Two years ago I accepted the post of pro-tem moderators on Computer Science. At that time, and that's true for any new beta SE site, there were little to no users with enough reputation to moderate. So, what did we do? Edit, close, migrate, whatever the situation called for.

I used to read, edit and tag every single post on the site for about a year. I'm no longer able to do so, due to a rising amount of posts (yay!) and time constraints on my end.

Now we are in a pickle: everybody seems to be used to not having to community-moderate.

So, here is the problem: the set of tools moderators can use are all for immediate action. There is no way to vote normally. There is no way to delay or delegate a decision in a platform-supported way. So the choice always is: use the sledgehammer now or accept that a bad post may stay on (assuming you don't go revisit questions much), creating bad precedents.

How can we ease users into community moderation? How can we let them feel the need for action without having to let the pile of crap grow too high?

Here are some feature ideas I have for aiding in training/engaging your community. I do not claim that all of these are great but they should give an impression of my perspective.

  • Allow moderators to flag a question to themselves with a delay.
    Allows us to wait for post improvement and community moderation without the danger of forgetting (letting the question slip through). Upon reflection, this may be best implemented by a personal review queue and (time-delayed) "send to queue X."

  • Allow moderators to cast unbinding votes (maybe create a time-delayed flag automatically).
    Shows other users that moderators think the question is unsuited and asks them to participate in the effort (review queue!).
    Current situation: a) question closed, no user action required or b) moderator tag-edits but does not close, hence user assumes the question has to be fine.

  • Give moderators special "flags" that move questions to certain review queues, optionally with time delay.
    Allows to delegate, prompt users to action. Also great for uncertain cases.

  • Have a review queue for badly tagged (only one tag; no common tag; many new tags) questions. (Or extend the low quality queue thus.)
    Most of my edits (that may create an impression of omni-presence, reducing the need for user moderation) are retaggings. Good tagging is important, but at this time users are not prompted to act on bad tagging.

  • Issue a badge for some number of close/reopen votes that were "sealed" by a moderator or 10k.
    Encourage close-voting as long as it is supported by policy. Might cause the need for a moderator-only flag "Closed by five lower-rep users" to prevent abuse.

  • Add "discuss" to moderation tools on posts. It should allow moderators/10ks to send a message to chat (or a post on meta) that asks fellow users to discuss the post.
    Easy way to notify users that action might be needed. Also encourages discussion.

  • Let us move comments to chat.
    Long overdue feature; we should be able to move meta-ish and subject-related discussions to chat (both site chat and new rooms) without having to wait for the system to do its work.

Such features may become obsolete/undesirable later in a site's life cycle; I do believe, however, that some additional support by the platform would greatly benefit smaller sites.

Note: This discussion applies mainly to beta and maybe freshly graduated sites. Bigger sites hopefully don't have the problem and have less trouble with allowing some proportion of crap and/or offending some new users by seemingly hard treatment. Therefore, I ask you to focus the discussion on such sites; an answer stating "We don't need that on the trilogy" is not useful at all. Thanks!

  • As a moderator on Code Review (also a beta site), this really hits close to home. Many of our 2K users using these tools are doing well, but it seems most with this amount of reputation aren't using the tools. I'm trying to do as few immediate moderator actions as possible, such as by letting some non-urgent auto-flags sit around. We don't get too much NAAs and spam, but those are still handled well. I especially want them to gain this experience if they lose those tools after graduation. – Jamal Jan 25 '14 at 20:57
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    Have your most active moderator take a week off. People will notice, and hopefully be motivated to start pitching in. – Michael Hampton Jan 25 '14 at 21:06
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    I gotta say I really love the idea of "Give moderators special flags that move questions to certain review queues", that really will force the community to act - and learn. Overall, +1. – Simon Forsberg Jan 25 '14 at 21:12
  • About moderators casting a non-binding vote, see this (status-declined). – Aaron Bertrand Jan 25 '14 at 21:24
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    @AaronBertrand I saw this (and linked it, actually), but it's old. Things are different these days. – Raphael Jan 25 '14 at 21:34
  • Sorry, I looked for it to be linked in that specific section, not back in the body. Tough on mobile to see what a link is. Anyway, all the activity there is not tht old, and as a moderator, I disagree that things have changed all that much. – Aaron Bertrand Jan 25 '14 at 22:16

How active is your chatroom?

This may sound like a weird answer, but on Code Review we managed to get a core nucleus into the main chatroom. With the @StackExchange bot posting questions (and ideally answers too), it's very easy for everyone to spot off-topic questions, and, with an answers feed (or a dedicated user pasting links manually), it's very easy for everyone to spot bad answers that require NAA flags, and good answers that deserve some lovin'.

By hanging in the chatroom with your core community, you get to "coach" them. And when immediate consensus isn't reached, the chatroom becomes a cradle for some nice & healthy meta-site discussions.

I believe the rest is about taking ownership. Your community needs to feel like they own that site. Look at the numbers, share them. Beta sites are now available on the Stack Exchange Data Explorer - that's a major tool for your beta progress!

Computer Science Activity Graph enter image description here

Since the above snapshot was taken, there has been progress. The graph query has changed to make it easier to read, but there is an up-tick in the past couple of months, though the answer-voting needs to be maintained. New users are trending well.

some data


Looking at the site's numbers (not just the Area51 stats!), and acting upon them, is a great way to foster ownership, and animate the chat room with subjects of discussion. A community that owns their site will want to keep it clean!

  • This is especially what I like to do since I have a lot of time to moderate. Of course not every avid user will utilize chat, but any kind of coaching really helps. Perhaps some of these regular chat users will strive to become diamond moderators. – Jamal Jan 25 '14 at 21:14
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    +1 for mentioning our lovely chat-room, referring to my MSO feature-request, being our dedicated user that posts links manually, and every other thing you said :) – Simon Forsberg Jan 25 '14 at 21:19
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    We do something similar on DBA.se. I think more vtc choices are made in our chat room than on the site. – Aaron Bertrand Jan 25 '14 at 21:26
  • I guess the chat can be utilised to great effect; it's definitely true that ours is not populated well. I blame some of that on the fact that the system never sends people there; I have to add an item to my list above! – Raphael Jan 25 '14 at 21:36
  • @Raphael we often direct specific users there manually, e.g. if a meta-type discussion develops against a question or answer. This is especially true if the regulars are already talking about it in there. :-) – Aaron Bertrand Jan 26 '14 at 14:06
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    @Raph, on The Workplace we often add links to comments suggesting that if a user needs help on making a question on-topic or focusing it, they should ask in chat. You can type [chat] in a comment to automatically direct them to a list of the chats set up for your site that looks like this: Meta Stack Exchange Chat. – jmac Jan 27 '14 at 0:32
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    I did not know that data explorer is available for beta sites now (Why was that not in the newsletter? Did I miss it?). Thanks, that should be useful! – Raphael Jan 27 '14 at 8:59
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    Just to give some feedback, we started hanging out in chat and pointing people there. My impression is that it has had positive effects on community moderation, but I did not run the numbers. (cc @jmac) – Raphael Apr 13 '14 at 17:08
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    @Raphael updated the numbers FYI. – rolfl Apr 16 '14 at 0:04

I don't think allowing mods to cast unbinding votes is a good idea. This is one issue where I completely changed my mind. I don't think we mods should have an easy alternative to the binding vote, we should either be sure we're doing the right thing or we shouldn't do anything at all. Having the binding vote made me think more carefully about closing, even on sites were I don't have a binding vote. That is a good thing, and I think generally a good mindset for a mod. Our actions matter, and we should be sure about them.

The part I really like is being able to set delayed flags. There are often situations that don't need immediate action, and that could be used to let the community get used to moderating themselves. I do that manually now, but making sure that nothing is missed if the community does not act would be useful.

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    I agree on the non binding vote except in the case of having a vested interest. I have been known to ask it chat to have people review my own closed questions or ones I answered and VTO so they get in the review queue. I could mod hammer them open but that feels like being a bad player. Also having delayed flags and the ability to flag to sent to review queues would pretty much make the unbinding vote unnecessary anyway. – Caleb Jan 25 '14 at 22:19
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    If you feel you have a conflict of interest, what makes a single vote OK when a binding vote isn't, @Caleb? – Shog9 Jan 25 '14 at 23:52
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    In the cases I mentioned, it means something rather different @Shog9. It's less about the vote and more about the stuff it does. Putting something in the re-open review queue is significant. When you have a vested interest it isn't fair to ignore the community, but raising your hand and saying "hey I can I get you guys to sanity check me over here, I think my case deserves review" is just fine. The binding tools make it hard to do that. Editing to bump it is one way to cheat, chat or meta are better but sometimes its simpler than that: noboby sees it if it's not in the queue. – Caleb Jan 25 '14 at 23:58
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    @Shog9: I mostly wish for unbinding votes when closing questions that are "unclear" -- to me. Others might find the question clear so I'd like to not close it immediately. Unbinding votes are not the only way to solve/circumvent such issues, though. – Raphael Jan 26 '14 at 2:04
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    Delayed flags are awesome, I wish we had them. It would be like a moderator todo list; after 12 hours, if this question hasn't been improved, we could review and close. – Mike Pennington Mar 8 '14 at 14:14

Adding to what retailcoder said, you currently have 120 users with 500+ reputation (enough to cast close votes while you're in beta).

If you had a few of those with the chat room open in one of their browser tabs, you could ask them (and they could ask each other) to close questions.

You could use your existing room http://chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/2710/computer-science for that purpose, and/or perhaps create a new room for moderation-related issues.

You could post this topic "Can you help moderate? Yes, this means you!" on your own meta-board.

You can use your "Community Bulletin" to try to reach users who only view your main page.

New feature suggestion: allow the owner of a chat room to post an '@all' message which pings every user in the room with an audible bonk.

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    Good point about meta posts. Remember mods can tag it with [featured] so it shows up in the Community Bulletin for more visibility. – Mathieu Guindon Jan 25 '14 at 21:17
  • We did everything you propose but the chat thing. Meta posts are only mildly effective at best; only already involved users see/read them (subjectively speaking, the Bulletin is far too unnoticable). – Raphael Jan 25 '14 at 21:37
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    @Raphael Mildly effective? I tend to disagree... – Mathieu Guindon Jan 25 '14 at 21:42
  • @retailcoder Interesting. We never ventured such a concerted effort and bothered to look at numbers. We did have some cleanup events, though, which were badly attended. Thanks for the link; we may want to try something similar (although battling the unanswered percentage is a far more tangible issue that what made me write this question). – Raphael Jan 25 '14 at 21:45
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    @Raphael You may already know this, but just in case you don't: if you tag a meta post as featured, it'll automatically show up in the Community Bulletin, so maybe even users who don't usually spend time on meta will notice the topic. – WendiKidd Jan 26 '14 at 2:47
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    @Raphael - FYI, this is the graph for Code Review The Call Of Duty Meta Post was Nov 16. Effective? – rolfl Jan 26 '14 at 23:20

Don't helicopter moderate

I used to read, edit and tag every single post on the site for about a year. I'm no longer able to do so, due to a rising amount of posts (yay!) and time constraints on my end.

You can't do this as a moderator for an extended period of time. This trains people to know, "hey the mod will do all this work!"

You want to quickly wean the site off needing you to moderator. This should happen as early as possible. During the beta, especially early, you probably have the best liklihood of finding people who will want to stick around. Most of them are familiar with how SE works.

You can't get them engaged/committed if you are already doing all the work.

Think of it like parenting

Thing of the example of kids. If you do everything for them their entire childhood (kind of like a "beta" of life) and then turn them loose when they are 18, they won't know how to do anything nor be willing to do so.

But if you slowly stop doing everything for them by the time they turn 18 they are considerably better equipped for life.

Will they be perfect? No! Absolutely not! Anyone who has ever raised kids will know and affirm children.... are more likely to make mistakes in "life" than their parents could. As a parent you will do the dishes better than your 5 year old. But if you do the dishes for them every day until they are 18 they never will learn how and likely not do it after they turn 18.

Moderate the same way. Moderators are exception handlers. Just like parents aren't intended to run your children's lives forever, moderators shouldn't hold everyone's hand on a site.

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