Yesterday, somebody asked how to build a service like IMDB, with the title:

Movie/song database like IMDB

Today another user more or less rewrote the entire question, and changed the title into:

Is there an open movie and/or music database available for commercial use?

Please see details of edit here.

On SE, a "radical edit" is an edit that changes or distorts the meaning of a question (or answer).

While the revised version is a better question, and more suitable for this site - it is also a totally different question. I do not think it is appropriate on SE for an editor to radically change the meaning of someone else's question.

If the editor wants to know: "Is there an open movie and/or music database available for commercial use?", he should have created a new question under his own name, asking about that.

Unapproved editing requires at least 1000 rep, so this radical edit must have been approved by a moderator or someone with enough rep. I do not think radical editing ever should be considered appropriate, and humbly suggest that the same moderator or high rep person does a rollback.

I think there are really two questions here:

  1. Was the edit cited as a case in this question a radical edit (i.e. one that changed the meaning of the question)?
  2. Is a radical edit ever appropriate?

4 Answers 4


At this point, a radical edit was one of the reasonable options available. This question was being down-voted and flagged into oblivion. There are meta posts to improve the content, but as far as I could tell, the original author hasn't followed up at all. So the choice was either to leave it somewhat broken (bad option) or to close it… or to improve it to make it a <quote> "much better question, and much more suitable for this site."

In principle, you are correct. Some radical edits might be considered vandalism. But the system is also filled with checks and balances to vet and improve this content where needed. We have voting, flags, discussions (like this), edits and (potentially) rollbacks if we get it wrong.

This is an early beta and one of our early goals is to learn what subjects work and what don't. All the options are on the table to do what's best for both the author and the site. But without followup from the author, making this question more fitting for the site seemed perfectly reasonable.

  • 1
    I think we're on a slippery slope if we let this one go by. Were do we draw the border between "improvement" and putting words in people's mouth? I think the appropriate thing here to allow the original question to be down-voted and flagged into oblivion. Yes, we're in a beta, and some people (including the OP) might even have taken a lesson from seeing this type of question being closed.
    – user135
    Commented May 25, 2013 at 16:34

In reading the two versions, I don't agree that the core meaning of the question was changed.


Well, I've made the change.

Why so? Because I've been long part of Programmers SE and I learned there since I started that, as Robert Cartaino said, there are several ways to deal with this:

  • downvote it to oblivion
  • close it
  • asking the OP to edit it so that it better fits the purpose/FAQ of the site
  • edit it in an attempt to salvage it

Sometimes, on Programmers, it happens that the OP edits his question following suggestions/comments of other users. And as such he is successful in salvaging the question, generally by keeping the core, the essence, of it. BUT, way more often, what I've seen, unfortunately, is that some users just don't care. They don't care about SE, its mechanics, suggestions of other users, answers, accepting answers, etc. They don't care (there was an interesting post on this topic by Jeff Atwood, but I couldn't find it right now)

When I saw that question the first time, I saw in comments that some users made suggestions to improve the question so that it is not closed, or downvoted to hell. I waited one day, then two days and checked more than dozen times if the question evolved or not. Nothing happened, the user DOESN'T CARE. Several users asked the OP to edit his question. NOTHING happened.

I stepped in to try to salvage this question and make something interesting of it, by:

  • keeping the core of it (I don't feel like a vandal, I really tried to make something useful out of a bad question)
  • adapting it to suggestions made by other users
  • formatting it properly,
  • ... and attempting to not make spelling mistakes :-) (I consider myself fluent but English is not my main language)
  • changing it to a question (to me, "Movie/song database like IMDB" is not a question, it lacks an essential grammatical tool, the "?")

My edit could have been invalidated, reversed, by the OP but it has not happened (as of the moment I'm writing this of course), and it has been accepted by a user with higher rep. The score of the question jumped from -2 to 2, so I think that at least some users agree the question has some potential.

You may not agree with it, and I understand, but I think this type of editing is why we have high quality questions and answers among SE sites.

To conclude, I personally don't care about movies/music listings, but I've upvoted two answers because I learned about something new (freebase) and because the top question was of good quality.

  • What I don't understand is why you did not ask a new question: Is there an open movie and/or music database available for commercial use? (and allowed the off-topic original question to be closed). That, IMHO, would have been the correct action to take. The fact that it went from -2 to +2 is a strong indicator that the meaning was radically changed. As for the OP, he hasn't been seen since May 23rd - presumably because he discovered that nobody here was willing to explain to him how to create a movie/song database like IMDB.
    – user135
    Commented May 27, 2013 at 12:59
  • I did not ask a new question, because I felt it was not too late to salvage this one AND because the subject does not matter to ME. And to me the fact it went to a positive score is an indicator that the question fits OpenData, not that its meaning was changed. And really, the OP does not care at all. The first comment to the question was written 10 minutes after the question was asked, he could have edited his question or/and answered the comment, but nothing happened. If this type of editing is not wanted on OpenData I will refrain myself from doing so and just flag it for closing.
    – Jalayn
    Commented May 27, 2013 at 13:05
  • First: I am not trying to accuse you or blame you. I'm trying to have a discussion about norms (since we're in beta, and now is the time for discussing and establishing community norms). There are really two questions here: 1) Was this a radical edit? (Tom Morris and you seems to think it was not); and 2) is a radical edit ever appropriate? (Robert Cartaino, for one, seems to believe a radical edit is appropriate if the radical edits makes a better question.
    – user135
    Commented May 27, 2013 at 13:13
  • I don't feel blamed don't worry, and I understand your concern :-) The comment was bit long and I had not enough space to say that I will follow the consensus on radical edits here on OpenData. I mean, I want OpenData to be a successfull site, although I'm not an expert in it. And, from my experience, I felt editing this question the way I did served the purpose of offering high quality content.
    – Jalayn
    Commented May 27, 2013 at 13:17

Edits, perhaps even strong edits, should be and, in fact, are allowed in Stack Exchange. There are approvals required that either (1) establish the editor as someone who understands the community or (2) assure that additional voters validate the edit. The original poster can always modify, delete, or respond to the edit as well.

In this case, the edit made the question one that has become more useful to the community, even if it might have deviated from what the original poster intended. Since the original question had brought on comments and confusion, an edit was a reasonable approach.

  • If thus turns out to be the community consensus, I guess this is not the right community for me. I feel strongly about the author's moral rights, and the correctness of attribution. If an author's way a phrasing a question is viewed as politically incorrect, of little use to the community, etc. it is that author's right to express that opinion. I don't want to have to actively monitor my writing's here to guard against some community consensus driven "improvements" distorting my intentions. So, goodbye ...
    – user135
    Commented May 30, 2013 at 14:56
  • @GisleHannemyr I apologize if there is a misunderstanding. I don't think anyone was talking about editing a question for political or moral reasons. The discussion is about whether a question that is unclear or otherwise noted as inappropriate should be edited in order to (1) help the author get the answer they are seeking, and/or (2) make it more useful to the community. I've had people edit my questions and answers, and in all cases so far they were better after the editing. My suggestions for strong editing is when the Q or A is unclear or being voted down, and could be improved. Commented May 30, 2013 at 19:09
  • I do not think there is a misunderstanding. I quote: "In this case, the edit made the question one that has become more useful to the community, even if it might have deviated from what the original poster intended" (My emphasis.) I do not find this reasonable, nor acceptable. It is clearly stating that you do not think we need to care about the author's moral rights if violating them can be said to be useful to the community. But since my concerns are not shared by the community, I am not going to continue do make a stink about this. Instead, I opt out. No hard feelings.
    – user135
    Commented May 30, 2013 at 19:31

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