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The administrator note at the top of the pages currently encourages us to use our votes on SuperUser because they will be selecting moderators soon. I am not quite sure what this implies (mods chosen based on activity or rep score?), but it got me thinking about how to best choose moderators for the site, and I believe Meta is how to do it.

I think we as a community have already demonstrated an ability to discuss what we believe a site should aim towards (in this case the discussion about defining SuperUser). I do think that had a large hand in why I was asked to be a mod for the site. I believe we could use that same idea for choosing future moderators for SuperUser (and even for other sites as they come through the pipeline).

What I am getting at is this:

Your best moderators are going to be those who are already familiar with how the system functions as well as how the community functions. High performance on Meta is a good indicator of those factors.

We can generally determine who is going to be a good moderator based on how they perform on Meta, since Meta is not only a discussion area for topics about the growth of StackOverflow, but also for helping troubleshoot newer users. Both of these qualities are pretty important for a mod to have.

Reputation scores generally aren't a good indicator of performance on a site other than activity, but at least on Meta, high scores here can generally signify that you are indeed invested in the community enough to engage in all the discussions. Combine that type of enthusiasm for the sites and the community along with a genuine interest in the future of a particular site, and you have all the ingredients necessary to make a good moderator.

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Sorry to be off topic, but I can't help sharing my delight with the phrase "troubleshoot newer users." As in, "this new user needs to be taken out back and troubleshot." –  Anton Geraschenko Jul 27 '09 at 17:07
Preferably we can invoice the user's company for all the troublebullets we will go through. –  TheTXI Jul 27 '09 at 17:16
You are still no moderator of MSO. Is the probation time not over yet? –  Ladybug Killer Jul 27 '09 at 19:41
Incidentally, I think there's a conflict of interest in this post. :-P –  George Stocker Jul 29 '09 at 13:13
Gortok: If it wasn't for the fact that I am already one of the mods on SuperUser I would be inclined to agree. –  TheTXI Jul 29 '09 at 13:23
Surely there's less than 100 valid questions that could be asked on meta.SO about how SO works? All the rest are suggestions, and hence subjective and should probably be CW? Therefore the amount of rep to be earnt is highly limited, as demonstrated by looking at the top reps. –  cjk Jan 15 '10 at 8:22

8 Answers 8

up vote 14 down vote accepted

I completely agree. A moderator doesn't have to be a DBA or network expert to know when a question doesn't belong on SF. That extends to the other sites as well.

The most important factor in determining who would be a good moderator is an understanding of the community we are looking to build.

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I think knowledge of the subject matter needs to be at the level where you can at least discern between what belongs and what doesn't. That does require some inherent knowledge in what's being discussed. –  TheTXI Jul 27 '09 at 15:06
You don't have to be a Jon Skeet, but yeah, you do have to have some knowledge of the subject matter. But, as far as SU goes, it is probably impossible for someone to be knowledgeable on every topic that is allowed there. –  jjnguy Jul 27 '09 at 15:08
Looks ripe for a post entitled "Must have tools/resources in knowing all the topics posted on SuperUser" –  random Jul 27 '09 at 15:12
If I were an SU mod, I would close all of those questions. –  jjnguy Jul 27 '09 at 15:13
If I were an SU mod, I'd give everyone a free pony. Vote for Pesto! –  Hilarious Comedy Pesto Jul 27 '09 at 15:15
@Pesto - tempting. I've got a big freezer; a pony should last me a while. –  Marc Gravell Jul 29 '09 at 13:45
@Marc - Do ponies taste good? Is it kinda' like veal? –  jjnguy Jul 29 '09 at 14:21

I agree with TheTXI. Especially if I see this comment of the (current) rep leader on SU (John T):

Don't forget i have a lot more reputation to downvote than you do :)

Regardless of the smiley, I don't think he got it. I consider this as a threat.
This one would not be a good moderator.

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I don't see it as a threat more so than John T saying "downvoting doesn't affect me as harshly as it may affect you". Still not good practice, though. –  TheTXI Jul 29 '09 at 13:10
See the response from "hasen j" in the comment thread: "hehe, sorry, nothing personal, I just think it's a bad answer." Looks intimidated to me. –  Ladybug Killer Jul 29 '09 at 13:19
It was considered a joke, I don't mind a downvote at all since every day around 50-100 rep is wasted from hitting my cap anyways so I'd get it back. I was trying to clarify the fact that downvotes are intended for wrong answers or bad information supplied, mine was neither. –  John T Aug 26 '09 at 4:42
@John T: Next time omit the joking, you're not good at it. Read the tooltip of the downvote button. It says "not helpful". The downvoter thought it was not helpful and it is his decision. Stop whining, stop threatening! –  Ladybug Killer Aug 26 '09 at 6:38
As I said I don't care about it. If anyones whining it would be you, notice meta is the site where you have the highest rep? because whining seems to be all you're good at. –  John T Aug 26 '09 at 16:58
Oh, John T is huffy! Poor boy! :] –  Ladybug Killer Aug 26 '09 at 18:33
@JohnT: Wow, I just lost some respect for you after reading this... –  Troggy Dec 22 '09 at 2:53

I mentioned this on IRC when TheTXI and I were discussing this issue, but I'm so enamored of my own voice that I'll post it here, too:

I know Jeff is opposed to spending lots of time engaged in meta discussion, but the role of a moderator is extremely meta. He or she isn't concerned with correctness, but with how things "fit" within the confines of the site. Luckily, we have a way to see people who care about these things.

Now, that doesn't make it the only metric in place, but I think it's better than two weeks of activity on SU. Of course, there's nothing saying both SU activity and Meta activity can't be criteria, but I know which I'd more heavily weight.

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Does that mean MSO moderators are double meta? –  XMLbog Jul 27 '09 at 15:41
@Welbog: Double the Meta, double the fun! –  Kyle Cronin Jul 27 '09 at 16:25
I wish I had 2000 rep so I could change "enamored of" to "enamored with". –  mmyers Jul 27 '09 at 19:37
@mmyers: Why? Both are considered correct, but "of" is far more common. See: books.google.com/… –  Hilarious Comedy Pesto Jul 27 '09 at 19:47
Mmm, I could have sworn Strunk and White said it was wrong, but I can't find it now. –  mmyers Jul 27 '09 at 20:46

I think Jeff has made it clear that he considers spending too much time on "meta topics" to be... somewhat unhealthy.

Being a SU moderator could be considered sort of a penance, an act of contrition for your sins on this site. Therefore, I feel this is an excellent suggestion.

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And yet, despite how unhealthy it is, he's #1 in rep. He is the most unhealthy of all! –  Hilarious Comedy Pesto Jul 27 '09 at 15:38
He is the guy with all the answers though...he can't help it. –  jjnguy Jul 27 '09 at 15:39
His penance is having to run SU... –  Shog9 Jul 27 '09 at 15:40

This makes a lot of sense. I, too, have seen a lot of new faces at the top of SuperUser, and I'm not sure that they've proven themselves enough to have the power and responsibility to act in the capacity of moderator. This is not to say that they wouldn't, but I'm not willing to hand over moderator control to someone that's never closed a question before.

If we assume that a prerequisite for becoming a moderator is at least familiarity with the reputation tools of the system, then we can examine the other accounts that the top users have and see if they have any accounts with 10k+ rep. This turns out to be relatively few. Here's a list of the users on the top two pages on SuperUser, sorted by reputation:

splattne         2,601
JP               2,110
TheTXI           1,532
Jon Skeet        1,376
Johannes Rössel    911
Oscar Reyes        879
Paolo Bergantino   840
Lasse V. Karlsen   662
chaos              617
Kyle Cronin        586
Mehrdad            571
dbr                569

There's also the fact that the number of moderators on the sites seems to have grown rapidly with the release of Meta and SuperUser. Now that we have 14 moderators on the various sites*, I think it might be easier and safer to promote from within. For example, take splattne. He's a moderator on ServerFault and also the #2 SuperUser, and it seems obvious to me to promote him to moderator there as well. (a case could be made for having all the moderators as moderators on all the sites, as I've occasionally been unable to resolve account issues on other sites because I'm just a regular user)

A possible compromise could be to grant a number of active contributors to SuperUser immediate access to the 10k moderator tools. That way users could get experience closing, opening, deleting, etc. without the community having to take the leap of trusting them completely with moderator status.

* Jeff Joel Jarrod Geoff Marc Bill Denny Kara Stefan Kyle Tom Joel Sean TheTXI

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Then again, it would be good to have moderators focused on a single site, so as not to spread things too thin... –  ajm Jul 27 '09 at 19:41
I wouldn't have an issue with mods having access to all sites. I know that even if I had access to mod tools on ServerFault I still would hardly ever go there and would generally only do something if someone asked me (or there were no other mods available). –  TheTXI Jul 27 '09 at 19:55
I like how the only name you don't know is TheTXI's. Cmon @TheTXI, spill the beans!!! –  jjnguy Jul 27 '09 at 20:20
@jjnguy: He does have his name in his profile, but I haven't seen him divulge it anywhere so I thought I'd better not either. –  Kyle Cronin Jul 27 '09 at 20:47
Kyle: Wise decision. Wise decision indeed...*leers* –  TheTXI Jul 27 '09 at 23:28
@TheTXI: I would suggest that you use your real name though, and, if you're feeling generous, a picture of yourself. I don't think that moderators should hide behind monikers or avatars. –  Kyle Cronin Jul 28 '09 at 0:05
@Kyle: i must respectfully disagree. It's been stressful enough having to mentally reconcile nobody_ and Kyle Cronin. Names are largely irrelevant; consistency is what matters. –  Shog9 Jul 28 '09 at 0:14
@Shog9: Sorry I stress you out. I will concede that reading old threads where someone's replying to "nobody_" as opposed to "Kyle Cronin" can be tricky, and I would very much like to replace every instance of "nobody_" with "Kyle" in the system. However, I still think that with responsibility comes accountability, and one of the ways you should be held accountable is associating your actions with your name. –  Kyle Cronin Jul 28 '09 at 1:52
Eh... Unless you expect - and desire - irate users to be looking you up in the phone book, or doing public record searches looking for dirt on you... i don't see the point. If i want to know what TheTXI is about, i can google TheTXI and find... a lot of relevant stuff: posts on other forums, blog comments, etc. Surely those are a better indication of what to expect from him here than, say, his unpaid parking tickets and the date he was married. –  Shog9 Jul 28 '09 at 20:43
also of note, nobody_ is not much of a name in that it's not searchable in the way "TheTXI" is. Anyway, Kyle, I agree with (and applaud) your new visibility, and of course I encourage all moderators to do the same, and certainly to have a fully populated profile at the very least. –  Jeff Atwood Aug 20 '09 at 10:17

Gee, is someone sniffing around for a moderator post? :)

But in all seriousness, using myself as an example, I'd reasonably active here but would make a terrible SU mod. Why? Because for that particular subject matter, I just don't care.

The problem with a "meta-moderator" is you might end up with someone who's more interested in the process that the material or the outcome. There are certainly users on here that are very active that would (imho) make terrible moderators.

As such, I think activity (in terms of frequency, regularity, level-hededness and predictability) on the site or sites in question is of paramount importance. I would probably classify people into three categories:

  • Question-askers: these people are the "consumers" of the system;
  • Answerers: these people are the "producers" of the system; and
  • Editors: these are the "process-wonks" of the system.

Not to disparage editing (which certainly does have value) or the people that do it, but there does seem to be something attention-seeking and hanger-on'ish about it in some people. Meta is really an extension of that. Moderators (imho) should be those inclined to help, and that is the answerer category.

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He already is a moderator on SU. –  Hilarious Comedy Pesto Jul 27 '09 at 14:59
He is already a moderator on SuperUser. –  Ian Elliott Jul 27 '09 at 15:00
I love you cletus –  TheTXI Jul 27 '09 at 15:05
I don't think TheTXI is proposing that we make people mods against their own will or anything. We should hope that the candidates would recuse themselves (a la Skeet) if they didn't feel they were right for it. –  Hilarious Comedy Pesto Jul 27 '09 at 15:06
I hereby nominate cletus for SU moderator! –  Shog9 Jul 27 '09 at 15:10
I hereby nominate Shog9 for Meta miscreant! –  Hilarious Comedy Pesto Jul 27 '09 at 15:12
Quiet Pesto, you attention-seeking process-wonk you! –  Shog9 Jul 27 '09 at 15:14

I think that TheTXI has a great point. Afterall, it was only after some activity here on meta that he was given mod access to SU and that seems to have been a great, positive change.


I also think that we can simply look at some of the active folks on SU and can easily identify some of them as being a good mod fit.

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I've seen a few of the higher ranking people on SU and wondered if they would be good mod material, but a number of them are people I don't recognize very much from other sites (especially meta) which leads me to wonder if they are familiar enough with the system itself to be trusted as mods. –  TheTXI Jul 27 '09 at 15:21

I agree that if you have high reputation on Meta means a lot of people probably think you either know a lot about the site or have something useful to add to the functioning of the site.

But only because I don't post here, doesn't mean I don't read the questions or answers, nor that I don't read the blog OR listen to the podcast. So Meta activity alone is hardly a valid measure to judge someone's understanding with.

Proving myself "worthy" on either SO or SF would be nearly impossible due to my lack of knowledge of those respective fields, would that make me a bad mod per definition? That's perhaps up to other people to decide.

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I don't necessarily view Meta as the end-all-be-all of moderator gauges, but I think it provides a pretty good look at how committed someone or knowledgeable of community standards. –  TheTXI Aug 17 '09 at 11:23

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