The term "ideal moderator" is used in the help center of every site which says:

The ideal moderator does as little as possible, but those little actions may be powerful, visible, and highly concentrated.

while Should we update the "Theory of moderation" blog post? says:

The ideal moderator doesn't do "as little as possible", they help to clean up their site to the best of their ability.

and A deep hole in Stack Exchange moderation philosophy: dealing with the human element says:

Every community has charismatic leaders, people whom at least part of the community regards as people who act in the interests of the community, and trust to resolve issues in a satisfactory manner. You don't need to be a moderator to be a charismatic leader, but a good moderator should be one of the charismatic leaders.

The term moderator in all quotes above appears to be referring to community (elected and pro tempore) moderators rather than users exercising earned privileges to moderate.

Is the most important trait for a community moderator:

  • doing as little as possible;
  • helping to clean up their site to the best of their ability;
  • being one of a community's charismatic leaders; or
  • something else?
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    Not sure why this has close votes as opinion-based. That would seem to be saying that SE and its users can't definitively know how diamond mods should conduct themselves, or formulate any principles for them to strive for, which is, frankly, absurd in the highest degree. – Nathan Tuggy Sep 10 '17 at 4:12

I don't consider myself the 'ideal' moderator, but I try my best to live up to it.

I have done it in various places for... eh, the better part of a decade and half, and I've seen a few people who're shining examples of community leadership, and a few folks who have tried the damnest to run their communities to the ground.

To a certain extent, I have always believed soft power being the most important tool for running and influencing the community. One does not get soft power from being a moderator (and there's a few folk in my community who have loads of soft power, but have chosen not to step up to being a moderator). A very important part of moderation is effective use of meta, and the occasional need to try to sort out interpersonal conflicts between users.

If I can influence better behaviour, without using my position or power, as a moderator, what I do (hopefully!) has a longer lasting effect.

"As little as possible" to me is related to the idea that in a healthy community, the community itself does most of the routine moderation tasks - rather than the moderator going through and moderators handle the flags. We process flags, sure, but moderator powers are meant to handle the exceptions, not the common janitorial tasks (sure I sometimes go through the review queues).


  1. Doing as little as possible is an ideal. A moderator who does too much might be somewhat counter productive and in many cases, I prefer that the community is able to handle situations. When needed though, I'm right there.

  2. Helping to clean up their site to the best of their ability is something every user should be doing (once they've gotten engaged enough), not just elected or pro-tem moderators. Meta moderation is a key part of our model.

  3. Being one of a community's charismatic leaders - least in bigger communities, it's going to be really hard to be elected a moderator without being one.

At the end of the day though, I'm a moderator because it's a community I find myself at home at, and it lets me keep building a community that stays that way.

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The paragraphs that I think can underpin all moderation come from @Jaydles in We're working on a new stat to help convey the reach of your posts here:

You gotta get this to get us.

Why should we care if people understand just how important the idea of reusable content is here? For existing users, it can provide some rough perspective on how big an impact your time donated here really has. One thing that drew me in long before I worked here was the idea that my effort here would help more people than it ever could buried in some forum. Now, it's fine if you personally find it just as fulfilling to help one person as it is to help a thousand. Or perhaps your motivation is the challenge in solving an especially hard problem... That's awesome too.

But whether or not the number of people who benefit from a post speaks to you personally, it's valuable for everyone to understand that the engine is designed to make content as reusable as possible, because it informs so much of how our system works...

See, once you realize that it's not just about the one asker, or the four voters, but rather the fifteen thousand searchers with the same problem... Well, suddenly, a whole ton of things that seem prickly and self-important, like editing out "Thanks in advance!" aren't about being "a bunch of power-happy pedants," they're about helping all the people who will ever have that problem to find the best answers. And find 'em instant-like.

I think the most important trait of a moderator is to be able to facilitate this message resonating with all SE network users as early as possible during their use of the SE network sites so that the volunteered effort to improve posts based on divergent understandings of what the SE network is designed to do can be minimized.

To this end I can see how two of the traits mentioned in the question can have positive impact:

  • helping to clean up their site to the best of their ability is suitable for those moderators able to invest their volunteered time to do so i.e. leading by example
  • charismatic leadership (perhaps from those volunteering less time) to help disseminate the message from @Jaydles, so that less volunteered time is required from the site's answerers and editors to get the desired outcome of reusable quality content

That leaves the trait of doing as little as possible, which is currently the most promoted one because it appears in the help center. It is possible to write words around it, so that it can be re-positioned as some sort of means to achieve "charismatic leadership" or "soft power" (amongst other positives). However, those additional words are easily overlooked (and often left out when quoting), so I think there is too much risk of the phrase being taken literally for it to do anything but grate on me every time I read it.

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