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First off, let me say I love the community moderation system. I think it's tops.

But I feel like too many questions that could elicit interesting answers (specifically, interesting as a programmer) are being closed prematurely.

I get that polling and extended discussion are Bad Things. I also get that argument is probably not going to be helpful because, hey, this is the internet.

But it seems to me that a lot of the value of having a programmers SE site separate from SO is to get the opinion of one's peers on some topics. Ultimately, what are 'best practices' but 'opinions most of us kinda agree with strongly'?

Some of the questions I was disappointed to see closed (for instance, this one or this one) seem like thay would be of general interest to many programmers; the first cited, because it deals with technologies of particular interest to programmers who code for network infrastructure; the second, because asking a career-development question to people who don't know you can only elicit generic responses that, while possibly (even probably) helpful to the questioning party, must by nature be rather abstract. So I feel like it fits the scope.

I don't know. Programmers is my favorite SE site by far, but I feel like it either:

  1. needs a name change (programming?) if questions directly related to programmers being programmers are going to get routinely closed
  2. Needs to revise its policies or, create a peer review policy for question closings so that if enough users disagree with closing an question, it can be re-opened, or
  3. Widen the scope of available SE sites to migrate questions.

Maybe I'm alone here... but I feel like there are good questions being swept aside because of an over-zealous interpretation/application of the FAQ guidelines, and that's no service to anyone.

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    Regarding your second point: 5 users with 3,000+ reputation can vote to reopen any closed question. – Adam Lear Jan 14 '12 at 1:29
  • @AnnaLear I wasn't aware... I'd better get to posting more helpful answers (and/or questions). Thanks! – Jason Lewis Jan 14 '12 at 1:44
  • This seems to be a growing sentiment on this site, whether it is justified or not. Have meta questions that are addressing this been compiled somewhere? – smp7d Jan 18 '12 at 14:40
  • @AnnaLear Regarding your comment, users with 3000+ rep only have a single re-open vote for any question, and that vote does expire. So although you can try and re-open the question, if the question doesn't get enough attention or votes to reopen, it won't be reopened and you cannot vote to reopen it again in the future if you see someone else trying to open it. – Rachel Mar 2 '12 at 15:14
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Background

The main point of Stack Exchange, and why there are 80+ sites, is that when you ask a question on one of the sites, you're going to get expert-level answers about the subject of your question. Uniquely targeted content attracts experts in the field who can then help those seeking expertise.

So, if you go to Biology.SE, and ask a question about biology, you're going to get an answer from an expert biologist vetted by other experts in the field. There's a higher chance the answer is correct—and more importantly, high quality—than if you went to a general purpose site like Quora or Yahoo! Answers.

Of course, the other side of this coin is that if you ask about music or the arts on Biology.SE, you're not going to get an expert answer (if you even get an answer) because the audience of the site isn't music. For that, you want to go to Music.SE.

In this framework, our site is for experts in programming. You ask a question about programming, you're ostensibly going to get answers from expert programmers vetted by other expert programmers. If you ask a question about anything else, you're going to get low quality answers vetted by people who aren't experts in the subject.

Now, we programmers tend to be a pretty confident and self-involved bunch. There a lot of things we do, like, or believe that we think are unique; that by virtue of asking about something as a programmer it is much different than asking about it as anything else. And of course, that because it's in the context of a programmer involved, we must be experts and qualified to answer the question.

The truth is that this isn't actually the case: we aren't special snowflakes who see the world qualitatively differently from everyone else. Yes, there are a lot of things that are directly about programming, but there are an awful lot of things that really have nothing to do with it and require the expertise of people who aren't programmers, or require expertise outside the scope of programming.

These questions are off-topic: if you're asking about cryptographic protocols in general, you want to ask our site for cryptography experts, where they will cater to you. If you want to ask about HAL 9000, you want to ask on our site for experts on science fiction and fantasy, not here.

Then there are questions that don't request expertise, or, given the way we're structured, require an expertise that can't be found on Stack Exchange. Things like personal career advice, polls, workplace therapy and the like require the expertise of people who know the asker on a personal level, or at least knows the situation from all sides.

That is, I can't tell you what's going to be good for your career because I don't know you. I don't know what you like to do, what motivates you, what your current life situation is, how many bridges you've burned, and so on. I could get to know you and find all those things out, but that'll take forever. What you really need is a mentor. Stack Exchange is not a mentoring service: we're a Q&A service. The "A" stands for answers, not advice.

Suggestion 1: Rename the site

So given all this background, there's no need for a name change because we really do only allow questions directly to programming. We even have a handy chart in the FAQ:

Programmers scope

The problem is, people tend to think their question fits the blue, "All Programmers" area when really it's in the white "Just You", "All Careers", or "All People" areas.

Suggestion 2: Allow closures to be peer-reviewed.

As Anna noted in the comments, if you have enough reputation to vote to close (currently 3,000), you also have the ability to vote to reopen any close questions. It takes five community members to reopen any question.

Alternatively, if you'd like to make your case and try and convince others (including moderators, who can reopen any question unilaterally), create a meta discussion question here and explain why the question is on-topic and how you've revised the question to address the concerns that it's not. This way, we as a community can discuss the closure and come to a consensus.

Suggestion 3: Provide more sites for migration

We moderators can, and often do, migrate questions anywhere else on the network.

When a question is flagged for closure, we check to see if it might be a better fit elsewhere on the network. If we find a potential match, we contact the moderators on the candidate site and see if they want the question. If they do, it goes; if they don't, we close it here as off-topic.

Generally, the reasons sites don't want questions fall into two categories:

  1. The question is low quality. There's a network-wide golden rule: don't migrate crap. If a question isn't a stellar fit for the destination site, it shouldn't get migrated.

  2. The question is actually off-topic on the destination site. Tying into the background above, each site is a community of experts. We're not experts in all the subjects that might take off-topic questions that have been asked here. What might look like, to us, a question that's on-topic on one site might actually be out of scope there, for whatever reason. We can't force people to accept questions on other sites.

Summary

So, in short, if you think a question's closed but is really, truly about programming (and not about something else asked by a programmer), revise the question to explain what, specifically, is being asked that requires the unique insights of a programmer.

If you see a question that might be a good fit on another site on the network, flag it for moderator attention and we'll contact the appropriate people and make the arrangements.

Specifics

  • Thank you, and fair enough. I really appreciate the thorough explanation of the rationale and methodology. As I said, I love this site, it's just a little frustrating when questions I'm hoping to see follow-ups on are closed so quickly. I do understand the principle, and can certainly agree to disagree if it's working well for the majority. Thanks again for the detailed answer. – Jason Lewis Jan 14 '12 at 2:22
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    Some time ago I had the same feeling (that too many questions are being closed) and I've seen many questions like this one complaining about this. That @Mark Trapp still has the patience to answer them (and in such a detailed way) gives me the feeling there is really some thought behind the whole "closing business". You managed to convince me it's for "the greater good" ;-) – Omar Kohl Jan 17 '12 at 9:43
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Flagging has definitely become over-zealous. It happens on programmers, on codereview, and on Stack Overflow. And the same user names appear over and over among the closers. In other words, there are a small group of users on these sites who are taking delight in closing whatever questions they don't like, instead of just downvoting them. Given the large number of IT-related sites in the stack exchange network, it can be difficult for a new user to decide exactly which is the right one, and discouraging to see that the question that they need an answer to has been closed, often after less than an hour. I find it sad when I see a really interesting question, that's maybe a little different from the everyday Stack Overflow or Programmers questions, that has been closed before the discussion really got going. And often, the reasons given for closure are just not good reasons, or not even true.

In my opinion, closing a question should be more difficult, and downvoting a question should be encouraged more. Perhaps users could get only a limited number of "closure votes" per day, so that they think more carefully about what they close - and frankly I think the limit should be just one vote.

I understand the need to keep "on-topic" questions within the purview of the experts here; but isn't that the whole point of the tag system? If I'm an expert in XYZ, I'll look for questions on Stack Overflow with the XYZ tag, and maybe questions on Programmers with the XYZ tag, and so on. I know that each of these sites will have questions which I am not expert enough to answer; that's why I search by tag.

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    closing a question should be more difficult It's not that easy to get to 3K+ rep. and downvoting a question should be encouraged more Yay! That would help identify questions that should be closed so much easier. Perhaps users could get only a limited number of "closure votes" per day. There is a limit, 24. It's 50 on StackOverflow, so it will probably increase here as the site grows. has been closed before the discussion really got going Not allowing a discussion to get going is an excellent reason to close. This is a Q&A site, not a forum or a chat. – yannis Jan 18 '12 at 8:28
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    But the people who have GOOD answers may not get to the question before it gets closed. Why is it necessary to close questions that are only a tiny bit borderline? And 24 a day! 50 a day on SO! Has anyone ever reached that limit? If so, that person must have really loved annoying the crap out of people. What possible point is there in having limits that are so high? – Dawood says reinstate Monica Jan 18 '12 at 8:34
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    I've reached the limit a couple of days ago (and I'm sure I did at least once before). My motivation is to help the site grow, I don't care at all if people are getting annoyed in the process. All my close votes are peer reviewed, only one has been overturned, i.e only one question I voted to close was re-opened, without significant changes to the question, and quite a few times I voted to re-open questions when there where significant changes, even if I had voted to close originally. And the point in having high quality standards is that we don't want GOOD answers, we want EXPERT answers. – yannis Jan 18 '12 at 8:42
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    I believe that your actions have the opposite effect from what you intend. A lot of the people whose questions you close are either fairly new users, or completely new users, who are going to be put off and frustrated by not being able to get answers to what seem to them like perfectly good questions. So SE (as a whole) ends up losing users. And my point about people with GOOD answers not getting to the question in time applies equally to the people with EXPERT answers; in fact, more so - experts are likely to be busy people. – Dawood says reinstate Monica Jan 18 '12 at 10:02
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    Well, I disagree completely. If you have an issue with a specific action of mine, you should alert the moderators, I make mistakes as everyone else. But I stand by my overall mindset, and unless you prove that it has the opposite effect I won't change my mind. New users are required to read the faq, and the how to ask guideline, this isn't a forum or a help/support site, it's a Q&A site for professional developers. My first question was closed, I wasn't put off. I just tried a bit harder next time (well that failed, my second question was also bad, but I'm getting better at each iteration). – yannis Jan 18 '12 at 10:12
  • I'm more commenting on a general trend, than complaining about a specific action. I did say "a small group of users", rather than "just Zaphod B". It looks like you and I will just have to continue to disagree. In any case, I now understand your motivation better, and I will think more about what you've said. I hope you will also think about what I've said. – Dawood says reinstate Monica Jan 18 '12 at 10:16
  • Oh I know, I didn't take it personally, sorry if my phrasing was misleading. But since you seem to believe that a very small group of people are doing something wrong, my advice is to alert the mods somehow (a meta question could work to that effect, if you don't name any names). On the general discussion, yeap we seem to be at opposite ends, so we agree to disagree :) – yannis Jan 18 '12 at 10:20
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    I agree with you, and I think it is going overboard. I am seriously considering asking stuff on reddit. – Stefano Borini Jan 18 '12 at 13:46
  • @StefanoBorini - not clear from your comment which side you agree with :-) – Dawood says reinstate Monica Jan 19 '12 at 3:05
  • @David with the answer you provided – Stefano Borini Jan 19 '12 at 11:15
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Opinion can be divided on many things, and even when people agree on principal they may have valid reasons to disagree in other ways. That's human nature, and differing experiences which result simply in differing points of view. It becomes hard though where the edge cases exist, and where we see the most polarized positions which make it harder in some ways for the moderators to do their thing. If however there is a system in place to deal with such issues, then it all comes out in the wash so to speak. My concern is that often the questions can be seen as subjectively generalized, and also subjectively specialized. It might not be very clear where you can ask such questions without getting voted out from every place your question goes to, even when there will be a large group of people who actually want to know the answer, or to participate in some way.

I weighed into this issue when I found that this question had been closed. It seemed a little premature and on the surface, given my reputation points are quite low at this time, I am unable to see the stuff that goes on behind the scenes so my understanding of why a question I found to be pertinent and - in the view of some - barely on topic, why the question would be closed. It even prompted me to create a chat about it, where I hope we can as a community come to a general consensus about what to do in these cases.

There is - as has been pointed out already - a system via this meta to deal with closures and making a case to reopen questions. It just seems to me that this question v answers format doesn't really work so well when attempting to solicit opinion and engage in a healthy debate about an issue. The chat seems better suited to a more conversational approach to dealing with problems, but really limits how much you can type in a single post.

What I am hoping to achieve if at all possible is a little more transparency. Moderators work together it seems, so it isn't like a single individual arbitrarily shuts a question down, but from the view of the question, when your reputation points are quite low, you don't get to see all these goings on. Perhaps that is for the better for the most part, however it does leave many feeling frustrated and perhaps a little disillusioned about the process.

Perhaps what is needed is a lower reputation to allow people to vote on closures (not necessarily with an actual right to close the issue mind you). Perhaps a short period of notification before the closure with a link to an issue chat or a question on the meta. I don't have a ready answer, and the question is whether any of this would actually devalue the site as a whole. Something we certainly wouldn't want to happen, although I feel that adding a little more transparency seems IMHO a small price to pay to ensure that the reputation of the site doesn't suffer unnecessarily. I wouldn't dream for a minute of abandoning this site for reddit, as I feel this format works much better and is much cleaner. Such responses are I think more of a knee-jerk reaction born more of frustration than anything else.

As all programmers probably know, small problems left unchecked become ticking time bombs later on. In this case however, we are talking about a sociological issue which may be considered a minor problem yet I believe highlights an underlying concern that perhaps could be addressed for the betterment of this site. My understanding is that ProgrammersSE was split from StackOverflow due to similar dissatisfaction, and while creating a new stack exchange isn't necessarily a bad thing, it might be overkill for the edge cases that could possibly be dealt with in a more sensitive manner.

Side Note:

Re: my last paragraph, I don't really believe the moderators are insensitive. I think you guys do a terrific job on the whole. I'd just like to see less questions shifted when they arguably might be considered more of an edge case, and perhaps the better option is to err: on the side of caution and not close without searching for other options.

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I came here just to report what I think is an anomaly, and found this question. And I decided not t put my own just to avoid a "closure because duplicate" etc.

But I have to (in the sens to "feel the moral need to") let you know that, yes , WE HAVE SOME PROBLEM.

I don't know if it's just my perception, a technical problem about certain mechanisms or some psychological effect on useres and mods, but we MUST HAVE SOME PROBLEM:

Today (2nd March 2012) I cliked the C++ tag, and I camed into a FULL PAGE of 15 CLOSED QUESTIONS, and going to the second page things doesn't change a lot.

I don't want to think about any of the two hypothesis of

  • peolple becamed so brainless to be anymore able to place in-topic question or ...
  • mods become dictator to avoid to admit whatever quesition they dont' like

So WE have to admit that we have a serious communication problem inside the community that makes we unable to communicate in proper way to the user what this site is for (and perhaps even makes we anymore able to understand ourselves what we are doing!).

There is the FAQ that explains it but, if it is becoming virtually impossible to post proper question, it means the FAQ have to be restructured in term of contents since

  • There is the clear need to find a better way to explain what we do here and
  • Whatever we may think about, people NEED SOMETHING ELSE, (yes: this is also called "marketing"), since they are actually ALL asking something else we systematically close.

All that said, I don't want to pretend to have the key to any sort of solution, but I want to encourage some auto-critics about the way we are managing the questions since either:

  • we are becoming too much selective or
  • the way we call this site attract off-topic things

In both the cases, this is not just a user-side problem. Is a clean community communication problem.

  • The closed questions on the C++ tag do not really reflect the wider community. Several closed questions there are from people trying to side step Stack Overflow's rules (mostly question bans), or are questions that should be migrated to Stack Overflow but we can't because posters are not registered there (and that's required on Stack Overflow). In these cases we normally leave a comment asking the poster to register to Stack Overflow and if they don't reply, closing is the only option. However, if they do reply after the question is closed, we can still re-open and migrate. – yannis Mar 2 '12 at 8:44
  • the way we call this site attract off-topic things => Renaming the site to match its FAQ or changing the FAQ to match the site name? – yannis Mar 2 '12 at 8:46
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    I have to agree with this poster's sentiment. Something is wrong if such a high proportion of questions asked at P.SE need to be closed. I'm not going to suggest that the mods aren't doing what they should be doing. I am going to suggest that there is a fundamental problem with the site's charter if it is so hard to ask a question that meets the charter. – Joel Brown Mar 7 '12 at 12:43

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