(psst the religious analogy is for fun; I don't actually think we should baptize Stack Overflow)

In the interests of improving questions and question askers, I propose giving moderators the ability to place users in Purgatory.

Purgatory is a place where users who have sinned, but not too badly, are placed so that they may make penance and redeem themselves. Sinners are users who submit questions that are not bad enough to close, but need work to bring them up to a level where they are acceptable.

A Moderator, seeing a user who could use a bit of repentance, would indicate on a question that the user should be placed in Purgatory for asking a poor question. The Mod would be asked to provide an explanation as to why (see use case below). The user is then placed in Purgatory and would be required to submit edits on the question in order to gain release. Extreme unction would not be provided; users would have to flag to request that.

Users in Purgatory submit edits to improve their questions, and moderators would be able to see a list of submitted improvements, such as the current method for low-rep users submitting proposed edits. If their edit is accepted, they are released from Purgatory. If not, they remain until their edits are accepted. Mods would be able to provide further feedback when rejecting an edit.

Purgatory is not for questions that are off topic or are "not a real question" (e.g., please write my program for me). Purgatory is to force new users to learn how to ask a decent question by forcing them to fix their crappy ones.

Use case:

user102867423423 asks the following question:


I get null reference when code run help

mDisplay =
mWakeLock =
SimulationView = new SimulationView(this);

Thanks! androidnumberonedeveloper.blogspot.com

Moderator OmgWtfLol places user102867423423 in Purgatory with the following notice:

Welcome to Stack Overflow read this blah blah blah. Your account has been blocked from asking more questions until you fix the following issues with your question:

Please remove the "Hello" and "Thanks" from your question. Also, taglines are not acceptable here, please remove it. Your code must be formatted properly.

user102867423423 submits the following edit:

I get null reference when code run help

mDisplay =  mWindowManager.getDefaultDisplay(); 
mWakeLock = mPowerManager.newWakeLock(PowerManager.SCREEN_BRIGHT_WAKE_LOCK, getClass().getName()); 
SimulationView = new SimulationView(this); setContentView(mSimulationView);

Moderator OmgWtfLol rejects the edit with the following notice:

Welcome to Stack Overflow read this blah blah blah. Your account has been blocked from asking more questions until you fix the following issues with your question:

Can you format your code so that the line lengths do not exceed the maximum allowed length and cause the horizontal scrollbar to show? You are more likely to get answers if users don't have to scroll to see your code. Thanks!

After this point, user102867423423 submits an acceptable edit, a moderator marks the edit as accepted, the question appears on the site and the user is released from Purgatory. For now...

Edit and clarification:

Here's the use case from the Mod perspective:

  1. Mod sees "low quality" or such flag in the queue.
  2. Mod peeps question, perhaps expanding it to view more closely
  3. Mod clicks "Purgatory..." link, popup ensues
    1. Mod chooses canned reason, such as "fix formatting"
    2. Mod enters custom reason

This takes no more time, if not less, than current actions. Currently, the mod performs all these steps, except they close the question as not real. Or, the mod may open the question in a new window to edit it. So, currently, no more work has been added to the moderator.

When the user has edited the question, it can either enter the current Pending Edits queue or another version of this queue that moderators only can view.

Purgatory queue (mods only) use case:

  1. Mod views the Purgatory queue
  2. Mod views a pending edit, evaluates canned reason, decides if edit is good enough
    1. Mod chooses to accept edit, user is redeemed
    2. Mod rejects edit, optionally adding a custom reason why

Again, this is no more work than trolling the current edit queue. If pending Purgatory edits go into the current pending edits queue, this wouldn't be necessary at all.

Believe me, adding more work to mods is never my desire. I'm lazy. I believe this process will not only not cost more effort for mods, but may reduce work in future, will make the site easier on noobs, and increase the overall quality of questions.

As Bill says,

Bill the Lizard said it, that's all that matters.

  • Are you thinking this would apply to even the user's very first question with one warning? Or would the threshold be higher? – squillman May 27 '11 at 15:04
  • @squillman: It would be (initially) up to a moderator to put the user in Purgatory and provide the reasons why they are in limbo. Edited. – user1228 May 27 '11 at 15:06
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    All joking aside, I do think it's a good idea to have a lighter version of the penalty box where users can still have enough access to improve their posts. It just makes sense to let them do what we're trying to get them to do. – Bill the Lizard May 27 '11 at 15:14
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    First, Please to be explaining "Unction" and other words that those not of the Catholic faith may not be familiar with. Second, how is this fundamentally different than meta.stackexchange.com/questions/84655/fine-grained-suspension ? Isn't it the same thing, just more specifically defined? – Pollyanna May 27 '11 at 15:29
  • What if the user deletes or edits the question, but the mod doesn't notice or goes on vacation? It'd be like going to prison and having your records lost. – Justin Morgan May 27 '11 at 16:15
  • @JustinMorgan: Any Mod can release a user from Purgatory. Deletion... I dunno. I suppose they would not be able to delete otherwise they would be able to sneak out and retry. – user1228 May 27 '11 at 16:18
  • Suppose your question (or your editing ability) sucks so bad you can't make it worth asking. You get frustrated at the constant smackdowns and want to just bin it and move on. What then? – Justin Morgan May 27 '11 at 16:24
  • Re: "Any mod...", what if no mods notice you're in purgatory, and you slip through the cracks? Like when unanswered questions get buried under a bunch of new ones. – Justin Morgan May 27 '11 at 16:24
  • @JustinMorgan: How do you think this "slip through the cracks" would happen? Its like saying proposed edits are a bad idea because they might "slip through the cracks". – user1228 May 27 '11 at 17:46
  • @JustinMorgan: what then? then StackOverflow has one less bad user. Do we really have to cry over people who don't give a crap about writing a barely acceptable question leaving? – user1228 May 27 '11 at 17:47
  • Nah, I'm just saying we should let them have deletion as an out. Sometimes the user isn't worth keeping, but sometimes it's just the question that sucks. Re edits, if they slip through the cracks it's not a big deal, I'm just saying we shouldn't let people fall into purgatory indefinitely. – Justin Morgan May 27 '11 at 18:25
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    @JustinMorgan: Mmmm.... I guess if they don't improve their question, their stay in purgatory would age out. Their question would be deleted and they would be permitted to rejoin the living. It would be essentially the same as lurking; the more time spent lurking the less chance they would stink up the place.... Hopefully. – user1228 May 27 '11 at 18:28

Seems like a lot of additional work for moderators to "redeem" a few souls that might be worth saving.

I suppose my question is - Are there enough users who appear to be the kind of people we really want on the site who also appear to be easy to reform to make this worthwhile?

Already the moderators are under a huge workload, and while the idea of trying to formalize the process of repentance (ie, taking someone from the "we are no longer accepting questions from this acocunt" bin and guiding them to the regular user bin) sounds good, I think the extra work involved is liable to be wasted.

Remember, they've already posted bad questions after being presented with a full page of "This is how you write a question" information, and they've not only posted one bad question, but multiple bad questions. People generally have worked with them to improve, or they've seen their questions closed, usually with some comments that should help them.

Far be it from me to say, "Let's ignore the lost sheep" but if the sheep continues to wander away after having been brought back several times, it has made its choice. Do we need to convene a full-on intervention with the sheep to make sure that it's really heard the message we've sent it several times already?

I suspect that after they edit the question to acceptable standards, they will post another bad one. They will assume that this purgatory is simply part of the process they will now have to go through in order to get an answer to their question.

Keep in mind that they don't care about the website or the community, except as far as they will get help with their problem.

  • +1 for community wiki (ab)use – Mike Pennington May 27 '11 at 17:46
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    The proposal, I believe, would help lessen moderator workloads. The mod queue is full of "low quality" flags. A quick peek suggests we have roughly 50 in the queue right now. Rather than struggling with these (editing poor quality questions takes some time), we could easily bump the user into the Purgatory queue with a quick note about why. Those that submit fixes would be less likely to get flagged again, reducing future work. Losers would leave, also reducing annoyance in future. And evaluating edits is much easier than making them, imho. – user1228 May 27 '11 at 17:56
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    (continued) we already know the majority of these jerks don't care. So what if they haven't read all the stuff we know they haven't read? Purgatory forces them to make a decision--will I care or not? If not, they are blocked. Period. No more flags, no more worries. If they decide to care, they will edit to improve and be released. If you are truly afraid about repeat offenders, we already have an algorithm to block people who suck; if they get bumped to purgatory three times "Sorry, we are no longer accepting questions from this account". Blam. – user1228 May 27 '11 at 18:00
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    @Won: I can't help but think at least a few of those flags should probably be down-votes... In fact, perhaps flagging as low-quality should imply a down-vote? – Shog9 May 27 '11 at 18:05
  • This question is full of scorn for catholics. I'd like to flag it for religious community mocking. – Quidam Dec 15 '16 at 8:28
  • @PERCE-NEIGE You might want to comment on and flag the question itself, rather than the answers. It's not intended to mock your faith, but I can see that it does for some people. The use of Catholic Purgatory as an analogy for a feature some would like to add to this site is useful because many people are familiar with the concept of purgatory. Still, I'm sure the question can be asked and answered without the religious allegory. – Pollyanna Dec 15 '16 at 11:55

We already stop users from asking questions after they've posted too many bad ones. In theory, they could improve their existing questions, collect up-votes, and then resume asking...

...in practice, folks who ask lousy questions generally continue asking lousy questions, lousily. If you really want to run an adult education course for question-blocked SO users, go ahead... but I don't think it will bring you joy.

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    True - the current system implements a purgatory, as you explain. They can answer questions, edit their own questions, and vote, but until they fix things they can't ask new questions. – Pollyanna May 27 '11 at 18:02
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    Oh yeah, that is exactly the same only better because we don't actually have to do anything. – Bill the Lizard May 27 '11 at 18:17
  • It doesn't work all that well. We get lots of low quality flags, and lots of people coming here to ask why they can't ask more questions. What I'm proposing is an improvement to the current bin. – user1228 May 27 '11 at 18:25
  • @Won: but it sounds like you're asking for a way where they can email you directly (you've now adopted them and are watching their edits) when their asking privilege gets revoked... I just can't see that being good. If flag-traffic is too high, perhaps a better way of sorting the list is needed, or a down-vote coupled with the flag to force the automatic system to kick in sooner... But baby-sitting users isn't a good use of your time. – Shog9 May 27 '11 at 18:29
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    Also, think about how it happens currently. User joins, start asking crappy questions. They get closed, or other people fix them. Eventually the user gets the bin and they either go away or come here and ask why. There is no clear exit from the bin lest they game the system. If other people continually improve their questions via editing, they don't learn. This would fall inbetween. They get the bin (earlier, too!) and are able to figure out immediately why, so no need to come here. No need to waste 10k+ time with editing their crap questions, as well. – user1228 May 27 '11 at 18:31
  • @Shog9: Aw, hell no! No email! Its just like being in the bin, but instead of getting a message about not being allowed to ask another question, they are told they must improve their current question. They can just roll over, or edit their question. These edits are placed in a special approval queue, or maybe in the existing edits queue. Mods (or 10k+) can either reject or accept the edit. Acceptance means they are released. Reject means they have to try again. – user1228 May 27 '11 at 18:34
  • @Won: Editing crap questions is a venerable tradition! But really, you can only do so much to polish a turd - if all that's wrong is formatting or grammar, the question and its answers could still go on to provide value for future readers; if it's simply vague / localized / off-topic, then it really does need to be closed and/or down-voted and eventually blocked completely. – Shog9 May 27 '11 at 18:35
  • @Shog9: As I stated in my long-winded TL;DR question, obviously when the question is irredeemable, it goes in the trash. I don't propose changing that. I'm more concerned about better ways to handle users who can improve, without requiring mods to do the improvement. – user1228 May 27 '11 at 18:48

tl;dr version

Users often post questions in need of editing (for formatting, clarification, spelling, whatever) but fail to edit them, opting instead to simply ask a new question when their first doesn't produce results.

Moderators should be able to respond to low-quality flags by blocking users from asking another question until their current one is edited acceptably.

This is an interesting idea. I think you're over-thinking it, but, eh... Catholics do love their pageantry!

I like the concept. But the devil is in the details...

  • Should deleting the flagged question spring the soul, or leave him in permanent limbo?
  • What about someone else editing the posts into shape?
  • How are you going to keep track of users who simply create a new account (clear cookies, etc) and go on asking?

On that last one...

Our existing question-block works at the IP level - you can't easily get around it by simply clearing your cookies. But if this was given that same power, you'd end up with folks blocked from asking by a co-worker posting one lousy question and then disappearing.

  • "Should deleting..." in this case, you'd be sending them directly to the nether regions. No purgatory for them. "What about someone else..." I would suggest the question disappears if in Purgatory. The point being that we don't want that question here. Let... no, force the user to fix their mess. If someone begins an edit, judge that race condition in favor of the editor. User is immediately sprung from Purgatory. "How are you going to keep track of..." same way we do now. If we catch them, they get merged and suspended. – user1228 May 27 '11 at 19:31
  • Also, aren't people blocked every day by their jerky co-workers who get the block? How would this be any different? I believe, however, this doesn't warrant an IP ban. The user is a clueless noob, which wouldn't warrant that type of action. Just an account block. But that's an implementation detail; if it would require lots of work to restructure so that the user doesn't get an IP ban, then IP it is. – user1228 May 27 '11 at 19:33
  • @Won: the difference here is that you could (and presumably would) apply this to a user who doesn't have a long history of posting lousy questions (since otherwise, what's the point?) So suddenly I'm blocked because someone in the same office logs on for the first time, posts a question and leaves for the weekend. And if you're spending your time finding and merging users instead of closing or editing, I'm not sure where the savings come in. – Shog9 May 27 '11 at 19:38
  • @Shog9: What happens when you are a good user, and one of your co-workers logs in to StackOverflow and asks enough crappy questions to get an IP ban? I've agreed there should probably be a time limit on being in purgatory. A month and the question is deleted and the user is back on their own good behavior. Or, we could just tattle, and the blocked user can go beat them with a rod. As for searching for users avoiding Purgatory, I wouldn't spend a second looking for them, just as I don't look for current users avoiding suspensions. We find them via flags set by our awesome user base. – user1228 May 27 '11 at 20:06
  • @Won: My point here isn't that this couldn't work; merely that it's not clear to me it would work any better than the system already in place, which behaves as it does in some respects out of a quest for balance between noise-reduction and collateral damage. – Shog9 May 27 '11 at 20:16
  • @Shog9: We want users to improve their questions. We want to avoid spending much time on it. Currently, we deal with bad questions until the user is blocked by the system. I'd have to sum it up by paraphrasing Bill the Lizard's take on it... This proposal would allow us to immediately block a user and force them (if they want to fix their errors) to do what we want them to do. I believe mods benefit from less work in the short and long term, and users benefit from not being blocked without any idea how to get out of the block. Win win, imho. – user1228 May 27 '11 at 20:27

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