# New close vote reason for abandoned questions?

Update: The criteria we've been following in practice, might not be precisely what we've described "on paper" here. Hopefully one of us will have time to sort this out on Meta sooner or later! We've never seen a complaint about anything we've been doing so far, as far as I know.

Result: Questions satisfying the below criteria (and even if they don't satisfy all of them), are closed by moderators when you click "flag" under the question, select "in need of moderator intervention", then type "abandoned". Just one flag is enough if the question is clearly "abandoned", but a comment is usually left informing the user what happened, and that if they "come back" then the question can be reopened. The questions get closed as "needs detail for clarity" since the user has not responded to comments. I think it was in a chat room, that Tyberius said he didn't want to use one of our 3 possible "custom close reasons" on this, so the questions get closed (by use of a flagon the question) as "needs detail for clarity" instead of "abandoned question". Users interested in changing (or removing) this policy should probably start a new Meta discussion.

There's users that create an account, ask a question, but never come back. Such users often have not responded to any of the questions, suggestions, or requests for an input file or more details, and maybe never will (since they aren't signing in to see them, and don't have any other network account from which they might get pinged to see comments).

I propose to add a close vote reason, under "community specific guidelines", for abandoned questions, that following the following criteria (the exact details can be changed as we gain experience):

• The question has no answers (mandatory for this close vote reason; since if there's answers it might not need closing, and alternative close reasons can always be given if necessary).
• User hasn't been online since the week that they joined the site, and >2 weeks have passed.
• There's comments that ask questions or give suggestions, which are not responded to by OP.
• It is unlikely for the question to be answered in the absence of OP coming back and responding to the comments.

Such questions can always be re-opened when the user comes back and answers the comments, or if someone miraculously comes along saying in the comments that they want to answer the question. Remember we are only using this close vote reason in the case where "it is unlikely for the question to be answered without" some more information, so this is highly likely, but if that does happen, we can re-open the question.

This is one of the rare times I'll say that it's okay for a moderator to "hammer" the question closed, because if the user is no longer visiting the site, then it doesn't matter if the question is open or closed or has answers or doesn't have answers (except if the user is visiting the site to check for answers, without signing in; but one criteria is that there has to be comments that are not responded to, and if they're checking for answers but not responding to the questions, then it's bad practice anyway). Moderators should then hammer the question back open if the user comes back.

This is not just about keeping the percent answered high: Abandoned questions can actually be harmful to many people, since people might waste their time trying to solve the problem and write comments about how their own solution did not work, not noticing that the user hasn't been active since the day the question got asked 2+ weeks ago. Today someone wrote a rather thoughtful and detailed comment with a suggestion to try a different Gaussian keyword, and might not have noticed that the comment is unlikely to be seen any time soon since the OP has not been active since the week they made their account.

• I'd be open to adding a reason, but couldn't we also classify these under "Needs detail or clarity"? Assuming the question doesn't seem answerable without the comments being addressed. I was going to ask at some point if the community had any suggestions for additional close reasons.
– Tyberius Mod
Jul 11 '20 at 3:59
• The question might not need detail for clarity to satisfy criterion #3: You recently suggested that someone try using some different keyword in Gaussian. The question might be crystal clear, but now no one wants to answer it until the user has at least tried all the suggestions in the comments (I don't know if this applies in this specific case, but there's been questions where I close-voted with "community specific reason" and wrote down that the question was abandoned). Furthermore: "needs detail for clarity" sounds like something 5 people need to all agree on. Abandonment can be hammered. Jul 11 '20 at 4:03
• I have to agree with Tyberius. Some considerations: How to deal with abandoned questions?, New reason to close a question: “Abandoned question”. The point is, as long as the question is on-topic and answerable, posting an answer is not only for the OP but also for future readers. Otherwise, it's unclear and should be closed as such. Jul 11 '20 at 13:27
• @AndrewT. Your first link is referring to a user from TeX.SE whose request to add a new close reason was declined because "We (TeX-sx) cannot extend the core close reasons". That is not the case here. Your second link is about how to deal with cases where an answer is given, but the OP is no longer there to click "accept", which is completely different from my proposal, which I said is invalid if there is an answer. Tyberius & I work night & day contacting professors around the world to help answer our unanswered, so that users get the best experience. Abandoned questions steal from our time. Jul 11 '20 at 16:28
• I truly respect the effort of contacting subject-matter experts to answer the questions here, it's not something we had succeeded on my site. Also, my opinion and links are only referring to the common policy on SE (in that we don't close questions just because it's abandoned). However, I'm not a regular nor an expert on here, so I probably can't contribute much on here, and every SE site is free to decide their own policy as long as it's not strictly against the SE rules. Jul 11 '20 at 17:02
• @AndrewT. Perfect. Yes I'm not suggesting to close "just because it's abandoned", the question also has to satisfy all of the 4 listed criteria. I ended my last comment abruptly to fit within the space, but basically unanswered questions here have been fitting into two categories: 1) ones that will eventually get an answer without interference, 2) ones that went more than 2 weeks without an answer and likely need extra advertising on Twitter, or personal emails to experts and maybe even more. The longer the unanswered list gets, the more overwhelming it is for the very small # of us working. Jul 11 '20 at 17:12
• I understand your idea, but I am not very sure if, after the site graduate, and continue to growth, we can monitor such type of questions. I do agree that if the OP doesn't answer even the comments, could be an indication of abandon BUT we don't know the real motive of the "abandon". For example, yesterday a OP answer me a comment from 06/25, more than 15 days ago. I think that a better think to do is, if possible, modify the question.
– Camps Mod
Jul 12 '20 at 12:48
• I'm asking for "abandoned question" to be listed as a close reason. We would still need 5 people to agree to close the question, in order for the question to actually get closed because of it. It seems absolutely harmless to have this listed as a close reason. Sep 13 '20 at 19:27
• While I agree with the suggestion, I'd actually argue that if a question satisfies the above criteria, it is not in general a useful question and should be closed regardless. For example, I am personally not interested in answering debugging questions because they are not helpful to anyone (I'd argue not even to the OP), and this is a point that is fairly popular in stackoverflow. I usually vote to close such questions but I find they are usually tolerated and nobody else votes to close (which is understandable, the cite needs more exposure). So I am not sure what the best solution is... Sep 13 '20 at 20:01
• @Godzilla You mean you want such questions to be closed with only 1 vote rather than 5 votes? Sep 13 '20 at 20:04
• I think 5 votes should be sufficient, and if no one else agrees to close them, maybe we shouldn't be closing them, even if we personally disagree with that. Sep 13 '20 at 20:05
• If you could write an answer, that would be helpful. Even the above comment could have been an answer, and I could have commented on your answer rather than on this long chain of comments on the question! Sep 13 '20 at 20:06

Reviving this thread because of this abandoned question: Modelling water using the TIP3P flexible system

While I agree with the suggestion, I'd actually argue that if a question satisfies the above criteria, it is not in general a useful question and should be closed regardless. For example, I am personally not interested in answering debugging questions because they are not helpful to anyone (I'd argue not even to the OP), and this is a point that is fairly popular in stackoverflow. I usually vote to close such questions but I find they are usually tolerated and nobody else votes to close (which is understandable, the cite needs more exposure).

I think that we should stick to needing 5 votes for closing questions, but maybe we need to be more clear about what type of questions is tolerated on the site? Because we can't blame people for asking debugging questions if we never stated that anywhere! And I'd say that if a question is useful, it doesn't matter if it gets answered after 1 day or after 1 year (in fact I've found myself benefitting from such answers after a Google search), so maybe we should be guided by this idea whenever we consider closing (or answering) a question?

• +1. Whether or not all debugging questions need to be closed can be a separate discussion here on Meta, but I think there is agreement here that a debugging question where the asker abandons it (for example there's comments asking for clarification or giving suggestions, and they are left unreplied because the asker does not log in for more than 14 days) need to at least have the option listed for "closing due to being abandoned". Others might not agree with closing it, but if five people all agree with the same close reason, I don't see why it needs to be treated exceptionally. Sep 13 '20 at 20:17
• Removing debugging questions could be very dangerous to the long term community. Imagine being new to using a code and having your first interaction with a community be having a question removed about setting up periodic boundary conditions. New and expert users should both be accommodated. Just a small side note. Sep 13 '20 at 21:39
• Also, this answer seems very answer-able, at least eventually. Even if we can't now, if a future user encounters similar problems they can answer (adding to the community). I understand the problem of trying to optimized the unanswered question metric, but we shouldn't do that at the cost of pruning anything unanswered (somewhat circumventing the problem) Sep 13 '20 at 21:41
• Well, there are different levels of these questions; just asking about PBC is perfectly valid of course, but dumping a whole LAMMPS script on a complicated system is far too broad to be of any use to anyone. That's why I said that I vote to close whenever I think it's unlikely that somebody else will benefit from this question. And in my experience most debugging questions are too unfocused, and this is precisely why I made the connection with stackoverflow, where e.g. a naive Python question would result in a flurry of downvotes and closure. Sep 13 '20 at 22:35
• But I agree that democracy is good and we should leave it open as long as 5 people don't agree on closing it - everybody is entitled to their own opinion and maybe someone can prove me wrong by answering the question well! Sep 13 '20 at 22:38
• I do agree largely. Some of those naive questions often get answered though and tend to be very good resources. In this case, I think an MD simulation of water is general enough that hopefully, this community would keep it (even unanswered for now). Sep 14 '20 at 14:20

tl;dr - we don't need new close vote reasons for this; there exist reasons and other system mechanisms to handle this issue already. I say this as someone who strongly supports the idea of additional close vote reasons where appropriate and as one of the most prolific close voters across the entire Stack Exchange network.

First, let me respond by saying there is already a network-wide function for cleaning up what the network considers "abandoned" questions--this function is carried out by the Community user. From the Help Center page on the Roomba:

Abandoned, unanswered questions can be a nuisance for readers when they appear in search results. While every question deserves a chance to be answered, at some point the annoyance to those searching for a solution outweighs the increasingly-small chance that an answer will be provided.

For this reason, the Community user will automatically delete old abandoned/dead questions in the following circumstances:

If the question is more than 30 days old, and ...

• has −1 or lower score
• is not locked

... or ...

• it was closed and migrated to a different site

...or...

• it was migrated from a different site, and then rejected

... it will be automatically deleted. These are termed "dead" questions (RemoveDeadQuestions, RemoveMigrationStubs in the case of a migration or RemoveRejectedMigrations in the case of a rejected migration).

If the question is more than 365 days old, and ...

• has a score of 0 or less, or a score of 1 and a deleted owner
• is not locked
• has view count <= the age of the question in days times 1.5
• has 1 or 0 comments
• isn't on a meta site

... it will be automatically deleted. These are termed "abandoned" questions (RemoveAbandonedQuestions).

These checks are run every week across all sites.

If the question was closed more than 9 days ago, and ...

• not closed as a duplicate
• has a score of 0 or less
• is not locked
• has no answers with a score > 0
• has no pending reopen votes
• has not been edited in the past 9 days

... it will be automatically deleted. These are "abandoned closed", and are termed as RemoveAbandonedClosed.

This check is run every day across all sites.

If you believe your question can still be answered (by you or anyone else), see: What should I do if I find the answer to an old question of mine that was automatically deleted as abandoned?

Next, I want to address the suggested close vote option reasons, one-by-one:

The question has no answers (mandatory for this close vote reason; since if there's answers it might not need closing, and alternative close reasons can always be given if necessary).

Why do you want to close a question that has no answers? Why not answer it, instead? Otherwise why not close every question as soon as it is asked? At that moment, it has no answers, correct?

User hasn't been online since the week that they joined the site, and >2 weeks have passed.

What does this matter? The question exists and should be answerable even if the user gets abducted by aliens shortly after hitting "submit". If the question is not answerable given the information provided, it should be closed as 'needs details' or something similar. Remember that Stack Exchange sites are about building a repository of knowledge for all first, and about helping specific/individual people second.

There's comments that ask questions or give suggestions, which are not responded to by OP.

If OP does not respond to comments asking for clarification, downvote the question for the prescribed reason "no effort" (while downvotes can be used for any reason, they're intended for when a post is unclear or lacks effort) and/or close-vote it as unclear.

It is unlikely for the question to be answered in the absence of OP coming back and responding to the comments.

This seems like part of the last bullet point. if the question isn't currently answerable, vote to close it. If it's closed as unclear and doesn't have answers, it will be deleted automatically by the Roomba as described above. If it does have answers, either it shouldn't be closed, or it may still be worth keeping around depending on how the community has viewed said answers... so in such a case (e.g. the question is closed but has two answers each with a positive score), the system leaves it up to the community to delete... users with 10,000 reputation or more can cast delete votes to delete such a question. Or a moderator can unilaterally delete it.

• You are speaking as if you have been participating in this community all along, but you haven't. How can you say that we don't need something? The part about abandoned questions on Roomba is illuminating, but it is essentially impossible for those criteria to be met: for example we don't have questions with negative score and no answers, and we likely never will because people here don't downvote. No question on this site has gone more than an hour without any upvotes, so the probability of something have 0 after 365 days is slim. Sep 26 '20 at 0:52
• About questions with no answers, you say "Why not answer it, instead?". Is that supposed to be a joke? You next ask "Otherwise why not close every question as soon as it is asked?" If we did that, then there would be no point in having a Q/A site, but don't compare closing a question immediately versus closing a question after 14 days, please. The criteria require that > 2 weeks have passed. You are telling us to downvote questions, but what if we as a community to not want to downvote? A question might be clear and with enough details but better off closed if the user has disappeared. Sep 26 '20 at 1:01
• @NikeDattani I am speaking as if I have been participating in Stack Exchange all along, which I have. I can say you don't need the things you've requested because they inherently misrepresent the intended workflow/functionality of how a Stack Exchange site operates. It sounds like you might be working really hard to shoot yourself in the foot here. Perhaps if you stop upvoting every post as soon as you see it, you might find the built-in moderation tools work a lot better? Sep 28 '20 at 19:55
• Maybe you are speaking as if you've been participating in SE all along, but you're also speaking as if you've been participating in MMSE all along, by saying what we need and don't need, for example, as well as some other things. Your last sentence "Perhaps if you stop upvoting every post as soon as you see it, you might find the built-in moderation tools work a lot better?" seems to violate the CoC. They don't have room to give every possible example, but the structure of your sentence is remarkably close to their example “If you bothered to read my question, you’d know it’s not a duplicate.” Sep 28 '20 at 20:19
• (TylerH) @NikeDattani I'm going to cut this comment thread short because I think it is a little too heated/personal. I think a few clarifying comments are fine, but a debate in the comments won't be productive. You have both made your cases in your respective posts and I think at this point any additional commentary arguing for or against your positions should be from other users.
– Tyberius Mod
Sep 28 '20 at 20:59

I agree with your intention; I fear the method you propose is not sustainable.

Closing a question should (in my opinion) focus on improving it as much as possible to make it a good fit and helpful to future readers. If that is not possible for whatever reason, a nice side effect is that these questions will be cleaned up, sometimes even automatically. Or at least they will be eligible to be cleaned up. Even then, a closed question can be helpful in some cases when they are not cleaned up. That's a story for another time though.

Arguably close voters are somewhat experienced voters, so one could assume they know which reason when to apply. It shouldn't be hard though, and the reason itself should be clear enough that everybody can follow it. If there is a set of rules attached to it, you might lose contributors.
Therefore I think that an objective reason will be easier to understand, comprehend, and in the long term to follow. If a question is not answerable because it lacks crucial information (like the settings and/or code and/or inputs) then that is a perfectly understandable reason, one that can be summarised in two sentences. It also has the benefit of adding a possible way to improve the question. It also has the benefit that it is less dependent on the actual user pasting the question and it is independent on any deadlines. So for a close reason it would be better to offer a meta post on how to improve it. A question doesn't necessarily have to be improved by the OP, it can be any user facing a similar problem, someone who understood it, reproduced it, knows how to answer it. The system really gets hand in hand here.

Something along those lines had been said earlier in a comment, and I'd like to highlight that. (In the end, this method will also be adding to the like of things moderators will have to do.)

I understand your idea, but I am not very sure if, after the site graduate, and continue to growth, we can monitor such type of questions. I do agree that if the OP doesn't answer even the comments, could be an indication of abandon BUT we don't know the real motive of the "abandon". For example, yesterday a OP answer me a comment from 06/25, more than 15 days ago. I think that a better think to do is, if possible, modify the question. – Camps♦ Jul 12 at 12:48

Some other things to consider: For the automatic algorithms in place to actually work, it is important to also use the option to down vote. This is the primary quality control mechanism. Abstaining from voting may not be enough. We all hope this site will grow, but that also means getting more of these kind of questions. Temporary solutions which we currently might agree on can easily become monsters to never get rid of or never be able to improve upon. (One example is the homework policy on chemistry.)
All voting should probably be done as early as possible, also the close voting. There is hardly any point in closing a question late, except for cleaning it up with the roomba script. If you want a chance, it needs to happen quickly. As you said, there's always the option to reopen.

If a question truly is abandoned (in SE sense), it should very likely be deleted. A cleanup effort after five years of operation is a massive effort. If you can avoid that, do it.

To summarise: Closing such questions is generally a good idea, but the reason should be easier to understand and apply. Questions should whenever possible be improved (by whomever has the time and understanding).

• Thanks for all the insight here. I don't see how these questions will get "cleaned up", and 365 days is way too long in my opinion. Also, why delete them? The person can always come back and answer the comments. About downvoting: MATLAB Answers has no downvote button, and Facebook has no dislike button. "All voting should happen as early as possible" seems contradictory to closing abandoned questions. I agree that having complicated rules is not ideal, but we could add the close reason and see how it works. It doesn't have to be used, and still 5 people will need to agree on it. Sep 26 '20 at 18:36
• @Nike The underlying mechanics here are, as far as I know, quite unique. I don't know anything about MATLAB answers and their philosophy. Facebook is a totally different monster at not at all comparable with SE. This site isn't a popularity contest, but about quality content. I personally think that down voting is much, much more important than any other metric. That may sound overly dramatic, but unfortunately is rooted in experience. However, this is a tiny community, so things might not be as severe. Also, I'll probably never be able to cast a single CV here, so I'm off no concern. Sep 27 '20 at 13:24
• Deleting questions can be important. Unanswered (closed) questions can be a deterrent for newer users. Not having those questions might lead to similar, but superior and active questions by users that actually stick around. It also removes quite a lot of clutter from the search page. I unfortunately cannot be as optimistic as you, @Nike, about people returning. I also don't think that a year is actually that long. Also the thing about close reasons is that they will be used, or the queue piles up. On chemistry or hasn't been cleared for at least a year now... And there is more trouble.... Sep 27 '20 at 13:30
• One of the active users on this site told me that "having a dislike button on FB could cause World War 3", and another one told me that the downvote button causes so many huge problems across the SE network that could easily be prevented by simply not having a downvote button. I know you disagree with both these, but it's ok for people have different opinions on this :) It might be true that when we get bigger we'll have some of the issues that you talk about. But the demographic is different: Chem has people from high school onward, whereas MM has people from grad school onward: less downvote Sep 28 '20 at 0:32
• @Nike it really is fine too disagreeing with each other, and I don't wish to go deeper down this path here. I do agree that a dislike button on FB could lead to the end of the world though. I'm curious about the problems you cite with the down voting across SE; please share a link with me. For the demographic: I neither see correlation nor causation for that argument. It's a very specific, subjective choice how to vote. I see established users of different statuses exercise this at their discretion. When I look at the CCL archive, this site has huge potential for garbage questions, too. Sep 28 '20 at 18:44
• The conversation about problems caused by downvotes on SE, was in the context of something that happened on Academia.SE, but the user that told me his opinion on that, did so privately rather than on Academia.Meta, so I don't have a "link" to it unfortunately. I'm sure that CCL has had low quality questions over the years, and such questions could be asked on MMSE, do they need to be downvoted though? They can be close-voted, or flagged as "low quality", or people can write comments requesting changes. I'm sure low-quality Qs can appear but I would think it wouldn't happen as often by seniors. Sep 28 '20 at 19:16
• @Nike I really would like to continue the discussion, but probably not here. I've had to make the experience that academia.se can be a hostile place, so I guess I get it. The down vote and the close vote (low quality will in most cases be the same) are two completely different mechanics. Questions should be closed regardless of their quality of they are off topic. Questions can be on topic, but of bad quality, essentially but worth keeping. Often this coincides, but the reasons to cast any of those views should be decided independent of those. Sep 29 '20 at 6:59
• It's fine to not choose to down vote as a community. I think the Tex community is pretty much operating in this way, and it works well for them. Obviously not everyone knows that when they arrive on the platform, so there will be outliers. If there are no down votes, there cannot be any automatic cleaning up, and moderators will have to do that manually. Right now this won't be a problem, and it might never become one, but seeing other "research forums", I can no longer be that optimistic. If you have too much stuff in your archive, it becomes very hard to find what you're looking for... Sep 29 '20 at 7:10

As I have mentioned in some comments, I fall under the stand point of "Keep old questions unless completely unanswerable". In the case where we ask questions about what has been done and the original asker decides to abandon it, the answer can simply become what we would be asking about.

This allows for future users with a similar issue (even if complicated) to see at least what debugging steps they should try before asking their own questions. If they try it and we were correct before, they can answer with what worked and improve the question.

Edit: I have attempted to give an example of how to handle this in the question referred to before. The community can decide how they want to handle this. Answers like this should always be "community wiki" posts though since reputation gains from it should not be the goal.

• Interesting idea! "the answer can simply become what we would be asking about" is something I never considered seriously, maybe because I've gotten to used to the SE concept of only using the "answer" section to answer questions, and for everything else to go in comments or chat. The #1 issue I have with "keep old questions unless completely unanswerable" is that our unanswered queue will get big, and then people looking to answer an unanswered question will get overwhelmed with the volume of them. I'd like to keep this list down to 1 page. Also if the Q is abandoned, people might waste time. Sep 14 '20 at 18:51
• This solves the problem of it being unanswered in the queue, while still leaving it in a state where it is clear that it needs to be revisited if the original author comes back (since the answer does not actually solve the problem). Maybe a note at the top of the question should be edited in that it seems abandoned. Sep 14 '20 at 19:28
• Similar to negative results not being published in literature typically (a bad trend in science), simply knowing others are asking about a problem is enough to be useful to someone potentially. Sep 14 '20 at 19:29
• Why don't we just close the question though, this way it doesn't show up in the "unanswered queue", and if someone wants to answer, they can write a comment saying that they have an answer: then the question gets immediately re-opened! Your suggestion is interesting: Let people answer without clarification about what the original user really wanted. That could be possible too, but we might need a separate Meta discussion on how far away from direct answers we're happy to accept answers. Sep 14 '20 at 21:30
• How easily can "closed" posts be found by non-users? Sep 15 '20 at 0:49
• Even easier than non-closed questions that have an answer, because closed questions still show up on Google searches (as do non-closed questions), and they also show up if you use the site's internal search function (so they are treated on the same footing as non-closed questions, in terms of searchability), but closed questions have the advantage that you can specify in the search query that you want only the closed questions, and this therefore gives one additional route to finding closed questions, that isn't there for non-closed questions (search for non-closed & you'll get 99% of the Qs) Sep 15 '20 at 1:02
• Hmm then I am torn, I feel that digging through a comment chain is less helpful than a summarized answer of what was found but at the same time closing does not inherently prevent the answer from being found. Then again, it does require the user to request to reopen. This is an unneeded step ideally. Maybe there should be a difference between truly abandoned and abandoned with effort applied (enough that it may have been the answer but the user never confirms). Sep 15 '20 at 1:51
• It is truly the most "interesting" case we have encountered so far I think. There's many thoughts flooding through my mind. But one that stands out is that having a question get "closed" can be good motivation (perhaps the most effective type of motivation) in getting users to put in effort to meet the minimum standards we desire for questions. The user is likely to sign into StackExchange again at some point, and when they do, they will see a big fat notification saying "your question has been closed", and I imagine that might make them realize they need to do something. Sep 15 '20 at 2:49
• Sep 15 '20 at 2:56