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According to a Community Manager for the Stack Exchange Network, "unless a question has some chance to be considered for reopening, it should be deleted."

Based on this query for closed questions (which returns 2,682 questions) and 16,210 questions count here, it appears possible that some closed questions are not being deleted, which based on my understanding goes against SE practices.

Just to be clear, this is not a question about why questions are closed, or if too many are closed -- but instead why there are so many closed questions that have not been deleted, given it appears to be SE policy to delete closed questions if it's clear they will not be reopened.

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    I'm under the impression that the vast majority of long-lived closed questions on this site are explicitly under the "Has some chance to be considered for reopening". – Grace Note Jan 30 '12 at 20:35
  • +1 @Grace Note: Thanks, that's was my understanding too -- though personally, I find that to send the wrong message, and leads to confusion in my opinion. When a question is closed in my opinion, the judgement of it's fitness should be when it's closed, and the 30-days following... then it should be auto-deleted. – blunders Jan 30 '12 at 20:59
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There are many reasons why closed questions aren't deleted.

  1. We have to give time for the OP (and others) to improve the question so it can be reopened.
  2. The closure may have been incorrect in the first place. Having the question visible means it can be reopened if necessary.
  3. It takes time to work through all the closed questions, working out which are salvageable and which need to be deleted.
  4. People complain bitterly if highly upvoted closed questions are deleted.

If you don't believe me - check out Meta Stack Overflow.

Ultimately these questions will be deleted.

  • Aren't closed questions automatically deleted after some period without edits? I can't find the reference now, but I thought I read somewhere that anything that's closed (except maybe for exact duplicate, in order to help people find questions) has a time to live and will eventually be automatically purged from the system. – Thomas Owens Jan 30 '12 at 15:56
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    @ThomasOwens - There are restrictions, they have to be negatively voted, be over 6 months old, have no answers etc. I'm not 100% sure of the rules. – ChrisF Jan 30 '12 at 15:58
  • @ThomasOwens "purged from the system." is extremely rare, afaik. Most deletions are soft, i.e. posts can be undeleted. – yannis Jan 30 '12 at 16:15
  • I had some notion of duplicates being kept around after being closed to help with searches (same question asked many different ways) - is my understanding wrong? – Steve Jackson Jan 30 '12 at 16:28
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    @SteveJackson - you're right. Questions closed as duplicates are kept around for SEO/discoverability reasons. If a new question is asked because a search didn't turn up the original, then we need the alternate title. – ChrisF Jan 30 '12 at 17:02
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    @Steve Duplicates only account for ~450 or so questions out of the closed library. So, somewhat under 20%. – Grace Note Jan 30 '12 at 20:37
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ChrisF and Yannis both talked about the general problem, but I just wanted to say that closed questions are, in fact, being deleted: we've even advertised this here on meta (see here too).

Unfortunately, as ChrisF mentioned, the rules for automatic deletions are incredibly strict, which leaves most closed question deletions done manually by moderators.

The general criteria we use when determining if a question can be deleted is:

  • Is the question more than 30 days old? A month gives people enough time to contest a closure and give a chance for people to save the question
  • Is the question highly upvoted? As ChrisF mentioned, people get very vocal about the highly upvoted stuff. We have generally made it a point to leave things that have a ton of upvotes, under the assumption that we'd eventually get around to taking care of them.

Of course, these are just loose guidelines, and sometimes questions outside those get deleted or inside those stay.

One of the goals of the Structured Tag Cleanup initiative is to make deletions of old, crappy questions more streamlined.

  • +1 @Mark Trapp: That's a headache in my opinion. The discussion to keep a question should be done before and during the 30-days following a close in my opinion; otherwise that's asking for twice the work to be done, which is unsound in my opinion. That said, users do not get an alert when questions are closed that they had a role in, so I have no idea how users are suppose to respond. (Personally I don't care if any questions/answers/comments/etc get deleted, since to me if something is important enough it will be asked again, and an answer will be found if needed.) – blunders Jan 30 '12 at 20:51
  • @blunders That's the general idea behind closures: if it's so important, either the question will be revised or reopened, or it'll be reasked more constructively. Unfortunately, when there are a number of mod candidates running on the platform that us current moderators are too heavy-handed, I'm sure you can appreciate why we're more deliberate about this process. – user8 Jan 30 '12 at 21:00
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Closed questions are deleted, at some point.

But not immediately, there is always a chance someone will step up and salvage a closed question. There is indeed a very large number of closed questions, mostly due to historical reasons. Mark Trapp's answer on How to reconcile guidelines, community opinion and moderation gives an excellent outline of those reasons.

As ChrisF mentions:

  • It takes time to work through all the closed questions, working out which are salvageable and which need to be deleted.

  • People complain bitterly if highly upvoted closed questions are deleted.

We have a gigantic clean up effort going on for at least six months, involving career related questions. This and other clean ups have generated a fair share of Meta drama, so right now we are focused on better organizing clean up efforts, and part of that effort is for community consensus to be crystal clear.

The path to deletion is simple, every closed question will be deleted at some point. But that doesn't mean that every closed question can't be re-opened, so we must allow for some time before a question is deleted. We may be a bit slower in deleting questions than the trilogy crowd, but it's only a matter of pace and not one of going against common SE practices.

To summarize:

  1. We have a lot to clean up,
  2. Let's worry about deletions after that.

Searching for closed questions doesn't distinguish between close reasons. Duplicates, for example are not prime candidates for deletion, for SEO reasons.

I've build a SEDE query that doesn't count duplicates, and the close total is fairly smaller: 1936. The current SEDE data are valid up to Dec 22, but I don't think we closed a lot of questions since then (?!).

  • +1 @Yannis Rizos: +1 for the SE-Data query. Beyond that, the question was only about practice alignment, not execution; meaning on Security.SE, some mods appear to have had the position that some questions are an okay fit as closed questions, but not as open questions; which was perplexing to me. – blunders Jan 30 '12 at 17:09
  • @blunders Well I have no idea what the Security.SE crowd & mods are doing, but you'll have to consider the site's age before discussing alignment. Generally speaking on newer and/or smaller sites mods should discourage deletion on borderline questions, because the site is still shaping and you can't really predict whether those questions will be on topic in the near future. So good but borderline questions may survive for a bit longer. You should bring the issue up on the Security Meta and get a more specific answer. – yannis Jan 30 '12 at 17:16
  • Right, I did; meaning that was my question on Security.SE I linked to citing a Community Manager for the Stack Exchange Network saying, "unless a question has some chance to be considered for reopening, it should be deleted." Agree about the beta sites and borderline questions, though in that case it was not the issue; basically their position, based on my understanding, was they just didn't want to delete some questions even if they were not on-topic. – blunders Jan 30 '12 at 17:27
  • @blunders Oh, yes, I meant ask a follow up question on Security Meta if you feel and have enough data to support that the mods are not aligned with the rest of the network. And my point wasn't specific to betas, Security.SE may not be a beta but it it's smaller than some betas in questions and users. It's still a small site in comparison (check out other stats), and I wouldn't blame the mods for waiting the site to grow a bit before deleting questions, especially upvoted ones. – yannis Jan 30 '12 at 17:38
  • @blunders (cont...) I'm not active there and there may be quite a few reasons they are reluctant to delete questions, similarly to how Programmers.SE still hasn't recuperated from the good old days. – yannis Jan 30 '12 at 17:40

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