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Recently, a user voted to close a question after answering it due to the OP being "unresponsive". (The answer is now deleted and available only to users with more than 10k reputation.)

What is the community's take on that? Can an OP's lack of response make the question become off-topic? I don't quite see how (literally nothing changed about the question, so how could it suddenly have become off-topic), but the user in question preferred to delete their answer rather than explain. Am I missing something?

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    $\begingroup$ @Najib I do agree that if a user has answered a question, it is inappropriate for that user to vote to close the question; if such a user decides that the question should be closed, s/he should delete his/her question before doing so. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Oct 5 '16 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ My thoughts are much like @Gerry's below for the general case. In the particular case here I am not so critical of the now-deleted Answer being posted, because it more functions as an extended Comment about why the Question is off-topic and how it might be improved. Normally I think this can be (and should be) done with a Comment or two on the Question. $\endgroup$ – hardmath Oct 5 '16 at 18:18
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    $\begingroup$ If a question is slightly off-topic and could be edited to be on-topic, some will refrain from voting to close to give the OP a chance to edit. If the OP is not taking this chance, they proceed with voting. It would be better if people voted immediately and left a comment to explain what kind of improvement could cause them to withdraw their vote or vote to reopen. $\endgroup$ – Joonas Ilmavirta Oct 18 '16 at 18:54
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First of all, the question got closed only 7 hours after its posting: if this is because it was offtopic, that's fine; but calling an OP unresponsive after at most 7 hours from posting a question is extremely irrational. What if the OP went to sleep for the night? What if he was using a public-access computer in some library that he had to quit? What if he is from a region of the world with limited internet connection? What if he has a private life including having other things to do than only sit in front the computer?

Unresponsiveness should not be measured in hours, and I dare say not even in days. The only exception is when the OP keeps being active on MSE but neglects his own question - which, in this case, should probably be considered abandoned, but even then this is not a reason for closure.


There is a second matter, though: when we answer a question, do we answer it only for the OP, or for everybody else interested in it in the future? If we answer it only for the OP, the page should get deleted altogether once the OP has accepted an answer, shouldn't it? If the unresponsiveness of its OP is the only issue, then a good question should be left open for future (possibly better) answers.


To summarize: no, a question should never get closed just because its OP has abandoned it. Close it if it is poor according to the already established criteria; if it doesn't fit any of these, then is is at least a reasonable question and by this it has gained the right of not getting closed (and automatically deleted).

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    $\begingroup$ One of the best meta.math answers I've seen. Bravo. $\endgroup$ – Brevan Ellefsen Oct 10 '16 at 4:25
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    $\begingroup$ Note that you can see when the OP was last active in his/her profile. $\endgroup$ – Simply Beautiful Art Oct 12 '16 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ I totally agree! $\endgroup$ – Jannik Pitt Oct 12 '16 at 18:52
  • $\begingroup$ I would formulate it the other way around: "A question that would need to be closed because for example it is unclear, can often be saved if the author is responsive." That's why it's in your own interest to check back regularly after posting a question - in order to be available should it turn out additional information is needed. If not and if the question is bad, it may be closed. Effectively, all bad (close-worthy) questions should get closed if authors are unresponsive and unable to fix them. I totally agree with your answer, just wanted to emphasize the benefits of checking back often. $\endgroup$ – Trilarion Oct 17 '16 at 13:10
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The short answer is "No, lack of responsiveness is not (in itself) a sufficient reason to vote to close", but the longer answer is more complicated.

Let's start from basic principles. There are various valid reasons to vote to close (unclear, too broad, lacks context, off-topic, etc.). Those are the valid reasons to vote to close. If someone asks a good question that complies with all the requirements, then lack of responsiveness is not on its own a valid reason to vote to close. On the other hand, if one of the reasons for closure applies to the question, then that reason is a valid reason for closure -- and that's true whether or not the original poster is responsive or not. So on first glance it appears that responsiveness is irrelevant.

However, in practice real life is a little more complicated. What should we do when we see a question that was just posted and in its current state should be closed, but could plausibly be fixed? Some people say "vote to close immediately, and leave a comment on how to improve it; once it is edited, it can be re-opened". But other people prefer "leave a comment and wait a day or two to give the poster a chance to edit first; if they don't improve the question, then vote to close".

For the latter people, as you can see, things a little more complex. In particular, if a poster posts a question that is off-topic/too-broad/unclear/etc. but is responsive to comments and immediately addresses any feedback, those people won't vote to close. On the other hand, if the poster posts a question that is off-topic/too-broad/unclear/etc. and is non-responsive -- doesn't respond to feedback in a timely fashion -- those people will eventually vote to close. That might look like they're voting to close because of non-responsiveness. They might even describe it as voting to close because of non-responsiveness. But, technically speaking, non-responsiveness is not the reason to vote to close. Instead, the reason to vote to close was the original problem with the post: that it was off-topic/too-broad/unclear/whatever. Because the poster was non-responsive, that original problem never got fixed, and it remains a valid reason to vote to close.

In other words, I'll draw a distinction between Stack Exchange guidelines on voting to close (prescriptive guidelines) vs observations on how people actually behave (descriptive information). Prescriptively, Stack Exchange says that you should only vote to close if a question meets one of the valid reasons for closure. You're not obligated to vote to close if the question meets one of those reasons for closure, but you shouldn't vote to close any question if it doesn't meet any of those reasons. In other words, meeting one of those reasons is a necessary but maybe not sufficient condition for voting to close. Descriptively, some users will immediately vote to close any question that meets one of those reasons for closure; others will only vote to close if the question meets one of those reasons for closure and the poster has been given a chance to improve their question and hasn't responded in a timely fashion. Either is OK and 100% allowed by Stack Exchange rules; both models are perfectly acceptable. As long as you only vote to close when the question meets one of the valid reasons for closure, it's up to you to decide whether and when to use your vote to close.

For the question you link to, I see five users who voted to close on the basis that the question is off-topic. They are absolutely right. The question was off-topic from the very minute it was posted. Nothing changed. When someone posts an off-topic question, people are free to vote to close whenever they come across it -- that might be immediately, or it might be a few days later. So, one might say that the primary reason for closure in this case is that the question was off-topic, not that the user was non-responsive; given this background, one person is free to vote-to-close because it is off-topic, and another person is free to vote-to-close because it is off-topic and the poster was non-responsive. Both actions are fine.

Finally, realize that users of this site are people. Sometimes they'll make mistakes, or have misconceptions. Feel free to educate them if you see that happening, or to ask on meta (which is what you did -- well done).

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  • $\begingroup$ "For the question you link to, I see five users who voted to close on the basis that the question is off-topic. They are absolutely right." (according to D.W.'s evaluation). The question was off-topic from the very minute it was posted. (per D.W.). $\endgroup$ – Namaste Oct 5 '16 at 18:58
  • $\begingroup$ "... if a poster posts a question that is off-topic/too-broad/unclear/etc. but is responsive to comments and immediately addresses any feedback, those people won't vote to close. On the other hand, if the poster posts a question that is off-topic/too-broad/unclear/etc. and is non-responsive -- doesn't respond to feedback in a timely fashion -- those people will eventually vote to close. That might look like they're voting to close because of non-responsiveness." Indeed, as you note, Many people will vote to close for two intertwined factors, one of which is lack of response. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Oct 5 '16 at 19:02
  • $\begingroup$ In some circles, the instant one encounters an error in a post, or judges it to be unclear, or off topic, Wham! Instant vote to close. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Oct 5 '16 at 19:17
  • $\begingroup$ In other circles, folks help the OP by asking questions to clarify the post, encourage an OP to add his/her work, etc.. I'm in this camp. I try very hard NOT to render judgement at first sight. I'm not going to punish a newcomer who is eager and willing to respond to questions/suggestions, before they have a chance to improve, clarify, etc, their posts. Without the OP's response, effort, exchange, I see (1) a question that is unclear, or has some other "deficit", and (2) lack of willingness to answer questions, respond to suggestions. When both $1, 2$ are the case, only then, to close. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Oct 5 '16 at 19:20
  • $\begingroup$ My point, D.W., is that you are wrong to say that votes to close questions are ultimately, fundamentally because it's unclear, uninspired, off topic, etc. For many of us, such "fundamental reasons to close" are not sufficient. Perhaps one or more sin is necessary, but it is not necessarily sufficient to "Wham! Vote to close! $\endgroup$ – Namaste Oct 5 '16 at 19:29
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    $\begingroup$ When there is a problem with a question, and the problem is commented on or asked about in comments, and such efforts by users encountering the question, and the OP fails to address or respond to them, for one, two, three days, then we have 2 factors, each reason lacking sufficient reason to close. But together, when both factors are present, then there is sufficient reason to close a question. I.e. Decisions to close for many of us cannot boil down just to the question being "unclear, off topic, or...". etc. Sometimes the deciding factor IS an OP's lack of response in responding th others. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Oct 5 '16 at 19:37
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy, thanks for your supportive comments. As for the part you say I got wrong, I think you might have misinterpreted my answer a little bit. I'm trying to both explain Stack Exchange guidelines (prescriptively, you're only supposed to vote to close if the question meets one of the requirements for closure) and explain how people behave in practice (descriptively, some people behave exactly as you describe, in that meeting one of the requirements for closure is a necessary but not sufficient condition for them to actually issue such a vote -- and that's fine and allowed). $\endgroup$ – D.W. Oct 5 '16 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, indeed, @D.W., it gets complicated. Much of what I wrote above is how I try to work with "newish user questions" (though I am very adept at sorting out "newer users" who repeatedly ask the same, or similar, questions, often under new accounts.) If someone has 7,000 rep on main, I'm much more likely to put greater emphasis on it's failure to be clear, or being off-topic, of posted without any context, etc in terms of my likelihood of voting to close. So I do expect more for more experienced users' questions. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Oct 5 '16 at 20:07
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy: Instead of all these comments, why don't you write your own answer? $\endgroup$ – Thomas Oct 6 '16 at 15:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Thomas: the comments started as a means to address the OP and subsequent answers (so my comments/responses had context). But in the end, yes, perhaps I should have posted an "answer". But, to be honest, I have strong vibes that much of anything I'd post as an answer would be scavenged to death. Perhaps that's a cop-out. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Oct 6 '16 at 16:33
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    $\begingroup$ Worth noting that closed questions are labeled “on hold” first. The intention is that this gives users time to edit and re-open their question. So the “vote the moment something's wrong” camp might consider an on-hold status as more encouragement to edit and clarify than just a bunch of comments. Plus you don't have to remember to check back on a question later on. $\endgroup$ – MvG Oct 14 '16 at 7:57
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I believe that a poster's lack of responsiveness can justify closure of a question, and many times I have voted to close a question on precisely those grounds. But I only do this after repeated efforts over two days or more to get the poster to engage with others have failed. When I do it, I choose the "off-topic" reason, since it allows me to record my actual reason, namely, that OP has abandoned the question.

Also, I don't do it after I have posted an answer, and I don't do it when there has been an upvoted answer.

EDIT: To respond to some points raised in the comments, something like the following has happened on many occasions. OP posts an excellent question, one with which no one could find any fault. I post a comment to the effect that the question is answered in such-and-such a paper, and I give a link to a pdf of that paper. A day goes by, with no activity from OP (or anyone else), and I post, "Have you had a look at that paper?" Another day goes by, with no activity from OP (or anyone else), and I post, "Are you still here?" Or maybe I downvote the question – I have found that can be a good way to get OP's attention. But another day goes by, with no activity from OP (or anyone else). At that point, I vote to close on the grounds that OP has abandoned the question. I think that's justified. As I'm the only person on all of math.stackexchange who has expressed any ongoing interest in the question, I don't think I'm hurting anyone by voting to close it. And I find that most often the question then gets closed, which I take as confirmation that the community accepts such grounds for closure (second most often, OP comes back to engage with the discussion, which was the intent all along).

I hope that clarifies my position on when lack of responsiveness justifies closure.

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    $\begingroup$ Just to be sure I have the complete picture in mind -- if the initial version of the question is already good, clear, detailed, etc, you wouldn't vote to close for unresponsiveness, right? Am I correct in thinking that you put in efforts to have the OP respond only when the question is not quite good already and you're trying to make them ask a better question (or show that they understand their own question)? $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Oct 5 '16 at 12:19
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    $\begingroup$ "if the initial version of the question is already 'good', 'clear', 'detailed', etc....." By whose standards, @Najib? What counts as 'good, 'clear,' 'detailed' varies among the users here. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Oct 5 '16 at 13:54
  • $\begingroup$ At any rate, if an OP has been asked to clarify something in the question, or been asked for the source of the question, etc...and fails to return after posting, to address such questions, like Gerry, I will close as abandoned, just as Gerry does. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Oct 5 '16 at 13:58
  • $\begingroup$ @amWhy In this scenario, by Gerry's standards. Let me rephrase my question, perhaps: "If you thought the question was already good, clear, detailed, etc, would you vote to close for unresponsiveness?" $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Oct 5 '16 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy Regarding your second comment, what I understand is this: you're not closing because the OP didn't respond, you're closing because the question is unclear (or you wouldn't ask for clarification). But you were willing to give OP the benefit of doubt, and unfortunately they didn't take that chance. Right? But what leads to the closure is not the bare fact that they didn't respond. $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Oct 5 '16 at 14:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Najib Gotcha! Thanks for clarifying. (And yes, you are correct (second comment). $\endgroup$ – Namaste Oct 5 '16 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ @amWhy Glad to see that we agree. $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Oct 5 '16 at 14:04
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    $\begingroup$ if a question is posted, and I believe it is clear, detailed, and good, then no, I would not downvote or close the question for failing, say, to thank me for any answer, or respond to my answer in any way. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Oct 5 '16 at 14:05
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    $\begingroup$ I should make clear that in a good number of posts, if what;s asked is unclear to me, I ask (comment) to that effect. Maybe I'll even downvote the question. But I do not therefore feel justified to close the question. When there's a problem I addressed, (usually others too), that remains unanswered or not addressed by the OP, I will then vote to close the question, not solely because I thought the question was unclear, but also because the OP failed to address/correct, explain (i,.e. because the OP was completely unresponsive). $\endgroup$ – Namaste Oct 5 '16 at 17:47
  • $\begingroup$ @amWhy, I have expanded on the reasons I might vote to close for nonresponsiveness. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Oct 5 '16 at 23:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Gerry, I understand; I've come upon many questions, e.g. in the close review, and every time I've seen your added reason for closure (non-responsiveness) I've found your concerns valid, and have followed suit. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Oct 5 '16 at 23:42
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    $\begingroup$ Hmm, in the scenario you describe, why not just post an answer? If you close the question you'll deprive all future users of the information you posted because the question will probably get deleted. But if you answer, maybe you will help the OP, maybe you won't because they left or whatever, but you will help all future users who will find that question... I don't really understand. $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Oct 6 '16 at 6:23
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    $\begingroup$ Closing the question in the circumstance you describe is just wrong. (And answering in a comment is wrong, too.) Either you should post an answer; or if you don't post an answer, you should leave it be and move along -- maybe someone else will post an answer. That's not what vote-to-close is for. If you want to downvote in that case, feel free, but voting to close is inappropriate if the question is impeccable and the only flaw is that the poster hasn't responded to your comment answering their Q. I understand that might be your practice, but you should really consider changing that. $\endgroup$ – D.W. Oct 6 '16 at 15:30
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    $\begingroup$ -1. If a question was excellently asked, as you state, and there is also a known solution somewhere, as indicated by a reference, than that in and of itself is valuable information which should be preserved. Chances are that someone at some point will read through that paper, summarize it and write an answer from it. Might be the OP (e.g. after they finished reading and discussing it with an advisor or similar), might be someone else. Might be happening in a day or in three years. Or not at all, but even then the question and comment is useful. I would not like to see these closed. $\endgroup$ – MvG Oct 14 '16 at 7:53
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    $\begingroup$ @MvG, closed questions can still be read. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Oct 14 '16 at 8:35

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