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In a variety of blog posts, ranging from the initial announcement of the Loop to this latest post, there has been mounting suspense regarding formation of a group of user representatives to discuss ongoing issues having to do the the SO platform.

It seems as if moderators will make up much, if not all, of this structure. Clearly, moderators are some of the most involved users there are, but I suggest that this might not the appropriate constituency for this group.

"But moderators have been elected by users!", you might say. This is certainly true, but they have not been elected for this. They have been chosen by users to keep the sites running smoothly, and this new initiative might require a different set of skills — perhaps those willing to create a wave or two in a sea of calm. If the purview of the council is simply "moderation policies" then moderators are the appropriate participants. It feels to me like the issues under discussion are bigger than this. Also, it feels like many of the moderators who should be heard from have resigned as moderators.

I'd feel better about the outlook for this council if it were, say, a random sample of top 2% users, or maybe half that group and half moderators, spread over the platform, with maybe an oversampling of Stack Overflow users.

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    "We are going to kick off the process soon by creating a pro-tempore council. The moderators on the pro-tempore council will help finalize and shape the permanent council’s structure. " Feb 17 '20 at 23:27
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    I think you may be conflating the 'moderator council' with other initiatives (both ongoing and planned) to collect information from a broader sampling of users. One of the four bullet points (but just one) that the post started out with is indeed related to moderators specifically, who have been an understandably grumpy (self included) and yet important group lately. Feb 17 '20 at 23:27
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    That's a bit dismissive of moderators and your proposition sounds hard to achieve anything by too much people (or too vague maybe).
    – Tensibai
    Feb 17 '20 at 23:27
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    Eh, I think this is a reasonable question. Moderators are a good initial pool, and no doubt if this thing is done right then it'll influence moderator elections going forward... But Scott is correct in that it wasn't one of the responsibilities considered during past elections, and discussing ways in which that could be addressed is useful.
    – Shog9
    Feb 18 '20 at 0:20
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    A random sample of non-moderator top users has it's own problems and doesn't look like a good alternative to me. There is probably a better road out there, but I haven't seen it yet and neither is it suggested in your question. One of your suggestions, using an oversampling of SO users, may actually make matters worse if the last round of critique on SE being overly biased towards SO is taken into account. And, if all else fails, it's a temporary council figuring out what to do in the long run.
    – Mast
    Feb 18 '20 at 6:25
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    Seen this happen many times in various online gaming communities. This is how they usually go down: hand-pick some individuals who are the least likely to "make noise" by actually expressing the communities concerns. Discuss all changes with this "elected" council rather than through the actual community. Keep the "elected" council happy by offering bribes such as paid vacation to visit "meetings" at company HQ, where the council members are mostly kept busy with tourist activities, rather than with actually providing feedback in meetings.
    – Lundin
    Feb 18 '20 at 8:00
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    @Mast -- yes, I was concerned about the oversampling of SO, but I think those are the main users that SO is trying to monetize, so I'm nudged in this direction. The question is posted to find the better road, and I suggest one path. I'd love to hear more and better opinions from the community at large -- explaining the discussion tag. Feb 18 '20 at 13:31
  • As I said earlier I'm not sure how much they are trying to monetize SO -- to some extent, yes, but I think they're expecting that the big money will be Teams (i.e. selling software licenses) and not "public Q&A" at all (reference).
    – ChrisW
    Feb 18 '20 at 13:35
  • @ChrisW -- there's way too much interference into the public Q&A for me to believe that the Q&A is unimportant to the business model. Indeed, the easiest path to take with the public sites would be to do nothing, as to the masses (i.e., those who type a question into a search engine and immediately get an answer at an SE site), there isn't much of a perception that it's broken. Feb 18 '20 at 13:55
  • @ScottSeidman My understanding is that public Q&A cannot be directly monetized, but a public perception of its' being "unwelcoming" will dissuade potential investors. As such, from the company's perspective, that is a problem that needs to be fixed.
    – Zev Spitz
    Feb 22 '20 at 22:06
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    I've raised this general moderator scope creep as a question in the TWP election, as an aside.
    – magisch
    Feb 24 '20 at 10:27
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Well - the idea as I understand this was to try to give moderators a voice in such decisions.

There's a few points worth considering - reputation alone isn't really a great sign of leadership, (and technically neither does being a moderator on its own.). Lots of great people choose not to step up to be a moderator for various reasons - imposter syndrome, lack of time and more recently, a certain degree of uncertainty over how the company views us.

If we're going to 'pick' regular users - a broader set of criteria, akin to the statistics we had on the old moderator page might be handy. Identifying a representative sample across the network, and somehow convincing them to spend the time to do it...

Which suspiciously sounds like how we got moderators.

They're a group of people who already, to some extent represent their sites, can be contacted, either via meta or other means for issues concerning their sites. Essentially we're supposed to be the point of contact/bridge between our communities and SE, though that's not as firm, or well established as one would hope.

Even for mods not on the council - we often have means to get communications through to CMs and sometimes others, or at least get the workings well enough to try.

I would probably suspect the big problem here is anyone with the charisma, stubbornness or grit to be a non mod member of such a body, probably could have the qualities to be a mod, and has their reasons not to be one. I can think of a few people (who I shan't embarrass by naming) who might fit the bill. Convincing them to be part of such a body would be tricky

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I'm the lead on the Moderator Council project - it's still in development but you've asked a good question here and I might as well share what I can to address your specific concerns.

there has been mounting suspense regarding formation of a group of user representatives to discuss ongoing issues having to do the the SO platform.

Not "a group". Several. From the original announcement, we mentioned two separate projects - "Better Mechanisms for Community Feedback" with the solution:

We’ll share regular updates about what we learn through our research, as well as create a new working group of users that we’ll lean on for regular feedback. This working group will be made up of a diverse group of folks excited to see Stack Overflow grow.

And we also mentioned "Creating a Moderator Advisory Group" with the solution:

To address the challenges we identified, we’re putting together a moderator advisory team drawn from our 550 existing moderators (folks who volunteer their time and donate their knowledge and leadership to the community): a small, self-replacing council of moderators who will be tasked with keeping our moderation guidance and methods up-to-date, along with ad-hoc working groups of moderators to work on specific initiatives as needed.

These are still two separate groups! I don't have a lot of details about the former group at this point in time but the moderator council is still what we originally described. The primary purpose is to make sure that the needs of the moderators are met, either in tooling, moderator guidance and policy, or making sure the moderators have an avenue to bring concerns and needs of their sites to the company.

The vision I have is that this council and its committees will be entirely moderator-run - but the final makeup is going to be up to the moderators. If they feel like having a seat for a non-mod is necessary, we'll talk about it. But the council is not dozens of people large. The current plan is about 7-9 people with subject-focused committees of moderators working on specific projects. And, well... if the committees feel like doing some/all of their work on MSE so that non-moderators can participate is the right choice, I'm fine with that.

While we will also be talking to our moderators as a valuable subset of our communities, they are not the only group and acting as a group of testers for all future projects would be limiting - moderators have special access and tools. They are also expert users of our sites, so for projects that need the PoV of a newer user or even an expert reviewer (many mods don't use review much because their votes are binding), we can't rely on moderators for this - we must talk to other groups of users, and we will.

I hope this helps shed a bit of light on the goals of the Moderator Council. You're correct that moderators weren't elected for some of the work we're going to be doing moving forward but the council is a great opportunity for mods who want to help innovate what moderation and community building looks like on Stack Exchange as we move forward.

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    Thanks for the inside peek! Feb 21 '20 at 18:16
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Two aspects here:

I'd feel better about the outlook for this council if it were, say, a random sample of top 2% users, or maybe half that group and half moderators, spread over the platform, with maybe an oversampling of Stack Overflow users.

Why use a random group setup? Why not use what we already have: elections?!

Leading to the second part: moderators were elected to serve as *moderators. Now there are simply two choices:

  • enhance that role "moderator" with new duties and responsibilities, like "sitting on that new council"
  • create a new role altogher

I can understand why SE Inc. starts off with the moderators: because that is a relatively small group of people, who (to a certain degree) are already used to work together, and work with SE Inc.

But assuming that the "idea" right now is to find new paths into the future, maybe a better approach could be to separate concerns here: have a moderator council for moderation aspects, and maybe have a "stakeholder council" for aspects that go beyond day-to-day moderation.

Thus coming back: the top 1, 2, or 5% users could elect such stakeholders.

Moderation affects everybody, therefore it is fair that obstacles to have a vote are relatively small. But when the company wants to sit down with "top users" to discuss aspects beyond moderation, why not ask all "top users" to elect representatives?!


Of course, alone the term "top user" can have many meanings. Is it about the amount of answers/questions written, or upvotes gained during the last 6 months, ... Nonetheless, it is essential to understand that certain users create a large fraction of the high-quality content. And it seems appropriate that the interest of that user group is reflected.

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  • That answer hints at that every possible selection criteria would be somewhat arbitrary and subjective.
    – Trilarion
    Feb 18 '20 at 11:25
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    @Trilarion I think that could be said about most things we talk about here... the key thing is probably: how to ensure to get to results that are "good enough" for the larger audience.
    – GhostCat
    Feb 18 '20 at 11:32
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    I considered recommending specific elections, but didn't like the overhead that goes along with that, especially with so many communities low on mods. "Random", though, because that's what you often do when trying to assemble focus groups -- select a random slice of the group you're trying to reach, and have some method of rolling invitations to try to remove bias from who participates. Feb 18 '20 at 13:29
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I assume (and, who knows, it might be true) that the "moderator council" is to represent the moderators, or to discuss or to shift the balance of work between moderators and CMs -- so to represent moderators, and possibly the governance of moderators, and not to represent general users nor even the avid ("top 2%") users at all -- though I think we don't know, i.e. we haven't been told what the council's mission and scope will be.

There are some 500 moderators in total, one might understand or at least guess at SE's wanting to whittle that down to a more manageable size (like perhaps a handful or two) for the sake of dialog.


Incidentally SE seems to have a communications dichotomy:

  • If they wait until they decide they know what they're talking about before they announce something new, then, "you decided this without consulting us."
  • Conversely if they announce before they've decided for sure what they're talking about, then, "this announcement is vague and evasive corporate jargon." and invites speculation etc.
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    There's a middle ground between your two points: "Here is the result of our internal work around council: <description, explanation of things dropped>. Does this match something working for the community ? What could be improved?" would be what I expect: I.e: a first draft to be polished with the communities before being put in place
    – Tensibai
    Feb 18 '20 at 12:55
  • Perhaps they'll do that, and more than once. Even the first incarnation (version) of the council itself will be a bit experimental, I presume.
    – ChrisW
    Feb 18 '20 at 12:58
  • Yep, I just mean you listed only two extreme (which I agree with as describing the actual state of affairs), where there's a middle ground. If the blog post had a "keep tuned for our proposal to the communities coming by the end of the month" it may have cut this kind of questions. (I know setting a date is not easy, but targeting one is better than none)
    – Tensibai
    Feb 18 '20 at 13:02
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    Yes I think "dichotomy" is usually used to mean "two extremes". And we should generally be on the lookout for "false dichotomies" -- both as a logical fallacy and as a phenomenon of misbehaviour (the Buddhist term "middle way" is I think a synonym for "neither extreme" -- it doesn't mean necessarily "average or middling").
    – ChrisW
    Feb 18 '20 at 13:16
  • Aww, I overlooked the introduction sentence :/ my bad.
    – Tensibai
    Feb 18 '20 at 13:20

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