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I recently noticed a few things that made me worry about the community here. I basically started asking myself if there is one, and if there is, if it's not just a too small clique of users.

I noticed:

  • Some questions that are getting close- and downvotes also being upvoted and answered. This means they won't be bumped off the front page with a negative score anymore, and this might have the additional benefit of a few more upvotes/reputation for the answerer. It also doesn't really encourage people to ask better questions, they'll be getting answers anyway.
  • Some questions are answered by users with the reputation to cast both close- and reopen votes, yet often aren't discussed on meta or get reopened. Not reopening isn't a big problem, they weren't very good questions in the first place. But it does mean there's a load of questions hanging around that don't get automatically cleaned up when they aren't improved, which means more work for the users with delete vote privileges.
  • Sometimes, people leaving comments (indicating to me that they realize something is wrong with the question) but answering them anyway.
  • A few bouts of 'Fastest Gun in the West' syndrome, where it looks like people are racing to answer a question seconds after it is posted, instead of first carefully considering whether the question is a good fit or not. (I must admit I'm struggling with this too, when I see a question that I really like).

Now, I'm wondering how we can make people aware that this site has certain standards of what is a good question, and what is needed to do this. I came up with a few questions I'd like to see solved myself, but if there's other things that need to be taken into account, feel free to comment/add.

  • Do we need more and clearer policies?
  • Do we need to explain these policies more to people, because they are unaware they exist?
  • How would we go about getting the attention of people when we want to explain?
  • How do we let people know that what they're doing is against policies/might not be a good idea?

I would be really interested in reaching out to those people that have the privilege to close/reopen questions (500 reputation points). But any idea on how to get more people involved in shaping the site (encouraging good behavior/discouraging bad behavior) would be welcome.


If you want examples, these are from today for example:

And these are older:

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    I think you have some valid concerns here, but I'm also thinking that it may be better to separate issues. – apaul Jan 22 '18 at 22:51
  • @apaul, what would you like to see separated from here? – Tinkeringbell Jan 23 '18 at 10:42
  • I think reading through the answers might give you a sense of what could be separated. You have answers addressing all kinds of different situations: how to address the OP whose question is maybe getting closed, how to address users who answer questions that get closed (possibly with variations for users who do or don't have close vote privileges, and obvious versus contentious closures), how to address arguments about whether a question should be closed... – Cascabel Jan 24 '18 at 2:16
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    @Harper You honestly expect everyone to carefully read every other answer, and steer a wide berth away from any previous answer. Yes, WE do. I get the impression you're trying to pick a fight with me specifically on this, but sadly this has been community practice and a problem discussed on meta a few times before: 1, 2, 3. – Tinkeringbell Jan 25 '18 at 9:55
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    I believe the system of SE does expect you to do so too: When uploading an umptieth answer to a question, you're supposed to get a pop up that asks you whether your answer really adds new information – Tinkeringbell Jan 25 '18 at 9:56
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    The problem is, your standards for that are way too extreme. I routinely get called out for "similar answers" that are not remotely similar. It's not that I have a chip-on-shoulder with you. It's that you have an chip-on-shoulder with it. You see problems nobody else sees because you want to see them. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jan 25 '18 at 10:06
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    I appreciate the intent of this question. – user1856 Jan 25 '18 at 13:27
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I think a lot of what you're noticing is a symptom of not having enough questions, when compared to the number of people excited to answer them.

Right now, for anyone who really wants to write answers (and possibly gain reputation) it's pretty difficult to do without quickly jumping on questions. If you wait around at all, every question will have plenty of answers and you won't have anything to do.

Personally, I wouldn't mind writing more answers, but I don't check the site obsessively, so I've ended up answering only a couple times, and generally whenever I look, everything on the front page already has at least a couple answers, often many more. So I really feel like if I wanted to post more, I'd have to start being much faster (or answering lower-quality questions). It's not surprising that some people end up doing exactly that.

So sure, we can talk away on meta, and even start nudging people in comments on the main site. The place with the most room is users with close-vote privileges who answer questions that get closed - if the closure seems uncontroversial, I think it is fair game to leave a comment on their answer suggesting that they think twice before answering in future similar situations.

But as long as the incentives are pushing people toward fast answers, it's going to happen. So how do we shift those incentives? It's pretty tough. For the most part, getting more questions just takes time.

A couple things that might nudge things in the right direction, at least:

  • Ask questions. I know, it's hard in many ways, but it's the most direct thing anyone can do. Remember that it's okay to ask questions even if you think you know the answer; you may still learn, and others certainly will.

  • Especially if you're a very-involved, high-rep user, consider giving others a chance. Pass up on the chance to answer questions sometimes, if you think others will be able to answer well. If you think that you can do better than everyone, great, go for it, but if you think others can do just as well, consider whether you really need to be the fastest gun in the west. Obviously not everyone out there is going to read this and heed that advice, but if the most active users cut back a bit, it'll at least give a teensy bit of breathing room. Right now, 10% of answers were written by just 5 users, and 20% by 15 users, so there is room to make a difference here.

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  • 10% of answers or 10% of questions have been answered by 5 users? I'm guessing the latter? – Catija Jan 22 '18 at 21:31
  • The former - I just counted answers. – Cascabel Jan 22 '18 at 21:35
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    Five people have (together) written over 600 answers? Eeesh. – Catija Jan 22 '18 at 21:38
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    I can relate. Ever since the site population grew, I've been unable to contribute anything exciting or new, because most questions get asked and answered while I'm sleeping. – NVZ Jan 22 '18 at 21:45
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    @NVZ Well, to be fair, you're one of the top five people who together have written 10% of the answers. – Cascabel Jan 22 '18 at 22:08
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    @Jefromi At some point, I was the top answerer. Ah, fun times... I was much younger then, and so full of hope. – NVZ Jan 22 '18 at 22:11
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    @Catija I did some math on this. As of this Monday, the Top 5 users by way of # answered have answered 609 times out of a total of 6102 answers, so the top 5 users have 9,98% of all answers. Interestingly enough, most of them wait on average several hours before answering. data.stackexchange.com/interpersonal/query/789908/… – mag Jan 23 '18 at 11:36
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    @Catija Interestingly, the top 5% of users here have 78% of all answers here. – mag Jan 23 '18 at 11:43
  • Maybe instead of asking higher rep users to not answer to give lower rep users more of "a chance", it would help kill two birds with one stone for higher rep users to contribute more questions for lower rep users to answer. This also has the added benefit of questions being "good", per-say, since anyone with high rep is likely aware of what makes a "good question" here. Obviously the caveat is we can't just be making up random crud to post. – Jess K. Jan 23 '18 at 17:56
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    @JessK. I did suggest both, and I think that both are fair. More questions are obviously the best case. But also, especially if you're high-rep and in a position to lead by example, think about why you're answering. If you think you can help better than others, awesome, go for it. But if you think that others can do as well as you can, maybe consider whether you really need to be the fastest gun in the west today. – Cascabel Jan 23 '18 at 17:58
  • @NVZ you lose your youth just in 6 months time? :D – Vylix Jan 24 '18 at 1:43
  • @Magisch If you look at median time to answer, though, a lot of top posters are in the 30 minute ballpark. The site-wide median is 90 minutes. Also, a large fraction of top posters are very frequently either the first answer or within 15 minutes of it. – Cascabel Jan 25 '18 at 18:55
  • Sorry, misremembered my numbers; the 30/90 minutes are 25th percentile answer speed. Median, site-wide is ~7 hours, but plenty of top posters are 1-2 hours. The "first or close to it" part was correct, though, and is perhaps the most interesting: data.stackexchange.com/interpersonal/query/790511/… – Cascabel Jan 25 '18 at 21:04
6

whew, this got long... I bolded my main points in each section if you want to skim!

Some questions that are getting close- and downvotes also being upvoted and answered. This means they won't be bumped off the front page with a negative score anymore, and this might have the additional benefit of a few more upvotes/reputation for the answerer. It also doesn't really encourage people to ask better questions, they'll be getting answers anyway.

Just because you think a question is bad and shouldn't be answered doesn't mean everyone on the site thinks that. The community is not a hive-mind, so of course we'll have some controversial questions! It's okay for people to disagree. This is accounted for in the system by requiring multiple close, delete, undelete, and reopen votes (unless you're a moderator, of course).

I've answered questions where I felt there was enough information to provide a good answer, but it was later closed as "too broad" or "unclear". Sometimes I see what others are requesting for improvements and agree they have valid points, while still feeling confident in my answer. Other times I'll argue against the closure because I disagree with the reasons. It depends.

What helps most is when close-voters leave comments explaining why they're voting to close. I've been frustrated a couple times lately with people not doing that - a question looks fine to me, but somehow has 1, 2, 3 close votes with no explanation about why it was "unclear" or "too broad". In these cases I wonder, what am I missing here? (Does this only make sense to me because I'm from my particular culture? Am I not experienced enough to know what variables would affect the situation? etc.) Not only does CV-without-commenting not help OP improve their question, but it also doesn't help potential answerers understand why they might want to hold off.

Some questions are answered by users with the reputation to cast both close- and reopen votes, yet often don't aren't discussed on meta or get reopened. Not reopening isn't a big problem, they weren't very good questions in the first place. But it does mean there's a load of questions hanging around that don't get automatically cleaned up when they aren't improved, which means more work for the users with delete vote privileges.

I definitely agree that this is a case to encourage more discussion. If you see it happening, make a meta post! Invite the user(s) to participate by commenting with a link under the question and answers. Don't wait for them to start the discussion - chances are the people who answered aren't checking back to see if the question got closed afterwards.

I disagree that it's a problem that roomba will no longer auto-delete the question. It is operating exactly as intended - we don't want potentially good content to be automatically removed, we want human eyes to make that value judgment. If the post really doesn't add anything to the site, it can still be deleted.

Sometimes, people leaving comments (indicating to me that they realize something is wrong with the question) but answering them anyway.

I think it's appropriate to leave a comment to the user pointing out their conflicting actions. "Hey, I noticed you asked for clarification but have already answered - please don't encourage poor questions by answering them before they're improved."

And just to play devil's advocate, it's possible they had second thoughts. I've done this before, where I thought of a question, posted a comment, started drafting an answer in anticipation, and then realized OP's response wouldn't make a big difference either way.

A few bouts of 'Fastest Gun in the West' syndrome, where it looks like people are racing to answer a question seconds after it is posted, instead of first carefully considering whether the question is a good fit or not. (I must admit I'm struggling with this too, when I see a question that I really like).

Yeah... like Jefromi answered I think this might be a result of high demand / low supply. We have lots of users eager to earn rep, so when a new question comes up people want to pounce on it! And if you don't answer it right now, there'll be a dozen answers by the time you look at it again, and you missed your chance... at least, I've certainly had that feeling about some questions!


  • Do we need more and clearer policies?
  • Do we need to explain these policies more to people, because they are unaware they exist?
  • How would we go about getting the attention of people when we want to explain?
  • How do we let people know that what they're doing is against policies/might not be a good idea?

Personally, I'd comment and possibly vote on these answers. I often just don't vote at all, as I prefer to downvote answers on their own merits, rather than the quality of the question, though how you use your votes is up to you. If the answer was hasty and there was critical information missing from the question, there must be something not considered in the answer (else why close the question?). E.g, "The OP never specified this was their goal. Please note that the question has been placed on hold since you answered - you should consider removing it until after they improve it to give sufficient detail about what they want to accomplish, as it may invalidate your answer and attract downvotes."

Or maybe the question is completely off-topic. In this case I would again leave a comment to the user. E.g., "This question has been placed on hold as off-topic. While your enthusiasm for widgets is admirable, they're not on-topic here. In the future, please flag questions like this rather than encouraging them by providing answers."

(And if they disagree about the on-topic-ness - time for a meta post to discuss and get opinions from more of the community.)

I'm not a fan of copy-pasting the same comment and mass-downvoting every answer to an on-hold question, because it completely disregards the content. In many cases, it's also not completely objective. You may think it absolutely requires a culture tag, whereas someone else wrote an adequate answer without it. That deserves different treatment than, say, an answer on a blatant polling-type question.


Kinda-side-note: I think by focusing on the answers, this is turning into an X-Y problem. If the problem is "bad questions are getting answers", the root of the issue is not really "people are answering bad questions", it's "bad questions are open long enough for people to post answers".

Otherwise, at what point should a user refrain from posting an answer that they think is good on an open question? Four close votes? One? Because the rules are five - if you want to change that you should be petitioning StackExchange. Or... we need to get more people close voting. This can be accomplished via chat (which seems to have evolved its own system for requesting close votes) or commenting on the question, so visitors can see and consider casting a vote of their own.

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    This seems like a really well considered answer to the question. :) In reaction to your side note, bad questions are open long enough for people to post answers There's no amount of time that is too short, sadly. Over the weekend I closed a question within five minutes of it being posted and it still accrued an answer. Short of all questions starting out "on hold" and requiring users to judge them before they're made open, I'm not sure that closing quickly will necessarily help. – Catija Jan 22 '18 at 22:47
  • @Catija Thanks! I always get nervous posting opinions on meta :) I didn't notice the timestamps on that one, that's much faster than I thought! I do see that the user thought it was on-topic, so I think this fits into the "disagreement" category (even though it's off-topic, the user thought it was legit), so hopefully they learned something from the interaction.. – Em C Jan 22 '18 at 23:46
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    I know what you mean... I often feel antsy when I'm posting on meta. The fun thing, downvotes here don't mean anything other than disagreement... That's not always fun to see that your idea of how the site should be isn't universal, but as you say yourself - we're not a hive mind. And there's no penalty in the rep department, either. We need voices here - of all sorts, don't hide yours due to fear. :D – Catija Jan 22 '18 at 23:56
  • Nice answer, I really like the comments you're suggesting. As Catija said, please don't be afraid to post on meta, you're good at it :) As for the comment/answer thing, I looked at the timestamps. In the cases I mentioned I'm seeing comment first, answer after. I have no problem with second thoughts, I have those myself as well. – Tinkeringbell Jan 23 '18 at 7:53
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    Maybe I should have been more clear that I'm not expecting a hive-mind, I just want to reach out to people to get their opinions on stuff, so if a question gets closed, give the people that answered an incentive to take it to meta to discuss it. What really worries me is that there now seem to be 2 groups on the site: one answering questions and the other closing them, without any real discussion taking place :/ – Tinkeringbell Jan 23 '18 at 7:53
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    @Tinkeringbell definitely agree with you we need to encourage more meta discussion when things like that happen! I try to comment when I see unexplained close votes for instance. For answers on bad questions, comment and open a meta discussion? I think leading by example will encourage more people to participate, we don't have a lot in the closed-questions tag yet.. – Em C Jan 23 '18 at 12:50
  • It's also interesting to read this meta again - a high-rep user answering a bad and quickly closed question, except that time the answer was relatively well-received (though the q was deleted for not Being Nice). Even so, it seems like the meta helped the user understand why the question was closed and the signs they missed that others saw. – Em C Jan 23 '18 at 13:05
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Em C's answer is exemplary (although initially it scared me with it's length!)

My views are similar, and simpler.

People seeing closed questions with authoritarian looking comments doesn't do much to encourage the idea that this is a "good community" - it's a sign of heavy moderation. Personally, it makes me less likely to post here for fear of being castigated. This castigation isn't an incentive to "be better", it's an incentive to leave. I have dogs, I know how this works.

It's clear from the Area 51 stats for this site that we need to encourage more questions. We currently attract less than half the daily questions that are deemed as "healthy" for a beta stack.

Heavy moderation and closing questions the way that it's happening now won't help that: Currently, IPS is stamping a cookie-cutter on questions and rejecting ones that don't come out round. This is wrong - I love wonky biscuits!

While I agree that questions need to be on-topic for the site and have enough contextual content to provide answers, closing questions and castigating both askers and answerers does not help - it only pisses people off.

It's my thought that established users here should be helping by:

Engaging OP's through edits to keep their questions open/get them reopened.

  • People believe that placing a question "on hold" prompts the user to improve the question. This rarely happens - users see their question as being closed and go someplace else instead. Closing questions the way we're doing it now doesn't incentivise people into staying in the community. Many users here don't have English as their first language or they're not great at clearly communicating their issues (hey, this is IPS after all - users here often have problems relating to people or situations). If the intent of a question is fairly clear, but lacks some quality, at least edit that so that it looks a little better.
  • Explanations when stabbing the VTC button. Again, VTC doesn't send a positive message to users. Asking users to clarify points in their questions helps them to craft their question and engage in the community in a lot more positive way than slapping a ticket on their windshield. Explaining to them why they're getting close-votes will give them some guidance on how the site should be used. Make sure the comments are nice and encouraging, and not just stating 'bad, because!'. Encourage users in the same go to improve their question.

Engage users by making edits. They don't have to be big edits, but they can show a certain goodwill and make an OP feel more welcome. This is about the seeing the obvious worth in improving a marginally bad question. Closing a question rarely prompts a user to improve it by editing. They're more likely to react to someone else's edit.

For examples, see:

  • Greeting a person that I don't know well, avoiding awkward situations and bad manners. This edit should actually have been done before the question was put on hold, but if it was made earlier it the community might well have seemed more inviting to the OP, the OP might have felt like they have an ally here. Also, most of the comments requesting details were made after that edit. As a community, we can really seem more helpful if we leave such comments when we close-vote.
  • Stopping a relationship with a good friend because It's too overwhelming and new for me Please note how, from the 2 choices mentioned in the comments, this edit just picks the one that's actually on-topic for IPS (even before the OP provided their input in a comment). If that's not good, an OP can revert/delete their question. Leave an edit message or comment explaining to the OP what you've done and why, and the community might seem more inviting and gain a new member. Added bonus: A question that might stay open instead of being closed as off-topic. (If it still lacks details, comment and close as too broad).

I am absolutely not suggesting to keep bad questions open. I am pleading for a more inviting community attitude towards those questions, an edit strategy like suggested here can have very positive influence on keeping a community engaged and providing better questions.

Also. Don't be afraid of HNQ. Many sites loathe the very idea of "HNQ fodder" and fear that these questions damage the reputation and quality of their sites. The truth is that it's a really good driver of traffic to the site in question. So, allow a few HNQ type questions to stay open.

Closing questions and slapping people with template castigations is easy.

Let's do the hard thing, lets help users solve the problems with their questions: Help them, guide them, be positive, be proactive.

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  • "Many users here don't have English as their first language or they're not great at clearly communicating their issues (hey, this is IPS after all - users here often have problems relating to people or situations)." Of course, questions are not being closed for the OPs to fix grammar or correct typos. There are enough users who voluntarily do that. If it goes beyond that, only the OP can edit the question - if details are missing, for us to make them up is certainly the wrong approach. Then it wouldn't be the OP's question any longer, but the respective editor's. – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Jan 23 '18 at 10:34
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    This has already been discussed before. – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Jan 23 '18 at 10:35
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    I have a somewhat different view. If the intent of the question is pretty clear, it should be edited and a comment left for the OP to ask whether the edit is in line with their intent. The OP then has the chance to support or reject the edit accordingly. Whatever outcome, the question has still moved forward. Not editing simply results in the question staying dead, which benefits exactly no one. – user1722 Jan 23 '18 at 10:50
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    @Snow, please take a close look at the 'problem' question I linked to in that meta Anne provided... (My answer is there too). That question was edited to be in line with the OP's intent, but their intent was to get a 'validate me' answer... We really don't go editing stuff when the intent isn't clear, or heavily dependent on interpretation. In such cases, it might be better to ask first in chat/or look at the comments to see whether there aren't people interpreting the intent otherwise I think... – Tinkeringbell Jan 23 '18 at 10:54
  • Then can you please explain what and how to edit such a question? E. g. guessing a culture tag, if it would benefit the question, make up a situation together with fictional dialogues etc.? And if the OP is available for approving/disapproving edits, they could simply edit their question themself, couldn't they? – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Jan 23 '18 at 10:55
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    There's a very fine line here between slapping your interpretation of an intent on a question (which can be bad enough as is, we've seen it fail before) or adding in missing details like Anne said. NEVER ever make up details out of thin air please... – Tinkeringbell Jan 23 '18 at 10:55
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    I think we're painting this issue with different shades of white. Take this example of where @TinkeringBell edited a previously closed and deleted question. It didn't take a lot of editing to turn this into a question that's within 2 votes of being reopened. This is about the seeing the obvious worth in improving a marginally bad question. Closing a question rarely prompts a user to improve it by editing. They're more likely to react to someone else's edit. – user1722 Jan 23 '18 at 11:52
  • @Snow, I agree with that. Although I prefer to have the last word, and want to point out that that edit (and the ensuing comments) was maybe better made before the question was put on hold, to get attention from the OP sooner (and not bump it into the reopening queue when there's clearly also some missing details left)... 3 reopen votes indicates an improvement, but it's also dangerously close to getting a question that still lacks detail reopened :/ – Tinkeringbell Jan 23 '18 at 12:00
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    For sure. Questions should be improved (where possible) as soon as possible, before adverse votes accrue. Granted, you might want to give the OP more than 30 seconds or so to spot/edit any mistakes. – user1722 Jan 23 '18 at 12:09
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    Leaving broad, unclear, or off topic questions intentionally open only leaves time for them to be answered poorly. This is not how the SE model works. Once answered, the OP has absolutely zero incentive to actually fix the question. You don't seem to accept that model, that doesn't mean it's wrong. Our first priority is quality, not being the site for all of the world's problems. We can not relax quality standards because they're "mean". If we do, this site is destined to fail. – Catija Jan 23 '18 at 13:55
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    I think it's important to close questions but I do think we could really help new users feel more welcomed here by helping them get their questions reopened. This might mean being more proactive in editing or making meta-discussions to help do so - since new users might not know how helpful meta can be. This also gets the same users engaged over here in meta, as well. – Jess K. Jan 23 '18 at 20:16
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    I agree with avoiding "authoritarian" comments. The closing system has much guidance built into it that aims to be fair but terse; there's no reason to duplicate that (badly) in rote commentary. Which to me suggests that if you can't improve on what the system is already saying, don't leave any comment at all - an awful lot of folks seem to comment because they can't resist saying something, even if it's unhelpful; saccharine nothings aren't making the site friendly either. If you have specific insight into how to improve the question, edit or comment... Else, vote and walk away. – Shog9 Jan 24 '18 at 1:31
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    People seeing closed questions with authoritarian looking comments doesn't do much to encourage the idea that this is a "good community" - it's a sign of heavy moderation. THIS – user1856 Jan 25 '18 at 13:00
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    This answer has 4 down votes. That says a lot. – user1856 Jan 25 '18 at 19:52

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