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Putting contentious questions on probation

So at least once every day we have this kind of question where somebody asks to give advice about some technical topic. (I'm not talking about career advice, though that may be handled too). Those questions mostly get closed immediately. Often as to localized.

While I fully understand the reasons behind closing them, mainly for the knowledge base style of StackExchange, I still feel slightly bad for the users who ask those questions. From their subject those questions often fit very well to the community (best way to learn some subject, good tools to do something) and people justifiably expect that they can get good answers here. Often enough, some of the answers given before closing confirm this.

Wouldn't it be possible to add a kind of "delayed closing", that allows users to answer for maybe three days. After this period the question gets closed automatically. This way StackExchange would stay a knowledge base. Or would this still be too much "chatting"?

Maybe somebody has a better idea how this can be handled. I just think it would be nice if we at least have a chance to help some people, as long as there are users ready to answer this kind of question.

Some examples

I'm not sure, if every single one would fit for such a solution, so please don't start discussions about the questions as such. Just to give some idea:

how long to learn c++?

Maybe the worst example, since the questions isn't very good. But this could be enhanced instead of closing it. After all he is mainly asking for some input on C++ and how difficult people with experience think it is.

What is the single most effective thing you did to improve your programming skills?

Seems to be a 'historical' question. Obviously with some interesting results.

Need a simple example theme for wordpress

Obviously closed for good reasons. Too localized, only interesting to one person. But within a day or two, most likely somebody would have given him a few interesting links and he would be happy. Question than auto closed and never to be seen again.

What topics should a university course introducing software engineering cover?

That one I really like as an example. It's too unspecified and can't be answered clearly, but is a interesting question anyway.
Difficulty here of course, that it's a duplicate of an older question. But maybe that makes it even more interesting by drawing temporary attention to te older one and allowing new users to consider adding new material.

How can I follow news from the development community?

Another one of the 'give him some interesting links and he is happy' type. Everybody interested could follow it for a few days, get some interesting information exchange and then forget it ever was asked (and in six months there would be new information anyway)

Is it easier to start with Ruby on Rails or with ASP.NET MVC?

Typical 'technology-advice' question. We have the people here who use those technologies since years and can tell him everything he needs to know. Sure, no clear answer and in a few months the game may have changed toward another technology.

I can say that many answers to those questions where interesting to me. I either learned something from experienced people or maybe got a link to some interesting blog. I wouldn't know any other site were I could reliably get serious answers to such questions. So having them around for some days as a kind of 'slowed down chat' wouldn't hurt and increase the flow of information between members.

Another one that just came in and will most likely be closed soon: What's better right now: IronRuby or IronPython?

Too bad, user used a 'bad' word: better. Question is auto doomed...

Let me give an example from real life:

A few years ago I had to make a decision about how to implement full text search on a website I was writing in Ruby. There were several engines available, all of them had some community. Namely there was Ferret, which was used by many people and Sphinx which was relatively new and didn't have many users yet. But everybody who had worked with them would have told you clear enough, that Ferret had several very annoying bugs while Sphinx worked very good. There was not much discussion about this. Though the answer would have been too localized in time, since of course Ferret could have been improved. If I would ask this question here, it would be closed within minutes, just because I ask to compare two technologies based on practical experience in real world projects.

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    Will waiting three days make the questions any better? I was going to address some of them, but you told me I couldn't discuss any of them, so I'm voting to close this as Not a Real Question. Commented Aug 7, 2011 at 21:04
  • @Robert: I want a discussion about this three day idea (or alternate proposals). If any of the above questions help you as an example to explain your opinion, feel free to use it as such. And: No, it would not make them better (though editing may help here or there). But maybe they are good enough to be answered while not good enough to stay as a knowledge base. And I don't see why this should not be a question. It can be clearly answered. Commented Aug 7, 2011 at 21:20
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    Any closed question can be edited and reopened. How would delaying the closure by 3 days make things better?
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Commented Aug 7, 2011 at 23:59
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    @Anna: It's less about making bad questions good ones. It's about 'borderline' questions, that fulfill some criteria like question is on topic but miss other points, especially being too localized to be of general interest to most people. Nobody wants to ever reopen them, since after some time the answer may have become obsolete anyway. (like: 'interesting blogs about some subject' or 'which full text search engine is better') Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 4:46
  • I don't notice questions get reopened. Kind of a shame... Most really interesting questions learn towards subjective, at any rate. Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 16:07

1 Answer 1


The purpose of closing questions is to give the OP time to make his question better before people start posting answers to the original question. Once the question has been improved, the OP can wait for it to be reopened, or flag a moderator to have it reopened.

The Stack Exchange network is not like traditional forums; it's not "anything goes" here. Just because a question is interesting doesn't necessarily make it a good, on-topic question for a particular SE site. Our goal should be to ask questions about a specific subject area that are of interest to experts in the subject matter, so that we can attract experts to answer our questions.

Chatty, subjective questions that solicit opinions or multiple answers are not really a good fit to the SE platform, because they give the impression that the site is an amateur website. This drives away the experts, who expect to see a higher signal to noise ratio than that. Consequently, to achieve the high degree of quality we expect from SE sites, we must sacrifice some of the questions that are of lower quality.

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