To sum up a lot of the threads and comments on Meta.SF: We're doooomed!

That seems to be the consensus. Look at some of the answers and comments in Why the major FAQ/help change? and Can we do anything to change the dynamic of the site?. On top of that a handful of long term, high reputation frequent users have stopped using the site.

I think RobM's comment (if he doesn't mind be quoting him) really sums up the general feeling among the content-creators here:

...this site is getting less and less useful for the people who contribute to the site day by day.

Unfortunately, I have to agree with him.

It doesn't look like we're ever going to get the 'IT Professional' scope changed to be more exclusive (thus explicitly making ServerFault for Operations folks and not just SO's tech support site), and it looks like the new Help Page just pushes us further away from that. We're not going to keep good content here and the creators of that content by Voting to Close and a narrower scope (although that would really, really help). So what do we do?

We need to vote more. Everybody*

The only way good content will ever float to top is people actually vote it up. If you've taken the time to read a question or answer then you've taken enough time to make a decision on how to vote. I mean, look at my own attempts to generate good content - it's not like it's the best question in the world but next time I'll save myself the hour or so of carefully laying out my whole troubleshooting process (complete with logs) and just open a break/fix with Microsoft. It's hard not to be disappointed by the community's reception sometimes.

Remember voting does three really important things:

  • It helps the good content float to top and the bad content sink to the bottom
  • It serves as a mechanism to tell the poster that the community values their work
  • Is an arguably clever psychological ploy to get people to participate

I can't emphasize the second point enough. Voting (either up or down) signals that the community values someone's input or at the very least is reading it and paying attention. The lack of voting, at least in my opinion, sends a very clear message that no really cares anymore. I really hope that is truly not the case.

"All that is necessary for the triumph of crap content is that good ServerFault-ers do nothing."

or but a little more succinctly:

Stop Whining. Start Voting.

(*except for Ward)

  • 4
    I would just like to say, I was the first one to upvote this post. How meta.
    – Wesley
    Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 2:17
  • 12
    We seem to vote to close a lot, but not up or down. Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 2:20
  • 6
    @FalconMomot Speak for yourself, buddy! Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 5:08
  • 4
    I really should vote to close this as a dup... meta.serverfault.com/questions/3706/… Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 5:09
  • 6
    So, you want us to do a lot of extremely boring and ultimately useless busywork because the SE staff is unable and/or unwilling to do it's job (yes, keeping the site usable and attractive is their job, and they fail miserably)? Sorry, I pass.
    – Sven
    Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 10:18
  • I won't deny it, I switched to using rss feeds to track a few choice tags (dns, PAM, etc.) and speed up identification of content I care to invest time in. Unfortunately, people of my ilk contribute to the problem that Ward describes in his answer.
    – Andrew B
    Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 15:25
  • 3
    Even though I know we are supposed to upvote for questions that are formatted well and thoughtfully laid out, I tend to only upvote questions based on "This question appeals to my interests". I also don't normally open a lot of questions just to vote...the questions I open to even look at (or possibly) answer again fall into "interesting" to me. Hopefully there's enough varying interests here on SF that people don't have to read over questions that have no appeal to them simply to make an informed vote.
    – TheCleaner
    Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 15:58
  • How do you mean 'vote'? can anyone explain?
    – Chopper3
    Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 16:09
  • 2
    A conundrum I often run into is that a question is legitimate, not a duplicate, and probably deserves an answer...but the amount of legwork they've done sucks. Doesn't deserve an upvote, probably doesn't deserve being downvoted into oblivion and ignored, and I'm too lazy to improve it.
    – Andrew B
    Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 2:48
  • 1
    I think this post is a symptom of a community that has become too wrapped up in itself. People come here to solve problems, not for your entertainment. Every question isn't going to be interesting, a boring question still deserves an answer.
    – JamesRyan
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 10:45
  • 4
    @JamesRyan - If people who are generating good content no longer participate because they are tired of sorting through what the community has defined as poor content there won't be any good or relevant answers to find. See RobM's comments in my original post. The issue at stake is how do we keep the content-providers here but grow the site and its audience at the same time?
    – user62491
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 17:06
  • 1
    Don't lose sight of the fact that 'people who are generating good content' actually consists of 2 groups with different priorities. As a questioner if my boring/slightly off topic question gets dismissed or hounded then I am likely to take my good questions away too.
    – JamesRyan
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 9:52
  • 1
    Good content is what solves people's problems, not what keeps answerers interested. If you don't want to deal with the mundane then narrowing scope isn't a great way to deal with that, providing steps to help people help themselves or automatically providing or redirecting to common answers would be better.
    – JamesRyan
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 9:59
  • 6
    I stopped using SF because there is some pretty bad poison in the community. Some grumpy people around these parts makes it not worth it to visit this site.
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 16, 2013 at 13:16
  • 6
    Actually, you know what really drives me nuts? Continually seeing Meta posts with 10x the votes than actual content will ever receive. (Not to dismiss the importance of Meta.) Commented Aug 9, 2013 at 14:30

8 Answers 8


Here's a simple way to use voting to clean up some crap:

  1. In the search box, enter: votes:0 answers:0
  2. Click the "Newest" tab and scroll down until you're looking at questions that are at least a day old
  3. Click on one that looks bad (based on the excerpt), read it.
  4. If it really is bad, vote it down.

After 30 days, questions with no answers and negative scores are automatically deleted.

The "official" meta post with the auto-deletion rules was recently updated: https://meta.stackexchange.com/a/92006/130540

And after reading the recently-added section of that meta.SO post, really bad questions could be cleaned up even faster:

  1. In the search box, enter: closed:yes votes:0 answers:0
  2. Click the "Newest" tab
  3. Click on one that looks bad (based on the excerpt), read it.
  4. If it really is bad, vote it down.

After 9 days, closed questions with no upvoted answers are automatically deleted.


I've been searching for

closed:yes answers:0 score:0 migrated:no

for a while and downvoting the questions I think are crappy (most of the results). Note that score:0 matches only score=0.

The auto-delete runs early Sat morning, so last night I checked:

closed:yes answers:0 score:-1 migrated:no

And got 1493 results. (Note that score:-1 matches score>=-1, but there aren't too many closed q's with no answer and upvotes.) This morning, there are only 1284 results, so 200 crappy questions have gone away!

As far as I can see, duplicates with no answers and -1 or less get deleted the same as other close reasons. (Unless they were merged.)

  • It's a shame stack2rss doesn't have a votes parameter, else I'd make a filter for this.
    – Andrew B
    Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 15:20
  • 7
    Step 3.5. Add a comment telling the user what's wrong with their question!
    – Soviero
    Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 15:41
  • 5
    @Kevin ...if the user invested effort or you're feeling nice. Avoid burnout. It's a factor in our careers, and it's a factor in keeping SF useful.
    – Andrew B
    Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 15:49
  • 4
    @KevinSoviero: The vast majority of the time the tooltip when you float your mose over the DV is sufficient.
    – user9517
    Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 21:14
  • @AndrewB: It would if the API offered a votes parameter :) Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 7:24
  • Voted +1 helpful :-)
    – aseq
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 20:18

Before going through old stuff looking for things to vote on, I strongly suggest keeping an eye on the front page in order to help keep it clean.

This is how I approach voting and I (of course) highly recommend it.

  • Upvote questions which are clear and well-written and should, in your opinion, have more eyeballs on them.
  • If you answer a question, it almost certainly deserves a vote. In rare cases, this might even be a downvote.
  • For questions which are poorly written, unclear, off-topic, etc., edit first when you can. Simple editing can often turn a -5 pile of crap into a great +20 question.
  • If someone else edits a post, remove your downvote if it's sufficiently improved.
  • Downvote a question if it can't be saved by editing, except if it should be migrated to another site. In this case there's no need to waste your downvote.
  • Flag anything that needs immediate attention, such as spam, profanity-laced racist screeds, gibberish, etc.

I would participate more but, I have trouble because I don't have enough rep...

Currently, I can only do 2.5 things:

  • Ask Questions
  • Provide Answers
  • comment on stuff I've written myself or on answers to my own questions.

I've had several instances that I've had something constructive to say that I cannot use the proper facility for simply because I have not used the site for very long. Whereas other people that have used the site for longer and have written something outright wrong but I can do nothing about it because I don't have enough rep yet.

The current rep model is almost exclusively an indication of amount of participation, and not quality of participation. Why are privileges so heavily tied to reputation? For example, the ability to vote down on things, if vote up requires 15, why does vote down require 125.

Can anyone thing of another way to help reduce spam on a system that does not require so much reputation to participate on?

  • 1
    This limits on the low end of the spectrum are in place to prevent trolls (and disgruntled old timers with sock puppet accounts) from wreaking havoc with downvotes and disruptive comments. You need 50 rep to comment everywhere, that's not hard to get at all and you are almost there.
    – Sven
    Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 7:09
  • 6
    The problem with the rep barriers are on the high end, as everything is scaled around the activity of Stack Overflow, which is ~30 times higher than on Server Fault and even more so on smaller sites, making it quite hard to reach those limits on most sites.
    – Sven
    Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 7:18

Don't close questions so fast. In my short time on these sites I've already found a few times that a new question asked today has been closed in-between when I clicked on it and when I've answered it.

This is very frustrating, as answering questions is one of the few things I can do to increase my rep on the site to actually allow me access to some of the more useful features. I realise that some questions are not worded very well but that is what the vote down button is for isn't it? Site cleanup should wait at least 1 day before closing a question unless it is outright abusing the site. Since it takes multiple people to close a question I see this as too many people are not paying attention to step 2 in Ward's instructions on voting to close questions. Also @Ward's second part, I can't post an answer to a closed question, can higher rep people post answerers to closed questions? if not how can a closed question that was closed too fast hope to have up voted answers...?

I am continually frustrated by how this site works. The only reason I am persisting is that the general idea sounds like it is better than a forum style site.

  • 6
    When we feel that a question is OT, we close it as fast as possible, to keep the site clean (and prevent answers that might stop the eventual auto-delete). Try to get a feel for what is OT and use it to not answer questions that are likely go get closed fast. If you happen to know more answers for things better asked on Super User as an example, maybe that's a better site for you to participate.
    – Sven
    Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 8:08
  • If you see a question that really shouldn't have been closed, flag it for mod attention (in really obvious cases only) or bring it up on meta or in chat. Also, if a question is edited after being closed, the question will end up in a review queue where people can decide if it's so much better to warrant reopening it.
    – Sven
    Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 8:14
  • The problem is that people asking questions often don't know what they are talking about, and they don't phrase their question very well. It takes someone who knows the answer to what they really mean to word the question properly. This site has the ability for people answering the question to propose changes to the question. Fixing badly worded but valid questions will lead to better content. PS. I've joined a bunch of stackexchange websites, including superuser.com Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 22:37
  • 6
    By all means, if you see a poorly worded question, edit it first. Any user can propose an edit, and either the original poster, or two other community members, can approve or reject the edit. Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 3:15
  • 3
    @BeowulfNode42: If people don't know what they're talking about why are they in charge of a companies IT ?
    – user9517
    Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 7:05
  • very good question, but that does not prevent them being in charge of some poor company's IT. The reason why is because they know more than the HR recruitment person, which still may not be much. I remember providing support to some poor sys admin guy in the middle of a disaster recovery problem to teach him how to burn an .iso file to disc properly. Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 3:50
  • 3
    but that does not prevent them being in charge of some poor company's IT. -- true, and equally the cure for being inexperienced and out of their depth is not to have us pander to their inabilities, either. Closing/Holding a seriously flawed question until it's fixed and then reopening it is the right way to deal with those questions.
    – Rob Moir
    Commented Jul 16, 2013 at 14:07

This is in response to some of the comments on the question...

(And it's a second answer because it's got nothing to do with my other one.)

To me, voting is easy, just follow the tool-tips you get when you hover over the up/down arrows:

  • If you think an answer is correct or is otherwise useful, vote it up. If you're not sure, ignore it, and if it's wrong or bad, vote it down.
  • If you think a question is useful, or interesting, and shows appropriate effort (i.e. not show me teh codez!) and is understandable, vote it up. If you're not sure, ignore it, and if it's "bad" vote it down.

You don't have to agonize over it, you don't even need to think about it very much: read the question, give a bit of thought to, "is this good or bad?" and vote accordingly.

If enough people are doing this, the results will average out: if I think it's bad and a couple others think it's bad (each of us using our own definition), then it'll come out with a ive score. If a few people think it's good, it'll come out +ive.

I've said it before - it's Great! if someone edits a boderline question or asks in a comment to clarify what the OP is getting at, but there's no obligation to do so. I don't do it very often because it takes more time than a quick vote and you don't know if it's going to pay off: if your edit will save the question or if your comment will elicit more details.


I think the problem is we made our scope too narrow. Why does the NetworkEngineering stack exchange exist? We should have asked for that content to be here.

  • meta.serverfault.com/questions/5449/…
    – Sven
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 13:57
  • Also, meta.networkengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/51 has a lot more discussion.
    – Chris S
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 15:41
  • Actually, in the last podcast NE was being spun as a spinoff from SF - make of that what you will.
    – user9517
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 15:45
  • And another thing - our scope is immense out $targetAudience is tiny though.
    – user9517
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 15:57
  • @Iain Link? (filler)
    – Chris S
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 20:11
  • @ChrisS: soundcloud.com/stack-exchange/stack-exchange-podcast-48 about 49:30 'it's a subset of SF and a spin off ...'
    – user9517
    Commented Jul 19, 2013 at 6:37
  • 2
    It seems like network engineering permits much more broad (design) questions, which is great. Sadly, it would never work for ServerFault, being as broad as it is. Imagine the flood of "help me design my VPS web service to host millions of users"
    – pauska
    Commented Jul 19, 2013 at 11:09
  • I have to agree. I used to use ServerFault, and now I'm not sure if I should post my iptables question on UNIX/Linux or Ubuntu or ServerFault or IT Security or NetworkEngineering... So I just don't. Commented Jul 19, 2013 at 18:23

SF may be doomed just because the message that sent may be wrong, making users less inclined to provide help/answers to others.

While you can all see that I do have quite a good experience on SO site, I could say the opposite abouyt SF.

Why?...because many people with moderation permission around here are some kind of bullies that are inclined to find reasons for considering new questions off-topic instead of using their brains for trying to provide help/userfull feedback.

It is much easier to Flag than to provide a solution... that take time and efforth.

I hope I'm wrong and it was just bad luck, still my impression is that most SF veterans are bulling lower score users, something that you will not find on stackoverflow.

  • 7
    All of the moderators on Server Fault are quite intelligent. At least the mods refrain from publicly insulting people they don't know. We almost always provide feedback, and it's almost always ignored. Trying to goad people into providing answers with "prove me wrong" is childish. Provide a question that make people want to answer and you'll find plenty of people willing to step up. Server Fault is not "Helpdesk for the Internet", which is apparently what you treat it as. It is for and by Administrative IT Pros.
    – Chris S
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 15:46
  • I was not questioning the intelligence, only the approaches. Over the last 2-3 years I got lots of close votes or comment complaining about off-topic. This happened only on SF, not on the other sites.
    – sorin
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 16:14
  • Regarding feedback: in 2/3 cases I observed closing votes in less than 2 hours from the original posting. In most cases a questions could be updated to better fit the recomandations. Still, if you close the question before allowing the author to update the question, you will end-up frustrating a user and giving a less than desired overall experience.
    – sorin
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 16:19
  • I am just wondering why this happened to me only on SE and not on the other sites. While on the other sites, where most people were kind to provide answers or even partial insigh when they didn't have an answer, here I oversered more some kind of agressive policing practice.
    – sorin
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 16:19
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    @SorinSbarnea - with regards to your question which got closed. You have to understand - the target users of SF are the very people who are responsible for implementing and maintaining the exact restrictions you were trying to circumvent. Even if you have a business need for that, it's still inappropriate to circumvent policy, and you won't be getting any help from us in doing so.
    – EEAA
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 16:40
  • @EEAA Nobody said that this would be agains any policy. Passing a Firewall is not a crime, unless there a policy that forbids you from doing this. Firewall are in place for different reasons, not to block everyone but usually specific usages and especially to assure security breaches. While you can expect that using something la TeamViewer by a normal user could be dangereus (as could provide a new point of entrance for someone), you cannot say the same about people that do need to use it for providing support for others from outside (outgoing access).
    – sorin
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 17:27
  • 4
    @SorinSbarnea - No one said this was a crime. There are firewall restrictions in place that prohibit the traffic. By definition, it's against policy. Again, request a firewall rule exemption if you have a business case for this. Then you don't need to worry about getting around the firewall rules.
    – EEAA
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 18:02
  • 3
    I don't know how "instead of using their brains" can be anything but questioning intelligence. Over the last 2-3 year you've asked a lot of borderline off-topic Questions, so getting many close votes and complaints seems appropriate. SF has a limited audience, most SE sites do not. Also, this is SF, we're part of SE, but you really can't use those acronyms interchangeable. We like to close Questions that are off-topic quickly, 2 hours seems rather slow to me.
    – Chris S
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 20:07
  • 5
    "In most cases a questions could be updated to better fit the recomandations" - the author rarely does. Anyone can edit a closed/on-hold question, and flag to have it re-opened. I have left thousands of comments stating that. I have received less than a dozen flags though. If the author isn't willing to put minimal effort into making their question acceptable: 1. they will likely never contribute to the community as a whole (either in asking good question or giving good answers). 2. expecting people to put more effort the solution than the OP did the Question is unfair to our contributors.
    – Chris S
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 20:10
  • Calling the opps of Server Fault bullies is like calling the sky blue. Commented Sep 9, 2013 at 3:44

I've long been of a strong proponent of compulsory voting. I really think that may very well be the best solution to this problem.

So what should happen? If this site had even minor amount of foreplanning, this is how it would look: one of the answers gets chosen at random from the pool of available answers, the rest of the answers should be blurred out á la ExpertsExchange.com. It works for them reasonably well. However, rather than requiring monetary payment, you should have to vote on the answer that you have been presented. That should be your payment for the answer. Then another answer could be chosen at random and presented to the user. This process can be repeated until the user finds an answer that works for them, or until they've exhausted all of the answers.

This formula yields a best case scenario of all of the answers being voted upon, and a worse-case scenario of N-1 answers voted on.

Brazil does the same for neo-liberal politicians. Every year a handful of politicians are presented to the population, and they have to vote on one of them before they can express dissatisfaction in time to vote on the next politician. The system seems to work for them.

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