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What is this community’s take on deleting closed questions? What are the criteria for deletion?

In the past few days, I have voted on deleting some of the closed questions that seemed to have absolutely no value to the site (way off-topic, way too localized, that kind of stuff). I do it on other sites, as part of the “janitorial” activities of high-rep users.

The questions gathered no other delete vote, so I flagged a few others (e.g., here and there). The mods declined to delete, saying “there's no need to flag a question as low-quality if it's already been closed”.

So, I wonder: does this site have a deliberate policy of not deleting these very low quality closed questions? Argument has been made in other parts of the SE network, including by the SE team itself, that deletion is the final destination of many closed questions. For example, see here:

Why would you delete a question? Isn’t closing it enough?

  • Some questions are of such poor quality that they cannot be salvaged. They’re literally nonsense. Not every byte of data that is created in the world is infinite and sacred.
  • Some questions are so incredibly off topic that they add no value to a programming community.
  • The mental cost of processing these closed questions is not zero, particularly for users who are actively engaged and scanning questions to find things they can help answer.
  • If users see a lot of closed questions, they’ll note that we don’t enforce the guidelines, so why should they? Without any final resolution, asking questions that get closed becomes something we are implicitly encouraging — a broken windows problem. If this goes on for long enough, we’re no longer a community of programmers who ask and answer programming questions, we’re a community of random people discussing.. whatever. That’s toxic.
  • If enough of these closed questions are allowed to hang around, they become clutter that reduces the overall signal to noise ratio — which further reduces confidence in the system.

Or see there:

Closed questions should be kept on the site when:

  1. They are a duplicate of another on topic question. As there are many ways of asking the same question it's good that we have the different examples on the site.
  2. ....

Well that's it really.

I could see no meta post on the topic, hence I create one. When does the community feel it is appropriate to delete closed questions?

8

Edit: I finally managed to find the exact quote I was looking for. This is from Grace Note, a community manager from the SE team:

With the exception of duplicates (which we keep around for searchability), closing is intended to be a temporary state for a question. There are only two states in the future of a closed question - getting deleted or getting reopened. The primary purpose of closing is to serve as a sentence to eventual deletion.

and

unless a question has some chance to be considered for reopening, it should be deleted

So, the SE policy is not to ask “which closed questions should be deleted?” but “which closed questions should be kept?” (as done, e.g., on the computer science meta).


For the record, and for others to comment on it, I'll add here my opinion:

I think closed questions should be deleted if:

  • they have not been answered
  • they are not duplicates (“closed as duplicate” can be found in searches and lead back to the main question, so they are useful)

The reason for this is basically the same as summarized in my question: off-topic or low-quality closed questions reduce the signal-to-noise ratio (they turn up in searches, for example) and don't give a good image of the site.


I would be happy to have them deleted via high-rep users (and not moderators), if moderators think it's not the best use of their time. But we need a policy for that, and people then have to check regularly for recent delete votes.

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    As far as I understand from the other answers, it's not really a problem of "best use of their time". If I understand correctly the privileges system, a 2K rep is enough to cast delete votes. We have 18 users (excluding mods) with a 2K rep. If the community wants these questions deleted, they can do it. – user102 Oct 15 '12 at 9:18
  • See aeismail's answer above; I disagree with your suggested deletion policy. Just because there's no answer doesn't mean it shouldn't be there; new people come all the time, and old questions do occasionally receive new answers. At the very least, leaving old questions intact prevents a new user (who is savvy enough to search) from asking the same question again. – eykanal Oct 15 '12 at 14:31
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    @eykanal F'x is talking about closed questions, nobody can add answers to those. – Mad Scientist Oct 16 '12 at 21:23
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    I disagree, I think we should delete as little as possible. – gerrit Oct 25 '12 at 20:51
  • I'll accept this because it features a nice quote from a Stack Exchange community manager, so accepting it (and moving it higher) will make it more visible to new users… – F'x Dec 3 '12 at 15:07
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There are three main types of deletions that I personally have made:

  1. Answers that should have been comments; the answer may look like it was deleted, but it was just converted to a comment
  2. Answers that were completely off topic, and do not add anything to the conversation.
  3. Answers that are abusive/trolling/spammy/ad hominem/etc.

I believe that this is the way the other mods deal with deletions as well.

That being said, moderators are people too, and you'll probably find differences between how aeismail, Charles, and I deal with flags. It should be noted that your posting here is exactly how you should handle this sort of thing; if you flag something and you think we didn't respond appropriately, make a thread such as this one specifically related to the post at hand and we'll respond. (As mods, we get a notification every time someone post a new thread in meta... we'll see it.)


EDIT: Having discussed this with mods from other sites, I'm going to reshape my opinion. It seems that a "closed" marker on a question is actually an indicator stating, "Please either edit this question so it's site-appropriate or delete it". In that vein, we should look at each closed question as a request to fix the question up so it's salvageable. If we can't do that, it should be deleted, as suggested by Grace Note (and brought to my attention by F'x in his answer below).

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    Yes, I do the same for 1 and 3, (although 1 is not really a deletion :)). For 2, I'd say it's case by case approach. But I agree with you, each mod is different, and when I'm not sure about a flag, I leave it to the others mods :) – user102 Oct 14 '12 at 20:56
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    I agree with your edit. I also agree with your caution against over-pruning, as long as we are in beta. Hence, in case of doubt, or without clear consensus, I'd be in favor to keep it closed for now, and not to delete it. – user102 Oct 17 '12 at 15:52
  • I agree with your edit too… and I'm sorry it took me so long to convincingly articulate my point :) – F'x Oct 17 '12 at 18:26
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As a personal viewpoint, I'm for deleting as little as possible. We don't really have storage issues, and any information is good. In particular, if someone wants to ask a question, searches on the site first, and finds similar questions that were close, then this person knows that the question is not a good fit.

We have a search engine, it's not like one has to go through all the questions one by one, and be bothered by the closed questions in the process.

It goes the same with answers and comments. I only want to delete offensive, very low quality content and spam. For the rest, the community can close and down vote, and I believe it's enough. I don't feel like have closed questions is a problem right now, maybe it's worth to reconsider this position if it becomes one.

EDIT: I also completely agree with eykanal's point of saying you're doing the perfect thing by putting this on meta. As for the two questions you mention, I don't feel the urge to delete them, because I don't think they are harming the site right now. But I would have nothing against their deletion either. I guess the main point is that, as a mod, I don't want to make alone the decision to delete them (the usual reason: I prefer to have low-quality questions on the site than good questions deleted, and I don't want to be alone in setting the limit). Hopefully, this question on the meta might give other people the willingness to vote to delete them!

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    You DO have storage issues. Do you ever clean your house? Empty the trash from the kitchen? Vacuum the floors? Whip up the spilled drinks? What would happen if you didn't? Not only will the mess look bad to new visitors, but it will encourage people to be sloppy and not worry about the new messes they are making. – Caleb Oct 16 '12 at 19:39
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    My house has not practically infinite space, and does not have a search engine, so your analogy is not adapted. I maintain that we don't have storage issues. We might have, in some cases, presentation issues, and I'd be glad to discuss them if they arise. Now, what happens if one person starts deleting information that others might find interesting? How would my friends that I invite feel if I start putting in the trash their personal stuff, just because it doesn't look "perfect"? They might not come back. We have about 50 questions on the front page, only 1 closed. I can live with that noise. – user102 Oct 16 '12 at 19:54
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    Those questions don't look bad to new visitors, because new visitors won't see them. They'll see new questions and/or highly voted questions. Closed questions that probably have negative vote have a very low visibility in any case. – gerrit Oct 25 '12 at 20:48
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I think having the record of the question being asked and "shut down" is more useful than deleting them outright. Something that is offensive or spam should, of course, be deleted. But something that is merely off-topic or inappropriate for the board should probably stay for archival purposes, particularly if an answer was received.

  • I'm mostly talking about very low quality questions which have not received an answer. Keeping them diminishes the signal/noise ratio… (they show up in search results, for example) – F'x Oct 15 '12 at 6:11
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    That's true. But I think the comment trail is also a needed part of the record of this group. It's better to have a record that a question was asked and thought off-topic, rather than just delete it outright. If the community feels differently, that's their decision, too. But I don't like the idea of arbitrarily deleting questions if there is useful information about why we don't allow questions of a given nature. – aeismail Oct 15 '12 at 13:36
  • one could argue that the place for “useful information about why we don't allow questions of a given nature” is on meta, not on the main site (for the same reason: keep the site clean and attractive!) – F'x Oct 15 '12 at 13:40
  • Anyway, I didn't want to drag anyone into a length discussion… seems you mods have a pretty clear agreement on that, and noöne else actually popped in so far… I won't flag for deletion any more! Thanks again for the responses here. – F'x Oct 15 '12 at 13:41
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    @F'x: Please feel free to keep flagging deletion, if you feel it necessary for some question or answers. It's very likely we have missed some very low-quality posts, and please feel free to bring problematic questions to meta. It's always nice to see involvement from the community :) – user102 Oct 15 '12 at 13:54
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    Disagree. Based on experience on other sites, you really want to clean that stuff up. Either put the preasure on to get them edited and re-opened or make them go away. Down the road, they will attract fleas. People will see them around and use your site to ask off topic questions, get their quick answers and then move on even through their question is not what you want being asked. If a question is shut down it should either be in the shop for repairs or in line for the rubbish heap. – Caleb Oct 16 '12 at 19:35
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    I think it's fair to say that if a question has no tangible relation to academia, it is fair game for elimination. However, questions that are somewhat on-topic represent a "grey area" for now. If we see that we are getting hit with a bunch of questions in those areas, we can adopt a stricter policy. However, if the community decides a question should be zapped from existence, we're not likely to undo that. – aeismail Oct 17 '12 at 5:13
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Candidates for deletion can be found here. Each and every question on that list, should either be deleted or edited & reopened. If you have 2000 rep or over, please do go to that list, and spend a little bit of time going through some of the questions, and for each one, either vote for its deletion, or edit it into shape so that it can be reopened.

As F'x wrote, the Stack Exchange policy is this (my emphasis) :

With the exception of duplicates (which we keep around for searchability), closing is intended to be a temporary state for a question. There are only two states in the future of a closed question - getting deleted or getting reopened. The primary purpose of closing is to serve as a sentence to eventual deletion.

and

unless a question has some chance to be considered for reopening, it should be deleted

  • Thank you for the updated search string. Despite being documented I couldn't figure out how to filter out duplicate and migrated questions. – StrongBad Sep 24 '13 at 15:49
  • It's only now become possible to filter out duplicates (like, within the last few hours) – EnergyNumbers Sep 24 '13 at 16:05
  • ah..okay, so that is why my rep dropped by 35 – user7130 Sep 24 '13 at 17:35
  • @EnergyNumbers that makes me feel better. – StrongBad Sep 25 '13 at 12:14
  • Thanks for the link – posdef Oct 8 '13 at 12:27
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I'd like to add an additional reason to be careful in deleting questions:

As long as the software does not inform users that their post has been deleted, we should be extremely careful in deleting questions.

To elaborate a bit more: for any question where we can assume good faith, the question must not be deleted. Closing informs a user that a question is offtopic or not suitable. Deleting leaves a user confused and annoyed.

On a personal note, I've had a question deleted on English SE and I have thoroughly confused and quite annoyed. Where had my question gone? Why had my question disappeared? Finally I had to waste peoples time by asking on Meta if someone know what happened to my question. Meanwhile, I got very annoyed and almost decided to leave English SE because of this bad treatment.

Only 10k-users can see deleted question. But deleted questions from 10k-users are probably very rare. Therefore, as long as the software does not inform users about deleted posts, we should only close questions that are obviously not in good faith.

  • Deletion happens after closing. If the question was closed, and the user is not interested in editing to fit the site’s standards, I don't see how deleting it would be a problem for them. (There's a waiting period between closing and deleting.) – F'x Oct 25 '12 at 21:27
  • I didn't notice any waiting period when my question got deleted, I never saw it closed. How long or how short is this waiting period? – gerrit Oct 25 '12 at 21:34

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