I understand the appeal of a historical lock, but I'm not sure that it's a good solution in most cases. To ensure we're on the same page, here's the functional definition of historical locks, as I see it:
- Historical locking adds a new post notice emphasizing that the post is not a good fit for the site, but does not say why.
- We shouldn't necessarily assume that most or even a sizable minority of visitors actually read and comprehend this notice.
- Historical locking is a state that is more restrictive than closing a question. In addition to preventing new answers from being added, it:
- Prevents comments
- Prevents voting
- Prevents editing
- Prevents all community moderation
These last two subpoints mean that individual answers cannot be modified in any way except by direct moderator intervention. The last subpoint also means that 10k-rep users cannot cast delete votes on the question. Thus historical locking in a sense places the existence and maintenance of the post in the hands of moderators, rather than the community.
With that let me proceed to a general argument for the circumstances in which I see value in historical locks.
General principles and rationale
Let's first look at the general criteria for historical locks:
- The post is Off-Topic or Not Constructive, and
- The post is stellar, in spite of its off-topic nature, and
- There are a large number of views, upvotes and inbound links on the post, and
- The post is contentious; e.g., it has been closed and reopened at least once, or deleted and undeleted at least once
A good rule of thumb: If the question does not minimally meet Jeff Atwood's 3rd rule in the "We Hate Fun Here" blog post, it's probably not a good candidate for historical locking. The third rule is:
Does this question teach me anything that could make me better at my job? Can I learn something from it?
Let's examine the first set of criteria first. Here are some observations:
- Point #1 applies to all the questions we are discussing here, but #4 applies to very few. #2 and #3 are subjective (what do "stellar" and "large" mean?)
- The word "and" connects all four of these criteria. I wouldn't demand too strongly that all four criteria apply before we historically lock, but perhaps at least three is not too much to ask.
How about the "rule of thumb"? Does this question teach me anything? Can I learn something from it?
From one perspective, yes – it is possible to learn something from these questions. A visitor familiar with Christianity (call her Jane) might be able to figure out which answers are associated with which traditions, and from that deduce something she didn't previously know about some tradition.
But consider a visitor, John, who doesn't know much about Christianity. He has a basic question, but isn't familiar with the various denominational differences, and may not even know which denomination/tradition he belongs to. In his search he finds that this site has his exact question, and even though it says "historical lock," he proceeds to read the answers. In many, many cases he will find contradictory explanations in the answers he reads. In some cases, when all the answers specify which tradition they represent, he may realize why they contradict each other, but he still may not be able to identify which one represents his own tradition.
Now, has John learned anything by reading this question? It's possible, but I'd suggest that it's much more likely that users like him end up confused and/or misguided, because when he sees that question, he is expecting to read about the views of his tradition of Christianity – not a smattering of views from throughout Christendom.
So in what circumstances can we be somewhat confident that both John and Jane actually learn something from an obviously off-topic question, without being confused or misguided? Two ideas:
- Answers to such questions should clearly state which tradition or denomination's view they represent.
- Answers, either individually or collectively, should represent a general overview of the viewpoints in Christianity.
- It's important here that at least some non-Nicene viewpoints are addressed, if any divergent ones are known to exist.
So, putting this all together...
Hard-and-fast rules are probably not in our best interest, but based on the above, let me suggest the following general criteria, all of which should be met in order for a question to be locked:
- The question must be clearly off-topic, with no current efforts to make it on-topic.
- The question should be one of the most popular questions on the site, by views and votes.
- If it is the subject of repeated close/reopen or delete/undelete processes, this requirement can be relaxed.
- The answers to the question should, individually or collectively, provide a general overview of Christianity as a whole, and accurately identify which viewpoint they represent.
- In practice this means that if a historically locked question is shown to not represent Christianity as a whole, then it should be unlocked, and either modified or deleted.
As for what "one of the most popular" means, I'll purposefully leave that undefined, but note that:
- At this time, 10% of questions on this site have 6200 views or more, and 5% have over 13000 views.
- 10% of questions on this site have a score of 13 or over, while 5% have a score of 17 or over.
Caveat: I post this more as a jumping off point for discussion, not something I am fully committed to. I'd like to see some other proposals for criteria!
Other sites have a different history from our own, so take the following with a grain of salt. But here are numbers on historical locks on a sampling of sites similar to ours.