17

It happens sometimes that when I vote to close a question which is evidently Off Topic, some user posts an answer.

I know it might be legit (although honestly I'm not sure on this), but this unavoidably encourages other people to do the same. This consequently leads to Off Topic questions staying open for more time than they should.

I understand that new users wouldn't pay attention to this, but also 2000+ users do this and even 5000+ which is always less understandable.

My questions are:

  1. Am I right about this?
  2. If yes, what to do?
  3. If no, why is this behaviour considered to be ok?
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    There's a particular 14K+ user who makes a habit of answering everything. I think those types of answers should be downvoted into oblivion, because at 14K, the user really should know better. – Marthaª Aug 16 '11 at 18:58
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    @Marthaª: Accepted as a general rule of thumb, but bear in mind there are cases where there's not total agreement on whether a question is Off Topic (or should be closed on other grounds). – FumbleFingers Aug 20 '11 at 23:47
9

If the question is 100% clearly no-bones-about-it off topic, then I will generally downvote the answer. Ditto for obvious general reference questions, especially if the answer proves this fact (i.e. it consists of a link to a single definitive source).

The problem is, of course, that things are rarely so clear-cut. If I'm certain the question doesn't belong, but I can see where the FAQ could be interpreted ambiguously, then I will take into account the rep of the answerer: if it's a relatively new user, I'll leave it alone, but if it's a 3K or 5K (or 14K!) user, I'll downvote it with gusto.

Note that whether or not I downvote the question is a separate issue. I will generally only downvote a close-worthy question if it has problems other than the close reason: no context, no research, very confusingly written, etc. Basically, just because a question is off-topic doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad question; it just means it hasn't found its home.

  • 2
    I will admit that sometimes I'll answer questions I voted to close because I'm not sure other people agree. It has happened where I have voted (perhaps mistakenly, perhaps not) and then answered. – simchona Aug 16 '11 at 19:20
  • @Marthaª +1 Thanks, and yes, you're right, some off-topic questions are interesting, like those ones that were good for the Linguistics SE. I know this is not an easy issue, but sometimes the matter is really clear and I feel super-pedantic if I want to comment those answers. :D By the way, I liked the expressions "no-bones-about-it" and "with gusto" ahah :) especially this last one sounds so italian. – Alenanno Aug 16 '11 at 19:40
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    I think we should encourage downvotes on answers only after the question has actually been closed. Otherwise, we'll have 4 downvotes per answer for a question that the rest of us may have decided is really on-topic. – Kit Z. Fox Aug 20 '11 at 20:51
16

I can understand why people might intuitively want to vote down answers to off-topic questions. But I think it's wrong and contrary to the way the system is supposed to work, because the vote does not reflect the quality of the answer itself at all. It is like saying "this answer is wrong!", even though the answer itself isn't wrong, just the question. Casual visitors do not know the subtleties of our system, and that is how they will interpret down-votes on an answer.

It is just as bad as voting down a regular all-right answer of a user who generally annoys you, just to "punish" him for his general behaviour, even though this particular answer of his is fine. It is using the wrong means for the right cause. Are we so desperate that we need such desperate means? We already have the closing system for dealing with off-topic questions; no other tools should be abused for that purpose. Of course everyone must vote as his own conscience commands, but I discourage it.

  • Cerberus, thanks for posting. I see your point, but the fact is that, it might be my impression, some users simply answer to almost every question. Do you think we should simply do nothing if medium/high rep users reply to questions they should know to be off topic or at least ambiguous? If some question is ambiguous I don't answer, or if I know it later, I delete my own answer. So am I being too strict even with myself? – Alenanno Aug 21 '11 at 8:01
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    @Alenanno: It is never wrong to apply rigorous discipline to oneself. But apply it to others? We have the closing system to deal with off-topic questions, and I don't see why we should need more. It might theoretically be a good idea to remove all reputation gained from closed questions (but keep the votes themselves). – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Aug 21 '11 at 13:59
  • I like your last proposal, but I didn't understand the part "(but keep the votes themselves)". – Alenanno Aug 21 '11 at 14:14
  • I agree with this in principle but I also don't appreciate rep-farming off-topic/general reference questions. So I'm torn on this subject but think I lean more towards Cerberus' position. Unfortunately, the real problem is that they even get upvoted... but there isn't much we can do about that. – MrHen Aug 21 '11 at 14:58
  • @MrHen: I would up-vote if the answer were really good. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Aug 21 '11 at 21:49
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    @Alenanno: I mean that the vote counter should continue to work as normal, but any votes would not gain the answerer any reputation. Just as on Meta. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Aug 21 '11 at 21:50
  • I agree with that. If you reply and you get upvoted, and then the questions gets closed, you lose that reputation again. – Alenanno Aug 22 '11 at 17:03
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    The tooltip for the downvote button says "this answer is not useful". I think that covers answers to off-topic questions: if the very existence of the answer is perpetuating mistaken ideas about what belongs on this site, then that answer is not helping the site, and is thus not useful. – Marthaª Aug 22 '11 at 21:00
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    @Martha: "Off topic" is not the same as "not useful". For example, questions about linguistics can be tremendously useful to visitors, even if they aren't about English. These "mistaken" ideas (some might call the rules arbitrary, especially considering how much they keep changing—just look at the countless brilliant old questions that would have been closed now) are by no means perpetuated, since everyone can see that it says "closed". – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Aug 22 '11 at 21:43
6

Some users have the habit to answer a question even if it's off-topic, and in some cases there are users who answer a question they voted to be closed as off-topic. The only cons I can see in answering a question that is clearly off-topic is that the user who asked the question would get the habit to ask off-topic questions, as in any case the user gets an answer.

In the case the same user keeps to ask questions that are clearly off-topic, you can consider down-voting the asked questions. After all, the tooltip shown for the down-vote button says, "This question doesn't show any research effort." You could consider that as referring to searching in the FAQ which questions should be asked in an SE site.

The main point, thought, is to educate users. This can be done with questions on the meta like this one. If necessary, we could create, for example, a question that is then tagged that reports what to do in some circumstances; such question could be than referred in the text used for the FAQ. We could also do as in MSO, where a group of questions tagged is used to expand what reported in the FAQ.

  • I already downvote off topic questions or questions that show (total or almost total) lack of research. The point is, should we tell the users who still answer to avoid it? – Alenanno Aug 16 '11 at 12:33
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    @alen possibly; I think it's fair in some circumstances to downvote answers like that, as well as the question. – Jeff Atwood Aug 16 '11 at 13:43
  • I would first leave a link to this very question, before to down-vote an answer for an off-topic question. Consider also that in some cases is not so immediate that a question is off-topic; in some cases, it's a matter of what the community decides. If somebody answers a question about how to cook beef, that is a different case, though. :-) – kiamlaluno Aug 16 '11 at 16:05
4

I will periodically answer such questions with the intent of either (a) at least providing a decent and possibly interesting answer or (b) felling all of the obvious answers in one swoop so as to prevent a feeding frenzy of subpar answers.

I consider it a necessary evil and don't have a problem if you downvote me for doing so. The intent isn't reputation (not that I mind it) but to block other answers from appearing.

The ideal would be that we just close the frickin' thing but that seems to take time. Fortunately, the time-to-close is shorter than it ever has been and should continue to speed up.

  • Thanks for answering. I understand your point of view, but sometimes I feel people (I'm not talking about you) do it almost like, you know, just to grab those 2 or 3 upvotes and get some points. – Alenanno Aug 17 '11 at 8:49
  • @Alenanno: I agree. I was just adding another perspective. – MrHen Aug 17 '11 at 13:06
  • Yes yes, thanks for doing it! :) – Alenanno Aug 17 '11 at 13:07
1

Technically an answer to an off topic question is also off topic.
However, I do not recommend downvoting because of the following reason-the closed questions are just noise. They do not get more answers, they do not get many views, they just fell off the radar and perhaps eventually deleted. So there is no reason to worry too much about them, but passed into oblivion. The only exception are the duplicates which sometimes have proper answers for this site.
I would personally delete (or transfer if it is a duplicate) any of my answers if they end up in a closed question.

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