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First a bit of rant history:

  1. When I became a moderator, there were two responses to flags: valid or invalid. There was no formal definition of these two terms; I took “valid” to mean “you were right to bring this to our attention” (regardless of whether I ended up choosing the resolution requested in the flag) and “invalid” to mean “so what? I can't do anything about this situation”.

  2. A few weeks ago, the wording was changed to “helpful” and “declined”. There was no prior explanation of the change (hence Robert's question). On the face of Jeff's response, it seems that my interpretation was right — but based on the names alone, I would have thought that I should be using “declined” more often (whenever I'd decline to do anything).

  3. A few days ago, moderators were publicly berated for declining too many flags. Or maybe this was just meant as a clarification — I'm honestly not sure if this was meant as a reproach to the community moderators, but it sure felt like one. And it didn't clarify anything for me: was my interpretation of valid/invalid right? Or should I just forget the “decline” button exists?

  4. As of this morning, moderators must enter a reason for declining flags, but cannot enter a reason for marking as helpful. Now I'm really confused.

    • Is the mandatory feedback supposed to introduce friction so that moderators don't decline flags? In that case, I have a simpler solution: remove the “declined” button.

    • Are the two resolutions now “don't provide feedback” and “provide feedback”? In which case, please change the wording on the buttons. There are plenty of helpful flags for which I'd like to provide feedback (“We don't do community wiki for that kind of stuff any more, please read The Future of Community Wiki, I'll close the question because it doesn't look salvageable.” Or “Yes, this question is off-topic here, but the mods on X don't want it either so I won't migrate.”). Conversely, there are plenty of unhelpful flags which don't require any feedback other than “WTF”.

    • Should we keep using “declined” as before and write a user script that automatically feeds “WTF” as the reason?

So, my support request is: please tell us how we're supposed to respond to flags. Preferably before making UI changes. And make the UI internally consistent.

share|improve this question
"We don't do community wiki for that kind of stuff any more, please read The Future of Community Wiki, I'll close the question because it doesn't look salvageable." Or "Yes, this question is off-topic here, but the mods on X don't want it either so I won't migrate." These would be helpful feedback to more people than just the flagger, so they could be left publicly as a comment on the post. – Bill the Lizard Sep 11 '11 at 12:54
@BilltheLizard Yes, but there should be a way to let the flagger know, lest they go on a spree. – Lorem Ipsum Sep 11 '11 at 14:05
possible duplicate of Allow moderators to reply to a flag – gnat Feb 10 '14 at 16:06
up vote 27 down vote accepted

It's probably a lost cause, but here's what I would have liked to see instead:

Flag Dialog

That is to say:

  • Keep the existing definitions
  • Add an optional comment field for helpful or unhelpful flags
  • Include a button or drop-down to add the existing pro-forma comments.

When a flag makes no sense at all (for example, some users flag their question to say "this question is great!" - true story), forcing an explanation is just stopping the proceedings with idiocy. This alternative would have been a convenient way to give feedback without forcing moderators into a specific and usually sub-optimal workflow.

I fear that as it is right now, most moderators will just accept every flag in order to avoid the hassle of going through the decline motions, thus weakening the entire flag weight system (which, as I seem to recall, was originally supposed to be for the benefit of the moderators). Not to mention that the ones who do decide to be helpful will probably be subjected to confrontational meta posts.

share|improve this answer
"forcing an explanation" er.. no, just click decline, then click the radio button for "flag is conversational, not actionable". – Jeff Atwood Sep 11 '11 at 23:30
And what if none of the canned reasons make sense, either under the specific circumstances or, as the case is currently, in general? – Aarobot Sep 11 '11 at 23:40
then you should be lobbying for a few more (or different) pre-filled decline reasons – Jeff Atwood Sep 11 '11 at 23:44
@Jeff: Why should I be doing that? Since when did having more choices become a good thing, particularly when the person being asked to make the choice doesn't honestly care? It's enough trouble already to have to think carefully about whether or not every individual flag fits the subjective and nebulous definition of "declined". – Aarobot Sep 11 '11 at 23:51
@Jeff: Huh? I care about this topic because I'm being asked to do something I don't want to do based on sloppy statistics, specious reasoning, bad design, and no small amount of obstinacy. I have a mild interest in sorting flags according to helpful/unhelpful if it will help keep the flag view better organized. I have zero interest in this new system of choices. I've got three words for you: Shutdown Event Tracker. – Aarobot Sep 12 '11 at 0:10
You're kidding me, right? How about requiring comments on downvotes while you're at it? The thing is, I don't expect every user to flag properly, I'd rather just deal with the ones who do, which as you so succinctly and repeatedly point out is the vast majority of them. Why should I care about users who (a) don't know how to flag and (b) can't figure out from the FAQ and countless meta questions why a flag was declined? I don't care, just bury those flags. That's what flag weight was supposed to do - bury the bad flags. You're trying to turn it into a second rep scale where everybody wins. – Aarobot Sep 12 '11 at 12:12
You're a mod on cooking -- cooking had exactly 175 flags this quarter, between 3 mods. So you're concerned about, at absolute most, 3 clicks to decline * 40 flags = 120 clicks ... spread across FOUR MONTHS? This is "being asked to do something you don't want to do"? I suspect you've already spent more time composing the text on this page than it would take to decline every single flag on Cooking for the next TWELVE MONTHS. Just sayin'. – Jeff Atwood Sep 12 '11 at 12:27
@Jeff: So now this is personal? Perhaps you might want to ask some of the other moderators (especially trilogy mods) and community coordinators how they feel about this situation? I obviously can't know who's voting, but the votes would seem to indicate that I'm not alone in this. – Aarobot Sep 12 '11 at 12:48
Hardly personal, I'm just trying to understand your claim about the onerous amount of extra "work" required here. – Jeff Atwood Sep 12 '11 at 20:22
@Jeff: An annoyance is an annoyance whether it annoys you once a week or once an hour. This is a network-wide change and I'm attempting to speak on behalf of all of the moderators. Surely there'd be a few more downvotes if any of those moderators felt otherwise. Also, a few people who initially were in favour of the change have reported losing some of their initial enthusiasm after actually going through the motions a few times (but don't take my word for it - read the usual channels). – Aarobot Sep 12 '11 at 21:02
the only other response I see here is from Kev, who is in favor (nobody else is even replying in comments right here, for example). In general anything that needs to get traction has to have a post here on meta behind it. – Jeff Atwood Sep 12 '11 at 21:18
Some advice. @Jeff Atwood: What can we do to make it better? if(HasResponse == Yes) return "We will consider that." else return null. – Lee Louviere Sep 12 '11 at 22:00
@Jeff: And here is a post on meta, with 16 upvotes, answering a question with 27 upvotes, both of which are not merely criticizing but actually suggesting viable alternatives, complete with mock-up. What else is required for "traction"? – Aarobot Sep 13 '11 at 0:03

To play Devil's Advocate here...I don't really see a problem with this. I've often been uncomfortable at declining a flag without being able to provide a reason why.

For example, not being able to communicate to a user that flagging a post just because it's wrong is a bad flag.

I'm all for a bit more transparency when it comes to moderator actions that negatively affect a user in some way, it's educational and will hopefully alter their behaviour positively without us having to push the "Contact User" button.

It's also good because then the user doesn't feel he/she has to raise a question on Meta and draw unwanted attention to their flagging activities (even if they are mostly well placed flags).

Ultimately we need to try out stuff like this if SE is to continue being innovative in creating Q&A sites that produce a good signal to noise ratio. This might or might not work, but until we've run with it for a bit we'll not really know.

share|improve this answer
I just hope questions like "[moderator] said my flag was invalid because [quote moderator text]. Do you agree?" don't start popping up. But I fully agree, we needed a way to provide more signal when declining a flag, especially on SO. – Tim Post Sep 11 '11 at 12:51
I'm cool with an optional ability to provide feedback on flags - in fact, I was one of the earlier mods to ask for it. But requiring feedback only for declined flags and not even permitting it for accepted ones makes no sense. As Gilles says, this seems to cover only 2 out of 4 possible scenarios, with one of them being the least common. – Aarobot Sep 11 '11 at 14:08
@tim - I am bracing myself. – Kev Sep 11 '11 at 14:34
@aarobot - I can't really see a scenario where I'd want to explain helpful behaviour because surely that should be the norm. Much like I wouldn't expect to be stopped by the security guard at my local Tesco to be thanked for not jumping the checkout with an armful of Special Brew and 200 fags. – Kev Sep 11 '11 at 14:35
Gilles already gave the perfect example: Should be community wiki flags. They still come in, and usually they identify a poor question, but the flags themselves are wrong and we don't want that user to repeat them. – Aarobot Sep 11 '11 at 14:42
@aaro then leave a comment, which teaches everyone rather than trapping that information in a useless private silo. – Jeff Atwood Sep 11 '11 at 23:43
@Jeff: That's a great idea, and it's what a lot of moderators already do, making the "private silo" of a dialog box completely unnecessary. – Aarobot Sep 11 '11 at 23:44
@aaro it's necessary for negative feedback because you don't want to bitch-slap users in public. I hope. Positive, public : negative, private... not too difficult to follow. – Jeff Atwood Sep 11 '11 at 23:45

Is the mandatory feedback supposed to introduce friction so that moderators don't decline flags?

I handled 2,700 flags on Stack Overflow last quarter (and I'm still barely #5 by moderator flag handling stats!). Of that, I declined between 1 and 2 percent.

The reality is that decline should be rare -- and they should be flags you feel strongly about declining. In that case, the UI now reflects this: the common 99% action is easy and fast, and the 1% action requires a bit more work.

Also "friction" means three clicks instead of one, if one of the pre-filled decline reasons works for you. (And we can certainly add more pre-filled declines to reflect common cases.)

Are the two resolutions now “don't provide feedback” and “provide feedback”?

No -- the normal "helpful" flag case requires no feedback. As Kev said in his comment, "I can't really see a scenario where I'd want to explain helpful behaviour because surely that should be the norm. Much like I wouldn't expect to be stopped by the security guard at my local Tesco to be thanked for not jumping the checkout with an armful of Special Brew and 200 fags."

What are you going to tell them? "Great job!" "Keep up the good work!"

And if you really want to provide feedback, leave a comment on the post. One reason I don't care for secret moderator messaging functions, except when they are unavoidable, is that nobody learns from a private message. It's another dumb information silo trapping information that could be useful to teach the entire community.

(Negative feedback has to be private, because otherwise you are slapping users in public -- and I hope nobody's in favor of that..)

Should we keep using “declined” as before

If you feel strongly a flag should be declined, decline it.

However, it has been my experience in clearing thousands and thousands of flags on Stack Overflow that the vast majority of flags are people genuinely trying to be helpful.

share|improve this answer
So now flags are supposed to be marked helpful simply because somebody was trying to be helpful, even if they're completely off the mark? What exactly is the point of flag weight then, if we're going to accept flags that honestly aren't helpful because by gosh, they had good intentions? Honestly, I don't think I've ever seen such a simple concept so horribly mangled before; please, if you don't want us declining flags, then just get rid of flag weight entirely. The point of that feature was supposed to be to help moderators prioritize flags, not to create a parallel reputation system. – Aarobot Sep 12 '11 at 0:00
that's not at all what I said or meant; let me quote from the above post: If you feel strongly a flag should be declined, decline it. – Jeff Atwood Sep 12 '11 at 0:02
@benjol correct, operative word being "try". So long as I can squint my eyes and see sort of where the flagger was coming from with their flag, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. But if I can't see in any way, shape, or form how that flag is possibly correct, then I'll decline it. – Jeff Atwood Sep 12 '11 at 12:09

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