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The question, “Is there a way to search in Google using regular expressions (regex)?”, was posted more than 12 years ago.

This question has attracted ~149,000 views, received a positive score of 82, and generated several highly upvoted answers.

For 12 years, it remained open, and the traffic and continued voting activity on this question and the answers show that it has been well-received and helpful to the community. During that time, no one ever flagged this question for closure, neither by any community member nor by any moderator [question’s timeline].

However, to my surprise, a moderator closed this post yesterday as an off-topic web app recommendation question and added the tag for off-topic questions.

I don’t understand how this closure reason applies, and I don’t agree that this question deserves to be closed.

This question closure is confusing to me since the question does not ask for software or web app recommendations but is about using regex in Google Search (a web app that is on-topic). This is also evident from the well-received answers, which don’t recommend any other web apps.

Additionally, another question “Can I use advanced regex pattern search in Google search?” was recently closed as a duplicate of the aforementioned question. This effectively also labeled it as an off-topic web app recommendation.

Neither of these questions asks for any web app recommendations. Several other non-web-app-recommendation questions are also marked as duplicates of the question.

Can the moderator team please clarify why this well-received question was closed?

Was there a recent change in the site policy or community consensus that affected this question? (This meta post also serves as a request to reopen the aforementioned question.)

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  • 2
    Voted to reopen as the webapp rec is removed
    – TheMaster
    Oct 22, 2023 at 7:44
  • @TheMaster I only see one reopen vote, probably due to reopen votes expiration due to aging (ref How do re-open votes expire?. I will look later if there are expired votes. In the meantime, I suggest you post an answer to make your reopen vote declaration more visible. Oct 23, 2023 at 15:33
  • 1
    @Rubén I currently don't have much to add except that I agree with Franck's edit and answer. Regarding reopen queue, the link you posted, says the aging starts immediately after the queue is completed, i.e., Leave closedx3. But, AFAICS, that hasn't happened... Three users haven't voted to "Leave closed". Maybe galacticninja and Franck were waiting for you to respond or for the meta discussion to be complete, before voting to reopen..
    – TheMaster
    Oct 23, 2023 at 16:19
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    @TheMaster I don’t have enough rep to vote for reopening the question. It also looks like there’s a shortage of active users with enough rep to reopen the question. However, it seems clear from the community feedback and voting here that the question deserves to be reopened. The moderators can do so at any time, but they’re still waiting for some reason. I hope they will reconsider their decision to close the question soon. I don’t see any objections to reopening the question. Oct 23, 2023 at 16:56
  • 1
    @TheMaster The question timeline shows that the first re-open vote aged away two days ago. I wonder if Franck and others having access to the moderation tools ( rep +10k) can see that. Certainly, anonymous users can't. Oct 23, 2023 at 17:41
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    @Rubén Interesting. Wonder if reduction in votes threshold from 3 to 2 would be beneficial for smaller sites?
    – TheMaster
    Oct 23, 2023 at 18:09
  • 1
    @TheMaster Another option to consider might be to review the reputation thresholds on "old sites" where many high-rep users have been inactive for a long time. Oct 23, 2023 at 18:37
  • 3
    @Rubén Here is the timeline I see: i.stack.imgur.com/CCUKm.jpg My reopen vote indeed expired. As we discussed a while ago, questions on WebApps are almost never reopened by regular users alone. Oct 24, 2023 at 18:43
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    Why is the question still closed? There is an abundantly clear community consensus here that the question should be reopened. Nov 4, 2023 at 12:50
  • @ThomasMarkov Chain of command. Company's opinions matter more than Staff. Staff's opinions matters more than the moderators. Moderator's opinions matter more than the community. That's the way it works. Take for example, the issue of Monica, company's decision is still active and final, despite plenty of moderator's resignations and criticisms. Moderator's opinion matter less compared to the company. Similarly, community consensus doesn't have any power over moderators consensus/thoughts. Just the way things work ;)
    – TheMaster
    Nov 4, 2023 at 18:22
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    @TheMaster Disregarding the community isn’t a great look for a community elected individual. Nov 4, 2023 at 18:25
  • @ThomasMarkov Why does it matter? It's not like the community can de-elect a moderator. Furthermore, the community here is like, barely 4 or 5 active users.
    – TheMaster
    Nov 4, 2023 at 18:27
  • 1
    @TheMaster It’s the sort of behavior you really wish you could have known about before voting for a moderator. Nov 4, 2023 at 18:28

4 Answers 4

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Reopened by BlindSpots. Thanks for being open to community feedback.


I respectfully disagree with the moderator's answer. I'll address the core issues raised in their post:

  1. The contention that the question isn't practical:

    • Just because the answer is not possible doesn't make the original question impractical. If the answer is "No, it's not possible", that is still a answer and question is practical. Feasibility is not related to practicality.

    • An impractical question would be a theoretical question. For eg, "If Google didn't create re2(their own short flavor of regex), would Google sheets support regular expressions?" That would be a hypothetical question - and definitely not a practical question.

    • Even if the only way is a third party solution, the question is still practical. We have a precedent here: Suggestions off-topic?

  2. The contention that the software recommendation is an integral part of the question and the edit changes the original meaning, intended by the author.

    • The title of the question provides the original core meaning of the question, which clearly asks for a "way" to do this rather than a recommendation:

    Is there a way to search in Google using Regular Expressions (regex)?

    • There were two statements in the question, that end in a question mark:

    Is there a way to do this?

    For example, is there a app or a site or a Google tool to search things like *.stackexchange ?

    • The order of questions matter. The first carries more priority than the second.

    • The accepted answer: It says that the author's original intended meaning of the question was answered in that answer. That answer doesn't provide a webapp recommendation, but the impossibility of the situation with a caveat.

    • The question was asked in 2011, it seems that during that time, webapps recommendation weren't explicitly offtopic - ref. So, the additional question may not even have been added by the original author, if it was a rule then

    • The spirit of the "No recommendation" rule: is to avoid getting a list of answers with just links to webapps. This question did NOT attract any site or app in any of the answers.

Precedents:

Given these facts and precedents, I believe that it is a practical answerable question(where the answer is "No"), and the intention of the author is a "practical way to use regex in Google", where the recommendation part was more of a last-ditch effort and not a core part of the question.

A question where the title and the entire body of question asks for on topic stuff, but there was a single line, which asks for off topic stuff, then the question should be salvaged rather than closed. This question in particular, should be rolled back to revision 8 and reopened.

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  • 1
    Point 1 seems a bit hard to follow but "practical" is being used more akin to "meaningful." Point 2. We answer questions, not titles. Information in the title that is relevant to the question but omitted from the question is not considered part of the question. You may choose to assume the intention of the OP but the question stated their wish and their ask. You suggest your opinions and interpretations are facts. I don't think merely being able to point out in an answer that a question is not meaningful confers meaning to the question. I think the question as asked was meaningful,
    – Blindspots Mod
    Oct 29, 2023 at 3:46
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    but off-topic. Twisting it as you propose undermines the OP's intent for what end? This is not a question that "may" require a software recommendation, but one that "necessarily" requires one. The question "is" answered as originally posted, the answer is accepted, and the closing merely acknowledges that software recs are off-topic. If, as you posit, it is a question about doing something that can't be done, that too is answered, so all the bases are covered. What they can't do, can't be done. Is there another answer that we are waiting for?
    – Blindspots Mod
    Oct 29, 2023 at 3:47
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    The original question seems clear and detailed. The closure and the comments have served the OP notice if they feel it has been misinterpreted. I assume the excitement is over the age of the question and the upvotes, not the quality of the question or the usefulness to future users. Given our collective passion for search, perhaps a canonical post on Google Search operators would be a valuable endeavor for our community and a place we could point users to better understand it.
    – Blindspots Mod
    Oct 29, 2023 at 4:00
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    @BlindSpots Respectfully, I disagree. I don't appreciate calling the facts as I cited "Twisting".. I understand you see it differently than I do. But I'm no more twisting the facts than you. 1. If the title and the entire body of the question said one thing, but there was a single line asking for a offtopic thing, do you think that question should be closed rather than salvaged? 2. To what end? First the principle matters. The ends don't justify the means. If it isn't against the rules, it shouldn't be closed...Secondly, [1/2]
    – TheMaster
    Oct 29, 2023 at 7:23
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    If Google adds support for regex today, would you agree that that deserves a answer to that question? Did that change in Google's decision suddenly make the original "off-topic" question on topic? If it isn't offtopic then, it isn't offtopic now. Furthermore, there is zero evidence to say it is attracting recommendations/link type answers[2/2]
    – TheMaster
    Oct 29, 2023 at 7:24
  • I appreciate that we are all biased and expressing arguments in support of our opinions. I understood your statement regarding "given these facts" as attributing some additional authority to your statements of opinion beyond simply making your arguments for your position but I likely misinterpreted and in that case I apologize. I appreciate your opinion and welcome additional constructive feedback in the future.
    – Blindspots Mod
    Oct 30, 2023 at 4:17
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    @BlindSpots Thanks. Yes, I added my interpretations. But there are facts like - the title didn't ask for recommendation, there were two questions in that question, community consensus on those 3 precedents, I cited, so far favor reopening. I believe you would agree that these facts are not disputable.I do strongly believe, that these facts and precedents favor a reopening over leaving it "as is"-simply as a matter of principle over any perceived value to the community. If not, there is still value in reopening:it shows moderators as open to feedback from the community and community friendly.
    – TheMaster
    Oct 30, 2023 at 5:06
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    @BlindSpots I have no idea why you feel I'm ridiculing Ruben with that statement :) I'm just pointing out the similar circumstances, but the different action taken - if there's a different reason, Ruben should point it out - and He did, by editing his original answer, stating he longer feels the same way. I even avoided mentioning his name. For context, Ruben and I go way back - we've had plenty of disagreements(and even open wars on SO), but trust me, while I may disagree with his policies, I've never ridiculed/disrespected him - it was never below the belt - ask him, I'm sure He would agree.
    – TheMaster
    Nov 3, 2023 at 2:24
8

I have edited the question to remove the sentence:

For example, is there an application, a site or a Google tool to search things like *.stackexchange?

Now it should be clearly about Google and not a recommendation. I voted to reopen.

Update 2023-10-24: I'm puzzled why the question has not been reopened. I'd appreciate if Ruben could explain why he still thinks it's a recommendation question, since he is the only one who cast a close vote.

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Judge questions by the problem being posed instead of the presupposed answer

I think the fundamental issue here is that the moderators seem to be judging questions by their presupposed answer(s) instead of the problem being posed in the question itself. The core of the question has nothing to do with software recommendations. It's as straightforward as its original title: "Is there a way to search in Google using Regular Expressions (regex)?"

I respectfully disagree with the moderator’s answer. I’ll address the points they raised in their post.

The question is not a practical question about using a web app. 

Who decides what is “practical”? The 82 upvotes the question received and this highly upvoted meta discussion and its answers supporting reopening the question show that most of the community thinks it’s a practical question. As far as I know, only two users so far have commented or posted an answer that the question should be closed. Besides, when did we establish a clear definition of a “practical question” in Web Apps SE and agree as a community to close any questions that do not meet this criterion?

Google search doesn't support regular expressions so there isn't a viable answer to that question using the web app.

This is not a valid reason to close a question. Just because the answer might be “no” does not mean the question is off-topic. If you think the answer is “no” write an answer saying “no”, instead of closing the question as “not a practical question”.

The original question is on-topic for Software Recommendations SE and off-topic for Web Applications SE

I believe the original question does not meet Software Recs SE’s requirements for a question to have enough information, so migrating it there would likely just get it closed there. And besides, its answers do not make sense there since they don’t recommend software and are instead offering solutions to the problem being asked.

The question is about a specific problem, not any presupposed solutions, so it fits the criteria specified in this meta discussion post "How do I ask a question that may require recommending a web app?", making it on-topic. As the meta discussion post says “Instead of assuming a solution, ask about your problem instead” and “Questions like these are problem-based and lead to useful answers”.

The close reason is not based on popularity.

Close reasons are based on site policies, which in turn are based on community consensus, not what the moderators decide. Please listen to the community’s voice and reopen the question.

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The question is not a practical question about using a web app. The OP seeks a way to use regular expressions in Google searches.

  1. Google search doesn't (and didn't) support regular expressions so there isn't (and wasn't) a viable answer to that question using the web app.

  2. Presumably the OP is aware of this gap as they made a clear distinction between what they seek and similar functionality already available in the web app via search operators.

  3. The software recomendation request at the end of their post, "is there an app or a site or a Google tool", is an entirely logical way to finish the post given the problem space.

  4. The original question is on-topic for Software Recommendations SE and off-topic for Web Applications SE

  5. Editing the question to remove the request for a reccomendation doesn't make the question a better fit for the site, although the close reason might be different.

The original question is sensible, but off-topic. Removing the request for reccomendations changes the original purpose and meaning without making the question a clear and practical question about using a web app:

  1. The question's original purpose, to fill a gap in functionality using another app, site, or tool, no longer exists after the edit.
  2. The question is no longer meaningful given it would now ask how to perform functions that are missing from a web app using that same web app.

Taking this into consideration, I have rolled back the edit to preserve the OPs original meaning.

The question doesn't have a problem to be solved outside of enabling regular expression Google searches. Perhaps this is an XY Problem.

The close reason is not based on popularity. This question may have be closed, but it will not be deleted from the site.

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