I have seen quite a lot of questions (this (1 vote) and this (2 votes) for example) being closed as "off-topic because it seemingly went away" - is this the right thing to do for any questions?

More worryingly is this (1 vote) one, which is 2 days old and was voted to close for this reason...

I'm just a bit worried that people are closing to improve answered rate?


I very much agree that this one is more worrying, so I'll talk about that first.

When a problem goes away and nobody knows enough about why that an answer would likely help anybody else, voting to close as off-topic with the "a problem that can't be reproduced" sub-reason is appropriate.

Often, when the OP solves their own problem, people vote to close as "a problem that can't be reproduced." That's wrong. When the solution might help others with the same problem, the question should be answered.

In the case of that answer, the OP's self-answer actually says specifically what to do to solve the problem. This might help others with the same or a similar problem. That question should not be closed as off-topic.

There's a secondary way "a problem that can't be reproduced" gets used, and that is to close old abandoned questions.

This is not bad or wrong, but I do think we should take steps to verify there's good reason to think they're really abandoned.

For this question, the OP's profile indicates they likely haven't visited the site in the last ten months. There's an answer posted but it's not clear whether or not it really answers the question that's been asked, in that it recommends something the OP said they already tried.

So that one looks good to me.

In this one, the OP was using Ubuntu 12.10, which was a supported release at the time the question was posted.

But there's been very little activity on the question since, and no answers. (Actually there is one deleted answer, but it's a me-too post and not a real answer, which is why it was deleted.)

In this case, the OP visited the site earlier this month, about twenty days ago. In such a case it's very appropriate to leave a comment asking the OP if they're still looking for a solution.

Is there such a comment there? Essentially yes--Seth commented, saying:

12.10 is now EOL (end of life). Please upgrade to a supported Ubuntu release (like 14.04) and report back. Thanks.

(It looks like the first four close voters voted to close without commenting to ask the OP if they were still looking for a solution. If that's true--I'm not 100% sure it is because I can't view exact close vote times, nor deleted comments--then that is far from ideal.)

Questions about end-of-life releases that are asked when the releases are still supported are generally on-topic, but what about when there are no answers? Basically nobody wants to go nuking answered questions for being about old releases. But do we consider questions off-topic as EoL just when they're new? Or anytime they're unanswered (in the sense of not having any answers that are accepted, have positive score, or otherwise appear valuable)?

I believe this is a gray area. Or, to put it more precisely: I believe this is an area of ambiguity that requires good judgment, and if we exercise good judgment, we may be better off having it ambiguous than having a set-in-stone policy one way or the other.

I think that in this case, in the end, proper good judgment has been applied. This is an old question with little activity and meaningful work on the problem within our site's scope would probably require upgrading or installing a supported Ubuntu release first. A comment was left, and the question can be reopened if the OP wants to keep working on the problem.

If there's nothing wrong with a question besides that it looks abandoned, and the OP is still visiting the site, we should comment and wait (a few days) for the OP to respond before voting to close. But in this case, there are additional reasons for us to want to close the question. So I think it was okay.

  • No, there were no comments when I closed either of those questions. I added a comment to the second because the OP had been seen recently and you should always add a comment (if you can) when closing a question as anything other than duplicate (I would have added a comment to the other one too, but really had to run, at the time). This factor is the most worrying to me, that people aren't adding comments. New users can't be expected to read and/or understand every nuance of our policies. Close voters: Add comments! – Seth Aug 31 '14 at 22:45
  • It is also worth noting that in the second example (first closed Q) the answerer posted an answer very similar to the answer he linked at the end on an (essentially) duplicate question. Even if the answer had answered the OP's question, it would probably still have deserved closing as a duplicate. – Seth Aug 31 '14 at 22:47
  • 1
    I use this close reason whenever the OP clearly states what solved his problems, but I can't even shadow what is the connection from the content of the question to the solution. (kind of a unclear what you are asking, but for questions where OP problem was solved), but in general I agree, people should comment when using that close reason. – Braiam Aug 31 '14 at 23:51

Regarding the the third linked question, I saw that and very nearly voted to close it as "a problem that went away ..." That question/answer is no better than:

Q: I have a problem.
A: Try restarting.
C: That fixed it, thanks!

A developer would have closed that as "could not reproduce" in a flash.

I didn't, because OP had posted an answer and maybe, just maybe, someone else might find that ritual useful.

  • Yeah, I also wonder whether to close cases like that or not... – Tim Sep 1 '14 at 17:03
  • 1
    The OP's solution there wasn't something trivial like restarting, or anything most users would think to do. Manually adding a new Ethernet connection is neither ordinarily necessary nor is it a common step taken to fix problems. That answer provides non-obvious information about how to fix the problem and may help others with the same problem. – Eliah Kagan Sep 1 '14 at 21:02
  • @EliahKagan most rituals are non trivial. – muru Sep 2 '14 at 0:34

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