When I was a moderator, I often referred to moderation on Stack Exchange as being a janitor: cleaning up spam, deleting non-answers, removing rudeness, and eradicating a seemingly-endless stream of comments were the primary day-in-the-life tasks for me. While this term may cover what Jeff expected when he first created the role and envisioned them as “exception handlers” who do “as little as possible”, moderators have come to be so much more. Over my almost-two years as a Community Manager, my understanding of the breadth of work our moderators do has grown as I got to know the mods and the sites they manage better. Working with them, even when they disagree with me is still one of the best parts of my job.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned:
- Moderators are ambassadors - they are representatives of communities that are technical, artistic, scientific, international, religious and cultural - often more than one at a time.
- Moderators are mediators - they help solve problems between users, often helping them see things from other points of view.
- Moderators are collaborators - they start and guide discussions to find solutions that work for their site while keeping network standards in mind.
- Moderators are peacekeepers - they de-escalate or put an end to harmful arguments by redirecting discussion or giving people timeouts.
- Moderators are community builders - they look for ways to attract more people to their communities and keep the people they already have.
Not every moderator does all of these things but, as a group, they do all of this and more. They care greatly about their communities and want them to flourish and grow. So, I started asking - what should that position look like today and in the future? Do we need to redefine that role? How can the company help support this group of over 500 people with training - both in moderator tooling and in handling the myriad of complex social interactions with members of their community? How can we help them better understand and uphold site policy while making sure it addresses their needs? How can we better support the 170+ sites they represent?
As this network of sites has grown in number, the Community Managers have relied more and more on the efforts of the moderators to keep us informed about what their sites and the network need. We’ve tried to keep in touch in the Teachers’ Lounge and the Moderator Team but there is still room to improve. To help that, we’re working on making it easier for moderators to escalate things to us but there’s still something missing - 500+ people is a lot to talk to at the same time. We can address this by having a small group to escalate urgent or important issues or review our work before we make it public.
The Moderator Council
Back in November when Sara and Juan announced “The Loop”, one of the things mentioned there was that we were building an advisory group of moderators - what’s now called the Moderator Council. After proposing this idea internally back in October, I was asked to lead this project along with a group of four others. Over the last few months, this team has worked through a base structure and scope for the Council to get them started.
Some examples of things we see the Council doing:
- Revisiting things like the previously-mentioned Theory of Moderation to see whether we can better capture all of the things moderators do.
- Leading discussions with the rest of the moderators about issues that are important to them. This includes being willing to listen to smaller voices who may be afraid to speak publicly, and even representing them and their ideas to us and the rest of the moderators.
- Two-way interactions with staff - including Community Managers and members of the design and development teams for Public Q&A - to bring the needs of the moderators and their communities to the company and also reviewing the plans the company has. This would include the Council giving the CMs user-centric feedback on new policy before it’s shown to all of the moderators or announced publicly.
The members of the council should also be leaders who set a positive example and encourage other moderators to speak up. We want to hear more from each of our 530+ mods. I know they all have concerns for their sites and things they are confused about or need. I’ve spent hours chatting with many of them in the Teachers’ Lounge or their mod rooms but there are many I haven’t spoken to at all. Making sure they know and feel that they have a voice and that the CMs and Public Q&A Team want to hear it is a top priority.
There are also a handful of things this council is not:
- They are advisory, not regulatory: so they are not “super-mods”. This means they won’t be asked to moderate moderators, either in the Teachers’ Lounge or Moderator Team.
- They are not a focus group. As a non-representative collection of community members, the council is not expected to workshop solutions, though they can participate in focus groups or review sessions.
- The Council is not a secret group. The members should be known and be publicly visible to all.
The Pro-Tempore Council
Starting today we have convened the first iteration of the Moderator Council - and I’m both nervous and excited. This is a group of 11 moderators from around the network who will act as a pro-tem council over the next six months with the task of working to define the scope and structure of the council. I will be facilitating and supporting them and have done a lot of planning to get this moving quickly. As I and my team were working on this basic structure, we realized that, while we could create a framework, we needed to let the moderators themselves polish it so that it would meet their needs in addition to the needs of Stack Exchange, Inc.
This polishing is the first order of business for the Pro-tem Council. It includes everything from how council members are elected and how long they are in the role, to what to do if a member steps down out of cycle. There are many questions that need to be answered, like - should the council be one of equals or should there be leadership positions or designated seats for different positions?
Pro-tem Selection Process
The Pro-tem Council has been selected through a special process that looks very similar to the old pro-tem moderator nominations for beta sites.
- Moderators nominated themselves or were nominated on a question on the Moderator Team. They were asked to include at minimum some basic information about themselves and answer the question:
As Stack Overflow/Stack Exchange works to listen more closely to the moderators and meta community on our sites, what do you want to see this council do? Where should the council's focus lie and how should it serve the moderators, users and visitors to this network of sites?
- After the two-week nomination period, votes were collected on OpaVote using a simple approval vote and moderators were invited to vote for up to 11 candidates with eleven days to do so (April 10-21). You can see the results of the voting at the “OpaVote” link above.
As with the old pro-tem moderator nominations, the CMs selected the eleven members of the council based on the nominations and results of the voting. Our intention was to follow the voting as much as possible, generally only making decisions in the case of a tie or if there was a specific group of moderators left out of the voting - for example, if a Stack Overflow moderator wasn’t selected. I’m happy to report that none of this was necessary - we ended up selecting the same eleven candidates who received the most votes.
So, without further ado, I present ---
The Pro-Tempore Moderator Council
(in no particular order, with introductions written by themselves)
Stack Overflow, Meta Stack Exchange, Software Engineering, Home Improvement, Web Applications and Community Building
Been around the internet since 1995 or thereabouts. Seen communities come and communities go. Would really like this one to stick around, so if I can help in that I'd really like to. One of the reasons Stack Exchange has lasted as long is that the users care, but if we lose that we lose everything. Hopefully with the council we can help people see that it's worth caring again.
Hi! I'm rubiksmoose and I've been diamond-moderating for around 10 months. I'm very active in my home community and in the TL and moderately active on MSE as well. I look forward to helping with working towards a better StackExchange as best I can!
Open Source and Hardware Recommendations
I'm Art; I've been around here for 6 years and a moderator for 4, across two sites. I helped to organise the open letter to Stack Exchange that we wrote; I also run Charcoal, the organisation that finds spam on SE sites. While the last six months have knocked my confidence and trust in SE, I still believe there's something salvageable here. We do good work for our sites as moderators, and we've long been trusted to represent them to the network - I see this Council as an extension of that: a chance to represent our communities and to help the company to learn from their recent screwups and to avoid making the same mistakes again. In short: in that letter, we volunteered to help: I want to make good on that promise.
Board & Card Games and Cooking
I believe in two primary focuses for the council: first, providing a human connection to the general community and its needs. This will help SE prioritize and implement efforts to address those needs. A human connection makes this easier to internalize and intuit. Second, providing awareness of unique circumstances and specialized needs. This will help rebuild trust by avoiding disasters, which tend to arise from overlooking something extremely important to some users. Direct interaction is the most straightforward way to gain this awareness.
For my part, I will always do my best to elevate perspectives and voices from smaller communities and marginalized groups. I’m committed to helping SE do right by everyone in the community.
I'm heather, a moderator on Quantum Computing Stack Exchange, and I look forward to working with SE on rebuilding the relationship that was damaged this past fall and continuing to improve the network.
Unix & Linux
While SE have disappointed us and let us down repeatedly, I still hope that we might be able to salvage something and start rebuilding a modicum of trust. I am volunteering for the council in the hope that I can be part of this rebuilding. I hope this council can act as a bridge between the company and both moderators and the broader community. I hope it will help both sides communicate with each other better and avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
I've been involved in various online communities for over 10 years. I'm looking to draw on the experiences in those communities to help repair the relationship between the company and the community and to help the Stack Exchange network continue to be a valuable resource for a long time to come. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to join the Pro-Tem Moderator Council and help the communities.
Super User and Meta Stack Exchange
SE traditionally had a good idea of its community, and how to deal with them, never accused them of being hostile, and while firm, rarely antagonized its community. Rebuilding trust is something SE can't do alone, but I find many of the things I often talk about - shaping policy, and communication are traditional strong points of the company itself. We've had a lot of missteps, and it would be nice to help get things back on track. As part of the pro-tem mod council, I hope we can nudge things towards more community aware and friendly decisions, and try to avoid some of the communicational mistakes made in the past - sometimes minor, sometimes major. While we can't fix what feel like deliberate errors, we can try to prevent the preventable and shape policies more aware of the sentiment of the community
Interpersonal Skills and Meta Stack Exchange
Hey! I'm Tink, and I've been active on SE for almost 3 years, and I've been moderating for 2 years. I can bring a pretty solid knowledge of most moderation tools, knowing my way around meta and an interest in sociology/human behavior/communication theory to this council. My ideal view for this council is that it works hard to make themselves unnecessary: Be a middle man that helps SO/SE improve their listening to the point where they don't need the help of a council anymore.
I'm Undo, a contributor to Stack Exchange sites since 2012 and a moderator in various capacities since 2014. I co-founded and help lead the Charcoal team - we're the folks who maintain SmokeDetector and automatically flag spam across every site on the network. I hope to see a transparent Council that provides frictionless guidance to the Company and Community, driving towards a better relationship between the Company, Moderators, and the Community at large. The Council should endeavor not to replace decision making processes currently entrusted to users & moderators, and should view itself as equals to the broader moderator community. I’m excited for the impact this Council could have on a wide range of current issues. We have a real chance to effect change for the better.
Rory Alsop aka Doktor Mayhem
Audio-Video Production, IT Security, Musical Practice & Performance, Parenting, Sound Design and The Great Outdoors
I have spent most of my career working in infosec, but am also a professional musician and a parent. I'm an introvert by nature, but have always managed people in widely varied groups... I have learned to get along and mediate. I have been a moderator here for nearly 10 years now and have enjoyed helping grow them, building communities, and working towards, and beyond, graduation when that was still a thing. Communication and trust are the two lost values that need to be rebuilt. A mod council is likely to have at least some trust in the community that SE may not, so can be an enabler of positive discussion and positive change, in both directions.
To the moderators, both the 276 who weighed-in and to all of you for putting up with way too many emails and notifications while we figured out how to mail merge 536 different codes so that you could make your selections - thank you for participating! We’ll work out the technical kinks before we run the first election.
I would like to say thank you to all fifteen council candidates. Thank you for being willing to invest more of your time to help in building a connection between the Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange communities and the company. For those who didn’t make it in this time, I hope you consider nominating in the future.
To the eleven selected council members - I am so very happy to get to spend time working with you on this project. My experience working with an ad-hoc group of moderators has made me hopeful about the value of having the Council. I’m looking forward to your thoughts and feedback and your efforts in making the Council a reality.
To everyone - I hope this has been a useful introduction to the Moderator Council and that you're as excited about it as I am. This is only the beginning and we’ll make sure that the final structure and scope of the Council is posted for you to see once it's defined.
If you have questions or if there are any clarifications I can make, please put them in an answer and I’ll respond as best I can.