Yesterday, a user was temporarily IP address banned because they deleted a couple of their own questions that didn't get upvotes.

Isn't that a little ass-backwards? Shouldn't we be encouraging users to cull their marginal questions and answers themselves, rather than penalizing them for it?

The metric for IP address banning should not take into account deletion of questions and answers that were posted by the OP, and deleted by the OP (except for reposting duplicates).

The system already has metrics for determining whether a question or answer can be deleted with the OP's single vote. If that question or answer is not useful to the community, I don't see why we should stand in the way of letting the OP do their own cleanup.

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    I completely agree. If users see that they are on the wrong track, they should be encouraged to enter the right track. By the way, deleting own question with negative votes is in my opiniou good behaviour. – Toon Krijthe Jun 23 '11 at 14:51
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    What about when they delete and repeat the same question? We still suffer the attention penalty. – random Jun 23 '11 at 15:08
  • @random: I thought about that. Should have included it in the question, I guess. The system already has logic for detecting duplicate posts, so that shouldn't be too difficult. – user102937 Jun 23 '11 at 15:09
  • In before JA answers and says "No, because users have to spend time reading the question, so no question should be asked that is bad enough that it needs deleting, by the system, the community, or the asker." – user1228 Jun 23 '11 at 16:34
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    @Won't: Sure. But that's an argument for preventing the questions from being asked in the first place, not for discouraging users from deleting their bad questions. If we really want a clean room, we don't get that by taking away the Simple Green. – user102937 Jun 23 '11 at 16:39
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    I'm the original user who was banned (and still would be were it not for the moderator attention to my post). At minimum it would have been good to have received some notice that my self deletions would be raising red flags. As it stood my experience was (over the span of several months) delete one of my own questions and get an 'organizer' badge and a couple rep points, delete one or two more and nothing happens, and then delete two more and get IP banned – tks Jun 23 '11 at 19:11
  • i completely agree. – JohnyWhy Jul 21 '12 at 18:58

I think the rate at which an asker asks questions is critical in determining whether they are abusing the Q&A format. This is already widely recognized and enforced by user and IP based question limits. But perhaps what is not recognized is that a very low rate is a good sign that the user is not a help vampire.

We experience the problem every single day of users just asking the first question that pops into their head and who have a seemingly endless supply of such questions. These are the users we are trying to throttle with question limits. But a user who once a month gets stumped by a problem and then goes to Stack Overflow to ask it is not a help vampire but using the Q&A system responsibly, even if the questions aren't superior. If asking too many question is bad, then asking very few questions is not neutral, it's good. Furthermore spending any effort on infrequent askers is unlikely to make any significant dent in the problem while increasing the risk of false positives. False positives can be just as labor intensive as false negatives, as this case study aptly demonstrates.

If a user is asking questions at the rate of ten per year, then let's just allow the traditional "manual" mechanisms to detect misuse of the Q&A system: flagging, closing and migration. We should save the automated heuristics for the high and moderate volume offenders where the generous benefit of detection more than compensates for the risk of false positives.

  • An excellent suggestion. – user102937 Jun 23 '11 at 18:50
  • That would be better. – JohnyWhy Jul 21 '12 at 18:58

The metric for IP banning should not take into account deletion of questions and answers that were posted by the OP. (except for deleted questions that are reposted).

This, as I understand it, is rather the problem with a lot of delete/repost'ers. They post, don't get a lot of traction, edit a bit and repost. How can the system automagically know that they are reposting a dupe? The whole point of the system was to identify a behavior that intimates they are adding crap into the system without beneficial incremental updates and to stop them from doing that.

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    If the IP ban had an appeal process, I might agree. But this user was just deleting old posts. We have the same problem with the "consecutive deleted posts" detection in the mod queue; the system can't tell the difference between a legitimately deleted post and an abusively deleted one. – user102937 Jun 23 '11 at 15:20
  • No. I refuse to believe that. I know that Sam and Ben and Marc and Nick are absolute genii, but I refuse to believe that they have invented an AI that can determine that a post is a dupe of a previous post by a similar user. An exact dupe yes, but a poorly edited dupe, no. They can predict that it may be a dupe, but to ascertain, no. – jcolebrand Jun 23 '11 at 15:21
  • Does the bot detect when it's a deleted and duplicate question from the OP? – random Jun 23 '11 at 15:21
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    @random: I think it just assumes any deletion is bad behavior. – user102937 Jun 23 '11 at 15:25
  • @jcolebrand: Don't we already have mechanisms in place for dealing with people reposting their questions? Close as exact duplicate, for example? A user gets enough of these, they're banned anyway. – user102937 Jun 23 '11 at 15:28
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    @Robert not if they are deleting the posts and then reposting them (which happens, a lot, from what I can gather from a handful of users). The intent is to stop those users from that behavior. Not to stop everyone. – jcolebrand Jun 23 '11 at 15:30
  • @jcolebrand: I would be willing to give the poster the benefit of the doubt if they are reposting while changing the wording of the question in an effort to improve it, instead of just copy-pasting it to a new question. – user102937 Jun 23 '11 at 15:45
  • @Robert I would be willing to give the poster the benefit of the doubt if they edited the question they were asking instead of asking a new one – jcolebrand Jun 23 '11 at 15:53
  • I get that. But it still doesn't solve the problem posed in the question. – user102937 Jun 23 '11 at 15:55
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    My solution was no change. – jcolebrand Jun 23 '11 at 15:58

The concept of [temporal] ban system based on very bad questions and answers (having a lot of downvotes, closed, deleted by moderators) is good and should be kept.

However, users should have right to correct their own mistakes, and delete the unfortunate questions and answers. Well, it shouldn't happen, but it happens sometimes you miss something is a duplicate or misread one sentence...

My proposal:

  • remove deleted answers/questions count from block algorith
  • base block algorith only on the 'quality' of posts (downvotes, closed, deleted), no matter if they are deleted or not
  • add some 'forgiveness' rates, so that deleted posts would be excluded from block threshold calculation after some time (with exception of spam/offensive, or pinned by moderators by something like 'unforgiven sin spam')

To be honest, Stack Overflow is starting to make me mad.

There's clearly a reputation-focused community that intimidates novice users. I have seen entire comment threads on a question evaluating its upvotes instead of offering answers. I have seen comments belitting askers, because their question already exists in the 1,700,000 posts Stack Overflow database. I see decent questions dismissed, downvoted, closed, or whatever as a "simple maintenance action" on Stack Overflow - an action, I think, is very dispelling to novice users who are just trying to get their Stack Overflow feet wet.

What is happening? We are punishing people for trying to join in the conversation!

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    There is a legitimate need for an IP banning system. If you saw the amount of sh*t I see every day in the moderator queue, you would see why. The people who get banned have to pass through several helpful signposts, guides and banners to perform their bad behavior. Most of them are unlikely to ever reform sufficiently to become good stackizens. However, a small percentage get trapped by the IP ban over some intricate detail like this one, and there's no recourse because there's no appeal process. – user102937 Jun 23 '11 at 15:30
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    @Jerry ~ It's happening for the same reason as they can't use google with a few search terms to find what they want, when it likely already exists. It's happening because they don't take the time to form a valid and useful and answerable question. It's happening because most of them can't effing debug a program, which is the first skill any developer should learn. (and one I may be teaching a class on locally if there is enough interest) – jcolebrand Jun 23 '11 at 15:35
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    Well, @robert, I can't know the internal details you clearly do about stack overflow. I just know what I observe. But @jcolebrand, your attitude is close to the very thing I was trying to say. Being hostile to a novice developer doesn't encourage them, it discourages them. As our industry's average age now creeps above 40, we need to evaluate what factors are contributing to the discouragement of new developers. Even those developers who are learning the basics of debugging. It's my personal, and probably stupid, opinion that they should be allowed to ask questions, too. – Jerry Nixon Jun 23 '11 at 17:28
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    A lot of folks put a lot of effort into SO, it isn't hostile to expect the same from others. – user7116 Jun 23 '11 at 18:51
  • @Jerry I'm not saying that's a stupid mindset. I'm saying that they should strive to be better. I'm about 70% self taught (the other 30% was in Uni and revolved around higher level maths) and I taught myself how to debug long before I started asking questions on the stacks. I've had some good mentors over the years but from about 94 through about 2001 I didn't have anyone to go and ask questions of, and yet I learned all those things that I think a person should learn, and I was self taught and didn't have the modern internet. I read books (today blogs) and didn't ask for handouts. – jcolebrand Jun 23 '11 at 20:26
  • @jcolebrand, now newbies are asking for handouts? So you are smart. The point I am trying to make is that novice developers are treated like lower class citizens. Not by you, but by people who express attitudes similar to your comments. And, it is becoming more common on Stack Overflow. That's my point. – Jerry Nixon Jun 28 '11 at 18:20
  • @Jerry when you come to SO without proof that you've tried previously, yes, you're begging for a handout. When you come with proof that you've tried, and then we help you fix it, that's not the same thing. – jcolebrand Jun 28 '11 at 20:34

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