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The 2011 moderator election is still ongoing but I thought this question should be asked anyway.

How important is it that the SO moderators' combined area of expertise/interest represents the overall areas of interest of all SO users?

If we presuppose that the 3 candidates that topped the primaries end up being the overall winners of the 2011 SO moderator election it seems to me that their combined set of tag occurrences will heavily over represent Microsoft stack technologies compared to the proportions seen at the SO tags page. I understand that SO content leans towards these areas in general, but it seems to me that there is a danger of amplifying this if the moderators elected have a heavy bias (reflected by their tag totals).

Now I am sure that all these candidates are excellent moderator candidates and will do their best not to discriminate. But even given their best intentions, is there a danger that they will prefer to engage with questions that are related to their interests/expertise, even if only subconsciously?

I am not saying that this will be a big problem, rather I'm just wondering if anyone else feels this is an issue and how it might be tackled.

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Judging based on top tags for languages, you have C#: 142326, C / C++: 81290, Objective-C: 27811. This is 57% C#, 32% C / C++, 11% Objective-C. A rough look at the top language tags for candidates shows 6 for C#, 3 for C / C++, and 1 for Objective-C. This is a very simplistic analysis, but the areas of expertise for moderator candidates do seem to pretty closely track the community sizes on the site. –  Brad Larson Jan 31 '11 at 15:30

3 Answers 3

up vote 12 down vote accepted

When it comes to moderation jobs, one doesn't get anything fed to oneself on the basis of one's own interests. It isn't served on a tag basis, and in fact the UI doesn't even show you tags when observing moderator flags. It's all on various measures of urgency.

Speaking as a current pro tem moderator on Gaming, I enjoy a very wide variety of games and genres, but the most popular games in the current season are not ones that I play. Naturally, the vast majority of flags and issues that turn up have little to do with where my expertise lies. But this has barely impacted my ability to resolve flags - most of it requires little knowledge or something that a cursory google search can determine.

For the most part, the job of a moderator doesn't have to deal with the topics within the scope of the site - it's more about the entire scope of the site. For Stack Overflow as an example, it's knowing what is programming and what isn't - dealing with what is off-topic, not with what isn't. Except for certain scenarios, it doesn't take a person fully familiar with a subject in order to tell what kind of action must be taken.

In contentious situations where subject matter expertise would help with resolution of an issue, a moderator is always able to contact another person to help. Usually, one can always ask the other moderators on the site or even other sites for help, but other times you can contact the rest of the community to lend a hand. Chat, and for the smaller sites Meta, helps a lot when trying to resolve an issue which a moderator cannot find immediate help.

And in the end, even if the moderator does take action outside of their expertise, you can always pose for reversal of the moderator's judgment using your own better grasp of the subject matter.

I believe it's something that we don't need to overly concern ourselves with. It'll mean the moderators will still be providing answers in their own select areas, but that's not what we're electing them for in the end. When it comes to what our answer base consists of, it's usually the high reputation users that are more impressive and indicative of the site than the moderators.

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good explanation of the options available to moderators, thanks :-) –  willjcroz Feb 1 '11 at 9:21

Of the tasks performed by moderators, the only one that I can think of that would be significantly aided by familiarity in a subject area would be single-vote closing of duplicates. While word-for-word duplicates can be picked out pretty quickly, those that require understanding the spirit of the questions involved can be harder to see for those not experienced with the subject matter.

I know I tend to have trouble when reading through questions outside of my area of expertise that have duplicate close votes against them in the 10k tools.

Spam, non-answers, just plain terrible questions, and bad user behavior don't require any specific knowledge to be recognized. Non-moderators do a good job of editing questions into shape within their frequented tags.

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With the number of 10K and 3K users on SO the times a moderator needs to step in a close a question as a duplicate "early" will be very few and far between. –  ChrisF Jan 31 '11 at 15:46
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@ChrisF - In tags where a critical number of those users exists, yes. However, I see many duplicate votes expiring in tags that are relatively popular but lack enough 3K+ users that exercise these votes. For example, few of the recent duplicate votes that I've cast in the [iphone] tag (which sees many, many duplicate questions) have amounted to anything, particularly if a vote is cast after the question falls off of most people's front pages. –  Brad Larson Jan 31 '11 at 16:08

I don't think it's a big issue - most moderation has to deal with people issues rather than technical issues.

However, there are those situations where a knowledge of the topic at hand would and should affect the outcome of moderation, and in those cases not having good representation will matter.

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