What does closing a question do on SE, in your view? What do you think it should do? Is there a better way to achieve the goals of closing questions?

As I understand it, closing questions does the following:

  • Makes it impossible to post an answer;
  • Hides the question from most feeds of new questions;

What is the intended effect of that? I suppose this:

  • Prevent extra work to remove potentially…
    • Low quality content
    • Duplicate content
    • Off-topic content
    • Unclear content
    • Advertisement, spam, abuse and incomprehensible jibberish posts
  • Direct users to answers in another post
  • Request improvements from user in a compelling way (not allowing answers to be posted is probably the strongest incentive to improve one’s question)

(I might have misinterpreted some parts of how “Closing questions” system works on SE or what the intended results are, so correct me if I’m wrong.)

Do you think all of those goals are good and enough? What can be improved, added/removed or moved to a different mechanic? Is this the best approach to solve those problems?

Also, do you think this mechanic works just as well for both sites of the scale and thousands of questions per day throughput of SO and smaller much less active sites with a couple questions per day asked?

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Duplicates are obvious no need to answer the same question twice. However, beyond that I think there are some major problems.

Let’s talk about shopping questions that at some point will go out of date. The problem with closing these is that it ensures that when the answers do get outdated at some point in the future nobody will be able to add an updated answer. Instead the outdated answers stick around for years.

Questions that are off-topic serve as signposts that those particular questions are not welcome, that can be good or bad but if the people are finding them useful while at the same time seeing that the community doesn’t want those types of questions around, it can make them feel not welcome.

There have been plenty of times I have Googled a problem, clicked the SO question link and then seen a closed as off-topic notice.

I think that closing a non-dupe should have really only two results

  1. The question is temporarily put on hold while problems with its content are fixed and is then reopened.
  2. The question gets deleted.

There are exceptions of course but I consider questions that are closed and stick around for years after they have been closed a black mark on a site.

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Duplicate questions, in my opinion, should be linked to the supposed “same” previous question and only disable the ability to add new answers if there is already at least one answer on the “same” older question. If there isn’t, both questions should be able to receive answers, because for all we know, the older one is impossible to find or is so badly written only the regular users know it’s actually the same.

When there are answers on the parent duplicate question, poster should be asked to explain why it doesn’t work for them so they could have a reason to have their question open for answers, with more clarity and less bureaucracy. Perhaps reviewers should receive edited closed questions for reopening review sooner rather than in random order for quicker feedback loop between reviewers and askers who want to put effort into improving their questions. Also, I think closing and reopening should happen with fewer than 5 votes, like the 3-vote experiment Shog did on SO this fall.

Date-specific or quickly perishable questions and answers should be marked as such via some tag or reaction system for users to see a couple years down the road that it’s okay to post or ask for an updated answer. This is a big change I’d like to see. When I encounter outdated posts I sometimes bounty them with an explanation that some years have passed, asking to confirm if the latest answer is still valid or provide a current modern solution. There’s gotta be a better way.

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One of the important reasons for closing is to prevent misguided do-gooders from hurting the site. Bad questions must not yield the desired result, else various bad things are taught to the OP and to anyone watching. Bad questions need to be shut down in such a way that the OP not only doesn’t get and answer, but also feels at least a little thrown out. There has to be a cost, else there is no downside to spamming the site with a bunch of bad questions.

The problem with this is that there are always a few who want to help the OP, no matter how unworthy, or just to look smart by answering something. Either way the site gets hurt. To prevent such damage to the site, everyone has to be prevented from answering.

That’s how SE works now, but it doesn’t go far enough. Too often, especially when a site gets big enough, the misguided do-gooders get in there before the question can be closed. The OP gets what they came for, and bad lessons are learned.

So what’s the answer? There needs to be some cost to answering a question that ultimately gets closed. In the context of the SE system (since we don’t know how rep, or whatever might replace it, will work here yet), all rep due to upvotes on such answers are lost when the question is closed. And, you lose an additional 10 rep just for answering something that shouldn’t have been answered.

Emphatic no. Questions that do not meet a minimum quality standard should be closed, yes, and must not be answered. The OP should not feel thrown out. Taken aback, possibly, maybe frustrated, but not thrown out - that’s not what we want to leave people thinking about our site.

We want authors of closed questions to go “huh, that’s not what I expected, but at least there’s something I can do about it”. We want them to be clear that their question as written won’t fly, but we want them to feel that there are resources available to guide them in improving it. If it’s unsalvageable (totally off-topic, for example), then we need to be clear about that.

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only disable the ability to add new answers if there is already at least one answer on the “same” older question.

On SO, you can’t mark a question as a duplicate of another question if the duplicate target does not have an accepted or upvoted answer. You get the following message if you try:

This question does not have an upvoted or accepted answer

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A concrete example (well, until it gets closed!):

Just asked. Totally new user (not someone who started on another site and now has a DIY question), so no experience at all in what makes a good question.

Two close votes so far - one as “off-topic” and one “needs details or clarity”.

For the off-topic, I commented: I don’t think this is operation of major appliances, because obviously OP knows how to set the thermostat or else it wouldn’t heat up to the selected temperature. Therefore, it isn’t working right. Which means repair . Which IS ON TOPIC .

In other words, another experienced user doesn’t, IMHO, understand the definition of “on topic”. So how can we expect the new users to understand the nuances?

And for “needs details or clarity”. Yes, that is true. But the way to get that is by asking for more information (which the ever-helpful new-user-greeter Daniel Griscom) did. I personally know a lot of people who don’t know anything about their appliances except how to cook with them. They typically would not know WHAT details to include in a question, as I believe is the case here.

Closing the question abruptly will not help OP formulate a better question. She’ll leave and likely never come back - and might even avoid all SE sites altogether.

I do not know how to solve this. But I do know that the VTC attitude in SE is not good for new users. There are exceptions (spam, hate, truly off-topic (happens a lot when people stumble into Meta and start asking “regular” questions), etc.) but for the typical new user, help is what they need - which might be to edit the question to include sufficient details (including MCVE for the coding sites) or a pointer to other questions with the information they need (aka duplicates). But “sorry, no good, see ya” is anything but welcoming.

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I like the sandbox idea mentioned in a recent post from Monica a lot. Instead of closing a question we can ‘sandbox’ a question. (and I would say that answers are still allowed, but it should be known that the questions can be changed extremely) Or when sandbox sound to much childish we can send a question to the ‘atelier’ where the question can be discussed on a meta level and where it can be reshaped.

Eventually it is about:

  1. help people with questions
  2. abuse people’s questions to create a database of questions that can help even more other people

I find it personally very patronizing to close questions in order to prevent others to waste their time helping the OP. The problem is not so much that people are trying to help other people, but instead it is much more that we get stuck with an ugly question that is a bit difficult to place into the database (and, yes, it can attract more rubbish such that it is potentially a bigger problem of growing polution).

If the closed questions are detrimental then we can either remove them or place them out of sight. But it is not teaching bad behaviour. Most often the OP is simply not capable to do better (and needs help in the form of comments instead of a closed notification). I do not see why that should be a reason to block people from trying to to help that person (but yes I do see a reason why we should not keep their question unless edited and improved).

I am amazed that SE/SO is recently making such a big deal about being more welcoming but still has that closing option which is a very unpersonal approach. In addition, often the standard message* accompanying the close vote is outdated and unclear and is of no help at all.

*(I saw this recently with a question on meta.se What will the community's next step be now that SE has declared inactivity and silence towards the current events? - Meta Stack Exchange. it was closed for being opinion based - or more likely because of the political statement about Hong Kong but that is not what the close message says -. But, the standard close message just links to the standard article about ‘opinion based’ which is about non-meta sites and thus helps nothing with the allowed degree of opinion on the meta site.)

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This is the poster case for burn it to the ground.

More likely this is an experienced user annoyed at the blatantly bad question lacking obvious details.

No. Burn it to the ground. Otherwise you just noise up the site and dissipate volunteer effort.

You don’t need to know anything about stoves to know that there is not nearly enough detail here. The lack of detail really should be obvious .

OK. Not everyone is worth helping. Remember, a bunch of volunteers are being asked for a favor when you post a question.

Um, OK. Some users are net negatives. If she doesn’t learn from getting the question closed, then you don’t want her around. If she does learn, then it will be OK to have her come back. Works either way.

Not every question or user is worth salvaging. All questions have costs. Good questions provide enough content to outweigh the cost. Bad questions drag down the site. Attempting to salvage a bad question drags the site down even more.

After a lot of effort, you might be able to salvage a user that starts by dumping crap on the site. That’s a false economy. Users that ask questions are not a scarce commodity. Expert time to answer questions is.

This is one point on which we definitely disagree. If an experienced user wants to close for details, that’s OK in this case - that is the real problem. But to close for operation of major appliances when despite the lack of details, it should be quite obvious that is not what is being asked is wrong.

Back to the general issue - it goes to the question of how much “lack of details” should cause “close” vs. some other more friendly action to help get the details. I really believe that closing a question is very not welcoming. When it is for something truly off-topic (e.g., “How do I get the convection oven to work with the temperature probe?” - that would be “operation”) fine. When it is for “details”, jumping to close (and even worse “close for incorrect reason”) is just going to turn the new users off.

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