I went through all closed questions of the past month and deleted:
Questions that were identified as having asked on other sites before being asked on Programmers. None had answers, all were downvoted (which is good), and they were quite a few of them (didn't count, but aproximately 1/10).
Questions posted here to avoid bans or suspensions on Stack Overflow
Questions that were migrated here, mostly from Stack Overflow, and we closed them. Those stayed around locked, and there were quite a few of them.
Questions that were migrated away and had found a better home at the target site, which means that they were got a few up votes (>3), and up voted answers (and in most cases accepted answers). Yes I checked each and every one of them.
Downvoted questions with no answers or no upvoted answers
All hopelessly off topic.
Heavily downvoted questions with no highlish upvoted answers
Heavily downvoted <= -3, highlish upvoted <= +2, all hopelessly off topic.
Questions that satisfied any of the above criteria were not deleted if they had at least one re-open vote, and of course duplicates were left untouched. I asked The Workplace mods if they wanted a couple of questions, one was deleted by the OP before we get a chance to migrate (which is funny as the mod I talked with liked the question) and the other was rejected (but not deleted, as with some rewording it might fit another site, waiting confirmation). I've also re-opened a question that was closed as not constructive, as it had two re-open votes and a good(ish) answer.
I was honestly curious to see what was going on with the closed questions, I'm happy with all closures, they are all justified, regardless if they were delete worthy or not. However deleting the questions was only a by product of the process, I only did it because it made sense to clean up while going through the closed questions, my primary motivation was to get a better feel of our closures and our overal closing attitude. My conclusions and thoughts are (in no particular order):
I saw a lot of comments I didn't really like. The majority of commenters were being nice and helping OPs understand why their question was off topic, but there were a lot of comments that were... umph. Not outright rude, but not particularly helpful either. I do enjoy sarcasm as much as everyone, and perhaps a little more, but I think we should be a bit kinder to newer users. I understand that several of us are getting increasingly tired of having to deal with the same crap questions over and over, but I would like to ask everyone to refrain from commenting on newer users questions if they are not feeling productive.
I would like to suggest a very easy workflow: If you happen upon a snarky comment, and you feel you can provide better guidance to the OP, please do, even if it means re-iterating the earlier comment. And after you post your comment, flag the earlier one so we can remove it. Simple as that, and please avoid responding to the snarky comment with an even snarkier. A few of our higher rep users already do that, and I think they are setting a perfect example for the rest of us.
Stack Overflow sucks
Not the real Stack Overflow, that's a wonderful place, but the part of it that finds it's way here. The questions I deleted were of extreme low quality to begin with, but those that came from Stack Overflow were the worst of the worst. That includes direct migrations, questions asked here because of Stack Overflow bans or suspensions, and questions asked here after being closed on Stack Overflow because some "friendly" commenter pointed OP to Programmers.
Most Programmers regulars are probably aware of how troublesome our migration relationship with Stack Overflow is, however it's worth noting that 59% of migrations from there the past 90 days were good migrations, and Stack Overflow is our top referring site (excluding search engines). So it's not all bad.
We should be deleting some questions more quickly
Cross posts, questions that were asked here to circumvent bans or suspensions on other sites, and failed migrations don't really serve any purpose staying around for long. All they do is contribute in our questions lists looking like a battlefield, without having any chance of being salvageable. 10K+ users please contribute delete votes when you see a comment identifying a question in one of the first two categories, lower rep users please flag if you happen upon those questions a week after they were asked.
We have some not constructive questions that I think could be salvaged. I didn't have the energy to look deeper into them, but I invite everyone to go through highly upvoted closed questions and see if you can help bring them up to shape. Don't go at it alone, if you find a question you think could be re-opened, post it in chat and ask others to evaluate and help. Don't go blindly casting re-open votes, always keep in mind that re-open votes are more powerfull in twos (and even more in threes).
Of course deleting the questions changed the numbers Rachel references, the current numbers are (for the last 30 days, and at the time of writing this, new questions may have popped up):
Open questions = 599
Closed questions (all) = 283
Total questions = 882
Migrated questions = 37
Closed (excl. migrat.) = 246
Closed % (incl. migr.) = 32%
Closed % (excl. migr.) = 27,8%
27,8% is our current close rate, having deleted an abudance of crap. Again this wasn't about hiding things under the carpet, this was about getting a clear idea of how many questions we close excluding:
- Questions we have little control over (first three categories of the deletions),
- Hopelessly off topic questions that aren't salvageable (last two categories of the deletions).
I am excluding migrations (from us to other sites), because:
- The questions are labeled [migrated] and not [closed], it's reasonable to assume that they don't contribute to scaring newer users off (which is the basis of this question)
- Migrations are cool, we are only trying to find a better place for the question, and most OPs really appreciate that.
And don't forget that our closure rate includes duplicates, something that's not really cool, I strongly believe that most OPs appreciate finding quick answers or at least don't scare off because of duplicates. However duplicates are still labeled [closed] and they might contribute in giving the wrong idea for the site.
Which leaves us with the hopelessly off topic questions, the heart of the matter, and of course the rest of the closed questions that I didn't delete. Yes, there is room for improvement. Yes, our expectations are a bit higher than most other Stack Exchange sites. Yes, we all want more people to love the site as much as we do, and yes we all want less closed questions. But is it a problem? I think not, at least not a major one and certainly not one we can't deal with efficiently.
Let's start by being a bit more helpful when guiding newer users, and a bit more aggresive when protecting borderline not constructive questions. We (the mods) have said countless times that bad answers may lead to a borderline question getting closed, however the community hasn't really been responsive in defending those magnificently interesting questions by vehemently cleaning up the crap answers.
Use your down votes people, and please for the love of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, resist the urge to add yet another opinion heavy answer to the pile. Great answers with references and relevant experiences is what we are looking for, treat everything else like it should be treated. The best way of lowering our close rate is by re-opening borderline questions.
The upcoming contest will probably bring us a lot new users, the coming month is a perfect opportunity to help the site grow. Be nice(r) to the newcomers, spend a few more seconds explaining why their questions might not fit or better yet, edit them to fit. Please avoid completely un-productive comments & discussion about stuff only a handful of people may find interesting, long comment discussions, etc.