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It's the general policy of Stack Exchange to conduct moderator activities as transparently and openly as possible. Right now, a lot of the communication between moderators is conducted in a private chat room. This is done for good reason - the moderator agreement specifically prohibits us from disclosing personal information from users' profiles, and there's often good reason to keep certain information confidential, such as when dealing with problem users or socks and voting rings.

That being said, about 80% of what goes on in the mod chat room is not confidential in nature. It's asking other sites' mods if a question would be appropriate for migration there. It's discussing ideas for community promotion, or talking about the direction and scope of a site. And a lot of it is just... kittens. Or friendly banter.

We absolutely need to have a private place to discuss confidential matters, but I believe that the vast majority of what gets talked about in the mod chat room really ought to be public. There's no reason to conduct it behind closed doors, and opening it up for public inspection would help for a variety of reasons.

Dedicated and involved users would be able to see more about how the moderators do our job. They'd be able to see us communicating and discussing issues, and be informed about the process. It would help to bring moderators closer to their communities if users can see us working on their behalf. Discussions about things like "would this be a good fit for Programmers?" would help users to get a better sense for what appropriate migrations are. In general, it would help increase transparency and honesty between users, moderators, and SE employees.

A fully open chat room would be counterproductive, as I fear it would just become another place for general jibber-jabber, but setting a room to gallery mode (anyone can watch, but only mods and approved users can talk), and only allowing moderators access woud achieve the stated goals.

Ivo has gone ahead and made such a room. The Assembly is now open, and anyone can come observe. It's not very exciting, but it doesn't need to be. Not everyone goes to watch Senate proceedings, but if they want to, they can. Now you can too.

This post serves as a starting point for discussion of whether this change makes sense, to get feedback, and as a call for moderators and employees to start trying to use the other room. I would also like to make a feature request that the mod site-ping be enabled in this room as well.

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Sounds perfect to me. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 4 '12 at 20:02
    
"would this be a good fit for Programmers?" Probably not... <sigh> In all seriousness migrations are not a good topic for The Assembly, people are more than welcome to come to the Programmers chat room and ask us if we love the question or not... There is no point in openly discussing migrations without letting the Programmers community have a say. –  Yannis Mar 4 '12 at 20:06
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@YannisRizos we discuss whether migrations would be good or not in the mod room all the time. Whether that's the best place to ask or not is a separate question, but it's currently something that happens a lot, and doesn't really need to be in private. –  nhinkle Mar 4 '12 at 20:07
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@nhinkle To clarify: I don't have an opinion on whether migration discussions should be public or not. However if they are public, I would pretty much prefer them to be in our own room than a gallery room where regular users can't chime in. –  Yannis Mar 4 '12 at 20:16
    
Oh, I just learned that peeking into such chat room is not anonymous ;-) (Now wondering if I'm part of "everyone" and hence a dinner party!) –  Arjan Mar 4 '12 at 20:54
    
"A fully open chat room would be counterproductive", yet the top-voted answer indicates this now is a fully-open chat room? –  Farray Mar 4 '12 at 23:13
    
@Farray that was my initial idea. As you can see, the idea has evolved. That's the point of this discussion. –  nhinkle Mar 4 '12 at 23:17

7 Answers 7

Yeah... I tried to get y'all to do that a few months ago, remember?

Not for "transparency" reasons. Just because there's no particular reason all the chit-chat needs to happen in a private room.

So, yeah - I don't really expect this to make any huge difference, but I'm glad you're thinking about it. Good luck...

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I just don't see the point in additional fragmentation. Even just discussing The Assembly has resulted in this question and answers, discussion in The Assembly, and discussion in TL. 3 different discussions in 3 different places... where should users even begin to discuss the pros/cons of The Assembly?

You don't have to look any further than this question to see how awful the fragmentation makes things. Based on discussion in the Assembly, this question is currently outdated with no indication in the question that the discussion has moved to another location.

This seems like a solution in search of a problem. It's a solution that makes things more difficult from a logistical standpoint, while retaining the problems of the former situation.

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While I won't argue about this, I have to say that it means another decision to be made every time I want to bring some issue before the larger moderation audience.

Now I have to figure out, not only if my question itself might need to be held close to the chest, but if some line of inquiry related to the issue might head into confidential territory.

Meh!

Previously I knew where to take my wider moderation discussions...to the moderation chat room.

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+1 I was answering the very same concept: Meh! –  systempuntoout Mar 4 '12 at 23:22

In this answer, I will focus on a fairly narrow circumstance that I think would benefit from some more information from the mods, as an possible alternative to the suggestion of a completely transparent chat room.

Recently, a question on SO was closed as Not Constructive by a mod. It was subsequently edited and reopened by several community members (although, to be fair I advertised the question in the R chat room, which surely helped for a speedy reopening). Shortly thereafter the question was closed again by a different mod.

This answer is not a discussion of whether this question should have been closed!

Here are some thoughts that this sequence of events might prompt in a SO user:

  • Was the second mod aware of the entire timeline (original closure, reopening)?
  • Did the two mods discuss this question either before or after it was reopened?
  • If they did discuss it, what, in broad strokes, was said?

Leaving SO users in the dark on these things may risk increasing "conspiracy theories" that are unhealthy for the community. For that reason, I suggest that when two different mods are involved in a close/reopen/close sequence that,

  • subsequent mod actions are accompanied by a short comment acknowledging that they are aware of and have reviewed the entire history of the question.
  • if multiple mods are involved and discussed the question, that this discussion is at least mentioned in a comment. (i.e. "several mods have conferred on this question...", or "I conferred with the previous mod, and we still believe...")
  • if appropriate some amount of the content of that discussion should be made available to the community

I suspect that most mods do in fact review the history of a question when taking action, but making it explicit that you have done so goes a long way in soothing the community, particularly when overriding a reopening.

While surely we'd all love to know the details of mod discussions, I disagree that that's a good idea in general.

My example here is meant to illustrate that in some circumstances proactively saying that several mods discussed an issue and came to a consensus would go a long way towards reassuring the general community that things are on the up-and-up, without actually having to provide the substance of those conversations. Additionally, I think this could help diffuse some of the endless angry rantings in some cases.

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Nobody is being left in the dark. This is what meta is for - if members want to ask about a question closing (or any other moderator decision), they can. It does not logically follow that every decision needs to be aired in its entirety before it happens; 99% of moderator actions are not contentious and I think that 99.9% of members don't form conspiracy theories. –  Aarobot Mar 4 '12 at 21:13
    
@Aarobot I think I agree with you. But I maintain that in the specific, narrow circumstance I describe (multiple mods involved in close/reopen/close) it ought to be considered good practice for mods to simply leave a comment acknowledging the points I list above. I absolutely do not expect mods to justify/explain every single decision before anyone complains. –  joran Mar 4 '12 at 21:18
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One thing mods on smaller sites do is leave a comment explaining why they're taking an action: while untenable for all mod actions on SO due to the sheer volume of flags, leaving a comment seems like the most appropriate thing to do in a situation like you describe (community reopen followed by a mod closure). –  user149432 Mar 4 '12 at 21:22
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Your example question is a "list question" that is specifically "Not Constructive," per the faq. In fact, it's not one list question, but two. Can you explain why the question should stay open, since it's clearly not suitable per the faq? Also, how does being privvy to moderator conversations change the outcome? –  Robert Harvey Mar 4 '12 at 21:26
    
@RobertHarvey Hmmm. Can you explain why you want me to do that, when I explicitly state in my answer that I'm not discussing whether or not the question should be closed? It was simply an example of the close/reopen/close sequence involving multiple mods, not an example of a question I wanted to dispute a mod decision on. –  joran Mar 4 '12 at 21:28
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@joran: Because, for approximately the last 24 hours, all people have wanted to do is debate the moderator process, and not the merits of the questions themselves. –  Robert Harvey Mar 4 '12 at 21:30
    
@RobertHarvey Well, (a) I think that the moderator process is a legit topic, and (b) my hope was that my suggestions for slightly more info at the moment a mod takes action would reduce the need for repetitive, angry and contentious debates on meta, hopefully freeing up mod time for more useful tasks. –  joran Mar 4 '12 at 21:35
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I think an open window into the moderators' conversations would just exacerbate the problem. Mods are not the community's enemy; they are collaborators. None of the mods have an axe to grind; they all want Stack Overflow to be a better place. But opening up moderator conversations for public scrutiny would just complicate matters. All of the mods are free (and willing) to discuss anything anyone wants to discuss (within reason) on meta, so long as it doesn't violate someone's reasonable expectation of privacy. –  Robert Harvey Mar 4 '12 at 21:38
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That said, I agree with the spirit of your answer. Most of the mods I know have no problem disclosing their actions, or the thought process that went into making a decision. What they're not so willing to do is engage in endless debate about them. –  Robert Harvey Mar 4 '12 at 21:40
    
@joran In this particular case, that's exactly what happened. After handling the flag on that question (and the subsequent comments), I brought up the question in TL (for all SE mods) for any insight that could be gained from a review of the question, the flag, and how I handled it. Needless to say, Lasse (an SO mod) was part of that discussion, which lead to the state that the question is in now. –  casperOne Mar 4 '12 at 22:07
    
@joran That said, in the spirit of Shog's recent post, this answer really borders on a separate post, as you are looking for very specific insight into any conversations that happened around that question. I get that it's tied to moderator transparency, but you could have simply tagged it with discussion moderators specific-question and put the same bold type that you put in your answer to indicate it's not about the closure but about any conversation that might have happened between the moderators on this topic. –  casperOne Mar 4 '12 at 22:09
    
@casperOne Thanks for the note! Amusingly, I actually was in the process of writing this as its own post when I saw this question, and thought it would be better to keep things in one place. Lesson learned! I'm still fairly new at participating on meta. –  joran Mar 4 '12 at 22:14
    
@joran NP, just note that this wasn't anything personal or targeted towards that question, but moderators will typically bring questions up with each other to gain insight/perform sanity checks, etc. With that, there are other mods who will agree and act on it, or, in some cases, there are those who will not. The point is we're always communicating with each other in how to moderate better (and I get that statement is somewhat loaded, given the current climate). –  casperOne Mar 4 '12 at 22:20

Update

After some discussion, the chat room was made completely public and is now intended to be a place for users to engage with the moderator population in a more casual setting. Although I think meta was doing a fine job, I like this version of the Assembly.

What follows is my objection to replacing most of the activity in TL with a gallery chat room:

Original Answer

Drama, in one act:

New mod: Hey, this user is doing <insert thing here that, if you're familiar with SE standards and practices, is pretty mundane> Should I ban him?

Veteran mod: No, that's not a bannable offense. Just leave a comment.

New mod: Oh okay, cool. Thanks!

- Five minutes later -

New meta post: "New mod tried to ban a user for X this is an outrage and I'm disgusted by the blatant abuse of power."

The purpose of having a private chat room is for mods to be able to commiserate and learn from each other without the pressures of having people breathing down their necks or using it as fodder for any axes someone has to grind. Sometimes, mods just want to field something amongst like company before they move it into a more public setting: they should be free to do so without fear of reprisal for brainstorming or talking an issue out.

There's stuff that happened in TL that shouldn't have be done in private (and mods have been encouraged to take it to a meta-discussion site when that happens), but this is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

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I still think it's worth a try. Maybe with a much smaller subset of things that are being discussed though –  Pëkka Mar 4 '12 at 20:46
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@Pekka'sReputationBordello That subset of things should be on the respective meta-discussion site. Having a gallery chatroom is less transparent than what's supposed to happen now, which is to take it to meta when it stops being a private matter. –  user149432 Mar 4 '12 at 20:47
    
@MarkTrapp: Such meta posts are simply answered / closed with "he didn't ban you, he's just trying to learn the right action." or something more euphorically; furthermore, I don't see that as an issue given that most of these users wouldn't find that chat room... –  Tom Wijsman Mar 4 '12 at 22:12
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So do we upvote your answer now because we like the assembly, or because we believe that TL should be kept as-is? –  casperOne Mar 4 '12 at 22:33
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@casperOne I'm wondering if separate posts would have been the way to go, that does make it hard to gauge opinions. –  Ben Brocka Mar 5 '12 at 3:07
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@BenBrocka Yeah, I'm kind of at a loss as to what an upvote on this signifies agreement of. –  casperOne Mar 5 '12 at 3:14
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@casperOne The upvotes are in agreement of my delightful play. Hedy Weiss gave it two thumbs up: "A tour de force." You should upvote if you don't want to look like a fuddy-duddy who can't appreciate good theater. –  user149432 Mar 5 '12 at 4:17
    
Maybe the question should be updated, not this answer. –  Zuly Gonzalez Mar 5 '12 at 5:34

I truly believe that there's good intention behind this, and while I share the general spirit behind the intention, I disagree with this specific request.

While Teacher's Lounge (TL) is used to discuss moderation issues (some of which are and some of which aren't suitable for public consumption), it's also much more than that.

It's also very much what the name implies, a place to learn. In those times when a moderator (new or old) is leaning new things, it's rattling enough to know that 200+ people are able to chime in. There are often times when even just a subset chiming in can be overwhelming (depending on the temperament of the mod).

Now, I know you suggested a gallery and only moderators can speak there, but knowing that everyone is watching can have an even more rattling effect, stunting the learning curve of moderators in general.

Additionally, there are kittens in TL, and that's ok, TL is just as much about a place to decompress, a place on SE where we know we aren't being watched by everyone. It's something I personally consider vital to the room. Given the overexposure that moderators have to Stack Exchange, it's nice to have a small corner where our nerves aren't directly exposed to the rest of the system.

That said, this doesn't mean I approve of back-door moves/deals (most if not all of the moderators agree with this somewhat), and if you see those happening, then I would say that it's something you should bring up with SE first.

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Well then perhaps not all chatter has to move there, but we can have discussions there in a similar fashion as Town Hall chats or IAMA's –  Ivo Flipse Mar 4 '12 at 20:16
    
@IvoFlipse Town hall chats are held in public rooms. If you're referring to the other regular chat gatherings we have, those are not meant for public consumption, as they reveal things that the regular user base is not intended to know about (certain moderation tools, for example). –  casperOne Mar 4 '12 at 20:19
    
Then perhaps the room shouldn't be in gallery mode and only used for 'events' –  Ivo Flipse Mar 4 '12 at 20:28
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How would people feel instead about a weekly "chat with the moderators" or something like that then? I still think there may be a place for a more transparent chat room we use regularly, but if mods decide not to do that, we could do something equivalent to the chat casts, but for non-mods to chat with us. –  nhinkle Mar 4 '12 at 20:30
    
@nhinkle I think it's possible, but some sort of control would have to be placed on those rooms (and how do you handle the flags in that room)? I see a lot of places where the current chat system controls wouldn't prevent something like that from turning into a total crap-shoot. –  casperOne Mar 4 '12 at 20:37
    
Perhaps the questions would have to be asked beforehand and asked by a moderator –  Ivo Flipse Mar 4 '12 at 20:45
    
@nhinkle I have a hunch that something like that would be more appropriate on a site-specific basis, so it would be readily handled using existing site-specific chat rooms. (Don't you already have an "ask a moderator" room for SU?) –  David Z Mar 4 '12 at 23:15
    
It's worth mentioning that (at @DavidZaslavsky's suggestion) we have been using the general physics chat room for these quasi-moderation task (at least some of the time). –  dmckee Mar 5 '12 at 0:05

While this is a good idea in principle, I'm concerned by the potential to turning very ugly. Someone asks for advice on how to handle a flag, and by accident the identity of the flagger or the content of the flag pops out. (Strictly speaking, that shouldn't happen even in TL, but in private it's not a big deal. In public, it is.) Or we'd be discussing question quality and kittens, and suddenly the conversation turns to whether to ban a user for his low-quality contributions. Once the cat is out of the bag, you can't put it back in.

The private moderator room has a rule that you don't publish anything that was said there. That's for a reason: sometimes there's confidential stuff, and we should err on the side of keeping the confidential stuff confidential, even if it means that some non-confidential stuff isn't made public.

There is stuff that happens behind closed doors and shouldn't; most of it is migration peddling, the solution to which is not an additional room but better tools. In fact I try to discuss migrations in the target site's room, when it's active — but the workflow is considerably easier in TL. For the day to day teacher's lounge banter, a private place is required.

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