There has been a strike recently of users flagging answers in very old posts as «not an answer». While I appreciate the intent of cleaning up -- in most cases the answers flagged are not actual answers -- there is very little that can be done about this, specially in months old answers.

I think it does not make a lot of sense to devote energy to such a task... Maybe we should come up with a policy on this?

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    $\begingroup$ But if the question in, uhurm, question has been recently bumped, would it not make sense for faux answers to be flagged anyway? $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 17:22
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    $\begingroup$ I somewhat blame the Archaeologist and Excavator badges, not to mention Deputy and Marshall. Gives people incentive to unearth ancient low-quality material. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 17:27
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    $\begingroup$ @J.M. a lot of those questions have already accepted answers, so they tend not to be bumped or seen unless someone goes looking for them. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 17:53
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    $\begingroup$ Do all the mods agree on this? If not, I think we should let users continue to flag non-answers where appropriate. The small amount of time spent to fix such is minimal compared to the cumulative sum of many users time wasted reading non-answers. Are the mods swamped recently? $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 21:57
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    $\begingroup$ A suggestion: If mods are too busy to handle such, rather than simply dismissing the flag and losing the information, consider devoting a meta thread to pending non-answer cleanup (or somesuch), similar to tag discussion threads. Then community members could help, perhaps doing most of the work, leaving final instructions for a mod. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 22:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Bill: I don't think I am too busy myself. (Though my turnaround time in handling flags is not necessarily great.) I think we are more surprised that so many "old questions" would receive flags in the span of a few days. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 23:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Willie That's good to know. Your tireless effort is much appreciated. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 23:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Bill: non-mods cannot turn answers into comments, or delete others' answers. Moreover, it is less work to actually do that than to copy the flag into a meta thread... My point is, most of the flags I've seen involved questions and answers that posterity, in all likelihood, will simply ignore! It is a much more useful way to use resources to occupy ourselves (SQL powers and all) in more interesting matters. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 23:25
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    $\begingroup$ Moreover, I do not think mods are to be editors of the site. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 23:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Mar Perhaps my point was not clear: if you don't have enough time to process such flags, then simply copy the link into said meta thread. This is surely quicker than having to review and act on specific cases, and it never loses the information that has been painstakingly contributed by the community flagging efforts. Further, even if the non-answers would have been ignored, users still need to spend time scanning them to deduce that. If the non-answers are moved to comments or deleted then you save many users that wasted effort. Old threads are still alive by searching (here and Google...) $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 23:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Mar What do you mean by "I do not think mods are to be editors of the site"? We are discussing handling of flagged non-answers. Isn't flag processing one of the standard mod duties? How is that related to "editing the site"? $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 23:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Bill: we are precisely discussing editing the site. I for one will not copy flags to a meta thread---I think that is simply a waste of everyone's time. If the others mods do that, I will of course not complain, Someone will then have to eventually do the editorial work of carrying out whatever changes are suggested in that meta thread and, before doing that, reviewing the proposed changes (exactly what would that someone would have had to do himself when the flag was raised...) $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 23:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Mar I don't agree that it is a good idea to add more noise to the thread by adding comments about non-answers. This adds more off-topic text that readers may have to waste time parsing. One of the points of flagging is that it bothers only few folks (mods) vs. potentially many others (all readers of the thread). In any case, since some mods have no problems with handling flagged non-answers, the solution seems simple: let the other mods handle it. Is there not already any delegation of duties? Shouldn't this have been discussed among the mods before posting here? $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 6, 2011 at 0:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Bill: I only in isolated cases do anything unilaterally, so even if I intervene in a case of a non-answer, I will add a comment suggesting the original answerer deal with the matter herself. Never have I had a reply (nor ever has the original answerer actually reacted in any way, for that matter), so the amount of noise generated by this is minimal. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 6, 2011 at 0:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Mar That's a good policy re: unilateral actions. I was presuming that most of these non-answers were cases where it was clear what the required action should be, e.g. move to a comment. But I gather from your reply that some (many?) will involve interacting with the users, so perhaps there is no easy way to avoid some added noise (which, perhaps, can be cleaned up later when all is resolved). In any case I am glad to see that - as in the past - the mods continue to solicit community input when making decisions. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 6, 2011 at 1:09

3 Answers 3


I generally agree with the principle that you should be cultivating your new posts and new users first and most of all, since that's what determines the growth of a site. Obligatory plug:


However, I also think that it's healthy to clean up the "worst" of the old questions and answers as you have time.

So perhaps the question to ask for these older posts is...

Is the existence of this post harmful, and if so, how much?

I recommend only flagging the ones you feel strongly about -- not the ones that are marginally acceptable.


Let me add a second point which Mariano does not address in his question, that there are "not an answer"s and there are "not an answer"s, and please use the not an answer flag only to indicate that the post should in fact be a comment.

  • Some answers are not, by virtue of them being actually comments, but posted by users without the requisite 50 rep who thus abuse the system slightly. Those the moderators can easily convert to a comment. (In the case that the comment really belongs to one particular answer out of many [as opposed to it being a comment on the question, or it being a comment on the only non-comment-in-disguise answer to the post], it would help enormously if the flagger gives an indication where the comment should be transferred to.)
  • Some answers are not, by virtue of them being SPAM. (SPAM bots now sometimes post quasi-comprehensible posts, and rely on a link to the link-farm or SPAM advertisement in their "user" profiles. If you see a very strange post that doesn't really make sense from a 1 rep user with nondescript name, try checking the user profile.) Those posts should be flagged as SPAM, and not as "not an answer".
  • Some answer are not, by virtue of them, well, not being an answer to the question, either by answering the wrong question or answering the question wrong. Please don't flag those. You should instead down-vote that answer and/or post a comment indicating the problem.

In general I am in favour of efforts to help clean-up the community. In cases where it may not be clear what you, as a user, is expecting the moderator to do (for example, a long, slightly off-topic answer that is not offensive nor spam, but just off-the-mark; we can't convert that to a comment [it is too long, and will still miss the point of the question], nor should we bin it), it will help a lot if you use the free-form "needs moderator attention" option and describe what you see wrong and what you want us to do, instead of one of the pre-defined flags which usually carry more specific meanings than the dictionary reading.

  • $\begingroup$ Willie, suppose the activity is new in an old thread? Should we proceed accordingly, or are these rules of thumb for general appliance? $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 22:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Asaf: I see them as rules of thumb, which also means that there will be plenty of exceptions. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 22:59
  • $\begingroup$ What Asaf said was what I had in mind in my first comment. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 6, 2011 at 0:54
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    $\begingroup$ So the essence of your answer: "not an answer" is badly named. $\endgroup$
    – Charles
    Commented Sep 7, 2011 at 5:20

I happen to have done a lot of such flagging recently. I hope it wasn't just me, but I certainly have flagged quite a bit in the last week or so.

Why? Honestly, because I have been learning a little SQL and I was testing out code. I don't have access to many databases, so MSE seemed reasonable. I also couldn't think of much to play with, so I played with trying to find exceptionally good or exceptionally bad posts. The good ones, I commented or upvoted. The bad, I flagged. I didn't know it was troublesome, so I'll cool down on that.

As a side note, I wanted to check - it wasn't just me, was it?


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