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On Stack Overflow, there are currently 110 flags shown in the toolbar. For those unaware, this is fondly known as the "bat signal", and it allows 10K users to view flags and help moderators determine what to do with the flags that are in the queue.

Stack Overflow flag queue

According to official sources, the bat signal is never displayed if there are less than 5 flags in the queue. On Stack Overflow, I've never seen the queue below about 90, so I pretty much see it all the time.

When I hit 10K, it was an exciting moment. I got what I call the "moderator experience" on Stack Overflow, and I was able to finally help with flags.

Flag Queue on MSO, Facilitated by a Userscript: SO Flags User Script

Meta Stack Overflow Flag Queue Facilitated by a Userscript

However, when I hit 10K on Meta Stack Overflow, and when I hit 2K on The Workplace Beta SE, it was a pretty uneventful experience that really didn't compare to Stack Overflow. These sites, like many others on the network, rarely, if ever, get more than a few flags at a time. On Project Management Stack Exchange we actually had 6 flags once, but that was only because the Community bot auto-flagged some posts that the moderators were closing as part of a site cleanup. It wasn't very exciting.

On smaller sites and beta sites, it's important to get the community engaged in site moderation, and showing the flags next to the tools link is one way to announce to high rep users that there are problems that he or she may be able to help with. This is yet another breadcrumb that could potentially be used to lead such users to the flag queue so they may weigh in with an opinion, recommendation, or even take action in conjunction with other users with access to moderation tools.

The Workplace SE Beta Flag Queue, Courtesy of the Userscript:

Flag Queue on The Workplace SE Beta Site, Facilitated by the Userscript

I understand the need to rate limit requests to the server and to limit computational operations on Stack Overflow since there are just so many people, but on the smaller sites, I can't imagine this is a problem that outweighs the benefits of getting people more involved.

I'd like to see the threshold to display flags reduced from 5 to 1 on beta sites, and we should consider doing the same on sites with lower than an average of 5 simultaneous flags. This results in more eyes on these flags, empowers more experienced users with the knowledge to take action, and also allows these users to also have the "moderator experience".

I picture an option in the diamond moderator tools where the moderators can activate this feature on their site. On some beta sites with lower community participation thresholds, this could be helpful, while on busier sites with many loud users, it could be problematic. I'd prefer to put this in the hands of the moderators on each site.

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Not a bad idea. Some might appreciate the current threshold though, as it means at least a few actionable things are there once you click through. Also, if the threshold was set to 1, people might click through to find nothing at all to do. –  Tim Post Nov 1 '12 at 9:50
Good idea! Since the elections in July, I don't think I have seen the bat signal more than once or twice on Super User. –  Dennis Nov 1 '12 at 11:54
@TimPost, on PMSE, we have only 13 users with 2K reputation, so in our case, there's a good chance they'd click and see something that they can weigh in on. Also, the queue never really goes above 1 on our site. However, on busier sites, 1 might be a little too low. ;) –  jmort253 Nov 2 '12 at 4:14
fondly known as the "bat signal" - and less fondly, as the "nag tag". –  Daniel Fischer Nov 5 '12 at 20:15

1 Answer 1

After being a moderator on the Workplace SE, a beta site with a high degree of community participation, I've learned that regular users can take a huge load off the moderation team and act as a first line of defense in terms of quickly fixing issues. The entire premise behind Stack Exchange is that moderation starts with the community, and this feature could be extremely helpful in terms of increasing community involvement with the goal of quickly fixing problems.

For example, in many cases, when a post is flagged as not an answer, or flagged as needing closure, or flagged as needing to be reopened, there are regular users who regularly step in and leave a comment, if the flagger did not. On the Workplace SE, we have regular users who may likely have solved a problem by the time a moderator shows up to look at a flag. When a user leaves a helpful, constructive comment highlighting our guidelines for subjective answers, and the person writing the answer uses this information to fix the post, everybody wins.

Furthermore, when these sorts of comments are left by regular community members quickly, it makes it easier to determine if the time has come to take action on the post or whether we should give that person some time to edit, or whether we should simply reinforce the guidelines with a comment of our own.

My hope is that by bringing these things to the attention of more people, there's a better chance of fixing minor issues much quicker, while the original poster is still hanging around the site and actively thinking about his or her post.

Since this could be disruptive -- if the ideas and benefits don't work out as presented here -- my suggestion is to try this out on a trial basis on some select Stack Exchange sites.

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