
    Different sites have different policies. If you want to ask about Stack Overflow then you'd best ask a question on its meta rather than here. Jan 24, 2022 at 8:16
  • 1
    what makes this question site specific is the amoiunt of views at the question you asked about. General solution for extreme cases like that is as @MetaAndrewT. pointed historical-lock, the question is - do the 130K views qualify this specific case for lock and this totally depends on the site. Say for some smaller sites this would definitely qualify it for historical lock, but here you ask about SO which has over 50 thousands questions like that, making it quite a gray area
    – gnat
    Jan 24, 2022 at 8:25
  • If this question is philosophical then a better duplicate might be: Community-led deletionism: a protocol for sanity - one of a few such examples.
    – Rob
    Jan 24, 2022 at 8:31
  • @Rob Other than indicating that popular joke or storytelling questions, I don't see much in there that really answers the question of when it's desirable to delete, in particular for real questions that just happen to be outside the site's purview content-wise, rather than tonally or quality-wise.
    – M. Justin
    Jan 24, 2022 at 8:39
  • Does this answer your question? Should we allow a mere 5 reopen votes to nullify any number of delete votes?
    – bad_coder
    Jan 24, 2022 at 8:55
  • @Rob This might be a somewhat a duplicate, but that duplicate was asked in rather different circumstances and those circumstances drive question and answers in rather different direction than it is now. Jan 24, 2022 at 8:56
  • 1
    @M.Justin certainly an Nth dupe by SO standards. (I recall several dozen threads there addressing this issue.)
    – bad_coder
    Jan 24, 2022 at 8:59
  • 2
    @M.Justin most posts on the historical-lock tag address the possibility of deleting questions that became off-topic due do changing site focus. The historical lock FAQ also covers this. The example question you gave is also SO specific and should be asked on Meta Stack Overflow not here.
    – bad_coder
    Jan 24, 2022 at 9:03
  • 1
    @ResistanceIsFutile If you think that the dupe direction should be reversed that's fine, and you are welcome to cast such a vote there; if you think this question is the new modern version of the age-old problem. The new edit doesn't explain why either of the proposed duplicates are "wrong" it simply says that they aren't accepted; we got that. If the other questions need newer answers that doesn't escape the duplicity. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/broken-windows
    – Rob
    Jan 24, 2022 at 9:09
  • 1
    That question is about delete votes vs. reopen votes, specifically the balance/requirements between them, for all kinds of closed questions. The current question is about delete votes vs. upvotes for off-topic questions specifically, since OP saw off-topicness being equated with "no value", as opposed to e.g. unclear, which may be salvaged. Maybe delete/reopen votes and delete votes/upvotes have the same underlying issue (when is something delete-worthy?) this is not addressed in the proposed duplicate question or the answers to that question.
    – Marijn
    Jan 24, 2022 at 9:19

1 Answer 1

7

Question where one can cast delete votes, is eligible for deletion

Closed questions that are of no lasting value whatsoever should be deleted.

This is the official guideline for deleting questions. There are no other rules or guidelines. Any question where users can cast delete votes is eligible for deletion and anyone can cast those votes as they see fit. Popularity, score or number of views, is not relevant in assessing lasting value to the site.

Note: When it comes to the deletion, the whole Q/A pair is being judged and question in context of this answer does not necessarily mean just a question.

Lasting value

Even though people can cast votes as they see fit, the main factor will be determining the lasting value of the question.

For some questions determining no lasting value will be more obvious, for some less. Also different people will have different opinion on whether any particular question has lasting value or not.

There are two basic types of closed questions:

  • Duplicates
  • Off-topic questions that don't belong to the site (this includes all other closed questions that are deemed off-topic by the site rules)

Good duplicates represent signposts, pointing people with different questions to the canonical answer to that question and providing lasting value to the site. Duplicates also get deleted, but if the duplicate of on-topic question is highly upvoted or visited, then it is more obvious that it represents good sign post and therefore it has lasting value.

Closed off-topic questions, while they may be helpful to people landing on them, which is indicated by the votes, generally don't provide lasting value for various reasons.

However, some of the questions that are not blatantly off-topic might be edited and made on-topic, so this aspect is also considered when casting votes. If the question is potentially salvageable, then deleting it is a less appropriate option.

Another, probably the most important part when determining the lasting value are the answers. The question itself, if not answered, has very little value. Quality of answers can also make the difference between whether some borderline question is salvageable or not.

Occasionally, moderators will lock such popular but off-topic questions, to prevent deletion, but IMO questions that deserve and are good candidates for such lock are extremely rare.

Why closed off-topic questions don't provide lasting value?

General points for all closed questions:

  • A closed question cannot receive new answers - Inability to add new answers significantly reduces the usability of the question. While some updates can be added through edits and comments, there are limits to the extent of such edits, unless the answers are Community wiki and can be more freely updated through community effort. For questions that would be on-topic on other SE site(s) that is an additional incentive for deletion, as the question that could be alive on other sites is basically dead on the current one.

  • A popular off-topic question is an anomaly - Off-topic questions can become popular only because it was not appropriately moderated in time. That does not point to the value of the off-topic question, but merely lack of moderation capabilities. Just because at some point question was able to fly under the radar, that does not mean it should never be moderated.

  • An off-topic question hurts the site where it was asked - Off-topic questions hurt the site where they were asked because they provide bad examples of what kind of questions are acceptable. For new users, closed and locked are mostly meaningless banners and those don't stop people from taking such questions as good examples. Often popular off-topic questions are linked in Meta questions asking why was some other similar question closed, when there are others like that highly upvoted and helpful.

  • Question needs to be related to the site - While sites have more narrow definition on what constitutes on-topic question than what people may generally perceive as on-topic or site related, when determining the lasting value, question and the answers need to have a strong connection to the site topicality. Completely unrelated question certainly does not represent the lasting value to that site.

  • Applicable knowledge - This may be a bit skewed by Stack Overflow perspective. Question must contain some applicable knowledge. In that context—on sites where on-topic implies practical—historical, curiosity satisfying, opinion based, or similar content does not represent any lasting value to the site because there is no practical value you can do something with.

Specific points for off-topic questions that would be on-topic on other SE site(s):

  • An off-topic question hurts the site(s) where it would be on-topic - Off-topic questions hurt appropriate target sites because instead of driving traffic to those sites and increasing those sites visibility, they drive traffic to original, off-topic question instead.

Ideally, we should have the ability to more easily migrate questions regardless of their age, so we could salvage old off-topic questions that would provide good value on another, more appropriate site. Of course, such migration would have to be coordinated between the origin and target site and approved by the moderators on the target site. We don't want to migrate garbage.

5
  • The description "Off-topic questions that don't belong to the site" as the only type of closed questions besides duplicates generalizes over the more detailed distinction of actually off-topic (i.e., another domain, like general computing on SO) and on-topic but unclear, needs more focus, opinion based etc. While this does not change your point (with which I fully agree) in the current context of discussing off-topic questions it is a bit confusing, especially since your 2nd and 3rd bullet point apply to real off-topic and the 1st and 4th to all types of closed questions.
    – Marijn
    Jan 24, 2022 at 9:10
  • Your last paragraph makes it sound like you may be interested in a push-pull model for migration: meta.stackexchange.com/a/186461/215590
    – PolyGeo
    Jan 24, 2022 at 9:15
  • @Marijn I reorganized the answer a bit, to separate between questions that belong to other sites and others. Jan 24, 2022 at 10:43
  • @ResistanceIsFutile the edit is clear, but it does not address my remark about questions that are closed for being unclear/too broad/opinion based. This Meta question is not about those (and also not about duplicates) so you don't need to address that in your answer but now it seems from your answer that unclear/too broad/opinion based do not exist ("there are two types of closed questions") or that you consider them off-topic (because they are not duplicate and there are only two types) which is not consistent with the usage of the term off-topic on SE.
    – Marijn
    Jan 24, 2022 at 11:57
  • It might help to put unclear/too broad under the bullet point of "duplicate" as they at least have the potential to have lasting value if they are improved to remove the unclarity or broadness, and maybe opinion based as well, or otherwise remove the part about duplicates and the types of closed questions altogether.
    – Marijn
    Jan 24, 2022 at 12:01

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .