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Recently I participated in a proposal on Area 51. I found its workflow to be extremely well thought out, such as how a proposal is proposed and in what condition it moves into beta, etc. Then I realized it's only part of how moderation in Stack Exchange works.

I sense there must be some deep insight here. Can anyone point me to most related articles, blogs, etc.? Those written by Stack Exchange staff are of course the best.

EDIT: those could be good examples of what I'm looking for - Question [Closed]… and it’s probably best that way and A Theory of Moderation.

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Is there anything in particular you want to know that Jeff's Theory of Moderation doesn't cover? – Kevin Dec 6 '11 at 15:16
@Kevin, I'm quite happy with Robert Harvey's answer below. – edwardw Dec 6 '11 at 21:03
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Moderators handle exceptions (flags), and enforce the policy set forth by the community and Stack Exchange, Inc. Moderators do not set policy.

That's it.

If you're looking for a Grand Unified Theory of Moderation, it is this: Is what I'm doing making the site (and the Internet) a better place?

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Moderation is effectively hierarchical, with reputation and community elections determining the hierarchy. Moderation on Stack Overflow is performed by more than just ♦ mods, which allows it to scale to such a large user base without a vast army of super users. (Which would create problems with perceived "fighting" amongst moderators)

There's a number of "moderator" tasks that you see on Stack Overflow, e.g.:

  • Editing posts
  • Tagging posts
  • Closing/migrating posts
  • Handling some common flags
  • Deleting/locking posts
  • Deleting user accounts

(This list isn't exclusive, it gives a feel for the approach taken).

All of these tasks, except for the last one can be carried out by "regular", but sufficiently respected users.

For example anyone can suggest an edit, whereas only moderators can delete/edit accounts themselves. (There's a few more things which are only available to developers).

Activities at the top of the list happen more frequently, but have more users able to perform (and authorise) them. Activities at the bottom of the list are pretty rare, but only have a very small pool of people authorised to perform them.

The approach taken thus is allow lots of people to do common, trivial/reversible things. Require consensus on most of these in one way or another, e.g. votes or approval by several users. Have a small, accountable set of people that handle the complex/rare cases. This helps match workloads against available people.

At each level if the person handling it can't fix a problem without making it worse the problem should be deferred to someone who can (usually either a more knowledgeable user for that area at the same level, or a higher level).

meta.SO provides oversight and policy definition for most things.

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I'll (shamelessly) answer my own question. Thought someone might be as interested in it as I am. Turns out SE has CHAOS, a team, to do exactly that in addition to moderators. I just learned this from Joel's tweet: Chaos reveals some of their secrets.

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CHAOS is the latest extension of the community team, but several other community staff have been around for a while. :) – Jeremy Banks Dec 9 '11 at 1:25
Ah, good to know, Jeremy. – edwardw Dec 9 '11 at 1:35
CHAOS has nothing to do with moderating the site. Like Robert said: mods handle things flagged by users and anything they find themselves. Given they act on flags, almost any user can participate in moderating the site. – Ivo Flipse Dec 9 '11 at 11:54

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