There was some discussion a few months ago that the question "Who or what was Tom Bombadil?" is general reference:

Why the Tom Bombadil question is not closed as a General Reference?

And it was closed shortly thereafter, Since SciFi.SE is one of the two sites that still allow "general reference" closures even after the experiment was deemed a failure, having it remain open set a bad precedent for new users who might not understand that quirk of SciFi's policies.

Fair enough that it's closed, but now it's deleted, and the additional information is now lost. I've looked on meta here and through the chat logs, but couldn't find any discussion about its deletion.

Instead, what I found was the issue was the question asked was general reference as written, even if people conceded the answers (like mine) provided information not necessarily found in the general references for which it was closed:

The LotR wiki on him has a small paragraph saying his origins are a mystery, and the Wikipedia entry has a somewhat larger but still incomplete description buried deep within the article. I think our question answers the root of the question more completely and directly than either of the wikis.Kevin

While the question has indeed had two good answers that don't 100% duplicate Wikipedia, Mark's discussion on what race Tom may or may not be is the only additional information. The question doesn't seem to be calling for more than what's in Wikipedia. It may be possible to rewrite the question to make it more interesting.Gilles

I believe the Bombadil question had a much better answer on oursite than the "general reference" it was closed as. I think I mentioned on meta, that question made me change my mind on having "general reference" as a close reason. — Keen

I really don't think the Tom Bombadil question should have been closed. [...] It might be fairly easy to find the answer, but it is a very interesting question still, and we have stuff above and beyond what is in any of the major wiki sites. — Pearsonartphoto  

A few months ago, Stack Exchange had a blog post about the surreptitious deletion of content that was no longer acceptable on the platform but nevertheless had some historical or contextual usage. Towards the end, it mentioned how SE should be handling these types of no-longer-accpetable artifacts:

Last but not least, we’re experimenting with ways to keep some of the more useful – or even just fun – questions from the site’s history accessible in some way. To be clear: most of these are not great examples of questions that should be asked today… But some of them are, quite frankly, brilliant – and losing them entirely just because they aren’t a good fit for our strict Q&A format is wrong. For now, we’ve provided a “Historical Artifact” lock that completely freezes a question and its answers, preventing all further editing, voting, answering, and flagging.

And the historical lock interface was modified to make it clearer that questions locked for historical reasons are fundamentally different than other types of questions.

So conceding the argument that we still have the General Reference close reason and "Who or what was Tom Bombadil?" purportedly meets its criteria, given there was at least some amount of consensus there was some value to the question—even a suggestion it could be reworded and reopened—when was it deleted, and why was it deleted instead of at least locked for historical reasons?

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    I remember seeing that when I first started using this site. It was awesome. We should definitely not be deleting questions with that much useful info in them. Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 2:55
  • Wow, how much rep did you lose from that deletion? I see you had 100 votes and a selected answer... Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 4:53
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    @OghmaOsiris I actually didn't lose anything: they changed it so you don't lose reputation for deleted posts as long as they have been visible for 60 days and have a score of at least +3. I'm just kinda frustrated by the link rot, as I linked to it in a few places instead of transcribing it.
    – user366
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 6:55
  • The General Reference experiment was Not deemed a failure, it's just that "It is unlikely we will ever adopt this close reason network wide.". There is a difference between something that is not appropriate for all and something that is not appropriate at all.
    – DavRob60
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 17:13
  • @DavRob60 I've conceded that we're stuck with the general reference close reason, and due to that, am not arguing it should be reopened. Regarding whether GR is a failure, 14:00–20:00 in the podcast Jeff linked to is enlightening.
    – user366
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 18:31

5 Answers 5


The site thinks I did:

Image of who deleted the question

Except it says I somehow voted twice to delete it, and that this happened a month ago. I don't recall voting to delete it a month ago, but I may have voted to delete it 4-5 months ago when it was closed. That initial vote to delete would have predated all of the linked discussions about deletions and locking.

Personally, I'm up for undeleting and locking it.

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    When did the moderator appointments go into effect? If it was still missing one vote when you became a mod would your new mod rank have carried into your pre-existing vote, causing it to close directly?
    – Xantec
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 3:23
  • @Xantec It shouldn't work like that, or at least it didn't used to work like that: while the screenshot is an artifact of voting to delete as a mod after voting to delete as a regular user, the second vote to delete is manually done. Maybe there was some weird site-wide job that caused it to happen?
    – user366
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 3:27
  • I never was in favor of closing it. I think that question belongs here... But I'll wait a bit before doing it. Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 4:34
  • A categorical no to locking. If the question is good, it should be open. If it's bad, it should be deleted.
    – user56
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 21:01
  • Can the question be undeleted and locked now?
    – user366
    Commented Jun 15, 2012 at 4:02
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    @MarkTrapp Yup.
    – user1027
    Commented Jun 15, 2012 at 14:40
  • @Keen Thanks! Appreciate it.
    – user366
    Commented Jun 15, 2012 at 16:25

One of the questions in the general reference flowchart is,

Is the question basic and trivial, or is it complex and interesting?

I really really don’t think that “Who is Tom Bombadil?” is in any way a trivial question.

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    This is an old Meta post - the question was reopened way back when, and General Reference is no longer a close reason
    – Izkata
    Commented Dec 28, 2013 at 4:43

The question was closed, after a meta discussion, on 18 January 2012. It was later deleted, on 3 May. So if anyone thought the question was worth salvaging, they had over three months to do it. Nobody edited the question, so it was eventually deleted, like all questions that are closed for good.

I'm open to undeleting it if you (or someone else) pledge to edit it to make it worth reopening. Keep in mind that the existing answers have to make sense.

If there is content in the answers that is absent from the Wikipedia page, our best course of action is to find citations where needed and add the content to the Wikipedia page. (I can make a copy of the question and answers available somewhere on the web if necessary.)

Leaving the question around with answers that are not as good as Wikipedia would be harmful for the site: we'd come second in an obvious comparison. Note that at a score of 101, it would be the site's most upvoted question — it would be our flagship question.

Historical locks were introduced mostly because Stack Overflow has some historical baggage, and its meta community is dominated by people who yearn for the good old days of three years ago (which is a lot in Internet time). This site does not have any such historical baggage. We don't need to put a frame around our garbage, we can bury it.

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    Sure, I'll take a stab at revising the question. But the content wasn't garbage, and it's not our obligation to improve Wikipedia. I, and others, contribute here because we want to make this a useful reference. I'm not even sure where the idea that the best content has to be on other sites comes from: we might as well shut this place down if we're already conceding that to other sites.
    – user366
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 21:30
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    Regarding locking: surely by now you realize consensus across the network is that locking is at least part of the answer for incredibly useful and popular questions that don't fit the current scope of a site. While I can understand not wanting to do it yourself due to your personal beliefs about the matter, blocking it categorically is not appropriate. I'm not one to play the "but it's popular card", but if locking was off the table, there's something wrong with GR when our most upvoted question is closed as such.
    – user366
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 21:35
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    @MarkTrapp You know very well that a site's most upvoted questions are often not its best questions. (What is Programmers' most upvoted question, if deleted questions count?)
    – user56
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 21:44
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    A currently open general reference question. But we also historically locked all the top-voted closed questions once the historical lock changes were put into place. To be clear, I'm not saying all popular content is good: I'm saying that general reference doesn't seem to apply when it's the most upvoted piece of content the site has to offer.
    – user366
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 21:50

I am persuaded by original META discussion (see Gilles' accepted answer) that it fully fits GR, so I think it should be closed.

However, though I did originally vote to delete it, I don't see that it must be deleted - if the community feels that it adds value, I'm all for doing the "historical lock" mentioned by Mark since this should fully eliminate the concerns over "bad example" which led me to cast the delete vote originally.


I was in favor of using the locking banner back then, but my deletion vote was triggered by this comment by Gilles.

Stack Overflow has accumulated many such historical reasons questions, and all they do is attract more similar questions, because people see the question and ignore the banner.

If the historical lock interface was modified, I'm not opposed to undelete it, but only if it's locked afterward.

And Who was Sifo-Dyas? should also be locked.

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