So in Part I of the summer cleaning project, we focused on deleting the bottom portion of our closed question backlog: things that never got any love and just were dying a slow, cold death.

In part II, I'd like to address the elephants in the room: our once popular, yet nevertheless off-topic questions that are no longer a fit for the current Programmers.SE direction. Many of them are from the Ante-disciplining period, some are bad migrations from Stack Overflow, and we've accumulated others throughout the year.

Nevertheless, they're broken windows: they continue to attract pageviews and still show up in Google searches, compounding any quality problems we have.

Taking the closed questions with 20 or more up-votes, we have a total of 116 questions. Because of the number of up-votes, they will likely never attract enough delete votes from the community, and would have to be deleted by a moderator.

Before that happens, I'd like to see what everyone thinks: what should be done with them? Is deleting them now the best way to go? Are there certain questions worth saving, and if so, how can we improve them to fit the guidelines of the site?


This isn't official dictum: I'm asking personally about this specific issue.

This question, like the previous questions on the summer cleanup, are here to involve you guys in the process of what gets cleaned up. It's asked in the spirit of the community consensus that we should clean up the place, but that—as a community—we still need to work through the details of that cleanup.

  • 8
    Do you really need our approval to continue your work of destruction? Go ahead and take your pleasure.
    – user2567
    Aug 3, 2011 at 10:10
  • Now that I'm settled in, I would love to help with this effort. And +Pierre, a mod just going out and doing something of this scale without bringing it up would probably lead to upset users.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Aug 3, 2011 at 10:41
  • Also, @Mark, I have an idea for a future part of this cleanup. I like where you are going, but I think that tags (meta tags, redundant tags, merging) and tag wiki pages should be on the list of things to clean up at some point.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Aug 3, 2011 at 10:56
  • 8
    Leave the elephants alone, they are an endangered species. Stackoverflow has an elephant reservation, we should have our own.
    – Marcelo
    Aug 3, 2011 at 16:32
  • @Marcelo I don't understand your "elephant reservation". I've never heard this expression. What does it mean?
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Aug 3, 2011 at 17:45
  • 2
    @Thomas He means to refer to my use of "elephants in the room" to refer to a large issue people don't want to talk about; that we should preserve them like Stack Overflow allegedly does. (They've been actively deleting them as part of recent cleanup efforts, though)
    – user8
    Aug 3, 2011 at 18:12
  • @Mark Trapp I see. Thanks. Anyway, what is Stack Overflow doing in terms of organization and cleanup? I think that Stack Exchanges should try to be as consistent as possible across each other (with some minor variations between communities, especially as they move from opening day to a solid definition and relationships to other communities).
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Aug 3, 2011 at 18:14
  • 1
    @Thomas It's my understanding that they make a determination—based on their quality—to delete or not delete these types of questions when flagged, and a few high-rep users have been going through the list to flag them for cleanup. Stack Overflow has big city problems, though: we have an opportunity to take care of this issue before it gets to the SO level.
    – user8
    Aug 3, 2011 at 19:32
  • If it's proving to be a problem there, then I think that supports the idea of doing this. Also considering there are two posts in favor and the only post against has negative votes. Although I would like to see if there's a reset method for questions, since some of them are just so close to being great, yet fixing them would destroy the answers.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Aug 3, 2011 at 19:35
  • The assertion seems to be that users whose first contact with SE sites is via these kinds of questions are prone to ask worse questions. This assertion could probably be tested with sufficient data-mining. (Or has it been already?)
    – jprete
    Aug 4, 2011 at 20:36
  • 1
    @jprete While that might be arguable, a more general concern is that they harm Programmers.SE's image by association. If they're not on-topic here, they shouldn't be here.
    – user8
    Aug 4, 2011 at 20:50
  • 3
    Is there any hard evidence that those questions really attract search engine traffic? And if so, is it necessarily a bad thing to attract new visitors?
    – user281377
    Aug 7, 2011 at 9:07

5 Answers 5


Why not do what they do on SO?

This question exists because it has historical significance, but it is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site, so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here.

More info: https://stackoverflow.com/faq

Edit from Mark Trapp

Moderators now have the ability to annotate locked posts with messages that specify why the question was locked, including the historical significance reason seen on Stack Overflow. In lieu of any other consensus, highly upvoted closed questions will be locked with this message.

  • I mentioned in another comment that Stack Overflow is in the process of cleaning these questions up: it's my understanding that they make a determination—based on their quality—to delete or not delete these types of questions when flagged, and a few high-rep users have been going through the list to flag them for cleanup. Stack Overflow has big city problems, though: we have an opportunity to take care of this issue before it gets to the SO level.
    – user8
    Aug 9, 2011 at 20:19
  • 1
    We now have the ability to annotate locked posts; given no other viable consensus-based alternative, locking and using the historical significance message seems to be the most prudent solution.
    – user8
    Sep 16, 2011 at 2:42
  • @MarkTrapp The problem with locking is that now there is no way ever for community-deletion. Nov 7, 2011 at 1:02

The only problem that I see with cleaning up these questions is that it would make some of the answers nonsensical.

For example, the question on "Why are there so few female programmers?" could probably be revised into something more like "What efforts are underway to encourage more women to enter computing and technology-related fields?" Acceptable answers would discuss organizations such as the Association for Women in Computing and the ACM-W, as well as studies that reflect the growth or decline of women in computing-related fields. However, this change would make most, if not all, of the answers to this question not make sense anymore.

Would it be possible to save some of these questions in terms of who asked them, but "reset" them? Remove the reputation from the question and answers, remove the answers, and perhaps float it to the top (although if they are going to get floated, you can only edit a couple of questions at a time, but we could identify "salvageable" questions in advance and choose two or three a day for fixing).

  • 5
    In the cases where most of the answers end up as nonsensical, wouldn't it be better to close the question and reask it in the improved form?
    – Walter
    Aug 3, 2011 at 12:21
  • 2
    @Walter Yes, but who would do the reasking? I think that rep should go to the original asker as well as people who answer the question. Besides, this is about deleting some of those questions.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Aug 3, 2011 at 12:23
  • 3
    Interesting idea about the reset of a question - one for the devs I think.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Aug 3, 2011 at 12:59
  • @ChrisF Did you ask a question to the devs somewhere? Or should I post this question (and a link to this post) on Meta SO? I'm really interested in this answer - having this feature could really enable cleaning up a lot of the closed questions on this site. I see several that I could easily rewrite without destroying the intent of the question, but destroying the context of the answers.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Aug 4, 2011 at 10:09
  • I mentioned it chat, but haven't had chance to follow it up. There were a couple of responses which raised possible objections - but only from fellow moderators. Feel free to post on MSO.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Aug 4, 2011 at 10:15
  • @ChrisF meta.stackexchange.com/questions/100891/…
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Aug 4, 2011 at 10:50

I'm fine with cleaning up low ranked answers and questions to eliminate cruft. Look at StackOverflow's top ranked questions. Not all of those are really "good" questions, and more then a few would be off topic at todays standard.

These questions—however off topic—have earned their place through votes—however misguided—and should remain. They should already be closed, protected, or locked. They aren't hurting anything, and they provided an excellent reference for new people who may be looking to ask questions along a similar vein.

I disagree. Questions are are not allowed here should be either cleaned up or removed. In fact, with the exception of duplicates, since they are valid questions that might bring in additional hits when searching from outside, closed questions should be routinely purged. If the author (or someone else) isn't willing to spend the time to clean it up and make it an acceptable question, get rid of it. Otherwise, it becomes noise when searching the site.

Comment by Thomas Owens

I agree! Questions that have been closed for a reasonable amount of time with no activity should be deleted. This applies especially to low-voted or unanswered questions.

If the community thought they were valuable, why weren't they voted to be reopened?

Comment by Thomas Owens

They weren't reopened because the stabilizing rules would not permit them to. I agree with the rule shift, but don't agree that these questions—highly voted or active—should be deleted.

And I do say they are hurting things. There are almost 3000 closed questions, each of which produces noise to not only searches here, but searches coming from the Internet at large. No grandfathering questions in, fix them or delete them all.

Comment by Thomas Owens

"Noise" in what? When I'm searching for something I have no issue wading through pages of bad questions. "Fixing" these questions is incredibly difficult. The answers are matched to the question.

There have been times when I've upvoted a question because it's good, but it just doesn't belong here, so I've also voted to close. The idea behind that is when it's moved, the asker will get appropriate reputation on the site that it is moved to.

Comment by Thomas Owens

That practice is a hypocrisy. Questions that you expect to be migrated should just be closed. Upvote when (if!) it gets migrated, not before while it's still on the site.

  • 2
    +1 Popular questions conceived before programmers.se new established rules, should be untouchable.
    – Marcelo
    Aug 3, 2011 at 15:45
  • 2
    Josh, if you're going to delete comments but include them in your post, you should at least attribute them to their author. Following your answer is incredibly difficult now without prior knowledge that there were comments on this answer.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Aug 3, 2011 at 18:08
  • @Anna: Added Thomas Owens under the quotes.
    – Josh K
    Aug 3, 2011 at 18:23

I am strongly in favour of this cleanup. I disagree with @Josh K's statement that "since they have already been closed, they aren't hurting anybody". People interested in questions of this type will find programmers.SE via search engines and therefore get the impression that it's "common practice" to ask such questions, even though they are not suited for this platform. After all they earned such high vote counts, so it must be accepted practice!

If there's just one thing I could change on programmers.SE, it would be deleting these harmful, but popular questions everybody can relate to.

That being said, I would like to stress that the community has already elected you as moderators. They have precicely elected you to act in moments where the community itself can't reach a consensus, but action is needed in order to protect it. Even if some rebels may get loud, most people will silently acknowledge whatever action you have in mind!

  • 1
    As for your last paragraph, if there is no consensus among the mods (for example, @Josh K is a mod, but disagrees), then what? It's best to discuss these sweeping changes as a community. If a quick, short-term response is needed, mods should do what needs to be done to stem the problem, but then bring it up for community discussion to help solve the problem long-term.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Aug 3, 2011 at 17:44
  • 2
    @Thomas Owens: You are absolutely right. I did not mean to say it's needless to ask. I just wanted to take some weight off the mods' shoulders, reminding them that even if there is no overwhelming consensus, people will support them anyway.
    – blubb
    Aug 3, 2011 at 18:05
  • I disagree with your claim that people will find old closed questions and think that its common place. I think though the large [closed] in the title, the heavy comments criticizing the question sometimes, and the large `Closed as not constructive by X, Y, Z♦" box with a decent explanation clearly show that the question isn't welcome
    – TheLQ
    Aug 10, 2011 at 16:15

our once popular, yet nevertheless off-topic questions that are no longer a fit for the current Programmers.SE direction.

Why are mods killing off popular questions?

Better to keep popular questions around, since there once (and probably still will be) demand for them.

  • 2
    Mods aren't killing off popular questions: this question was asked to decide what to do with them. The value of Stack Exchange sites is in their focus: a popular question that's nevertheless off-topic doesn't really help the site with its primary focus.
    – user8
    Aug 4, 2011 at 21:15
  • @Mark: Ah, if a site is community driven, and the question is popular (indicating popularity by the community), then that is the direction the community indicates it wants. Aug 4, 2011 at 21:31

You must log in to answer this question.