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We've got lots of existing meta posts about how many bad questions there are and how much of a problem they are (or aren't) - that's not what this question is about.

I wanted to collect in one post some techniques for finding bad questions and dealing with them and it should come as no surprise that by "dealing with them" I mean to downvote the bad ones.

The automatic delete rules are our friend here: questions with no answers and negative scores (or 0, or even +1 in some situations) will be automatically deleted if they meet certain criteria. I'll be posting some of the searches I do to find bad questions and anyone else who has ideas can do the same.

Here are the automatic deletion rules:

9 Days

If a question was closed more than 9 days ago, and ...

  • was not closed as a duplicate
  • has a score of 0 or less
  • is not locked
  • has no answers with a score > 0
  • has no accepted answer
  • has no pending reopen votes
  • has not been edited in the past 9 days

... it will be automatically deleted. This check is run every day. (at 0300 UTC)

30 Days

If a question (open or closed) is more than 30 days old, and ...

  • has −1 or lower score
  • has no answers*
  • is not locked

...or if it was closed and migrated to a different site...

... it will be automatically deleted. This check is run every week. (0300 UTC on Saturday, to be precise.)

*NOTE: In most SE contexts, "no answers" means "no answers with a score > 0" i.e. no upvoted answers. But there are comments on Reference #2 that imply this auto-delete scenario only applies to question with no answers whatsoever.

1 Year

If a question (open or closed) is more than 365 days old, and ...

  • has a score of 0 or a score of 1 with a deleted owner
  • has no answers
  • is not locked
  • has a viewcount <= the age of the question in days times 1.5
  • has 1 or 0 comments

... it will be automatically deleted. This check is also run once a week.

References:

  1. The official FAQ post on meta.SE about how deleting works. The first answers includes the rules for automatic deletion, and links to more detailed explanations given in the next reference.

  2. The post on meta.SE that most clearly states when "bad" posts are automatically deleted. This includes a new rule for automatic deletion that was added in June 2013.

  3. Since the automatic delete rules mention locked questions, here's the official FAQ post on those.

  4. Duplicates

My post on meta.SE asking if the auto-delete rules apply to questions closed as duplicates is the closest thing there is to an official answer. And the answer is: Duplicates do vanish, so the auto-delete rules apparently apply.

This isn't official since there's nothing posted by SE employees, but it explains what the observed behaviour is: the same autodelete rules apply to questions closed as duplicates. There's a link to Shog9's answer to another question that implies that crappy duplicates deserve to be deleted.

  • 2
    You shouldn't be hunting for questions and actively trying to get them deleted. The criteria are there so that bad questions are removed naturally. By gaming the system you are breaking how it was intended to work. – JamesRyan Aug 20 '13 at 9:58
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    I disagree wholeheartedly. The system for deleting questions automatically isn't good enough. Otherwise, there'd be no need for moderators, and anarchy would take hold. – Tom O'Connor Aug 20 '13 at 11:03
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    And you shouldn't be adding tags that don't belong. Thats meddling. – Journeyman Geek Aug 20 '13 at 11:04
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    The amount of complaining about where SF is heading and yet noone leading it there is ready to stop and listen. :( – JamesRyan Aug 20 '13 at 11:14
  • @TomO'Connor the internet is anarchy, it didn't do too badly. Moderation shouldn't be fighting where the users of the site are taking it, it needs to be allowed to evolve or it will become redundant. – JamesRyan Aug 20 '13 at 11:31
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    The internet is f---ed. – Tom O'Connor Aug 20 '13 at 14:09
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    This isn't gaming or breaking anything, this is simply reminding people that there are a few things they can do to deal with questions they think are bad. – Ward Aug 20 '13 at 15:10
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The fastest way to get rid of bad questions is to close them and make sure they have a downvote. Here are some ideas for searching for bad questions...

#1 - Closed questions with no answers and no upvotes

In this previous post, I suggested searching for:

closed:1 migrated:0 answers:0 score:0

(Note that score:0 matches only posts with score=0, whereas score:anything_else matches score>=anything_else)

On 3 August 2013, there were ~1300 results from this search, but apparently multiple people got in on the cleanup and there are now (18 Aug) only 77 results, most of them merged duplicates which will never be deleted (merged questions are another type of "locked," so they'll always fail that test.)

And if you look at the results of:

closed:1 migrated:0 answers:0 score:-1...-1

(If you just use score:-1, you get all the questions with score >= -1. The syntax shown limits it to only -1)

You'll see that once you go 30 days back, there are very, very few -1 questions left. Yay! All sorts of bad questions gone.

#2 - Closed questions with no answers and one upvote

This next one isn't as dramatic, search for closed but upvoted questions:

closed:1 migrated:0 answers:0 score:1

Since score:1 means score>=1 this matches a few questions with multiple upvotes, but most of them are only +1.  (As of 19 Aug 2013, this search gives ~370 results, and ~300 of them are at +1.)

The questions that this search turns up that are +1 are a mixed bag - when I go through the list, I see some that are ok, but many others I think are bad. If they get downvoted to 0 and they're a year old, they'll get auto-deleted. If they get downvoted to -1, they'll get deleted once they're a month old.

#3 - Questions (open or closed) with no answers and no upvotes

(This is newly added in Sep 2014... I'm not sure how I missed it when I first posted.)

answers:0 score:0 locked:0

There are tons of these and many of them are crappy. If so, give them a downvote so they're at -1 and they'll get taken care of on the next Saturday cleanup. I usually sort the search results by date and look through the oldest ones first. I find it's easier to spot old crappy questions.

When I added this idea on 9 Sep 2014, this search gave ~8800 results, now on 12 Sep it's down to 8400, so yay!

Today, I thought of a complementary search:

answers:0 score:1 locked:0

Lots of the questions with just 1 vote are also crappy, so if one person votes those down to 0, they'll show up when someone else does the earlier search for votes:0

  • This is particularly good serverfault.com/… lts of old unloved and probably outdated stuff to get rid of. – user9517 supports GoFundMonica Sep 10 '14 at 21:54
  • Sweet, there are 100 fewer results now than there were last night! – Ward Sep 10 '14 at 21:57
  • I put it on the comms room star wall. – user9517 supports GoFundMonica Sep 10 '14 at 21:58
  • This one is working well for me now: closed:1 answers:0 locked:0 votes:1...1 – Ward Sep 20 '14 at 6:05
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    Because questions marked as duplicates don't seem to be captured by the cleaning fairies, you may wish to try: answers:0 score:0 locked:0 duplicate:no. Not returning duplicates knocked some 60 questions off the 0/0/0 list. – HopelessN00b Oct 13 '14 at 19:26
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    These are very helpful. However, I suggest adding duplicate:0 to all of these search terms. Questions that are closed as a duplicate don't do a great deal of harm and aren't worth trying to delete, so this helps you focus your effort on the other bad questions. – D.W. Feb 11 '15 at 6:18
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Inspired by @Iain, I'm cutting back on close vote reviewing for a while to try to close some questions. Here are a couple ideas for searching specifically for stuff that deserves* closing:

answers:0 votes:-22...-2 closed:0

This returns open questions with no answers and multiple downvotes, lots of them are crappy and deserve closing.

answers:0 votes:-1...-1 closed:0

This only returns open questions with no answers and exactly one (net) downvote. Some of these are bad enough to be worth closing, others are borderline. If you go back to the oldest ones, most of them aren't going to get any attention, so it's probably worth closing the borderline ones. (and letting the auto-delete faeries get them)

*Deserves: use your own judgement, this isn't a call for pile-on closing, just to prune the ones that are clearly crap.

  • Ooh seach has ranges, I like this one which is all open, unanswered, 0 or lower votes from Jan 2009 to Aug 2013 answers:0 votes:-22...0 closed:0 answers:0 locked:0 created:2009-01..2013-08-31 – user9517 supports GoFundMonica Sep 18 '14 at 16:03
  • The query above currently return 2667 questions that the cleaning faeries failed to delete for one reason or another (mostly the number of comments). My view, anything unanswered and >12 months old isn't really useful now. – user9517 supports GoFundMonica Sep 18 '14 at 16:08
  • @Iain I tend to agree, but there's a Q from 2011 that shows up in the first search I've got in this answer, and the guy who posted it commented when it got some downvotes: serverfault.com/questions/250514/… – Ward Sep 18 '14 at 16:48
  • I think it's probably ok to leave open an old unloved Q if it's a decent Q and still at least somewhat relevant. But the crappy ones should get nuked. – Ward Sep 18 '14 at 16:50
  • If something is that critical and we can't solve it in 3 (years|months|weeks) then the OP should really be looking to the manufacturer for support. – user9517 supports GoFundMonica Sep 18 '14 at 16:58
  • The size of the close vote review queue indicates that we mostly agree on this, and so do at least a couple other people. We just need some more close-vote faeries to do their part before the auto-delete faeries come along. – Ward Sep 18 '14 at 17:07
  • The link above is stuff the in house auto delete faeries are leaving for one reason or another. The review queueueueues I never go near due to #audits. It seems like fewer and fewer people are bothering too. – user9517 supports GoFundMonica Sep 18 '14 at 17:10
  • Yeah, I was surprised at how many of the old unloved Qs tell me "You've already voted to close this" But apparently not enough people reviewed or otherwise saw those Qs so my vote aged away. – Ward Sep 18 '14 at 17:20

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