I just wanted to point out that GIS forum has an exceptional amount of [closed] and [on hold] questions.

Most of these questions are perfectly fine and it is not certain why several users keep nagging askers to elaborate more and more.

What happens is that good questions miss the opportunity to be answered, users go back to ESRI's forum and those who do stay make their questions so long that no one wants to read it.

  • 1
    would you care to point to some examples?
    – Ian Turton Mod
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 18:59
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    There are also 17,175 unanswered questions gis.stackexchange.com/unanswered due to lack of feedback to improve the question (and/or answers)
    – Mapperz Mod
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 19:07
  • @iant Example: How to get polygon boundaries of City in JSON from google maps api?. Clearly the asker wants boundaries of a city, can't see what's not clear Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 19:09
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    @Mapperz reducing the amount of questions by putting them on hold is not the solution Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 19:11
  • Another example: gis.stackexchange.com/questions/178593/…. Two answers, what are people answering if it's not clear?? Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 19:14
  • Another example: gis.stackexchange.com/questions/183274/… someone else is commenting 'not sure why it's closed' Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 19:16
  • Based on the number of questions/traffic per day the percentage of 'on hold' questions is small, we try to do A Theory of Moderation blog.stackoverflow.com/2009/05/a-theory-of-moderation it takes more time to moderate than answer questions.
    – Mapperz Mod
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 19:18
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    thanks for the stats. Why do you consider 10% to be a small number? What is the ratio for the past three months? Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 19:28
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    How to get polygon boundaries of City in JSON from google maps api?- was closed as duplicate on stackexchange.com but can't close for that over here. It was a really bad question indiscriminately cross posted
    – Ian Turton Mod
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 19:28
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    because I can't close it as a duplicate on this site, and we don't have a 'crap question' reason, feel free to vote for reopen if you disagree
    – Ian Turton Mod
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 19:31
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    I totally understand where you're coming from but you should add a comment in this case, point to the duplication. not indicating that it is to be on hold for the wrong reason Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 19:33
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    Just some facts: During the last three months, we have received on average approximately 60 questions per day, of which 10 have been closed per day: about 17% During the same period four years ago the averages were 15 and 0.5, respectively, or one-quarter the present rate of closure. I do have access to information on other sites and have noticed, for instance, that bad questions have been increasing rapidly during the last couple of years: this is not just a GIS phenomenon.
    – whuber
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 19:43
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    I would agree with you that that question seems to be on topic. It does, however, appear not to reflect any research and likely has been answered before: see gis.stackexchange.com/…. I therefore interpret the comments to that question as requests to either distinguish this question from the others on the same topic or to provide sufficient information to enable us to point to a definite duplicate thread.
    – whuber
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 20:14
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    This is where the SE model departs from the usual Q&A site. It's easy to fall into the trap of supposing our primary purpose is to answer any and all questions. It is not. There is a tension between wanting to help people directly by answering their questions and the objectives of creating a body of high-quality reference material. That tension is resolved by insisting that the questions themselves be unambiguous and distinct from others. Therefore, we don't provide conditional answers (which is what you might mean by "reservation"): the question has to be adequate before it can be answered.
    – whuber
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 20:19
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    That's a good point. In this case I would look hard at the search for duplicates and quite likely would find a duplicate and close the question as a duplicate. Bad English is ok, too, provided it can be understood. The problem with most bad English is that it leads to ambiguities and misunderstandings. That's a problematic situation, because future readers might not even be aware that they could have a different understanding of the question and of the answers--and therefore might take away incorrect information. This is why clarity in the formulation of a question is essential.
    – whuber
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 20:29

3 Answers 3


I suspect that I may be one of those "several users [who] keep nagging askers to elaborate" and so I will respond by writing why question (and answer) quality is important to me.

I think the way GIS SE and other Stack Exchanges work, and work so well, is because they are not forums, certainly not discussion forums. They are Q&A sites that offer focussed Q&A. This is very different to some other Q&A sites where providing any answer to any question is encouraged, or at least tolerated.

My understanding, and remember that I am but one of its 151,000 users, all of who can help curate its content, is that we seek to provide clear answers to clear GIS questions within the scope broadly defined in our Help Center. I note that you have not yet taken the 2-minute Tour that would have helped to inform you of this.

There will always be grey areas where some of our users think a particular question should be closed and others do not. We are fortunate to already have 338 users who have been engaged with the site for long enough, and intensively enough, to earn the cast close and re-open votes privilege which means the decision for a question to be placed and remain on hold (pending improvement) and later closed (if not) is not left to just one or a few people.

The questions which we want to stay open are those which will have benefit to many more people than just their original asker. We want people finding our Q&As through searches to be able to quickly understand what is being asked, so that they can decide whether it is the same as what they might otherwise have to ask and wait for an answer on. Assuming that there is a similarly clear answer then they just have to read it and get back to what they are doing.

I do not enjoy seeing questions closed, but I certainly enjoy seeing questions improved to a standard where they can be answered equally clearly. I think the process of closing them, to give their askers the chance to improve them, is best done soon after they are asked, because that is when askers are most likely to be watching their question and are available to be able to provide the necessary clarifications.

I think the quote below from We're working on a new stat to help convey the reach of your posts here sums up why we focus on the content/quality of the Q&As rather than simply on providing answers.

You gotta get this to get us.

... One thing that drew me in long before I worked here was the idea that my effort here would help more people than it ever could buried in some forum. Now, it's fine if you personally find it just as fulfilling to help one person as it is to help a thousand. Or perhaps your motivation is the challenge in solving an especially hard problem... That's awesome too.

But whether or not the number of people who benefit from a post speaks to you personally, it's valuable for everyone to understand that the engine is designed to make content as reusable as possible, because it informs so much of how our system works...

See, once you realize that it's not just about the one asker, or the four voters, but rather the fifteen thousand searchers with the same problem... Well, suddenly, a whole ton of things that seem prickly and self-important, like editing out "Thanks in advance!" aren't about being "a bunch of power-happy pedants," they're about helping all the people who will ever have that problem to find the best answers. And find 'em instant-like.

Today (13 Jan 2017) the numbers and percentages of closed questions during 2016 were released for all Stack Exchange sites at 2016: a year in closing. GIS was the site with the 43rd highest percentage of closures out of 162 sites. This is high, but far from exceptionally so, especially considering that during 2016 we closed many old unanswered and poorly framed questions as part of a push for Improving on 19,000 unanswered questions?

If we try to eliminate that cleanup effort by using @Shog9's second set of stats in that Q&A which only looks at questions asked in 2016 and closed in 2016 then we see that GIS has the 63rd highest percentage of closures out of 163 sites, which places it much closer to the average of all SE sites.

That large number of unanswered questions says to me that we are probably placing too few questions On Hold. The On Hold status is often much more effective, and less consuming of volunteered resources, than copious comments to remind askers that getting an answer is rarely an "ask and forget" activity; often it is only the back and forth between askers and potential answerers that distills initial questions into something that is clear enough to be answered.

Today (19 Jan 2021) the numbers and percentages of closed questions during 2020 were released for all Stack Exchange sites at 2020: a year in closing. GIS was the site with the 15th highest number of questions asked and the 71st highest percentage of closures out of 175 sites.

Newer users may be confused by the distinction between On Hold and Closed questions in earlier years. Nowadays the two categories are considered as one and the On Hold status is no longer used. The only difference between Closed and On Hold was that a Closed question was classed as On Hold for the the first 5 days of its "closure" to try and convey that a Closed status is meant to be temporary and easily removed after a question is improved.

  • I upvoted this to bring support to your answer. I imagine one of the closures that spawned this question was this question here: gis.stackexchange.com/questions/55119/… I've started a separate discussion over the merits of that question here: meta.gis.stackexchange.com/questions/4183/…
    – Conor
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 1:51
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    @Conor I suspect it may have been spawned more by the closed questions on this list gis.stackexchange.com/users/63815/…
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 1:57
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    Thanks for writing this @PolyGeo - I would have said something very similar if I had more time and energy to spare. It is probably worth pointing out that the community moderators (those of us with a diamond after our names) are volunteers giving up our free time to manage the quality of this site.
    – Ian Turton Mod
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 7:53
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    @iant No problem - it gave a great opportunity to quote "You gotta get this to get us" - I think getting that, and realizing that at least 190 (probably many more) GIS SE users have volunteered and continue to volunteer a lot of their time, is the key to new users starting to understand the elegant simplicity of how Stack Exchange works to the benefit of millions.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 8:12
  • Publishing personal information, like "you have not taken the tour" is one of many moderator behaviors that make this site unwelcoming to many users.
    – dbaston
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 15:20
  • @dbaston you raise a good point. My understanding is that all users are expected to take the Tour and the badge for doing this is indicated on their public profile. I'll take a sounding on whether it is considered reasonable to mention it not having been taken in comments.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 20:24
  • @dbaston I no longer intend to expect experienced users to have taken the Tour, I'll assume they know it and refer to relevant parts of the help center instead.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 12:53
  • @PolyGeo seems like a good move. Curious, do you have stats on how many "on hold" questions are improved and reopened, vs how many are abandoned?
    – dbaston
    Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 18:58
  • There might be something in the SEDE but I suspect many are abandoned. That's fine because if they are not important enough for their asker to try and improve then we don't want the responsibility for that improvement to fall on our volunteers who have no shortage of unanswered questions (17,500) to work on.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 19:23

I too wonder if I am one of the 'nagging' ones...but really, I feel that the more information that the community has, the easier it is to provide a helpful answer to the asker. I didn't click on all of the questions referenced above, but the ones that I did, I didn't feel that I had enough information to spend the time formulating a response for. I have a limited amount of time a day that I can spend answering questions--I want that time to be spent answering questions that I know that I have the answer for, or at least a work around. If something is vague enough that I don't really know what is being asked, then I probe for more information, because by the time I am able to come back maybe the question has been edited with code or error information or something that has been tried and didn't work and the reason that way didn't work.

I feel that questions that don't have a lot of information in them end up becoming a back & forth process where the asker gets frustrated and the answerer gets frustrated and there is no benefit for anyone. As it has been pointed out above, we are all volunteers who do this for our own reasons--I have found SE to, by far, be the best community to find answers to questions. One of the reasons behind this is because I don't have to search through bad questions and bad answers to try to find what I need. It's also full of great people who are actually interested in helping others out. Because of how much I use SE in my daily life, and how helpful it has been, I give up a little of my time each week to make sure that I do my part to provide answers...but if I cannot understand what a question is asking, I cannot provide an answer, hence, why many of the above referenced questions are closed.


Just to add to what has been said: a reason why I am reluctant to vote for closing questions is that closing prevents others from posting answers. A question might get closed very fast, but it often takes more time to be re-opened. A recent case I observed: Calculating buffer distance for different groups of parallel lines in QGIS.

The question was closed shortly after it was posted. To be very clear: the question did have its weaknesses. However, I wanted to post an answer and another user outlined his own solution in the comments. The question was finally re-opened and now, there are no less than three answers, presenting different approaches.

So in this particular case, the users with answers waited the question to be re-opened and than answered it. In other cases however, I'm afraid that potential answers will be lost. Closed questions quickly get out of sight and don't attract the same level of attention when they are re-opened. And you don't prepare an answer, waiting for it to be re-opened - what might happen, or not.

So closing is always a balance of pushing the OP to improve the question (+) and blocking potential answers (-) that could be interesting to the whole community. I also read several times questions I would have closed at a first glance since to me, it seemed that it lacked clarity. However, I was surprised to see some rather good answers appearing that were accepted (thus met the expectations of the OP) and voted up (thus were considered useful by the community). So to others, the question seemed to be clearer than it was in my impression.

So I consider that sometimes it's not the worst idea to be (more) reluctant when closing questions.

  • Whenever experienced users flag for a moderator to re-open a question stating that they have prepared an answer that re-opening usually happens instantly. The backup to that not happening is to ask a question about that particular question at Meta GIS SE to learn why a question has been closed and not yet re-opened. I would hope that those with the close/re-open privilege are willing to explain their vote.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 22:57

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