# What's our consensus on people resurrecting old questions just to edit formatting?

I think the title says it all. Personally, as someone who uses the "newest questions" as the front page, I'm not keen on people tweaking questions or answers that seem to have outlived active interest.

Added 2013-07-08: I see we are now getting nit-picking corrections of English. Well, more defensible than mere reformatting, I guess, but in my view often just as misguided.

• I generally agree, and even more so given the context of MathOverflow. But this is going to be difficult to explain to the SE-outsiders. Not once I ran into difficulties with visiting users on MSE. – Asaf Karagila Jun 26 '13 at 7:14
• It would be nice to have a "No Bump" button, because sometimes things nag at you until you have to fix them. – Fred Kline Jun 26 '13 at 7:36
• But if you use the "newest questions" as the front page then you don't see all these bumps, do you? (I switched to "newest questions" a long time ago just to avoid this.) – Loop Space Jun 26 '13 at 9:34
• @AndrewStacey hmm, didn't know that. Clearly I've been using the wrong thing and giving it the wrong name – Yemon Choi Jun 26 '13 at 9:50
• With the review queue currently so full, there may be a lot of bumped questions as a side-effect. Hopefully this will become less of a problem once the queues are cleared. – András Salamon Jun 26 '13 at 11:47
• Yemon, could you explain more what the problem is with old questions being bumped to the front page? Is it really so troublesome? It would seem beneficial to correct both English and mathematics, if the posts are really improved. – Joel David Hamkins Jul 9 '13 at 11:23
• FWIW: I've been doing some editing in response to meta.mathoverflow.net/questions/374/… – Willie Wong Jul 9 '13 at 12:01
• @JoelDavidHamkins that's a very reasonable request; I've found myself a bit too busy this week to collect and edit my thoughts, but I just wanted to acknowledge your comment – Yemon Choi Jul 10 '13 at 23:16
• @FredKline: There is a very strong reason why the "No Bump" button does not exist. If it did, it would be extremely easy for a rogue user to vandalize many of the very old posts on the site by editing and turning them into garbage. Currently this is not possible, as other users will see that activity. Preventing valuable questions and answers from being vandalized is the reason why StackExchange will never implement a "No Bump" button. – Eric Naslund Jul 16 '13 at 22:28

I think we should make sure all questions and answers display correctly, even if old.

[Edit: By this, I mean, necessary changes, that add clarity, should be welcome. Adding spaces, correcting trivial typos, and the like, should not be the focus: They clutter the front page, and at least currently, seem to be happening simply as a means by low reputation users to gain reputation. This seems to be an abuse of the system and I think they should be discouraged. End edit.]

Hopefully the questions here are and will be useful well beyond the few days when they were on the front page. (Isn't this lasting usefulness part of the point of the site?)

Editing in moderation should be fine.

• I always wanted a "silent edit" function where you can edit a post without unnecessarily bumping the thread to the frontpage. I don't mind other users' correcting posts, but it kind of makes me a little uncomfortable when I correct my own minor grammatical errors, typos, latex formatting and whatnot. – Yuichiro Fujiwara Jun 26 '13 at 7:47
• There is correct, and then there is nitpicking that is best left for articles and formal work. Sometimes I am tempted to retaliate by changing all the blackboard bolds to actual bolds, with Bourbaki and others on my side... – Yemon Choi Jun 26 '13 at 8:49
• Sure, Yemon, we are all expecting to be reasonable. – Andrés E. Caicedo Jun 26 '13 at 14:19
• Could you give an example of edits of the type mentioned in OP that you consider as reasonable and some that you would not consider as reasonable anymore. I think this is important, else everybody agrees that everybody should only do reasonable edits except that there are different (and valid!) notions of reasonable in this context. To make the request specific, is tweaking the size of delimiters reasonable or not for MO, in your opinion? – user9072 Jun 27 '13 at 18:07
• @quid In most circumstances, tweaking the size of delimiters is not a good idea if it will bump the post up to where it will annoy others. I would, however, make an exception for formulas that have so many nested parentheses, all of the same shape and size, that they can be parsed only by a pushdown automaton (or a person consciously simulating such an automaton); in such a case, go ahead and tweak. (Or perhaps correcting such a mess would not be called "tweaking"?) – Andreas Blass Jul 6 '13 at 23:47
• @AndreasBlass: thank you for the detailed reply. The specific situation that motivated my comment was not nested or anything. IIRC, it was one set of delimiters and also admittedly misused greater/less were replace for rangle/langle in addition (but rather independently). [But it was not me who wanted to make the edit, I wanted only to know how this is seen relative to the consensus established here.] Personally, I agree with you, but my poll-answer shows that there is no clear consensus for this view. – user9072 Jul 7 '13 at 0:01
• I'll say that many of the edits I see happening are either very minor and I consider them unnecessary and intrusive, or are radical and inappropriate. (Fortunately, we also have appropriate edits happening as well.) – Andrés E. Caicedo Jul 8 '13 at 22:23
• (And @quid, I just saw your comment, somehow I missed the first time 'round, the notification system does not wait until you actually reads the comments before it disappears.) – Andrés E. Caicedo Jul 8 '13 at 22:24
• To be clear, the ridiculousness we are currently seeing in the front page, where at least 6 rather old and dormant questions are there simply because of minor edits by the same person, is not reasonable, and I would encourage this behavior to be avoided. – Andrés E. Caicedo Jul 9 '13 at 0:41
• Andres, this is the kind of thing I was afraid of... – Yemon Choi Jul 9 '13 at 0:46
• Yes, I was naive. – Andrés E. Caicedo Jul 9 '13 at 0:47
• Andres, I voted up this answer because I agreed that we should strive to make sure all posts appear correctly, even if old. But it seems (from your edit here and your edit rollbacks on main) that you now backtrack from this? If so, it seems that the interpretation of votes here becomes muddled, because some now take this answer to oppose spelling corrections and minor edits; but I had understood it originally to tolerate them. If you've changed your mind, could I ask that you roll back your edit here and make a separate answer specifically opposed to spelling corrections and minor edits? – Joel David Hamkins Jul 11 '13 at 14:32
• Hi Joel! I am not opposed to minor edits or spelling corrections, I do that myself every now and then, and they of course improve the site overall. I am opposed to seeing twenty of them at the same time, so they cover the front page, in posts whose clarity is not really improved by these changes, which is what we saw a couple of days ago. (This is the "we are all expecting to be reasonable" I mentioned days ago. If one edits reasonably, nobody will be annoyed as a result, and everything gets better.) – Andrés E. Caicedo Jul 11 '13 at 16:04
• Interesting general kind of discussion. On a wiki "page churn" is considered good, and its absence a sign the site is becoming dormant. On a newsgroup, the convention is pretty much opposite. I'm a wiki person, would see "minor edits" as a plus. – Charles Matthews Jul 16 '13 at 10:55

Here's an idea for a new feature; depending on what people say here I can post it as a feature-request either here or at https://meta.stackoverflow.com/.

A "minor edit" checkbox, along with the parenthetical text "minor edits must be reviewed by another user, but do not bump the post on the list of active questions".

It would then do what it says. Since we already have the review mechanism deployed, it seems like it might be quite easy to achieve technically.

• This has been proposed again and again, and declined. – Manishearth Jun 26 '13 at 15:40
• However, using the review mechanism is a new idea :) You may wish to propose this variant on MSO then. – Manishearth Jun 26 '13 at 15:41
• Maybe also enable "minor edit" only past a certain reputation level, where we can be reasonably sure the editing user knows what he or she is doing. (Say 2000, which is where the ability to edit other's posts kicks in.) – David E Speyer Jun 26 '13 at 15:51
• Having proposed minor edits show up in a review queue without bumping would be nice. – François G. Dorais Jun 26 '13 at 15:54
• I've made a feature-request. Please go vote it up! :-) – Scott Morrison Jun 26 '13 at 16:35

I think all editting should be fine (it improves the database of questions and answers), but editting should not automatically lead to the question being bumped. Maybe the question should only be bumped if the person doing the editting explicitly clicks on a "bump" button, or something.

• Well, since editing DOES lead to the question being bumped, how would you answer the question actually asked? – Gerald Edgar Jun 26 '13 at 14:45
• There are good reasons why edits bump the question, and I am not sure those do not apply to MO, even if they do apply to a lesser extend than on other SE sites. – Tobias Kildetoft Jun 26 '13 at 20:39
• If editing did not bump the posts, then it would be easy to vandalize posts. – Andy Putman Jun 26 '13 at 21:31
• I think it DOES answer the question, which asks for votes on "should we edit questions just to improve formatting". The answer is "yes, and it shouldn't cause the question to be bumped. The fact that it does is an unfortunate current reality, but shouldn't prevent us from improving answers." – Daniel Moskovich Jun 27 '13 at 7:51

One of the founders of MO told me in person that he thinks it's actually a good idea to bump up your old questions every year or so, and he suggested finding a minor edit to make specifically for this purpose...

• Well I'm afraid I have to disagree, if those questions have been answered, and the edit is done not for sake of mathematical interest but because someone cannot bear to see a comment or answer which uses $R$ instead of $\mathbb R$. I did mean resurrection, not re-awakening – Yemon Choi Jun 26 '13 at 21:50
• I would like to point out that there is, beyond the reservations expressed by @YemonChoi that one might or might not share, also a difference between owner bumping their post in one way or another if and also when they find it reasonable, and questions being bumped at some more or less arbitrary point of time by somebody else doing the edit. – user9072 Jun 27 '13 at 18:13

In general I am in favor of editing things on MO and I rather thought this happened too little in the past. However, via this edit-approval feature I just was made aware of two potential edits that rather do not seem necessary to me and fall, in my opinion, plainly into the category Yemon Choi mentioned; they are purely tweaking the display of formulas that are alright (though not good), anyway, of it seems old questions.

They would be an improvement, yet in my opinion the improvement of just having parenthesis of a better size, for example, is too small to warrant the noise.

I did not vote "reject" but rather "skip" as momentarily I was unsure what is consensus and did not want to reject something just so, also since the descriptions says for reject that the edit is wrong (which it is not, in an objective sense, only in a meta-sense in my personal opinion). But personally I am rather inclined to reject such things in the future, in particular if they get frequent.

• My opinion is that we should wait and see whether Scott's feature request is approved, and skip until then. If yes- immediately approve (any improvement is an improvement, like wikipedia). If not, keep skipping, or place in a separate queue until a bundle of 200 can be approved at once, which minimizes noise. – Daniel Moskovich Jun 28 '13 at 1:06
• @DanielMoskovich: to build up a huge waiting list does not strike my like a good idea. Also, for this to be feasible, everybody would have to skip. I rather think if one has some hope that the minor edit feature be introduced, then one should primarily discourage such edits being done now. (But I also approved one pure format edit as there was something quite broken and it seems worth it to have this corrected quickly.) – user9072 Jun 28 '13 at 1:15

Added: About a week has passed. Turn out was not overwhelming but not as minimal as the score could suggest. Thanks to everyone who participated. At the time of writing we have +4 vs -4. So, opinions are mixed.

My personal conclusion: since there is no clear consensus against this edit (if I were to include my opinion in the count there would be a minimal majority against it though), I intend to approve (somewhat against my very personal opinion) such edits in the future (I did not reject much during the last week either), and by extension most suggested edits (except of course if there is some actual problem with the edit). The reasoning being that sometimes such edits being approved and sometimes such edits being rejected should be an annoyance for those suggesting them in good faith.

If somebody would still like to express their opinion, feel free to continue voting. I will continue to watch the score as I am generally curious about existing opinions.

I would like to revisit this matter with an example. (I am not sure if I rather should edit my existing answer or ask a new question but anyway.)

It seems to me there is no real consensus reached at all. There is one highly voted answer, however, it is very unspecific so that everybody can read it their way. (I did not get any reply for my request for clarification on what the poster, Andres Caicedo, meant; let alone finding out what the voters mean.) The bandwidth of in my opinion reasonable interpretations ranges from editing should be done if an only if something displays in an actually wrong way to every improvement however small is an improvement and should be done.

Yet, from my observation and his comment-reply to Yemon Choi I think that Andres Caicedo's and my views are actually not that incompatible, somewhat in the middle of the bandwith in that actual correction should be done and the rest if there is significant room for improvement (increasing readablity and clarity in a noticeable way), the answer does however leave much room for interpretation. Thus this follow-up. So, now, for the specific example.

I reviewed the edit of Polynomial bijections from Q x Q to Q now improved to "Polynomial bijections from $\mathbb{Q} \times \mathbb{Q}$ to $\mathbb{Q}$" (this is the full improvement!) I rejected it as 'too minor' one of the default reasons, however, it was approved by two others so it took effect.

As said, the edit consisted in changing only in the title, for the rest it was not necessary as already done long ago, "Q x Q to Q" to "$\mathbb{Q} \times \mathbb{Q}$ to $\mathbb{Q}$". In my opinion, an edit can hardly be more minor than this (also the question was old, also in the sense of not having been active very recently).

Moreover, in a recent discussion on the board now know as tea, the sentiment was expressed by some, not including me I was rather on the opposite side of the debate, that "texifying" is not universally appreciated, in particular not in irrelevant cases (where there is no risk of misunderstanding or decrease of readability), also mentioning loading time as concern. (I do not fully agree with this, but specifically for titles I agree, as the commulated longer loading for lists of question can be annoying.)

So, to cut a long story short:

Should edits like changing "Q x Q to Q" to "$\mathbb{Q} \times \mathbb{Q}$ to $\mathbb{Q}$" once when it is clear the rationals are meant be made even if it bumps the question?

Perhaps let us say vote up for: no, they should not be made, and down for yes.

(I hope it is alright to use answers in this form and induce voting in this way; I CW it though not sure this is relevant on meta.)

• I vote up, i.e. I believe this edit should not be made. I can't resist saying that ${\bf Q}$ is as legitimate as ${\mathbb Q}$, and that some of us could then go changing $VN(G)$ to $\operatorname{VN}(G)$ everywhere. The point of cleaning up formatting is to improve readability and aid communication – Yemon Choi Jun 30 '13 at 1:55
• I'm with the camp that says unnecessary TeX is unnecessary. Because TeX does not render in many cases -- for example when people have turned it off for titles in the questions list or in the SE app on my phone -- if an expression can be conveyed perfectly well without TeX, I think it would be better on balance to not use TeX. If someone changed x = 1/2 to $x=1/2$ in my question, especially in the title, I would be PO'd. – Yoav Kallus Jul 7 '13 at 0:27
• See mathoverflow.net/posts/135949/revisions for the kind of thing I have in mind, and find somewhat "fetishistic" – Yemon Choi Jul 7 '13 at 5:07
• @quid: I haven't found it either, so I guess that part of my comment is not relevant for the new MO. – Yoav Kallus Jul 7 '13 at 16:50
• @RicardoAndrade I think corrections of spelling errors and significant improvements of LaTeX are fine for questions on the front page. Retagging on old questions makes some sense to me if done in moderation, although I find the fine detail of the tags not as useful as some people do. And if mathjax is not rendering in old questions, then I guess that too should be fixed. – Yemon Choi Jul 25 '13 at 22:58
• @RicardoAndrade However, "improvements" of people's LaTeX or grammar on old questions seems a bit disproportionate to me: the phrase about "casting the mote out from thy brother's eye" comes to mind. The introduction of blackboard bold is a particular bugbear of mine since (a) I don't find its absence a big deal (b) far worse LaTeX sins go unremarked, it seems to me. (I find each bumped question on the front page is taking space from another question, and since I don't think of MO as an encyclopaedia or reference text, I am less keen than many here on editing for sake of polish) – Yemon Choi Jul 25 '13 at 23:00
• @Yemon: Thanks for the clarification! We clearly disagree on several points regarding editing. But I will agree with you that fine editing of mathjax (e.g. replacing Z with \mathbb{Z}) is mostly counter-productive. For full disclosure, the reason I do not "fully correct" the grammar on posts I edit is because I do not think it is my place, and to keep diversity. For questions on the front page, I mostly try to make the question more readable (not sure if I succeed...) and maybe change that which really ticks me (typos in titles, using mathjax in weird ways to get certain snazzy effects). – Ricardo Andrade Jul 25 '13 at 23:10
• @RicardoAndrade and Yemon Choi: Now I almost missed the discussion. Sorry for having started this at a strange place, it was just I was unsure how to interpret something which also effects me in some ways so I wanted a quick clarification without drawing general attention to it. Regaring editing in general I think I care more about tags than most, as I think it is important to have them about reasonable, not fine details but some things are nonsensically tagged in my opinion; and the mere existenc of some tags causes problems as sure enough somebody will use only one meaningless tag; – user9072 Jul 25 '13 at 23:52
• @YemonChoi and Ricardo Andrade and so I try to minimize some and also I think the toplevel tag sysytem is sort of useful. By analogy with a library if the cover of a book is degraded it is not so bad even if a page is missing it can be about alright maybe it does not even matter but if it is placed at the wrong place it can be as if it does not exist. The wrong place this is having a wrong tag to me. Also, I feel some people really misunderstand what the tags are for with extremly specialised tags that never get reused (the should put the keyword in the title not a tag) – user9072 Jul 25 '13 at 23:56
• @RicardoAndrade: rather I thought to progress continously with the retagging (algebra, analysis, also elementary is a problematic tag) without much organisation. In general I am really in favor that things do get discussed but for tags my experience is that almost everybody does not care only if some discussion starts opinions are voiced and then nothing follows or the status quo is perpetuated for lack of other consensus. (But for geometry I think one needs some joint effort, and perhaps some disc; but I don't feel well-placed to start it, in any case not atm. But this shouldn't stop you.) – user9072 Jul 26 '13 at 0:44
• @quid: Thank you for your insight! I will give this matter some more thought. – Ricardo Andrade Jul 26 '13 at 0:51
• @RicardoAndrade: just a small follow-up to the above discussion on retagging strategies. For the algebra tag I now came to the conclusion that the most efficient should be to leave initially everything unchanged where the tag 'algebra' is somehow redundant, say, if it is also tagged ac.commutative-algebra or ra.rings-and-algebras or linear-algebra and some other things. (This covers a lot of occurences.) Then, once everything else is retagged, the tag 'algebra' could simply be deleted without loss as it only appears in a redundant way. This might also work for other tags. – user9072 Jul 28 '13 at 12:41
• @quid: That strategy may indeed work best. I too have observed occasionally that several questions with deprecated tags also have top level tags. I will try to take a rough count for 'topology' and 'geometry' once I have some time. – Ricardo Andrade Jul 28 '13 at 20:29
• @RicardoAndrade thank you for the info! This is a lot. I only had a brief look at geometry so far, there are some other geometry tags like discrete-geometry and convex-geometry that are not top-level, one might accept this. (As for algebra I also tend to accept linear-algebra without top-level, as this is almost standard.) But in any case this geometry tag seems like a bit of a nightmare not quite sure what to do about it. (Perhaps wait for the minor-edit feature. Not sure this will ever become reality though.) – user9072 Jul 30 '13 at 1:36
• @RicardoAndrade No I do not really know either, but I think it is unlikely. As I think plenty of people also on other sites would like that too. And it does not seem technically difficult. So, if it does not yet exist they seem somehow against it. But on meta.SO there were also feature-requests that got implemented after years. Retracting down-votes is an example, asked for mid 2009 or so, implemented some weeks ago. I think it is really impredictable. – user9072 Jul 30 '13 at 7:14

I was just browsing through the new badges, and it seems there are two which reward editing questions more than 6 months old (excavator and archaeologist). Perhaps this is why we've seen the spike in old questions being bumped?

Personally, I think it's a bit ridiculous to reward editing ancient questions/answers. I'd be happy to see these two badges disappear. If you agree, leave a comment or something. If people are in favor, perhaps we can make it official via a feature request.

• I somewhat doubt this is the reason; I 'voted' on some 30 or 40 instances of suggested edits and saw some users frequently. The editing seemed somewhat consistent subject-wise. I think mainly they read or look through what they care about and suggest improvements here and there. I think they are really doing this in good faith. Not for some badges and also not for the points (as was suggested by others). – user9072 Jul 11 '13 at 18:20