Concerning ServerFault Culture
- What do you see as the top two most valuable cultural elements of ServerFault?
- How will you perpetuate those cultural elements as a moderator?
- What do you see as the top two flaws in SF's culture at the present time?
- How would you address those cultural flaws as a moderator?
First of all, we are a group of people who like fixing problems. We like fixing them even when they're not entirely topical, though this impulse is moderated somewhat by the vote-to-close system. We even work together, keying off of other answers, to solve them. That's great!
Also, the tone of our answers is a real positive. With few exceptions, our answers do not include "WTF were you thinking" style verbiage when we're solving problems. This sets us above other similar sites, and that is a Good Thing.
On the other hand, mocking in comments of seemingly stupid, incoherent, or otherwise odd questions is on the rise. Kyle has mentioned in the past that Sysadmins in general tend towards mockery as a self-policing method, and that's definitely not the tone we need to set here. I strongly agree. Mocking is particularly insidious because it provides a barrier to entry for new people, and we don't need that.
Secondly, we do have a problem with minimum standards and where they are. We've had many debates over where the 'professional' line sits, as evidenced by the prior set of questions, and that leads to a lot of variability at the entry-level end of our career spectrum. We seem to be OK with people explicitly declaring that they're learning to do what we do, but have a low tolerance for people trying to do the learning but not stating that they're doing the learning. New SF users seem to want to answer anything they can, where the long-time users or deep-experts are much more likely to vote-to-close or worse, mock.
Moditorial fixing of culture
The diamond by the Moderator's name does not provide a strong bully pulpit. When a diamond-mod posts a comment it does carry more weight than even high-rep users, which is about as strong as it gets. Therefore, the largest influence of a mod is behind the scenes; removing things unilaterally (spam and bad questions), merging tags, responding to flag-for-mod-attention flags.
Mocking in answers can be addressed by 2K+ users and doesn't require mod-attention. Mocking in comments is another thing, and if I have the power I intend to do something about them when I see it happening. A mod-comment reminding people that such behavior is not encouraged here can do a lot to signal that such things shouldn't happen. Particularly egregious examples will be, if possible, removed.
Dealing with the minimum standards issue is an ongoing process and is a hearts-and-minds thing. We've been doing some of that work here in Meta, and I'll happily continue to contribute in that. Being a moderator changes my role in the debate somewhat, but I hope to continue to be a good influence in the debates.
Two most valuable cultural elements and two worst flaws of SF
The sysadmin community as a whole is very much focussed on "see a problem, fix a problem" directness, which maps well to the ethos of the Stack Exchange sites idea to be a question and answer site. The downside of this is that it tends towards sarcasm and rude dismissal of people whose questions don't fit into that pattern. The BOFH stories on the register are funny because a lot of us recognise our own wishes at the end of a bad day in them, but its all too easy to forget the BOFH is a joke when you've had a bad day yourself.
The second aspect of SF that I like is that the regular contributors are always willing to help both people asking and people answering questions - by answering questions, editing and improving answers and, yes, closing duplicates with a link to a previous question/answer. The downside of this is that its possible to become jaded after a while, and be a little too quick to pull the trigger to close a question or to edit one yourself rather than allow/guide the author to improve their statements by themselves.
How moderators can boost these strengths and help deal with the weaknesses
In all the above cases, both strengths and weaknesses, I think that the moderator tools might well add a few features to make it easier, but an experienced user of the site should already be leading by example; editing and commenting (with as light a touch as possible) and generally helping people to improve questions and answers themselves.
One thing a moderator needs to remember is that they are in the limelight, so while experienced site users should be leading by example, any mistakes made by a moderator can generate far more ripples than those made by someone else. It isn't realistic to expect moderators to never make mistakes. It is realistic to expect them to remember they are moderators and think before using a moderator tool.
This leads me back to encouraging people to do the right thing rather than forcing them - be firm and always be consistent, but use a light touch if possible and explain your actions as a moderator so that people will know why you acted and what they need to work on in the future.
What do you see as the top two most valuable cultural elements of
For the most part, we're people who
actually give a shit about the
problems that we're helping to solve.
So many times when I'm googling for
issues and I see forums (mainly
TechNet and Expert Sexchange threads)
where answering peoples problems are
almost done rudely, and only done
because whoever is doing it is
required to do it to keep some sort of
status. I have no idea whether or not
that's true, but that's mostly the
impression that I get. When I joined I
specifically decided I wanted to get
to 10k rep and then I would quit
(because I had "won" the game). But
it's many moons after I reached the
10k threshold and I'm still here, and
I would be still be here if you took
rep away completely.
Secondly, I'm actually glad to say,
this is mostly an impartial place (see
my answer for the flaws of SF for a
continuation of this!). People come to
get an answer, and an answer is what
they get. They (usually) don't get any
"That's stupid, you should just use
Linux it's got that built in", there's
very little preaching and when people
disagree, they usually agree to
disagree. When there are people making
others feel un-welcome, they are
flagged into oblivion by the wider
How will you perpetuate those cultural elements as a moderator?
Honestly, the great thing about the
community here is that there's not
much a moderator needs to (or even can
do) to let the site continue being a
caring place. The community is a fluid
thing but it seems to be that when new
people join, they see the attitudes of
those before them and continue this
attitude, thus leaving a legacy for
those that come later. Just as long as
we clean up the few spills along the
way, new users will have nothing to
fear about here. This applies to both
my favourite elements on SF - clean up
the spills along the way and they
won't continue to happen in the future
What do you see as the top two flaws in SF's culture at the present time?
Server Fault is now at an age where
cliques start to form, and this can be
counter-productive in multiple ways:
Comment spam can build up that's totally irrelevant to the question. I
am guilty of this myself - leaving
little 'in' jokes around the place for
other grandfather users to see and
have a little giggle about.
It can be a barrier of entry to new users. Admittedly Server Fault
overcomes a lot of these issues
through its innovative design and
process, but I remember when I first
came to SF and I went to
meta.stackoverflow - I felt like a
complete outsider and really unwelcome. When I raised my concerns I
was shot down and my question was
long-since deleted. I know that at the
time there are other (now departed) SF
users who felt the same way. I really,
really hope that SF does not go down
that path. Particularly
meta.serverfault. Everyone here should
be made to feel welcome - and 99% of
the time we do, but we need to make
sure it stays that way.
The other main flaw in SF (well, it's
not really a "flaw" as such...) is
that it's definately the 3rd of the
trilogy sites, even though it was the
2nd site launched. If you look at
Stack Overflow, there are questions
and answers there that literally have
a THOUSAND upvotes, and questions with
dozens or even hundreds of votes are
not uncommon. The only way a question
or answer on this site EVER gets that
kind of attention is when Jeff posts a
link on twitter or codinghorror about
it. The perceived lack of voting here
has two issues:
I realise that SU and SO have many more users than we do, and SO is one
of the most popular websites in the
world. We can never, ever even begin
to think about matching that sort of
popularity. For starters there are
orders of magnitude more programmers
than sysadmins in the world, but the
lack of voting users can be
dissapointing. I've seen stupid,
stupid CW questions upvoted 40 times
when a really great, thought out
question gets 5kviews and a grand
total of 2 upvotes. People who post
GREAT questions and GREAT answers need
to be rewarded appropriately, and I
feel that they are not at the moment.
Not enough of our users vote enough. I believe that upvotes are
more imporant than downvotes, but ANY
kind of vote is appreciated. I'm also
an offender of this. I have proudly
voted 2759 times (u:2516, d:243) which
makes me one of the most proliferant
voters on SF, but even I don't do
enough voting. I've only run out of
votes maybe 3 times since I joined.
How would you address those cultural flaws as a moderator?
I know this has been a very, very long
speech, but this one is a short
I will vote more. A lot more. Even if
I don't become a moderator, starting
right now, I'm going to try and use up
my daily votes at least once a week.
This is more difficult than it
sounds as 00:00 GMT is right in the
middle of my work-day, so my votes
roll over half-way through the day,
and voting that many times in a single
day would just mean voting
What do you see as the top two most
valuable cultural elements of
ServerFault and how will you
perpetuate those cultural elements as
This might seem like an obvious
statement, but the most valuable thing
we have is a community of users
willing to answer people’s questions
and not just with a quick answer. We
have a collection of people willing to
look at a question, apply their
knowledge to it, and then go off and
research a solution, often to very
complex problems, and provide an
answer to a person on the internet who
they will likely never meet, or see
how they benefit from their work,
because they can.
There is an easy way for moderators to
help perpetuate this by making it easy
for them to do so. Remove the spam and
the advertisements that get in the
way, help to clean up the
inappropriate or misplaced questions,
edit these questions to make sure they
can reach the people best able to help
them. If the moderators can help to do
this, the users are able to focus on
what really matters, quality answers.
Another great point about Serverfault
is that a lot of the time, moderators
aren’t needed. People have invested so
much time and effort into this site,
that they are also invested in keeping
the site clean and organised and
editing, migrating or closing
questions where it is needed. I also
feel that by operating in this way
users feel better when they have their
questions edited or moved. It seems
much less personal when 5 people have
voted together to close or move your
question than when a single superman
jumps in and does it. I’m be much more
inclined to consider that my question
had problems if 5 of my peers agreed
There is an easy way for moderators to
help perpetuate this, keep their
fingers out of the pie! There are some
tasks that a moderator should be very
keen on dealing with, spam, abuse etc.
But I feel a good moderator shouldn’t
be visible to users until it is clear
that they are needed. There is no call
to use the mod hammer to close a
question that will get closed by users
(often with positive feedback to the
user that asked the question), there’s
no need for moderators to come in and
make sweeping changes to a question
when they know the users will help
evolve this question over the time.
Moderation is a power to be used
lightly and honed over time, not a
chain gun to be used on all that get
in its way.
What do you see as the top two flaws
in SF's culture at the present time
and how would you address those
cultural flaws as a moderator?
One of the increasingly common faults
I have seen with the community is the
fact that we can be somewhat elitist
as to what questions we will answer.
We look at a question that is badly
worded, with spelling or grammar
mistakes as being written by someone
too lazy to make the effort, so why
should we spend time answering it.
However more and more of the time,
these sorts of questions are from
people whose first language is not
English, or who are struggling in
trying to put their thoughts into
words, but are trying very hard to put
together a question.
We should be more accommodating in
this area, particularly as high rep
users and moderators, and spend some
time helping these users clean up
their questions and make them better,
rather than jumping on the close
button. I’m as guilty as the next
person in this sometimes, and I need
to do better at taking the time to try
and establish what someone is trying
to ask. If we can get this far, then
the question has value and we can help
by editing and formatting the question
so that it gets good answers. No
question should be written off just
because it doesn’t read well at first
glance. A moderator’s role should be
as a guide, to spot these users that
might be struggling and help and
encourage them to write better
My final bad point is something we’ve
all done at some point I’m sure. You
see a question where you think “OMGZ
how can they not know that” because
the answer is so blindingly
obvious..... to you. We’ve all learned
so much over our careers that we can
sometimes forget what it is like to
not know the basics, especially those
times when you know that the answer
should be obvious, but you can’t get
it. We’ve all been there, but now our
heads are so full of the incredibly
intricate solutions to complicated
problems that we forget and we leave
condescending comments or LMGTFY
links. It has probably taken that user
some courage to ask what they know is
a simple question, but we make them
feel bad about it.
I’m by no means saying this is
happening all the time, but we have
all thought that way I’m sure, when
we’re busy and stressed, but it’s not
fair to that user. As a moderator I’d
like to think that I can help dissuade
this behaviour by leading by example
and letting people know that snide
comments and LMGTFY links don’t help.
Along with reassuring the, often new,
users that it’s ok to ask questions
that might seem simple, because you
can guarantee that they are not going
to be the only ones who benefit from
the answer. A moderator’s diamond adds
some weight to your responses and it
should be used for good.
In my opinion the best two elements of Server Fault (and the
reasons I registered as a user in
fact) are the overwhelming sense of
friendliness and willingness to help.
I have registered on many internet
forums in the past, and posting as a
newbie I was often put down in some
way by someone who had a high post
count and was thus "more important"
than me. My first posts were usually
disagreed with and I wasn't made to
feel particularly welcome. Here at
Server Fault, I "lurked" for a while
so I could get a feel for the place,
and was bowled over by the sense of
community and real friendliness, even
by the high rep users (who on forums
I'd experienced in the past I would
generally consider to be jerks). When
I had a problem I couldn't figure out,
I was confident that when I posted it
on Server Fault I would be met with
some friendly and awesome answers by
some incredibly clever people.
As a moderator, I would continue to
encourage this friendly behaviour and
try to make Server Fault a better
place by removing the "noise" posts we
get (non-answers and spam). I want
Server Fault to be the place for
people in our profession to go to
share their knowledge, and in my
efforts to remove all the noise I hope
to encourage even more professionals
to join and participate.
As mentioned by the other candidates, we do seem to have a
problem with inappropriate comments.
It's not a major problem, but a
problem that needs to be addressed
nonetheless. I am certainly not
playing totally innocent here - I have
posted the odd snarky comment at the
end of a long and hard day, but I
usually deleted them after a few hours
when I'd cooled down. I have since
realised that such grumpy comments are
unacceptable, and as a moderator I
would work to remove such comments
that poke fun at people or don't
really add anything to the discussion.
I would give gentle reminders of what
comments are designed for, as people
seeing a moderator discouraging
something will be less inclined to do
Another problem is we can be very
quick to jump on the close button. We
need to figure out what the original
poster really wants and try and edit
the question to fit. Bad English and
grammar can easily be fixed with an
edit, and can really salvage a
potentially good question. I have
recently started to do this to poor
questions that I see, and as a
moderator I would continue this trend.
Again, people seeing a moderator do
this might be more encouraged to do it
themselves, or at least not go
straight for the close button and try
and figure out what the question asker