Watching some of the moderator nomination comment threads, I get the mental image of a bucket brigade. And all the buckets contain gasoline.

I'm not terribly surprised or offended by those who are campaigning on a "salted earth" approach to moderation. The fact that they're choosing to take those approaches is no surprise to anyone. What does surprise me are those who are trying to advocate for a less extreme approach while throwing more gas on comment fires. The fact that those people are mods in one form or another frankly baffles me.

Since we like examples on Meta, and I can't directly link to these comments...

It kinda sounds like you've correctly identified the problem, and then... Arrived at the status quo as the solution. Let's face it: as a community, your reputation for cruelty, snark, and general unhelpfulness is unmatched - even Programmers, which attracts far fewer questions per day and rejects nearly all of them, doesn't come close to generating the levels of straight-up vitriol that y'all do. And so, upon observing that the only folks willing to still come here are utterly lost and desperate, your solution is... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VjPNKc0VsU

(Taking cheap, easy shots at the entire community? Seriously?)

Wow, you're all crazy. I for one do not endorse Hopelessnoob as a mod for reasons that @Shog9 has mentioned. I put this nomination in the same bucket as Evan Carrols'.

(Hmm. Rereading that, I think I know where my fixation for buckets came from.)

As our friends Evan and TheCleaner have reminded us, you can't stop someone from running for office, no matter how off the wall their reasons for self-nomination are. You don't have to like the nominees. More importantly, you don't have to like their reasons for campaigning. But if you do want to voice some disapproval, for the love of bacon, please don't make our larger problems worse by taking cheap shots at the candidates or the larger Serverfault community. Say your piece and go. It doesn't have to be pink and fluffy, but there is a line and the regulars should know what it is.

It may seem like I'm talking to a select few here, but the fact that we have mods (both SE and SF) feeding into this problem sets a terrible example for the rest of us. It's for this reason that I'm taking a time out to say this is not a cool thing. If you want to have a go at being the voice of reason, be reasonable. Waiving your right to do so only helps to ensure that we all burn the house down before the bad questions and low participation do.

tl;dr, if you have the capacity for not setting us all on fire, please remember to exercise it. Pretty please?

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    I have always had a great deal of respect for @shog9 but that comment and the lack of action that has allowed the situation to persist has somewhat shaken me.
    – user9517
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 8:22
  • +1 for mentioning me. :)
    – TheCleaner
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 14:42

4 Answers 4


I didn't intend that comment as a "cheap shot" - there's only so much you can say in the space of a comment.

A little bit of background might help here: along with most of the people on my team, I spend a fair bit of time doing support work - helping folks who are trying to learn to use these sites when they get stuck. When such people post questions on meta, or use the "contact us" link at the bottom of every page, we get notified. Usually, these problems are pretty straight-forward: they were unclear in their writing or just misunderstood what was on-topic for the site they had trouble with. In a great many instances, I need only point them to the comments or close reasons below their question for a succinct explanation of where they went wrong.

But I dread questions about Server Fault:

  • Your site-specific off-topic reasons border on worthless; it's very difficult for an outsider (and I include myself in this group) to suss out the reasoning behind why "Questions must be relevant to professional system administration" or "Questions must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved" are used in some situations and not others - much less what should be done to correct the problem (if anything can be done).
  • There's a really bizarre tendency here to answer questions in comments, and then shut down the question. Perhaps this is born of a desire to be helpful while still being strict? But it sends a mixed message, particularly when no one bothers to say what's wrong with the question.
  • Y'all have a penchant for getting into arguments with authors instead of just stating a problem and walking away. And not just a few of you. I've even had to warn some moderators about this behavior. There's a culture of one-upmanship that seems to encourage playing to an audience instead of trying to provide useful criticism.

I'm not saying this behavior is pervasive, but it's been wide-spread enough for long enough that I've come to expect it. And quite honestly, it makes me reluctant to even engage y'all here; there are too few hours in the day to spend them arguing for someone's idle entertainment, so if that's what I have to expect then my time is better spent elsewhere.

And the last thing I need is another "exceptionally snarky and cruel" moderator here creating messes for someone else to clean up. If that's honestly what anyone thinks is necessary, then they haven't been paying attention here for the past few years.

It's up to the community here to decide who gets elected. But I do have the minimum rep necessary to vote like anyone else, and the ability to comment, and I intend to use both judiciously. I strongly encourage the rest of you to do likewise.

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    On (or around) 6th Aug 12 you, Aarthi, Robert and I think Anna posted a video/recording of a meeting you had. I remember part of it well and even linked to it and commented on it in the Comms room. Sadly the youtube video is no more but what I particularly remember about it was that SF came in for a bit of a beating over snark etc. That section finished with you saying something like 'Serverfault yeah I'm going to have to deal with that'.
    – user9517
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 21:00
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    Well, over 6-8 weeks later nothing appears to have been done. If it was bad 2 years ago it certainly hasn't got any better. Why hasn't his been addressed?
    – user9517
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 21:01
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    Short answer there is simply that I dropped the ball, @Iain. The long answer is... There's not a lot I can do. I've talked about this a few times, publicly and with the mods in private, but at the end of the day, it's up to you folks how you want to be perceived - and whether or not you're willing to make that happen.
    – Shog9
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 22:19
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    Fair enough but I haven't seen anything on mSF from you or the SF mod team so perhaps you've been a bit to pink-and-fluffy about it. You're dealing with sysadmins here you need to be much more direct - seriously.
    – user9517
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 22:23
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    The questions which I see as "not professional" fall into two categories: Most are home user or development environment questions which, for some reason, weren't considered good enough to migrate to SU. Others are end users who are asking us when they need to contact their company's helpdesk, as there's nothing we can do; even if we did answer their questions they wouldn't be able to implement them, so we would never know if they were right or wrong. The "minimal understanding" reason really needs to be rewritten entirely. Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 22:42
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    @Shog9 Re: the answering questions in comments, yes, a lot of that is trying to be nice and help, or show pity to a poor soul hopelessly over their head. A lot of the rest of that comes from people who haven't included enough information so that the commenter is certain of the solution, but it's probably/maybe $suggestion. Regarding the rest, well, yeah, we are sysadmins. Maybe you and a big lot of people who contact you don't get what that means, or understand it, but since the audience for this site is supposedly professional systems and network administrators, does that matter? Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 22:45
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    It matters when there's confusion over what attitude "sysadmin" implies, @HopelessN00b. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman
    – Shog9
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 23:47
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    @Shog9 Perhaps I didn't word that well. A large number of the complaints we see are from people who aren't sysadmins at all/in any way shape or form. Does what these people think about the site matter at all, given that the site is supposed to be for sysadmins? To use an analogy: I'm an automobile mechanic and I asked a question about why my computer's Windows code is so slow on Stack Overflow, and those mean jerks downvoted and closed it! Of course it's about programming, because my computer runs programs! OK, but since he isn't in SO's target audience, why care what he thinks of SO? Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 0:02
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    @HopelessN00b That attitude is exactly why a change is needed, because the "automobile mechanic" in your example is really "anyone who doesn't fit an increasingly narrow definition of "professional". If you're going to declare that anyone who doesn't ask a perfect question on the first shot should be written off as not part of the target audience, the target audience quickly approaches 0. Which, I understand, is how some people would prefer it, but that's not a healthy direction for the community as a whole. Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 0:31
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    @ShaneMadden You may be right about the way my approach ends up, but it seems to me that your approach, being more of the same-old-same-old, results in SF being the helpdesk for SO/SE (more so than it is already). And that's not a good direction for the community either. And, just for the record, I'm not opposed to "too easy" questions, as you seem to think, but I do oppose being or becoming a low-quality helpdesk. ("My SSH connection breaks, why?") In fact, go check out my last half dozen or so answers. All of them are to very simple, possibly even "too easy" questions. Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 1:02
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    @Shog9 Answering questions in comments: I've done this, but usually when it's a link-only answer that I don't think deserves an upvote. The one I did today was someone who wanted to upgrade software on Ubuntu to a version unsupported by his distro. Someone told him to upgrade his version of Ubuntu. He asked how. I linked to AskUbuntu on how to upgrade. That's not a "real" answer--it's a comment with a link--but he clearly needed the help. Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 4:46
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    I've done the same, @KatherineVillyard - but one must be very cautious in doing so. One of the big advantages of this software over traditional forums is the ease with which answers can be re-used by others with the same or similar problems, thus reducing the strain involved in repeatedly answering common questions... But this falls apart if questions are not answered.
    – Shog9
    Commented Nov 23, 2014 at 23:53
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    @Sirex, I clicked through to your profile and you shouldn't be afraid of the answer button. :) Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 3:01
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    One of the advantages of answering in comments, rather than in the answer, is that it doesn't prevent the clean-up scripts from auto-deleting a bad, closed question with a negative score. You can answer a bad question and help a poor soul out, but without having a bad question stick around forever because it has an upvoted answer to it. Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 4:55
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    Yeah, something is broken there @Iain - I've tried to figure out why, but not seeing it; need to enlist the help of the guy who wrote it. Will get back to you on that...
    – Shog9
    Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 18:56

I am normally a person of mild temperament. I normally don't call people on their bullshit or make waves unless it's something fairly serious.

An election is a serious business, and it's perhaps the most appropriate place for these statements to be made.

Additionally, I don't really see anything wrong with either of those two comments. Of course I'm biased because the last one was mine. But if I believe that someone is going to make a bad choice for a moderator, then if I can't tell anyone during an election, when can I tell them?

  • 6
    No one's saying you can't. If you don't see why some might find a contradiction in that presentation, eh. I'll give it to you that yours was the lesser of the two by far. If you don't see a problem with shog's remark though, I just don't know man. I know why we have that reputation, I know we have a vocal minority who do fit the label, but how is it helpful to advocate for less radical approaches while sh*t talking the entire community? Is this supposed to inspire the rest of us to rise up somehow? News flash guys: we're the ones with the shakier morale.
    – Andrew B
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 8:44
  • 6
    Shog felt the need to call out Hopeless on what he felt was a problem in his nomination spiel. Again, I don't see what the problem with asking people the hard questions is. Additionally, I happen to agree with Shog's sentiments. The existing community here can be poisonous at times. And some people are just too blind to see that, and need to have it shoved in their faces. I can't comment on specific cases, but there are moderator nominees (plural) that have had serious moderator actions against them in the past. These people had better make a damn good case why we should vote for them. Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 9:02
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    Nothing wrong with asking Hopeless why he thinks making our image worse is a useful solution. Everything wrong with two mods publicly agreeing that SF is bad and should feel bad; give up on the troops and they give up on you.
    – Andrew B
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 9:32
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    I think you're reading too much into what Shog and I are saying. I mean nothing more than what I said: sometimes this place can be poisonous. Sometimes. Not all the time. Not always. Not to everyone. And nobody has given up. If I had given up, I wouldn't be here, and I wouldn't be voicing my concerns. There are those that have given up and left. And there are people in this community that need to have more empathy for their fellows. That's all I'm saying and I think that's all Shog was saying. There's nothing wrong with introspection. Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 9:41
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    I think @Shog9 and the other stack exchange staff need to take a look at themselves and the empathy they have towards the community here already - as a group I mean, I don't doubt the individual sincerity of shog, for example. Why do I say that? Well if one person has a problem with a site then maybe that one person is the problem. If lots of people have a problem with a site (and there are problems from either 'end', lets be honest here) then maybe the site has a problem...
    – Rob Moir
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 20:05
  • 10
    ... At the moment, I think the problem is that SE have sold this plot as a timeshare to two different groups without telling either group about the other. It was sold to us "olde tyme sysadmins" as a home for professional sysadmin types to ask and answer professional sysadmin questions. It appears lately that its also been sold to everyone else as a home for whatever vaguely "oh that sounds system-y to me" questions, thoughts or vague intestinal discomfort that drives them to type on a keyboard that they may have. Regardless of which 'side' is right or wrong, that ain't going to end well.
    – Rob Moir
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 20:07

For what it's worth, I don't believe my platform has much in common with a gasoline bucket brigade, or earth-salting. I do appreciate the metaphor though.

The reason I advocate the approach that I do is to try and resuscitate the community out of the extremely defensive mode I've seen it fall into over the past year and a bit.

That isn't an attack on the community at all, of course. I understand that when you constantly see low-quality content and people rending their garments and gnashing their teeth, it creates a pretty hostile atmosphere.

We do need to calm down, in general, both in the election and on the site.

Putting questions on hold should not be a vitriolic act; it should be de-escalating. When the question is rightly placed on hold, it is.

The intention isn't to scorch the earth, so much as to enable people to concentrate on the good content that belongs here instead of the awful content that does not.

  • Only a few of the candidate threads went up in flames, and certainly none of the ones belonging to the popular votes. I was referring mostly to comments.
    – Andrew B
    Commented Nov 26, 2014 at 14:44

Why should the moderators treat each other with any more respect and dignity than the people who come to this site for help?!

  • 6
    It's been an unwritten rule of the moderators to sort out their issues in their private chat - ie, mommy and daddy don't argue in front of the kids. I think Mark has the right idea, that there are stark differences in ideology and those differences need to be explored, but the surrounding discourse should be civil at all times.
    – Chris S
    Commented Nov 23, 2014 at 4:33
  • I would add that the surrounding discourse should be civil at all times, and without a hint of snark or sarcasm. Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 10:51

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