A few days ago I posted an answer on this question. After that the original poster deleted it. I undeleted it because it is a terrible idea to delete questions which people have taken the time to answer — the most likely reason for this deletion was cheating on a test or something like that, as far as one could tell, and vandalizing one's own content is reasonably frowned upon.

A couple of days after that, I happened to need myself something similar to what I knew I had written in than answer and I searched for it. It turned out the question has been deleted by other users. I undeleted as I always do when questions on which people have expended effort in writing answers are deleted.

It was deleted again, again by the votes of people.

I honestly cannot imagine what reasons motivate people to delete a question which has an answer. The question is probably not the best question in the history of the site, the answer is surely not the best answer in the history of the site: sure. But what argument a sensible mind can come up with that decides that it is better not to have the question with its answer than to have it is simply beyond me.

I have spent many hours producing answers on this site, as many others have, and the result of our collective effort is a quite amazing amount of extremely useful information. I have often found myself googling things and finding the answers in posts I have myself written already years ago, both here and MathOverflow, and I have gotten quite an extraordinary number of times thanks from people I know and people I don't know for things that I have written here that were useful to them.

Now, if for whatever byzantine reason users are going to begin deleting useful content I for one simply cannot continue producing it and I cannot in good faith suggest —as I systematically do— to other people that they come and answer questions, for I actually cannot be sure that the effort put into doing that will not simply be wasted.

So:

Are we to value the effort people put in producing the content that actually makes this site or not?

It is surprising to me —and actually very sad— that I do not know what the consensus on this question is. I can vividly remember a time when I would have not even imagined the possibility of needing to ask this.

PS: Just to pick an example of another answer of mine (I am entirely sure that there are hundreds of great answers written by many users posted on bad questions throughout the site), should this question be deleted? It is certainly no better in what respects context and what not that the one I linked above —I'd go as far as saying that it is significantly worse, in fact, and I am completely sure that it is well below our standards. That it is an old question has proven not to be a reason for not looking at it with a critical eye, so: should it be deleted? Are we prepared to live with such a low quality question on our site? I'd only ask to be notified by whoever casts the last delete vote on it, so that I can copy the text of my answer and put it somewhere else, for it has been very useful to me since I wrote it.

PS: I got curious. Here are some 1000 questions which should keep us entertained.

  • 7
    Mariano: Why does this issue, and your concern about it, and your surprise, only apparent when it happens to questions you've answered? Why do you only visit meta when something happens to your answers? Your last post on meta was about your outrage that a answer of yours (a reference) was marked as a link only question. That you are surprised by and unaware of the tension/contention on the issue of deleting very poor questions, surprises me. In any case: be careful what you choose to answer; if it's a problem statement question, no effort, likely homework, don't answer it to begin with. – amWhy Apr 4 at 23:22
  • 4
    When I see people delete questions with answers I always undelete them. This is the very first time I have seen in almost 8 years that after the original poster deletes a question it is deleted by other users. – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Apr 4 at 23:25
  • 6
    Also, I think that a distinction needs to be drawn between homework-mill questions where people are rapidly answering the same calculus questions over and over again for reputation, and questions that are mathematically difficult or interesting on their own. I think very little is lost in the first case, but the second case should really be much more carefully considered. Also, to try and think towards a resolution, @Mariano: is there a method of quality control for these type of questions that you would advocate, short of deleting them? – T. Bongers Apr 4 at 23:28
  • 4
    It's not a black and white issue Mariano. Your answers are very much welcome; just use a bit more discretion in what you answer. – amWhy Apr 4 at 23:29
  • 5
    @MarianoSuárez-Álvarez I'm sorry, but your last comment strikes me as posted in bad faith. You clearly have not read any of the comments/inputs some users have suggested. – amWhy Apr 4 at 23:37
  • 9
    "The point of this post is to know whether it makes sense for me personally to continue answering questions" I don't think it makes sense for you personally to continue answering bad questions. – user223391 Apr 4 at 23:38
  • 12
    @MarianoSuárez-Álvarez Low quality questions start off a cycle of decaying standards. A user writes a very informative answer to a non-context homework dump; people find it through Google, and think that it's ok to do the same and post a bunch of low-effort things. In that sense, getting rid of the poorly stated questions may be a necessary evil in terms of keeping the site from becoming a do-my-homework service. – T. Bongers Apr 4 at 23:43
  • 4
    @ZacharySelk, what you think is that it makes no sense for me to continue answering what you think are bad questions. – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Apr 4 at 23:43
  • 6
    I think it's also worth mentioning that there are many users who are driven away from the site because of the low quality questions. I know that I'm less inclined to answer than I used to be, because there just seems to be a deluge of do-my-homework posts with people gobbling up reputation as quickly as they can. So while your frustration is completely understandable, please keep in mind that many of us have similar but opposite feelings. – T. Bongers Apr 4 at 23:48
  • 3
    @mariano well not me, necessarily. But if you are worried about losing your answer it doesn't make sense for you to answer questions that I (or others with the power to delete) would consider bad questions. – user223391 Apr 4 at 23:48
  • 3
    @MarianoSuárez-Álvarez If that's the decision you've arrived at, I respect it. But your last comment does not represent the feedback given here in comments. – amWhy Apr 4 at 23:55
  • 8
    @Mariano Since you refuse to consider any feedback, and remain fixated on receiving one binary output, there probably isn't any point for you answering questions. There is very much a point in answering, if you use a bit of discretion in what you answer. – amWhy Apr 5 at 0:03
  • 8
    Answering a bad question is very much like building a ranch home in a floodplain. Nobody should be surprised by the consequences. I think there's a little wiggle room for exceptions when bad questions get valuable answers, or there is some peculiarity about the bad question that makes it seem worth keeping, and that can be handled case-by-case. Generally granting a sort of immunity to bad questions with answers seems like a bad idea though: it sends a message to the poster that no-effort will sometimes be rewarded, and it sends a message to rep farmers that they have secure income. – rschwieb Apr 5 at 11:03
  • 4
    @MarianoSuárez-Álvarez: I have no doubt that answers on bad quality questions attract some people to MSE. But I expect that mostly to be people who post bad quality questions, expecting them to be answered. – Hurkyl Apr 6 at 11:24
  • 3
    @MarianoSuárez-Álvarez You have pretty valid points (e.g., the fact that there is no notification for deletion of a question. This coupled with the inherent subjectiveness of what constitutes a good question can make it laborious to guarantee that good content stays on the site, as you very well point out in the comments of some answers). Why contaminate a valid and pertinent post with irrelevant and arguably insulting commentary such as "what argument a sensible mind can come up with (...)"? – Aloizio Macedo Apr 6 at 18:46

I am prepared to bet a beer that while users have left for the bad quality of some questions, immensely more have come and remained for the good quality of our answers. My question is, precisely, how to weigh those two things.

I posit that it is obvious that we do not have to 'weigh' or 'balance' those two things. We can have our cake and eat it too. Like this: If you have posted an answer that you feel is useful and cannot be found easily elsewhere, then you can simply copy it over to a good question (of your own), where you have the complete freedom to tailor the question perfectly to your answer. After all, the SE system explicitly encourages this. Doing this have the following benefits:

  1. The question meets the site standards as given in the FAQ everyone is supposed to read.

  2. The answer is preserved for posterity.

  3. The question can be as general/interesting/cogent as you can make it and answer to.

  4. Cheaters and help-sappers are not rewarded with abetment or spoon-feeding.

All of the above implies that site quality goes up. Which is something we all want, right? $\ddot\smile$

I shall also mention that what I am suggesting is not at all new; it has been done before like here and here.


Update: After a brief search, I also found the following examples of preserving good answers to low-quality old questions.

There are many more examples, as anyone who is sufficiently interested can find for themselves.

  • 3
    I know this has been done: I've even done it myself quite a few times. But this has nothing to do, really, with what I am asking. I could imagine a policy that asked the people that vote to delete a question with answers to start a new "better" question and copy things there, so as to preserve content at the same time as cleansing the site of the bad seed. But you're proposing instead extra hoops for the people who produce useful content to follow, then the natural thing is for them to not only not follow your hoops but to simply not produce the content —add friction and see what happens. – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Apr 5 at 16:10
  • 3
    I honestly really don't think the particular question on which my answer was posted to be that bad —the 1000 questions that are found by the SQL query I added to the post are manifestly worse, for example, and our crusaders for context have not seemed to care much. But other people did, and that, according to you, should be handled by me doing something. Notice that one is not even notified when a question on which one has an answer is deleted. – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Apr 5 at 16:14
  • 4
    Your answer is about what people writing answers should do —effectively proposing they do more— while my question is about what people voting to delete content should do. Quite orthogonal. – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Apr 5 at 16:20
  • 3
    @amWhy, I generally do not watch the list of deletions. I honestly was surprised when after having undeleted a question which was obviously vandalized by its poster I found it deleted again by experienced users. I would not have noticed if it had not been my own answer and, by chance, I'd have googled for it a few days after writing it. I cringe at the idea that this has happened to answers write by other users. – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Apr 5 at 16:23
  • 3
    I cannot imagine where you got the idea that "feel the questions [I] answer in particular should excluded/exempted from deletion" but I am not surprised that you got it — after all this time, I have come to expect you to attempt to divert all issues by assuming they are of that nature, as you always do. – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Apr 5 at 16:25
  • 4
    @Mariano Since you want to continue acting like BD, attempting to divert the issues by assuming you can play ad-hominem with me, I'm done here. – amWhy Apr 5 at 16:30
  • 7
    @amWhy, it is not an ad-hominem. Many times already you have attributed things to pettiness and what not, just as you did in your very first on this post. I am just saying that that is not surprising to me, because by now we have interacted with each other for a long time. It is not an "ad-hominem attack" or an attack of any other form to weigh what you say to me according to my experience of interacting with you. What else could I do? – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Apr 5 at 16:35
  • 4
    That it has been more than three years since you've asked a question on meta, and then, within one month, post two rants about how unfair the site treats you, and acting like you've been rip van winkle until now, says more than I can say. Cheers. – amWhy Apr 5 at 16:36
  • 3
    You saw in that comment an attack to you personally? Really? Well, now that I did not expect. – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Apr 5 at 16:36
  • 4
    Actually, three years in which you posted nothing.. No general user ever needs to contribute to meta. But in case you've forgotten, you, Mariano, are a moderator of this site who, from the last two posts, has revealed someone not terribly involved on meta, and slack on voicing anything other than a couple examples that affected you. Welcome aboard, but what you've evidenced, especially in your absence and reappearance to get your work reinstated, is your general apathy, save when anything affects you. – amWhy Apr 5 at 16:42
  • 4
    (3) Thanks for your SQL search. Your claim that 'crusaders for context' have not cared much' is a misrepresentation, and for the sake of discussion don't associate others with killers (crusaders killed innocent people). (4) I'm surprised you are not notified that your answer is deleted; that is unfortunate, but does not change the fact that bad questions should not be answered at all. (5) If you find that a good question has been deleted, by all means bring it up for undeletion. – user21820 Apr 5 at 16:54
  • 6
    @MarianoSuárez-Álvarez You said "If you are content with having effort you expended on answers lost because their corresponding questions have been deleted..." I'm not sure that anyone is saying that they are exactly "content" with such an outcome, but it is a possibility. Once you write an answer, that content belongs to the community. The community could very well decide that your great content is attached to terrible content that needs to be deleted. Such is life. If you don't want to "waste your effort," perhaps you should get a blog? – Xander Henderson Apr 5 at 16:55
  • 4
    @MarianoSuárez-Álvarez Copyright licensing pedantry aside, the content is never entirely gone and can always be accessed by (at the very least) the originator of the content. However the choice of whether or not to make that content broadly available on this site belongs to the community (in is in this sense that I mean "the content belongs to the community"). Your content lives on top of a soapbox. The Community is free to remove that box. You are free to take this content and publish it on a blog of your own if you really feel that it is so important that it should be preserved. – Xander Henderson Apr 6 at 1:42
  • 4
    What you think is that I should not post answers to questions you think are lousy questions: in this case I made a judgement call and decided that the question was not that terrible — there are literally thousands of questions on the site that are considerably worse in all respects to the one I answered. If before answering questions users have to consult you, or a group, or read some meta threads, or something then we have a problem, don't we? – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Apr 6 at 5:44
  • 5
    @MarianoSuárez-Álvarez: You being a moderator is not the crux. It is that new users can reasonably be given some excuse to not know the guidelines. Long-time users, and especially moderators, should already know them. Thanks for confirming the objective fact that a question with less than 100 characters cannot satisfy the guidelines. Give the 10k rep users some time to work through the list you provided; you know very well that a fisherman cannot catch all the fish in the sea. – user21820 Apr 6 at 6:13

Are we to value the effort people put in producing the content that actually makes this site or not?

No, we are to value the content that actually makes this site.

We might appreciate and acknowledge the effort put into it, but the value lies in the content itself.

Undesirable content that someone put a lot of time into is still undesirable content. That isn't changed if we have empathy for the wasted effort.


if ... users are going to begin deleting useful content I for one simply cannot continue producing it

The point here is a conflict in judgment: you judge some content as "useful", but others judge the same content as "undesirable".

The ideal of the current status quo is that readers should be able to discriminate between questions that will and will not get deleted. That answerers will refrain from wasting time writing undesirable content, and instead devote their efforts towards towards writing desirable content, or towards improving undesirable content to be come desirable content.

You could make a meta post revisiting (yet again) the question of what precisely is desirable. However, you come off as taking the position that is basically "all content is desirable"; if that is the position you wind up advocating for, I expect you'll get little to no sympathy from those invested in trying to maintain quality standards.

Or, you might make a meta post about arguing that the current standards are indiscernible, assuming you actually have trouble doing so. (I expect the result to be that any conflicts you see where you thought something would get closed but it was not is merely because it slipped by unnoticed)

  • You really understand that I am saying that all content is desirable? – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Apr 7 at 0:57
  • @MarianoSuárez-Álvarez: I wasn't sure; I honestly can't understand what would motivate people to think so. But my advice still applies; "don't delete anything" simply is not useful feedback to people who are already of the opinion that some things should be deleted. – Hurkyl Apr 7 at 3:42
  • 1
    @MarianoSuárez-Álvarez: Are you also of the opinion that all content is equally desirable, as at least one user has advocated in the past? If you at least acknowledge some things are more valuable than others, there is potential to have a constructive discussion about how to distinguish content of higher value from that of lower value, with the idea of influencing people who do delete things to be more likely to retain the higher value stuff. (or possibly even influencing you to the opinion that lower value stuff has more negatives than positives) – Hurkyl Apr 7 at 3:44

TL;DR

I think the issue at hand is not whether or not someone thinks the question is site-worthy or not (that is a separate issue), but rather the fate of an answer to a question that has been deleted, and the issue I find is Mariano's unwillingness to consider approaches alternative to simply undeleting the question.


well, the point of my post is that there can be a standard: putting the value of the content our users produce above the our beloved byzantine "tensions". I am asking if we are to take such a standard or not, mostly in order to decide if there is any point in answering questions. – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez♦ yesterday

If this is truly the point of your post, I must say "yes, I believe we should value the content worth keeping, but no, by no means through keeping them on poor questions."

When the question was deleted by non-OP users, you then undeleted it.

But it would seem there is a better option. As the help center says,

Before voting to delete, please check whether there are any good answers; if so, then the question should be flagged for moderator attention as a potential merge candidate. We don't like to lose great answers.

Frankly, you are the moderator here, but there has been no mention as to whether or not you've considered this possibility.

If the question is deleted so merge is not possible, there is nothing stopping you from copying the answer over to the merge candidate.

Also, it has been mentioned to you, multiple times so far, that there is also the option to post your own question and then self-answer, in order to preserve the content you are so concerned with, if a merge candidate does not exist.

  • 2
    You seem to have not understood what I meant in that «I undeleted as I always do…» line: I am referring exclusively to deletions done by the original poster of the question, in what is always an attempt to cover tracks of cheating or something like that. I have never undeleted a question deleted by votes of other users (that I recall, at least… it's been years) – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Apr 6 at 17:07
  • As for your last paragraph: I know of that possibility (apparently there is a consensus that I am an imbecile that does not know the basic workings of the site, but I really don't mind at all) What I am saying is that I, as a writer of an answer, was not notified when the question was deleted: if I had not had need for the answer myself, I would have never found out that the content was deleted. – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Apr 6 at 17:10
  • So after making a judgement call that the question was not as bad as to merit reasking a new one or something like that, a user writes an answer. How is that user even to know that he has to take actions to preserve that content? – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Apr 6 at 17:12
  • Should users book a day of their week to go through their answers to see if a handful of other users have deemed that the question on which it was posted is bad enough that it has to go, along with the answer, in order to preserve them? – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Apr 6 at 17:14
  • As as for your "Frankly, you are the moderator here, but there has been no mention as to whether or not you've considered this possibility", the explanation is easy: that possibility has absolutely nothing to do with my point. In fact, that quote from the help center actually supports my point: it is addressed at deletion-voters, suggesting they try to preserve the content somehow — exactly what did not happen in this case and, sadly, in many others. – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Apr 6 at 17:16
  • 3
    @MarianoSuárez-Álvarez Re: What I am saying is that I, as a writer of an answer, was not notified when the question was deleted. This seems to be a bit different from your original post. I'll just point out that since it was upvoted answer, you could probably see it in your reputation tab if you checked the "show removed post" box. There is also a related feature request: Notify answer OP when answer is deleted. – Martin Sleziak Apr 6 at 17:48
  • If your main concern is how one can easily find their own deleted content, I suppose there are a few methods, see, for example: Is there any way to see my deleted questions or answers? (and some of the posts linked there) – Martin Sleziak Apr 6 at 17:48
  • 1
    "I am referring exclusively to deletions done by the original poster of the question" Oh, that makes much more sense @MarianoSuárez-Álvarez – Simply Beautiful Art Apr 6 at 19:55
  • 1
    What I gather from the rest of the comments is follows, and do correct me if I'm wrong. Your concern has now shifted from whether or not we value the content of answers on deleted questions to how one preserves this content as the answerer? – Simply Beautiful Art Apr 6 at 20:05
  • 2
    Well certainly I would start by pointing out taking care of which questions you answer makes some impact. Of course, there will not be agreement between which questions are deemably answerable and which are not, but I personally find the fact that the OP deleted their own post twice after having had it answered, undeleted, and warned to be clear signs that that question may've been a poor question to choose to answer. – Simply Beautiful Art Apr 6 at 20:11
  • 1
    "Should users book a day of their week to go through their answers to see if a handful of other users have deemed that the question on which it was posted is bad enough that it has to go, along with the answer, in order to preserve them?" Well I usually check over my close votes every so often after having cast them, so I see no reason why not. Whether or not you decide your own content is worth checking on is completely up to you. @MarianoSuárez-Álvarez – Simply Beautiful Art Apr 6 at 20:13
  • @Simply, I don't understand why you seem to think that my concern has "shifted" anywhere... The whole point of the post is that having people delete content ends up requiring people to preserve content — that deletion does not conserve content that it should. I would appreciate it if you corrected the factual mistake in your answer, where you claim that I undid a deletion done by someone other than the OP: I was quite clear in the original post and in other comments in explainkng that non only I did not do that but that I consider that to be an extremely catastrophic bad idea. – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Apr 7 at 0:51
  • @simply, I think that my content and that generated by others is worth keeping: I am saying that having to periodically check if someone has deleted it is a quite absurd requirement. I will not do that, as I find it a very stupid thing to do. I will probably, when I have time, make available the content somewhere else, somewhere where I don't have to protect it (!) and be gone. – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Apr 7 at 0:55
  • 5
    @MarianoSuárez-Álvarez "I would appreciate it if you corrected the factual mistake in your answer, where you claim that I undid a deletion done by someone other than the OP" Frankly the timeline disagrees with you on that one. – Simply Beautiful Art Apr 7 at 1:12
  • @MarianoSuárez-Álvarez I never said periodically checking your answers was a requirement at all. I merely said that if you cared so much about it, you would likely do so at your own will... – Simply Beautiful Art Apr 7 at 1:14

Mariano, I am sort of surprised by your response to this incident. I have had questions deleted for which I provided perfectly good answers. My response was to issue a flag - and in all cases, the question was restored. As a moderator, you should be able to handle this on your own, no? Or you could at least issue a flag for a fellow moderator.

One reason people might delete a question after it has been answered is to erase a trail. For example, the question may be a homework question and the student who posted it may be worried that the teacher will find evidence of cheating, so the student deletes the evidence. Of course, I wonder if any such student ever came back to the horror of their question reappearing. (I'd love to see that reaction.)

Again, I have no patience for such antics. Raise a flag, a moderator takes care of it. Done.

  • 1
    Mariano did undelete the original's asker's deletion. Later, after the question's undeletion, it was deleted by three users. After that, Mariano undeleted it again. Then it was again deleted by three votes from users. – amWhy Apr 6 at 13:14
  • Ah, I see. Is there a way to protect the question after x number of reopenenings? – Ron Gordon Apr 6 at 13:22
  • 1
    There doesn't seem to have been any reopenings. But I suppose you meant "after x number of deletion/undeletions?" – amWhy Apr 6 at 13:23
  • Yes, I did. ${}{}$ – Ron Gordon Apr 6 at 13:32
  • 2
    You are surprised because you think that the point of this post was to get the question undeleted, I guess. But its point is to tell the community that I think that in its quest against "bad questions", which is certainly good, it is killing content which is useful, which is bad: how does anyone —a moderator or a non-moderator— raise a point about policy? – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Apr 6 at 16:31
  • As I wrote, this is the very first time that after undeleting a question which had been deleted in an act of self-vandalization by someone possibly cheating or something, I find that experienced users delete again the same content. When the actions of our experienced users —coming out of what seems to be quite a consensus— have the same end result with respect to useful content as the actions of someone using the site to cheat and later cover her tracks, we have a problem, and it is slightly more serious than the deletion of an answer. That is what this post is about. – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Apr 6 at 16:33
  • 5
    @Mariano You've had so many "My point is...", veering off your original post. Please make those doing their best to respond to you in a position in which we're chasing a moving target. Pick your one main point (one question per post). You keep veering off with ever-changing "points". – amWhy Apr 6 at 20:43
  • 3
    @MarianoSuárez-Álvarez: IMO, the best way to raise a point about policy is by directly posting a question about the policy, rather than posting a vaguely related question which you use as a soapbox to ramble on various topics. – Hurkyl Apr 7 at 5:38

The short answer seems to be:

No.

  • Are you aware of the CRUDE room? There has been some discussion related to the issue you have raised here in this post. – user 170039 Apr 6 at 3:43
  • I honestly do not understand what these downvotes mean: they do not agree with the answer in that the downvoters think the answer should be yes (that is usually what downvotes mean in meta)? What I find extraordinary is the vote to delete. – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Apr 6 at 17:24
  • 7
    The tool-tip says: "This answer is not useful." I'd just go with this interpretation. – quid Apr 6 at 19:39
  • 6
    I got the impression that this answer is meant to be an unstated rhetorical point, and that the downvotes are meant to condemn that sort of passive-aggressive approach to the debate. But I'm speculating on both points; I'm not particularly confident in either judgment. – Hurkyl Apr 7 at 4:16

You must log in to answer this question.

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