In recent discussions on this site about question closures, I took away a few values which would appear to motivate some of the pronouncements:

  1. The point of answering a question is to satisfy the OP's immediate needs, and a question can be closed (and eventually become inaccessible to non-superuser/moderators) once the OP has been given reasonable time to read the response without any negative effects for the site.

  2. If a question does not seem clear, the OP is the primary source of guidance in interpreting it.

  3. Because closure votes are of the same kind as upvotes or answers, a user who upvotes and answers more than they downvote or vote to close cannot be fairly accused of any kind of rash behavior.

  4. The site is harmed by a "bad" question remaining open. The site is also harmed by a "good" question being closed. If avoiding the first evil means that the second evil frequently befalls us, so be it. (i.e., better an innocent man condemned than a guilty man acquitted)

Contrast these with the following values:

  1. Questions and their answers form durable content that is the community's asset, and they should not be casually discarded.
  2. A question can be given an interpretation which goes beyond its original intent (much as certain court decisions concern more general affairs than the specific plaintiffs and defendant which aroused them), and the OP's immediate interests can be subverted to a general issue of broader interest.
  3. Because closure votes should not be made lightly, a user's high number of upvotes or answers does not immunize them from criticism of rash behavior in close-voting.

  4. The site is harmed by a "bad" question remaining open. The site is also harmed by a "good" question being closed. If avoiding the second evil means that the first evil frequently befalls us, so be it. (i.e., better a guilty man be acquitted and an innocent man condemned)

Which combination of value statements do you think should be driving the site's policy, and why?

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I'm glad you took the time to write this very good question. One small comment: I don't really agree with your first #3. I think some folks in previous threads may have said, "Look at my whole body of work; I'm not a serial downvoter/closer," but that was never meant to imply "I do lots of upvoting; ergo, I should be exonerated from any claim that I've ever acted rashly," which is what your current wording seems to be saying. (Also, FWIW, on the first #2, I'd suggest changing "only" to "primary".) –  J.R. Dec 16 '12 at 12:25
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The real issue is that this is a false dichotomy. Best illustrated by looking at point 4. Is the site harmed by a "bad" question remaining open? Yes. Is it harmed by a "good" question being closed? Also yes. Both are valid concerns. Why do we have to choose? Point 2 in particular is always a judgement call. Always. And point 1 is precisely why the close reason "too localized" exists in the first place — telling "durable content that is the community's asset" from content that only "satisfies OP's immediate needs". Lastly, I see no contrast between 3a and 3b. They end up saying the same thing. –  RegDwigнt Dec 16 '12 at 12:47
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@RegDwigh: I disagree: I don't see how a couple of bad questions should harm the site compared to the way it is now. –  Cerberus Dec 16 '12 at 12:55
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@Cerberus: bad questions left open get used as excuses to post more bad questions. This is not theory; this is reality. People literally complain, "why is my question X closed, look at question Y that's exactly like mine, it's open". At which point you have to close question Y anyway. And you end up with two bad closed questions rather than one. This has happened time and again. –  RegDwigнt Dec 16 '12 at 13:16
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@RegDwigh: You can just leave a couple open without much harm done, I think, as long as the site is not overwhelmed much more than it normally is. –  Cerberus Dec 16 '12 at 13:20
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@RegDwighт What does one do when a question seems to straddle the boundaries of acceptability or usefulness or whatever? On some sites, users with the power to downvote would give the benefit of the doubt; on english.SE, that doesn't seem to happen so much. This is a genuine dichotomy: practically, a middle ground won't be achieved. It's good to decide which side we want to fall down on - lenient or strict. –  Billy Dec 16 '12 at 13:40
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@Billy: that's actually quite easy. It's precisely when "a question seems to straddle the boundaries of acceptability or usefulness or whatever" that it's not too much to ask for to give it that one tiny nudge in the right direction. Which can be done by the OP, or by a helpful editor, or by providing an answer that single-handedly turns the question into something of value — on-topic, not localized, and not gen-ref. But when exactly none of that happens, when nobody, including the OP, gives a rat's tail about it, then it might as well not exist. An approach in no way unique to ELU. –  RegDwigнt Dec 16 '12 at 15:23
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@Cerberus: that's too wishy-washy for my tastes. We are not here to talk like politicians. How much is "a couple"? How much harm is "without much harm"? What is "normally"? What does "overwhelmed" even mean? (Aren't you long overwhelmed yourself? You used to answer several questions a day. Now you mostly just hang out in chat, easily letting a whole week pass without finding a single question to answer.) –  RegDwigнt Dec 16 '12 at 15:28
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@RegDwighт The problem occurs when the OP is well-meaning but doesn't see that (or why) their question is poor, ambiguous, badly referenced, unclear, or the like. Someone may ask a question that looks like general reference, but what they actually wanted to know was something subtler that they had accidentally failed to articulate correctly, for instance. It seems to me that most closures happen without properly consulting the OP first, which is surely the worst possible course of action. –  Billy Dec 16 '12 at 15:30
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@RegDwigh: As you know, I stopped answering lots of questions every day in 2011, for reasons you know. And I have always found the majority of questions not very interesting, as it is for all of us, no doubt. As to "what is too much?", that is exactly the question. –  Cerberus Dec 16 '12 at 15:40
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@Billy: "most closures happen without properly consulting the OP first" is such a bold statement to make that certainly I may ask you for actual data to go with it. It does not match my impression at all. At all. I know I pretty much always leave a comment. I know other mods do. I know many high-rep users spend hours after hours guiding newbies, only to have said newbies completely ignore them. And everyone knows a lion's share of my own rep comes from answering gen-ref questions in an attempt to turn them into non-gen-ref. –  RegDwigнt Dec 16 '12 at 16:40
    
@J.R. thanks for your feedback. i am writing the values as things which are conversationally implicated by participants in the debate. if A complains that closures are made rationally, and B rejoinders that those who vote for closure do not do so as often as they upvote or answer, the only way B's remark is relevant as a response is if both A and B assume that closure votes and answers/upvotes are comparable actions. –  jlovegren Dec 16 '12 at 17:11
    
@RegDwighт #4 is a false dichotomy for one who reads it obstinately, but i'll go ahead and spell it out for everyone's benefit. –  jlovegren Dec 16 '12 at 17:14
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@Billy in that case you will have to define "consult" for me. Because that's how closing as duplicates works, by design. The user gets notified that his question got closed, can read the answers, and if they don't cut it, he can edit his question accordingly and it will get reopened. In addition to that, both of the questions you linked actually have helpful comments. And yes, a user can always comment on their own questions. Expecting us to first wait for a reaction from the OP amounts to expecting us to keep all questions open forever. This is not how SE is supposed to work. –  RegDwigнt Dec 16 '12 at 20:54
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@AndrewLazarus Sorting by traffic, EL&U is the eight site, before Programmers and Unix and Linux; sorting by the percentage of answered questions, EL&U is the third site. I am not sure that means EL&U is a low-traffic site. –  kiamlaluno Dec 31 '12 at 14:30
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1 Answer

I am strongly in favour of the second set. These are the values we used to hold, two years ago. Then the community became more and more bureaucratic and less friendly to newcomers. This often happens on the Internet, alas. I say we return to the merry values of our early days. Already we are known as close-happy and aggressive. Perhaps the new proposal English Language Learners will serve to guide the drowning away from the sharks.

As to a couple of uninteresting questions' "harming" the site, what proof do we have of that? None, I think. The site was thriving, two years ago. Besides, aren't most questions always uninteresting to most people? Only if the large majority of questions are of low quality do I think the site will be truly harmed. This is not an academic site, and it has never tried to be.

Point 2 is very important: we used to allow fairly basic questions and give them an elaborate answer that went far beyond answering the question in the narrow interpretation.

I think ethics should also weigh in: the feelings of so many newcomers are hurt because of policies that they were not aware of and that do not seem reasonable to them. Sometimes this is necessary, but we should be careful. You know how awful it feels when you go to a new website and the first thing you post is removed or commented on negatively.

And of course nobody reads FAQs: I dare say most of us never read FAQs on other sites either. I don't. That doesn't mean you can never hold newcomers to your rules, but it just isn't reasonable to treat them badly for not knowing the rules, unless those rules are common etiquette.

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+1, I agree with your perfect words. Obviously the problem then becomes identifying who is responsible for this situation. I have a precise answer, but I cannot say it. –  user19148 Dec 16 '12 at 13:28
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I take issue with "Already we are known as close-happy and aggressive." First of all, regulars will know you've been saying that for two years, since the allegedly oh-so-merry early days. Presenting this as a new thing is dishonest. The actual stats speak a different language, too; and we know you know that, it's in the chat transcript. Secondly and most importantly the very fact that we get so many off-topic, poorly researched, or outright crap questions is the best proof that we are not, in point of fact, known as close-happy and aggressive; not close-happy and aggressive enough anyway. –  RegDwigнt Dec 16 '12 at 13:36
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@RegDwigh: First of all, it was certainly different two years ago, and I didn't say the same thing in 2010. I only noticed a (gradual) change maybe a year and a half or so ago. I am not presenting this as a recent thing at all, by the way. But it is a progressive development. I am not dishonest. And I say we are known as close-happy based on what people in other SE chat rooms and sites say: I'm not making it up. Perhaps we are in fact no more close-happy than other sites, but we are known as such, or so people tell me. –  Cerberus Dec 16 '12 at 15:01
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@Cerberus: I have asked you before, and I will ask you again: every time you hear someone spout that, ask them right back to provide an actual example or five of questions that should have stood open, and why. That never happens. Outsiders are outsiders. They see ten closed questions on the front page, and that's all they need to make their mind up. Without so much as looking at the questions. Besides, what is wrong, per se, with being close-happy? I might as well go and accuse them of not being close-happy enough. Or not chamois enough. Now what? That is an utterly pointless label. –  RegDwigнt Dec 16 '12 at 15:40
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@RegDwigh: But why aren't other sites suffering from the same undeserved judgement as we are, then? I have seen many questions closed that I had no problem with. And, while comments regarding the closing are friendly enough most of the time, including yours, they are not always so friendly. –  Cerberus Dec 16 '12 at 15:42
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Good answer Cerberus and one I wholly agree with. I also agree with your comment on new users, being a new one here myself and not having been made to feel particularly welcome. In fact the exact opposite is true. –  spiceyokooko Dec 16 '12 at 15:51
    
@Cerberus: "why aren't other sites suffering from the same undeserved judgement as we are, then" is a loaded question and I categorically reject it as such. Other sites are suffering from the same, and worse, undeserved judgements. People crack jokes about StackOverflow, Skeptics, Programmers, Maths, GLU. We do it. I do it. Not to mention educated fleas. All the time. All the time. None of those sites are remotely as bad as people like to make them sound. –  RegDwigнt Dec 16 '12 at 16:27
    
@RegDwighт And others aren't. There are other Stacks who don't suffer from closures and down voting to anything like the extent this one does. That's the question you should be pondering, not defending this one as being no worse than the others you cite. Just because others are equally bad doesn't make this one right or without problem. –  spiceyokooko Dec 16 '12 at 16:35
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@RegDwigh: What I am saying is, I have heard people call us that on several occasions, and I don't hear other sites being called that nearly as often. And I didn't hear it in our chat room, which would of course be the first place people complain. Somehow we have this reputation compared to other SE sites, or so I was led to believe. –  Cerberus Dec 16 '12 at 16:38
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@spiceyokooko that is perfectly fine with me. I wasn't the one to bring up other sites. I couldn't care less about other sites. Stop comparing us to others, and so will I, on the spot. Meanwhile do you have any evidence that we "suffer from downvoting"? Because for every person who complains about too many downvotes, there's another person who complains about every last crap immediately getting upvoted within three minutes of it getting posted. Frankly, at this point I see only two solutions: disable voting altogether, or collectively stop whining. I don't see either happening any time soon. –  RegDwigнt Dec 16 '12 at 16:49
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@RegDwighт That's because you have two different types of user here. The academic who enjoys arguing the toss over an exact placement of an apostrophe in an answer and others who are more interested in the use of a living language. It's fairly obvious the academics down vote the ordinary users because their answers aren't highbrow enough for them, despite answering the question in practical terms. You should rename this Stack English for Academics and form another for the practical every day use of the language. –  spiceyokooko Dec 16 '12 at 17:01
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@RegDwighт you write: "every time you hear someone spout that, ask them right back to provide an actual example or five of questions that should have stood open, and why". see my answer to a recent meta question for 12 actual examples. –  jlovegren Dec 16 '12 at 17:07
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@spiceyokooko I have no idea where you even got that impression from. No wonder you don't like the site. I would frigging hate that site myself. Luckily ELU is not the site you're describing. It is precisely the academics here who, from day one of the private beta, set the standard for answering questions in practical terms. And it is precisely the drive-by users who tend to be very anal about prescriptive rules that have nothing whatsoever to do with actual usage. (And voting is anonymous, so I regard it as basic courtesy to choose to ignore that part of your comment.) –  RegDwigнt Dec 16 '12 at 17:10
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@jlovegren yes, I saw that answer of yours, and I liked it a lot, and I agree with quite a few points, even though not with all. My beef here is that that should be the norm, not the exception: actually putting some work into making, proving, and defending your point. Not just on meta, mind you. I can't count the times I commented on the main site, "if you can fix the question according to what we all just discussed, I will be the first one to vote to reopen" — and saw exactly nothing happen, or worse: people voting to reopen anyway, without addressing criticism or even fixing basic typos. –  RegDwigнt Dec 16 '12 at 17:21
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@spiceyokooko: It should be noted that the more linguistically-minded users here are the ones against closing these questions; it is the others who want what they perceive as a clean site managed according to fairly strict rules. –  Cerberus Dec 17 '12 at 19:28
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