I'm getting more than a little tired of anything that can possibly be asked on some other site being marked as Off-Topic here. Since when is user account management off topic for SF?

This one, for example, may not be a great question by any measure, but I'd hardly consider user account management to be off-topic.

Another example, concerning a broken FTP service, has 2 Off-Topic close votes. And the comment suggestion was to go to AskUbuntu?

Simply because a question CAN be asked on another site is NOT a valid reason to close it as OT here and send them elsewhere.

Update 1:

This one is definitely on-topic for SF, yet got sent to StackOverflow. If it can be solved with Aptitude or a config file change, that's perfectly reasonable for ServerFault.

Monitoring is definitely On-Topic. As is Kerberos Administration. Both should've been closed as NC for Shopping, not merely Off-Topic as that gives the impression that ALL questions about those topics are not welcome here.

If we don't even bother to select the appropriate close reason when VTC'ing, how are the users going to learn?

Update 2:

And another one that's abusing 'Off-Topic'. And yet another. While perhaps not be terribly constructive on SF or well-written, we are the right place.

And how is troubleshooting an RSA Key Authentication deployment off-topic?

For me the first one is very poor NARQ almost, without knowing how people voted the OT could be because 2 people voted that and the others each voted for something different. The second I don't understand why or why the comment either. –  Iain Dec 22 '12 at 19:14
As relatively new person here I'm amazed at how many questions get closed that may admittedly need work but are valid questions to me. –  Dennis Kaarsemaker Dec 22 '12 at 19:19
But you were one of the five to vote to close the first question? –  Michael Hampton Dec 22 '12 at 19:29
I've said it before and I'll say it again: democracy simply doesn't work. –  HopelessN00b Dec 22 '12 at 22:00
Yes, close as NARQ. It is NOT off-topic. –  Magellan Dec 22 '12 at 22:40
@DennisKaarsemaker Many questions could be saved by editing or commenting, but those take more time than voting. –  Ward Dec 23 '12 at 2:48
In the case of the first Q you mentioned, I voted to migrate to Unix & Linux. –  EEAA Dec 23 '12 at 3:53
@EEAA Yeah, it's on-topic there, but certainly on-topic here as that's a sysadmin task. I think we're being WAY too aggressive about what's supposedly on-topic for SF, and we shouldn't be migrating questions elsewhere simply because they happen to be on-topic there too. –  Magellan Dec 23 '12 at 5:05
What's the point of having all of these seperate SEs if there is no real separation in the content? Some things are better asked on the appropriate SE group. We have overlapping Ubuntu, Superuser, StackOverflow, and Unix groups shouldn't ServerFault SE be looking at professional System Administration and networking questions and sending things applying to the other groups there? –  mdpc Dec 23 '12 at 6:12
As for the redirection comment to the askubuntu SE comment, the problem the question started with was that UNDER ubuntu and after adding X something stopped working...why is the ubuntu SE a less better place? –  mdpc Dec 23 '12 at 6:20
@DennisKaarsemaker The Powers That Be ("People not me") have decreed that "close votes are not supposed to be a death sentence" -- the cycle is supposed to be close, improve, reopen. Of course nothing stops you from fixing a question while it's still open, but if you see a closed question that would be OK with a little work and you have the time by all means edit it and vote to reopen. If you lack the rep to vote to reopen drop the question here, in chat, or flag it for attention after fixing it up. –  voretaq7 Dec 23 '12 at 7:13
I think we need to have an announcement similar to Gaming's "A Close Vote is not a Super-Downvote. Please don't use it as one" meta.gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/5498/… –  TheLQ Dec 27 '12 at 5:28
Could you dupe at overflow? I've been closed into submission and am too afraid to speak out. –  Gracchus Jan 3 '13 at 0:54
I was just about to open a meta question regarding this, as I'm getting tired of seeing an increasing number of over zealous 'Off Topic' close votes. For example this question is a perfectly good question for SF IMHO. I'd love to hear from the 5 users that voted to close this particular one. –  Bryan Jan 28 '13 at 20:40
You will note, that it has already been re-opened by folks who understand the nature of the question a little better. –  Magellan Jan 29 '13 at 0:41
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6 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

You have a lot of questions here, and most of them were closed for entirely different reasons. I suspect your real reason for asking is that you feel some people are closing questions as off topic too aggressively.

So let's take them in order and see what we get:

Apparently there is an issue with overuse of the off topic close reason. While these specific cases don't really give us a good idea of the scope and extent of the problem, it does seem to indicate that there is a problem. People would be well advised to take additional care when using their close votes, and to use their reopen votes whenever something is inappropriately closed (and should be open). It would also be a good idea to leave a comment when voting to close, especially for new users who may not know their way around Stack Exchange yet.

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I do agree that "Off Topic" is used frequently where "Not Constructive" may be a better choice (particularly for shopping questions), but I don't think your examples really make the case. Only two of them are strong candidates for "Not Constructive" closes.

You did however bring up what I consider to be a very important point:

If we don't even bother to select the appropriate close reason when VTC'ing, how are the users going to learn?

Close reasons shouldn't be the only instrument of education. When closing a question people should really be leaving comments explaining what's wrong, and how it could be corrected.
This is not mandatory (nor do I think it should be), but if you're casting the deciding vote and nobody else has explained what's wrong with the question it is very helpful to the mod staff and the person whose question was closed) if you explain the reason behind the closure.

Looking at your examples quickly:

+1 for the "Leave a comment when voting to close". Right now I see a lot of questions closed without a single bit of feedback. –  Dennis Kaarsemaker Dec 23 '12 at 9:21
@DennisKaarsemaker people aren't required to leave feedback and that's intentional, so while we can wish that people give feedback we can't require it. I suspect that people don't leave feedback when the asker hasn't apparently invested much effort into asking the question in the first place. –  RobM Dec 23 '12 at 14:34
FAQ reads to me like shopping questions are off topic (along with home settings, career advice, licensing, etc, etc.), so that's the VTC reason I pick for those categories, for whatever difference it makes. –  HopelessN00b Dec 23 '12 at 18:15
@HopelessN00b Shopping questions are unwanted because they're "Not Constructive," so that's the preferred close reason for those. –  Ward Dec 23 '12 at 18:56
In the vast majority of cases when questions are closed the only comment worth posting is "read the FAQ" but since the powers that be have decided we shouldn't do that I don't feel any need to leave a comment. On those occasions where I have left a comment I often get somebody arguing with me about it. –  John Gardeniers Dec 25 '12 at 23:00
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Since most of the questions quoted by you are "fixed" now, I would conclude that the part of the community which is reading the Meta agrees with you on the problem of excessive use of OT-close-votes.

As for the reasons, I would blame the review system. The "Close votes" part of it for example offers options to "Leave open", "Close" or "Skip" where the counterweight to a close vote is rather weak (i.e. the "Leave open" votes are not counted to neutralize close votes), so closing questions is just made too easy. Once closed, the questions typically disappear from the front page rather quickly and unless the original poster (or you) complain on meta, are not looked at any more.

Changes to the close vote and/or review system might mitigate this issue and suggestions have been discussed on meta.SO, even years ago, and changes seem to have been implemented as Shog9 states in his answer:

  • Voting against closing does not override anyone's close vote. However, a sufficient number of "Do Not Close" responses (currently 3) will kick the question out of the review queue and start aging the close votes - regardless of how many views the question has had.

I suppose we should simply make more use of this feature and see how it is working out. Other than that, Shog9 has a non-technical suggestion of dealing with the problem, although I would doubt its efficacy:

  • If you see a question being closed that shouldn't be, leave a comment expressing your rationale. Make it constructive - "I like this question, therefore it should stay, close-voters are stupid" accomplishes little.

And of course the reference to the moderator activity which I would argue against - moderators should not step in for every simple disagreement on whether to close or not to close / migrate a question:

  • If you see a good, on-topic question in danger of being migrated, flag it - a moderator can always step in to prevent the migration.
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You need to learn to read the questions properly, as well as the FAQ. What you have overlooked in your examples is context. It is the context of the question more than the subject material that determines if it's on topic. Here are my interpretations of your examples:

  1. There is nothing in the question to suggest that it's being asked within the context of a system being administered by an IT professional and could just as easily be about a workstation. It's therefore far more appropriate for the Unix site.

  2. Borderline. The question again has no context. It could just as easily be referring to someone's workstation, trying to set it up to allow his/her friends to FTP (we get that a lot).

  3. I agree with you on that one.

  4. A clear-cut shopping question, which is always off topic.

  5. Another shopping question.

  6. Same as the first two examples - a much better fit for the Unix site.

  7. Should not have been closed.

I'll repeat, you need to read both the questions and the FAQ much more carefully.

I think the right close reason for shopping is Not Constructive - the close text for it makes a lot more sense on a shopping question than the Off Topic close text. –  Shane Madden Dec 24 '12 at 22:26
As shopping questions are explicitly off topic it makes sense to me to vote them as such, regardless of the text accompanying the reason. Either way, they get closed, which is the key point being discussed here. –  John Gardeniers Dec 24 '12 at 22:53
I don't think it is.. Adrain's not disagreeing that shopping questions should be closed, he's saying that Off Topic is the wrong close reason to use for them. - "Both should've been closed as NC for Shopping, not merely Off-Topic as that gives the impression that ALL questions about those topics are not welcome here." –  Shane Madden Dec 24 '12 at 22:55
That very issue merely highlights what I said about his need to read more carefully. If people misinterpret the votes then it merely highlights the fact that they have not properly acquainted themselves with how the site works. –  John Gardeniers Dec 24 '12 at 22:59
So workstations aren't on-topic here, eh? "Server and Business Workstation operating systems, hardware, software and virtualization" notwithstanding, clearly. Maybe you need to read the FAQ as well. –  Magellan Dec 24 '12 at 23:18
Now read the rest. Once again, you're completely ignoring context. You really do have a problem with that. –  John Gardeniers Dec 25 '12 at 1:50
@ShaneMadden I usually VTC shopping questions as OT with a comment that shopping questions are off topic. That seems to address both criteria, and seems fine to me. –  RobM Dec 25 '12 at 12:41
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I have to tell you. I am active on and off on StackOverflow. I have spent days documenting issues, posting a relevant question and then providing an answer. This helps everyone.

Then I tried to use ServerFault. My first experience was with a question that was migrated from SO to SF. It was closed immediately. It seems that there's some kind of a rift between SO and SF. That's the sense I get at least. Dumb.

After another couple of attempts I have just given up. I'm done with ServerFault.

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After seeing this question in Meta, I've started watching the votes to close in /review and have come to the following conclusion -

The bar for "Information Technology Professionals" is being set too high for new members of the site, and "newbie" questions are being closed instead of answered. That's certainly not a great way to welcome people to the community or the profession.

For example, here's a question by someone who is clearly inexperienced, and the question is poorly written due to that, but it is certainly not off-topic for ServerFault: SQL Server 2000 export database to csv

At this time, the question has 4 off-topic close votes, but no comments.

It's also the same case with this question: MS small business server 2003 with exchange 2003 routing issues

How do we fix this?

  1. Require a comment for any votes to close, similar to what voretaq7 mentioned, except duplicates (which already require a question URL). This would likely mean fewer close votes and more down votes, which is for the best in my opinion. It also helps new members by explaining why their question was inappropriate instead of just seeing the default message.
  2. Update the Off-topic VTC text to be more inclusive and less vague as to what is meant by professional administration. The FAQ could also be updated in such a manner.
I'm pretty sure your concerns have been previously addressed, some of them in comments to other answers in this question. Especially the bit about mandatory comments. And if you were active around 7-8 months ago, we tried a better FAQ and it got shot down by Corporate. –  Magellan Jan 2 '13 at 21:29
It's worth noting that your first example hasn't just been closed, it has been migrated to a much more appropriate site. Perhaps if you had checked the close reasons already cast you might not have made such an incorrect assumption. Your second example has just a single close vote and I'd personally be surprised if it gets the other 4 required to close it. I really think you've had a poorly timed knee-jerk reaction. I suggest you pay more attention to your examples in future. –  John Gardeniers Jan 3 '13 at 9:25
Making people comment has been discussed many times and the answer is always that it's not going to happen. The first question probably has a better home on dba.SE though it may get closed as a dupe there the latter should be on topic here though it's not great. Regarding the bar, like IT, Server, Professional it's difficult to define some days I think it's way too low and some days it's just about right. I really would like to see more, better quality questions than we get now and I wish I knew how to attract them. –  Iain Jan 3 '13 at 12:51
@doug I have been one of the people who voted the first of those questions for migration. I have also written the only answer to this question so far (which was already there before I voted for migration) and do not think it has been unwelcoming in any way. The reason why the question attracted more migration votes quickly is the current review system - I think we need some more time to work out whether it is a good thing in its current condition. –  syneticon-dj Jan 3 '13 at 16:10
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