A short time back there was a question called "I am worried about being off-topic." I answered, and I've been brooding over that answer ever since. I can't really imagine what can come of this, but now that you've finally dealt the coup de grace to my question about Waltzing Matilda, perhaps the proof will be in the pudding.
- There seems to be an idea at the back of Stack Exchange that if we just allow people to judge all contributions, the highly-regarded answers will rise to the top and their authors can be judged the best authorities. But in Statistics, large numbers are an important distinction. And the flaw in the Stack Exchange model is that the numbers are very small. A few people read most of the posts, and threads can be closed by just a few people. Stack Exchange lacks the benefit of large numbers. It seems clear to me that the author of "I am worried" was correct: tons of interesting questions are quashed for reasons that make sense to only a very few people, including neither him nor me. It would make sense to change the rules to require a greater consensus before dropping the ax.
- Stack Exchange routinely involves us in a kind of judgment at which people are simply not very good: judgments about the merits of other people’s reasoning and writing. A wise person hesitates before expressing the judgment that other people are confused. But the game-like nature of the Stack Exchange, the awarding of points and the (apparently) resultant competition to be the first to say something, the bickering over the propriety of saying the same thing that someone else said, etc., bring out our darker angels. Hanging judges cast about for any old reason, pointing to characteristics of almost all posts (it contains a typo, it received several answers, you didn't respond for a few hours) or offering reasons plainly counter-indicated by the rules (dialect is an offensive topic), apparently because they won't turn their backs on a gut-level reaction that a thread is no good.
- There is no clear statement of the intended level. For example, I understand only a very small portion of what happens on the math stack. There’s nothing wrong in setting aside a forum for sophisticated people. But I’m a math teacher, and I imagine that less than a couple percent of Americans are much more sophisticated than I am mathematically; is it really the intention that I (and so, presumably, the great majority of the people in the country) cannot post there? When I try to post to the math stack, I’m asked to clarify a given question again and again and again; or I receive incomprehensible or curt responses or no response at all.
- There is no business-like response to bad behavior. Businesses have to respond to customers in the spirit of endearing them, not alienating them. If Stack Exchange were a business whose traffic were its customers, it would not issue these curt, cold "drop dead" letters. It would have a policy of closing far fewer threads, and only for much more clearly defined reasons. If a post were more appropriate to the English Language Learners, for example, the response would go like this: "Unfortunately this is outside of our competence. We feel comfortable answering questions about English in general, but if you're learning the language we're afraid we couldn't do a very good job responding. But we could post your question to that forum. Would you like us to do that?" That would not give the unpleasant (and ridiculous) implication that your rejection of a question reflected an important flaw in the question.
I'm just saying.