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Being put "on hold" sucks. Yes, I get it - it's a chance to edit questions without getting unhelpful answers, and a grand opportunity for us to make the question better and thus improve the site as a whole. But it feels a lot like being forced to eat broccoli: sure, it's good for you, but it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. That's why I'd like to start a discussion about this topic.

There seem to be two main avenues of attack to this problem. First, we can make it clearer that "on hold" does not automatically mean "bad". Second, we can make the "on hold" status itself less unfriendly. Of the two, I think the first is far more actionable for us as a community, because the second one would need implementation at the web-design level. I'll be focusing mainly on the first one, but if people have other excellent ideas for part 2 I'd love to see some discussions.

Making it clear that "on hold" is an opportunity, not a punishment

Users who have been around for a while get it - "on hold" isn't a punishment, but a good opportunity to edit a question without invalidating answers or further confusing people. However, it still feels a lot like a Bad Thing, and this part of my proposal is about changing that.

First, please explain to new users what "on hold" is and what it means. New users have no idea what it means to be on hold or what to do when it happens, and "on hold" doesn't even show up in the Tour for those who take it. Often, new users will simply abandon their questions (and the site!) when put "on hold", with many posting confused or annoyed comments. Sometimes a user turns to Meta for an explanation or to request reopening. It is our responsibility as a community to work with and help new users improve such questions. This is a tenet of our Be Nice policy, but it's more broadly necessary to simply keep the site alive. New users are the lifeblood of Worldbuilding, with the quirky questions and interesting answers. This has been mentioned before, but please please please explain to new users what "on hold" means. It's easy to do this: direct them to the Help Center page on the topic. Many new users never find the Help pages or don't think to turn to them when a question is placed on hold. The excellent explanations there go a long way toward helping new users understand what's happening and make it feel less personal. This responsibility is on especially on those of us with close-vote powers (3k+ rep) - it's only fair to explain what we're doing to their question. If you don't feel like Being Nice when going close-voting, please consider whether someone else might be friendlier instead.

Second, please explain why you are close-voting. This has been a common topic on Meta for years, but is still struggling to gain traction. Questions here require a bit of time and effort to post - aside from troll posts, which we handle pretty darn well, nobody on here is posting nonsensical things exclusively for the sake of being nonsensical. Assume Good Faith, and tell the user why you think that their question needs a bit more work. Try to make these comments clear and especially actionable - telling someone only that their question is unclear, for example, is unhelpful because it makes sense to the author! They wouldn't have deliberately posted a confusing question. Be sympathetic to the poster - while it might be the thirteenth terrible question you've seen that day, it's their genuine attempt to contribute to our community. Indeed, many of our highest-rep users have closed questions and I personally still struggle with making my wild ideas fit into the scope of the site.

Third, direct users to our Sandbox! It's the perfect place for questions that are on hold or slightly out-of-scope for the site because the focus there is on fixing up and improving questions, rather than getting answers. Again, explain what's happening and why you think the question could use some Sandbox time, because being told "Sandbox this" or being handed a link is less than helpful for many users. Ideally, follow up actually in the sandbox with the question; as someone who's seen the original post and the reception it's gotten, you are a prime candidate for helping solve those problems. More generally, directing users to resources like Meta and the Chat help enormously because users will get useful, actionable, and personal feedback on their questions once they've demonstrated that they're invested in fixing it.

Make "on hold" less aggressive

In the more general scheme of things, being placed on hold is not a good feeling, no matter the explanations, sympathy, or recommendations received. It's like being told that you've failed in some way, which is never a great feeling to have. On that note, there are a few thoughts I have that might help make "on hold" feel more friendly, and I'd like to hear community ideas on these as well.

Again, these ideas are not particularly actionable for us as a community - just daydreaming. They both appear to require at least some involvement from the development staff, which is another burden that they don't necessarily need.

1. Have a friendly notification when questions are placed on hold

I haven't been closed in a while, so I don't actually remember what the process looks like, but I don't believe we notify people when their questions are placed on hold, and I think this is a huge missed opportunity. By being the first to inform a user that their question is now on hold, there's a chance to set the vibe for the rest of the interactions. I'd like to see a friendly, optimistic notification come through when a question gets its fifth close vote, something like the below:

It looks like your question [title] has been placed on hold by the community. Don't panic! This just means your contribution needs a little more work to fit the scope of the site, and we're hopeful that you're willing to edit it and get it reopened. Review any comments on your question, and if you need additional feedback consider using Meta, the chat, or our Sandbox. Until you've had a chance to tidy it up, your question won't pick up any more answers because unhelpful or irrelevant answers aren't constructive.

I believe a notification such as the above would help provide users with actions that they can take, as well as links to many resources that are especially important once an answer's on hold. Admittedly, its tone is a bit apologetic because I always feel bad when someone else's question is closed, and that's certainly a place where it can use some different wording.

2. Call it "Paused" instead of "On hold"

"On hold" kinda feels gross. Held back from answers? Held at arm's reach from the network? Held in quarantine because there's bad mojo about you? "On hold" feels unnecessarily hostile and permanent, so I'd like to rename the status to "Paused". Something paused is something that's going to get moving again! Paused implies breathing room to adapt, improvise, and overcome. You don't stop a movie if you're still excited about it - you pause it! Things that are paused still have value and are worth coming back to, both as an asker of the question and as an answerer who was going to submit a response before being blocked from doing so. Perhaps this is just a me thing - again, community, please let me know if this is all in my head. But I'd much prefer to be "paused" than "on hold", despite them meaning the exact same thing in this case.

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    $\begingroup$ I cannot speak for everyone, but being used to work projects being put on hold or canceled, I have a very precise sense for which of the two is dramatic and which not. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Jan 22 at 10:09
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    $\begingroup$ But I like broccoli... $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jan 22 at 13:26
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    $\begingroup$ On hold is very much a way to make closed less terrible. And it worked, for a moment. But changing wording does not change basic problem that people don't want to be forced to put effort in their question and feel bad when they are. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jan 22 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch, I completely agree, but that only applies to work environments where "on-hold" actually means that there is a plan to go back to it. If your boss started saying all projects were "on-hold" even when they were canceled, this would stress you out way worse because it would mean you could not mentally/emotionally release those projects you don't actually have to go back to. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Feb 6 at 22:12
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The "on hold" to "closed" process is a property of the Stack Exchange software. It's not something we can change on Worldbuilding. As far as I know, it's not even possible to change the labels on a per-site basis, and even if it somehow is, the concept would still be exactly the same, and it would work just the way it does today.

We can set up custom close reasons under the "off topic" heading, but (again, as far as I know) we can't change, for example, the label "on hold".

In fact, the whole concept of a question being "on hold" was introduced precisely to make it less permanent-seeming up front. Originally, questions transitioned immediately from open to closed. Part of this remains, for example in the process being "vote to close".

I doubt we're going to get any major (or perhaps even minor) changes implemented in the software just for Worldbuilding. The major money-maker for the company is Stack Overflow, including Teams; to a lesser extent Super User and Server Fault; the other sites are sort of just toys on the side, there in part because they help keep people on the network, and adding another site comes at a very low marginal cost.

My experience is that if a change can be motivated in terms of the big sites, it has a decent chance of being implemented, and then might become available to other sites in the network; but if a change would offer no advantages to the big sites, the odds of it being made are slim at best. Not impossible; just not likely.

And no, Worldbuilding is not a big site in the network. For comparison, Stack Overflow has been around for about 10.5 years, and has some 54 million posts going by post ID (which is crude, but reasonably close to reality); overall, that's over five million posts a year, and the rate is probably higher now than it was back in 2008. Worldbuilding has been around for about 4.5 years and has some 130,000 posts also by post ID; overall, less than 30,000 per year. Worldbuilding is a pretty active site, but as far as traffic volume goes, we barely even register on their radar, drawing well below 1% of the content influx of Stack Overflow.

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    $\begingroup$ "As far as I know, it's not even possible to change the labels on a per-site basis," I think it is. Too story based is an exclusivity of this stack. $\endgroup$ – Renan Jan 22 at 10:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Renan That's a custom off-topic reason. Those are customizable by site moderators, but the top-level choices, and the labels attached to the action itself (such as "on hold" and "closed"), are rather different beasts. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jan 22 at 11:00
  • $\begingroup$ Oh ok, I get it. $\endgroup$ – Renan Jan 22 at 11:23
  • $\begingroup$ Agreed, and I certainly didn't have much hope for more of the infrastructure-based ideas but wanted to see what the community thought of them. It looks like the community is pretty comfortable with how things are working right now, so no changes need be made at all! $\endgroup$ – Dubukay Jan 22 at 21:55
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No.

The whole proposition is bad. Besides the nanny mentality, it has gaping flaws.

But it feels a lot like being forced to eat broccoli: sure, it's good for you, but it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Education based on what feels nice rather than what is right is not education. This is universal and applies to a stack as well.

Wall of text on explaining on hold

It's easy to do this: direct them to the Help Center page on the topic.

The box that states the close reason has links to help. If a user cannot read that box, they are functionally illiterate. No amount of effort from a good-willed veteran will change that.

Many new users never find the Help pages or don't think to turn to them when a question is placed on hold.

There is a link to help on the footer. And whomever is unwilling or unable to RTFM should not be posting anyway. I've seen a case in every stack where I participate. These users are usually the ones who get banned from asking, even after having hours of help.

Second, please explain why you are close-voting.

I think I have seen this request more than a hundred times in the main meta. It is always denied. If you can't read the close box, there is little hope for you. You have a person who is confused by words, and you try to solve their problems with more words. The ones who are willing to type argue and come to meta to say that the Stack Exchange is or should be a forum.

Third, direct users to our Sandbox!

This is the only sensible advice in the whole post.


Don't waste your time on people who won't bother about learning how the site works. For every clueless new user who leaves after a few posts and is never missed, there are two or three good new users. We should focus on those instead, by giving good answers to their questions and upvoting their good posts.

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    $\begingroup$ Some customization of feedback can be worthwhile. For example, if there's something specific that one feels that the user needs to address about their question to fix the problem, it doesn't hurt to point it out. The way to do that is via comments. The user presumably felt that their question was reasonable, or they wouldn't have posted it. Adding comments that just reiterate the close reason text, though, is of very limited value to anyone. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jan 22 at 11:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Renan - If the house rules were consistently applied, then maybe. However it is quite possible to read a question and submit what seems to be a similar one just to be unlucky according to who reads it and what their subjective interests and opinions are. $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Jan 22 at 12:54
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    $\begingroup$ I think we have different ideas about new users, which is fine. To me, a "nanny" mentality would imply that we're dealing with user's temper tantrums and pandering to their every need. There's a large difference between that and directing them to resources that let them help themselves, which is expected by our code of conduct. I personally don't believe that education must be unpleasant, and it's the more enjoyable lessons that stick with me the longest. Cheers to different ideas! $\endgroup$ – Dubukay Jan 22 at 21:52
  • $\begingroup$ While your delivery lacks some...lets go with...eloquence, you raise some valid points. That said, we can't separate good new users from those they may end up being a lost cause unless we engage with good intent. $\endgroup$ – James Feb 15 at 15:53
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There are some realities to human psychology that, unfortunately, cannot be overcome.

  1. The act of being judged — especially in this day and age — has become so hated that there is no way to reword or redesign the process that would make anyone feel better. Nobody likes to have their baby called ugly and new users, who almost never take the time to read the Help Center, are unfortunately destined to bring ugly babies to the site. We've all done it with rare exception. It is truly unfortunate that the world is marching to the beat of "you can't tell me what to do!" more than, "I want to be a contributor, where are the rules?" but that's the world we live in today. If you think it feels awful to have your question closed, wait until you've spent a year+ on this site patiently helping people to participate well only to be told by someone, "why don't you just answer my *)@&!! question!!??" The sour feelings can work in both directions.

  2. The issue of closing questions is an example of the classic problem of balancing individual rights with society's needs. So long as there's just one reason for society to impose its collective will on any one individual (aka, rules), there will be cause to impose other restrictions — and deciding which are valid and which aren't is simply an issue of social mores semantics politics community consensus. Bear in mind that a big part of the problem is the time it takes to get a new user involved on Meta, etc. (and many never do) so they become part of the process rather than feeling like they're being dumped on by "The Man" all the time. (And if that didn't sound a bit like real life, allow me to point that out....)

  3. And a big part of the problem is that we have no idea who's on the other end of the phone. We don't know if they're children or PhD-holding adults. We don't know if they've suffered verbal abuse all their lives or if they're sociopathic trolls. We don't know if they're naturally shy or if they simply have their flight-vs-fight response nailed to one extreme or the other. Not knowing that, we have but one possible solution: post rules and hold people to them. Please note that this isn't a new problem. I remember being told to RTM in my College Fortran class in the early 80s. Fortran... oh, yeah....

And as a CVn has already pointed out — there's nothing we can do to change it anyway.

The best effort we can make is to have positive, helpful comments that go along with the close votes (and, as often as possible, the downvotes). Offering polite direction as to what offense has been made, how to fix it, and where to learn more is the best we can do.

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  • $\begingroup$ You are old. Here have a Werther's. $\endgroup$ – James Feb 15 at 15:55
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While I agree with the sentiment of this question, I think the solution is a development level problem either way. Across every stack exchange site I've ever used, I can't recall ever actually seeing a question taken off hold. I've seen questions revised 3-6 times and still stay on-hold because the people who are of the mentality to put someone on hold generally throw their vote in and move on with their day without ever re-addressing the question.

In reality, it needs to be much easier to take a question off of hold than put it on-hold to begin with because once a question is on hold, getting any new people in with 3000+ points to look at it to see the revisions becomes very unlikely.

First of all, those are the people who are most active, and therefore most likely to see it before it is revised. Secondly, there's little motivation to look at a question you can't answer if you want more points.

As for the actual solution possed in the question, I think destigmatizing "On-Hold" would just make people faster to do it and make the problem even bigger.

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    $\begingroup$ I've seen questions come off hold several times, and even had it happen to myself here once. I'm not saying it happens as frequently as it should, just that it does in fact happen. $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Feb 6 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ Worldbuilding is one of the stacks that gets its queued cleared fastest; among those the reopen queue. $\endgroup$ – Renan Feb 7 at 0:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Renan, that is a good point, I may be bringing an unintentional bias from spending too much time on other stackexchange sites. When I really think about it, I don't even see questions go On Hold very often here compared to the other platforms. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Feb 12 at 14:50

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