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Why do decent questions get unilaterally closed by one admin? Here's only the most recent case:

I can understand the need for the pure junk/offtopic questions to get a speedy close, and even a speedy delete, but for these gray areas the community itself really needs to step in. When a question is closed with five names, it feels like we're a real community. When a question is closed by one person it starts to feel like we're having to follow the arbitrary whims of a king.

The reasons the admin [who, btw, is a helpful and hardworking contributor] gave was that he didn't think the answers were getting anywhere, when, in fact, they were converging on one of the key ideas of aspect-oriented programming and event-based programming. A close reading of the "when" question reveals they are asking about event-based programming, but just didn't know the term (and hence would ask on a site like this).

Could I please get a speedy reopen of this question?


Update: Looks like it's been reopened! Maybe the community approach does work. :-)

  • Although sometimes it's a single mod closing a question, that doesn't mean it's a whim - there could be fifty close-flags on the question, that you don't see, which brought it to their attention. – Cyclops Oct 17 '11 at 12:15
  • @Cyclops: Thanks... I agree there is plenty of reasonable cases where utter garbage questions should get the hammer of justice swiftly. But honest questions related to my research area? No so much. – Macneil Oct 17 '11 at 12:17
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    I don't think the original question was a good one, but is wasn't irredeemable. As you suggest, sometimes knowing the right question to ask is a question in itself. Now it's been re-opened, I think it would be a good candidate for editing and it sounds like you have a clear idea about what was being asked. – Mark Booth Oct 17 '11 at 12:36
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    @MarkBooth I agree. As a reminder to all, questions can also be edited while closed and often such an edit can help get the question reopened. An edited question can be flagged for moderator attention to speed up the process. – Adam Lear Oct 17 '11 at 12:49
  • Thanks Anna, I didn't realise they could still be edited when closed. – Mark Booth Oct 17 '11 at 12:52
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My response is going to come in two (and a half) parts.

Part 1

I agree with your take on the question and have reopened it.

Part 2

I asked a similar question ("What are the rules around moderators closing questions outright?") last year and one of the responses summed it up:

The principle is that moderators are encouraged to make decisions; that's why they're moderators. As such, a moderator's close decision goes into effect immediately... that's the way the Stack Exchange software was designed.

This is not a bad thing. Sometimes we miss the mark and a decent question gets closed, but there are checks in place to make sure we don't run off into the wild. People like you making posts like this is one of those checks.

Moderators get notified of every meta post, so your post showed up in my inbox with what I assume as its original title: "Isn't this supposed to be a community website?" It is a community website. This post is proof of that. Making a constructive meta post challenging a closing reason (which this post is) is always encouraged and we will always respond.

Part 2.5

This is where I'm going to go off on a slight tangent. Disclaimer: I don't have a problem with your question, Macneil, but it reminded me of an ongoing trend I've noticed and would like to address.

The key word above is "constructive". We welcome constructive criticism and review/reverse decisions where needed. This is why there are four moderators and an entire community of people with reopen votes.

I'm not sure what it is about meta that brings out the theatrics along the lines of "moderators are nazi dictators, drunk with power and oppressing us hardworking folk", but it's getting old.

To everyone who reads this answer: if you disagree with the closure of a question (either by moderator or by community), please post on meta! Say which question was closed, why you think it should stay open, and leave it at that. Let's all collectively drop the drama and focus on what we are really trying to do here: building a great site full of great software development related content.

  • Part 2 makes sense. On the "drunk with power thing" - it's inevitable. If no-one was ever upset by the decisions being made, people would be complaining about the lack of decisions being made. I once had a boss who often said that the best you could normally achieve was having equal numbers complaining equally loud on all sides of an issue - and probably fewer people complained about him than any other boss I ever had. Surely that's part of what you take on when you accept a role with authority? Still, there's always the fame, fortune and adoration of millions to make up for it, eh! – Steve314 Oct 17 '11 at 13:28
  • Anna - Thanks for your explanation. FWIW: I don't think people object to the way that you moderate. – Jim G. Oct 17 '11 at 16:38
  • @JimG. Some certainly do. :) – Adam Lear Oct 17 '11 at 20:30
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    @Steve314 Oh, for sure. I'm not objecting to people speaking up in general, but there's a world of difference between "I don't think question X should've been closed" and "Moderators are nazis. Why are these dictators always closing questions? Let's unite to overthrow this tyranny!" The former is fine and encouraged. The latter is just bizarrely hyperbolic and unnecessary. – Adam Lear Oct 17 '11 at 20:32
  • @Anna - but on the internet, calling someone a nazi is just an idiom for expressing a mild emphasis. – Steve314 Oct 18 '11 at 0:33
  • To me what I see is someone asking an honest question, and is given the opportunity to see a good handful of honest answers. A single moderator not understanding a sub-sub-genre should not reach for the nuclear option. Even though we have these safeguards, it creates an uncomfortable environment of "us" versus "them." Closing of questions is a HUGE issue on StackExchange, and Jeff and Joel still haven't gotten it right. Their solution is too engineery/autistic, and not enough human and social. – Macneil Oct 18 '11 at 2:07
  • @Macneil Deletion is the nuclear option (although even that's somewhat debatable). Closure is certainly not and is not meant to be. That could definitely be conveyed better and there's been some discussion on MSO around that. – Adam Lear Oct 18 '11 at 2:11
  • @AnnaLear: I think just the term "closed" itself is too harsh. Jeff and Joel have thick skins and just don't see that. It should be called "Locked" and far, far fewer newcomers would just give up. A lock could also imply that it is for a limited time or have conditions to be reopened. "Closed" just means "don't try, we're trying to clean up the trash." And by nuclear I really mean that a single moderator is deciding it. It's so much better when at least five agree. And if five can't agree, is it really that bad anyway? – Macneil Oct 18 '11 at 2:14
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    @Macneil: To me, a locked door is more extreme than a merely closed door. – Steve314 Oct 18 '11 at 2:18
  • @Steve314 It is, and it also prevents people from editing the question. Closing is the only option for a question to stop getting answers while it gets revised or discussed, which is why moderators will intervene and close questions. – user8 Oct 18 '11 at 4:50
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Well I can't speak for Mark, but he did leave a comment on the question before closing:

I've closed this because the question is way too broad, and the answers are just guessing at whether or not they match the poorly defined criteria of the question. Having a list of possible candidates for what might fit the condition of a "when" statement is not helpful. If there's a specific problem you're actually facing that has you inquiring about this, feel free to ask a new question about that instead.

It's not shown on the default view of the question, you have to click the "add/show more comments" link for it to be visible.

It's also entirely possible that one or more flag was raised on the question by other community users and that Mark was responding to those in the first instance.

  • My feeling here is that this is a decent question regarding AOP and event-based programming. It's exactly why this site exists, and why Google/Bing alone can't cut it. It's where we shine, and it's just one guy saying "meh" that's hurting it. – Macneil Oct 17 '11 at 12:09
  • @Macneil - you'll have to wait for Mark to respond to see if there were any flags. In the meantime the question already has reopen votes and by raising it here you may well get more. If it get one or two more then I might cast a vote myself. – ChrisF Oct 17 '11 at 12:12
  • I have edited my answer to make it better. I just hate it when a great question with a great (IMNSHO) answer nails it gets closed by someone with very good intentions, who was likely only distracted by some of the joke answers put there. Votes should bring down the joke answers, not admins bringing down the honest and reasonable questions. – Macneil Oct 17 '11 at 12:15
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    @Macneil I agree in principle, but unfortunately poor answers sometimes get a lot of upvotes and there's not much we can do about that. A question receiving poor answers sometimes results in the closure of a question, sometimes we err on the side of closure (since it's reversible), and sometimes the system works perfectly. :) – Adam Lear Oct 17 '11 at 12:46
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    @Macneil We should perhaps pay more attention to moderating answers, but the same checks aren't in place for that as there are for closing questions. For example, the community can't "undelete" an answer the same way it can reopen a question. Heck, most people can't even see the deleted answer in the first place. So for better or worse we end up focusing on the questions. – Adam Lear Oct 17 '11 at 12:47
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The entirety of the question is:

Is there a language that has a "when" statement that does something whenever a condition becomes true?

That's it. No context, no problem to be solved, no specific requirements for correctness. Just give a language that has a "when" statement as provided to the author.

This is an indiscriminate list, and that's not what Stack Exchange is here for. The point of Stack Exchange is to provide definitive answers that a) solve the problem and b) confer actual knowledge and to have those answers rise to the top via voting.

A question without parameters for correctness is sufficiently vague enough in and of itself to be closed outright. If you're adding anything more than the name of a language (like the long, experience-driven answers we want here), how do you know you're hitting anywhere near the mark?

But the question was given the benefit of the doubt to attract high-quality answers, the existence of which is the essentially the only thing that can save a bad question.

However, a particular up-voted answer on the question received a few flags as "not an answer". When handling those flags, I looked at the other answers to determine what was substantively different from the one that kept getting flagged and the others: I found no difference. Instead, what I found was:

  • The (still) top-voted answer is nothing but a link to a Wikipedia article and even mentions the question isn't very clear
  • The (still) second top-voted answer is a single line "Nobody's mentioned Intercal's COMEFROM" with no context or added value
  • The (still) third-top voted answer answers "yes" and gives an example in Perl.
  • Three of the answers are single-line links to Wikipedia articles.
  • 13 out of the 17 answers are guesses ("Is X what you're thinking of?" or "Sounds like X, which has Y")
  • Of the four that actually provided more than a guess or a Wikipedia article, I found each interpreted the question differently or read different things into the single line of the question:
    • One answered a question about the caveats of using a "when"-like statement
    • One gave a basic survey of potential equivalents to a "when"-like statement
    • One when into detail about a particular potential example and then answered a question about the benefits of AOP
    • One answered a question about when you'd want a language to have a "when"-like statement

So what are all the votes for? What the people voting like the most? When every answer is equally valid (or worse, everyone answers a different question) because the question didn't set up any parameters for correctness (like a specific problem to be solved), it renders one of the core aspects of Stack Exchange—community vetting by voting—meaningless. It's a popularity contest: that's what Reddit does, not us.

So I still think the question should be closed: it's a crappy question with no guidance on how to answer it, so crappy, context-free, one-line answers have naturally risen to the top and the answers that aren't crappy are better served on questions they actually answer. A person coming across the question in the future isn't going to learn anything they couldn't have learned from Googling.

But unlike in a tyrannical monarchy, I'm free to voice my dissent with you and the other moderators, just as you're free to make a case for a question to be reopened. If everyone wants to eat cake, that's cool too.

  • So in what category would you place my answer? It's even got a bit of real code which demonstrates a simple case (slaving one variable to two others, surely an application of the concept). It works; I tested it. – Donal Fellows Oct 17 '11 at 21:30
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    @DonalFellows I considered your answer to be one of the four decent answers ("answered a question about the caveats of using a 'when'-like statement"), although I remain mystified how you could come up with so much for a question that asked so little. – user8 Oct 17 '11 at 21:34
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    @MarkTrapp - It's important to be aware that others will see information where you don't. Personally I think some of these types of (on the surface, poorly defined) questions are very useful. They illustrate a mind which has yet to be bogged down, and is simply imagining a facility which seems obvious and easy, ie. Do this When x is true... The explanation of why this isn't easy and straight-forward, and the sorts of things we can do to handle such a requirement, then need to be explained in clear language. From my pov, this seems an ideal question for programmers. – ocodo Oct 17 '11 at 22:39
  • @MarkTrapp: I think your opinions are completely valid. You aren't familiar with event-based languages, so it's natural you assumed it was a bad question, particularly given the bad answers. However, you overstepped the line by simply closing it with your moderator powers. You could have chosen to simply add one vote to close, instead of reaching for the nuclear option the first shot you had. – Macneil Oct 18 '11 at 2:01
  • @Mark - if you assume that the question isn't about an if statement, there's a lot that's implied by that when description. Could you really list plausible alternative meanings that don't relate to some kind of event-driven scheme? That said, your original suggestion to ask a more specific question (reinterpreted perhaps to mean editing the existing one) seemed reasonable to me. – Steve314 Oct 18 '11 at 2:10
  • @Macneil Moderators do not have the option of adding a single close vote. All votes we have are binding and take effect immediately. – Adam Lear Oct 18 '11 at 4:34
  • @Slomojo (and Macneil): you read way too much into the question. There was no request for the intricacies of event-based languages: if there was, 14 out of the 18 answers there would be more than a link to Wikipedia or a context-free guess at a language. And the four people who did read more all read completely different things from the question. That's what happens when a question is a single line with no problem provided. – user8 Oct 18 '11 at 4:36
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    @Slomojo (and Macneil): You can be condescending about my knowledge of the question, but it doesn't change the fact that "Is there a language that has a "when" statement that does something whenever a condition becomes true?" doesn't ask "why". The OP showed no interest in why, and 14 people who answered didn't read that "why?" question at all. Even the revision after reopen doesn't ask the "why?" question. – user8 Oct 18 '11 at 4:37
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    @Steve314 Normally, revising a question to be more specific is an option. It becomes more and more difficult when most of the answers would be invalidated by a clarification or change in scope, which would happen to at least 17 of the answers provided (the 14 Wikipedia/guess answers and 3 of the 4 answers that guessed at the hidden, unasked question in different ways) – user8 Oct 18 '11 at 4:41
  • @MarkTrapp: My hope is that my edit to the question has made it clear enough. I've'nt heard from the original OP, but my hope is my edits are along the lines of what they want. AOP is one of my research areas and I have published peer reviewed journals and articles on it. I agree with you completely that most of the answers given were guesses and mostly worthless. – Macneil Oct 18 '11 at 13:09
  • @AnnaLear: It sounds like a great feature to suggest is to give moderators the option to do a single close vote, instead of a binding all-close. These votes could even be marked as public. Something like that would really, really help avoid the Whims of the King effect. – Macneil Oct 18 '11 at 13:12
  • @Macneil It's been suggested and declined. There are a lot of comments and answers there, but I highly at least skimming them. There are some great points made on both sides. – Adam Lear Oct 18 '11 at 13:22
  • @MarkTrapp, I wasn't trying to be condescending at all, I'm extremely sorry if I sounded like that. I'm simply saying that naive questions are interesting in some cases. Whether or not you see it as reading too much in, I guess in the simplest terms I see it as a possible google search destination. – ocodo Oct 18 '11 at 22:21

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