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The influx of old questions from the Late Answers dump has renewed an old issue. Many of the questions that received these late answers have close-worthy issues, like no longer being on-topic, or long since been solved, overtaken by events, or abandoned (and too unclear to answer without clarification).

Whether to close old questions has been asked periodically. Some of the previous Meta questions on this:

In the past, the answer has been a pretty universal one -- close what's appropriate to close regardless of age. It leaves the existing question and answers in place, but prevents spam and low quality answer posts when the question really can't be answered other than by luck (and in most of these cases, the questioner is no longer around to provide feedback).

I've voted to close a number of these, but it doesn't seem to get any traction. I'm only guessing that people figure the old questions can just remain buried after the Late Answer cleanup is done.

At least one of the previous Meta questions mentions using the Vote To Close chat room, which no longer exists. Also mentioned is posting a list of the questions on Meta to get them some attention.

What's the current feeling on this? Should we just let these questions scurry back into hiding? Post them here?

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    Personally I'd say that if you'd have voted to close it if you'd seen it on the front page then you should vote to close it in the queue. I've closed a few questions that might have been okay back in the day but are now close-fodder. – Mokubai Oct 4 '15 at 20:22
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    I vote on the material itself. It can be 5 years old submitted by the owner/creator of Stackexchange. If the answer/question should be deleted/closed I vote as such. I would vote on my own material if that were an option just as harshly. – Ramhound Oct 4 '15 at 22:08
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TL;DR: If I see a question on the front page that I believe is off topic according to current standards, then I vote to close that question.


Sure, perhaps closing a question can in principle be seen as "penalizing" the author of that question. But really, there are two major possibilities here (allowing for slight variations of each):

  • The asker is no longer active on the site. In this case, whether or not the question received an answer that solved the problem, the asker isn't penalized whether the question ends up closed or left open now, because they are no longer around.
  • The asker is still active on the site. In this case, they are likely familiar with our current standards. They can always bring the closure up in chat, on meta, or flag their question for moderator attention to request that it is reopened if they feel it was closed in error, or fix whatever caused the question to be closed (if it is fixable without invalidating existing answers) and have it reviewed and possibly reopened through the normal reopen review queue.

On the other hand, leaving the question open:

  • Indicates to people new to the community that this is a type of question that we accept, inviting further similar questions.
  • Allows posting of answers that can be anything from actually useful (I find this to be the less common case) to borderline inappropriate to downright spam.

To me, certainly the fact that off-topic questions being left open indicates to newcomers that the type of question is allowed outweighs the relatively minor issue of an active user having an old question of theirs closed because it no longer meets current standards. Hence I vote to close with an appropriate reason when I see them. (However, I do not go looking for this type of question to vote to close them.)

I recall having had at least one question of my own closed as off-topic on Stack Overflow long after it was posted. I don't hold any grudges against the people who voted to close it there, nor do I feel the closure was unfair, as the question at that point was off topic on that site.

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[close a question that is] no longer being on-topic

The Stack Exchange network's policy is clear: you are not allowed to ask off-topic questions. If a question was asked years ago and it was on topic, then don't molest it. (This assumes it's not close-able for other reasons.)

The Stack Exchange network also lacks a clear policy on what to do with questions that become off-topic over time due to changing goals or rules. Any attempts to answer that question is just bike shedding.

My personal feeling (i.e., a bikeshed moment) is leave them alone, because they were on-topic when asked. Otherwise, the community would have moved against it for being off-topic when it was asked. So don't penalize the asker because norms have changed.

A related question is How can we distinguish official policies and procedures from opinions? As far as I know, all sites in the Stack Exchange network suffer it.

  • I'm not sure whether we agree or disagree. :-) I agree that questions that were once on topic and answered should not be deleted. By not "penalizing" the asker, are you referring to rep (closure doesn't affect votes, old or new), or the ability to get an answer (as in grandfathering old questions so they're always open, regardless of norms)? – fixer1234 Oct 5 '15 at 4:27
  • @fixer1234 - yeah, that's one of those observations from Stack Overflow. On SO, the community usually pounds people with off-topic questions. On SO, I call it "hunting in packs", where someone goes to a chat room and asks for a crowd to close a question. Its like watching a lynch mob mobilize. Its such a common practice that SO actually has tags for it. cv-pls is "Close Vote Please". – jww Oct 5 '15 at 4:40
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    How would you deal with the double standard (user9876 asked the same kind of question and theirs is on-topic, why are you closing mine)? Would the answer be, " if you can go back in time and ask your question 3 yrs ago, we'll leave yours open, too.")? Very few of the authors are still active, or still looking for another answer if they are. Would we be creating a situation where new answers that the question attracts are low quality and spam, with no potential benefit to the OP? Perhaps grandfather only questions where the OP is still around to benefit? – fixer1234 Oct 5 '15 at 5:16
  • @fixer1234 - "How would you deal with the double standard" - ah, yes. I know the situation you are describing. For new questions where the OP gets argumentative and cites old questions, I cite the Help Center policy with What topics can I ask about here? and explain the community failed in its obligation in the past. The policy is important - its what gives us authority to move against questions. We can't "just act" without authority, even though some users do. – jww Oct 5 '15 at 8:37
  • @fixer1234 - "How would you deal with the double standard" - for old questions that probably should have been closed, I do something tricky.... I leave a comment with the text that would have been added if the question was actually closed. I don't actually cast the close vote. The text warns future visitors without penalizing the asker. If I happen to ask the question (have you ever visited one of your early question, and shook your head in disbelief?), then I actually cast a close vote on it. – jww Oct 5 '15 at 8:44
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  1. If a question is off topic, then it is off topic. It matters not whether it was on topic at the time of asking. So, Yes, do vote to close.

  2. Don’t go out of your way to look for problems, unless they’re the kind of problems you can fix yourself.

    • Do your best to fix any problem you see
      • on the front page,
      • in review queues,
      • in your normal browsing of the site.
    • You can go looking for other problems, such as misspelled words, duplicate questions, and suchlike, if that gives you pleasure and if you have sufficient rep to deal with such problems unilaterally, without taking up anyone else’s time.
    • If your edits or close votes need approval from other people, don’t go looking for problems, but still do your best to fix them when you come across them.

More detail.

  • I almost posted an answer but this covers what I wanted to say pretty well. I'd add though that if you're hunting for stuff that needs fixing, people get annoyed when you flood the front page. I'd suggest doing it sensibly and/or checking before you decide to nuke a tag, or do something else that causes a ton of edits. – Journeyman Geek Oct 12 '15 at 11:44
  • @JourneymanGeek I don't often blitz edit except on SO, where the homepage moves so fast that no one person is likely to make any perceptible difference. – TRiG Oct 12 '15 at 12:44

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