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After some recent discussion in chat, it came up that we have been closing questions as "Too Localized" because they no longer apply to the game they are about, even though they were good questions when they were asked. Some examples:

I can't find any that are not about Minecraft, but that is probably because it is the best example for obsolescence in a widely played game.

Joel's answer on MSO says

"Too localized" should be used for very tiny geographic regions or vanishingly small periods of time. It is used when a question cannot possibly be answered because nobody participating in the site is likely to know the answer, and even if it were answered, nobody else would care.

These questions do not fit any of those criteria. They were questions that were generally useful and were completely answerable. The first example question was at +19 with a +23 answer and 3K views, so quite a few people found it helpful. It was also open for over a year, so it was not limited to a small period of time.

Joel also gives a more specific example that is relevant to this situation:

A question that only applies to a certain build of software. For example, a developer discussing a bug that only occurs in a certain version of the .NET framework. Sure, that version is going to be replaced with another version, which might fix the bug, but we're still going to answer it!

I would say that the right policy here is, instead of closing the question, update the answer or add a new answer, even if that answer just says

This is no longer an issue as of update X due to Y. The thing the question asked about now works like Z.

and also update the accepted answer to say something like "This information is out of date as of update X. See the new answer for more current information"

This would help keep all information about some particular problem in one place, as we prefer, and it is a more correct solution.

  • But, when a question does become obsolete, the accepted answer generally becomes obsolete. Having an indication for new users that this question and it's answers no longer apply is a useful feature, IMO. "Too localized" may not be the proper wording for such, but I'm not sure if there's a better option. – KOVIKO Aug 21 '12 at 15:04
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    Then the solution could be to edit into the top of the answer something like "This answer is obsolete as of update X. See other answer for more up to date information". – murgatroid99 Aug 21 '12 at 15:05
  • I see no value in keeping the last three questions open. – user9983 Aug 21 '12 at 17:21
  • To quote fredley: "Someone might be running a very old version of Minecraft (due to compatibility with mods, or to preserve a certain world, etc.)". And there is no value in closing them either – murgatroid99 Aug 21 '12 at 17:22
  • Why do we need a new thread for this? Isn't the old one still relevant? – Oak Aug 21 '12 at 18:29
  • @Oak I didn't see that. And by that same argument, why didn't we just go by the upvoted answers in this older question? – murgatroid99 Aug 21 '12 at 18:49
  • @murgatroid99 indeed! – Oak Aug 21 '12 at 19:07
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    I would just like to add this non-Minecraft question I came across earlier. It has not yet been closed, even though other questions about old updates are closed. How ever it is decided to go about this meta question, I would like it to have the same verdict for all "old version questions". – hammythepig Aug 21 '12 at 21:07
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Updating the answer to bring it up to date with the current release is the correct course of action. Someone might be running a very old version of Minecraft (due to compatibility with mods, or to preserve a certain world, etc.), and we shouldn't be closing these questions. You wouldn't close a question about an older version of Python on SO.

Where possible, update the question to reference the version at time of asking (this can be deduced from the posting date), and update the answer to reference the latest version, or to mention when the behaviour was changed.

The same applies to other games where behaviour changes with newer versions/patches.

Personally, I don't understand the motivation for closing in the first place. Closure is not a final state, but a kind of purgatory before deletion. Deletion is definitely wrong - all the rep earned by people posting good answers that just happen to be out of date would be lost for a start.

If these posts are attracting spam, then just protect them. Closing achieves nothing.

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    Who should update the answer? Is this the responsibility of the answerer or of people that would flag it as obsolete? – KOVIKO Aug 21 '12 at 15:16
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    Anyone passing by. It is not the asker or answerer's responsibility, it is the community's. – fredley Aug 21 '12 at 15:19
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    Maybe I am too greedy, but there isn't much reward for updating somebody else's answer, and I think having a reward system is a pointless if we are expected to make non-rewarding contributions. – KOVIKO Aug 22 '12 at 0:34
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    Eh, you do realize that reps earned on deleted posts that have met a certain criteria are no longer removed (as mentioned in Mark's answer)? Do you have any good reason other than the rep argument for keeping totally obsolete information around? – Private Pansy Aug 23 '12 at 10:12
  • Who cares about the version number of something you can't play anymore? (e.g. DIablo 3; World of Warcraft; every game on Steam ever) – badp Aug 23 '12 at 15:22
  • @Koviko brings up a very relvant point, and rep is just one aspect of it. Personally, I say "do good things" even if you don't always get rep for it. If rep is important to you, then do things that get you rep - but to some of us it's not the main reason we're here. However, there is also the possessiveness issue. The community seems to frown on even good will attempts to make a question less localized. – EBongo Aug 30 '12 at 2:41
  • ... and I say this being fully in support of @fredley 's answer. – EBongo Aug 30 '12 at 2:42
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Stack Exchange isn't the Roach Motel: problems (and their solutions) can become obsolete. If they don't serve a purpose anymore, we shouldn't keep them around: we don't make the internet a better place by keeping stale and obsolete information around as a honeypot for googlers.

But I think there's a difference to be made between questions that are still applicable that have obsolete answers and questions that are just no longer applicable at all.1

These questions, I think, fall into the former category:

The questions still make sense (even if they now happen to be a little trivial or obscure) and can be updated with the latest information about the mechanic.2

On the other hand, "How short can a minecart booster be and still be effective?", and the recently deleted "How do I set up a minecart booster?", are no longer applicable to Minecraft. It was an exploitation of a bug in the game that no Minecraft variant has anymore. People who still have problems with boosters are running versions of Minecraft—a game that updates itself—that are over a year old. It's a contrived, extremely localized problem whose correct solution is "update the game".

However, putting aside what we might consider relevant or what we might think users would find useful in the future, we have some ability to determine whether a question is still useful by looking at voting activity as displayed on the question's timeline (for non-deleted questions) and anonymous post feedback.

Looking at the timeline for all four non-deleted questions:

We can't see the timeline for deleted questions, but "How do I set up a minecart booster?" is on page two of our most overrated questions based on anonymous feedback.

Looking at this data, it seems OrigamiRobot is right and the only one that's still useful is "Will monsters spawn on trees?". Not surprisingly, it's the only one that's managed to get reopened since this discussion started.

Somewhat of an aside, but Fredly mentioned the following:

Personally, I don't understand the motivation for closing in the first place. Closure is not a final state, but a kind of purgatory before deletion. Deletion is definitely wrong - all the rep earned by people posting good answers that just happen to be out of date would be lost for a start.

I agree that closing a question is not meant to be its final state, but deletion is one of the appropriate endgames for questions that have no value to the site anymore. Rep loss isn't a problem: if the question's been around for 60 days and the posts affected have a 3 score or higher, deletion does not reset the reputation on the post.

Note 1: I'm ignoring the Sanctum question that was just added namely because it's still open but also because I don't know enough about the game to say it's one or the other.

Note 2: The closure of the question about mob spawning on trees is just crazy: it still applies, but it was closed as too localized. The question demonstrating it still applied was closed as a duplicate of the too localized one, and the too localized one had a giant banner pointing people to the dupe.

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    I don't see the problem with leaving the minecart booster question and just saying "This information only applies to certain versions of Minecraft". If someone finds it from Google they will either find out how to make a booster if for some reason they have an old version of Minecraft, or they will find out why they can't make a booster if they don't. More generally, I don't see why we wouldn't want to leave questions that were useful in the past and have even a small chance of being useful to someone in the future. – murgatroid99 Aug 21 '12 at 19:27
  • @murgatroid99 I'm all for reopening some of the Minecraft questions that were incorrectly classified as too localized, and for keeping questions that apply to a small audience, but "I want to play Minecraft, but before boosters came out" is a contrived situation that fits Joel's "too localized" to a tee. Nobody is going to be doing it because you have to try to find a copy of Minecraft from over a year ago (no small feat, since it's against the EULA to redistribute the game binaries) and the game's culture is based on its constant development: the answer to the question now is "who cares?" – user3389 Aug 21 '12 at 19:38
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    The way I see it is this: the booster question is on topic and constructive. When it was asked, it was a perfectly good question for the site. As such, I see no gain from deleting it. It's not like a question that doesn't belong here at all—which would make it a bad precedent if left alone—and it's not actively hurting anything. On the other hand, if we leave it then either nobody cares, in which case nobody ever sees it again, or somebody cares and they benefit from it. So why destroy the information if we have it? – murgatroid99 Aug 21 '12 at 19:54
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    @murgatroid99 "on topic" and "constructive" aren't the only two thresholds questions have to meet: they also have to be generally applicable to others and not be vague or incomplete. What we gain by removing contrived and no-longer realistically applicable questions is people's limited time: the questions stop showing up in related Google searches, stop showing up in sidebars, stop showing up in lists, etc. I really think you're overestimating the applicability of the booster question: it's dead information that just gets in the way and doesn't help anyone. – user3389 Aug 21 '12 at 20:10
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    OK. I'm not completely sure where I stand on stuff like this, but I would say that if we do end up closing some obsolete questions, we should only do so if we are completely sure that nobody else will ever have that question again. As a side note, I don't really get why you keep saying "contrived"; it was a perfectly fine question that helped a lot of people for the lifetime of whatever Minecraft version it worked on. – murgatroid99 Aug 21 '12 at 20:33
  • @murgatroid99 I don't think it was a contrived question when boosters were a thing in Minecraft, but the bug that enabled their use was fixed a long time ago: you have to jump through a lot of hoops (downgrade to Minecraft from a year ago with no legal archive site) and ignore the obvious solution (update the game and use powered rails) to benefit from a question about how booster carts function, and I think we'd be hard pressed to find anyone who is in that situation. – user3389 Aug 21 '12 at 20:45
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    @murgatroid99 As a mod, I can say that those old outdated questions are prime candidates for 1-rep users to come in and post saying "This is no longer true". "Too Localized" is the best choice for a closure (to prevent this accidental revival) short of a new "historical" close type. – Raven Dreamer Aug 21 '12 at 22:38
  • @RavenDreamer There is the "historical" lock option, but that's somewhat of a nuclear option. – user3389 Aug 21 '12 at 22:43
  • @MarkTrapp Right. Locking is not a viable option for these things. – Raven Dreamer Aug 21 '12 at 23:10
  • @RavenDreamer To be fair, someone saying "this is no longer true" is specifically what Murgatroid99 was proposing. By that measure, 1 rep user behavior would fit what he intends. – Sterno Aug 22 '12 at 0:22
  • Or perhaps something more like "This is no longer true. Here's how it works now" – murgatroid99 Aug 22 '12 at 0:27
  • That's where my qualm lies. We are assuming that someone will handle the situation. You are proposing that either we take a significant action, or no action at all. If we see that something is outdated and we don't feel like updating it ourselves, it stays that way indefinitely. Flagging is an easy action. Updating old data is not. – KOVIKO Aug 22 '12 at 0:31
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    @Sterno I think you misunderstand; the closings don't happen to prevent that, they happen in response to it. Most times, mods are unaware of outdated content until they show up in the flag list. – Raven Dreamer Aug 22 '12 at 0:52
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    I 100% agree with the monster spawning question being reopened. I should never have been closed. The double door and waking up questions apply just as little as the boosters question and should remain closed. – user9983 Aug 22 '12 at 2:36
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    Because the data available on SE says otherwise: there's been no voting activity on the shortest booster question since November of last year, and the how to set up a booster question is one of our most overrated questions based on anonymous feedback. The data we have suggest these questions are not helping anyone, so if you can demonstrate otherwise, that changes things. – user3389 Aug 22 '12 at 8:00
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After reading these answers, I have realized from this that there are two categories of questions that I kind of conflated.

The first is questions about situations or entire mechanics that can never be encountered again due to updates (such as the minecraft booster question). It would be OK to close, delete, or do whatever to these questions because they will never again help someone who is visiting.

The second is questions with premises that are no longer valid due to an update but are still real questions about the current game or can be edited to be. For example, knowing whether monsters spawn on trees is useful in modern Minecraft, even if the original research/answers are invalid.

I also think that questions like the strawberry fish question about things that did not work previously, but now do work, belong in the second category. Trying to shoot the strawberry fish is still an actual problem people would face in the game, even if it is for a different reason now.

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Yes, sometimes it is possible to salvage the question or the answers by editing to keep them up to date; then it's what we should do. There's no question about it.

However, when that fails, I strongly do oppose writing "meta-answers" like you suggest: "This issue no longer applies to this version" really is not an answer. If people are googling for that issue then they are the virtual nobodies who are stuck on a older version and still need help with the removed/significantly altered version; that answer does really not apply to them. (You could make an argument that such an answer would be useful for games that do not update themselves, but such games become less and less common.)

I also strongly oppose leaving the questions unmarked at all. Finally, if you really do think "closed" is not a final state for a question (which is not always true: consider exact duplicates) then it follows the question should be deleted, not reopened. I think deletion is unnecessary.

In short, I argue that while closing too localized is not the right course of action, it's the next closest thing with the Stack Exchange engine we have right here and now.

If you really do want to tie questions to a specific version of the game — fine; it does make sense for some games such as Dwarf Fortress. We are rather ill-equipped for the task, but it is doable (please do mention the version number in the question title, though!); this can do wonders for games like Dwarf Fortress where the latest version is not the one virtually everybody plays. Then though the answers also need to not be updated. Also we need to not close questions as duplicate between different versions (what if that game mechanic didn't change in between?). Finally, it might be harder for us to answer the question (do you have Minecraft alpha 1.5.0.2 installed somewhere?).

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I may have tipped the balance in this issue by voting to close this question, it's a problem that no longer exists in the game at all. I think it should be closed for these reasons:

  • no one can possibly run an older version of Diablo 3 due to the online nature
  • the question is asking about a basic function that is easily understood
  • no one is likely to need the work around described in the future
  • the problem was patched out of existence
  • no amount of question editing or answer editing can add anything other than "fixed in 1.04"

I don't mind if people disagree, but the solution of expanding the question title to "fixed in 1.04" seems to underline my point that the question is obsolete.

Sorry Nico, nothing personal, sorry to folks with upvotes on answers to the question, the work around was useful in 1.03. It's a matter of clearing out clutter to me, but everyone feel free to disagree.

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    It seems to me that "Can I filter legendary or set items by stats in the Auction House?" is still a valid question, even if the answer is now something like "Yes, using the controls located at whatever position on whatever UI element". Just because the original issue that prompted the question no longer exists, it does not mean that the entire question is useless. – murgatroid99 Aug 22 '12 at 16:42
  • I agree with murgatroid: it can easily be reframed into a question that's still applicable, if a bit trivial, to post-1.0.4. To me, it isn't the same as, say, asking: "Why can't I search for more than 3 affixes?" or something else that's based on an obsolete premise. – user3389 Aug 22 '12 at 17:05
  • However, if there is already a question about filtering normal items, the legendary version is now a dupe. I don't know if such a question exists. – user9983 Aug 22 '12 at 17:10
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    If Mark's rolled back edit is restored, then it makes sense to me that it live on as a (now) trivial question... which in essence is "how do I use the auction house filters" – Tharius Aug 22 '12 at 21:38

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