The flagged posts tool is frequently cluttered with Not an answer or Low quality flags on questions and answers from 2008 and 2009; I've recently counted 17 and 13 such flagged questions or answers out of the 50 randomly shown.

Stack Overflow is not the site it used to be; it doesn't seem productive to me to try to hold ancient posts to standards that did not yet exist. Some old answers should have been comments, but -- I think -- were made before comments were implemented.

So I propose adding a polite unicorn when a user flags an old post:

friendly unicorn with flagging advice


Very Low Quality: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/121269/code-smells-in-non-oo-forms/121293#121293

GEOCHET's answer is definitely lacking in description, but a -1 would probably do better than flagging.

Not an Answer: Is there a good interactive 3D graph library out there?
Is there a good interactive 3D graph library out there?

These answers, and two more, (since deleted by Robert) might have been wrong, but they were at least suggesting libraries. 2D-only, rather than the 3D that the questioner requested. That's why they had negative votes. But they weren't comments. They weren't requests for more information. They were just wrong.

Incidentally, the question is a poll. Today we'd close and delete the entire question. But in 2009, it got 11 answers -- and remains open today.

Duplicate: "Adding" Dictionaries in Python? was marked as a duplicate of python dict.add_by_value(dict_2)?.

I don't think I'd ever recommend marking a question as a duplicate of a code-golf question. (Which we mostly throw over the fence these days.) But the code golf question got 8 answers back in 2009, and it remains open today.


Those old questions and answers might not be perfection by today's standards. But they've been picked over quite a bit already and I think we've reached the point of diminishing returns. Our flagging and pruning efforts would probably be better spent on the contents generated in the last week.

  • 25
    Why should only some of the content on the site be well-maintained?
    – Tim Stone
    Commented Jul 3, 2011 at 1:22
  • Because I have a suspicion we'd need to outright delete a vast portion of our older content to try to hold it the standards we hold today. It might not be our ideal, but similarly, it might still be useful.
    – sarnold
    Commented Jul 3, 2011 at 1:26
  • If the content is useful, but has problems, it should be improved instead of flagged anyway. Otherwise I doubt we're really losing anything, especially with non-answers.
    – Tim Stone
    Commented Jul 3, 2011 at 1:30
  • 1
    Good point on non-answers; I'm just getting tired of ~20% of the flagged content being content that was fine the day it was posted.
    – sarnold
    Commented Jul 3, 2011 at 1:31
  • 6
    So I take it you don't believe in refactoring code, either? Standards change; content should change with it.
    – Aarobot
    Commented Jul 3, 2011 at 1:44
  • @Aarobot, hehe :) However, the consensus seems that even questions now off-topic should remain here rather than be migrated. Some of the old, good, but out-of-style content would take absolute tons of effort to fix.
    – sarnold
    Commented Jul 3, 2011 at 1:57
  • Can you provide some examples of things people are flagging that fall into this category? It almost sounds like people might be using flags for things they shouldn't be using flags for period, but it's hard to tell.
    – Tim Stone
    Commented Jul 3, 2011 at 2:26
  • @Tim, a few examples added. I think you might be right, but that's the way it is even with new posts...
    – sarnold
    Commented Jul 3, 2011 at 8:37
  • The consensus is indeed that ancient questions should not be migrated - but it's perfectly acceptable to close them if they're not up to snuff by today's standards.
    – Aarobot
    Commented Jul 4, 2011 at 1:32

2 Answers 2


I disagree. Broken windows shouldn't be allowed to remain just because they happened before a certain cutoff date.

I often run queries to find questions asked in answers. Such a query doesn't care when the "answer" was given, so why should I prevent myself from flagging obvious non-answers that should be removed? If a comment was given in an answer before comments existed, I can flag it for a moderator to convert that to an actual comment. "Thanks", "me too", and questions in answers don't belong, and should be removed in almost every case.

Just because a question was asked and answered a while ago doesn't mean that Google stopped returning it as a search result after that time. People keep reading older questions, so we should make sure that they are just as clean as more recent ones. Not only does this increase the signal to noise ratio, but it also helps to encourage people not to use Stack Overflow like a traditional forum.

Admittedly, the non-answer examples you provide aren't the best uses for flags. I use downvotes for attempts at answers that don't really address the question asked, and reserve flags for true non-answers.

  • Marking your answer as Accepted mostly because I really like the Broken Windows metaphor. But I think it is interesting that stackoverflow.com/questions/1358412/… remains unclosed despite being a poll question. :)
    – sarnold
    Commented Jul 9, 2011 at 2:33
  • Ah, so that is how you come up with so many flags... Commented Nov 24, 2011 at 19:23
  • @NullUserExceptionอ_อ Yup, although with the new review tools and everyone's obsession with flag weight, it's thankfully much harder to find forum-like behavior in answers now. The great turkey shoot of earlier this year: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/83075/… cleared out a lot of this stuff. Before then, I think I was one of the few users flagging non-answers, so I could easily use all my daily flags in 20 minutes. Commented Nov 25, 2011 at 15:57

We've been deleting large portions of the old original content now for quite some time. I don't think mass deletions are in order, but if someone finds a specific post that no longer meets the guidelines and flags it, what's wrong with addressing that problem?

I don't think people are not flagging the recent content because they're spending all their time flagging the old content. And I don't think people who clean out flags are only processing the flags for the old content and ignoring the new content. And remember that flags are sorted in random order, meaning that we get as many eyes on as many different flags as possible. So where's the harm?

A lot of people want to hold onto the old content; that's a sentiment that's been discussed and refuted over and over on Meta. I'm more of the neutral opinion that we should only prune the old content that is actually problematic, the stuff that obviously fails to meet our current guidelines. Flags are an effective way to identify those problem posts.

It's unclear why we should add this complexity to the flag system. From the early days, we've had quite a bit of difficulty encouraging people to use their flags. Now you expect them to figure out when the flags are appropriate and where the rules should be applied? I can't imagine that's going to help matters...

  • 1
    It's hard for me to believe that there was a problem getting people to flag content; it feels like a torrent...
    – sarnold
    Commented Jul 3, 2011 at 9:29

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