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Unclutter EL&U before quality drowns

It is my conviction that the site's health would benefit greatly by removing those very questions that plague the first two or three pages. As soon as an unanswered question is put on hold, deemed off-topic and the questioner/OP to all intents and purposes has disappeared—a recent phenomenon which I have noted to my great annoyance—then that question should automatically go into "quarantine", i.e. the "unanswered" page; no ifs and buts.

An exception should be made for questions which are accidental duplicates. Often a new poster will pose a duplicate question which is worded quite differently from the "original". As I understand it, Stack Exchange welcomes and loves duplicate questions:

One thing I want to be clear about, though, is that duplication is not necessarily bad. Quite the contrary — some duplication is desirable. There’s often benefit to having multiple subtle variants of a question around, as people tend to ask and search using completely different words, and the better our coverage, the better odds people can find the answer they’re looking for. And isn’t that, really, the whole point of this exercise?

As I’ve mentioned probably ad nauseam at this point, people have the uncanniest knack of asking multiple, nearly identical questions with almost zero words in common.

Jeff Atwood

The above snippet was quoted in this meta post below (Oct 29 2010).

By having closed-but-not-deleted duplicates, we have several completely different wordings pointing to the same question. For one, that increases our visibility in Google search results. Most importantly though, it helps prevent more dupes from being posted in the future.

RegDwight ♦

So an exception must be made for duplicates, I would even argue that visitors might even visit the dupe question and find them useful.

Furthermore, after one week of inactivity the off-topic, POB, unclear, and general reference questions which have not received any answers, and have not been reopened, should be automatically deleted. No ifs, ands or buts. I don't care how many comments a question may have generated, a closed question is useless if there is no answer. If the OP is present he or she will try to resuscitate the question, he or she will care enough to ask how to improve it, to inquire why it is closed. He or she will do some minimal research. That is a good enough indication that the user is genuinely interested and genuinely wants an answer. A user who should be nurtured, who might become a valuable contributor in the foreseeable future.

My last observation concerns unregistered users to the site. To my consternation I have noted there seems to an increase of unregistered users on the site, a great number of these "first time posters" disappear within the first hour or two never to return. Very often their questions are the very ones which users on EL&U complain most about. They are the FTPs who don't even look up a word in a dictionary before asking a question on spelling: Real Estate or Real-Estate? Moreover that unregistered user vanished after one hour, the user did not reply to any of the comments left by members. That user behaved like a mosquito. A small question bite, and then buzzed off.

Another more recent example is this: Fulfil vs. Fulfill That is a question which should go to the unanswered queue. If the OP wants to reopen his/her question then they go through the normal channels.

And while those two questions along with a multitude of similar ones are still visible on the front page, the good questions sink in a sludge of banality.

Why are those two questions (on September 14) still visible on the first fifty questions page? Why are those questions, along with dozen of others, cluttering the site? Put them in "quarantine". If the OPs return, the questions remain. If after a week they haven't intervened or made any edits etc., delete the lot.

That's my little rant over


Are "answers" in comments responsible for newcomers leaving the site after one hour?

I think, in part, they are. The number of newcomers who post a question to then disappear without trace is also due to receiving decent "answers" in comments. As these unregistered FTP tend to be non-native speakers, I believe, they are unaware of how the Q&A system works. Whereas users who have 100 rep will already be familiar with the Stack exchange model.

I'd like all of us to pay particular attention to newcomers who have seemingly vanished. Are there comments which could be misconstrued as answers? I would also strongly suggest to refrain from leaving such comments, especially to users who have 1 rep. They should be better informed that comments are often wild guesses which may or not be the answer they are looking for.


The "Hit&Run" users (updated)

Here is yet another unanswered off-topic question posed by a "hit&run" or "first time poster". An unregistered user who will not return, comment, edit or participate under the same username again. As this appears to be somewhat a pattern, I'm thinking is there a way to check their IP addresses to see if any are repeating offenders?

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    I am hopeful (perhaps naively?) that once ELL graduates out of beta, and starts getting more SEO love, this question will be moot. We've really got to find a way to raise awareness of that site as the best place to answer "basic" English questions (problem is, no one really likes to be told "your question is too basic, go sit at the kids' table"). – Dan Bron Sep 15 '14 at 16:09
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    @DanBron and if that's another year? If the mods were allowed to group the "on hold" questions together, move them to a different page, thereby providing the "on topic" questions greater visibility, wouldn't that already be an improvement? – Mari-Lou A Sep 15 '14 at 16:13
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    @DanBron Nobody likes to be humiliated, true, but if after several comments of helpful advice has been freely given and the OP stubbornly ignores them. Well, frankly I don't care if their feelings do get hurt. It's one thing to see an OP who responds and edits a question, it's quite another who maintains a stony silence. – Mari-Lou A Sep 15 '14 at 16:16
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    Oh, listen, I agree with your proposal and hope it gets implemented (one of those +1s is mine). It's just that SE admins are a fairly conservative bunch, and in general the philosophy "be nicer to the newbies" has prevailed over "improve the signal:noise ratio" (witness the mess that is SO). And it's worth noting that snailboat said, on the "Make ELL a valid move target" question, that ELL is in the "graduation queue" already. – Dan Bron Sep 15 '14 at 16:16
  • I hope you didn't interpret any of my comments as saying you're encouraging anonymous downvotes! That idea never entered this guy's head. – Dan Bron Sep 15 '14 at 16:21
  • @DanBron I was anticipating those who might oppose my idea by advocating the use of downvotes. – Mari-Lou A Sep 15 '14 at 16:25
  • K, just so we're clear, I like your idea and hope it gets implemented. But that said, I don't have anything more substantial to offer which would merit a formal answer. – Dan Bron Sep 15 '14 at 16:26
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    The OPs I find contemptible are the ones who are happy enough to ask their ill-phrased, minimally-researched questions, have someone else clarify and reformat them, receive answers from multiple respondents who have often devoted considerable time and effort to researching and composing their replies, and who then bugger off without so much as upvoting or accepting an answer or even just posting a "thank you" comment under the better answers. That is not merely a case of those users being unfamiliar with the ELU model; it's a manifestation of their rampant self-centredness and bad manners. – Erik Kowal Sep 16 '14 at 7:32
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    @ErikKowal do we feel better now? :) But I do share your sentiment, it's something that has happened to everyone. But recently, good answers are not even upvoted. I sense an air of complacency, of "I can't be bothered any more to participate" especially true from the more seasoned users. I don't belong to that category, I'm still wet behind the ears :) Did you upvote my proposal? The more upvotes it receives the more "management" will stop and listen. – Mari-Lou A Sep 16 '14 at 7:36
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    Yes, 'we' did upvote your proposal. However, having read many quite good suggestions for improvement on the meta site that have led nowhere, I am not particularly optimistic that 'management' is suddenly going to wake up now. But I'm willing to let them prove me wrong. :) – Erik Kowal Sep 16 '14 at 7:46
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    But by giving short unexplained answers to a newcomer who is unfamiliar with Stack Exchange, s/he might believe the comment is the answer and so disappear, leaving the user who does post a detailed well-researched answer empty handed. Of course this doesn't always happen, if the answer is top notch people will notice and will naturally want to show their approval. But the OP, the person who asked the question? He or she is gone, and whether I or you like it or not, they don't come back. – Mari-Lou A Sep 17 '14 at 17:36
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    @Mari-LouA, I think that's a deeper issue than getting clutter off the front page. My rep has x-tuple'd over the last month or so here, and I've noticed that an insignificant amount of that increase is due to answers I felt were interesting, well-researched, well-written, and even surprising. The vast majority of my rep has come from trivial answers to trivial questions. I think this is an artifact of the reality that people upvote things they can agree with, and obvious, widely-known things are easier to agree with, for more people with less thought. In other words, the votes are cheap. – Dan Bron Sep 17 '14 at 17:54
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    @Mari-LouA (cont'd) For a concrete example of that problem, and how your (2nd) proposal is orthogonal to treating it: currently, my most upvoted answer is something I originally considered a throwaway answer to a throwaway question, which I originally posted because on the previous few questions, people had encourage me to post my comments as answers, though they be trivial. – Dan Bron Sep 17 '14 at 17:57
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    I fully agree about the cheap votes, but you ARE very good. An excellent "new" contributor along with Erik Kowall and a few others, whose names have slipped my mind. – Mari-Lou A Sep 17 '14 at 17:58
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    @Mari-LouA (cont'd, final) Contrast that with a question I found interesting, difficult to answer, and very rewarding to resolve. Trivial? 77 upvotes; Well-researched? 3 upvotes. A difference of 256% in favor of trivial. (At first blush, the zonal/meridional question may not look well-researched, but trust me when I say I spent a long time looking for those words!) – Dan Bron Sep 17 '14 at 17:58
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This is already happening. Quoting Shog9’s answer at MSE, the criteria are these:

Automatic deletion of closed, abandoned questions for questions meeting the following criteria:

  • Closed more than 9 days ago
  • Not closed as a duplicate
  • Score <= 0
  • Not locked
  • No answers with a score > 0
  • No accepted answer
  • No pending reopen votes
  • No edits in the past 9 days

Running the SEDE query for questions that are all of:

Closed
scoring <= 0
no accepted answers
no answers scoring > 0
no reopen votes
no recent edits


for ELU at this moment yields 575 questions slated for summary deletion.

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    So there are 575 questions scheduled to be deleted, since when? Since April 2013? How often does this happen? – Mari-Lou A Sep 14 '14 at 20:50
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    What about my suggestion to shift questions on hold immediately to the unanswered questions (quarantine) page? – Mari-Lou A Sep 14 '14 at 20:59
  • @Mari-LouA That query seems to be pulling up duplicates. I’m not sure how to modify it to fix that. But if you look here unter the recently deleted list, you will see that the Community user deletes closed questions daily. – tchrist Sep 15 '14 at 0:08
  • "9 days". As always, people working at SE expect everyone to visit the site almost as often as they do, which is absurd. It's perfectly natural for someone to come back once in a while. – o0'. Sep 22 '14 at 11:39
  • @Lohoris I don't understand what you mean by "9 days" – Mari-Lou A Sep 28 '14 at 6:36
  • @Mari-LouA I mean that's a very short time, but they don't realise it because they, as the admins, are used to come back to the site multiple times a day. – o0'. Sep 28 '14 at 9:19

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