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TEST COMPLETED

We've reset the votes required for the time being while we look at the data, which we should be posting soon. Thanks so much for working with us during this test.


A few months ago one of your mods contacted us because they're concerned about the site and the amount of work required to address the huge percentage of off-topic questions y'all get. I've been watching this site for a few months now and I can see that there's a struggle here. I've been reviewing questions and closing off topic ones off and on since March to get an idea of what you're dealing with.

We've made a couple of adjustments to try and reduce the number of off topic questions asked and ease of finding the appropriate help content in the hopes of improving the content posted.

  • overhauled your on topic help center page.
  • rearranged the order of pins in the asking section of the help center to make the on topic page more visible.
  • changed the target of the Stack Overflow Question Wizard to point directly at the on topic page rather than the front page of the help center.

But this only addresses one side of the problem.

We try to make closing easier on beta sites by reducing the amount of reputation needed for closing but on some sites (even graduated ones) it's not the reputation that's the limiting factor, it's the number of users engaged enough to participate in moderation tasks. Your mods are having to do a ton of the work of closing questions - not because there aren't any users doing that work but because there's generally not five people who can get the votes in quickly enough to be successful.

Right now the majority of questions are closed with 1 vote: by moderators. The remaining questions closed over the past 6 months had between 2 and 4 votes. Yep: moderators are involved in pretty much every single question closed - and in a significant number of cases they're effectively acting as proxies for voters.

Think about that: the moderators here are effectively granting users the ability to single-handedly close questions, converting their ineffective votes into effective ones. That's not only horrifyingly inefficient, it also breaks the system in a subtle but important way: there are no single-vote reopens!

That's almost more worrying than all the time being wasted. Getting a question reopened is pretty difficult at the best of times. When it relies on a tiny minority of three people being constantly vigilant it's almost non-existent. Out of 173 questions closed in the last 90 days, only two have been reopened.

We're worried that the prevalence of unclosed, off-topic questions may be impacting your participation here and we want to empower you to address this problem yourselves.

Starting July 1st (today) we're running a test.

We've reduced the number of votes to close (or reopen) a question to one. This means that a single voter (or reviewer) can close an off topic question. This means that anyone with sufficient reputation to review will be able to reopen their own questions single-handedly - but only once.

There's a small enough group of y'all who are here daily with close privileges that we're not too concerned with close/reopen warring but we will be keeping an eye on things. If you see a question closed and reopened without editing, it may be a good idea to ask about it on meta before closing it again. Discussions about what's on topic are a really great and healthy part of any site.

Tests for success

  1. more questions are closed by users (no diamond moderators involved)
  2. more questions are reopened by users (no diamond moderators involved)
  3. fewer than 1% of closed questions go through more than two close/reopen cycles

In 30 days, we'll look at what's changed during this test.

So, use your close votes and let me know if you have any thoughts or concerns about this change. I really hope it makes a positive difference to your daily participation here. Are there other solutions you think might help? Tell me what you're thinking in an answer.

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    What we're hoping to change with this test is to see the community better able to handle off-topic stuff. Ideally, we want moderators to have to step in only in the most confusing and controversial cases, where some more "official" direction is required. – ArtOfCode Jul 1 at 18:00
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    Wonderful! Software Recommendations desperately needs this too: softwarerecs.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2862/… – Nicolas Raoul Jul 19 at 10:41
  • 1
    30 days later, what has changed? – gparyani Jul 31 at 16:10
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Failing any comments or dissent, I've turned this on permanently. Please let me know if there's any issues.


Thanks for your patience bearing with me getting these numbers out.

This looks like an all-around success for getting questions closed based on our metrics.

For reference, staff = me. "Questions closed/reopened" means that a close or reopen action occurred, it's not a count of questions - though with so few reopens, it's essentially the same.

1. More questions are closed by users:

                         Mods  Staff  Users
Questions closed June     40     24      0
Questions closed July     25     19     56

In the month of June, not a single question was closed without diamond assistance. In July, many questions were closed without moderator (or staff) intervention - more than the other two combined, in fact! Mods closed 62.5% fewer questions than in June and the questions I closed were in the the existing queue when the test started; I wasn't handling newly-flagged questions.

2. More questions are reopened by users:

                         Mods  Staff  Users
Questions reopened June    2      0      0
Questions reopened July    0      0      1

In June, mods reopened two questions but users none. In July users reopened more questions - only one, but that's more than zero!

So, that means that we've passed both the first and second test. Since there was only one reopen action, we also passed the third test!

  1. more questions are closed by users (no diamond moderators involved) ✓
  2. more questions are reopened by users (no diamond moderators involved) ✓
  3. fewer than 1% of closed questions go through more than two close/reopen cycles ✓

A couple of days ago I also checked in to see what the thinking was from the community: Feedback - What are your thoughts about single-vote closure?

I've been thinking about the response I got there. First, if one of the mods here feels like their workload is lighter, then that's a big win in my book:

Personally, I like having 1-vote closure. From a purely selfish point of view, it reduces the workload for the moderators - we're not having to close 99% of questions that need it any more - it's still a significant proportion, but it's noticeably smaller. - ArtOfCode Aug 9 at 20:03

There were other concerns addressed, too:

Honestly, I think we have a participation problem. Fix that and we don't need single-vote closure. This meta about single-vote closure smells like an XY problem to me. – Mast Aug 7 at 17:26

I understand this and think it's a valid point. While looking at your performance, Shog and I did a deeper dive into the median number of votes needed to close a question across the network and it's... striking and somewhat scary how much closing is being done by moderators - and gold tag badge holders for duplicates. Many sites are managing to make it work with five and getting a good percentage of questions voted or flagged for closure but many, even very large, high-volume sites, have a median of 1-3.

This means that we really need to think about whether five is the right number for close voting at all, and start testing other options, much like the current test on Stack Overflow for three vote closures or maybe letting gold tag badge holders have weightier close votes for things other than duplicate votes.

Closing can be mind-numbing, difficult work and it's easy to understand why so few people want to participate in it. We do need to increase participation but that requires thinking about how to make it more rewarding to more people, who may be less invested in the site. But, until then, we can't force people to review or close vote.

My hope is that making it easier to close questions by only needing one (or three) people to participate will make it more likely that people will step up to share the load.


Thanks so much for giving us the chance to test this here. At this point, we think this change had a huge positive result with no negative. We'd like to turn it back on permanently. If you have any thoughts, let me know in the comments.

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