The following is a "digest" version of the 2011 Moderator Election Town Hall Chat. The format, as described on Meta Stack Overflow, is one answer to this question for every question asked in the Town Hall, containing all the candidate's answers to that question.

To view the digest chronologically, please sort the answers by "oldest".

If you have questions or comments about this, please do not answer this question as the answers are designed to be used for the questions from the Town hall itself. Instead, please ask on the parent question or in the Town Hall Discussion Room.

(A giant THANK YOU TO REBECCA CHERNOFF both for organizing these town halls but also for compiling this digest for me as I have been unable to do so this week!)

If you see any corrections which need to be made to this digest, or if you were a candidate who was unable to attend the town hall and would like your answers included, please @Josh me and let me know!

13 Answers 13


Hellion Hellion asked: Do you have any hopes, ideas or plans for improving, involving, or enlarging the EL&U community?

waiwai933 waiwai933 answered: @Hellion As I said earlier, I've started a topic on meta about conferences, and I may expand that (if there really are no responses) to a general "Who do you think would be interested?" SE has said that they're willing to fund community expansion, so I think that's the first step.

Martha Martha answered: @Hellion Well, I hope to get my sister addicte[ahem, sorry] involved at some point - she's the one who minored in linguistics, after all. But other than that, this task smacks of marketing, at which I suck.

RegDwight RegDwight answered: @Hellion I prefer the site to grow organically, so I don't push it. I just continue posting links to selected questions here and there, mostly on Reddit. I also "advertise" certain questions in my user profile on other sites of the network.

drachenstern drachenstern answered: @Hellion I have hopes for the EL&U community expanding, but really I would like to figure out how to get more engagement from the casual users. So some way to improve the conversion (to use sales terms IIRC) rate.

Kosmonaut Kosmonaut answered: @Hellion I have posted a number of thoughts on Meta.EL&U about how to improve the way things work around here, as well as hone in on our community values and philosophy. I would be interested in attending an appropriate conference to speak about the website.

nohat nohat answered: @Hellion I hope that more folks with good formal educations in how grammar works come to the site and provide authoritative answers to some of the trickier questions we get.


Rebecca Chernoff Rebecca Chernoff asked: Do you think the EL&U community generally *gets" the SE engine? What is something you think the community still needs education on, and how can you help improve this?

drachenstern drachenstern answered: @RebeccaChernoff I think that (as I mentioned before) "downvoting means leaving a constructive comment" is my biggest complaint on the site. Otherwise I think that in general the usage of the engine is understood. I would encourage users to understand that editing questions to make them less localized is a good idea. I refer to Jeff's blogpost at blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/… as reference for what I intend with the editing.

Martha Martha answered: @RebeccaChernoff EL&U users have the common human failing of attachment, which leads to getting offended if their posts are edited or (gasp, horrors) closed. We need to reinforce the community-improved aspect of the site by encouraging editing and always commenting downvotes and close votes.

nohat nohat answered: @RebeccaChernoff I think sometimes there is a lack of clarity (sometimes I'm not sure myself) as to whether a response to a question is an answer or a comment. Sometimes there is a quick link or bon mot that kind of answers the question but not really. I think we could use some formal guidance on how to handle those kinds of responses.

waiwai933 waiwai933 answered: @RebeccaChernoff Generally, I think our community is somewhat familiar with the SE engine, considering how much voting takes place. However, I think that higher rep users aren't engaging in the close and delete actions that they should be working with, and we could work on that. There are two solutions I can think of: 1) The mods need to set an example, or 2) System messages. I'm not sure either of these solutions are optimal, but I haven't had time to give this a thorough level of thought.

RegDwight RegDwight answered: @RebeccaChernoff There's a lot of confusion going on about how to format questions. There's a lot of janitorial editing to be done on a daily basis. Lately, we started to be seeing more comments posted as answers, and even some spam. But all things considered, this site is exceptionally tidy, I would say, and as far as higher privileges go (editing, voting to close, re-tagging), the community is rather well educated.

Kosmonaut Kosmonaut answered: @RebeccaChernoff I don't think there has been a major problem with understanding how SE works. Aside from some comment/answer distinctions, I think things seem to work as they are.

  • Oops: that's Kosmonaut's answer to the previous question, not this one.
    – Marthaª
    Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 22:04
  • I will correct that now, thanks @Martha!
    – Josh
    Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 22:34

Robusto Robusto asked: I guess that would be me. So, I'll ask each candidate to start by giving a one-sentence description of his or her moderating philosophy: what is the one thing you'd like to be remembered for during your tenure here?

waiwai933 waiwai933 answered: @Robusto My moderation philosophy is that efficiency and not being afraid to take necessary action are key points, but I should still keep in mind that the community reigns supreme.

drachenstern drachenstern answered: @Robusto My moderation philosophy is to reinforce the intent of the site and to help keep it a focused community.

Martha Martha answered: @Robusto I think a good moderator is more or less invisible, or at least drama-free, so I would hope not to be remembered, at least not for my moderation. Just don't crack any puns in my presence.

Kosmonaut Kosmonaut answered: @Robusto @Robusto: As a moderator, I think I'd like to be remembered as being fair.

RegDwight RegDwight answered: @Robusto I would go with Joel's philosophy: good moderators should be running around moving the furniture out of the way, so that users can just enjoy the site without even noticing the mods' presence.

RegDwight RegDwight clarified: @Orbling Sure. There was actually a comment to that extent just a day ago or so. Someone said in chat that the site seems to moderate itself and was wondering what good are mods for. Robusto then replied that the site most certainly does not moderate itself. And that's kind of my point. Ideally, normal users should not even have to know mods exist.

nohat nohat answered: @Robusto Moderation should be invisible as much as possible, and when it's visible, moderators should lead by example, showing users how they should use their own moderation privileges (where applicable). I would hope to be remembered most for setting the standard for good answers; that others would model their own answers after mine


Robusto Robusto asked: Is there anything you would want to change about the way the site is being run at present?

Kosmonaut Kosmonaut answered: @Robusto I imagine myself having to be less involved in closing questions as the community of power users matures and grows.

waiwai933 waiwai933 answered: @Robusto I'm seeing three ways your question could be interpreted: Engine changes—yes, but that's really more of a MSO thing. Site policy—no, I generally identify with the policies that the community has put into place already. Moderation itself—some things have been sitting slow lately (off-topic questions not being closed quickly), and that could be improved, but as far as mod actions itself, no.

nohat nohat answered: @Robusto I wish there were more moderators and high-rep users to share in the drudge work of closing inappropriate questions and dealing with problem users (which have fortunately been few so far)

drachenstern drachenstern answered: @Robusto So far I have not seen any particular issues with the governing of the site. My only negative impression is the feeling that I got at first of an overly nanny-state downvoting from non-commenting passerby. Otherwise, I feel that so far the site has been pretty well self governing.

RegDwight RegDwight answered: @Robusto I would actually like to see more activity by 3k and 10k users rather than mods. We're still lacking in that department. I still remember when we were in beta, off-topic questions would get closed within minutes. Then we went out of beta and lots of people lost their privileges, so nowadays things take a bit longer and mod intervention is required. But I think that will fix itself in the weeks ahead, as more and more people reach 3k.

Martha Martha answered: @Robusto It's not exactly in anyone's power, but I wish the site had more 10K users. Not mods, just people with mod-like abilities. I also hope the site can mature to the point where more of us have an instinctive understanding of on-topic/off-topic, so that off-topic questions (no matter how interesting) don't get answers before a mod gets around to closing them.


Rebecca Chernoff Rebecca Chernoff asked: What do you plan to do to assist the site outside of responding to flags and standard close/delete maintenance (if anything?)

drachenstern drachenstern answered: @RebeccaChernoff I plan to listen to the members of the community to see if there are issues with the SE2.0 engine that can help it to work better for this community, and to relay that information to the SOIS team as best I can. I plan to help newer users feel welcome to the site and to understand the processes that are ongoing on the SE network, such as accepting answers. I plan to encourage users to vote and edit to make questions helpful to the world at large, not just to the asker, as appropriate.

waiwai933 waiwai933 answered: @RebeccaChernoff I plan to encourage our community to grow larger—I've started a topic on Meta asking if anyone knows of any conferences (although I personally have doubts that any exist, but just in case) that we could promote ourselves at and I intend to continue to look for other ways to promote the site. I also intend to look into how we can ensure high quality of questions, but that's just a thought I'm working on.

nohat nohat answered: @RebeccaChernoff I think leading discussions regarding decisions about administrative things like tags and FAQs is another important admin task that I intend to continue participating in. And of course, I intend to continue answering questions.

Kosmonaut Kosmonaut answered: @RebeccaChernoff I plan to continue to be involved in Meta discussions, asking questions and providing opinions, and I plan to continue to contribute a large number of quality answers to the main EL&U site. I also plan to continue to be a Chat regular, so that people can talk to me about site business, English questions, or just get to know me better.

Martha Martha answered: @RebeccaChernoff I hope to keep answering (and to a lesser extent, asking) questions to the best of my ability, because that's the one way to ensure the quality of the site.

RegDwight RegDwight answered: @RebeccaChernoff Oh, let's see. Tag hygiene. Approving edits. Hanging out on meta and in chat to quickly respond to any questions. Keeping an eye on the general quality of answers and gently pointing new users to features they might not be aware of.

drachenstern drachenstern added: @RebeccaChernoff I plan to become much more active on the meta, to participate in the discussions about the site's direction. I've lurked but not added much, seeing that the site already had a strong set of leaders, but as I'm looking to become such a leader, I would want to become more involved. ::edit:: and hang out in chat of course ;)

Martha Martha added: @RebeccaChernoff Oh, and of course hanging out in chat and interacting with new users.


Rebecca Chernoff Rebecca Chernoff asked: What is your favorite word in the English language?

Martha Martha answered: @RebeccaChernoff That's easy: thwack. :)

waiwai933 waiwai933 answered: @RebeccaChernoff superfluous. It just sounds so nice. :)

RegDwight RegDwight answered: @RebeccaChernoff That would be an off-topic question for this site, so I haven't given it any thought yet. Perhaps amaranthine. Or the.

drachenstern drachenstern answered: @RebeccaChernoff My favorite word in the English language by my usage, by what I think sounds coolest, or by what I am fascinated by? I have too many to pick just one. I may say 'Onomatopoeia' or I may say 'Indeed' or I may say 'Oy' (no not really on the last one, just a little meme humor injection) ... I like using "50 cent words" because they're all so expressive. So long as the word is expressive I love it.

nohat nohat answered: @RebeccaChernoff in the interest of blatantly seeking the sympathy vote, I will say that at my mother's funeral I used the word "gracious" to describe her and the way she led her life. I don't really have any other reason to like any word above all others, so I will choose that.

Kosmonaut Kosmonaut answered: @RebeccaChernoff I don't think I could honestly give a single favorite, or even my top 10 — but I often like words that push up against the edges of grammaticality, like "forego": what's the simple past tense? (I know the dictionary might say "forewent"... but is anyone comfortable saying that? :)


Robusto Robusto asked: What's the most recent book you've read, and how long ago did you read it?

-- waiwai933 waiwai933 answered: @Robusto Native Son —I just finished it a few days ago

drachenstern drachenstern answered: @Robusto The most recent book I read is Foundation (for like the thirtieth time) and I finished it again around Halloween. I tend to read online more as I'm a programmer and a web addict, so I spend less time with dead trees and more time with growth and learning. The question was revised to include non-leisure reading, so I then change it to ASP.NET Unleashed for C# 3.5 and I refinished it sometime this month.

Martha Martha answered: @Robusto It was something with zombies. Christmas present. I'll never get those three hours back. Before that it was "Fevre Dream" by George R. R. Martin. Also a Christmas present, also time I will never get back. :/

RegDwight RegDwight answered: @Robusto I'm currently reading a Russian book titled "В ночь большого прилива". It's a children's book by an author whom I enjoyed reading as a child.

Kosmonaut Kosmonaut answered: @Robusto The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, about a month ago (then the school semester started back up).

nohat nohat answered: @Robusto The last book I finished reading cover-to-cover is On Cooking by Harold McGee, which I finished last week. I do read The New Yorker every week, though, and there are often very long articles...


Orbling Orbling asked: Recently, we are receiving an increasing number of "What does [this] mean?" questions, with various standard words, phrases, etc. Generally by various members who have English as a secondary language and have been stumped by some sentence they read. Are these to be encouraged, or do they detract from the more advanced content?

waiwai933 waiwai933 answered: @Orbling This really depends on the question. "What does 'book' mean?"—not encouraged, as it's too simple. "What does [a particular convoluted or colloquial phrase] mean?"—This I don't have a problem with, as even some native English speakers have no idea. Generally, I agree with Jeff's blog post.

nohat nohat answered: @Orbling It really depends on what they're asking about. Sometimes those questions open up an interesting discussion about some nuance of meaning that is not covered by dictionary definitions. However, if a bare dictionary definition provides a complete answer to the question, with no additional commentary needed, then that is a low-quality question that doesn't really add much value to the site.

Martha Martha answered: @Orbling It depends: some of the questions about the odd expressions used by journalists have definitely taught me things I didn't know, despite being a native speaker (or as close as makes no nevermind). If the question can be answered by a simple copy and paste from a single dictionary, though, then the new "too basic" close option is the appropriate response.

Kosmonaut Kosmonaut answered: @Orbling I think it really comes down to the answers. Sometimes really poorly thought-out questions have led to brilliant answers.

nohat nohat continued: @Orbling Unfortunately, it's hard to tell whether questions are the former or the latter until answers have been posted, so I don't really have a good solution.

drachenstern drachenstern answered: @Orbling I think these are certainly encouraged, as the site is about the language and about usage, so we want to encourage people to increase the community knowledge in that regard. When it comes to "what does this book mean" or "what's the intent of this thesis-work" I don't know that that is the purpose of this site. It should be limited in scope to things which can be answered authoritatively. This includes regional interpretations.

RegDwight RegDwight answered: @Orbling That's a difficult question, actually. If you look at the questions on our meta right now, some people would like to put more stress on advanced questions for professional linguists and etymologists, while others would like to see more basic questions being allowed. A new close reason was introduced just recently, "too basic". I must say I am not a fan of it myself, I would like to see how it works out in practice first. So I will definitely leave the use of that one to the community.


Orbling Orbling asked: @nohat Yes, I guess I could rephrase my question to "Should EL&U be used as a dictionary or thesaurus?"

drachenstern drachenstern answered: @Orbling Neither. It should be used as a collective compendium of accumulated knowledge. A dictionary is that, in part, as is a thesaurus, as is an encyclopedia.

nohat nohat answered: @Orbling I think there might be some value in putting links to dictionary/thesaurus sites in a front-and-center way on the question asking form

waiwai933 waiwai933 answered: @Orbling Dictionary–no. Thesaurus–it depends exactly what the user is asking for. Is it "What is a synonym for 'book'?" or is it "What is a synonym for 'censor' that doesn't have government connotations?". The more unique the question is, the better a chance that I'm going to like it.

Martha Martha answered: @Orbling I don't think we can have a black-and-white policy about dictionary questions; each question needs to be judged on its own merits. Though perhaps a meta post about what makes a good dictionary question (context, for example) would be helpful.


Orbling Orbling asked: Another question (do say stop if you want someone else to speak): English vs American" - so many questions seem to have to be divided up along these lines, is this just inevitable, or can something be done to assist the process?

nohat nohat answered: @Orbling As it turns out, the differences between AmE and BrE are not that great, a few dozen questions probably will cover most everything. Once they've all been asked, future questions will just be closed as duplicates.

waiwai933 waiwai933 answered: @Orbling Assuming you're talking about Br. Eng. vs. Am. Eng, I recently started working on the British English tag wiki and I plan to port some of that over to the American English tag wiki as well. But there's a limit to what can be done about it—Stack Overflow still sees questions routinely about parsing HTML with regex.

drachenstern drachenstern answered: @Orbling I don't know that this can be prevented. I know that asking for context on the origination will help prevent some of this, but in this global society we must all understand that colloquialisms will come and go, and that intent is more important than specific words. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I feel that context is the key to this question.

nohat nohat continued: @Orbling Questioners who are unaware their question involves a British-American difference are not a problem. As for answerers who don't know that their answer is biased, I at least try to comment to point out that their answer is only right or sensible for some people.

Kosmonaut Kosmonaut answered: @Orbling In the places where UK and US English differ, I think it is quite valuable to have this distinction pointed out in answers. This is what is great about the SE approach; representatives from both sides of the pond can offer insight.

RegDwight RegDwight answered: @Orbling I actually think that the opposite would be more damaging, if answers were not pointing out potential differences between AE and BE (and Indian, Canadian, Australian, NZ English, whatever).


Rebecca Chernoff Rebecca Chernoff asked: How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

waiwai933 waiwai933 answered: @RebeccaChernoff First, talk with the mod. If consensus cannot be found, post it on meta and see what the community thinks.

nohat nohat answered: @RebeccaChernoff For closed questions, I would leave a comment asking why it was closed, and move forward from there

drachenstern drachenstern answered: @RebeccaChernoff in the case that a mod closed it, I would take it up with that mod and the rest of the mod community on the site. I would look for consensus and I would aim to have an understanding. If that means emailing them directly, or just leaving questions via mod flags, whatever it takes. If it was for something community closed, I would go to meta and ask for community discussion and understanding.

Martha Martha answered: @RebeccaChernoff I would probably try to ping the mod in chat or some other semi-offline place and ask about their reasoning. Could be that one or the other of us is misinterpreting something. I would only take some sort of "undo" action if the site users were up in arms (e.g. comments or a plethora of meta threads).

Kosmonaut Kosmonaut answered: @RebeccaChernoff Hopefully the mod uses chat, because I would prefer to discuss it with him or her there. I would probably otherwise leave a comment. If it raised an important general question about how things should be done, I would bring it up in Meta.

RegDwight RegDwight answered: @RebeccaChernoff I would talk to that mod first. Probably "behind the scenes" (chat), as openly posting a comment on the site "What gives, I wouldn't have closed this!" doesn't feel right to me. If we cannot reach a compromise behind the scenes, we would take the issue to meta.


Martha Martha asked: I actually have a question: What is your native language? (Some people answered this in their blurbs, but some of us were more, um, succinct.)

Kosmonaut Kosmonaut answered: @Martha English. I have lived in the Northeast, Northern California, and the Midwest, so I have been exposed to a lot of US varieties.

nohat nohat answered: @Martha (see my profile :-)

waiwai933 waiwai933 answered: @Martha Technically Cantonese (I use it at home), but I've lived my whole life in California, so for all intents and purposes, English. (I'm not even fluent in Cantonese).

drachenstern drachenstern answered: @Martha I'm a Southerner by birth, and so speak mostly broken English and procedural C-like languages. But to be serious: I speak English natively, I have some fluency in Spanish and German (so understand other cultures modes of sentence formulation and conjugation), and am a programmer so speak with a certain logic-oriented nature which comes off at times stilted. Like Spock.

Martha Martha answered: @Martha (To answer my own question, my first language was Hungarian; I learned English starting in kindergarten, in southern California. My mother's attitude was, why should she teach us [that is, my twin sister and I] her badly-mangled version of English when there are schools for that?)

RegDwight RegDwight answered: @Martha Both my parents are native speakers of Russian, so strictly speaking, my mother tongue is Russian, and so is my father tongue. My step-father tongue is something different, but I am not going to disclose it here. Instead, I encourage people to join me in chat, where I'm giving away my second native language on a daily basis.


Rebecca Chernoff Rebecca Chernoff asked: Final thoughts?

drachenstern drachenstern answered: @RebeccaChernoff I enjoyed this opportunity to talk to some of the other mod-candidates, and want to wish everyone great luck. I'm proud to be on this panel, and glad for the opportunity to stand with these other fine candidates. Thanks @RebeccaChernoff for setting this up, and @Josh for tabulating this afterwards ;)

nohat nohat answered: @RebeccaChernoff I think all the candidates here today would make excellent moderators. In my ideal world there would be 6 slots for all of us. I am confident the site will continue to flourish regardless of the outcome of the election.

waiwai933 waiwai933 answered: @RebeccaChernoff Thanks for coordinating not only this, but all the THCs. Good luck to everyone!

Kosmonaut Kosmonaut answered: @RebeccaChernoff I hope everybody who is running for a moderator job is going to keep being involved here (and those who are not of course). I think non-mods can do a lot to shape this site and keep the mods on track. I definitely have had valuable input as well as constructive criticism while I've been a mod.

RegDwight RegDwight answered: @RebeccaChernoff I hope I haven't missed any questions, and I wish everybody good luck. Do vote! And yeah, do stick around whether or not the candidates of your choice get elected!

Martha Martha answered: @RebeccaChernoff Final thought: vote early, vote often. And no, I don't mean in the election (it's enough to vote there once), but on questions and answers. Use up those votes!

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