39

One topic I am seeing a lot of the election page, and in meta threads, and in the site in general, is the idea that moderators should be running around slamming close votes on every question that doesn't fit into the sites definition.

When I became a moderator, it was made exceedingly clear to us as moderators that we should be exception handlers. That we are not meant to run around smashing things with hammers unless the community is unable to, or has failed to do so. This means giving the community a chance to do things before acting unilaterally.

I find the idea that moderators are meant to be taking the front line in closing questions concerning. This does not gel with what I was told a good moderator should be, and for me, fails the moderate part of the word moderator. We are here to keep the peace, not make policies and fight wars. Moderators should be here to handle issues that users can't handle themselves.

It particularly frustrates me when I am directly accused of not being a community leader, and not doing enough proactive moderation on the site. This is not what I feel a moderators job is. We are not asked to be community leaders in that we are not meant to be taking the front line in the battle of off-topic questions. Leave this for the community. We are here to handle things that the wider community cannot handle.

Am I wrong in thinking this?

  • 2
    For what it's worth I'm going to refrain from voting on answers to this question. I'm interested in what the community genuinely thinks and don't want my personal opinions to impact what others see float to the top. – Mark Henderson Nov 20 '14 at 23:56
23

I've hammered a lot of questions, so you may be surprised to hear me say that moderators should use the mod hammer sparingly. I've also not hammered many more questions that I thought should be closed, that were I not a moderator I would have VTC'd without a second thought. This may be because I read a lot more of Server Fault than most people, and happen to notice a lot more.

In an ideal Stack Exchange site, the community decides what is on topic, what is off topic, what is horrible garbage that nobody should have to put up with, and moderators clean up only the worst of the messes.

How should a moderator lead? I still think a moderator should be:

  • Editing posts. Improving poor English, repairing bad Markdown, fixing typos, or even completely rearranging an entire post to make it better.
  • Leaving comments in abundance. Asking for clarification, giving pointers to related questions or external resources, explaining why a question is off-topic, etc.
  • Answering questions. Which was one of the (unofficial) prerequisites for becoming a moderator to begin with. High quality answers are why people come here.

Hammering posts closed is less visible, and handling flags is almost entirely invisible, to the community, so these things - while they may be necessary - are not necessarily leadership.

Unfortunately, Server Fault is not an ideal Stack Exchange site. We have a narrow topic which is difficult for many visitors to comprehend. We have help vampires by the dozens on a daily basis. The barbarians are at the gate, and our community is near the breaking point.

I see no reason why a moderator should not be using the hammer when something blatantly off-topic shows up, the sort of thing the community would kill in ten minutes in the absence of a moderator. But, again, it's better, when possible, to just fix the question, ask for clarification, or whatever. When I'm not 100% certain that something would be closed anyway, then I don't hammer.

On the other hand, we've clearly passed the point where the community is willing or able to close everything that is off-topic on their own. The close queue is full of questions that often have their close votes aged out before five people even get to review them. Some people have given up on close reviews in disgust, mostly due to bad audits or sheer burnout. Those who do want to help clear the queue are stymied by the 20-review daily limit. And of course, many of these questions get low-quality answers before they can be closed and improved.

SF is at the point where something must be done now to improve the site's quality, most likely many somethings, or it's going to die. This can't be put off any longer. Mod hammering is at this point just putting your finger in the dike. We have bigger problems to solve and not much time to do it.

  • I'm in the exact same boat. – Chris S Nov 21 '14 at 17:06
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    I don't think our Close Votes queue is out of control. It takes daily tending, but usually stays under 100. Compare the close queue on StackOverflow, which used to be up around 118K, although I see that now they've gotten it down to 11K. – Andrew Schulman Nov 24 '14 at 13:27
  • Considering SO is 25x to 75x bigger than SF (by traffic or questions) having a Close Queue that's at least 100x bigger than ours sounds like we're doing a great job of keeping the Queue down. – Chris S Nov 26 '14 at 15:01
  • The close queue hasn't been quite as large for the last week or so, since it's gotten this attention on meta. It remains to be seen whether it will stay that way. – Michael Hampton Dec 2 '14 at 0:29
17

Also a quote from the election page:

http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2009/05/a-theory-of-moderation/

The ideal moderator does as little as possible. But those little actions may be powerful and highly concentrated. Judiciously limiting your use of moderator powers to selectively prune and guide the community — now that’s the true art of moderation.

  • I think that's fair enough. As a mod you've got bigger bullets, but think sniper, not minigun. – Sirex Nov 25 '14 at 22:03
13

As a candidate, I think I should clarify my position on this.

Mod-hammering is sometimes appropriate. I'd even go so far as to say that it is often appropriate. There are a lot of very clear and distinct cases about which there can be no controversy. As an elected moderator, I would facilitate the swift disposition of those questions.

Why?

The community is supposed to be able to handle it, but at the moment, it can't. This is evidenced by the growing size of the close queue (less than other sites, but more than it has been), and the loud dissatisfaction with the quality of content on the site.

Many high-rep users are unhappy with the amount of closing material they see and find it distracting and discouraging. Five of them have to sift through every single one just to put it on hold.

The community can and should still evaluate and communally moderate questions that aren't immediately obviously and irredeemably horrid. But, at this particular moment, moderation demands restoration of balance, not inaction.

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    I agree (to make it explicit as another candidate). – Sven Nov 25 '14 at 8:22
9

I do realise that moderation styles differ between sites, but I tend to consider closing clearly off topic questions to be a moderator task of sorts (though it still feels odd for me to do it).

A good mod is a janitor. However, sometimes...

enter image description here

Slightly firmer action is required. I'd consider breaking out the hoe and getting rid of crap to be a transitional measure - eventually you're either going to have burnt out mods, or better yet, regular users willing and able to take it on.

enter image description here

That said, all the shoveling we can do isn't much use without good questions - and you need the community for that too. I'd consider clearing up bad questions a start of a process rather than a solution.

8

I have to echo something a couple of the other moderators have said: I VTCed a lot more things than I hammer now. That's because a VTC is a one-in-five vote of no-confidence where a hammer is a summary execution. I have to be very sure that the content I'm going to dispose of is not fit for consumption. So yes, I rarely hammer stuff without at least one other VTC on it.

Since the beginning Stack* has created ever more detailed ways for non-mods to self-police. The review-queues, regardless of their implementation quality, were intended to streamline content-review by a wide audience of higher-rep users. It sure as hell increased the discoverability of questions with close-votes on them! The closed-questions numbers jumped decidedly when the review queues showed up so they are working (if occasionally maligned).

One thing that isn't mentioned is that Moderators aren't subjected to the 20-question review limit, or whatever they are, and our decisions are final; if I say a question is 'just fine' it'll only earn more close-votes if someone hunts it up in the site. A couple of times I've gone into the queues to wade through the crap and bring the reviewable-counter down to something less embarrassing.

Three of our top reviewers are putting themselves up for a mod-bit. Will they continue to weed the review queues, or will they let the rest of the site get a first pass the way the rest of the mod-staff tends to do?

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    If a moderator clicks "Leave Open" in the close review queue, the question is removed from the queue entirely. Only "Skip" leaves it in the queue. – Michael Hampton Nov 21 '14 at 14:43
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    That's an elegant half-way house: using the hammer to accelerate the demise of low-quality things that others (but less than five others) have already VTCed. – MadHatter Nov 24 '14 at 13:26
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Just chipping in my .02 cents from the peanut gallery...

First, there is an entire class of questions that are being pounded/closed out of existence instead of close-to-move. More often than not, when browsing the question queue, I see at least one question that should be Vote to move to site... instead of Vote to close because..., and my not-educated not-informed opinion of this is that we are encountering a class of people that do not know what systems administration happens to be, and they show up asking questions that should be asked elsewhere. In my not humble opinion we should always ask first, should this question be relocated elsewhere? Because I've seen good questions go to waste because it was quicker/easier for people to carpetbomb them into vapor, than it was to move them to their intended audience. enter image description here


Second, there is another class of questions that could be classified as "I'm a noob here, I'm asking the obvious question because I've never done this before". These, too, are carpetbombed. We should always ask second, is this a noob that just needs some gentle guidance? enter image description here


Last, there are the questions that really are garbage. Think about "Halp I have problem with cheeseburger, please fix" (Vote to close because we don't do cheeseburgers in the server room) and "The internet is down!" (Vote to close because user was obviously able to use the internet to post the question). When the question is just that bad, I think we can help with this process by leaving a detailed note from either a vote-to-close or a mod that says "The question doesn't belong because" instead of just voting to close. This sounds redundant, and it is, but I have my reason: the vote system does not convey nuance, it only conveys a general response. It's the difference between getting a form letter from your doctor saying "it was great to see you, watch that spot on your cheek", and getting a personal letter saying "we need you to come in right away to talk about cancer treatment options". If we don't use precision, and instead stick to the carpet bomb approach, we will never really carve out the targetted cancer...it will simple turn into metastasis. If the user is truly clueless, well, at least we left behind a message for other users that are not. And that means not having to answer the question again. It also gives us great cannon fodder to use for comments like "Vote to close because duplicate of..." which in turn points to the original clueless question, which will in turn have our old answer, reducing the amount of work involved.

What a LART looks like to a luser on SF


So, there you go. My two cents, although it was more like .07 with the tax thrown in. Sorry for the long read.

2

IMHO Typically what is genuinely off-topic is glaringly obvious.

Whether the "common" users or moderators move to close those questions is a question of who gets there first. Typically nobody disagrees that those should not be front-page news.

The last year I have been more active and I have not seen much of the flame wars that used to plague usenet. If that's the result of successful moderation or the community at work, I don't know. But the site works in that regard.

an example: A question like this with quite a few down-votes but also a possibly excessively up-voted answer does not need moderator slamming. The community works there.

Non-moderators don't see what moderators do (I think). Once you get some rep you, me and everybody does see some/all of the review queues, where participation is possibly not as wide-spread as wanted, but at least multiple eye-balls are at work. That appears to work too, but the queues are getting longer.

In contrast, what a community leader is slightly less clear. I have no idea actually. From what I see from the front of the site, what goes on behind the scenes is not broken.

1

A quote from the election page

Community moderators are accorded the highest level of privilege on our community, and should themselves be exemplars of positive behavior and leaders within the community.

(my emphasis)

Like it or not, moderators are community leaders, it's one of the things (most) of you were elected to be. That's why it's important you are seen to be active within the community.

Most of our elected moderators where likely elected because they were active within the community. That life subsequently means they no longer have the time to devote to SF is sad but really at that point they should be honest with themselves and the community and step down.

  • So you're saying that "being a community leader = abundance of mod actions"? – Shane Madden Nov 20 '14 at 23:34
  • What makes you think that ? – user9517 Nov 20 '14 at 23:36
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    Because this is your answer to the question "should mods be hammering in abundance?", so that's how I'm interpreting it - if this is aimed particularly at lack of visibility of current moderators, and not an answer to the question of how aggressive our mods should be in general, then this probably isn't the place to discuss it. – Shane Madden Nov 20 '14 at 23:40
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    It is true that I was once way more active than I am now. Before I was a mod I had edited hundreds of questions. However my interpretation of being a "leader" is different to others perhaps. When I say being a "leader" I don't believe moderators are meant to lead people into battle. We are here to clean up the mess that remains. So in this part, I guess I have worded my intentions poorly. – Mark Henderson Nov 20 '14 at 23:47
  • By disappearing into the dark, you become just like any other elected official - only interested in being seen when votes matter. – user9517 Nov 21 '14 at 7:33
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    Uhhh, ok. I'm not chasing votes? I am not interested in being seen at all. I prefer to work behind the scenes, quietly. It's what I've been doing for years now. You seem to want me to be all loud and shouty. Also, as you of all people should know, moderators are not officials. We have no say or sway in official SE politics. We are janitors with a special star on their name. Nothing to be particularly proud of there. – Mark Henderson Nov 21 '14 at 10:21
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    I am interpreting this passage as a requirement for moderator action and content to be exemplary to others: no arbitrary decisions, no swearing, this kind of stuff. It does not sound like a call to arms to me. – the-wabbit Nov 21 '14 at 15:36
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Moderators should be here to handle issues that users can't handle themselves.

Well, important question you haven't addressed - are the users able to handle the deluge of shit themselves? With the decreasing participation of the high rep users who can slam the door on the crap questions, it seems like our options are more mod hammering, or a front page of crap.

we are not meant to be taking the front line in the battle of off-topic questions. Leave this for the community. We are here to handle things that the wider community cannot handle.

Fine, don't slam the door on the questions. Start handing out bans to the users who ask them, and let the community handle killing off the questions, if that's how you feel. Though I still say a Server Fault front page that doesn't contain questions about dealing with a lazy land lord, or how to connect tow computers together using a router, or asking what ToR is would be an improvement over the current dynamic.

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