# Feature request for unlocking competition questions after a given time

Feature request at low priority. Not to be escalated (Monday 31 Aug 2020). Further queries on this post are still allowed.

Recently, I have been flagging a few posts required to be unlocked. All of them were locked since they were contest questions. An example is this. The given lock reason was:

This question is locked in view of our policy about contest questions. Questions originating from active contests are locked for the duration of the contest, with answers hidden from view by soft-deletion. Please see the comments below for references to the originating contest.

Unfortunately, there were no comments, but that's of least concern as far as my request is concerned.

Feature Request: Time bound contest locks
Details: Most of the questions locked for the above reason date back to the $$2\ \mathfrak{B.C.}$$ (before corona) or $$2018$$. Naturally, all the contests have now expired. The maximum contest limit I have ever come across is 3 months. So instead of a manual unlock by site moderators, if the lock is placed using a specific time key (just like suspensions/content bans), the unlocks would be automatic. This would reduce the hassle for moderators and as a major benefit, it'll show the valuable soft-deleted answers.

Any pros and cons to the above request are appreciated. I plan to escalate the request to meta.stackexchange post discussion here. Thank you.

A side question: Is this lock also applicable on stack overflow since there are coding contests as well!?

• I think this is a sensible idea. However, I am feeling cynical these days, and I wonder: how many people will be interested in such questions? Why are their answers "valuable"? Such questions are asked not out of interest, but because someone wants some help in a contest. Once the contest is over then we might expect such questions to be asked by people who struggled with them, but then they fall into obscurity. So what is the point in reopening a question from 2018 which has no answers and which the original poster didn't care enough about to request reopening after the contest was finished? – user1729 Aug 30 '20 at 19:05
• @user1729 firstly the google/duckduckgo listing would increase out site traffic increasing people with good mathematical mindsets. second, answers are valuable because the contest questions (mostly) are really elegant and the answer's approach varies person to person. The questions asked by those people would be marked duplicate and eventually request an "unlock". This specific question may not have answers (i cannot see deleted ones yet), but you can see my recent bookmarks for questions which have answers. I would disregard the OP in such questions because it were'nt their own. – Anindya Prithvi Aug 30 '20 at 19:17
• "This would reduce the hassle for moderators" actually it would not as putting the lock would be substantively more complex. Moreover if it is combined with undeleting answers things get rather complex. – quid Aug 30 '20 at 21:20
• Perhaps the moderators could keep a list of locked questions, and every so often in their spare time have a look at the list to see whether any can safely be unlocked. – Gerry Myerson Aug 30 '20 at 22:23
• @quid So the contest policy lock is an exclusive maths thing? i.e. deletion and locking (with a message) is completely manual? – Anindya Prithvi Aug 31 '20 at 4:24
• @GerryMyerson we do (or at least did) that. The problem is that sometimes the date when the competition ends is not quite clear or finding it out takes some effort. It's not clear to what extent it is useful to invest all that much time in this. If somebody cares about a post we unlock, if not then not. – quid Aug 31 '20 at 8:02
• @AnindyaPrithvi The message is like a custom close reason. The deletion of answers is completely detached; We simply delete and undelete the answers one by one. Timed locks are a thing, though. – quid Aug 31 '20 at 8:04
• @quid then perhaps it wont get implemented network wide (the timed locks and timed undeletion) as it lacks popularity. Thanks for your inputs. Any knowledge about SE sites where timed unlocks and undeletion can be made a thing? – Anindya Prithvi Aug 31 '20 at 10:00
• I downvoted, though I found your post well written, because automating the unlock step seems likely to be less satisfactory than manual responses to flagging. It has been my experience that when a good Question gets locked for a timed contest, the best evidence is that of someone eager to post an Answer once the contest ends. – hardmath Aug 31 '20 at 15:30
• @hardmath perhaps that is true, but, for that, the question, must , be , unlocked! That's the purpose of the post – Anindya Prithvi Aug 31 '20 at 15:54
• AnindyaPrithvi the point of @hardmath is I think the person that wants to answer can ask for unlocking it. – quid Aug 31 '20 at 16:11
• Timed locks are not the issue, it exists in a way. Timed undeletions, I doubt SE will consider this a priority. It's just too niche. – quid Aug 31 '20 at 16:15
• @quid There's an impersonation @ PSE, see here – Anindya Prithvi Aug 31 '20 at 17:57
• If the question is of interest, why not just repost it? Include a link to the original if you wish, though in these circumstances I don't think the OP is owed much. If nothing else, those who post contest questions seldom include any context or meaningful effort, and all that could be supplied in the new version. I'd rather see the old version deleted in favor of the new then have the new closed as a duplicate of the old, abandoned one. – lulu Aug 31 '20 at 18:27
• A well-written contest question could serve as a model on how to write better contest questions. If someone sees a well-written contest question, other users will take note and hopefully try to emulate the context in their own questions. Some users post a lot of contest questions, and reaching just one of these users could make a big difference. – Toby Mak Sep 5 '20 at 6:00

Here is what has been discussed in the comments.

Most users agreed that this feature, although sensible, would not be worth the effort to implement. A key point was the lack of engagement from the askers and answerers of these questions: the askers are not interested in the question and are solely interested in the contest. These questions will often fall into obscurity, especially after some time has passed and other users are no longer interested in how the contest problems were solved.

Furthermore, this would take some effort from the moderators. Maths SE does not currently have a feature to unlock a question after a custom time has passed, only options such as lock for 1 hour, lock for one day, and forever (thank you Jyrki Lahotnen). As it is not often clear when the competition has ended, figuring out when a question should be unlocked would also be hard, and even then, it would not receive much attention after its reopening. Undeleting the answers to the question, one by one, would involve even more hassle.

Under the existing system, users can indeed request to unlock a question. If a user wants to answer a locked question, they can always flag the question and ask for it to be reopened. This way, moderators will only have to unlock a few questions instead of every single contest problem.

If you are extremely interested in unlocking a question, by all means, repost the question! If you write a well-written question that includes sufficient context and effort, better answers will be added and you can request that the older version be deleted. A good question will incentivise users to improve on the existing answers or come up with new approaches to the question, which will help our site build a repository of quality questions and answers. More users will benefit from the elegant answers and the question could serve as a model on how to ask a contest problem.

• Since you have marked my answer as accepted, can I edit the title to remove the 'discussed'? – Toby Mak Sep 5 '20 at 5:51
• Timed locking exists, but the range of available times is not a good fit for this purpose. IIRC a moderator has options like "lock for 1 hour", "for 1 day",..(?).., "forever". But there is no option to "lock until October 25th". I don't remember which additional options are there, but for the most they are unsuitable (Proof: Daniel Fischer and yours truly would have used those back in the day). – Jyrki Lahtonen Sep 5 '20 at 6:50
• I guess that locking was implemented to handle other types of scenarios. Short-term locks help arbitrate edit wars and such. Locking forever is for questions preserved for "historical reasons" et cetera. – Jyrki Lahtonen Sep 5 '20 at 6:52
• @TobyMak sorry for being unresponsive...I do not get meta notifications...even if my question was closed or someone commenting...so please use an @ for such purposes, thank you – Anindya Prithvi Sep 5 '20 at 7:30
• @AnindyaPrithvi Thanks for letting me know. – Toby Mak Sep 5 '20 at 7:32
• @JyrkiLahtonen then perhaps requesting a custom period just like suspending users would be fine and wouldn't take a lot to implement (i suppose) – Anindya Prithvi Sep 5 '20 at 7:32
• @AnindyaPrithvi In summary: it is not just that the site cannot do this, but moreover does not want to do this. I think there is a false focus on "how to automatically reopen questions". There are two things at play: (1) Is this something we need? and (2) How would we do it? The first paragraph here suggests that the answer to (1) is no, while the second paragraph says "even if we wanted to, it would be hard". Implementing a "custom time-locked" feature does not address (1), and nor does it help with the legwork of "figuring out when a question should be unlocked". – user1729 Sep 7 '20 at 8:34
• However, having human interaction (humans suggesting individual questions are reopened, with evidence the contest has closed, etc.) takes work away from the moderators, and also implies that the questions which are reopened are vetted by this user for "interesting-ness" (not all contest questions can claim to be "interesting", or at least no more interesting that many other questions, so having a human make some judgement, however superficial this is, has the potential to be a good thing). – user1729 Sep 7 '20 at 8:39