95

The Workplace gets a lot of questions whose initial versions don't fit. We correctly close those. Our closure rate is around 50% (I can't find an exact number in the tools), so this is a widespread issue, particularly with new users who aren't as experienced with our expectations.

Fortunately, closure isn't supposed to be the end of the line. The whole point of closing a question is to prevent answers while the question gets fixed so it can be reopened. Many questions don't get fixed and reopened, and instead ultimately get deleted, but we allow time for fixes to be attempted, if people want to try.

All of that is defeated if people rush in to delete questions soon after they're closed. We've had recent deletions that happened in under six hours (one in about 90 minutes!). While that's fine for questions that are abusive or completely unredeemable, I think we're being too trigger-happy with questions that could be fixed or that people are actively trying to fix.

Think back to your first internship or job. You made mistakes because you didn't know the ropes. Some of them were bad, or embarrassing. But unless they were at the "lose a big contract" or "burn down the building" level, you probably didn't get immediately fired for them, right? Instead, your supervisor took corrective action, both to fix whatever you did wrong and to instill in you the importance of not doing that again.

Our new users are like interns or perhaps fresh grads. They have some basic skills and knowledge, but they're going to get it wrong sometimes. Quickly deleting their questions is like firing them. Requesting clarification, closing, editing, and allowing time to fix it is like your supervisor's corrective action.

We're a site about the workplace. Shouldn't we emulate good workplace practices here? Save the insta-deletions for the questions that will burn down the site.

  • 9
    Thank you for posting this. I've thought for a while that we have a problem with being too quick to delete questions. It's especially an issue when there's a crowd in chat saying "Quick, delete this before they can reopen it!" – David K Mar 5 '18 at 13:44
  • 4
    @MisterPositive duplicates aren't bad if they're worded differently enough that search might find them but not the original. If they're complete duplicates, like when somebody responds to a closure by reposting the question (happens occasionally), that's different. – Monica Cellio Mar 5 '18 at 13:53
  • 6
    @MisterPositive I'm not talking about closing. I want us to put questions on hold quickly if there are problems; that's the best way to prevent a train wreck. I'm talking about quick deletions here. – Monica Cellio Mar 5 '18 at 15:13
  • 6
    With a heavy sense of irony, I've deleted my answer here. – Snow Mar 5 '18 at 15:45
  • This question deserved to be deleted. Period. End of story. workplace.stackexchange.com/q/107593/437 – Jim G. Mar 6 '18 at 19:52
  • @JimG - I disagree. The answer deserved to be deleted. The question could have been saved with out the answer there to prevent the overhaul it needed. But once the answer exists then I agree it had to go. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 6 '18 at 20:45
  • 1
  • 1
    My first job was self-employment, so no I didn't get fired at all. My second job I did get fired, although not for making a mistake. My fifth job I got fired, but again, not for making a mistake. But a lot of people were fired from my fifth job for incompetence, regardless of their experience or lack thereof. One thing that saves inexperienced people who make mistakes most places I've worked is when they actually make fewer mistakes than someone else. They don't have to be better than bad, they just have to be better than their worst coworker. – Todd Wilcox Mar 13 '18 at 17:26
  • 5
    "I think we're being too trigger-happy with questions that could be fixed or that people are actively trying to fix." - Agreed! I believe that trigger-happiness extends to Closes as well as to Deletes. IMHO, rapid closing of questions chases many newbies off. I wish there was more effort put into improving questions before voting to close them. Seems as if a small majority likes to vote to close. We've talked about this before. I'm not sure it's going to change. – Joe Strazzere Mar 15 '18 at 13:36
  • A similar question was recently asked on math meta and the huge discrepancy in the level of civility here (high) vs. there (low) makes me laugh. – tilper Mar 23 '18 at 15:49
  • I just want to add one thing. A new user doesn't care if his question is on hold or is closed. He just want to get some answers, and move on with his day. You can delete his post or whatever you like. – VarunAgw Mar 30 '18 at 11:29
  • 2
    Too many new users get shogged on here. It's hard to get questions re-opened after they have been improved, which doesn't help. – user Apr 5 '18 at 15:44
  • Stack overflow doesn't do this and it grinds my gears to no end. It's good to see a Stack Exchange community taking the teaching initiative like this. Well done! – user53651 Apr 6 '18 at 22:35
31

I think its time to turn up the enforcement of the spirit of the be nice policy.

Reduce the threshold for accepting rude/abusive flags especially in comments. If it could be considered rude then accept the flag and let the users that post snarky, and unhelpful or whiny comments suffer the penalties that were intended.

Encourage people to flag comments as rude or abusive more. Especially when they are.

The carrot is the game that these people get to play where they score points for telling other people how to live their lives on the interwebs. Time to bring in the stick for when they stop making an honest effort to be nice.

If you would not say a comment is nice or constructive, then it should be considered rude of abusive. With the penalties that start being enforced you will quickly see a change in the atmosphere here overall. Worst case if it fails then you roll back the penalties and say oops my bad.

The reality of the system is that comments can be used to trigger some people with OCD. Most people around here know who those people are that get triggered. Repeatedly intentionally triggering those people is abusive. Yes I am one and I have never made that a secret.

  • 5
    We've got a dangerous game here, text can be a difficult place to understand how people are trying to talk. Someone may consider they are being shouted at, whilst other get the teacher vibe. Some people may also not agree with a constructive comment and start suggesting it's being rude, where do we draw the line and who decides what that line is? – Draken Mar 16 '18 at 7:02
  • 6
    @Draken - First a few flags being accepted aren't going to harm you. Its a threshold thing. Second if the penalty is enough to make you reconsider should you really post that comment then the system works as intended. If you cant post it so it reads helpful not snarky or mean then dont comment. Finally, we elect moderators for that job. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 16 '18 at 11:35
  • 1
    Well, there's never a penalty at all for those users who got their comments removed due to flag, except a manual account suspension by mod team. (unless this answer intended to be a feature request) – Andrew T. Mar 26 '18 at 4:16
  • 1
    @AndrewT. - No there is an actual penalty, as a result mods rarely accept rude or abusive flags.(I do not know the actual penalty just know that it has been said else where by the mods that there is one) – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 26 '18 at 14:53
  • 1
    @IDrinkandIKnowThings you probably refer to the -100 reputation penalty, but that applies only for posts flagged as rude/spam, not comments. – Shadow Mar 26 '18 at 15:03
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit - I disagree. I am not advocating for a complete lack of reason, but in general I think thats a valid rule of thumb. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 29 '18 at 22:55
  • 2
    @IDrinkandIKnowThings: It's a false dichotomy, and it violates the "assume good faith" rule. It's also prone to overreacting to misunderstandings on your part (possibly due to cultural differences), as has already been pointed out. – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 29 '18 at 23:14
  • 1
    @LightnessRacesinOrbit - Lets face it. This rule is going to mostly apply to the few of us who tend to post comments that are more critical and less helpful. Comments are not for declaring you dislike of an answer or question. That is an abuse of the comment system. It is not that it is OK to post those comments, it is just permitted. I am saying its time to stop permitting it. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 30 '18 at 11:31
  • @IDrinkandIKnowThings: And I'm saying it's not. Hover over the "add a comment" link (on a non-meta site) and you'll see that comments are for critiquing. Along with requesting clarification, that is literally their purpose. Feedback is how people learn. – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 30 '18 at 11:54
  • 1
    @LightnessRacesinOrbit Critiquing is an attempt to improve the question, not just declare your disagreement. That is what voting is for. Comments trigger some people with OCD, and some people enjoy triggering those people. That is abusive. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 30 '18 at 12:15
  • 3
    @IDrinkandIKnowThings: You can't attempt to improve the question without stating things that are wrong wit hit. Of course being abusive is not acceptable, but your suggestion seems to take a dangerous approach to deciding when someone is and isn't abusive. You need strong evidence of that. Don't just throw someone under the bus because they didn't use as many smileys as you'd have liked. – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 30 '18 at 12:55
  • 2
    How do some comments trigger people with OCD? – Kat Mar 30 '18 at 16:11
  • 2
    @Kat - I would like to ignore comments a lot. However comments that I perceive as critical or challenging of my position I literally am unable to not reply. If I don't my anxiety will build until I either crack or address it, or self harm. which half the time addressing it is self harm. I dont mind polite questions like yours. But I expect there are people reading this thinking that is a bunch of hog wash that I am just mentally weak. We are both right. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 30 '18 at 19:40
  • 1
    @LightnessRacesinOrbit - But you do not have to be abusive in your manner of addressing the issue. Ask questions, rather than stating as facts works wonderfully. And most importantly nothing is gained from a comment that boils down to I disagree with your answer. That is already displayed in a down-vote. Your 1 rep penalty for voting my answer down does not give you the right to harass someone suffering from OCD. I suspect we have several users here with similar conditions. And just a few that enjoy intentionally trying to provoke them. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 30 '18 at 19:49
  • 2
    @IDrinkandIKnowThings: Of course not, but you weren't talking about people actually being abusive. You said that if you think the comment isn't "nice or constructive" then it should automatically be considered "abusive" anyway, which is extremely problematic because what constitues "nice" or "constructive" is vastly more subject to opinion than what constitutes "abusive". You can't just auto-replace one with the other and expect it to be appropriate in all cases. – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 30 '18 at 20:11
19

We're a site about the workplace. Shouldn't we emulate good workplace practices here? Save the insta-deletions for the questions that will burn down the site.

Yes.

4

In principle, I agree that we should try to help as many people as possible, which translates to saving as many questions as we can. However, there are some XY problems we need to consider.


We've had recent deletions that happened in under six hours (one in about 90 minutes!)

The option to delete a question doesn't appear automatically. For simplicity, let us ignore the deletion privilege at 10k reputation, and focus on the trusted user privilege. Trusted users can only vote to delete a post that scores -3 or lower. This leads to two questions:

  1. Possible loophole in SE policy: To delete a post, 3 delete votes are required, and coincidentally, a minimum of 3 downvotes are required for the delete option to appear! Theoretically, this allows 3 trusted users to "collude" to delete posts.

    SE could discourage this by not allowing the same trusted user to cast both downvote and delete vote, or by at least imposing a time delay between the two, but given that they are cool with allowing reopen vote along with delete vote, that won't happen any time soon. Besides, that also goes against the "earn your privilege" model of SE, especially since the privilege is named trusted user.

  2. Not enough upvotes on "salvagable" questions: The upvote privilege (at 15 reputation) is much easier to earn than the downvote privilege (125 reputation). For every upvote, an additional downvote is required to delete the post, or in other words, every upvote makes it harder to delete the post. So, why don't people upvote "salvageable" questions more often?

Now, considering all that, let's turn the question around and ask, "if the question wasn't that bad, why did it earn so many downvotes within 6 hours?"


You made mistakes because you didn't know the ropes ... you probably didn't get immediately fired for them, right? ... Quickly deleting their questions is like firing them. Requesting clarification, editing, and allowing time to fix it is like your supervisor's corrective action.

That is an interesting analogy, but it is also flawed. We don't ban or suspend people for asking one bad question (or even truckloads of bad questions, for that matter), which would be the equivalent of "firing" in the workplace.

A slightly more accurate analogy could be the following: If the intern's (or fresh grad's) work is not too bad, the supervisor will certainly work with them to fix it. However, if the intern's work is horribly bad, the supervisor will probably need to scrap their work entirely.

Whether a question is "not too bad" or "horribly bad" is subjective, but as long as we work within the SE framework, the post score serves as an objective measure for us to work with.


Let us not forget that the primary responsibility for asking "acceptable" questions lies with the asker, and not with the community. We certainly want to help as much as we can, otherwise we wouldn't be spending our free time here for internet points and badges. However, we should also not give an impression that people can post a few lines of text with minimal effort, and we will figure out how to make it acceptable.

In terms of the workplace analogy, we don't want the interns to think that they can just submit some half-completed work without much effort, and then expect that the supervisor will "work with them" to complete it.

  • 7
    "However, if the intern's work is horribly bad, the supervisor will probably need to scrap their work entirely." Driving the anology further into the ground, how is the intern going to improve the second time around when the supervisor has thrown his original work out with no other feedback beyond "This sucks, do it again!"? Or what if some benevolent coworkers want to help out but now can't because they have no idea what the original worked looked like or that there even is an intern? – Lilienthal Mar 5 '18 at 15:06
  • 6
    I follow your last point as well but again must point out that you're jumping the gun. It's up to community members to decide if they want to help an OP out. In most cases poor questions with no follow-up will receive no such assistance and they will be automatically removed by the system given time. But I've seen a few cases where the OP was actually contributing and responding in comments only for everything to go up in smoke. – Lilienthal Mar 5 '18 at 15:08
  • 19
    An upvote means "this is good". A question that has problems but is fixable is not yet good and therefore does not deserve an upvote. Upvoting these "meh" questions just to prevent over-eager 20k users from nuking them would be as much an abuse of the voting as colluding in chat on those deletions would be. – Monica Cellio Mar 5 '18 at 15:16
  • 7
    Well, if you want to read "or" where it says "and" then that's on you, but that doesn't make those who read "and" wrong. As for "meh", it's not like there's a global quality flag -- good, meh, bad. If there were, we wouldn't need voting. If I think it's meh but somebody else thinks it's a good question that just needs a little editing, why shouldn't I let that person try to fix it before jumping to deletion? Also, saving the vote until after the problem is fixed sends appropriate signal about that fix. – Monica Cellio Mar 5 '18 at 15:45
  • 3
    We do not have collusion by intent. We have collusion by group belief. We have a core group of well intentioned high rep users that are agressively targeting bad questions and answers. In theory that is not a bad thing but there is too much cull hard, and not enough prune and promote growth going on – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 7 '18 at 4:15
4

Experiment with whatever threshold there is to place questions from new users into the "First post" review queue and see whether people use it to improve people's questions.

Users of various communities are used to the idea of new users being moderated, so this won't come as a huge shock to them.

If re-jigging the threshold ends up causing more problems that it solves, it can easily be adjusted.

  • Do you mean send them to a review queue and don't immediately publish them on the front page? SO has a triage system, the details of which I don't know off-hand, that might be similar. – Monica Cellio Mar 5 '18 at 16:44
  • 1
    That might work. This stack is certainly popular enough to allow queues to be assessed quickly and not make people wait too long to get answers. – Snow Mar 5 '18 at 19:12
  • 1
    @MonicaCellio if we could get that implemented here I think it would reduce the amount of bad answers that prevent questions from being fixed before we have no choice but to close them – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 7 '18 at 4:04
  • 2
    This post on meta.SO describes their triage. It's from 2014 so it might not be exact in all the details. They did later add a "help and improvement" queue too; I don't know much about that but assume it's roughly along the lines of what this post sketched out. – Monica Cellio Mar 7 '18 at 4:38
  • @MonicaCellio There's also a fuller image of the flow on MSE, and if I didn't misinterpret it (and seems bluefeet confirmed it), the question will still always be shown on /questions, only not on homepage. – Andrew T. Mar 26 '18 at 4:26
  • I think this is a solid idea in that it helps prevents trolls while also improving question quality, ergo the question about the sandwich thief could have been caught at this stage. What needs to be done further would be to place the question in a sort of sandbox, viewable to only a few mods/helpers before it even goes live, and only their approval can make the question further available to the general public. However, we'd still need a mechanism to deal with conflicts in case the helpers approve a question and the community decides it's not fit. What then? – ValarMorghulis Apr 2 '18 at 5:47
-1

I think you could make it better for users (new or otherwise).

Suggestion:

This current "off topic" flag could be tweaked for when a question is salvageable and just needs editing:

Questions require a goal that we can address. Rather than explaining the difficulties of your situation, explain what you want to do to make it better. For more information, see this meta post.

IMO something like:

Questions require a goal that we can address. Keeping your question short and only using relevant facts makes it clear and answerable, and avoids it being closed due to difficulty deciphering the context. eg Is it really relevant to the problem, or just something you are passionate about? For more information, see this meta post.

The bit "or just something you are passionate about" suits this site given the likelihood of in-depth scenarios.

If it's salvageable but a lot of work, you could close with the above proposed close reason and they can choose to edit it or not. At least then you've tried - given them the info they need.

I removed the bit "Rather than explaining the difficulties of your situation, explain what you want to do to make it better" because on this site (specifically) surely the difficulties of the situation is what they want to make better?

Then "Unclear what you're asking" flag could be used when it's literally not understandable at all, but not used when the question is just too long or just needs editing. E.g. a lot of time required to read/edit doesn't necessarily mean "unclear".

 

Is that question that bad, can it be salvaged?

It's entirely your choice as to whether you want to edit or not, but you could leave it for someone else if it's salvageable, or if you want to flag leave a comment explaining to the OP what to do next.

To help reduce the amount of closed questions, you could approach a question like this:

  • Evaluate the question
  • Is it ok?
    1. Yes -> Optionally answer, vote, comment
    2. No
      • Does it look salvageable?
        1. Yes -> Edit, or move on and let someone else edit, or vote to close with proposed off topic reason
        2. No -> Optionally vote to close

For regular users you know if a question is never going to be on topic or useful no matter how much editing is done. But if it's just a badly worded or structured question, then edit it or leave it for someone else to.

You can even leave a comment to explain why it's a problem. Maybe with more time the asker will improve it if they know what's wrong. Rather than just abruptly closed and you likely never see them again :)

 


Discussion on things from the comments and MaskedMand's answer, as I have a different viewpoint which might add some thought to the discussion.

Whether a question is "not too bad" or "horribly bad" is subjective, but as long as we work within the SE framework, the post score serves as an objective measure for us to work with.

If the quality of the question is subjective, as that is what the voting is based on then the voting also has to be subjective. So not really a useful "measure" to work with.

Also, each person should judge a question or answer on their own merits. Using other people's votes and flags as a means to determine your own actions risks invoking the Bandwagon effect.

 

why don't people upvote "salvageable" questions more often?

If it's "salvageable" then it needs work so it's arguably not in a state to warrant an upvote. But as it's "salvageable" it can be worked on, so the question here should be:

"Why don't people edit salvageable questions more often?"

 

if the question wasn't that bad, why did it earn so many downvotes within 6 hours?

Downvotes are people's opinion, so you won't ever accurately know why people voted unless you ask them. Opinions/downvotes can be impulsive, malicious, got out of the wrong side of bed, and can be formed from the Bandwagon effect, biased based on a culture.

So even if downvotes and/or it being closed is generally an implication that a question is bad, it's not conclusive, and nor does it mean the question was not salvageable.

Also, people voting to close/flag will likely also downvote. Such votes may have an accurate bearing on the question quality, but only if the reason they are closing is valid. If there is a true culture here for closing too quickly, then those downvotes might arguably be based on that culture and could instead perhaps have edited and not downvoted?

I'm not saying any of this is definitive, just food for thought.

 


IMO Community moderation is about members who frequent a site and know it well helping those who do not. Editing to make improvements, guiding people to use the site correctly, making the site great by working at getting good Q&A pairs.

I know specific points were made, but there are no obstacles to the simplistic idea and attempt of people spending a bit more time identifying if a question can be salvageable and editing it, rather than just closing it down as quickly as possible.

Just IMO :)

  • 2
    Just to be clear on this, I don't consider the post score to be an accurate or even an objective measure of the question quality, but that is how SE works. Now if we are going to second guess other people's votes, then it implies we don't trust the SE model, so we shouldn't even be contributing here to begin with. – Masked Man Mar 6 '18 at 1:24
  • Your wording for the current NARQ close reason is great. But it exceeds the maximum length for a custom close reason. It would be great if they would improve the custom close reasons to make them accept longer text. It would also be great if they would give us more than 3 custom close reasons... – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 6 '18 at 21:25
-1

Over at x.stackexchange.com * we let questions with insuficiencies brew while we await the OP to come back with an edit, to let them reflect upon what they wrote before jumping on them, or to further refine an already great post; unless they are 'new rep' (1 or <110), then a helpful comment will probably be forthcoming.

After a few hours (some are either not so patient or more inquisitive) a useful observation (helpful criticism) is offered, sometimes a few - it's up to the OP to utilize either checking their mail, revisit their question or use their crystal ball and either attend to the comments, fix the question/answer or let it stand.

It is only after several hours it gets to the point where the question gets a hold. Usually the 'holder' further clarifies their expectations and if the necessary improvements are not made the system automatically deletes the post.


* X is a few StackExchange communities, not a single one in particular. Surprisingly you'd think that these places would be more pedantic for style, accuracy and well presented thoughts, but instead they are inclusive, kind and thoughtful (except for the odd outlier).

It's not that we must do that here, especially since there's a few sites where you'd think better practices would be in effect but they are not - but consider how it looks from the other point of view:

  • They don't know to study the Help and FAQ.

  • There's a warning box on their question or odd followup comments on their answer.

  • There's more stuff they gotta do.

The Internet is a big place. They can read and do what is needed here or simply bail and retreat to more familiar territory elsewhere.

Since accounts here are anonymous the person(s) who jump on the newcomer (or non conforming, not so new person) first paint themselves, then the community, and finally the whole SE series of websites - with the odd person vowing never to return becoming increasingly common.

Really the answer is how do you want to be perceived - an obligation to read the Help and FAQ before posting, and a more laidback or polite approach by the rare few, will keep the 'Orphan Rate' lower.

Read twice (or as needed) and post once (if needed).

[Derived from the expression: "Measure twice, cut once".]


It's a fine motor skill, developed over time.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .