The Phantom Zone

In the last few days, I've encountered several questions stuck in the Phantom Zone. Here's the basic scenario:

  1. A poor quality question, unanswerable as-is, is posted.
  2. It gets closed.
  3. Somebody edits it, but it still sucks.
  4. Somebody else comes along, figures out what the OP is asking and what all the closure issues are, and does an edit that turns it into a good question.
  5. It starts attracting votes to reopen.
  6. People see what's now a good question. They fully expect it to be reopened based on the voting momentum. Maybe they start formulating an answer to post when the inevitable reopening happens.
  7. And then the reopen voting just stops for no apparent reason. The question stalls at some number of votes shy of reopening. Inexplicably, days can go by without a single other reopen vote on this obviously worthy question. What gives?

The question became invisible in the Phantom Zone.

Here's what happens

  • The edit in step 3 starts the reopen review process.
  • Early reviewers see that it still sucks and vote to leave it closed.
  • Then it gets turned into a good question and starts attracting votes to reopen.
  • A stray leave-closed vote for any reason before five reopen votes is reached can complete a cumulative total of three leave-closed votes. That ends the review with the question still closed.
  • The question then disappears from view. It's no longer in a review queue. No subsequent edit or reopen voting puts it back in the review queue because it only gets into the queue once.
  • It might temporarily be featured in the Moderation Tools, where a 10K+ user might catch it if they're on the right tab when it's there.
  • The only other place the reopen status is visible is on the question, itself, and odds are low that someone with voting privileges (who hasn't already voted), will stumble across what is by then no longer a fresh question.
  • So the question's need for more reopen votes becomes invisible and it doesn't get any more. If I recall correctly, the existing reopen votes even age away.

The most recent example was Continuous Number Generator, if anybody wants to help reopen that one. :-)

What to do?

If a question ends up in the Phantom Zone, it is dead in the water unless someone notices and does something.

  1. Is there a provision to track the status of such questions so they don't fall through the cracks while people incorrectly assume they are actively being reopened?
  2. What's the best way to get such questions reopened once they're in the Phantom Zone? Is there any provision or established procedure? Just post about them here? Flag a mod?
  • Critically - we have one or two few people looking at the reopen queue. I admit, I kinda forget it myself , and the long term solution is to ... well have people review. I wonder if there's enough traction to just pop these situations into a room for special review and decussion kinda like the SOCVR, but a SUOVR... ;p
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Jul 4, 2019 at 4:51
  • @JourneymanGeek, the idea of a room isn't a bad idea. More reviewers in the reopen queue won't help with this one, though. Questions get into this situation by having the reviews completed. :-)
    – fixer1234
    Jul 4, 2019 at 4:58
  • Questions only automatically enter the reopen queue once. Which is the reason every edit should be substantial and worth while. If a question is voted to be reopened after that first time it also gets put in the queue (I would assume)
    – Ramhound
    Jul 4, 2019 at 21:00
  • @Ramhound, as I understand it, questions only get one shot at the reopen queue, regardless of what action puts it there. Once it's had its moment in the sun, no action will get it into the reopen queue again.
    – fixer1234
    Jul 4, 2019 at 21:06
  • Alright; I figured if a question was voted to be reopened outside of the queue it would then appear in the queue.
    – Ramhound
    Jul 4, 2019 at 21:09
  • @Ramhound, if a question hasn't been reviewed yet, a reopen vote or an edit will get it into the queue. But the rules and details are actually ridiculously complicated. Check this out: Why was this Reopen review item invalidated?. Warning, it may make your brain hurt. :-)
    – fixer1234
    Jul 5, 2019 at 1:04


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