After last night's town hall meeting this was said in chat

But there were some opinions from candidates that go against the grain of what the current mods enforce

which is kind of expected as we don't know what you've agreed to enforce.

If we know what you are enforcing then we can better help you by flagging within the bounds etc. Would our mods care to educate us as to what is currently enforced?

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    As I was reading the transcript of last night's debate, I said to myself, "I should probably answer these questions on my blog, just because". I think I'll do that, but here since you asked so nicely. But it'll have to wait for me to have time for it.
    – sysadmin1138 Mod
    Jan 17, 2012 at 13:20
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    "What we have here ... is a failure to communicate" - Cool Hand Luke
    – Chris S
    Jan 17, 2012 at 13:44
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    @sysadmin1138: That would be great, along with anything else you & the rest of the mods want to share. I am also hoping that it can be kept up to date when new decisions and agreements are made.
    – user9517
    Jan 17, 2012 at 16:11

2 Answers 2


Being a mod is sort like being a police officer. They have to deal with stupidity all the time so it is easy to get bitter over time. The people they deal with on the whole might not be stupid, but even then they see the stupid side of people. Because of the power police have though, it is very important that they never give into the temptation to just smack people upside the head -- the same is true of mods. Do you think you have this temperment?

Definitely. I have long experience being in a position to smack heads and know how to not do it. The 'therapeutic tap' can be useful as a one-time redirection to get someone on track, but never do it out of frustration.

One thing all mods need to keep in mind is that all comments and meta-answers we make hold more weight than a mere high rep user would. It is Official Communication, so those exchanges need to be the paragon of professionality.

If elected, it's possible you will receive some criticism of your decisions from time to time, sometimes quite vehement criticism, which you may feel is unjustified, how will you handle this?

If you're at all active with moderation, this is a certainty. The key is to remain calm, and be aware that every action you take can be criticized so you only do actions you can defend. When called upon to defend, be in tune enough to the community that the community does your defense for you before you notice the meta-post, or if you see it first defend with calmness and sympathy for the aggrieved.

You see a question that's borderline appropriate for the site. It's got no flags, and two close votes. What do you do?

Wait for more close-votes or a flag. 2 isn't enough to hammer unless it's obvious. If it is time sensitive for some reason, run it by either the VTC or CommsRoom chatrooms for more opinions (and votes).

As there is a meta for all the sites on meta.StackOverflow, have you been active there already and how do you see your role there as a member of this site? If you see a role at all?

It is our role to keep abreast of changes to the environment (new rep requirements, badges, rep-limited features) which requires at least monitoring MSO. When there are structural problems, it is our role to push for things on MSO since we have a relationship with the overall SE community through our mod-ship.

You're the sole closer of a question using your mod-hammer. The OP of the question posts on meta asking it to be re-opened. How much convincing do you need to reverse your decision (e.g. 5 users agree with the op, or 1 mod, or nothing because they were polite)?

If I una-hammered something, there is always a strong reason why. Though, 95% of the questions showing only my name on the Closed By line were brought to my attention by flags. However, I am but one vote. If two of our proven community members says they thing it actually has a home here, I'll listen. We have a 'reopen' mechanism for a reason, and that can work via MSF posts as easily as actual Reopen votes.

The quality of questions in terms how professional or advanced they are comes up again and again on meta. Joel answered when that came up once with:

"There are basically two ways discussion groups can go. They can stick with the same people (who are learning and getting smarter) or they can stick with the same subject. If they stick with the same people, the only way to keep them entertained is to get more and more esoteric until you have a site where nobody can get useful information except the 14 old-timers who have been around since the beginning. This is nice for the 14 old-timers, but doesn't make the Internet a better place. If you stick with the same subject, eventually the old-timers get bored. That's a better outcome, I think. I think the old-timers would be better served by finding a new area to learn about that's challenging and interesting."

Do you agree with him on this and how do you determine if a question is too basic?

I agree, since I've seen it happen. In our case it's a bit trickier since we have a well searchable database of historic questions so dupe-closing will get ever more common as the DB grows.

Personally, as a voter not a moderator, I'm more tolerant of basic questions than the community seems to be at the moment. I'll answer them. This is why I keep having answers migrated to SuperUser.

As a moderator I only action basic questions after they've received significant community feedback against them in the form of close votes and flags.

Do you tend to view all (or most) questions that are posted or do you stay mostly within your favorite tags?

As I said when I took this job, by being elected the community has asked me to put moderation ahead of traditional participation in the form of answers and close-voting. My current day-job has me a lot less bored than my previous one, so my time for SF is greatly restricted from what it once was. Because of this, I make time for handling the flag-queue but do not make time to peruse questions.

This is a key point. Moderators are 'human exception handlers', not the Guardians of Propriety to whom Concerned Citizens forward complaints of offenders. By sifting every question on the site as they show up I can handle obviously-misplaced content faster than our high-rep users can get to them. However, we already have a dedicated group of people monitoring all new content and they're quite vocal with close-voting and flags. I merely expedite their actions once they've sifted things for me.

The hammer is best used for edge cases that wouldn't otherwise get handled, but should be handled. And I don't action edge-cases until at least one other person has said it needs actioning.

I would like to view all questions, but I simply do not have time. When I have time for answering, I'll look at the front page, look at the interesting stuff, hit a few of the tags I follow to see if there is anything unloved, and then move on.

How will you cope with pressure from visitors who don't understand how the site works? I see a lot of people say in response to another question that they will listen to others, which is right, but how will you deal with a large number of people who complain about a closed question that is off topic - I can find more than 10 people who hate to see licence questions closed as dups of our canonical licence question.

There are two questions here, how to deal with loud but un-clued users about how SF works, and how to handle dissent against what was previously a settled topic.

I find that one-on-one with new, engaged, but unclued users is a great way to help foster understanding. That can be in the form of brief comment-exchanges, or in actual chat. We've had a few people drop into chat to question how the site works which works... uh... interestingly.

Go into chat in the mein of honest inquiry and you'll get happily helped. Go into chat with indignation that things aren't working the way they should, there will be mocking.

As for the second topic, that is a sign that we need to have a meta-conversation about the topic again. Sizeable dissent is a sign that the one-size-fits-most answer we've identified doesn't actually fit most, and we need to change something. Whether that's better defining the topical/off-topical line or which sub-cases are not Too Broad/Too Localized, that needs to happen.

You see a user who generally posts good, useful answers, however they are being rude and offensive to some people in comments, particularly what you might call "less difficult questions". The user has already been warned about their behaviour but that seems to have made no difference. What do you do now?

You may think you know who this is talking about, there are more of them than you think.

This user is Not Being Nice. The Mod Notice/banhammer schedule:

  1. Notify them that their behavior is bad and needs to change. If this goes on yada yada.
  2. One day or seven day suspension. Depends on the offense and how frequent a participant they are.
  3. One month suspension. They'll notice that.
  4. One year suspension.

So far no one has come back after a year-ban.

Sysadmins tend to get stereotyped with a holier-than-thou attitude. Do you feel you fall into this stereotype (in general)? Why/Why not?

I try hard not to. If my users won't come to me with problems because they're afraid they'll be yelled at or made to feel stupid, I won't find out about problems I need to know about.

I think moderators, besides fulfilling the day to to day tasks, also need to set a higher example in terms of being respectful to users more than your average user (at least, ones they don't already have a good familiarity with). Is that something you have already or done, or would be willing to do in the future if you are elected as a moderator?

Can and have. The only snark I do is in chat. I've extended this to my blog since I have a good number of readers from the SF community.

How do you feel about old (say, more than 12 months old) content that is now off-topic due to an FAQ revision? If one user went and flagged 44 posts in 10 minutes on posts from circa 2009 stating them as off-topic, do you act on the flags?

This is an ongoing debate, and hopefully there has already been meta-discussion on these topics. If there hasn't, then one needs to be started now. I'll mark one of those flags as 'unhelpful' with a custom notice of 'see this meta question', and then leave the rest. That way other mods will know that we're holding off on actioning those 44 flags until after some community feedback. It'll royally screw our "average flag handling time", but better that than mistakenly nuke content.

The worst method is to 'unhelpful' all of those flags and then do a meta post, as that will drop someone with over 600 flag-rank to under 200. They will be 'unappreciative'.

Do you think you will be more active if granted mod status? If so, would you see it as an opportunity to promote the site? If so, are there other things you think you could do to promote/improve the site?

This was asked last year, and I think I lived up to it. I will be as active, just less visible with it. Fewer questions and answers, more flag-handling and conflict resolution.

I'm also an active blogger (see profile for link) through which I promote SF related stuff. I also get ModSwag, for sharing at technical conventions. LISA was my first, and I passed out quite a few ServerFault cards.

What is the biggest problem that we have within the SF community?

FAQ-evangelicalism. Which we're covering already.

How much interaction have you had with the dev team and SE staff?

As a mod, quite a bit. When SF needs a dev to do something (such as change the contents of the FAQ, or burninate tags) it's us that rousts up the dev to go get it done. They hold regular chat-casts for moderators which I try to make when possible (usually US hours, which makes it tricky for antipodeans like Mark).

A question (clear, has all revelant technical information) asks how to route some traffic around a firewall. The asker mentions that he has no control over the firewall itself. Do you close the question with an explanation of why you think it's wrong? Close with a harsh word? Destroy the asker's account? Answer the question?

As a community, we've decided to close policy circumvention questions unless the asker is clear that they're not actively circumventing policy.

What do you feel should be done with homework questions?

As a community, we feel they fall afoul of "...in a professional capacity" so they should be closed.

As a person, I feel we're missing an opportunity for education.

Do you think we close questions too quickly that can be salvaged with some editing? If so, can you think of a way to combat this?

More moderators with more time on their hands. We close a lot of questions, sometimes I have time to edit a VLQ flag into something answerable, but a lot of the time I don't. If it's just an English literacy problem crossed with overly pedantic readers ("there is no question there"), that's a pretty easy fix.

Thing 1: No Safties on the Mod Hammer

One thing that the StackExchange team is quite clear about is that Thou Shalt Not Go On Delete Binges Without Community Approval, and it is best if you do it in a group and not just lone-Mod it. I made this exact mistake when I first got my diamond, and is has been made clear to me where my errors lay.

Getting your diamond does not mean you have a license to kill old/busted/invalid content. Community oversight is paramount. In fact, it is best to do as several people have done and to identify some Data.stackexchange.com queries that identify bad content, have people validate that it does indeed return bad content with few false positives, and only unleash the Mod-Weedwhacker after all of that has gone through meta.

Secondly, weedwhacking deprives people of valuable, valuable flag-rank. We had enough low-hanging fruit for a single Marshal-badge earner, everything left are edge cases or stuff superseded by FAQ changes.

This applies just as much for Closes as Deletes, by the way.

Thing 2: Decorum Uber Alles

As a moderator, you don't get the luxury of cussing people out. Occasional slips need to be apologized for. We do deliver sternly worded warnings, but these warnings need to be done in a professional tone using words that don't have high emotional resonances with them. Moderator Notices are the big-gun on this, but this also applies to corrective-comments when you're trying to adjust behavior.

Thing 3: User Reputation Management

Anytime a mod does something to a question or answer it affects user reputation. Migrating a question with answers removes those answers from the answerer's rep-chart when they next get recalculated. Deleting a question removes everyone's reputation (including negatives). Locking a question prevents further rep-earning. Protecting a question prevents brand new users from contributing. ComWiki removes everyone's rep-earning.

This, by the way, is why the Historical Significance lock came into existence; for questions that should go away, but are too heavy in reputation-significance to delete. It's a compromise.

People work hard for their rep points. People notice a lot when their rep drops a thousand points because you deleted a question/answer that had 100 upvotes on it.

The more rep-weight a piece of content has, the more certain you have to be of your justifications for removing that piece of content.

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    That turned into a novel.
    – sysadmin1138 Mod
    Jan 17, 2012 at 17:02
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    Yeah, I scrolled all the way down hoping for a summary. Now I'm going to have to scroll all the way back up and read it all. Thanks for taking the time to post this. I just hope I get enough time to read it. Jan 17, 2012 at 20:58
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    So, just finished reading that, and I agree with almost everything. Jan 18, 2012 at 1:00
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    Excellent - thank you for taking the time to write that all out!
    – EEAA
    Jan 18, 2012 at 3:24

The biggest issue that I saw was with the answers to homework questions.

It's been a policy on the SE network (if I had the time, I would find the meta.stackoverflow question) that homework questions are totally cool if:

  • The user actually asks a specific question
  • The user has taken the time to try and figure it out on their own
  • The user actually has some knowledge of what they're asking about

So, the following is not OK:

I need to explain Database (ASP with Database back end) as part of my pass criteria, but I don't understand how a Database works with ASP.

But this is OK (I don't actually know if this is homework, but it sure sounds like it):

I am trying to plan out a network with the following requirements and am having problems trying to complete a subnet plan for my network.

The network consists of 3 routers that connect 3 different buildings together. I need to subnet the entire network into 4 smaller networks using the - address range.

Router R1 hosts the Facilities network where 60 hosts are required.
Router R2 hosts the Business Ops network, which needs 100 hosts.
Router R3 hosts two switches:
1.) Personnel, and they have 25 hosts.
2.) IT, which has 25 hosts.
Each router-to-router connection requires 2 hosts via serial.

My initial thought was to use the following; however, this leaves me with an issue and I believe that it has to do with the /25 segment using/wasting too many addresses.

/26 for 62 hosts for Facilities
/25 for 126 hosts for Business Ops
/26 for 62 hosts for Personnel and IT
/29 for 8 hosts for each router-to-router connection

I am not sure why I cannot make them all fit within the required IP allocation and believe that I am missing something simple.

The latter shows understanding of the topic, and has a clear and concise question, and it a real problem that a lot of us have faced at some stage.

Ideally, we want to capture the student market where we can, because they are going to be the people who will most benefit from our site when they get into their professional careers, and if we can instil in the good students that Server Fault is the place to get great answers, then the site will flourish in the long term.

On the flip side, we do not want a reputation of a site that does shitty homework for people who can't be bothered doing an inch of work themselves, or for students who find themselves in 1st year IT so they can transfer to Exercise Science next year so they can hit on the hottie personal trainers.

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    The hate on (well formulated) homework questions always saddens me
    – Zypher
    Jan 18, 2012 at 1:24
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    This is one reason I want to workshop the FAQ building more systematically. It'll give us a chance to debate points, not just the whole thing.
    – sysadmin1138 Mod
    Jan 18, 2012 at 2:30
  • Plainly put! Thanks @Mark Henderson.
    – Jacques
    Aug 2, 2013 at 14:20

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