At Rev 5, there was a major edit to question text, based on discussion in comments made to this answer.

As of Rev 6, question has been reopened. Reference: question timeline.

Below applies to question prior to revision 5.

After consideration of both the questions and answers and taking into account the mission statements and About page for Stack Exchange, the Guidelines for Great Subjective Questions, voting and flagging, I have closed the question regarding why statements are terminated by semicolons in most programming languages pending a further discussion here on Meta.

From the mission statement of Stack Exchange:

We build libraries of high-quality questions and answers, focused on the most important topics in each area of expertise.

From the About page of Stack Exchange:

We welcome questions that are clear and specific, representing real problems that you face

I'm having difficulty seeing how this qualifies as an important topic to professional software developers, nor how it relates to a real problem being faced by any software development professional. Perhaps if it focused more on the aspects of programming language design that led to the use of special characters and why a semicolon might be more appropriate than another character. However, this is not emphasized in the question nor in the majority of the answers.

After reviewing the Guidelines for Great Subjective Questions, I scored it a 4 out of 6. I gave it credit for inspiring answers that explain why, generating lengthy and detailed answers, having a constructive tone, and can be (in theory anyway) backed up with facts and references. It is doing very poorly in the category of reliable references being generated. I was not able to find a way how it was inviting the sharing of experiences nor how it was contributing to a problem being solved (or how it was more than mindless fun). To me, a score of 4/6 is only about 67% - the equivalent of a C.

When I looked at the answers, the top answer was a mostly discussion of the English language, with a small component discussing parsing and syntax of languages. Other top answers discussed the history of programming languages and other options for terminating statements.

Thoughts and comments?

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    Might be worth locking the question for a day while this is discussed, but I'll leave that up to you. – ChrisF Mar 16 '12 at 13:03
  • @ChrisF Done. Forgot about locking. I think I'm going to leave it closed, though. If people can justify reopening it, I'll reopen it before the lock expires and then let the lock expire normally. – Thomas Owens Mar 16 '12 at 13:12
  • Due to it's popularity, perhaps it would be better to ask users to vote to close the question instead of having a single moderator vote to close. Even if it doesn't get 5 close votes, it should still get a couple, and then you can add a mod vote after a few days. It makes the decision more of a community action instead of an executive decision. – Rachel Mar 16 '12 at 13:37
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    @Rachel I'm closing it due to moderator flags. I was asked to intervene and determined based on all available information that the user providing the flag was correct and the question should be closed - something that's routine. However, due to the popularity of the question, I'm providing the community an opportunity to discuss and make it extremely easy for me to track discussions and, if necessary, reverse my decision. – Thomas Owens Mar 16 '12 at 13:39
  • I don't mind either way honestly. It's not a constructive question to me, but I found the answers interesting and learned a bit more about other languages while reading them. I do feel it is a question that programmers might wonder about, and that our site is for Q&A on programming-related topics, so I would have left it open personally, but I can definitely understand it being closed as Not Constructive. I just prefer it to be closed by a community decision, not an executive one, since we're a community-run site and I'd like to get away from the stigma of "moderator-police" that this site has – Rachel Mar 16 '12 at 13:50
  • @Rachel It was closed due to community action. I only vote to close if there are at least 3 close votes already on the question or if someone flags the post. Flagging is a request for moderator intervention, and at least one person thought this question needed moderator intervention (and I agreed with that). I can't speak for the other mods, but if you see a post that I closed that had fewer than 3 other people voting to close it, it's due to a moderator flag. If you think that this question should stay open, please formulate an answer with reasons and post it here so people can vote on it. – Thomas Owens Mar 16 '12 at 13:56
  • @ThomasOwens Thanks for your explanation, I didn't realize there were other close votes already there since the question says it was closed by just you. I have no issue with it being closed - Just wanted to raise my concern about having a popular question closed by what looked like a single moderator vote, especially when I thought it could easily get enough close votes from the community to close :) – Rachel Mar 16 '12 at 14:03
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    @ThomasOwens is there anyway to know the number of users that flag a question? I ask because closing a question in response to a single user flagging a question with 4k views, and 70+ up votes on a singe answer and 50+ on the question seems to heavily bias your action against the community. – Ryathal Mar 16 '12 at 14:27
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    @Ryathal Specific details about flagging are moderator-only information. However, the way it was explained was that all it takes is a single flag + moderator agreement to take action on a question. All I feel comfortable saying is that this question generated a number of flags and at least one presented a good reason why it was inappropriate for this site. I took the full flag history and comments associated with those flags into consideration along with the guidelines set forth by Stack Exchange and in the site FAQ and the quality of the answers and comments when I decided to close. – Thomas Owens Mar 16 '12 at 14:47
  • I'm giving you a +1 because I am happy you asked such a question, not because I think the question should be open/closed :) – Rachel Mar 16 '12 at 14:53
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    @maple_shaft it should matter to the number of flags in the case of flags to close a question, 1 flag+mod effectively removes the point of open/close votes. flags should be used for things that require extra attention, not proxy close votes, but this is probably best handled elsewhere. – Ryathal Mar 16 '12 at 15:57
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    Per Shog9's recent post: "Moderators should largely ignore flags asking for deletion on old, popular questions. Flags are not votes, and flaggers are not necessarily trusted users. A moderator who feels strongly that such a question must be deleted should do so of his own conviction, prepared to stand and calmly defend his decision, as it cannot be overridden by voters." He didn't specify new popular questions, but I think the same should still apply that flaggers are not "trusted users" so weigh your decision accordingly, and I think TO did. – Rachel Mar 16 '12 at 16:48
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    @Rachel That post discusses deletion of old popular questions on Stack Overflow. This question is neither old, highly popular or on Stack Overflow, so... We are perfectly capable of deciding which flags we dismiss and which we will act on. – yannis Mar 16 '12 at 17:29
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    @YannisRizos Even so, I think everything after the first sentence is relevant and applicable to every moderator on every site when dealing with flags. It's the approach I take, and it just seems...natural and right. – Thomas Owens Mar 16 '12 at 17:32
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    Thomas I reopened this, I don't think the discussion is too localized (in any possible sense), please post the "summary" as an answer and accept it (or any of the existing answers) to conclude the discussion. – yannis Mar 18 '12 at 7:22

This question came up in chat yesterday, and a point was made that Programming History is often overlooked on P.SE.

To quote Mark Trapp:

Save for the accepted answer, I thought the semicolons question was pretty good. Programming history has always been an overlooked aspect of Programmers's scope.

So although the question is probably not relevant to a programmer job in today's world, it does provide some insight into the history of programming languages, which can possibly be used for future decisions.

Originally I thought the question was clear and on-topic, and the only real downside was it wasn't constructive, however I have changed my mind since then and feel it should be left open, since I don't think we should ever forget our history.

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  • This is, so far, the good reason to potentially save the question. However, the emphasis of the question is not clearly historical. Historical questions are good - this question was even flagged, but it seems good from a histocial context based on the wording of the question. – Thomas Owens Mar 22 '12 at 13:42
  • @ThomasOwens Perhaps we can edit the question to clarify that the question is being asked for historical purposes? SE sites usually have amateurs ask questions, and experts answer, so it is fairly typical to have bad questions with good answers. – Rachel Mar 22 '12 at 13:57
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    I also feel a historical nuance in this question. However the way it is stated now makes me agree with closure-analysis made by @ThomasOwens . There is possibly a chance to save it by heroic edit and subsequent surgical removal of all answers obsoleted by that. Edit could be to something like how come that statements termination by semicolons became popular in programming languages. Something that asks more for how rather than for why, something that gets rid of senseless _most, something less inviting to chatty garbage like whatever separator sucks / rocks. – gnat Mar 22 '12 at 15:02
  • The only problem is that I, personally, don't want to go through and clean that question up - it would take too much time to deal with the questions and the answers. Once a bad question has answers, it becomes infinitely harder to perform a heroic edit to save the question. That's why, for answered questions, the tendancy is to close them (and eventually delete them) and reask them in an appropriate way later. – Thomas Owens Mar 22 '12 at 15:17
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    @ThomasOwens, Gnat: I don't think we will have to clean up the answers at all providing we're careful with our question edit. I'd prefer to just change the way the question is phrased to clarify that the question is asked for historical purposes, since the only real problem I originally saw with the question was that I thought it was not constructive. I didn't think about the historical relevance until later. – Rachel Mar 22 '12 at 15:34
  • If you can rewrite it in that way, @Rachel, that would be good. Be sure to flag it for review when you're done. – Thomas Owens Mar 22 '12 at 15:38
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    As an aside, this discussion has already saved a question from closure/deletion. – Thomas Owens Mar 22 '12 at 15:59
  • @ThomasOwens I'll do my best to edit it, however if your (or someone else) feels they know of a better way to phrase the question, feel free to do so. And glad it saved that other question from closure/deletion :) – Rachel Mar 22 '12 at 16:38
  • question reopened - I just cast deciding vote – gnat Mar 22 '12 at 18:22
  • @gnat <cheers /> Thanks :) I was hoping we'd get a 5th vote instead of having to get a moderator involved – Rachel Mar 22 '12 at 19:09

I'm torn. On one hand it's a clear-cut question which is related to programming and has some interesting answers, but on the other hand, I don't see it as being constructive.

Ryathal made a good point that a few flags is not uncommon with the question having over 4k views and so many votes, particularly with some of the strong opinions over the site's scope.

I think I would rather see the question open, and a meta post made to ask higher-rep users to evaluate the question and vote to close if they think it should be closed. Once it gets a few close votes, then close it.

I really want to try to get away from the stigma this site seems to have that our moderators are our janitors or enforcers, because that really isn't what they're for. They're for handling exceptions that the community itself can't handle. I'd rather train the community to start evaluating questions like this than to have our moderators have to handle every borderline question themselves.

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  • +1 for training the community (and I also am torn, and kind of glad I'm not high enough rep to cast a vote on it :) ) – jcmeloni Mar 16 '12 at 15:09

You were right to close it, and I was watching this one very closely as well. Problem was that it was so popular that I was afraid of a user backlash for closing it before everybody got all their opinions out. I was about to close it before you did because of just how many flags it was getting as well. It really couldn't be ignored anymore.

I certainly didn't want it to community wiki on us either though because it would be yet another example of a top question on this site that doesn't fit the FAQ.

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    If you are certain a question should be closed, close it, popularity is irrelevant. Also community wiki is not an excuse for bad questions. – yannis Mar 16 '12 at 16:27
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    @YannisRizos I know that your right, but you have to admit that we are already one of the most hated mod groups in SE. Popular perception is that we are mad men drunk with power. I just didn't want to feed that stereotype. I had already saw that both TO and ChrisF had viewed the flags and did nothing, so I felt that perhaps it should have just been locked instead. I was minutes away from closing it before TO finally did. – maple_shaft Mar 16 '12 at 16:51
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    For most flags, I also tend to wait before taking action, and see if the community will act on their own. In some cases, I'll leave a comment and let the user know that the post might have a problem and point them to resources to help them fix it. Very rarely do I see a flag, view the post, and take action on it then and there. – Thomas Owens Mar 16 '12 at 16:56
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    Being a moderator is not a popularity contest, haters will hate and trolls will troll, don't worry about it. I was on the road for a couple of days and reviewed the flag from my mobile, which is the only reason I didn't act on it. Next time you see that one of us saw a flag and you are wondering why we didn't act on it keep in mind that we might have just seen it in passing and it doesn't necessarily mean you shouldn't act on it. If in doubt, ask on TL, that's the point of it... – yannis Mar 16 '12 at 17:01
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    Also: Closing a question is not killing a question, it's a reversible temporary state. If you feel strongly a question should be closed, just close it, the community elected us to make the difficult decisions. – yannis Mar 16 '12 at 17:05

My issue with these type of closings is that it happens long after the answers and community involvement have occurred.

The question was probably closed correctly, however it was closed long after it should have been.

After so much popularity I don't think its really fair to just close it because "It doesn't fit the FAQ". I understand that not every question, that should be closed, can be caught immediately. But this question has been on the front page for 3 days now. In my opinion the chance to close it before it became popular was missed. The community obviously likes the question, so why can't it just live?

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  • What would be the point of keeping it open? Do you think it will get any better answers? – yannis Mar 16 '12 at 18:53
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    No, probably not better answers. I think its the community involvement with the question that is important. People enjoyed contributing and discussing the question. This brings people back to site which allows them to contribute to other questions. When they come back an hour later to check up on what has transpired with the question that they have been participating on for 3 days, and see that it is closed, it takes away from the experience with the site. People will not want to contribute anymore and leave. – Mike L. Mar 16 '12 at 19:01
  • Well, closing the question only stops contributing answers, there's nothing more to it. Some closed questions may be deleted in the future, but I wouldn't delete this one, and I'm pretty confident that none of the other mods would, although obviously I can't tell if users that have deletion vote privileges will vote to delete or not (they should or shouldn't based on what they think of the question). – yannis Mar 16 '12 at 19:14
  • (cont...) You make a very good point that the question was open for a while, and that was a mistake on our part (the mods and the community). When a question obviously doesn't belong (for whatever reason) it's always preferable to close early, improve the question, review and re-open. People did waste their time on this one, and we should have caught it earlier. However I don't see that as reason enough to re-open. If re-opened it will only enhance the perception that it belongs to the site, and will potentially confuse people that P.SE is the right site to ask similar questions. – yannis Mar 16 '12 at 19:17
  • That is a valid point. But really, there's no good way that I see to handle it. You close it early without votes, people complain that moderators are too strict and power hungry. You wait and people are upset that their favorite question was closed and can become frustrated with the site. I'm not sure what the answer is to this problem, though. – Thomas Owens Mar 16 '12 at 19:21
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    @ThomasOwens Close early, we did drop the ball on this one. And in general people don't complain that moderators are too strict and power hungry, most of our users actually discuss the merits of the questions instead of resorting to ad hominem attacks. And, although that's strictly anecdotal, we do have a tendency to re-open when the discussion stays on the merits of the question... – yannis Mar 16 '12 at 19:26
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    I agree, we don't want questions like this becoming the norm. – Mike L. Mar 16 '12 at 19:30

To summarize the discussion, it appears the general idea is that a question like this can be interesting, but it's not really the best question for the site. However, we probably should have closed or locked the question and discussed it on Meta sooner than I did, so the community would have a chance to make it a good question before it received many answers and views. That's something that I'll try to do in the future. In the meantime, the question will remain closed since it's not the best fit for the site.

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Typically we evaluate questions on research effort and usefulness:

  1. Research effort

    The question shows no research effort at all. It's a curiosity question, which I'm perfectly fine with in general, but that doesn't mean that OP still doesn't have to do at least some minor research prior to asking.

    A simple web search for "programming languages semicolon" revealed the Comparison of programming languages (syntax) and Syntactic sugar Wikipedia articles that discuss semicolons as terminating characters, and the very interesting The Semicolon Wars article. The lack of proper terminology (statement terminators) and vagueness of the question tells me that there wasn't any research effort at all.

  2. Usefulness

    It could be argued that the question would be useful to someone researching language design, but that would be a very weak argument since there's nothing in the question to even hint towards language design and every answer that approached the question from a language design perspective did so in extremely vague terms. Furthermore, even from a language design angle the question is a typical bikeshed question, and amazingly it fits Wadler's Law perfectly, as it's a question on syntax rather than semantics:

    In any language design, the total time spent discussing a feature in this list is proportional to two raised to the power of its position.

    0. Semantics

    1. Syntax

    2. Lexical syntax

    3. Lexical syntax of comments

Now, let's take a look at our FAQ:

What kind of questions should I not ask here?

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page.

We tend to forget that part once in a while, but for me it's the most important part of the FAQ, one that clearly indicates that we are not a discussion forum but a Q&A site. The question in question is a great example of why that paragraph is important: It's a barely useful question, no research effort at all, but highly upvoted. However there is no actual problem to be solved, it's a typical discussion oriented question, and even if it wasn't otherwise troublesome it should have been closed as not constructive.

Which brings us to the notorious 6SG:

Constructive subjective questions …

  • inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”.
  • tend to have long, not short, answers.
  • have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone.
  • invite sharing experiences over opinions.
  • insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references.
  • are more than just mindless social fun.

The question itself fails all but the last one. It's simply too short to guide answers in a constructive manner, and although some of the answers are not bad, that has little (if anything) to do with the question. I won't evaluate the answers themselves, because I feel we kinda failed in protecting people from wasting their time in answering a question that clearly doesn't belong to the site, and that's not the answerers fault.

In conclusion:

I fully support closing the question, and if I wasn't on the road when the question appeared I would have closed it sooner, it's not a type of question I would want to encourage on Programmers.

It gathered quite a few upvotes and so did the three top answers, so it's not a question I would delete, but I don't think there's a point in trying to rewrite and re-open as I think it has run it's circle and there's little (if any) chance it will gather any more good answers.

Further reading:

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  • I think you are being overly critical of this question, also you link about popularity is irrelevant, that is discussing meme/jokes/comics and things of that nature, nothing like that is present in this question. – Ryathal Mar 16 '12 at 18:29
  • I don't want to get into an argument over this, but I wanted to let you know why I downvoted. I downvoted because I disagree with your logic, and the approach you are taking to this question. It seems like you are taking your own point of view and trying to find arguments that will make it seem reasonable. I don't have a problem with the question being closed, but I disagree with the way you are trying to make arguments fit your point of view, instead of taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture with an open mind. – Rachel Mar 16 '12 at 18:40
  • @Ryathal In what way am I being overly critical? And I don't think the blog post is irrelevant, it's not specific to fun questions, it just presents them as extreme examples. The relevant part is at the end: "Popularity is a tough thing. I’m tempted to call it a curse, but what we try to do at Stack Exchange is make sure that questions and answers are popular for the right reasons — because they are amazing resources for learning from your peers." - That said, the link to the blog post is a very small part of my fairly long answer. – yannis Mar 16 '12 at 18:41
  • @Rachel How else can I approach the question if not from my own point of view? If you don't want to get into an argument, how about actually telling me which of my arguments you disagree with and why? Your comment reads more as a personal attack than constructive criticism on my answer. – yannis Mar 16 '12 at 18:48
  • @YannisRizos As a moderator, you're supposed to represent the community, not just yourself. That is why I object to you taking your own point of view, and cherry-picking arguments that fit your situation instead of taking a step back and looking at the issue objectively and fairly. – Rachel Mar 16 '12 at 18:58
  • @Rachel I have no interest in discussing with you what I'm supposed to do or not. If you have issues regarding my moderation feel free to contact Stack Exchange directly. Now, please elaborate on what you feel are "cherry-picking arguments that fit your situation". What situation is that? What arguments do you actually disagree with, and why do you disagree with them? – yannis Mar 16 '12 at 19:05
  • What I meant by "cherry-picking arguments that fit your situation" is that you already had an opinion formed on the question, and you went through the FAQ and site scope to pull out arguments that supported your opinion, while ignoring things that would support the opposing argument. In some cases, I felt you even altered them a bit so they would fit your argument. For example, I don't think we evaluate questions on just research effort and usefulness, and your "Research effort" has a bunch of links that discuss language syntax, not the reason behind picking one character over another. – Rachel Mar 16 '12 at 19:48
  • I'm not interested in turning your answer into a debate though. I only wanted to make you aware of why I, and possibly others, downvoted your answer. – Rachel Mar 16 '12 at 19:48
  • @Rachel The vote tooltips reference research effort and usefulness. If you disagree that we should evaluate answers that way, that's a different matter entirely. As for the "research effort" section, I provided the links to show that there was an abundance of relevant information that were easily discoverable. That none of this information made it into the question tells me that there wasn't any actual research behind it. Also, for future reference I have absolutely no interest in learning why you downvoted a post of mine, unless you have actual arguments on the merits of the post. – yannis Mar 16 '12 at 19:58
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    @Rachel Also unless you have some way of reading my mind, the "is that you already had an opinion formed on the question, and you went through the FAQ and site scope to pull out arguments that supported your opinion, while ignoring things that would support the opposing argument." is yet another personal attack. I remember a time where you advocating being nicer on Meta, I'm truly disappointed by your behaviour in this discussion. Please don't even bother responding to this, I'm sorry but I don't have any interest in wasting any more time with your crap. – yannis Mar 16 '12 at 20:04

I think the question should be opened, I think the massive amounts off up votes is a sign that a majority of the community thinks this question should exist.

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  • Is there anything about the question other than # of upvotes that leads you to believe it should stay open? If so, can you include that in your answer? – Rachel Mar 16 '12 at 14:28
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    @Rachel this is a community driven site and votes are the voice of the community. – Ryathal Mar 16 '12 at 14:32
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    The number of up-votes is not sufficient to keep a question open. There are many examples of highly viewed and voted questions that are closed. In order to reopen, the discussion must be about the constructiveness and topicality of the question, not the number of views or upvotes. Even if the community likes the question, if it doesn't meet the standards set forth by Stack Exchange and the FAQ, it should be closed. – Thomas Owens Mar 16 '12 at 14:42
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    @Ryathal True, but quite often the community votes something up because they like it, not because it's relevant to the site. For example, I once had a question where the top voted answer (with over 200 votes) was a programming cartoon that did not answer the question at all. Your argument would hold more weight if you could point out that the upvotes were in response to a good, on-topic question, and not simply one that people like or thought was interesting. – Rachel Mar 16 '12 at 14:46
  • @ThomasOwens how many of those questions are from before or just after the sites scope was changed though. – Ryathal Mar 16 '12 at 14:47
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    @Ryathal That doesn't matter. Votes are not, and never have been, sufficient to keep a question open on any Stack Exchange site. Several of those are from early-to-mid 2011, though, after the focus of the site changed. – Thomas Owens Mar 16 '12 at 14:50
  • 56 is massive and a majority of what community? – JeffO Mar 21 '12 at 2:02
  • @JeffO its significantly more than participated in this meta – Ryathal Mar 21 '12 at 12:22

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