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EDIT: Feedback welcomed for the first new style digest posted and the second new digest posted.

TL;DR version: If you saw my Town Hall Digests, what can be done to improve them, given Michael Mrozek's format and Yi Jiang's GM script? Should these even exist, and if so, what format should they take?

Even though I've said it before, I can't emphasize it enough, so I would like to start by thanking all the candidates who ran for moderator, are still running for moderator, or plan to run for moderator during this election season. And as before, I want to extend a huge THANK YOU! to Rebecca "Oy!" Chernoff A.K.A rchern for all her hard work in corrdination these town halls, and for generally being a great community leader.

Now on to my question:

As some of you may know, Rebecca organized successful Town Hall sessions with the election candidates on ServerFault, StackOverflow, SuperUser and Programmers. After attending the ServerFault Town Hall I thought that while the discussion was great, the nature of chat made it difficult to follow at times. So I tried to create a "digest version" of the other town halls, which would be more concise and easier to read.

I did this using chat also, and I produces gallery rooms called StackOverflow's Town Hall Digest, SuperUser's Town Hall Digest, and Programmer's Town Hall Digest. I used chat specifically because it was easy to copy permalinks for questions and their answers only from the main town hall and paste them, sorted, in the digest. Because they were galleries, nobody could interrupt the flow. However, this wasn't an ideal solution.

Michael Mrozek commented that the chat format doesn't seem like it works very well, and I noticed a number of people were mistakenly entering the digest rooms when they meant to enter the main rooms (even some candidates for the Programmer's election did!) Also, I admittedly made some mistakes, mixing up messages or missing replies altogether. And some candidates were late to attend, and their replies couldn't be included with everyone else's because messages can't be inserted retroactively into chat.

My reliance on chat's onebox ability is no longer a necessity as Yi Jiang has created a GM script which might very well be the key!!! His script allows for über-easy copying of messages from a chat room and reformatting as HTML or markdown. Combined with a proposed format by Michael Mrozek, I think we can improve these digests. This is where I need your help!

So finally, my actual question!

I am trying only to help make the elections better and get everyone informed with these town halls! What can we do to make them better??

  1. Should we even have the digests? Do these help anyone? Are they just a nuisance? Are they harmful?

  2. Should they be meta posts, or chat rooms as I was doing them? I think meta posts are much better, and they'll be much easier using Yi Jiang's script!

  3. What should the format be? I strongly believe the questions and their answers should be grouped together. I think this makes it much more readable. But, look at Michael Mrozek's suggested meta post format. What do you like? Gravatars or no? Rep or no? One question per answer? Etc.

  4. Any other thoughts, suggestions, etc? I know that Gaming and Ubuntu have town halls coming up soon. There will surely be more elections for all the sites next year if not later this year. Let's make the elections less hard than shopping!

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3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

FINAL EDIT: This is now (and has been for a while) the current standard for town hall digest posts. (Yey!)

EDIT 3: This has now also been done for Cooking's Town Hall. Please give feedback.

EDIT 2: This has now also been done for Gaming's Town Hall. Please give feedback.

EDIT: I have now done this for AskUbuntu's town hall digest. Please give feedback!

I am also in the Town Hall Discussion room. Check there for live updates and discussion as I produce more Town Hall Digests!


I am going to propose my own format since nobody else did. If you like this format, upvote it. If you want to propose your own, please do so! Also, please feel free to leave a comment with any changes you'd like to see.

I propose one large meta question for the digest, with each answer representing one question that was asked in the Town Hall. This will allow the questions to be either sorted chronologically, or most popular. I think each answer should take the following form, based loosely on Michael Mrozek's proposed format:


Rebecca Chernoff Rebecca Chernoff asked: A more general question would be: how do you feel about (and how would you handle) off-topic questions that get answers and upvotes, ie, the community likes?

Michael Mrozek Michael Mrozek answered: @RebeccaChernoff That's pretty much exactly the case where I wish mods had non-binding votes; I'd like to vote to close them, but I don't want to just close them single-handedly, I'd prefer that other people be involved. I'd probably wait for the inevitable close votes from other people and vote fifth; that's what other mods seem to do

George Stocker George Stocker answered: @Rebecca Re: Popular off topic questions: Let the community duke it out at first. Only step in if and when the community has not reached a consensus. The first 48 hours generate the most turmoil for a question, so it should be watched closely during that time.

Lasse V. Karlsen Lasse V. Karlsen answered: @RebeccaChernoff: Re: answers/comments/upvotes to off-topic content. I would think that if the quality of the question is good, the quality of the answers are good, and the question is not entirely off-topic, I would think it should deserve a chance. However, there's also the problem now that there's so many users here that a handful of relatively new users shouldn't make a precedent on what the site contains. If enough of the new ones vote up, does that make it right? I would have to say no.

Dave DeLong Dave DeLong answered: Handling off-topic questions: I'd probably start by posting a comment saying that it's off topic and discouraging people from answering. Depending on the question, it may lead to closing and/or deletion, but I'd probably consult with other moderators first (especially if the question is getting Hot)


The templates for Yi Jiang's script to produce this are:

## *![${user.name}](${user.gravatar16}) [${user.name}](http://chat.stackoverflow.com${user.chatProfile}) [asked](http://${permalink}):* ${content.plain}

and:

**![${user.name}](${user.gravatar16}) [${user.name}](http://chat.stackoverflow.com${user.chatProfile}) [answered](http://${permalink}):** ${content.plain}
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1  
Yes do this, thanks! –  jcolebrand Feb 7 '11 at 17:48
3  
Nice. (blame this on the fifteen character minimum that causes me to go way over fifteen when I only needed five.) –  Moshe Feb 7 '11 at 17:49

I'd prefer a more compact version of Michael's layout:

I don't think you need to link each gravatar to user profile: it would be better to include each candidate's flair in the question.

Josh K : I have 137 consecutive days on P.SE. So I have enough time.

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1  
Thanks! Do you think the question should have multiple answers, each answer representing an individual question asked in the town hall and containing all the candidates' replies? –  The Unhandled Exception Feb 4 '11 at 12:40
    
@The, good question. For: it would make things more 'readable' by not seeming too long. Against: people would vote and that would mess with the chronology. So I'd say just one answer and too bad if it's tl;dr... –  Benjol Feb 4 '11 at 12:54
    
Yes, I agree with your points. I was thinking that maybe in the answer we could recommend that people sort by "oldest". That, combined with me posting the questions in reverse order might work... I guess the advantage is, it allows users to vote for their favorite questions and readers can view either chronologically or "most popular". –  The Unhandled Exception Feb 4 '11 at 13:41
    
@TheRenamed, the problem I have with answer ordering is that SE remembers it afterwards - which means you have to 'undo' when you move on to the next question. But I guess voting might be a good idea unless there is some logical progression from one question to the next... –  Benjol Feb 4 '11 at 14:21
    
I actually tried the compact way; I didn't like how it looked when the text wrapped on to multiple lines. I'm fine with either way though –  Michael Mrozek Feb 4 '11 at 15:39

I like the Meta Post format, I like it so much I structured an answer (only visible to 10K+) around it.

I think it's important to have everyone's answers together, as 'answers' to those questions; and then it's easy to keep all the questions and all the answers together in one post (instead of a question per post).

I'm copying and pasting my meta post from the link below:


I've decided to post the questions and my answers to those questions in an easier-to-digest-format than the chat transcript. Any editing that's been done has been done solely for formatting purposes. No content has been changed from its original meaning, and any clarifications are done solely for those that may not visit Meta often. Oh yea, and no animals have been harmed in the writing of this post.

How do you feel about losing your close votes? -- badp

I have to be very careful in what I vote to close now, losing my close votes isn't going to change that. I've invested a lot in my 'online reputation', so I want to make sure that every action I take is not only explainable, but makes sense and is logical. See my answer to this question for one such instance where people with high reputation should do things that make sense.

What's your top reason why you want to be a moderator? -- George Stocker

I want to be a moderator because I believe that my stance towards questions and answers on Stack Overflow is supported by a large majority of the active community, and I want to continue to support the community by making sure that every viable question is given a fair chance, and that questions that need to be cleaned up are cleaned up (see my reputation on Meta as supporting evidence).

Would you suspend a user who repeatedly posts replies to their questions in answers instead of comments who has been told of the proper procedure, and if so, for how long? If not, what action would you take instead, if any? -- WaiWai933

There are many steps to take before suspension:

  1. Replying to the user in a comment,
  2. privately communicating with the user, and if neither of those work,
  3. Finally suspending the user for the littlest amount of time possible.
  4. If that doesn't work, then a longer suspension.

Suspensions are a heavy stick. The one thing we don't want to do is just use heavy handed justice too soon, because that will turn off people to coming to Stack Overflow (a la what happened to usenet forums).

Do you consider yourself addicted to Stack Overflow, and in what ways (good and bad) does it impact your life? -- Adam Davis

I'm not addicted to Stack Overflow as much as I'm dedicated to making sure that this online community stays a viable resource for programmers. Since the internet began we've seen our communities erode because people didn't stand up and take care of them, and Stack Overflow is one of the first communities I've seen that bakes in that process of 'tilling the garden'. I want to till the garden and give back to the community that has given me so much.

How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments? -- Shog9

We've seen that before. The best thing to do is try to get the user to change their behavior by exploiting that which they care about. It starts with the premise that everyone wants to do well. You have to find what drives them, and gently push them towards good behavior by allowing them to do what drives them, and steering them away from the part that gets them in trouble. This, of course, is if the user is really valuable to the community.

That's partly why dedication and a sense of community vision is really important for a moderator: They have to know what needs to be done before it becomes an issue.

Consider your past interactions with Jeff and Joel: Do you feel you strongly agree, agree, remain neutral, disagree, or strongly disagree with the majority of their decisions? -- Adam Davis

I find that I side more with Joel than Jeff, and anytime I've disagreed with Jeff I've laid out my arguments for why (see this Meta question for an example). I see them as two sides of the same coin, and I'm working on trying to better see Jeff's point of view on some things.

What should be done with Questions and Answers that are flagged for "low quality"? Do you think they should be treated differently? -- Bill the Lizard

First is trying to see if maybe this was an answer that was posted by an otherwise good answerer. If there's a history with this user and it's causing detriment to the community, then action may need to be taken. If it's just noise, then simply deleting the cruft from the system is the way to go.

What do you think is the most common mistake that average SO users make, and how can you help the masses of us to do better? -- Erick

We are all (myself included) way too invested in our own questions. So when others edit our questions, we react with anger when we should probably take a 'wait and see' approach. Our egos get in our ways sometimes.

What do you consider to be appropriate circumstances for merging questions? -- Shog9

The question should be merged when it's apparent to the most casual observer that two people are asking the same question, and the answers, when merged, could be equally about either.

Do you feel that you tend towards "keeping the site clean/exclusiveness" (if you see a closed question with little merit as a mod, say, you'll delete it), or "allow more than some/inclusiveness" (you tend to vote to re-open more than others, to give questions a chance)? -- Michael Petrotta

As my record shows, I try to rehabilitate bad questions (by editing them to improve them, or retagging them), and when a question can't be rehabilitated, I vote to close it. If it's blatantly off topic, I'll vote to close it and let the OP know why. In everything I do, I try to be that person that makes it better before it's just closed.

How much time do you think you'll spend moderating? -- Rebecca Chernoff

I usually spend about 10 minutes every hour just pruning things on Stack Overflow, and in the evenings I'm around frequently. Stack Overflow is mostly self-regulating, but there are occasions where I find myself tweeting to @BilltheLizard that a question needs to be closed or there's a problem user.

Instead of coffee breaks, I have Stack Overflow breaks.

Do you think the actual number of moderators is enough? -- Pierre 303

It's an ever growing community. The real question is, "Currently, are there times on Stack Overflow where problems seem to be happening more than they're fixed?" If the answer is yes, then we need more moderators.

Is there anything on SO you would like to be improved? -- Pierre 303

I'd like to see people who make bad questions better (the editors and retaggers) get something for their efforts. That's what separates Stack Overflow from Just Another Programmer forum: The ability to turn rough questions into quality questions.

Based on your observations of current SO diamond moderators and Meta.SO and thus diamond moderation policy, how long do you think it would take for you to learn the ropes and be comfortable with the diamond mod tools, and why? -- WaiWai933

I think the initial learning curve of the tools would be minutes, but the actual usage of them I think I already have since I participate heavily in community discussion. I feel like I have a good pulse on what the community wants.

PERSONAL PHILOSOPHY QUESTION: Ability to edit other people's answers - great SO feature, or greatest SO feature? -- Shog9

At first I had a selfish approach to it, because I wanted the reputation. Now I just want the person to find the best answer possible, so I've started doing things like this.

When should questions be closed and just left alone vs. when should they be closed and deleted? That is, when do you believe in deleting content? - Brad Larson

Closed when the question outlives its usefulness for new information. Deleted when it's outlived its usefulness and it has no redeeming value to someone coming in from Google.

The nice middle ground is locking a question.

Since @MichaelMrozek mentioned burnout, how can you avoid getting overwhelmed to the point that participating isn't fun anymore? And how can it be identified before it's "too late" in fellow mods? -- Rebecca Chernoff

I spend a 'natural' amount of time on Stack Overflow, in that I'm not constantly looking at new questions, but because of my work, the natural rhythm of my day allows me to spend time on Stack Overflow in intervals that don't cause burnout.

Do you think it's the role of the moderator to calm down condescending, arrangant, disdainful, or aggressive answers or comments not really helping the user the question? -- Pierre 303

The moderator is sort of a gentle guide to keeping SO on track. The theory is to do the least amount possible to keep it on track (don't 'over-moderate'). Becoming friends with people and using the friendships to effect change in their behavior is the best way to moderate. The community keeps people in line pretty well, moderators only need to step in when it gets out of hand.

How do you all feel about the edit suggestions feature? Net good? Bad? -- Michael Mrozek

It's a step in the right direction, but I think it's going to create more work for people. If we instead encouraged editing by giving it reputation rewards (much like we do for answers), then we could do this without as much work.

I'm not saying giving reputation rewards for editing is easy, but I've written about the feature I think would help.

A diamond will be attached to everything you say, including questions, answers and comments. Everything you will do will be seen under a different light. How do you feel about that? -- badp

I'm glad Moderator actions are reviewed by the community. I think it's invaluable to the long term thriving of the community. More transparency is always better. If a moderator can't logically articulate why they took an action, then they shouldn't take that action. "because I said so" does not, and should not work. Ever.

Editor's Note: I missed the original intent of the question, but I think the answer still applies.

How would you handle questions raised on Meta about your actions? Would you be willing to reverse an action? -- Rebecca Chernoff

I would answer them in public, right there. Of course, if I took an action that would cause issues, I would make sure the person who I took it against would know first, so that there was no confusion on their part. That person and I should have a dialog that predates the action and postdates the action.

If I'm wrong, I'm confident the community will tell me loudly, and I would own up if it were a mistake I made. I try to move gently enough that those instances would be few and far between.

With respect to people bringing their grievances to MSO, moderators may often be in a position where their input is necessary to explain a particular decision. The OP in these cases may not be willing to accept that explanation, at least at first. How do you determine when trying to help a user stops being productive, and starts becoming a waste of time, and how does this determination impact your general moderation philosophy (as far as closing versus encouraging edits, etc.)? -- Tim Stone

When the determination is made that they're just rabble rousing, then it becomes a "Don't feed the troll." Issue. The community will see it for what it is, and if the moderator has done anything wrong, then community will say so. If the user is in the wrong, the community will say so. That's one of the best things about our Meta site.

What do you think about the recent popular top voted questions deletion (ex:What was your first home computer?)? Are you going to be a "deletionist" or an "inclusionist"? -- systempuntoout

GTKY questions that have value to googlers are different than GTKY questions like your first computer. As an example, I recently googled 'Good mice for programmers'. This question is a great question, but it doesn't belong on Stack Overflow. I hope it has a home on Programmers, though. But it does have use (not as much as the "Best Keyboard for programmers though). see my previous answer.

A more general question would be: how do you feel about (and how would you handle) off-topic questions that get answers and upvotes, ie, the community likes? - Rebecca Chernoff

Let the community duke it out at first. Only step in if and when the community has not reached a consensus. The first 48 hours generate the most turmoil for a question, so it should be watched closely during that time.

Oddly enough, as a non-moderator, I always wish those questions would be closed or migrated quickly so they don't have a chance to generate such turmoil.

But what seems to happen is that the Moderators stay out of it at first. Unless there's a compelling reason to change that, I'll continue that trend. It's one of those 'let's cross that bridge when we come to it' problems.

On the topic of migration: how well do you think you understand the scope of other SE sites like SU, SF, or P.SE? (and which makes the best trash bin?) -- Shog9

That's where following precedent is important. You have to gauge not just one community but every community you want to migrate something to, so a good moderator should have an account on each site and spend time there (see my user accounts for how I do. I'm active on a number of sites related to programming, such as Webmasters, webapps, UI, and Programmers)

SO has trolling users. We all know some. Do you anticipate treating them differently than others when dealing with problematic questions or answers? -- Michael Petrotta

I've answered that here. Just keeping it for the sake of cross referencing.

If they have no redeeming qualities, then it's best to keep them away from the community as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, Boxing is a private affair. I do believe there are times that it should be made public so it isn't seen as a moderator abusing their power.

But that's a personal preference, and I do follow the present convention on that, even if I don't fully agree with it.

What do you think about removing earned reputation on questions closed as duplicate? -- systempuntoout

I've posed an entire question and suggested a course of action on that topic: It has 37 upvotes, so it has community support.


Final Thoughts

I believe a moderator should be very active in the community, and should spend their time cleaning up the cruft and gently guiding the community. They should listen to the community and be fully transparent in what they do. They should participate on Meta.

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Aw, man! I wish I could see it! –  The Unhandled Exception Feb 4 '11 at 2:34
    
It was deleted because '[...] we received a couple complaints that candidates had the opportunity to pitch themselves in their nomination and that this wasn't the way to campaign more.' –  George Stocker Feb 4 '11 at 2:39
    
Hm, that's not appropriate.. especially given that the elections are over now! >:| –  The Unhandled Exception Feb 4 '11 at 2:42
    
Me telling you or the fact that it was deleted? I'd like for them to undelete it since the elections are over, but that's their choice. –  George Stocker Feb 4 '11 at 2:48
    
Haha, no I object to the fact that it was deleted, not you mentioning it! Maybe you could post it here, optionally replacing all the statements with lipsum :-D –  The Unhandled Exception Feb 4 '11 at 3:07
    
I like your format George but it only leads itself to one candidate's answers. I prefer my format for everyone's answers... –  The Unhandled Exception Feb 7 '11 at 19:22
    
@The Renamed Exception; my answer wouldn't be the only answer in the question. All the candidates answers should be in their own separate answer (1 per candidate). That way you have a place where the candidates views can be digested at your leisure without having to context-switch between candidates. –  George Stocker Feb 7 '11 at 19:45

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