8

There have been at least three questions today from new users that were closed quickly because they didn't align with H:SE standards and culture. I'd like to propose a change to the way we handle those questions. I'm going to quickly summarize the protocol, then I'll explain why, and then I'll finish by listing some qualms that I would appreciate community help in resolving.

Proposed protocol

When moderators spot a question that we predict will be closed, particularly if that question is from a new user, we will pre-emptively close the question, make some quick edits and then force a re-open. (mod-hammer-close, mod-edit and mod-hammer RO) If we're not sure that the edit is quite right, we'll skip the third step and post a comment asking the community to 1) recognize this as a new user, 2) Improve the edit, and/or 3) vote to re-open.

Naturally this is a selective protocol; P. Geerkens correctly points out that some closures are righteous. I think there are some questions where this protocol would help.

Why: Problem statement(s)

  1. We have a finicky culture. I support that culture; it has evolved in response to our needs and I defend it, but it isn't easy for an outsider to grasp quickly. That is one of the reasons I drop the standard comment on so many questions - to provide guidance to resources that will help people to acclimate to H:SE.

  2. We close fast. This is really a SE problem; it has been analyzed elsewhere (I'd be grateful to someone for a relevant link; feel free to edit it in here), but closure is what we call a "trapdoor function" - it is easier to close a question than to re-open it. (Even though the protocol should make it easier to re-open than close, empirical evidence says that closure is more frequent than re-open.) P. Geerkens (correctly) points out that some questions should be closed fast and left closed. Some questions cannot/should not be saved. I guess I'm hoping that some fraction of them could be saved.

  3. The theory (Again, I'd appreciate a link) that closure should lead to an edit/remediation cycle, which should result in a re-opened, significantly better question. Empirical evidence says that closure is final, and that the new user is unlikely to return.

  4. We have an anti-pattern where people will post a well intentioned partial answer to a flawed question; the question gets edited, the answer is now less relevant; this leads to multiple edits to fix one side or the other. Nobody is satisfied with the result. If we close first, edit to quality and then answer, I think we can get to a mutually happy place.

  5. It is my impression that we have trouble keeping new users. One of my goals is to be more welcoming to, and more retentive of new users. I'd rather provide a dramatic friendly edit that gets them an answer than allow them to experience the rapid downvote/closure cycle that keeps them out of an answer. (@justcal points out "History closed 38.49% of all questions asked. We are the 13th highest closing rate (out of 176?), putting us in the top 7% for closing questions. 2 out 5 attempts to ask a question here are closed.")

  6. There are some patterns in flawed questions from new users. Just as an example, it is very common to ask, "What is a book on X?" Which we'll close immediately. But if the question is "Why does X happen?" our culture says that the answer should include citations/references that explain. So a quick edit can transform a flawed question into question that will probably satisfy the new user, and perhaps keep them coming back.

Reservations

  • I believe that the moderator should be an exception handler; I'd be happier if the community were to take on this task. Problem is that 1) the way that SE is set up, the community can't do the pre-emptive closure, so the community winds up splitting effort among the various tasks; the lack of coordination leads to mutual frustration.

  • I have opinions about quality, but I'm not sure that my opinions are universal or approved. I wish there were a way to make this more democratic/distributed. Or to provide a stronger opportunity for the community to tell moderators, "No, that's not quite where we want to go"

  • I'm concerned that this will be just as discouraging to new users. I feel that a friendly edit is a better experience than a permanent closure.


This is a proposal, so I'll pay careful attention to upvotes and comments, and to any answers that offer alternatives or improvements.

@Mazura points out that this is "nothing the rest of us can do. . . . you can always edit and mod hammer RO anything. True - moderators have the power to do this; I'm asking for community advice & consent. Moderators are (or should be) reluctant to exercise their power. This question solicits the community's opinion

9
  • 2
    Re "empirical evidence says that closure is more frequent than re-open" Of course closure happens faster and more reliably than reopening - most closed questions should be left closed. IMHO we don't close near fast enough. Far too many closed and even deleted questkions have already accumulated answers - which can not even be refuted any more when weak or misinformed. – Pieter Geerkens Jan 29 at 21:53
  • 2
    Could you elaborate on the close/re-open steps proposed? I read that as mod-hammer-close, mod-edit and immediate vote RO (by whom?)? How should that work (mod RO will open anyway?) Same for "gets them an answer". An A should only be posted on 'good (enough) Qs' – how should that quality be achieved for 'so-predictably/obviously-bad-mod-closed-it-quickly' (my guess is that might even incentivises a few particularly bad Qs?) // I'd probably agree on closing more & sped up, but RO-attempts beefed up even more than VtC-process? – LаngLаngС Jan 30 at 2:29
  • 1
    I believe you are correct; I'm suggesting modhammer close- mod edit, modhammer reopen. Primary goal is to make rapid changes to rescue a question before the closevotes start to accumulate momentum. Let me think a bit more and then edit the proposal to clarify. Thanks. – MCW Mod Jan 30 at 16:46
  • 2
    As I said a few years ago, one of the problems with the current re-open process is that it appears to be triggered by an edit, or more importantly, any edit. So, too often questions appear in the reopen queue after a cosmetic edit (e.g. correcting spelling/formatting) and, therefore, get a 'leave closed' vote because the faults haven't been addressed. We should, perhaps, discourage cosmetic edits on closed questions (although I've no idea how we could police that). – Steve Bird Jan 30 at 20:47
  • 2
    Another problem with retaining new users was the decision to change 'on-hold' to 'closed'. The former did at least suggest that this was a temporary state and questions could be released, while the latter, 'closed', seems pretty terminal. I'd think that many first timers (to SE as a whole) who see their questions closed just leave the site and never bother to come back. – Steve Bird Jan 30 at 20:55
  • 4
    It's probably worth noting that close votes and reopen votes are done by a relatively small number of H:SE users. The top 20 users have done 76% of close votes and 79% of reopen votes (and 86% of first post reviews). So the review 'community' is quite small. I'm not sure if that's an advantage or disadvantage. – Steve Bird Jan 30 at 21:20
  • 1
    The Year in Moderation report contains a link to 2020 A year in Closing. Here you can see all the stacks closing stats compared. History closed 38.49% of all questions asked. We are the 13th highest closing rate (out of 176?), putting us in the top 7% for closing questions. 2 out 5 attempts to ask a question here are closed. – justCal Feb 2 at 20:08
  • 3
    @justCal I'm not sure you can directly compare the different stacks given that the content of each is so varied. For example, Homebrewing with its 1.19% close rate probably doesn't have to deal with neo-nazi posts or kids posting their homework questions, etc. Also some stacks allow things that we don't (such as source recommendations) which also affects the comparative closure rates. So, I think we should concentrate on H:SE and whether the current close rate is appropriate to the site's quality goals. – KillingTime Feb 3 at 11:04
  • 1
    @KillingTime - good point - but I'd like to see the closure rate below 40% – MCW Mod Feb 3 at 11:27
5

One of the problems I've wrestled with since I joined HSE is to what extent can I edit someone else's (flawed) question to bring it up to HSE expectations? I've rarely done more than correct language or add links as I feel I have neither the right nor the authority to do more than point out, in a comment, the problems with the question. Unfortunately, new users are often either unable or unwilling to take on board the community's comments and make the necessary improvements.

Mods are elected by the community so that gives you guys some authority and shows our trust in you. Thus, I think a strong case can be made in favour of your proposal to help a new user who is unable to edit his/her question. The problem is, how do you distinguish the unable from the unwilling? If you mod close quickly, there are unlikely to be any comments to help you judge whether or not the new user is amenable to an edit.

My impression is that new users who fall into the unwilling category do so mostly because they want to ask a question which simply doesn't fit with our guidelines. I don't think mods can do anything about those so the community should decide their fate (i.e. they'll get closed).

The only way I can see around the 'is the new user unable or unwilling?' quandary is for the mod to make the edit and leave a (highlighted?) comment for the OP explaining why the edit was made, that it was done in good faith, but that they can roll-back if they don't like it. The community can still close the question if it so wishes, regardless of whether or not the mod's edit was accepted by the OP.

In summary, if you think your proposal can rescue even a small percentage of questions from being closed, then go for it. Both the community and the OP will still be able to have their say. If, in time, the community or the mods themselves feel that this proposal isn't having the desired beneficial effects, it can be dropped (or someone may come up with a modification or better idea).

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .