The Teachers' Lounge (or "TL" for short) is a private chat room that is a dedicated space for the diamond moderators of the Stack Exchange sites to communicate with each other for a variety of reasons. Historically, this room was parented on the Stack Exchange chat "server" (did you know we have three different chat databases!?). On Chat.SE (as it's called) all of the moderators who have a diamond anywhere on the network have moderator abilities in all of the rooms they can access - this included the TL. Unfortunately, when everyone has the mod abilities in a room, including being immune from moderator actions, the room can become a place where people sometimes have a difficult time participating.
A bit over a year ago, there was an argument in the room that led to the community managers shutting the room down completely over a weekend since it seemed like the same argument kept flaring up and we needed some time off ourselves. Granted, the CMs couldn't actually freeze or delete the room in a way that would prevent participation since chat moderators can still use a room in those states. This was really just a temporary solution since the TL was an important space for moderators to have discussions and share their experiences and a way to reach out to each other for questions and moderation issues.
Moving the Teachers' Lounge to Meta Stack Exchange
After the weekend, the Community Management Team made the decision that being able to moderate the room was more important to the health of the Moderator community - particularly those who wanted to participate in that room than keeping the specific room - so we created a new, temporary Teachers' Lounge here on the Meta Stack Exchange chat database, "Chat.Meta".
This left all mods other than the Meta Stack Exchange mods as regular users in chat with no special abilities - they couldn't perpetually edit their own or other people's chat messages, single-flag delete messages, delete messages - or any of the things on these lists of moderator or room owner abilities. But what it did do is give them the ability to flag and have their flags reviewed by staff, the MSE mods, or (in the case of standard rude/abusive flags) any mods who happened to have 10k reputation on MSE.
The mods had discussions on their Team about the impact of this move and what they felt was good about the change and what features they missed or thought we could improve on. We also talked to some mods after a while to see if they felt that the "new" TL on Chat.Meta was a place they felt better able to participate and felt they could raise issues to have them handled in a private way. While there weren't a lot of contentious issues over the last year (they're generally rare), there were a handful of times where flags were raised and handled. Based on these discussions, we felt that this was a positive change that we wanted to cement.
But there were some issues with the MSE Teachers' Lounge - the old one had several tools that mods often rely on
- a tool to list the mods on a site and indicate which are in the room currently
- a tool to ping all of the mods on another site
- the ability to use the superping (not specific to the TL but requires being a moderator) to get the attention of specific mods who may not be regular visitors to the room.
The MSE Teachers' Lounge also required mods to have a site profile on MSE, which some do not, or did not prior to this and required the CMs to manually control access to the room, granting and removing access as moderators joined and stepped down. There was also ten years of historic discussion in the old TL's transcript that some mods find really useful for a variety of reasons - lots of guidance for how to respond to specific situations and rambling stories about pocket gophers.
Building features to allow moderation in the old Teachers' Lounge
We had to make a decision - should we import some of the tools and abilities to Chat.Meta or should we find a way to remove some of them on Chat.SE and return to the old room. After some internal discussion and reviewing what the mods had said, we decided that the preferred choice was to go back to the old room. We started by reviewing the list of chat moderator and room owner features and abilities to identify which we felt it was necessary to remove to help moderate the space and assessed which it'd be good to keep.
I reviewed the list I'd created with Shog's help in the Fall of 2019 and took into account the various discussions I'd seen about it on the Mod Team and discussed the changes - including which were necessary and which were "nice-to-have" - with our Public Platform PM, Des and Brian, the dev who would be working on the implementation. Once we had our features laid out, Brian started cautiously digging into the long-untouched chat codebase to build that list of requirements into what we started testing in late November in the Teachers' Lounge on Chat.SE.
There are two primary features:
- A new room type, a "Moderated private room"
- A new user type, a "Room Moderator"
Moderated private rooms
We generally have three room types - public, gallery and private. Private rooms can only be created by moderators and are for the purpose of moderation only. This new type of room is a special kind of private room and creating them from scratch or converting an existing room into one can only be done by chat admins - a subset of our developers. They can also be created as spin-offs from existing rooms by moving messages from an existing room to a new room with the same permissions (more on this in a bit).
Since these are private rooms, mods have the same access as they have in the past - if the room is unparented (it's not assigned to one of the Stack Exchange sites) all of the moderators across the network can access the room by default, but when they're in the room they have a reduced set of abilities.
Here's an overview. Regular site moderators can still do the following -
- use superpings
- use the
whoisfunction to get a list of mods for a specific site
- use the ping all [site] mod feature
- see most flags normally
- spam/rude flags - all flags, everywhere on Chat.SE, even those in the TL
- moderator attention flags - Only if cast in rooms other than the TL
- unlimited editing or deletion of their own messages but not other people's
They won't be able to -
- unilaterally flag and delete messages in the TL
- edit or delete someone else's messages
- see deleted messages
- purge the history of messages
- put the TL in timeout, freeze it, or delete it
- talk when the room is in timeout, frozen, or deleted
- grant/remove access or change someone's access level
As to moving messages - one of the things that came up when discussing how to better moderate the Teachers' Lounge - we realized that sometimes discussions may begin in the TL but, due to the content, subject, or length, it may be more appropriate to shunt the discussion to a separate space so that it doesn't derail the day-to-day discussion from the other moderators. These discussions can also often bubble up repeatedly for several days in a row, causing the discussion to be rehashed long after it was over.
To help address this, offshoot rooms can be created by moving a group of messages to a newly-created room, which will then have the same permissions as the existing TL - this means that there should be no spill of information from a private room to a public one and moderators can continue the discussion outside of the main TL, hopefully allowing mods to more easily avoid discussions that they don't want to participate in. Any moderator can flag a message and request that a discussion be moved to a new space.
With all of the mods reduced to near-base user status in the Teachers' Lounge, you might rightfully wonder, "Who's going to moderate the space?" The community managers are often around to handle issues but we also feel - and the moderators seem to agree - that having trusted moderators who can act as moderators for the TL was an important step, so we created a new user type, the "Room Moderator". This user type has almost all of the same abilities as a chat moderator, with the primary exception of controlling access to the room.
The first set of these moderators were elected several months ago through an informal process on the Moderator Team - the MSE mods wanted some assistance moderating the TL here on MSE - and, while they were only granted room owner status and had those limited set of abilities, they've now been installed as the first set of Room Moderators. The moderators will be leading the process of identifying and establishing these people moving forward and all of the mods should be aware that any concerns about their moderation can be brought to the CMs for review.
They will see all of the "for moderator attention" flags raised within the Teachers' Lounge and be able to act on them. They'll also have the ability described above to move messages to new branches of the TL and the responsibility of moderating those spaces. If they feel it's necessary, they can also use a timed kick - while regular rooms only have short kicks, 1, 5 and 30 minutes, Room Mods can kick someone out for a set amount of time, up to a month.
That should about cover everything - feel free to ask any questions in the answers below if you have them.
A huge thanks to Brian for building this and the Public Platform Team for prioritizing this work for us. Also thanks to the mods for their patience while we took the time to figure out the right set of features and got this project scheduled and built. For the moderators, I hope you find the new and improved TL to be a good experience. For the rest of you, I hope you find this information interesting.