The user Zypher has very little reputation, but is able to close questions without reaching the limit because he works for SE. By not letting the community vote (i.e. 5 of the top 17 users) it seems that he is taking away from the development of the community. Many closed questions are not even old (the site itself is not even old, of course), so have not had a chance to be improved (e.g. through editing).

Do others share this opinion? If so, could Zypher please let the burgeoning community do more of its own clean-up? If not, perhaps following the community's request to include a comment explaining the close (when not obvious, as is the case with many of these) would be polite?


Hard data, as requested: I compiled a list of all the questions that are currently closed (I don't know if there's a way to just search for these, until the data hits the public dump).

  • 29 questions have been closed by the community (defined as 3+ members). I think this in fact shows that the community is policing itself, given a chance.
  • 3 questions were closed by Zypher after one other user voted for closure. It seems likely that the community would have closed these too (but IMO should have been given that chance).
  • 13 questions have been closed by Zypher alone. Every one of these was closed three hours ago, unlike the other examples here, which are spread over the brief life of the site. (5% of the site's questions were closed in about a 10 minute period).
  • 2 questions were closed by moderator Rebecca Chernoff.
  • 2 questions were closed by one moderator other than Zypher and one other member.
  • 4 questions were closed because they were moved to meta. I don't think these are relevant here.

Please note that I am not saying that all the questions that Zypher closed should not have been closed. FWIW, none were my questions.

If the community is not given a chance to police itself (because a moderator does the work), then how will the community grow to do this? Teach a man to fish, etc.

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    Note that if five 500+ users say they agree with every closure, then this is clearly answered as "no". – Tony Meyer Jan 20 '11 at 6:33
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    Can you please indicate which questions were closed? Most of the questions posed in the early days of this site, frankly, deserved to be closed. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Jan 20 '11 at 6:39
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    @neilfein I'll do a list, but the point here is not to debate every question, but whether Zypher should be leaving the community to do more self-policing (there are examples of questions that have been closed by community vote). – Tony Meyer Jan 20 '11 at 7:10
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    @Tony - I typed that before I got to the bottom of this page, so I see the point. Many of these questions were sub-standard in the sense of being SE questions, but I agree that users need to be educated on why a question was closed, particularly in this early stage of the site. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Jan 20 '11 at 7:21
  • @Tony - Thanks for all your hard work! – Goodbye Stack Exchange Jan 20 '11 at 7:43
  • Something that didn't occur to me when I asked this: it's possible that those questions had been flagged by many sub-500 users (people like me that can't vote to close, but can flag). I don't think there's any way that's displayed (e.g. "flagged by 10 users"). If that is the case, then this would be potentially solved by just doing that (automatically or manually). – Tony Meyer Jan 20 '11 at 8:51
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    @Tony Meyer. I agree totally. He needs to be put on a leash. – scope_creep Jan 20 '11 at 17:01
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    "I don't know if there's a way to just search for these" -- closed:1 – Michael Mrozek Jan 20 '11 at 19:54
  • @michael thanks! – Tony Meyer Jan 20 '11 at 20:08

10 Answers 10


From reading the reactions here, I get the feeling people think this will become the norm, which it will not.

From what I had seen, and what the other SE moderators had seen this site needed a shot in the arm to survive. I did not just fly in and close down these post on a whim.

From what I was seeing - as well as the other SE mods - the site was not quite policing well enough to get rid of the low quality questions and needed a human exception handler to come in and help.

If i didn't care about this community I would not even be a mod right now, I would just have let the toxic questions persist and write it off, but I didn't I do want to see the site succeed.

Also note, I didn't delete the posts, I closed them.


So, first my reasons for doing this are pretty much covered by the answers given by Mark Trapp, Eight Days of Malaise and neilfein's answers so I won't go back and re-hash everything. As neilfein said:

Close 'em quickly, before answers pile up.

I let them pile up just because it is an early stage site, and I didn't want to just have every question on the front page be [closed] - arguably that could have been the case. Last night I went through and close a good deal of questions that while taken as a question you ask a friend over the water cooler there wasn't much wrong with them BUT taken as a stackexchange question they didn't really add up. Most of them where from the tag or a combination of the and which at the time where the number ONE and TWO tags on the site!

Now this isn't something I decided to just go and do because I was bored, I solicited other moderator's opinions in our chat room and the consensus was that there was something toxic on the site and something need to be done about it. So yes I knew it wouldn't make me popular, but as a mod you need to be thick skinned.

What I've seen while on this site is most of the questions are:

  • What books fit criteria X (List of X questions)
  • Opinion questions

Both of these types of question do not make for a good Stack Exchange questions.

To Address some specific questions that have been brought up:

What two TNG episodes does Ashley Judd appear in and does she say she didn't?

How is this making the internet a better place? This answer is trivially easy to find, I mean it's right there on the IMDB page. Just because a question CAN be answered doesn't make it automatically a good question.

Name the book where the setting is a giant ship with a planet inside.

Help me remember this questions HAVE BEEN BANED BY JEFF as pointed out the specific quote is:

It is my opinion that these "help me remember this {thing}" or "help me identify this >{thing}" questions should be banned from all sites as a matter of policy.

What are the different types and classes of FTL engines?

Is a list of X question that really can't have a correct or complete answer - I admit this is one of the borderline ones I closed.

Now, to those saying "Well just make it community wiki!" community wiki is NOT a panacea for everything, we made it a mod only function for a reason. The act of making these types of questions community wiki does not automatically make them OK. These types of questions are ok every now and again, but when most of the site consists of them something needs to change.

Don't take these things as being against the community - I am a scifi lover (I don't have high rep here because of the type of questions - i don't particularly enjoy answering List of X questions so .. I don't answer them much) - and would love to see the site succeed but in the shape it's in it wont.

As far as commenting on the closures - my moderation style has always been "Close them and if they ask on meta give them your reasons"

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    As we've said before, almost all questions are easy to find elsewhere. That makes them bad questions? I can point to dozens of questions on Stackoverflow that all have answers just a google query away. – Slick23 Jan 20 '11 at 16:05
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    Not necissarally, but it depends on the question. Can you add anything to the result from google? Or is the answer essentially a link to that result for example the Ashley Judd one was "She also appeared in Darmok (memory-alpha.org/wiki/Darmok_(episode))." and really you can't say much more. – Zypher Jan 20 '11 at 16:09
  • There's a second part to the question, added now. And I'm sorry, I can got get you a list of a 1,000 questions across Stack Exchange that are exactly like that. – Slick23 Jan 20 '11 at 16:13
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    @FinalDraft ... yes i'm sure you could but the signal to noise ratio is WAY off here and needs to be fixed. on SO the make up a small percentage of questions, here a very very large percentage. – Zypher Jan 20 '11 at 16:18
  • BTW, a link to that episode doesn't answer that question. – Slick23 Jan 20 '11 at 16:21
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    @zypher please explain why you are not willing to give the community more of a chance to self-police. I think the numbers I gave demonstrate that the community is closing questions itself. – Tony Meyer Jan 20 '11 at 19:23
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    @zypher if you want to help this community succeed, then why are you not taking more action in meta? For example, in meta.scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/13/… the community did not know that identification questions are network-banned, and so decided to allow them. If you had said there that they were banned, the community could be closing these questions. In that case, you would be helping the community grow. – Tony Meyer Jan 20 '11 at 19:26
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    @zypher likewise in meta.scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/16/… you haven't said that all list questions are banned. The community consensus - at least at the moment - seems to be that if there is a definitive list, that is ok (whereas infinite lists are not). Why not contribute to the meta discussion? – Tony Meyer Jan 20 '11 at 19:28
  • @zypher is solicting moderator opinion in the chat room really the best way forward at this stage? Since this is in beta, the moderators are all SE employees, not necessarily those that are invested in the future of the site. Chat room discussion at an early stage is very tricky anyway, because of time-zone issues (and the limited number of people that will be contributing). – Tony Meyer Jan 20 '11 at 19:29
  • @zypher you say that your policy is to answer why questions are closed on meta if asked. However there are at least two of these questions at the moment (at least one that predates this question) and you have not done so. – Tony Meyer Jan 20 '11 at 19:33
  • @Tony - If I had seen it there I would have commented, but I missed the question and I'm sorry about that. I've been trying to let people on meta discuss things before I add my two cents - because I didn't want "Oh Employee said something no more discussion" to happen. I'll answer you "why" question in a bit w/ an edit to my answer – Zypher Jan 20 '11 at 19:40
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    RE your comment that Jeff banned identification questions network wide -- That's a different view than I took from the gaming link everyone cites. "I will be personally monitoring this [identify-the-game] from now on and aggressively closing any that I find which are insufficiently clear, as Not a Real Question." -- Seems to me they are allowed, but held to a high standard of provided detail and asker participation. – Saiboogu Jan 20 '11 at 19:44
  • @Tony I saw two, one involved a question I didn't close - so I don't feel it's my place to speak for other moderators. The other one I answered in this question and have left a comment to that effect. – Zypher Jan 20 '11 at 19:53
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    @Tony all mod votes are binding and no there is not a way have a mod cast a "normal" close vote - it has been asked for and declined. As far as using meta, i did consider it but given the state of things I decided - once again after consulting with other SE mods - that this was the best course of action. – Zypher Jan 21 '11 at 3:15
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    @zypher that's enough for me to accept your answer. BTW, IMO the most pressing issue here is whether Jeff has said ~"identification questions are never allowed" or ~"identification questions need to meet very high standards". If you could perhaps ask him in person that would help a lot. – Tony Meyer Jan 21 '11 at 4:02

Not adding discipline to a community during its initial formative stages is toxic to its success, and there are currently not enough people to effectively police the community.

Realize that there are overarching policies codified into three blog posts that guide all Stack Exchange sites, regardless of the current community's idea of what's on-topic:

Zypher's closures seem to be in line with the guidelines set out in those posts.

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    @Tony there have been over 30 sites that have gone through or are currently going through the beta process. We know from experience what's worked and what hasn't. – user366 Jan 20 '11 at 5:09
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    Great references Mark. Just because you can ask a bad question doesn't mean it deserves an answer. – hobodave Jan 20 '11 at 5:10
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    Couldn't disagree more on the Real Questions Have Real Answers. He closed several that had "real answers" attached, so how were they too vague or couldn't be answered? – Slick23 Jan 20 '11 at 5:10
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    @mark this is hardly my first SE experience. I'm certainly familiar enough with it to know that it's not yet clear what is true for all SE sites, and what is only true for some. – Tony Meyer Jan 20 '11 at 5:10
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    @hobodave I don't want to get into specific questions here - more about whether a sub 200 rep user should be deciding alone what is and is not an acceptable question, and without letting any editing help questions. – Tony Meyer Jan 20 '11 at 5:12
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    This question asked what the title of a book was based on what the OP remembered. Someone answered with the title and a link. Why was it closed? scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/1030/… I could go on with several more examples. – Slick23 Jan 20 '11 at 5:12
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    @Tony: He's not a "sub 200 rep user"; he's a moderator. It's the duty of a moderator to keep the sites firmly within the boundaries of what is acceptable based on the guidelines established by Stack Overflow. Regarding editing; it can still occur on closed questions. If improved sufficiently it can be reopened. – hobodave Jan 20 '11 at 5:15
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    Further to Final Draft's point, the "identification" type of question was queried here (meta.scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/13/…) and the current community consensus is that they are allowed. – Tony Meyer Jan 20 '11 at 5:16
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    @hobodave it takes five 500+ rep community members to reopen, but one SE employee to close. – Tony Meyer Jan 20 '11 at 5:17
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    @Tony: You can always flag an improved question for moderator attention. If it meets the criteria that same moderator, or another, can reopen it. – hobodave Jan 20 '11 at 5:19
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    @Final: The reasons are canned. NARQ is the official Atwood reason to use when closing them (see meta.gaming q). – hobodave Jan 20 '11 at 5:24
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    BTW, the fact that the number one tag is [list] is a giant red flag that "somethin' ain't right". – hobodave Jan 20 '11 at 5:26
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    @Tony: It's due to the large influx of low-quality, completely off the rails questions that have sprouted here since going public. The SF community isn't even ready to fully police itself yet, hence moderator intervention. – hobodave Jan 20 '11 at 5:32
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    Mark: You forgot the No Artificial Intelligence post - particularly the last few paragraphs. – Aaronaught Jan 20 '11 at 13:43
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    @hobodave The problem is this: The meta discussion here has lead the community to think that certain question types (recommendation and help-me-remember questions being the best examples I see) are on-topic. No moderator presence ever showed up on the meta discussion regarding this and said, "No, this is against SE rules for this reason". Instead, they decided to come in and just remove things they felt were off topic. The community is left with an inconsistent picture of what is and isn't on topic. I have no problem with enforcing rules, just make the rules clear first. – shadowfission Feb 18 '11 at 22:21

I'm really confused on how Real Questions Have Real Answers applies to some of the things he closed. Some of them were obviously questions with actual answers. It seems he applied them to questions asking for lists ... which I see was brought up here. But that reason doesn't apply to questions asking for lists.

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    Agreed. Several of them were asked and answered (in good detail) over a week ago. – Nellius Jan 20 '11 at 9:38
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    It's actually just "Real questions have answers". And if you read the whole quote, it's Real questions have answers, not items or ideas or opinions. Questions that encourage a "one item per answer" situation should either be edited into something viable before they start getting those answers, or - if it's too late for that - closed and started again or be completely purged. Of the latter two, guess which method is less work, for the exact same result? – Aaronaught Jan 20 '11 at 13:48
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    That makes no sense. Some questions do have items as real answers: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/1003/… – Slick23 Jan 20 '11 at 14:57

The book ID question that you closed was certainly not one that "can't have a correct or complete answer". There was more than enough information in the question to uniquely identify the book.

  • Agreed. But as has been pointed out, it's a "help me remember" question which is apparently bad, bad, bad. – Slick23 Jan 20 '11 at 16:06
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    Emphasis on apparently. – MPelletier Jan 22 '11 at 6:15

Yes. I believe he is.

As the OP of one the questions closed by Zypher, I'll chime in with my $0.02.

I feel that the closing of my question was a little inconsistent. If you view the other questions tagged story identification, you'll see that mine is the only one that was closed. Some have argued that the question wasn't in the form of a question, but a couple of other "story identification" questions aren't phrased in the form of a question. One even cheats and just puts a question mark at the end.

The reason my question was closed is completely unclear to me, so I have no idea how to make it better. If Zypher didn't like something about my question, I think the better approach would have been a comment suggesting improvements. If those improvements weren't forthcoming, fine, close the question. Education is critical in forming a community.

Also, if a user can't re-open a question, they should not be given the ability to close it. I don't care who he works for. Those rights/permissions should go hand in hand.


I think Zypher needs to re-examine his way of working. I've seen these questions closed today which I do not think should have been closed:

Quote from the FAQ:

"At the high end of this reputation spectrum there is little difference between users with high reputation and ♦ moderators. That is very much intentional. We don’t run Science Fiction - Stack Exchange. The community does."

Zypher - can you please explain what is happening? I for one really do not appreciate this unilateral question closing.


Here's a few example questions that were recently closed, that I would argue probably shouldn't have been. After compiling this list, I think I understand why the first two were closed, but they should have had an explanation given as to why they were closed. Anyways, here goes.


I've been looking through the closed questions, seeing who closed them. I must say this much. While there's a few questions that Zypher has closed that had some merit, the vast majority he closed are devaluing the community. So I'm going to have to thank Zypher for making his sweep, even if he did close a few valuable questions in the process.

  • +1 for community wiki – Slick23 Jan 20 '11 at 14:58
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    I asked FTL question, which is a close to non subjective as it's possible to get, but it's closed. – scope_creep Jan 20 '11 at 17:06
  • I sent the stackover support and email to intervene. The SF site brand is going to be damaged otherwise. – scope_creep Jan 20 '11 at 17:22
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    @scope_creep: I'm not quite so sure... We'll get this site figured out eventually, but it might take a little while... I just don't like the mods vs everyone else feeling that's starting to develop... – PearsonArtPhoto Jan 20 '11 at 17:23

Sometimes closing a question is the only way to get users to pay attention to Stack Exchange standards. Many moderators agree with this: Close 'em quickly, before answers pile up. (This doesn't make the mod in question popular with the users, but it does achieve the desired result.

This isn't the same situation, but Aaronut makes a good analogy in this answer on cooking.se about closing-versus-editing-questions:

My silly but hopefully educational cooking analogy:

Vague/subjective questions are like a big pile of raw ground chuck. You want to make hamburgers, but just realized that you don't have any onions in the house, or eggs, or flour, or salt, or any of the things that are normally required to make a hamburger from scratch. What do you do?

Well, you can raid the pantry and start throwing a bunch of random crap into the pan with it and see if it comes out OK once it's cooked. It probably won't, though. Or, you can freeze it, go and get the ingredients you need, and then thaw it when you're actually ready to cook it.

So that's what we're doing here. When we close a question, we're saying that it can't be answered well because it's missing details (ingredients). Once those details are added, we can pick up where we left off. On the other hand, if that never happens, and the question just sits around forever and goes rancid, then we will actually delete it, and that is generally final.

Part of our mission here is not only to give people the right answers but also to teach them how to ask the right questions, because asking the right questions is crucial to become an expert oneself and subsequently a contributing member of the community. If we can do that without being rude or unfair (and I do not believe that any of this is rude or unfair), then we should do it as much and as often as possible.

(Emphasis from the original.) What we need is someone to close bad or unclear questions, then guide users into editing them into shape. We're lacking a bit on the second part; I think the site is flailing about just now, trying to find a good balance between interesting science-fiction questions and fitting into Stack Exchange.

  • @neilfein in case I'm not clear, I absolutely agree that the site needs a lot of work to steer it away from forum/discussion stuff and into good, interesting, long-tail questions. However, I feel that the community is doing a decent job of doing that on its own (and quickly enough IMO) and that Zypher is making decisions that the community doesn't necessarily agree with, for no real reason. – Tony Meyer Jan 20 '11 at 7:35
  • Understood, you're being very clear. I hope @Zypher weighs in on this soon. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Jan 20 '11 at 7:42
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    Huh. Weren't you the one arguing that that awful question about religion -- which was subjective, argumentative, and asked for a list -- was okay? – Slick23 Jan 20 '11 at 14:59
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    @Final Draft - I'm trying, for now, to make existing questions better. Stay on topic, please. :) – Goodbye Stack Exchange Jan 20 '11 at 15:21
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    @Final Draft - Also, my opinions about what's acceptable and what's not are changing as the site evolves. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Jan 20 '11 at 15:53
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    I think I am on topic. You're arguing here that half-baked reasons for wholesale closing of questions is appropriate, but when I tried to give good reasons for closing a bad question, you argued against it. If you've changed your mind, fine. You should delete your comments on the other question, then. – Slick23 Jan 20 '11 at 16:00

Many closed questions are not even old (the site itself is not even old, of course), so have not had a chance to be improved (e.g. through editing). A question can be edited once it is closed. This is absolutely proper behavior. The community can then cast reopen votes.

The community has been casting close votes and we have also seen flags calling out questions. We are not taking anything away from the community. Use this as an example going forward with how you see the site. I've been closing questions for several days, and I have noticed a few people pick up on it. Close votes and flags have increased. This is great. The community is learning.

Stack Exchange is not a game of Trivial Pursuit, it isn't a discussion forum, it isn't a recommendation service, it isn't for conversations you would have standing around a water cooler at work. There have been numerous blog posts that I encourage you to read:

By leaving these questions open, someone new to the site comes in, sees these questions, thinks they are ok - and adds new questions that bring down the quality of the site. It is very important that we lead with our best foot forward during the early days of the site.

Please note that you also have chat rooms that you can use. Want to ask for a book recommendation? Hit up the chat room! Want to stand around the water cooler and have a conversation? That's what chat is for!

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    @Rebecca I think it's pretty clear that most of the people discussing this have already read all of the blog posts around this topic. Just because we don't work for SE doesn't mean we aren't familiar with how it works. I think it is significant that no-one had/has a problem with how you are closing, but there is with Zypher. – Tony Meyer Jan 20 '11 at 19:21
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    +1 to that. It's that he closed a dozen questions in so short of time and that his decisions obviously weren't deliberative. That's not a good style of moderating. It's a drive-by-style and is going to drive the fragile user base here away if they're afraid to ask questions for fear of him doing that again. – Slick23 Jan 20 '11 at 19:26
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    If a dozen questions that aren't a good fit for the site exist, it is better to close them at once rather than spread them out and close one an hour. Remember closed questions can be reopened. – Rebecca Chernoff Jan 20 '11 at 19:30
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    @Rebecca - the biggest problem with chat is that it is live. Read codinghorror.com/blog/2008/11/is-email-efail.html for example. Like email is right for some things, chat is right for some things. When people in the US are awake, most people over here are asleep. Chat doesn't deal well with that. – Tony Meyer Jan 20 '11 at 19:31
  • @rebecca I think you are also missing the point somewhat. The point isn't that these questions were closed (as I said, many should have been closed). The point is that the community wasn't given a chance to do so itself. – Tony Meyer Jan 20 '11 at 19:42
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    From the looks of things, and plenty of answers to the poor questions, the community doesn't want to close them before they post more noise @ton – Eight Days of Malaise Jan 20 '11 at 19:57
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    @TonyMeyer, another case is that we are seeing flags from users who have ran out of close votes. – Rebecca Chernoff Jan 20 '11 at 20:01
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    @rebecca I wondered (comment in the question itself) if flag votes came into this. As I said then, if flags are leading to these closures, then perhaps there could be an indicator of that? Perhaps not with names like close votes, but along the lines of "Flagged as does not belong here by 23 users". That would help transparency (which you must agree is one of Jeff's goals) a lot. – Tony Meyer Jan 20 '11 at 20:06

Zypher is not closing enough questions.

Just because someone can post an answer doesn't automatically validate a poor quality question.

If the community wants to continue asking questions that are yet another slab of lists or recommendations, then it has little hopes of holding its own head above the waters' mark.

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    Why do you say that Zypher is not closing enough questions, rather than the community is not closing enough questions? Should the community not be taking the lead here? – Tony Meyer Jan 20 '11 at 6:32
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    Looking to vote on questions earlier (and finding very few that did not incite quality rating rage), the community wants nothing more than endless questions about reading lists, call sheets and watercooler conversations. It's in trouble of being just a forum and would not meet the standards expected of a Stack Exchange site. @ton – Eight Days of Malaise Jan 20 '11 at 6:40
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    @Tony - The community is obviously not taking the lead here, and not closing enough questions. That's part of the problem. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Jan 20 '11 at 6:43
  • @neilfein except that the community is still deciding what should be closed. The site isn't even two weeks old yet. Only 18 users have got high enough to close. For example, the community wasn't aware that "identification" questions are outright banned, and so allowed them. Educating the community would be more useful than mass closures. – Tony Meyer Jan 20 '11 at 7:12
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    @Tony It appears that mass closures did educate the community :-\ – Michael Mrozek Jan 20 '11 at 19:30
  • @michael in what way? – Tony Meyer Jan 20 '11 at 20:08

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