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A thought occurred to me last night on a long-standing problem that several StackExchange sites face, and I'd like to get a feel for whether this idea has merit, and if so, I'd like to start working on it.


During the early stages of the site, we had many questions and answers that simply would not fly by today's standards. There's a hesitation among all of us to delete them for several reasons, not the least of which is that half the old-timers would lose serious reputation points.

There are other reasons, of course... Some of them are useful to have around so that when others come up, we can close as a duplicate, etc. Deleting bad questions does have the drawback in that we lose that VTC reason, so it's more likely we have to handle the same question over and over. Some of them actually did get good answers, even if the question was iffy. Some of them have value in another way, shape, or form.

At any rate, the dilemma is that we don't want new users to say "Hey, why is my question closed, but this one is still open?", but we also don't want to get rid of it because there's some value in having those types of posts around.

This is something I run across a lot as I'm reviewing "First posts". New users often post answers to questions that really just shouldn't be left open. It gives the wrong impression of the site, and I feel like a heel telling them "On this site we're not looking for personal interpretation or opinion" when the question is written in a way that it's clearly asking for opinion.

It'd be nice to have an easy way to alert users that "Hey, this question isn't what this site is about" and links to one of the may Meta posts that explains the site guidelines. Sort of a proactive approach to teaching the guidelines, as opposed to a reactive "Comment after they've answered' approach.

Often these can be closed, and comment can be made explaining why it's closed, but many of these have a long string of comments, and it's not feasible to expect a new user to be able to pick out the "right" comments from the the others. I'd think that if we want to be sure new users understand the guidelines, we'd want the close reason to be much more visible.

So, here's my suggestion. What if we, based on current guidelines, close those questions and edit them to put a moderator notice at the top that says something like this at the top:

This question has been closed by a moderator as off-topic per the current site guidelines. This question is (insert close reason here from the standard list of close reasons). For more information on these guidelines, see (list of Meta posts relevant to the post)

Is there any merit in that? And if so, what would you suggest for standard verbiage, so that the message is consistent?

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    Nobody looses rep points for deleted posts that were over 90 days old. – Caleb Jul 2 '14 at 12:42
  • @caleb maybe I misunderstood what you told me a day or two ago, but if there is any merit at all in an old off-topic question, it (or the answers) should have +ve upvotes and can be closed without auto-delete? This would serve the purpose David's alluding to wouldn't it? - similar questions can be closed as either duplicates or off-topic with out the come-back that'but that ones still open' – bruised reed Jul 2 '14 at 12:46
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    @bruisedreed I don't think that is quite what David was getting at, but that's our general modus operendi yes. The only thing is we don't want to close questions as duplicates of closed questions. That is counter productive. If they are off-topic they should be closed as that, not as duplicates. If these is some merit in the question and it can be kept around long term (maybe with some tweaking) those edits should be made and the questions left open. – Caleb Jul 2 '14 at 12:56
  • @Caleb What I was trying to get at in referring to David's OP is that there is no real down-side to closing old questions that are now off-topic - if they have any redeeming features they're not going to be deleted, just closed. – bruised reed Jul 2 '14 at 13:01
  • @bruisedreed I could be wrong but I think what David was suggesting was that just closing them does not leave an obvious enough trail for a new user to pickup on. I'm not sure I agree, but that's how I read it. Also the "closed but not deleted" state is usually temporary for all but duplicates, and he was suggesting a way to delineate content that was not acceptable but not deletable either. By default we really don't have such a state (and I would argue that is how the system is supposed to work). – Caleb Jul 2 '14 at 13:22
  • @Caleb it is 60 days now. or are you saying there isn't the +3 limit on posts over 90 days? – Malachi Jul 2 '14 at 13:41
  • @Caleb Ok, I realise my first comment makes absolutely no sense, because it wasn't you that I had the conversation with, but wax eagle in comments to this post: meta.christianity.stackexchange.com/a/3769/10486 And from what I can see, one of you is actually incorrect about this issue (unless the case wax refers to is 'unusual') - Wax refering to a standard closed Q (not a duplicate) said: "that question is not eligible for automatic deletion (upvotes, upvoted answer)". Which of you is right about this? – bruised reed Jul 2 '14 at 13:49
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Editing the questions bumps them to the home page. I think doing that en-masse for old questions would be counter-productive.

For now we've just been closing the ones that come up. Some of them are actually okay as long as they are treated as overviews (a class of question newcomers have a hard time with) and just protecting them is enough. If they are really out of line and not salvageable, a close is is order for anything that hits the radar. For the truly bad cases, a historical lock is sometimes called for. The disadvantage of that is it blocks voting, commenting, and all other functions. Usually that is best reserved for temporary issues.

For those that do get closed, I don't like the idea of editing the question bodies just from a data-integrity perspective. What you can do is cleanup the comment stream to just a handful of the most relevant comments that explain why the question is closed. Once you ditch the theological banter often found in comments on these old questions there usually isn't anything to push a new comment you make about why it is closed below the fold.

The real issue with old posts seems to be a lot of folks browse to the highest-voted-questions list. I wish we could disable that thing, it does nobody any favors!

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This is the part of the point of a historical lock. A historical lock indicates that the question is historically significant to the site, but that it is no longer relevant to the site's main focus.

Additionally, as others have mentioned, rep loss does not occur on deletion of questions for rep gain that occurred well in the past, so rep loss isn't a concern, only the loss of good quality answers that simply no longer fit the scope of the site.

If there aren't answers worth saving, close/delete is fine, if there are, then historical lock works to prevent further action and indicate that such questions should not be asked in the future. It is also worth noting that if there are upvotes and you simply VTC, then it won't be auto-deleted, it will just stay in a closed state, so that is another option.

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It's easy:

  • Off-topic - Close it.

  • Has hope to be brought on-topic - edit yourself or close it then ask OP to edit.

When this came up over a year ago, Caleb provided this answer when I brought it up on meta.

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I read to the part where you said the old timers would lose Rep, if the post has more than +3 and it is older than 60 days, the reputation will not be lost if the question is deleted.

I am looking for the post, it sounds like it was a recent update that went back and gave people back reputation when they implemented it into the system.

there is a blog post telling about the changes to the rep recalc and what the limits are.

Reputation and Historical Archives

Also this answer on Clarifying the criteria for when rep from deleted posts is maintained


Code Review does the same kind of thing that you are talking about (I think)

Where we have Meta Questions where the community comes to a consensus about things and then Mods will clean up the post or create a new post to add to the FAQ and then we can link to it, or even put it directly in the close reason, eliminating the need to keep questions around.

Historical Questions are kind of a weird thing though, if it really adds to the History of the site, do we keep it or get rid of it?

If it is doing more harm than good to the site (i.e. people using the post to justify their left field question) then maybe we should delete it, but I think if it is borderline we should discuss in Meta about it's deletion.

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Most sites use an Archive system to place older posts in a separate folder. Could an archival system be adapted to separate older posts into folders designating their current value to the site. Possible categories could then be labeled as necessary ie Posts not meeting site requirements, but with cogent information. Of course someone more qualified than I am needs to designate folder names etc.

Just a suggestion.

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    So far as I know, there is no such archive or folder system for SE sites. – El'endia Starman Jul 5 '14 at 2:32
  • The "Historical Lock" is supposed to do this kind of thing. Mods can manually "historically lock" a post, closing it from answers, but also preventing it from being deleted in the delete queue. Does this sound right, @El'endiaStarman ? – 3961 Jul 9 '14 at 0:40

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