Off-Topic Posts: What To Do With Them

Last Edited:  4/10/2007 

There has been much discussion on what to do with off-topic posts, especially in the moderators forum.  I’ve gotten a request to make an executive decision and stick with it, for here on forth, here is the official Microsoft guidance on how to deal with off-topic posts in the forums:

  1. If the question is simply in the wrong forum, move the post to the correct forum.

  2. If the question could be answered in the newsgroups, reply to the thread with a link to the newsgroup where the question will be answered.

  3. Move the thread to the new “Off-Topic Posts” forum:

  4. If you don’t know the appropriate newsgroup or forum but you’re sure it needs to be moved, move the post to the “Where’s the Forum For?” forum: 

This method will ensure that:

  • Search results do not become polluted with “answered” questions that aren’t actually answered.

  • Reputation and answer rankings are not skewed by housekeeping/answering off-topic posts.

  • People who asked off-topic questions will still be able to view the reply to their questions.  (When a post is deleted, it’s no longer visible.)

It is no longer necessary to mark off-topic replies as answers.  Please do not do it anymore.

Comments (6)

  1. Stephen Boots says:

    Good solution, Joe. I can’t do it with the OneCare forums, though, as it doesn’t appear in my "move to" list. I suspect that it because they are part of the MSDN forum structure, although apart.


  2. Peter Ritchie says:

    That seems like an excellent policy.  I assume the /reply with the correct newgroup/forum if known/ still applies when moving to "Off-Topic Posts"

  3. And with all due respect, you have just made the ABSOLUTE WRONG decision in regards with what to do with the posts.

    The reason for this is that you are now going to cannibalize certain groups.  A perfect example is the C# group.  Take the following thread, titled "whats wrong with dropDown.Size.Width = 127;?", located at:

    The group is:

    MSDN Forums » Visual C# » Visual C# General

    Technically, this is an off-topic thread.  It should be moved to the following group:

    MSDN Forums » Windows Forms » Windows Forms General  

    Just looking at the initial page in the Visual C# general group, there is not one post that deals specifically with C#.  They are all framework questions.

    Going to the VB group, I see the same thing.

    So what does this mean for you?

    First, you need to specify for EACH INDIVIDUAL GROUP what is and what is not an "off-topic" post.  Without that, it’s going to be a subjective decision, and you are going to have moderators stepping over each other to move posts to the correct group.  Some moderators are going to move posts to a group, where the moderators of that group might not agree, etc, etc.  There will probably be agreement in most cases of where posts should go, but there will be a flare up in some cases.

    Second, you just posted that you have reached the one millionth post.  This took place over a few years right?  You are going to have to go back historically and move the threads to the appropriate forums.  Assuming that not all of the threads now are in the correct forums (because of the first point that I brought up), it’s going to take you at least a few years to be able to say that at least 50% of the post in the forums are on-topic (assuming you are maintain the rate at which posts and moderators are coming in).

  4. Oh, and one other thing.  The problem with moderators now is that they are moderators across the whole site.  You can have an ASP.NET guy move a C# thread to the VB thread.

    Because of this, you really need to limit moderators privileges to a certain forum.  Then, they can only mark as answer, and move threads from their forum.

    Now, when a moderator moves a thread from their forum, that thread is not moved immediately.  Until the moderator from the forum that the thread is being moved to signs off on the move, it can’t be moved.

    So this adds one more privilege to a moderator of a forums, is to accept threads that are being moved from one forum to their forum.

  5. MSDNArchive says:


    The problem that we were trying to tackle here wasn’t off-topic posts that should be in another forum on the MSDN site.  The problem that we were having was completely off-topic posts that don’t have any forum to live in.  Many of our question-askers are coming from Google and looking for a forum to post their question in.  Lots and lots of these questions aren’t developer questions at all.  They are often consumer questions–how do I make Windows boot faster, how can I get Windows Media Player to play DivX files, stuff like that.

    Moderators were "answering" those questions by replying to them with a link to a newsgroup or 3rd party forum site and saying "this post is off-topic".  They were then marking the post as answered.  The problem was two-fold:

    1.)  Truly off-topic posts that had nothing to do with developer technologies were showing up in search results (answer marking elevates search relevancy.)

    2.)  Moderators were getting inflated answer counts (our lousy reputation system), which angered other moderators that were doing "real" answering and wanted to be high on the charts.

    Frankly, I’m less worried about a framework or WinForms question being asked in the C# forum.  Search is the key form of navigation through the forums (by search, I mean search through Google) and it really doesn’t matter much whether the question is in the C#, WinForms, or .NET Fx forum…the questions can often touch all three, and asking the moderators to spend their entire days moving those posts around would be stupid.

    I do agree to a point that certain moderators should only have permissions to certain technology areas, but in general, the "global moderator" role has actually worked well so far.  I don’t want to start the same forced categorizations that the MVP program started, where MVPs interested in many different technologies were forced to pick one at the exclusion of everything else.

  6. Peter Ritchie says:

    Nick is bringing up the "General" forum problem.  As long as there’s "General" forums it makes it really hard to define what is off or on topic.