Every day I take 20 or so votes and clean-up old unanswered questions in a particular category. A surprising number of these are with deleted users, self-answered, or actually have answers that were never accepted or up-voted. A simple up-vote to a deserving answer takes it off the list.

To be clear, I'm talking about voting on actually resolved questions, not up-voting just to remove it from the unanswered list. This means the question has an answer that solved the issue, but the original poster never accepted, was deleted (wasn't moved with th question?) and no one up-voted the answer either. For this to work, you would have to know the topic, which is why you could only do this in tags you have expertise in.

What's the best way for the community to handle these? I can only cleanup a category about as fast as it grows, keeping the unanswered count about constant, but if the community focused on cleaning up a particular tag a time (or maybe just more votes used this way in general?), it seems we could assign rep where it's due and close out a lot of these old actually resolved/answered "unanswered" questions at the same time.

What's the best way to organize something like this, or is there too little interest to do so?

My only thought was a simple question here on meta that has a "tag of the day" to clean up (only up-voting answers that resolve the issue, not just up-voting to close of course) or something along those lines. Or... am I just crazy for not wanting those unanswered questions to hand around?

  • Everyone should have a hobby, I suppose. But really, why bother?
    – nb69307
    Mar 22 '10 at 20:57
  • 3
    @Neil - Maybe that's the "I'm just crazy" part of the question...I just hate seeing so many unanswered questions left with actual answers. My reasoning would be they're not helpful if found via google since sometimes nothing distinguishes the thing that helped (but a person with expertise in the topic would flag that good answer, if it exists, with a simple up-vote). Mar 22 '10 at 21:00
  • What do you mean by "clean up"?
    – Ether
    Mar 22 '10 at 23:11
  • +1 @Nick inevitably a duplicate - but well worth asking again anyway.
    – amelvin
    Mar 23 '10 at 0:33

Although I don't recommend doing this too much in a single day (or you'd be spamming the front page with old questions), it might help to edit them in order to give them a bump. Add information if you can, fix grammar and spelling otherwise. Anything you can do to make the question more clear or otherwise improve it will make it more likely to get an answer.

  • 3
    I like this better than just upvoting for the sake of "marking the question as answered"
    – juan
    Mar 22 '10 at 20:49
  • Based on the comment to @Downvoter's answer, it looks like I misunderstood the question. Mar 22 '10 at 20:50
  • @Bill - Not your fault, I should have made this clearer - updated the question. Mar 22 '10 at 20:53
  • @Nick: I suppose bumping them might still help if people with the right expertise see the question and either upvote the correct answer, or provide a new one. Mar 22 '10 at 20:55
  • @Bill - I don't use the "hot" or "active" tabs much, though I know many do...does editing a question help it get there, or does it need a lot of activity to appear? That's certainly a great approach if it would get some eyes on it. Mar 22 '10 at 21:05
  • @Nick: A bumped question will go to straight to the Active tab (which I believe is what the front page of the site is based on), but would require a lot of new activity to go to the Hot tab. Mar 22 '10 at 21:33

The clutter of unanswered questions bothers a number of people (including me), Mr R. Lizard and others touched on it yesterday in the comments to this question (Hiding reputation and encouraging thinking time would improve the quality of answers on SO).

I know that the necromancer badge is available for answering older questions, but I think that a reputation bonus would encourage people to look at the unanswered questions. Incidentally the unanswered button on SO now lists over 81,000 questions - which is up 1,000 since yesterday and 14% of the question ever asked.

One thing that could be done would be if the community user could automatically place a bounty of say 20 rep points on any unanswered question after six months to give people an incentive to actually try to reduce the pile of unanswered questions. If the number of unanswered questions keeps rising, SO will become more of a question and reputation site than a question and answer one.

  • 1
    How would an automatic bounty work? Would the person who asked the question be required to award the bounty or are you expecting the system to award it automatically?
    – Zoredache
    Mar 23 '10 at 0:22
  • Well I was suggesting that the community user (the system user who 'owns' the community wiki) would pay the bounty. But if the person asking the question automatically stumped up the rep it would encourage people to tidy up after themselves.
    – amelvin
    Mar 23 '10 at 0:31
  • I agree an incentive is needed, but rather than reputation I think this fits better for a gold badge for users cleaning up old unanswered questions.
    – Nemo
    May 16 '15 at 17:11

I would tend to believe that most contributors don't often dive into the unanswered questions primarily because they don't have infinite time and there are already enough questions on the front page.

Funny thing is, I do periodically go through the unanswered questions (usually when it's a slow day on the front page), and I've had the opposite experience. Most older unanswered questions are either (a) very narrow, with one or two answers that are either completely off-the-wall or just way too general to be helpful, or (b) written so poorly that it's nearly impossible to understand what's being asked.

So normally I do one of three things:

  • If the question is comprehensible but just not well-written, I'll edit it.
  • If the question is completely opaque, I'll leave a comment to that effect.
  • If the question is fine but the author just hasn't accepted a relevant answer, I'll upvote any relevant answers and leave a comment. (Obviously this doesn't apply to users that no longer exist).

I think that's really all we can do right now as users. The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of "hit and run" users who don't even really understand how the system works; seems like every other day I see another user with a 0% accept rate. Who knows when, if ever, these people will get around to upvoting/accepting answers. The best thing to do is what we already do with new questions - read them, upvote good answers, add our own answers, or try to improve the question.

I do have one thought for the site itself, which would be a filter for the unanswered questions section that says, point blank, "show questions more than 60 days old" (i.e. eligible for Necromancer). Yeah, I know, badge farming and tag-spamming and all that, but it's no worse than some of the "manual retags" people do, and it's not that easy to score 5 upvotes answering an ancient question. And let's be honest, what other motivation is there for the majority of users to dig any deeper than the front page?

That badge is a good idea but it doesn't completely accomplish its goal because it's too cumbersome IMO for someone to actually get a list of questions that (a) they can answer, and (b) are old enough to be eligible. The only time I got that badge was an accident, the question had been bumped and I didn't realize how old it was. If it were easier to be deliberate about the whole process, I might decide to have some "fun" on some lazy Sunday afternoon and attempt a rez or two (with a quality answer of course).

Offering a carrot to the badge nuts might encourage more people to look at the unanswered questions, which would also result in them upvoting answers which are already complete/correct, which would subsequently help clean it out.

  • Probably the situation is different on different tags. Upvoting or downvoting both the questions and the answers is, either way, a good way to cleanup.
    – Nemo
    May 16 '15 at 17:12

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