Right now there are two options a moderator can contact the team:

  1. Pinging a team member in TL, or
  2. e-mail.

Both options are a bit crude, there's no easy way of knowing that a fellow mod has already contacted the team or an easy way to backtrack an issue. Certainly we do get things done, however our current tools and processes get in the way more often than not. What I would like would be a feature that:

  1. Would allow me to send a message to the team,
  2. Instantly notify my fellow moderators about my message,
  3. Give us a rough idea of any progress (unread, pending, declined / completed / wtf?),
  4. All complete with a list of past messages.

I think the current feature that mostly resemble what I have in mind is mod messages, every time a moderator sends a mod message to a user, all moderators and the team are notified, and of course there's a handy list of past messages. The mod team bat signal would be more of an issue tracker than a private communication mechanism though, I don't expect the team to respond in any other way than a status. If there's need for discussion on an issue, well, we always have TL (sigh).



I want an easy way of knowing that one of my fellow mods have communicated an issue to the SE team, and an equally easy way of knowing when and how the issue has been handled.

To address some of phwd concerns: This isn't a replacement for TL, or even worse a replacement for MSO/E or searching around before you ask. Some of the issues that the tool could be used for are:

  • So long, and thanks for all the fish1,
  • I'll be taking a couple of weeks off,
  • Could you please invalidate votes between these users,
  • Could you please blacklist this IP,
  • Eeek, that user posted their credit card number in their question, please purge2.

And should not be used for:

  • Anything that should be discussed in public,
  • Anything that's a search away,
  • Anything that would require a discussion.

One way we could limit the use of the tool would be to only allow specific categories of messages, and nothing else. You know, like a real issue tracker.

1 My ragequit message, don't anyone dare steal that ;)
2 True story. Sort of.

I must admit I like Jeff's proposal, it's unrealistic to expect SE to scale as well as the community does, and I'm all for shiny new toys. However:

So, at least three of my examples (more or less) have already been proposed as separate features, and declined (and I've only searched for 30 seconds). It appears that lobbying for those abilities to be made available to moderators doesn't seem to be an option, after all. Don't get me wrong, we get cool toys all the time, however there are always going to be actions that require SE's intervention.

My examples might not be the best examples, but that's irrelevant, the whole point of this feature request is that since we'll always need to communicate certain issues to the team, can we please do it in a way that's not absolutely braindead?

  • @dmckee Possibly, what I don't want though is for the team to have to reply, other than by setting a status. This isn't a replacement for chat or email, and it's not intended for back & forth communication. – yannis May 31 '12 at 2:24
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    That private moderator Q&A site could work. Just don't make it a Q&A site. It's for tickets only. I know it's not using the tool like it should, as an actual Q&A site, but we're using it as a discussion platform right here and on all the per-site metas, so it's not as if the platform hasn't been used for something other than Q&A before ;) Again, a real ticketing system would be ideal. I only suggest this to save costs and dev time. – jmort253 May 31 '12 at 2:31
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    @jmort253 Heh, the discussion (on Meta and in TL) for the private mod Q&A was what inspired this feature request. – yannis May 31 '12 at 2:38
  • How easy would it be to find issues you've posted? How easy would it be for the community team to find and update those "tickets"? My only concern would be that, if it's not easy and intuitive, then we might not keep it up to date. Humans have a very nasty habit of having trouble maintaining manual processes ;) – jmort253 May 31 '12 at 2:41
  • Heh... Now you have me really wondering what the side-effects of repeatedly mod-messaging community would be... – Shog9 May 31 '12 at 2:45
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    @Shog9 Only one way to find out... – yannis May 31 '12 at 2:54
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    Related - meta.stackexchange.com/questions/122770/… – ChrisF Dec 16 '13 at 13:05

I've seen some moments where there was some confusion regarding specific requests, both with the moderator and the community team member. One mod made a request twice with no response and had no idea as to the request's status a day or two later because there's no visibility on either side.

For example, was the community member working on the request or did he/she get sidetracked with other priorities? Did the moderator recheck the status of the issue before making the request? Did either party have the most up to date information to know if action was needed on that person's part?

I imagine it can be tough if you're a community team member or a busy moderator to manage a pile of pings in a chat. Thus, we can help bridge that communication gap and improve efficiency, using this feature request or something similar.

I'm not sure about mod messages though, as they're not really intended to be used as a ticketing system. What about Basecamp? Trello? I realize the idea is to reuse as much of the SE tools as possible, but sometimes when you're hammering in a nail, you actually need a hammer.

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  • I'm not suggesting we use mod messages, mod messages are the closer example of a current feature I could think of that notifies all mods and provides a full history. – yannis May 31 '12 at 2:22
  • Right, I think it's a great start though and a good analogy for how it could operate. Ideally, I think the SE team will want to stick to existing tools. Reusing the existing platform as much as possible appears to be a common theme. It saves dev time, reduces costs, and reduces scope. The only question is what existing tools could actually solve the problem? – jmort253 May 31 '12 at 2:25
  • According to this post and this blog post, the community team is already using Trello (with an 'r' :). Plus, the CEO of Fog Creek/Trello happens to also be the CEO of Stack Exchange. I think that they could work something out. I also think they're unlikely to use Basecamp. – Kevin Vermeer May 31 '12 at 2:46
  • It's not surprising that they're using Trello already, so the advantage there is that the community team already knows how to use it. It's also form of reuse within the unbrella corporation, if not within StackExchange. It also creates yet another opportunity to eat more dogfood so to speak and help that product team make further improvements. Trello sounds like a win/win to me. – jmort253 May 31 '12 at 2:53
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    As it happens, we're already investigating how Trello and the metas might be integrated in some fashion. Not sure it's possible / useful yet, but... – Shog9 May 31 '12 at 2:58
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    @shog nothing is more fun than assigning work to other people! If only we had more systems that made this possible... – Jeff Atwood May 31 '12 at 8:54
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    @Jeff: note that I've carefully avoided any mention of FogBugz in this thread thus far, thereby... crap. – Shog9 May 31 '12 at 15:10

This strikes me as adding process for the sake of process more than an actual solution to a problem.

I am a big, big fan of the minimum viable process for something to work. Unless you can make a pretty compelling case that stuff is broken -- and I'm not seeing that in your post -- "we just gotta add more process!" is almost always the wrong way to approach the situation in my experience.

For example:

  • So long, and thanks for all the fish,
  • I'll be taking a couple of weeks off,
  • Could you please invalidate votes between these users,
  • Could you please blacklist this IP,
  • Eeek, that user posted their credit card number in their question, please purge.

If these are indeed coming up a lot on Programmers*, then lobby for those abilities to be made available to moderators so you can get it done without needing any more process.

* which I find a bit strange in and of itself, and suggest digging into why that is before proposing "fixes".

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    Jeff - things like invalidating votes, blacklisting IP and purging personal data from posts should not (in my opinion) ever be options available to non employees. Also Yannis is not just asking on behalf of Programmers, but the whole network where these things do come up quite frequently. – ChrisF May 31 '12 at 9:15
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    @chris I disagree; if it's coming up often enough, I could see several moderators working together to vote to delete a revision, or blacklist an IP. It's just like a nuclear missile launch: takes the codes, plus two human beings turning two keys at the same time :) The community will always scale a hell of a lot better than SE, Inc. will, so it's more effective to consider how to empower you guys than .. this process crap. – Jeff Atwood May 31 '12 at 9:17
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    I like the idea of Moderator 1 initiating the process and moderator 2 executing it with an ACK of some sort. Deleting revisions and invalidating votes is something SE staff pretty much just does when asked by moderators, so it makes sense to just eliminate the middle people. – Tim Post May 31 '12 at 9:28
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    Problems: 1) I have no way of knowing if an issue has already been reported, and worse if it has already been resolved. 3) No dev/team ping, and the workaround is pinging the last one in TL, something that's extremely inconvenient for all of us in the other side of the pond. 4) I have no interest in invalidating votes, blacklisting IPs or purging revisions, too risky for my modest wage. 5) TL is an extremely noisy place and it will get even more noisy as the network expands. This isn't just the trilogy anymore, and our current "process" is a waste of time. – yannis May 31 '12 at 9:28
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    @yannis if you feel that way about #4, this request is moot -- you should never be contacting SE about those issues, then. Regardless, your proposed "solution" would make the entire system more painful for everyone rather than empowering you and your fellow moderators, which is nonsensical. – Jeff Atwood May 31 '12 at 9:30
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    @YannisRizos What if deleting revisions and invalidating votes worked something like the suggested edit queue. Moderator 1 starts the process, and another mod either ACK's (approves) or stops it? Doing this stuff would still entail a blocking call, but not block nearly as long. – Tim Post May 31 '12 at 9:30
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    "minimum viable process" -- currently there is no process and what we do is many things but not viable. We have even had (well-mannered) clashes between community mods and mods over communication issues. I have not seen you, Jeff, in TL over the last weeks (haven't been there before), so you would not have realised that. – Raphael May 31 '12 at 9:36
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    Some things will always need communication with the team, and 200+ mods might very well need other tools than one or two dozen. – Raphael May 31 '12 at 9:37
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    @yannis you are proposing what happens now, but with more process. I am proposing something more efficient than what happens now. – Jeff Atwood May 31 '12 at 9:44
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    I can see traces of what could be an interesting proposal in your first comment and if you post it as a feature request and I might upvoted it (no promises). Right now, though, it sounds more like a quick excuse to decline the feature request than a proposal and that's a bit disappointing. – yannis May 31 '12 at 9:56
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    @TimPost As I said, interesting idea and I am all for shiny new mod toys, provided the risk factor is reduced. Right now, however, we already have a few tools that we usually don't dare to use without the team's approval (e.g. merge), and I'd probably wouldn't use any tool that doesn't come with a relatively easy undo. And of course you know as well as I do that some of the tools have already been asked for countless times (e.g. tag blacklist), and always refused... I don't see how we'll get to blacklist IPs if we can't be trusted to burninate or blacklist a tag. – yannis May 31 '12 at 10:37
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    @YannisRizos The scale of the network was quite a bit different then. SE can't hope to match that scale with employees, and it's silly to even try when there's over 200 of us that can and should be doing this stuff with proper guards in place. Additionally, requests of this nature described allowing a single moderator to do something with no checks in place. IP bans should be something employees need to do. Blacklisted user input should be under our control. As for tags, if the community and two moderators agree, it probably needs to be done. – Tim Post May 31 '12 at 10:49
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    @TimPost Then? Give moderators the ability to manage blacklisted tags, posted in March, status-declined. – yannis May 31 '12 at 10:55
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    @tim revision deletion and vote invalidation seem like very logical things to turn over to community moderators, provided two of them "agree" on the action. – Jeff Atwood Jun 16 '12 at 8:22
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    @jeff Thanks for the prod. I started writing a proposal, got busy and completely forgot about it. The 'at least two keys required to launch' approach makes a lot of sense and we have that implemented all over the place. I'm adding that a mod should get a 'key' to turn after serving proactively for [n] months. – Tim Post Jun 16 '12 at 17:45

I already asked about this in April and presented


Team Queue overview

The thing is, this relies on mods actively following up with their requests/issues, which they don't. I'm going to get eyes pointed at me for this but some mods are lazy.

There have been countless times, I have looked in TL to see someone asking about something that was mentioned in the last Chat Cast (which mind you they were there for) or the newsletter or the cheat-sheet. Yes it's TL, for asking questions but the repeated questions were why the cheat sheet was made. I literally watch as a microcosm of Stack Overflow is formed within the TL chat room.

Some mods, don't even know all the links in tools after months of being a mod. Sorry for calling people out but it makes no sense asking for a new toy if some people cannot use the old ones properly.

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  • This isn't about asking, but about communicating issues to the team, think of something along the lines of: please invalidate votes between these three users and definitely not something like "how do I merge these obvious clones". However you do raise a very important point, if the feature degrades into yet another way to get a quick answer for stuff that are a search away, it will be a complete and utter failure. – yannis May 31 '12 at 6:39
  • @YannisRizos okay I follow now, that makes sense. Though issues like that are only done by those who know the system well (or whom it happens frequently to; like SO for instance) Out of the 80+ only 10 max will/might end up having to do these things. The tool is needed, no doubt, for some but whether all will use it properly is another question. – phwd May 31 '12 at 6:48
  • I've expanded the answer with some examples I think the tool should be used for. – yannis May 31 '12 at 7:02
  • I liked the Trello idea, but my company also uses it. The updates to the SE board become a bit of a distraction, since they often lead to time sinks. – Tim Post May 31 '12 at 7:09
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    As a new mod, let me say that the help resources that are there are mostly not easily findable and/or disconnected from the tools. Those questions should be dealt with by improving mod tools, and nothing else. – Raphael May 31 '12 at 9:28
  • Thy are searchable once you learn that literally every piece of documentation you'd need as a moderator is buried somewhere on meta. It's not intuitive at first, but after a few frustrating attempts to locate the information, then chatting about it, and being curtly pointed to the resources, you learn the platform and understand that most of the questions you have have already been asked and answered here. Being a mod is really no different than being a non-mod when it comes to where information is documented. Also, it helps to check the bookmarks in the TL chat occasionally. – jmort253 May 31 '12 at 14:16
  • @Raphael - It's not a perfect system, and it is challenging to keep up with the information, but it can be made to work with some practice. I also suggest joining the room during chat casts, even if you can't participate actively. At least you can glance in occasionally to look for bookmarked info. ;) – jmort253 May 31 '12 at 14:18
  • @jmort253: See, the current system works so well I don't even know when the next chat cast will be (even though I hand in TL a lot). I am sure the information is somewhere, so it's probably my fault; but note that the SE platform supports event notifications. Also, "well, it's crap but you learn to work with it" is not a good reason not to make it less crappy. – Raphael May 31 '12 at 14:44
  • @Raphael - You should get an email with the chat cast info. – jmort253 May 31 '12 at 14:46

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