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Candidate answers, sorted by time of completion:

In connection with the moderator elections, we are holding a Q&A thread for the candidates. Questions collected from an earlier thread have been compiled into this one, which shall now serve as the space for the candidates to provide their answers. Not every question was compiled - as noted, we only selected the top 8 questions as submitted by the community, plus 2 pre-set questions from us.

As a candidate, your job is simple - post an answer to this question, citing each of the questions and then post your answer to each question given in that same answer. For your convenience, I will include all of the questions in quote format with a break in between each, suitable for you to insert your answers. Just copy the whole thing after the first set of three dashes. Oh, and please consider putting your name at the top of your post so that readers will know who you are before they finish reading everything you have written.

Once all the answers have been compiled, this will serve as a transcript for voters to view the thoughts of their candidates, and will be appropriately linked in the Election page.

Good luck to all of the candidates!


  1. A number of site participants feel that one major problem at EL&U is that bad questions remain open too long and take too much effort to close; some of these participants have argued in favor of instituting reforms designed to make closing questions easier. But other site participants feel that some questions that might elicit interesting answers are closed too quickly and for reasons not especially relevant to their value as questions (most often, for lack of prior research). What is your view of the current state of question closure at EL&U, and what—if anything—would you do to try to change the status quo?

  2. A perennial issue at EL&U is whether the site is unfriendly toward low-rep users and especially newcomers. Do you view clubbishness or hostility/rudeness toward recent arrivals at EL&U as a continuing problem? What can moderators do to help inexperienced users feel more comfortable and welcome here?

  3. As a moderator, I often have to judge the difference between a short answer and a low quality answer. What do you believe are the criteria for a short answer to be acceptable?

  4. A new user to the Stack Exchange (member of ELU for 2 days, rep of 1, not a member of any other SE site) posts a rather basic question on ELU. Based on how the question is worded, it seems evident that this question is coming from a non-native speaker. Chances are, this user has not read this meta post, and is probably not even aware of the existence of English Language Learners. Should something be done? If so, what?

  5. There is a fairly substantial division in the ELU community over what we should do with medium-to-low quality questions. One group says that any question which can be understood can and should be answered. Another group says that it is better for the long term health of the site and its community for unresearched questions to be closed and not answered. (There are surely others who think something else, but these are the two big groups.) As a mod, how would you mediate between these two groups?

  6. One of the things that seems to divide this community are (usually partial) answers posted as comments. Some are annoyed by it, others post them on a regular basis. As a moderator you will be responsible for handling comment flags – how will you approach this issue?

  7. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

  8. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

  9. What's your stand on obvious, often unsubstantiated, but correct and helpful answers to trivial questions? "It's an easy reputation grab that encourages more such questions which are not wanted on ELU"? "Welcome introduction to answering that encourages both the one who asked and the one who answered to come back"? Something else entirely? I am referring to questions that have obvious answers because they should have been posted on ELL in the first place or are even too trivial for that site.

  10. One of the most difficult roles for a moderator is to "moderate" users' behaviour. Users can get pretty indignant about being asked to improve their post or having their precious question declared off-topic. And of course some users simply have difficulty managing their personality disorder, with any well-meaning comment an invitation to a duel. What's your own tolerance for problematic behaviour - in particular, the "borderline" kind that some would interpret as acceptably robust debate, while others might feel are unacceptable shows of anger that breach the spirit of "keep it nice"? Would you aim to remove nasty, disparaging comments about our site as quickly as possible, or do you see this as freedom of expression that you would be loath to censor?

  • 8
    Don't forget to vote in the primary – Kit Z. Fox Aug 16 '16 at 11:34
  • Is the list of candidates in of any particular order? – Matsmath Aug 16 '16 at 22:58
  • @mats the list at the top of the post is in order of completion. – Kit Z. Fox Aug 16 '16 at 23:02
  • So far, seven of the eleven candidates have responded, but what of the remaining four? Can a candidate who has not answered the questionnaire, still be eligible for election? – Mari-Lou A Aug 18 '16 at 13:18
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    @Mari-LouA The questionnaire is, at its heart, optional - there's a line in the previous thread indicating the voluntary nature of this system. A lack of response might not have a mechanical impact on the candidate for the election, but it may well impact how voters view the candidate all the same. – Grace Note Aug 18 '16 at 15:53
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    @Mari-LouA And they still have a few days to post an answer, anyway. – DCShannon Aug 19 '16 at 23:32
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    @DCShannon one of the silent candidates has been absent from EL&U for almost four days, which seems slightly odd. – Mari-Lou A Aug 20 '16 at 12:54
22

tchrist

  1. A number of site participants feel that one major problem at EL&U is that bad questions remain open too long and take too much effort to close; some of these participants have argued in favor of instituting reforms designed to make closing questions easier. But other site participants feel that some questions that might elicit interesting answers are closed too quickly and for reasons not especially relevant to their value as questions (most often, for lack of prior research). What is your view of the current state of question closure at EL&U, and what—if anything—would you do to try to change the status quo?

I once took a hard look at this one in preparation for my question on our meta regarding Request for aggregate data regarding deleted questions with subjects containing CORRECT, GRAMMA, or RIGHT. This was back when our close-vote queue was in the many hundreds.

It turns out that our overall closed-or-deleted rate at the time that Jon collected those data was 41%.

Most questions took around two days to close, but the long tail goes out a full month before they all get closed that are going to. We were closing a bit more than twice as many questions per day as people have votes in our close vote review queues. If we see those queue numbers resurge after the election dies down, I would raise the possiblity of increasing our alotted close votes from 25 a day to 40 — the way it is on the other high-traffic sites.

The Community Management team is currently reviewing another proposal of mine about scaling close votes with rep. The problem with both of these is that the only thing that scales is to have more reviewers, not just reviewers with more votes. Only during elections and hat races do our queues go down, because only then are there enough people participating in them. So while I'm less than 100% convinced that having more close votes will help, we haven't tried that experiment yet to see whether it might, so we should try for one of those.

I also looked at the possibilities of popups for keywords or tags, but it isn't clear those are effective. They happen on SO often enough. One thing though: SO got "problem" put on the banned from title list at only half our close rate.

  1. A perennial issue at EL&U is whether the site is unfriendly toward low-rep users and especially newcomers. Do you view clubbishness or hostility/rudeness toward recent arrivals at EL&U as a continuing problem? What can moderators do to help inexperienced users feel more comfortable and welcome here?

That's a bit vague to definitively recommend any one restorative measure, but the root of it is that persistent unfriendliness poisons a community like a bad apple or festering wound. You can't let that creep into your community. So now you have two problems: the users upset with the newcomers and the newcomers whom these users have upset.

The degree of unfriendliness, and perhaps its recidivism, will be the controlling factor in dealing with the unfriendly parties. You want to apply only just enough persuasion to get them to stop pushing people away. Of course, if that doesn't work and they will be neither nice nor quiet, then there are other mechanisms available.

As for the newcomers who risk getting scared off, whether in umbrage or in fear, you need to remove the comments that caused them to feel that way. It is usually appropriate to offer them a helpful welcome in compensation.

But you do not mention the unfriendliness itself in your remarks to the offended; you just make it go away, then try to make them feel more welcome.

  1. As a moderator, I often have to judge the difference between a short answer and a low quality answer. What do you believe are the criteria for a short answer to be acceptable?

To be acceptable, even a short answer needs to explain why it is the answer, preferably with references. Answers to single word requests that are nothing but single words without explanation and citation do not improve the quality of the site, and therefore fail to pass muster.

Moderators do not just go around "cleaning up a site" on their own. They react to flags about posts. Flagged posts that don't meet our published standards are at risk for deletion. It's not automatic, and it doesn't happen without flags. At least not usually from a moderator. The Community may take these matters into their own hands.

But see also my answer to question #9 below.

  1. A new user to the Stack Exchange (member of ELU for 2 days, rep of 1, not a member of any other SE site) posts a rather basic question on ELU. Based on how the question is worded, it seems evident that this question is coming from a non-native speaker. Chances are, this user has not read this meta post, and is probably not even aware of the existence of English Language Learners. Should something be done? If so, what?

This case is clearly one where the asker should be told about the existence of ELL as a site that might better suit their needs, being specifically constituted to serve those just learning English.

Often as not, they don't even know of the other site and are happy to be told that we have a sister-site ready-made for them.

  1. There is a fairly substantial division in the ELU community over what we should do with medium-to-low quality questions. One group says that any question which can be understood can and should be answered. Another group says that it is better for the long term health of the site and its community for unresearched questions to be closed and not answered. (There are surely others who think something else, but these are the two big groups.) As a mod, how would you mediate between these two groups?

First, let me give credit to Centaurus for bringing up the following thought-experiment.

Imagine two scenarios, one with nothing but 4 very good questions per day and no others asked, the other getting another 40 below-average questions on top of that. Which is better?

The second is better because those below-average questions are still able to be improved into a state where they could be answered, or perhaps under narrow circumstances, migrated. If you don't have those, they never can be.

And while it is known that questions of low or high quality most often provoke answers of a like quality respectively, it is not always so, and on rare occasion great answers can appear unlooked for on weak questions.

Indeed, we even have badges for this: Explainer, Refiner, and Illuminator. These specifically encourage answers to improve askers' questions.

We need more of those badges awarded on our site.

  1. One of the things that seems to divide this community are (usually partial) answers posted as comments. Some are annoyed by it, others post them on a regular basis. As a moderator you will be responsible for handling comment flags – how will you approach this issue?

I view comment flags as a good indicator that the comment should be removed. Not a perfect one, but a good one. Folks shouldn't become too attached to ephemera.

Truth be told it also depends on who's doing it, what their history is of this. When someone like RegDwigнt♦ or John Lawler occasionally posts a short comment rather that taking the time to write up a formal answer, I would probably give them the benefit of the doubt and not bother removing something that is genuinely helpful. I have actually created Community Wiki posts of a few of these just so that they would be more lasting.

People who view their comments as important contributions should be nudged into putting their money where their mouth is and making those actual answers that can be searched, edited, and voted on. If there is a pattern of this, a moderator note would be in order.

Disclaimer: The two posters I just named need no such nudging because of their long record of wonderful answers. But others who are just taking pot shots aren't in that category.

  1. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

I would set up a private chat with the user. Once there, I'd sincerely thank them for their steady stream of valuable answers. After that, I would bring up that their comments were earning a lot of flags and that they were causing too much argument on the site. I would ask them to tone it down and not get too distracted in comments.

If this doesn't work to moderate the problem behavior, then a moderator notice of official warning comes next, and finally if that too fails to bring about change, there's always suspension.

  1. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

I would ask them why they did whatever it was, and if it still didn't make sense to me, I would tell them why I disagreed. I would only do this in the ELU mod chat room, not in some public location.

Moderators don't argue in public. Ever.

  1. What's your stand on obvious, often unsubstantiated, but correct and helpful answers to trivial questions? "It's an easy reputation grab that encourages more such questions which are not wanted on ELU"? "Welcome introduction to answering that encourages both the one who asked and the one who answered to come back"? Something else entirely? I am referring to questions that have obvious answers because they should have been posted on ELL in the first place or are even too trivial for that site.

It depends on how often this happens, and what's really happening.

If the real problem is that they're giving answers to questions that should be closed or migrated, I would post a comment asking them to please try to hold off from answering questions that shouldn't be left open in the first place.

If they have provided an answer that is useful to the asker but is unsubtantiated, I would post a comment asking them to flesh out their answer. Often these answers hit the Low Quality Review Queue, allowing the Community to decide what to do with them.

In a few cases, I might consider adding a post notice like one of these two:

  • We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

or

  • Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.
  1. One of the most difficult roles for a moderator is to "moderate" users' behaviour. Users can get pretty indignant about being asked to improve their post or having their precious question declared off-topic. And of course some users simply have difficulty managing their personality disorder, with any well-meaning comment an invitation to a duel. What's your own tolerance for problematic behaviour - in particular, the "borderline" kind that some would interpret as acceptably robust debate, while others might feel are unacceptable shows of anger that breach the spirit of "keep it nice"? Would you aim to remove nasty, disparaging comments about our site as quickly as possible, or do you see this as freedom of expression that you would be loath to censor?

That's a bit of a false dilemma, one that presents two choices as though they were diametric opposites but which surreptitiously demand concessions to the asker's large assumptions in both cases.

The way the question is couched, there's no way that you can allow nasty and disparaging comments to persist. You can't let that sort of thing poison your site.

However, because these are about the site itself not particular individuals, a bit more latitude might be afforded them. In particular, you never want to risk making it seem like you're effacing all trace of dissent in site governance.

The right place for meta discussion about the site is on our meta, not in comments on main. I would have no qualms about deleting "nasty, disparaging comments about the site" if they were on main. I would then direct the disparager towards meta as the proper place for discussions about site issues.

  • 5
    I appreciate the special data-mining skills that you have graciously donated to the community over the years. – Kit Z. Fox Aug 17 '16 at 0:30
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    As the asker of question 5 I don't think you answered it at all. You've given your approach to handling poor questions, but not how to mediate between people with different views on what to do about them. – curiousdannii Aug 17 '16 at 3:19
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    "Moderators don't argue in public. Ever." Are you differentiating between "argue" and "disagree"? If not, does this apply to all matters ("ever"), or just matters of moderation? For example, scope discussions on meta? – Monica Cellio Aug 17 '16 at 3:38
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    @MonicaCellio No, I didn't mean discussing policy discussions on meta. I meant that they shouldn't be arguing with another moderator over the second one's actions in public. You keep it in the mod team chat room as far as possible. It's possible this could lead to something on meta, but mods shouldn't be making a public to-do about moderator actions if they can possibly help it. – tchrist Aug 17 '16 at 9:57
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    Thanks for clarifying. Respectful disagreement is an important aspect of participating in a site; bickering is problematic. Just wanted to make sure we'd continue to have benefit of the former from you. – Monica Cellio Aug 17 '16 at 14:20
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    @curiousdannii I was saying that having low-grade questions is better than having no questions.There's always a chance for improvement before they're put on hold, and even afterwards. That's why it's called "on hold", after all. We even have badges specifically designed for answerers to improve their askers’ questions, so this is part of how SE does things. If they don't meet the quality standards spelt out in the relevant material, then no, there isn't much use. We're the #6 most trafficked SE site, and we have a constant influx of strangers unfamiliar with the culture. This is good, not bad. – tchrist Aug 17 '16 at 22:13
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    @tchrist Sorry, but I still don't see how that answers question 5. I don't mean to pick on you, you don't need to answer it. – curiousdannii Aug 18 '16 at 8:45
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    A nice answer to my question and lobbying for more badges. What more can I want? :) – Helmar Aug 18 '16 at 14:05
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    Regarding Question #6, I doubt I can vote for somebody who grants preferential treatment to some users over others due to their prior record here. I can't entirely explain why in the space of a comment, but there's much debate regarding cliquishness elsewhere. I think it also leaves a bad impression on new users to see misbehavior by exemplars. The precedence may lend them to think that behavior's acceptable. That's virtually why there's a mod. note on the main website's resource request questions. – Tonepoet Aug 21 '16 at 21:22
  • @Tonepoet A moderator introduces human judgement into something that could easily enough have been taken care of completely by an inhumane computer algorithm. There’s a big difference between someone with little to no positive content and someone with a lot, which is why the entire reputation system exists. I said I've made CW posts of these. Moderators do come across patterns and take actions as the team judge appropriate for each unique situation. As GK Chesterton observed of clemency: “For children are innocent and love justice, while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.” – tchrist Aug 22 '16 at 4:13
17

Sumelic here.

  1. A number of site participants feel that one major problem at EL&U is that bad questions remain open too long and take too much effort to close; some of these participants have argued in favor of instituting reforms designed to make closing questions easier. But other site participants feel that some questions that might elicit interesting answers are closed too quickly and for reasons not especially relevant to their value as questions (most often, for lack of prior research). What is your view of the current state of question closure at EL&U, and what—if anything—would you do to try to change the status quo?

In general, I think the site is doing fine with closing questions. I don't think any of the mechanics are in need of reform. It's ultimately up to the community to decide which questions should be closed. As a moderator, the main way I'd try to influence the status quo is by continuing to ask questions and post answers on Meta that present my viewpoint. Hopefully it's convincing to some people.

I'd reserve close-voting for questions that uncontroversially don't belong on the site, which I see as:

  • proofreading (which means extended passages, not asking about a single word or phrase) and critique requests
  • Very short single word requests that don't satisfy any of the criteria on the question checklist, along the lines of "What's a word for when there's a person who's mean to you at work?"
  • questions that are extremely unclear, or that don't have any apparent question at all
  • "blatantly" off-topic (you know, those questions with no relationship to English, that make you wonder how the original poster got here)

I also might close as duplicate if it's truly an "exact" duplicate.

Here's my viewpoint on questions that are closed for "lack of prior research." I think it’s useful to consider why the “general reference” close reason that we had before the current one was changed to add the link about including "the research you've done." Looking back at Lynne’s post from 2014, Reword General Reference to include research / ELL, it describes the problem as questions that “Show no evidence of research, so it seems like they might be answered by common references. If the OP adds evidence of what research they did and why they're still confused, it might actually be a good question.”

In my opinion, the most sensible interpretation of the “research” requirement is this: “if a question looks like it would be answered by a general reference, you can vote to close. Close-voters are not obligated to expend research effort trying to find out where exactly the question is answered in general reference material; it's the original poster's responsibility to show that the question is not answered by general references.”

In other words, I think it should be about making things easier for close-voters. I don’t think it makes sense to focus on making sure the original poster shows enough effort.

Certainly, we want to encourage people to do research before posting here so that they don’t ask questions that can be answered by a general reference. But if someone posts a question that clearly identifies a point of confusion that is clearly not answerable by a general reference, it doesn’t need to be closed just because it lacks research.

Sometimes other users aside from the original poster can take actions to help make it clear that a question is not answerable by a general reference. I think it can be helpful to:

  • post an answer that shows that the question is not general reference
  • leave a comment to the original poster advising adding some research
  • edit the question to add some research
  1. A perennial issue at EL&U is whether the site is unfriendly toward low-rep users and especially newcomers. Do you view clubbishness or hostility/rudeness toward recent arrivals at EL&U as a continuing problem? What can moderators do to help inexperienced users feel more comfortable and welcome here?

Perceived rudeness or unfriendliness is indeed a perennial problem; not confined to this site. (Aside from that post, I also like DEAD's summary here.) What I take out of this is: some people will always be uncomfortable because they perceive downvotes, close-votes, and comments saying "this is off-topic for such-and-such reason as listed in the Help Center" as hostile actions. I'm not going to try to solve this (because these are fundamental parts of how a Stack Exchange site works) and I don't see it as a problem (because from my viewpoint, none of these are inherently rude actions).

However, I do think it's important to avoid other types of actions that I would consider rude. Comments should be informative without being insulting. I think sometimes for people who have been on the site a long time, it becomes tempting to post or upvote snarky comments that are not as helpful to the original poster as a matter-of-fact comment would be.

When I see a post by a new user, I usually leave a comment that says "welcome" and I try to explain anything that seems like it might be unfamiliar.

  1. As a moderator, I often have to judge the difference between a short answer and a low quality answer. What do you believe are the criteria for a short answer to be acceptable?

The main thing that I think makes a short answer “low quality” is lack of any explanation or support for the answer. Taking a "single word request" answer as a model: "I think the word you are looking for is ____" is low quality and should be deleted (unless it gets edited). If it has a link and a quote or a short description of how to use the word, it's not delete-worthy, although it still might not be a great answer.

  1. A new user to the Stack Exchange (member of ELU for 2 days, rep of 1, not a member of any other SE site) posts a rather basic question on ELU. Based on how the question is worded, it seems evident that this question is coming from a non-native speaker. Chances are, this user has not read this meta post, and is probably not even aware of the existence of English Language Learners. Should something be done? If so, what?

Yes! I'm absolutely in favor of mentioning ELL to new users who seem like they might be non-native speakers. (I think it's a bad idea to assume someone is not a native speaker, though). Whenever I see posts like this, I leave a comment; usually I word it something like "If you are still learning English, it's better to ask questions at our sister site for English Language Learners." I think I'll edit my stock comments template for this to add a link to that Meta post as well.

  1. There is a fairly substantial division in the ELU community over what we should do with medium-to-low quality questions. One group says that any question which can be understood can and should be answered. Another group says that it is better for the long term health of the site and its community for unresearched questions to be closed and not answered. (There are surely others who think something else, but these are the two big groups.) As a mod, how would you mediate between these two groups?

In general, this is not an area where I think elected moderators have much to do. Users with enough reputation to vote to close can vote to close if they think that's the right action, for one of the established reasons or for a custom reason. Other users can vote to reopen. If somebody is unhappy with the result of this process, they can post on Meta to draw attention to a question. The only time I think moderators would need to get involved is if a question is being repeatedly closed and reopened and the community cannot come to a consensus. In that case, the question might be locked until the issue is resolved.

  1. One of the things that seems to divide this community are (usually partial) answers posted as comments. Some are annoyed by it, others post them on a regular basis. As a moderator you will be responsible for handling comment flags – how will you approach this issue?

I don’t want to delete valuable content. Comments are "second-class citizens" and not the optimal medium for answers, but in many cases they do have value. I have posted answers in comments many times. Nowadays, I've learned more about the disadvantages and I try to avoid it, but I still believe it is legitimate in a number of contexts.

I am only in favor of deleting answers posted as comments in the following circumstances:

  • there is an answer or a previous comment that says exactly the same thing
  • there are too many comments, and I'm moving all of them to a chat room except for the ones that request clarification or give constructive criticism of the question
  1. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

As a new moderator, I'm sure I would have a lot to learn from the rest of the moderation team, so I would talk to them about any users that seem to be causing problems. If a user is consistently generating flags, that is a problem, and the first step would be an email warning that describes the pattern of behavior that is causing concern. A user who continues to cause problems even after an email warning may get suspended temporarily. Obviously, it's especially unfortunate if that happens to a user who produces valuable answers, but good answers don't excuse bad behavior or grant immunity to suspension.

  1. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

It would depend on how strongly I felt about it. I wouldn't necessarily be bothered by another mod doing something I wouldn't have. A closed question is still visible for community review and other community members could vote to re-open or make a post on Meta about it.

If I had serious objections to the action, I would first try to contact the moderator in chat so I could learn the reason for their actions. Hopefully after talking it over we'd be able to come to a consensus. If not, I think the best thing to do would be to talk about it together with a third moderator/other moderators (this is also what I'd do if I couldn't contact the moderator who took the questionable action).

  1. What's your stand on obvious, often unsubstantiated, but correct and helpful answers to trivial questions? "It's an easy reputation grab that encourages more such questions which are not wanted on ELU"? "Welcome introduction to answering that encourages both the one who asked and the one who answered to come back"? Something else entirely? I am referring to questions that have obvious answers because they should have been posted on ELL in the first place or are even too trivial for that site.

I recently posted about a similar topic: Downvoting an answer because the question was bad? To summarize, I don’t think all correct answers are “helpful” overall. Unsubstantiated and obvious correct answers are helpful to the original poster, at best. They are often harmful to this site’s mission: “to build a library of detailed answers to every question about English language and usage.” As I say in the linked post, in some cases I think it’s appropriate to downvote answers like this. But I don’t think that’s the best course of action in all cases. If someone is new to answering, it’s more helpful to leave a comment explaining why the question is off-topic. That’s my personal viewpoint.

I don’t think answers like this require any other kind of action, and if I am elected moderator, I wouldn’t go around deleting or otherwise punishing correct answers just because the question is trivial or low-quality. If the question is truly unsuitable for this site, then it should be closed, and if it can’t be improved, eventually deleted. In that case, the answer will also be deleted. The community is capable of deciding which questions to close and delete without moderator intervention, aside from exceptional cases (which can be discussed on Meta—for example, Sven Yarg's request that the "bear/bare with me" question be historically locked).

  1. One of the most difficult roles for a moderator is to "moderate" users' behaviour. Users can get pretty indignant about being asked to improve their post or having their precious question declared off-topic. And of course some users simply have difficulty managing their personality disorder, with any well-meaning comment an invitation to a duel. What's your own tolerance for problematic behaviour - in particular, the "borderline" kind that some would interpret as acceptably robust debate, while others might feel are unacceptable shows of anger that breach the spirit of "keep it nice"? Would you aim to remove nasty, disparaging comments about our site as quickly as possible, or do you see this as freedom of expression that you would be loathe to censor?

For one thing, “debate” of any kind will often be out of place on the main site. Stack Exchange is not a forum. Questions should be used for asking ELU-related questions, answers should be used for answering questions, and comments should be used for requesting clarification and offering constructive criticism. This is an ideal picture, of course, and in reality things get more complicated. But it’s a problem if user interactions become more prominent than these functions. And interactions on the “borderline” of civility often do become a distraction from the site goal of answering questions about English. If it seems like this is happening, I would leave a comment to the involved users advising that they continue their debate on Meta or in a chat-room, since those are spaces specifically designed for user interactions.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to just remove comments of this “borderline” nature. Often, even if they seem too harsh, there is some kind of relevant criticism embedded that could be useful. Even "nasty, disparaging comments about our site" could be useful to some extent as feedback and an indication of the mindset of the user who posted them.

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    I'm impressed that you have so many good examples at your fingertips. I also like that your stance that community members can "edit the question to add some research" because I find myself dealing with flags that could be avoided if more members would do exactly that. – Kit Z. Fox Aug 16 '16 at 11:51
  • @KitZ.Fox I think it's rather questionable whether it's the community's job to add research to poor questions, or whether it's even helpful to do so. – curiousdannii Aug 16 '16 at 13:29
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    @curiousdannii I know your position on it. You can expound further in your own answer. – Kit Z. Fox Aug 16 '16 at 13:35
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    Maybe the current mods should do the questionnaire too :P – curiousdannii Aug 16 '16 at 13:41
  • Q3. What if the low quality answer is, objectively speaking, correct, and it is highly upvoted? Would you delete it if the user was a native speaker and/or had a high rep? Would you expect lower rep users to edit the answer; e.g. provide a dictionary link and definition? – Mari-Lou A Aug 16 '16 at 18:21
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    @Mari-LouA: I definitely wouldn't just delete a correct and highly upvoted answer. Hopefully it's possible to deal with low-quality answers before that stage. You're right that editing is a good way to improve this kind of content, so I might do that; I would not expect other users to do the work of finding a dictionary link and definition (although it's a nice bonus if someone feels like doing that). – herisson Aug 16 '16 at 18:33
  • @Mari-LouA: It also depends on how the answer is brought to my attention. Low-quality flags can only be placed on relatively recent content. So older content (which is more likely to have accumulated upvotes) is also less likely to show up in review. For very old content (like this) there's also the consideration that it may have been written before the current understanding of a "good answer" was established. – herisson Aug 16 '16 at 18:36
  • @Mari-LouA: If the user who posted it has a lot of rep and should be familiar with the site, I would be inclined to downvote. – herisson Aug 16 '16 at 18:39
  • Would you leave a comment explaining the downvote? Is Down-Voting a correct answer, even if it's LQA, ethical? – Mari-Lou A Aug 16 '16 at 18:42
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    @Mari-LouA: Yeah, if I did downvote a post like this I'd leave a comment explaining the reason why. I don't see a problem ethically with that. – herisson Aug 16 '16 at 18:52
  • Re #3, I'm understanding you to be saying that a short answer with explanation, but no source/reference, is worth keeping. Would you decline flags on such answers, skip them so that they can pass through the LQP queue, or mark them as helpful but take no action? – Nathaniel Aug 16 '16 at 21:44
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    @Nathaniel: I wouldn't decline the flag. From what I understand, VLQ posts only go into the mod queue once they've already been in the LQP queue for 15 minutes. At this point, I would tend to follow Sven Yarg's suggestion here: delete if the answer seems unsuitable or unlikely to be justifiable by a citation, and edit or leave a comment telling the poster to edit if it seems like it could be good. – herisson Aug 16 '16 at 22:01
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    @Nathaniel: In the case where I leave a comment, I'd bookmark the post to come back to it later and skip the flag so it can stay in the LQP queue longer. So it depends on whether the short explanation seems useful. – herisson Aug 16 '16 at 22:02
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    @KitZ.Fox: thanks for the kind words. I'm actually of two minds about editing to add research—that's why I put it at the end of the list—but it is on the list because I think it's better for that to happen then for a good question to be closed. My main concern is that users will feel we're putting words into their mouths, as the user who asked this recent question indicated in a revision comment. In theory, everyone should be fine with edits since they're part of how the site works, but I'd rather not annoy people if we can avoid it. – herisson Aug 17 '16 at 8:37
10

choster

  1. A number of site participants feel that one major problem at EL&U is that bad questions remain open too long and take too much effort to close…. But other site participants feel that some questions that might elicit interesting answers are closed too quickly and for reasons not especially relevant to their value as questions…. What is your view of the current state of question closure at EL&U, and what—if anything—would you do to try to change the status quo?

I think it is important to draw a distinction between marking a question on hold and marking a question as closed. In my opinion, this was a key improvement of the 2013 closing reform.

We should not hesitate to put on hold questions that do not meet basic standards. A post that shows no research effort, or is rife with formatting problems or typographical errors, is a disservice to the community regardless of its intrinsic intellectual interest (III), because however much we want to deny it, such superficialities degrade the experience of visiting the site, and consciously or unconsciously discourage participation.

My philosophy is that if those superficial problems cannot be corrected immediately— for example, an edit to add context, when the source is evident— we should place them on hold for safety, where they can be improved without attracting bad answers, and where the OP, especially if he or she is a new user, can do so while saving face. Of course, if the OP has no interest in improving them, then it is doubtful that they would ever have been contributing members. I do not believe we have been hesitant about re-opening questions when their value has been defended on Meta, or given a comment from a senior member.

On the other hand, I have found myself running out of closevotes more and more often, even though I tend to skip over anything that is not egregiously unanswerable. As a moderator, I would use the enhanced close/hold power principally on these obvious cases, so that others need not "waste" a vote on an unsalvageable question. The hope is that without the pressure of triple-digit review queues overhead, our more knowledgeable users would have more time and energy to improve and answer questions which are flawed only in their initial presentation.

  1. A perennial issue at EL&U is whether the site is unfriendly toward low-rep users and especially newcomers. Do you view clubbishness or hostility/rudeness toward recent arrivals at EL&U as a continuing problem? What can moderators do to help inexperienced users feel more comfortable and welcome here?

What moderators should do to help inexperienced users is help them become experienced users. I almost always include a link to the help center and site tour when commenting on a "rep 1" user's post, and I always say "welcome to EL&U." But I have no illusions that the average person learns standards and social conventions from manuals and rule enforcement, nor that I will ever craft the perfect message that is never simultaneously taken as abrupt and patronizing. We gain comfort through familiarity, and to me, familiarity and confidence is gained by having good examples to follow. This may mean explicitly developing a list of "model" questions and answers, especially for the notorious and questions, but it is also about demonstrating an earnest tone of helpfulness in comments, and trying to adhere to a standard even when I post a speculative answer.

Unfriendliness, or perceived unfriendliness, is a perennial issue in any online environment. There is the usual problem of the written medium, and the difficulty of transmitting tone across it. There is the additional problem that online messages are delivered in near real-time, directly into one's personal space (workstation, bedroom, mobile phone), magnifying their impact. And there is the further complication of the international and intergenerational makeup of our community, some of whom are new not only to StackExchange but to online communication in general.

Yet we have active and well-respected members from all over, of differing academic backgrounds, and members who had a rough or mediocre start, but stuck around to build the community. I do not believe EL&U is notably hostile, much less that any "club" roves the queues wielding downvotehammers upon innocent newbies. This is not about macho toughness, but about becoming comfortable with the level of social context here, the same as one adjusts when moving from Japan to Russia or vice versa.

  1. As a moderator, I often have to judge the difference between a short answer and a low quality answer. What do you believe are the criteria for a short answer to be acceptable?

An answer need only be as long as it needs to be, and while it would be nice on some level for every answer to be a Tchristian or Svenyargsian tome, or provided the answer is supported— a dicdef, a quote from the day's Wall Street Journal, etc.— I will leave it alone.

  1. A new user to the Stack Exchange (member of ELU for 2 days, rep of 1, not a member of any other SE site) posts a rather basic question on ELU. Based on how the question is worded, it seems evident that this question is coming from a non-native speaker. Chances are, this user has not read this meta post, and is probably not even aware of the existence of English Language Learners. Should something be done? If so, what?

As noted, I do leave a standard welcome comment to new users, and may point out the existence of ELL even if the question is in fact on-topic at EL&U if I think that user might benefit from it. Ultimately, however, it is the question, not the questioner we can accept or decline as on-topic or off-topic for EL&U. After all, some of our most active participants are non-native speakers who have an academic interest in English and questions that may not be appropriate to ELL's focus on gaining proficiency.

  1. There is a fairly substantial division in the ELU community over what we should do with medium-to-low quality questions. One group says that any question which can be understood can and should be answered. Another group says that it is better for the long term health of the site and its community for unresearched questions to be closed and not answered.… As a mod, how would you mediate between these two groups?

Regardless of the topic being debated, it is the place of a moderator to moderate, not to use their privileges to enforce a position on which reasonable people may disagree.

On this particular issue, I think a false dichotomy is presented in this question. Who wants any question to be "closed and not answered"? As I noted in my response to question #1, I want to see low-quality questions turned into better questions. An unresearched question has the opportunity to be turned into an answerable one, and this can take place if a question is on hold just as it can if it is live.

  1. One of the things that seems to divide this community are (usually partial) answers posted as comments. Some are annoyed by it, others post them on a regular basis. As a moderator you will be responsible for handling comment flags – how will you approach this issue?

Regardless of whether one dislikes partial answers in comments or not, I do not see why they would be flagged. The main criteria for flagging a comment are that it is

  • rude or offensive
  • not constructive / off-topic
  • obsolete
  • too chatty

It is the role of the moderator to check if a comment thusly violates community standards, and it falls to the community itself to set those standards.

  1. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

I don't believe there is a blanket rule that would apply to every scenario. Flagged comments should be evaluated on their own merits, not on who posted them; even if there is a known feud between two members, it is not impossible for one to reply to the other without escalating or prolonging that feud.

A responsible moderator, as any community member, should intervene based on the specific circumstances. Do the disputes arise because of content or because of tone? A comment or chat invitation might be sufficient intervention.

  1. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

I think those of us who peruse the review queues are startled on a daily basis by some community decision or another, but we remember that a Stack is a community project, and we must grant an assumption of good faith to our fellow members. Yet again, I do not think being a moderator changes the approach. If there is a profound disagreement, it can be brought to Meta discussion; for marginal cases, we should live and let live.

An exception might be cases of mod abuse, especially if there is a history of abusive behavior, in which case other moderators might be brought in to intervene, and ultimately a case can be made to the community manager to have those privileges revoked.

  1. What's your stand on obvious, often unsubstantiated, but correct and helpful answers to trivial questions? "It's an easy reputation grab that encourages more such questions which are not wanted on ELU"? "Welcome introduction to answering that encourages both the one who asked and the one who answered to come back"? Something else entirely? I am referring to questions that have obvious answers because they should have been posted on ELL in the first place or are even too trivial for that site.

An answer cannot be verifiably obvious, correct, or helpful if it is unsubstantiated. Of course, it cannot be verifiably non-obvious, incorrect, or unhelpful, either. I will generally leave a comment on such answers encouraging the author to provide at least a little explanatory text. But leaving that aside, if the question is a weak question, then that is the first place to focus one's attention. Improve the question and it should improve the answers, and the voting mechanism should take care of the rest. If the question is off-topic or cannot be improved, then let it be deleted, and take its answers with it.

  1. One of the most difficult roles for a moderator is to "moderate" users' behaviour. Users can get pretty indignant about being asked to improve their post or having their precious question declared off-topic. And of course some users simply have difficulty managing their personality disorder, with any well-meaning comment an invitation to a duel. What's your own tolerance for problematic behaviour - in particular, the "borderline" kind that some would interpret as acceptably robust debate, while others might feel are unacceptable shows of anger that breach the spirit of "keep it nice"? Would you aim to remove nasty, disparaging comments about our site as quickly as possible, or do you see this as freedom of expression that you would be loathe to censor?

I already leave comments on many questions and answers, and have found indignant responses to be relatively uncommon. For the most part, they are ignored, or silently accepted, and occasionally an apology is given and/or the post improved, but actual negative responses to my comments have been rare. Comments which disparage the site, but come from a demanding, vulgar visitor will hardly damage our reputation.

More broadly, however, I am not familiar with any "debate" that is commonplace on the main site. Sure, different community members have different philosophies about whether and when to answer or comment, but I cannot remember the last time I saw an actual feud take place.

Should such a situation arise, however, my criteria for action depends on the progress of that robust debate. If the arguments presented are about content, then the debate, criticism, or disagreement should be allowed to run its course. The moderator should step in chiefly when things turn to ad hominem attacks or hate speech— things which not only degrade community members, but which drive away potential new members, and contribute to the long-term decline of the community.

  • I'm sure you'd come back to this anyway, but could you explain what you mean by "or provided the answer is supported" in #3? If a short answer isn't supported, is it always/usually/maybe delete-worthy? – Nathaniel Aug 16 '16 at 21:47
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    @Nathaniel EL&U is different from the programming stacks in that one cannot simply plug in a formula or code block and see if it works. An answer here is never self-evident; it always needs to be explained. But that said, I hold a very liberal view of what support constitutes. I have no illusions that StackExchange is modeled on peer-reviewed journals. A single sentence and a made-up example are plenty support for keeping an answer around, and maybe even upvoting it. – choster Aug 17 '16 at 0:09
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    You've given some solid, thoughtful answers. I'm wondering how you would envision handling allegations of mod abuse by a community member when it involved a moderator whose actions you disagreed with, but whose actions would not be visible to the community as a whole (i.e., the community member is alleging malfeasance by the mod team based on the actions of one mod). – Kit Z. Fox Aug 17 '16 at 0:48
  • #9: "I will generally leave a comment on such answers encouraging the author to provide at least a little explanatory text." If people want to see what that actually looks like, one recent example reads: "Welcome to EL&U. It is not sufficient on this site to suggest an answer; you should assert it with examples, dictionary definitions, and other references. I strongly encourage you to take the site tour and review the help center for additional guidance." – WBT Aug 17 '16 at 18:28
  • @KitZ.Fox If I had a standing conflict with a moderator, I would need to recuse myself lest we succumb to wheelwarring, and if it is a matter of different interpretation of policy, I would also leave well enough alone, even if I disagreed with it. I live in one (mostly Republican) U.S. state, but work in another (mostly Democratic) state, and so am accustomed to living with some inconsistency in policy. If I believe there is a serious ethical breach, then it behooves me to address it with the offending mod, and failing that, to bring it up with a community manager. – choster Aug 18 '16 at 0:31
  • @choster I think KitZ.Fox is asking about how you would handle the situation, assuming you weren't the mod in question, but where the user (not a mod) is attempting to hang on the whole mod team what one mod is alleged to have done to the user. I like the answers you gave and the thinking evident behind them, and I'm also interested in your answer to this question. – Lawrence Aug 19 '16 at 14:24
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    Perhaps I don't understand the question. If a community member makes an accusation against the entire moderating team based on the actions of a single moderator, surely that doesn't change the validity of the action or not, and surely how widely a net of aspersion is cast has no relevance to the deservedness of the aspersion, – choster Aug 19 '16 at 20:50
10

- by Lawrence

Summary:

  1. State of question closure? It's fine. We should encourage clarity in questions.
  2. How to welcome newcomers? Shut down ad hominem attacks, provide friendly help with site norms, and invite them to chat.
  3. What makes a short answer acceptable? Usefulness and support.
  4. Policy regarding poorly-worded, basic questions? If there is a point of interest, edit to bring it out. Otherwise, vote to close.
  5. How to mediate between nuke 'em vs answer everything factions regarding LQQs? Point both to the content, then refer to Q4.
  6. How to handle flagged answers-in-comments? Leave them be, but allow others to turn them into answers.
  7. How to handle prickly geniuses? Separate the prickles from the glow, then proceed as normal.
  8. How to handle disagreements about mod actions? With decorum.
  9. How to handle good (or helpful but unsubstantiated) answers to bad questions? The problem lies with the question. Close the question.
  10. How to handle 'borderline' behaviour? Shut down ad hominem attacks and discourage unproductive assertion chains, but otherwise allow robust content-focused discussion, even if the discussion is about the site.
  1. A number of site participants feel that one major problem at EL&U is that bad questions remain open too long and take too much effort to close; some of these participants have argued in favor of instituting reforms designed to make closing questions easier. But other site participants feel that some questions that might elicit interesting answers are closed too quickly and for reasons not especially relevant to their value as questions (most often, for lack of prior research). What is your view of the current state of question closure at EL&U, and what—if anything—would you do to try to change the status quo?

The Close Votes review queue contains less than 50 questions at the moment, which I think isn't a problem. The issue, though, is how we should handle bad questions.

First, we need to define bad in this context.

If we use the goal stated on our tour page, namely, "to build a library of detailed answers to every question about English language and usage", there really isn't such a thing as a bad question, provided the question is about English language and usage. Even when we look deeper, there is a case for keeping 'faulty' questions so long as they are interesting.

A 'bad' question, then, is one that doesn't communicate its point of interest. Placing the question on hold (which sounds a lot less final than voting to close) is intended to be reversible. That is, the question can be taken off hold when it has been suitably edited. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen very much, due at least in part to the impression that closure is final.

We should address this by reviewing the wording of close-vote 'banner' messages to more effectively advise editing for clarity, and to explain the reopening process. Once this is done, we can then encourage swifter voting to close questions that are unclear, along with swifter voting to reopen questions that have been sufficiently clarified.

There is, of course, no EL&U arbiter of what constitutes an interesting question, other than the execution of repeated close/reopen sequences with enforced limits on multiple sequential votes. I think this is an effective mechanism for the community to express its preferences on such issues.

The philosophy of close-voting on Stack Exchange (and consequently EL&U) is thoughtful democracy. That is, high-rep users consider the site's aims, then decide for ourselves which way to vote. Compelling people to vote one way or the other would therefore be inappropriate here. We still need to raise the status of reopening to match closing, but I think the approach outlined above would hold true to the site's goals while fostering a culture of asking (and expecting) 'good' questions.

  1. A perennial issue at EL&U is whether the site is unfriendly toward low-rep users and especially newcomers. Do you view clubbishness or hostility/rudeness toward recent arrivals at EL&U as a continuing problem? What can moderators do to help inexperienced users feel more comfortable and welcome here?

The regular EL&U community doesn't act with a single attitude. There is a group that considers that the database should be safeguarded by turning away those who do not meet its standards on first presentation. There is also a group which tries its hardest to bring newcomers up to speed. Newcomers get a mixture of views, though it's natural for the harsher comments to be felt more strongly. Moderators need to (and do) nip ad hominem attacks in the bud.

Looking deeper, I think the regulars mostly react when those who post questions do so with an attitude of entitlement - they've asked, therefore we must answer. This is particularly galling when one has already spent time on a question, be it in editing, research, answering, or providing guidance on site norms in good faith. Nevertheless, the mechanism for flagging already exists, and EL&U's moderators tend to react promptly to such matters. I see no reason to change this process.

Communities are built on interaction. At EL&U, questions, comments and answers don't normally provide enough recurring positive interaction to capture the enduring interest of newcomers. We can invite promising newcomers to the main chat room, where this kind of interaction does take place. One doesn't need to be a moderator to issue such invitations, of course.

  1. As a moderator, I often have to judge the difference between a short answer and a low quality answer. What do you believe are the criteria for a short answer to be acceptable?

It should answer the question in a way that is useful, with enough linked or logical support for the answer to be independently verifiable.

"... as simple as possible, but not simpler" - attributed to Einstein, Quote Investigator

Follow-up question: Q3 What if the low quality answer is, objectively speaking, correct, and it is highly upvoted? Would you delete it if the user was a native speaker and/or had a high rep? Would you expect lower rep users to edit the answer; e.g. provide a dictionary link and definition? – Mari-Lou A

Per Stack Exchange's Theory of Moderation, I will assume the answer was flagged for moderator attention, and further, that it was flagged for low quality.

The first thing to consider would be whether the answer was indeed of low quality. Based on the general approach I outlined above, I'll also assume that the main deficiency was a lack of independent support.

Some time ago, I questioned an answer given by a well-respected user. The answer wasn't short, but it had no external substantiation. The reply I received was that the user was considered an expert in the matter, so there wasn't any need for independent substantiation. After all, if we accept (for example) a dictionary's authority, then the opinions of its editors or compilers should carry some weight.

Although it's different in quantitative disciplines, I think there is a place for appeal to authority and appeal to experience in the study of the English language generically, and EL&U in particular. Questions such as normative use or the idiomatic interpretation of phrases could otherwise require disproportionate research to answer. On the other hand, we need to recognise that simply floating an opinion doesn't automatically make it valid.

There is therefore a judgement call to be made in such matters. Ideally, the person's expertise, scholarly reputation and prior answers would be taken into account, but I hasten to add that they may tend to be compressed into a moderator's familiarity with, or impression of, the user. I imagine this would be the case in the cut and thrust of wading through heavy flag queues, but possibly more generally as well. Balancing this, it's good that even deletion isn't final on Stack Exchange. Other moderators and high-rep users are free to voice alternative opinions, to be resolved in the usual manner on meta and chat.

As for whether I expect lower-rep users to edit their answers to add dictionary links and definitions - yes. I think it would be commendable to even do it for them on occasion to give them a template or good example that they can use for similar answers, accompanied by a friendly comment about site norms. I consider this a constructive action that benefits the user, the EL&U community, as well as the repository.

Follow-up question: Thanks for the effort you've put into your answers. #3 in particular was very cogently argued. More broadly, you and others make the valid point that inadequate (rather than bad) posts can be community-edited to improve them - but there's little incentive other than knowing you're being helpful and improving the site. Do the site rewards for editing need review? What change (if any) would you recommend? – Chappo

Oded explains that rep is granted for approved edits, not merely for suggested edits.

  • By the time you have 2,000 rep, we see you as someone who understands what makes a good edit and not a learner anymore. The community doesn't need to approve your edits anymore. - Oded

I support this policy. It's hard to algorithmically determine what makes a good edit, and awarding points for arbitrary edits encourages trivial editing and possibly even the vandalism of posts. When the reason for editing is to improve the content, the user engages in the conversation for its own sake. That's community participation. And it promotes good editing, to boot.

Incidentally, badges are still awarded for editing.

  1. A new user to the Stack Exchange (member of ELU for 2 days, rep of 1, not a member of any other SE site) posts a rather basic question on ELU. Based on how the question is worded, it seems evident that this question is coming from a non-native speaker. Chances are, this user has not read this meta post, and is probably not even aware of the existence of English Language Learners. Should something be done? If so, what?

Yes, something should be done.

If the question contains (or even appears to contain) a point of genuine interest with respect to the English language, then either direct the user to edit the question to bring out the point of interest, or edit it on their behalf. Interaction with the user can help establish whether the question is a good fit for EL&U. Otherwise, vote to close, selecting the option to migrate to ELL if the question looks like a good fit for that site, or some other (appropriate) close reason if it doesn't.

The fact that the person asking is a non-native speaker is irrelevant.

  1. There is a fairly substantial division in the ELU community over what we should do with medium-to-low quality questions. One group says that any question which can be understood can and should be answered. Another group says that it is better for the long term health of the site and its community for unresearched questions to be closed and not answered. (There are surely others who think something else, but these are the two big groups.) As a mod, how would you mediate between these two groups?

I'll assume from the phrasing of this question that the questions in question are on-topic for EL&U and otherwise interesting, but lack research.

For moderators, the basis for mediation between the two groups must rest on the site's principles. Jeff Atwood, co-founder of Stack Exchange, expressed a tolerance for 'incomplete' questions so long as there was a point of interest, but also acknowledged the controversy. I agree with his conclusion, and think it is a good guide for mediating between "these two groups":

  • The key distinction to make here, in my mind, is that all questions are ultimately in service of the people answering them. That is the audience you need to satisfy if you want to have any hope of creating and sustaining a community of peers learning from each other. The minimum bar for a question is not "is this on-topic?", but rather "is this somewhat interesting and on-topic?". I'm not saying every question needs to be utterly fascinating, but please endeavor to make your questions more than a constant stream of no-duh underhanded softballs requiring nothing more than a quick cut and paste from Wikipedia, IMDB, or some other standard internet reference site. - Jeff Atwood
  1. One of the things that seems to divide this community are (usually partial) answers posted as comments. Some are annoyed by it, others post them on a regular basis. As a moderator you will be responsible for handling comment flags – how will you approach this issue?

There is a minimum standard expected for answers, and EL&U doesn't have a well-established culture of helping to complete partial answers. If someone has something to contribute, but feels that their answer falls short of the minimum standard or is otherwise incomplete, I would welcome their contribution in the form of comments. To do otherwise would be to either lose the contribution altogether, or face greater issues with low-quality answers.

The main substantive argument against this is that there is no down-vote button on comments, so comment-answers that aren't particularly good cannot be voted down. An appropriate reply to this argument is that people are free to leave dissenting comments, so long as the dissent is aimed at the content, rather than the person. If this is done in a spirit of cooperation, it can help lead to the construction of a good answer, as iron sharpens iron.

Incidentally, if someone posts a partial or even full answer in comments, and someone else later uses that as the basis for an answer, there should be no recourse for the comment-answerer unless they made it clear in their comment that they were seeking further information from the OP as they prepared their answer.

  1. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

If the answers and the arguments/flags relate to different posts, each should be handled on its own merits. Prickly people can produce good answers, and valuable contributors can be prickly.

As noted in EL&U chat and as supported by the guidelines for reviewing,

  • The only real difference between SE and anywhere else is that it focused mainly on content, not the person who posts it. - DEAD

This holds even if the person who posted the valuable answer is disagreeable.

As for the disagreeable user, the usual sanctions and processes are applicable, regardless of the value of their contributions. See also my answer to Question 10.

  1. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

Mod-wars are unhealthy for the community and for the site. Further, since both mods have single-click powers, there is little to be gained in unilateral action.

If the action is not an abuse of moderator powers, then the fact that both are mods is irrelevant. Set that aside for the time-being, and relate as regular users. Find out the rationale behind their actions. It's often the case that there is value at both ends of a spectrum, so communication in good faith can go a long way.

If this doesn't help, bring in other moderators to provide perspective. From here, much depends on the details of the specific case. It might end with a vote, or it may end with agreeing to disagree, or something else altogether.

Finally, if there is an abuse of mod powers, there is an established process to follow as a last resort.

Follow-up question: I like that you have concrete ideas of some changes you would like to see implemented. I am interested to know what your thoughts are for handling #8 in the case that the recipient of a particular behavior (closure/deletion or what have you) has posted on Meta accusing the mods (because they don't know which) of systematic abuse. – Kit Z. Fox♦

In a nutshell, find out what's wrong so that it can be addressed. Moderators have strong reserve powers, but a meeting of minds would be much preferred. Besides, if the problem is a perception of the abuse of power, the immediate application of power might not be a good solution.

It's easy to get caught up in the emotions of the accusations, and I don't claim exception to this, so a documented (even if informal) process would be very helpful. The process linked above doesn't address the grievances of a single user against 'all mods' or against 'the system', and I am not aware of one at SE / EL&U that mods can use as a guide. I'll also note that the following thoughts are only preliminary, and can do with further development via the usual community process.

The starting point should be one of framing. Wild accusations are unpleasant, but the user's attempt at communication should be appreciated.

Ideally, we would move the discussion from emotional outbursts to a fact-based discussion. Under the circumstances, wider latitude should be given to ad hominem attacks, but there will still be a limit. Having said that, I recognise that sometimes it's a perception that the user has, and they can't easily point to specific insults or inappropriate conduct. Even then, it would be helpful to determine when they started feeling aggrieved, or perhaps what triggered the reaction, so that the discussion can turn to something constructive.

Mod actions are said to be heavily logged, so it should be possible to dig up the relevant interactions. Depending on the level of trust remaining, responses may include discussions to determine the actual nature of the grievance, explanations of site norms, personal explanations and apologies by either or both sides, follow-up actions if appropriate, etc, or if communication has broken down, escalation to CMs.

Escalation has its own process, but for the rest, depending on specifics, the participants in the discussions may include the whole community, or a private chat room where both the complainant and the accused moderator can invite a few others. In the latter case, the roles of the additional people are to provide moral support or to furnish facts and personal impressions. The goal of the exercise would be to articulate the pressure point with a view to addressing it in a way consistent with the aims of the site and with common decency.

  1. What's your stand on obvious, often unsubstantiated, but correct and helpful answers to trivial questions? "It's an easy reputation grab that encourages more such questions which are not wanted on ELU"? "Welcome introduction to answering that encourages both the one who asked and the one who answered to come back"? Something else entirely? I am referring to questions that have obvious answers because they should have been posted on ELL in the first place or are even too trivial for that site.

From the context here and my answers to previous questions, I will assume that after conducting due diligence, it has been determined that the question has no point of interest for EL&U.

My position on good answers to trivial questions is that the answerer should not be penalised for the failings of the asker. Per Jeff Atwood's quote in my answer to Question 5, if the answer is correct and helpful, I'd let it stand. I don't mind if someone else edits to improve the answer, but the problem lies with the question, not the answer. The question should be closed.

  1. One of the most difficult roles for a moderator is to "moderate" users' behaviour. Users can get pretty indignant about being asked to improve their post or having their precious question declared off-topic. And of course some users simply have difficulty managing their personality disorder, with any well-meaning comment an invitation to a duel. What's your own tolerance for problematic behaviour - in particular, the "borderline" kind that some would interpret as acceptably robust debate, while others might feel are unacceptable shows of anger that breach the spirit of "keep it nice"? Would you aim to remove nasty, disparaging comments about our site as quickly as possible, or do you see this as freedom of expression that you would be loathe to censor?

The litmus test should always be whether the user is targeting the content or whether they are targeting another user. The former should be allowed considerable leeway; the latter should be nipped in the bud.

Yes/no/yes/no chains can be unproductive and should be stopped if the participants don't advance their arguments (or if they escalate them instead).

As for disparaging comments about EL&U, I consider them to be freedom of expression so long as they aren't ad hominem.

  • Q3 What if the low quality answer is, objectively speaking, correct, and it is highly upvoted? Would you delete it if the user was a native speaker and/or had a high rep? Would you expect lower rep users to edit the answer; e.g. provide a dictionary link and definition? – Mari-Lou A Aug 16 '16 at 18:21
  • I like that you have concrete ideas of some changes you would like to see implemented. I am interested to know what your thoughts are for handling #8 in the case that the recipient of a particular behavior (closure/deletion or what have you) has posted on Meta accusing the mods (because they don't know which) of systematic abuse. – Kit Z. Fox Aug 17 '16 at 0:40
  • @Mari-LouA Thank you for your follow-up question. I've answered it in my main text above. It's turned my short answer to the short-answer question into a long answer, though :) . – Lawrence Aug 17 '16 at 1:37
  • Thank you, @KitZ.Fox. I have some thoughts on this, but I'm trying to determine the context you're framing, since I thought the name of the mod who closes/deletes/etc a question is always visible to the user in question. Is this a different situation? – Lawrence Aug 17 '16 at 1:54
  • I can think of a few cases where the moderator who took the action is not visible: deleting/editing comments, kicking/suspending users from chat, using binding flags on posts (I think). There are also a few things that can be obfuscated, although it has not been my experience that this ever happens. – Kit Z. Fox Aug 17 '16 at 2:13
  • @KitZ.Fox Thanks for the clarification. I've added some thoughts on this to my answer. – Lawrence Aug 17 '16 at 2:53
  • Thanks for the effort you've put into your answers. #3 in particular was very cogently argued. More broadly, you and others make the valid point that inadequate (rather than bad) posts can be community-edited to improve them - but there's little incentive other than knowing you're being helpful and improving the site. Do the site rewards for editing need review? What change (if any) would you recommend? – Reinstate Monica Aug 17 '16 at 8:20
  • 1
    Thank you @Chappo, I appreciate that. I think the site policy regarding site rewards for editing is appropriate. I've inserted a fuller reply into my answer above. – Lawrence Aug 17 '16 at 11:47
  • Nice 'TL;DR'. TL;DR:'TL;DR' – Mitch Aug 19 '16 at 16:17
  • Thanks @Mitch, glad you like it. :) – Lawrence Aug 19 '16 at 16:33
  • 3
    I would encourage anyone to ignore the summaries and read the actual answers. I was not pleased with the summaries, but decided to read the rest anyway, and found the actual body to be much better. – DCShannon Aug 19 '16 at 23:18
5

WBT

  1. A number of site participants feel that one major problem at EL&U is that bad questions remain open too long and take too much effort to close; some of these participants have argued in favor of instituting reforms designed to make closing questions easier. But other site participants feel that some questions that might elicit interesting answers are closed too quickly and for reasons not especially relevant to their value as questions (most often, for lack of prior research). What is your view of the current state of question closure at EL&U, and what—if anything—would you do to try to change the status quo?

We should not be lowering technical barriers to closing questions (e.g. reducing the number of close votes required), but it would be a good idea to get more people actively up into being able to have input. We should instead focus on making it easier to ask good questions, such as more clearly prompting askers to share prior research, and valuing that with positive reinforcement when it is done, as models for others.

  1. A perennial issue at EL&U is whether the site is unfriendly toward low-rep users and especially newcomers. Do you view clubbishness or hostility/rudeness toward recent arrivals at EL&U as a continuing problem? What can moderators do to help inexperienced users feel more comfortable and welcome here?

Yes, I believe it is a problem, and the club is even significantly smaller than one half of one percent of the site’s users, so my candidacy in this election is that of a relative outsider, which might wind up faring as well as that of Bernie Sanders in the US. The clubbishness even showed up strongly in this election, for example in a comment on Jesse Williams’ nomination (“In my opinion, I think you're the least qualified to become a community moderator”). That kind of vague, blunt, negative comment is unconstructive and seeks primarily to exclude people without helping indicate any path forward or improvement.

To the extent that moderators can help shape the site, they may be able to help make it more welcoming to newcomers with structured prompts and interfaces that set clearer expectations about what is considered a good question. Responses should also focus on what’s good about questions, not just what’s bad about them, because positive reinforcement is more likely to turn a new user into a valuable contributor than being “greeted” with negativity. (Here's a recent example illustrating a positive way to encourage "more like that" on a newcomer's answer.)

  1. As a moderator, I often have to judge the difference between a short answer and a low quality answer. What do you believe are the criteria for a short answer to be acceptable?

Top criteria: Does it answer the question?
Second criteria: Is it backed, or able to be backed, by at least one credible source other than the answer’s personal claims to expertise?
(The second criteria is less important when the question is about the answerer.)

  1. A new user to the Stack Exchange (member of ELU for 2 days, rep of 1, not a member of any other SE site) posts a rather basic question on ELU. Based on how the question is worded, it seems evident that this question is coming from a non-native speaker. Chances are, this user has not read this meta post, and is probably not even aware of the existence of English Language Learners. Should something be done? If so, what?

It depends. Some questions are appropriate and on-topic at either site, but might benefit more from the different communities of people and different focus/style of answers on one site or the other. If it seems the user doesn’t know ELL exists, that signals that the choice of ELU may not have been fully informed by the options available, and might really appreciate a polite comment pointing out that the other site exists as an option, pointing to some description of the differences, and explaining how the user could request a question get migrated there if they think ELL is a better fit once informed of both. I used that basic approach with this recent question, which did get migrated, and I think will get answers more helpful to OP at ELL, but which could have been reworded to fit OK on ELU.

In contrast, this recent question also clearly came from a non-native speaker, but I think it fits better here on ELU and deals with some rather challenging material.

  1. There is a fairly substantial division in the ELU community over what we should do with medium-to-low quality questions. One group says that any question which can be understood can and should be answered. Another group says that it is better for the long term health of the site and its community for unresearched questions to be closed and not answered. (There are surely others who think something else, but these are the two big groups.) As a mod, how would you mediate between these two groups?

My general approach to mediation is to listen to each side’s points and support of those points. In conflicts where people are invested, it can also help to ask each side to restate the other side’s points to help build mutual trust and understanding.

On SE, we are not practically constrained by computing resources in how many questions and answers we can have. Primary limits have more to do with time and attention, which are not necessarily zero-sum. We want to make it easier for people to find what they are looking for. For this question, if folks on opposite sides of it could agree on some predictions that follow from their points, I’d be able to look at the analytics tools mods have access to in order to help answer the questions and make data-driven decisions.

  1. One of the things that seems to divide this community are (usually partial) answers posted as comments. Some are annoyed by it, others post them on a regular basis. As a moderator you will be responsible for handling comment flags – how will you approach this issue?

The biggest effect of answering in comments is that it severely reduces the reliability of statistics about what questions are and aren’t answered. We have to use extra caution in interpreting those statistics for ELU compared to many other sites in the SE network, even at the level of any specific question in a questions list. Ideally, folks who post partial answers in comments would be more explicit about encouraging others to develop those into more complete answers; both the commenting and further development are valuable contributions to the site. Mod comments can credibly provide this kind of encouragement too. Comments should not be deleted just because they contain partial answers. See also the question above about short answers.

  1. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

Upvote good answers, and add comments explaining what’s good about the answers. This is a positive reinforcement strategy that should help not only that user but others see what they should do, which I think is a lot more helpful to the growth of a site than just shutting down and blocking things folks shouldn’t be doing. It would also send a message to the user that I’m not against them personally, but that critical comments from me focus on specific behaviors and instances.

I would then pick the comments which are most clearly inappropriate and add comments saying so directly, with reason(s) why. If issues continue, I would recommend the user take a break from the site for a few days voluntarily. If issues still continue, and they are bad enough to have significant negative effects on other users, I would enforce that suggestion with a temporary block of the comment privilege.

  1. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

I’d talk about it with them, in chat, asking them to explain in more detail why they took that action and also explaining in more detail my own differing perspective. I’ve been known to convince others and also to be convinced (change my mind) myself, and have in some cases been in disagreements that led to some creative outcome that wasn’t anybody’s position at the start but which addresses the concerns each person raised. I think I’m generally reasonable and hope the other mods generally are too. This doesn’t mean we won’t disagree - indeed, I hope we have enough diversity on the team that we sometimes disagree - but I do hope it means we’ll be able to discuss and work things out, and I'm quite optimistic on that.

  1. What's your stand on obvious, often unsubstantiated, but correct and helpful answers to trivial questions? "It's an easy reputation grab that encourages more such questions which are not wanted on ELU"? "Welcome introduction to answering that encourages both the one who asked and the one who answered to come back"? Something else entirely? I am referring to questions that have obvious answers because they should have been posted on ELL in the first place or are even too trivial for that site.

“Correct and helpful answers” are generally good for the site! These kinds of answers are the same ones discussed above that sometimes appear as comments, but are perhaps better posted as answers in order to signal what’s been answered. It’s better if the answer cites a source or gives an example or is otherwise more complete than the kinds of answers most commonly found in comments on the question. Encouraging the posting of sources and resources is helpful, and folks are more likely to develop a good answer when they’ve started with something simple and get encouraged to develop it further, than if the initial bar is forced too high.

Also, while something may be “obvious” to you, it may not be “obvious” to others, particularly the OP, and other readers. I’m not worried about a “reputation grab” – is this community really so clubbish that you would begrudge newcomers who are trying to provide a good answer to a question some Internet points? I think being able to view the analytics would be helpful in making these discussions more informed by data.

  1. One of the most difficult roles for a moderator is to "moderate" users' behaviour. Users can get pretty indignant about being asked to improve their post or having their precious question declared off-topic. And of course some users simply have difficulty managing their personality disorder, with any well-meaning comment an invitation to a duel. What's your own tolerance for problematic behaviour - in particular, the "borderline" kind that some would interpret as acceptably robust debate, while others might feel are unacceptable shows of anger that breach the spirit of "keep it nice"? Would you aim to remove nasty, disparaging comments about our site as quickly as possible, or do you see this as freedom of expression that you would be loathe to censor?

First, the "freedom of expression" that folks (in my experience, especially Americans) hold up in so many online arguments is a freedom from repression by the government, and says nothing about private or voluntary associations, which can and should set their own community rules and norms. I would underscore that if a post needs improvement, this does not mean OP is the one who has to be doing that improvement personally; I think it’s important to lower the barriers to making a valuable contribution and that means being open minded to the idea that one person can make a contribution with a post that’s in need of improvement, and another person can make another contribution by improving that post. Look at how Wikipedia works - most improvements to most pieces of content are by someone other than the original creator of that page. I think it’s easy to forget this and we should make it more explicit more often.

I think it’s important to keep the discussions relatively on-topic and focus on providing substantive, on-topic points that can be responded to with another substantive, on-topic point. Personal attacks generally don’t meet that criteria. It’s important to look at how someone’s comments are affecting the community and the discussion as a whole, not just how they might be affecting e.g. me. Appropriate expressions that someone finds something frustrating should not be shut out wholesale: Especially when bringing a novel point or perspective, they can serve an appropriate role in identifying opportunities for improving the site and the experiences it offers its users.


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  • 6
    I'm glad to see you have a focus on positive reinforcement. I think we (mods and high-rep users) fall to the stick too often because it's what we're supposed to do to keep the site tidy, and we forget that carrots are good motivators. "Do more of this" is sometimes more helpful than "don't do this". – Kit Z. Fox Aug 16 '16 at 12:01
  • 1
    "my candidacy in this election is that of a relative outsider, which might wind up faring as well as that of Bernie Sanders in the US" - I see what you did there ;-) – Rand al'Thor Aug 16 '16 at 12:14
  • 3
    I appreciate your answers. Here are some help center guidelines that people get down-voted for following: "...contribute the results of your research and anything additional you’ve tried as a partial answer." "Any answer that gets the asker going in the right direction is helpful." "Brevity is acceptable, but fuller explanations are better." For questions, "if your motivation is 'I would like others to explain ______ to me', then you are probably OK." We're enforcing at a higher level than we're asking for. We need a "Getting Started" button with better guidelines. – Mark Hubbard Aug 16 '16 at 16:13
  • @MarkHubbard Thanks for your comment and support! While I think it's important for enforcement/practice and guidelines to align, I think a change in the establishment practice would be better for the site than a change in the quoted guidelines (which I generally agree with). – WBT Aug 16 '16 at 18:02
  • Q3 What if the low quality answer is, objectively speaking, correct, and it is highly upvoted? Would you delete it if the user was a native speaker and/or had a high rep? Would you expect lower rep users to edit the answer; e.g. provide a dictionary link and definition? – Mari-Lou A Aug 16 '16 at 18:23
  • 4
    @Mari-LouA What bearing should the answering user's rep have on the matter, but to perpetuate special treatment for the establishment, not based on the merit of the content? If an answer is objectively correct and highly upvoted by the community, why should a mod delete it instead of offering suggestions for improvement? – WBT Aug 16 '16 at 19:02
  • 2
    Because if the user has, deservedly, earned a high rep, it seems that person enjoys a certain immunity when they provide a very succinct but correct answer. An answer that would be deleted if posted by a relatively newcomer. However, more often than not, senior users will dive in and "fix" the post so it complies with SE guidelines. On rare occasions, I have seen "correct" answers deleted because they were unsupported, and this is more likely to happen to low-rep users. – Mari-Lou A Aug 16 '16 at 19:12
  • 4
    @Mari-LouA That may be how things are but I don't think it's how things should be. The difference you described is part of the issue raised in question 2 and a point where a relative outsider seems more likely to be able to make more of a difference than someone who has benefited more from (and may have more incentive to perpetuate) that difference in treatment. – WBT Aug 16 '16 at 19:23
1

NVZ

  1. A number of site participants feel that one major problem at EL&U is that bad questions remain open too long and take too much effort to close; some of these participants have argued in favor of instituting reforms designed to make closing questions easier. But other site participants feel that some questions that might elicit interesting answers are closed too quickly and for reasons not especially relevant to their value as questions (most often, for lack of prior research). What is your view of the current state of question closure at EL&U, and what—if anything—would you do to try to change the status quo?

ELU’s a beauty, and a beautiful thing’s never perfect. Amount of questions incoming often exceeds reviewers’ capacity, and some bad questions stay open. Interestingness of a closed question is subjective. Let those interested, edit to improve, and more will chip in to reopen it.

Possible solutions:

  • More volunteers to the review queues.
  • Gold-tag-badged users timely casting weighted close-votes.

Possible feature-requests:

  • Weighted close-votes for efficient reviewers.
  • More close-votes for efficient reviewers.
  • Optional short intro video for new users.
  • Tools to detect and deal with robo-reviewers.

These are being discussed network-wide and have many drawbacks.

  1. A perennial issue at EL&U is whether the site is unfriendly toward low-rep users and especially newcomers. Do you view clubbishness or hostility/rudeness toward recent arrivals at EL&U as a continuing problem? What can moderators do to help inexperienced users feel more comfortable and welcome here?

Started off with bad posts, but I got more positive criticism than confusing drive-by downvotes, and now I’m here. By now I've seen 2k new users. Most never revisit, sign up, absorb feedback, and can’t even differentiate ELU from other English forums. We can’t force users to stay, and I’ve not seen them pushed away either.

"No pressure, no diamonds", right?

IMHO, changing English.SE to ELU.SE and ELL.SE to English.SE, could significantly minimize posts from English learners. But that’d be a huge undertaking involving more complications than benefits. Hope someday such a feature-request succeeds.

I’d consult experienced mods before big decisions. I could go easy on new users while I Dark Knight the crap out of high-rep repeat offenders.

In short, I see no major concern. It’s not up to just the mods, but the community as a whole to help out new users.

  1. As a moderator, I often have to judge the difference between a short answer and a low quality answer. What do you believe are the criteria for a short answer to be acceptable?

I speedread, and prefer concise posts.

  1. Acceptable short answer:

Acceptable short answer

It is informative i.e. has sources, explanation and examples, defines the relevant words, and is precise.

  1. Unacceptable short answer:

Unacceptable short answer

It may be obvious to native speakers, but not to most others. How it got upvoted is beyond me. Similar answers by new users are usually shot on sight.

Follow-up to Q3. What if the low quality answer is, objectively speaking, correct, and it is highly upvoted? Would you delete it if the user was a native speaker and/or had a high rep? Would you expect lower rep users to edit the answer; e.g. provide a dictionary link and definition? — Mari-Lou A

Even if they answer the question correctly, low-quality answers are usually removed by users and mods, eventually. If, somehow, such a low-quality answer from a high-rep user reaches the Hot Network Questions and gets a hundred upvotes, and still remains a VLQ, I think it'd be up to a mod to remove that answer when it's certain that the owner won't edit to improve it. Or maybe, depending on the answer's usefulness, I may edit it myself.

  1. A new user to the Stack Exchange (member of ELU for 2 days, rep of 1, not a member of any other SE site) posts a rather basic question on ELU. Based on how the question is worded, it seems evident that this question is coming from a non-native speaker. Chances are, this user has not read this meta post, and is probably not even aware of the existence of English Language Learners. Should something be done? If so, what?

IMHO, changing English.SE to ELU.SE and ELL.SE to English.SE, could significantly minimize posts from English learners. But that’d be a huge undertaking involving more complications than benefits. Hope someday such a feature-request succeeds.

Moderators are deployed to keep order, not to make policies. It’s up to the community to decide what needs to be done and a moderator must only enforce cooperation among them.

  1. There is a fairly substantial division in the ELU community over what we should do with medium-to-low quality questions. One group says that any question which can be understood can and should be answered. Another group says that it is better for the long term health of the site and its community for unresearched questions to be closed and not answered. (There are surely others who think something else, but these are the two big groups.) As a mod, how would you mediate between these two groups?

The community decides the fate of unresearched and off-topic questions using tools they have. A mod has to fairly intervene only when these groups stir up trouble. I will stay neutral and objective when I’m a mod.

But as a regular user, my thoughts are:

  • Littered sites attract more litter (e.g. Yahoo! Answers).
  • It’s best to help out new users, who post bad questions, by comments, not answers. It’d prevent them accepting a possibly bad answer, thereby allowing speedy automatic deletions of such questions, and reduced review queues.

I prefer an ELU with more quality than quantity.

  1. One of the things that seems to divide this community are (usually partial) answers posted as comments. Some are annoyed by it, others post them on a regular basis. As a moderator you will be responsible for handling comment flags – how will you approach this issue?

Normally, users who post “answers in comments”, know that comments are short-lived and don’t add to rep.

When a “partial answer in comments” have remained under an on-topic question for a reasonable time, it’s expected of others to write up a full answer, giving credit where it’s due.

A “partial answer in comments” is usually very constructive and does not need to be flagged as offensive, obsolete, or too chatty.

I post them, too. My reasons often include:

  • Question is unresearched or off-topic and deserves no answer.
  • Lack of time or resources for a full answer.
  • Unsure about an answer and await feedback.
  • OP should take the hint and do some research themselves
  1. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

If the flags are legit, I’d defuse the situation with comments or private message, acknowledge the user’s valuable contributions, and encourage them to have fun, and be good to each other. If things escalate further, I’d consult with mods and take necessary action. Last resort, I’d call in Tony Stark.

  1. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

I’d study the said post. If a mod’s action appears odd, I’d be inclined to discuss it with them in private, without stepping on their toes. For serious issues, I’d seek other mods’ views or community consensus.

  1. What's your stand on obvious, often unsubstantiated, but correct and helpful answers to trivial questions? "It's an easy reputation grab that encourages more such questions which are not wanted on ELU"? "Welcome introduction to answering that encourages both the one who asked and the one who answered to come back"? Something else entirely? I am referring to questions that have obvious answers because they should have been posted on ELL in the first place or are even too trivial for that site.

Questions from learners are often too basic, and therefore closed or, better yet, migrated to ELL.

ELU’s gems often write answers so beautiful, that it saves such questions from the gallows. They even help flesh out such questions to fit ELU better. This, IMHO, is the best thing ELU can do for learners. Or at least, use comments to assist them.

Instead, if users post one-liners or unsubstantiated answers to such questions, although it often helps the OPs, it won’t help ELU attract linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. ELU intends to build a library of detailed answers, not turn into Yahoo! Answers.

However, I don’t intend to patrol and beat up everyone posting basic answers. Let the community use the tools they have, and work its magic.

  1. One of the most difficult roles for a moderator is to "moderate" users' behaviour. Users can get pretty indignant about being asked to improve their post or having their precious question declared off-topic. And of course some users simply have difficulty managing their personality disorder, with any well-meaning comment an invitation to a duel. What's your own tolerance for problematic behaviour - in particular, the "borderline" kind that some would interpret as acceptably robust debate, while others might feel are unacceptable shows of anger that breach the spirit of "keep it nice"? Would you aim to remove nasty, disparaging comments about our site as quickly as possible, or do you see this as freedom of expression that you would be loathe to censor?

We have the freedom to express our views, but more importantly, we have a duty to be nice and keep things on-topic.

I’d look for further clarification regarding borderline comments. If they’re targeting a post, it’s bearable. But if they’re attacking users, then I’d be forced to put the offender in the penalty box.

  • 4
    Could you clarify what you mean by "Dark Knight the crap out of high-rep repeat offenders"? – Kit Z. Fox Aug 16 '16 at 1:35
  • @KitZ.Fox I hope such light humour is accepted. Should I remove that part, KitZ? My idea was "I'd take strong moderator action against repeat offenders". – NVZ Aug 16 '16 at 1:37
  • 3
    Oh, humor is fine. I just wasn't sure if you meant you would tie them up or hit them with a batarang or what. – Kit Z. Fox Aug 16 '16 at 1:39
  • I have answered as best as I can. Please ask for further clarification. :) – NVZ Aug 16 '16 at 17:30
  • Q3 What if the low quality answer is, objectively speaking, correct, and it is highly upvoted? Would you delete it if the user was a native speaker and/or had a high rep? Would you expect lower rep users to edit the answer; e.g. provide a dictionary link and definition? – Mari-Lou A Aug 16 '16 at 18:23
  • 2
    @Mari-LouA Even if they answer the question correctly, low-quality answers are usually removed by users and mods, eventually . If, somehow, such a low-quality answer from a high-rep user reaches the Hot Network Questions and gets a hundred upvotes, and still remains a VLQ, I think it'd be up to a mod to remove that answer when it's certain that the owner won't edit to improve it. Or maybe, depending on the answer's usefulness, I may edit it myself. – NVZ Aug 16 '16 at 18:44
1

MετάEd

  1. What is your view of the current state of question closure at EL&U, and what—if anything—would you do to try to change the status quo?

This is not a structural problem. It is a cultural problem. StackExchange exists to serve experts in specific fields of technology by creating libraries of expert answers to expert-level questions. English is a very widely adopted technology and there is a very large population of novices. The number of people who want help expressing something simple in English is much, much bigger than the number of people who want help expressing something simple in C. This is why EL&U attracts more novices than other SE sites. EL&U attracts many questions that are not expert-level, and also attracts many helpful people who want to answer those questions.

The challenge for StackExchange is to help first timers learn what the site is about. First timers learn from the votes and constructive comments that are offered by other users. The main thing I think a good moderator can do in this area is model good behavior.

  1. A perennial issue at EL&U is whether the site is unfriendly toward low-rep users and especially newcomers. Do you view clubbishness or hostility/rudeness toward recent arrivals at EL&U as a continuing problem? What can moderators do to help inexperienced users feel more comfortable and welcome here?

There are two kinds of behavior at EL&U that are perceived by first timers as clubbish or rude. One kind is actual rude or dismissive speech. In this case the moderator's job is to intervene, respectfully and firmly, to protect the site and the community. The other kind is constructive speech which frustrates the first timer's attempt to get an answer. For example, we frequently get first timer requests to proofread a text. The correct response, that proofreading is off topic here, is often perceived as clubbish or rude: deliberate unhelpfulness. And it is also perceived that way by people who try to give helpful answers. In this case the moderator's job, besides de-escalating any drama that might ensue, is to clearly communicate the site mission and policies.

  1. As a moderator, I often have to judge the difference between a short answer and a low quality answer. What do you believe are the criteria for a short answer to be acceptable?

Voting is the proper remedy for most poor answers. Moderator intervention is appropriate when the post is plainly not an answer. Examples: a comment on the question, a post that doesn't try to address the question (such as a new question, an incomprehensible post, or spam), a bare link, etc. It is also appropriate when the post gives insufficient explanation. An obvious example is a bare "yes" or "no". StackExchange is looking for "long answers that provide some explanation and context" and "answers that don't include explanations may be removed". So if an answer fits a lot of explanation and context into a small package, then it's acceptable. Otherwise it might be better converted to a comment on the question.

  1. A new user to the Stack Exchange (member of ELU for 2 days, rep of 1, not a member of any other SE site) posts a rather basic question on ELU. Based on how the question is worded, it seems evident that this question is coming from a non-native speaker. Chances are, this user has not read this meta post, and is probably not even aware of the existence of English Language Learners. Should something be done? If so, what?

When the question is not expert-level, it's off topic and can be closed with a referral to ELL, along with a link to the ELL question criteria.

  1. There is a fairly substantial division in the ELU community over what we should do with medium-to-low quality questions. One group says that any question which can be understood can and should be answered. Another group says that it is better for the long term health of the site and its community for unresearched questions to be closed and not answered. (There are surely others who think something else, but these are the two big groups.) As a mod, how would you mediate between these two groups?

Moderators do not make policy – SE management does. Moderators need to know and follow site policy. SE management has repeatedly asked the community to respect the requirement that questions be expert-level and show effort and research. Moderators can help with community divisions by staying respectful and communicating clearly.

  1. One of the things that seems to divide this community are (usually partial) answers posted as comments. Some are annoyed by it, others post them on a regular basis. As a moderator you will be responsible for handling comment flags – how will you approach this issue?

Answers posted as comments are fine. But that's not where it ends. Users are encouraged to turn them into comprehensive answers, at which point the comments are obsolete and can be deleted.

  1. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

I assume you mean inappropriate, confrontational argument. I would not let a user's output excuse their bad behavior. If someone is not being nice then moderators need to protect the site and the other users. Depending on the harm and the intent, an intervention can be anything from a gentle explanation to locking posts or users.

  1. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

I personally would discuss it with the other moderator but avoid forcing the issue. Unless of course there was evidence that the action taken was malicious; in that case I would do basically what we recommend to anyone who runs into inappropriate behavior: disengage with the other moderator and bring it to the attention of staff.

  1. What's your stand on obvious, often unsubstantiated, but correct and helpful answers to trivial questions? "It's an easy reputation grab that encourages more such questions which are not wanted on ELU"? "Welcome introduction to answering that encourages both the one who asked and the one who answered to come back"? Something else entirely? I am referring to questions that have obvious answers because they should have been posted on ELL in the first place or are even too trivial for that site.

So we're talking about answers to questions that shouldn't have been asked in the first place. The bar is as high for those answers as for any answers. An unsubstantiated answer is not helpful, not in the context of expert Q&A. See my answer to question 3.

  1. One of the most difficult roles for a moderator is to "moderate" users' behaviour. Users can get pretty indignant about being asked to improve their post or having their precious question declared off-topic. And of course some users simply have difficulty managing their personality disorder, with any well-meaning comment an invitation to a duel. What's your own tolerance for problematic behaviour - in particular, the "borderline" kind that some would interpret as acceptably robust debate, while others might feel are unacceptable shows of anger that breach the spirit of "keep it nice"? Would you aim to remove nasty, disparaging comments about our site as quickly as possible, or do you see this as freedom of expression that you would be loathe to censor?

There is a big difference between disagreement and bullying. Disagreement is healthy, even though it might get under the other person's skin. But I lean very hard towards removing all nasty, disparaging comments. If people do not feel they are basically safe here, they will vote with their feet. The site lives or dies by whether it can attract and keep volunteers.

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    Oh wonderful, with less than an hour before the election closes you post your answers. – Mari-Lou A Aug 23 '16 at 18:24
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    OK, why such a late response? – Mari-Lou A Aug 23 '16 at 18:36
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    I didn't vote for you only because I didn't have a clear enough idea of your views and approach to policy, since you hadn't posted here. Now that you have, I can say that I would have voted for you if I'd seen this before the election ended :-) – Rand al'Thor Aug 23 '16 at 20:54
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Hi, I'm curiousdannii!

  1. A number of site participants feel that one major problem at EL&U is that bad questions remain open too long and take too much effort to close; some of these participants have argued in favor of instituting reforms designed to make closing questions easier. But other site participants feel that some questions that might elicit interesting answers are closed too quickly and for reasons not especially relevant to their value as questions (most often, for lack of prior research). What is your view of the current state of question closure at EL&U, and what—if anything—would you do to try to change the status quo?

In general I think the consensus community standards are appropriate (i.e., unresearched questions should be closed.) I think it often takes too long to close them - frequently days or weeks. By that time the OP has lost interest in the question, and possibly the site. I think mods should quickly close the most obviously unacceptable questions, both so that they get closed quickly before they attract poor answers and while the OP is still around to improve them, and so that other users can use their limited 24 close votes on the more contentious questions.

I'm not happy with all of the current custom close vote reasons. I think the proofreading close reason needs an overhaul because it is frequently used on questions which do highlight some particular issue. So we should either be allowing them, or make it much stricter.

  1. A perennial issue at EL&U is whether the site is unfriendly toward low-rep users and especially newcomers. Do you view clubbishness or hostility/rudeness toward recent arrivals at EL&U as a continuing problem? What can moderators do to help inexperienced users feel more comfortable and welcome here?

To be honest I haven't seen too much clubbishness or hostility, but I may be more tolerant than others. I think the whole community should definitely be both pleasant and welcoming to new users. However when someone comes here asking blatantly off-topic questions along the lines of "give me the codez" I won't fault anyone for giving a curt response that those questions are off-topic. Even then though, it would be good to give a pleasant welcome and an encouragement to read the tour and help pages. I don't currently use any userscripts, but if I was elected I would, to make it much easier to post welcome messages etc.

  1. As a moderator, I often have to judge the difference between a short answer and a low quality answer. What do you believe are the criteria for a short answer to be acceptable?

Answers have to give something to support what they say, whether that's a dictionary or grammar quotation, or citing their own regional dialect (when that's relevant). Decent answers will give some measure of explanation too.

  1. A new user to the Stack Exchange (member of ELU for 2 days, rep of 1, not a member of any other SE site) posts a rather basic question on ELU. Based on how the question is worded, it seems evident that this question is coming from a non-native speaker. Chances are, this user has not read this meta post, and is probably not even aware of the existence of English Language Learners. Should something be done? If so, what?

If the question would be on-topic at ELL then it can be migrated. If not, a comment welcoming them to the site, pointing them to the help pages and appropriate meta posts, and alerting them to the existence of ELL would be appropriate.

  1. There is a fairly substantial division in the ELU community over what we should do with medium-to-low quality questions. One group says that any question which can be understood can and should be answered. Another group says that it is better for the long term health of the site and its community for unresearched questions to be closed and not answered. (There are surely others who think something else, but these are the two big groups.) As a mod, how would you mediate between these two groups?

So I asked this question. From what I've observed, many of those who welcome any and every question participate on Meta only infrequently. So the first step would be encouraging them to come to Meta more often so that their voices can be heard in the consensus shaping discussions. Whether they are willing to do that is up to them, but in the end the consensus site policies must be what are enforced.

  1. One of the things that seems to divide this community are (usually partial) answers posted as comments. Some are annoyed by it, others post them on a regular basis. As a moderator you will be responsible for handling comment flags – how will you approach this issue?

I'm not too bothered by them. They're not the purpose of comments, but they usually don't hurt too much. If these answer-comments are on open on-topic questions then they can readily be deleted. If they are on closed questions then I'd probably leave them for a day so that the OP has the chance to see them.

  1. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

Answering is a privilege not a right, and highly disruptive users should not be participating on this site, even if their answers are top notch. But we'd have to take these users on a case by case basis, and probably try to mediate on chat first. There's no single process to take.

  1. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

If it was something I felt very strongly about I'd probably raise the issue in a question on Meta so that the whole community can voice their thoughts. Mods are given the power to unilaterally close questions, which is a good thing, but disputes over specific questions should be solved like normal.

  1. What's your stand on obvious, often unsubstantiated, but correct and helpful answers to trivial questions? "It's an easy reputation grab that encourages more such questions which are not wanted on ELU"? "Welcome introduction to answering that encourages both the one who asked and the one who answered to come back"? Something else entirely? I am referring to questions that have obvious answers because they should have been posted on ELL in the first place or are even too trivial for that site.

The shorter and faster a question is answered the more it looks like a reputation grab, regardless of what the poster's intentions were. But neither speed of answering, brevity, correctness, or helpfulness really matters much. As I wrote above, I look for answers to support their claims. Any unsupported answer should have the needs-research flag applied to it. If that isn't provided then it may be deletable, though not having the power to delete yet, I haven't looked up the full history of this site's Meta discussions on deleting unsupported answers.

  1. One of the most difficult roles for a moderator is to "moderate" users' behaviour. Users can get pretty indignant about being asked to improve their post or having their precious question declared off-topic. And of course some users simply have difficulty managing their personality disorder, with any well-meaning comment an invitation to a duel. What's your own tolerance for problematic behaviour - in particular, the "borderline" kind that some would interpret as acceptably robust debate, while others might feel are unacceptable shows of anger that breach the spirit of "keep it nice"? Would you aim to remove nasty, disparaging comments about our site as quickly as possible, or do you see this as freedom of expression that you would be loath to censor?

The common theme in my answers here is that answers should be self-supporting. ;) There's nothing really to debate there.

Okay, so what about a comment chain, not asking for improvement, but disputing points? I'd probably apply the same standards to them, that they should give evidence. Sometimes there are regional differences, and those comments are very useful. Comments that amount to "you're wrong" are not useful and should be deleted. Disputes on questions should generally be taken to Meta.

If a user shows a pattern of aggressive comments or rudeness in general, then temporary suspensions are appropriate.

If you like my way of thinking, then please give me an upvote in the election primary!

  • I don't think you've quite answered question #10 - in particular, "Would you aim to remove nasty, disparaging comments about our site as quickly as possible, or do you see this as freedom of expression that you would be loath to censor?" [NB not comments within a post, but actual site comments, like this one :-) ] – Reinstate Monica Aug 18 '16 at 13:12
  • @Chappo I think I covered that with "If a user shows a pattern of aggressive comments or rudeness in general, then temporary suspensions are appropriate." Though 'comment' is pretty ambiguous in all of these sentences. I don't think that's a problem. It doesn't matter what kind of submission people use if they're being aggressive or rude... – curiousdannii Aug 18 '16 at 13:26
  • Though if it's just disparaging comments about the site rather than other users, well, I make lots of those myself! :P – curiousdannii Aug 18 '16 at 13:27
  • An example: new user, 1 rep, first question but it's poorly worded. Several other users make helpful suggestions (in comments). New user becomes angry, posts a bitter (and probably a parting) comment disparaging the site. That comment sits there for days. Do you leave the bitterness and frustration on display to all visitors? Or do you censor the new user by deleting their comment? NB This isn't about right or wrong but I'm interested in which direction you'd tend to lean towards. – Reinstate Monica Aug 18 '16 at 14:13
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    @Chappo, in that sort of situation I'd be inclined to leave it there, though if it was manually flagged by someone and it was especially bad I might remove it. Probably easier to remove the whole question though. Questions which are quickly closed here get very few views. (Even many open questions get very few views.) I don't think comments like that will turn new users off the site. – curiousdannii Aug 18 '16 at 14:28

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