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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:

  1. A new room type, a "Moderated private room"
  2. 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 whois function 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.

Room Moderators

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.

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    Almost makes me want to be a moderator again. TL was good when it worked well. – Snow Dec 15 '20 at 19:52
  • Seems like a well balanced set of actions that we mods can take (and not take). Nice. – Maarten Bodewes Jan 11 at 11:43
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This is good to see, not just for moderators but for the people who depend on them

I do have one question:

A new user type, a "Room Moderator"

This seems like something that would be useful in other high-traffic rooms, for pretty much the same reason it's useful in the TL: when a lot of people gather to chat, keeping the conversation constructive requires more tools than room owners possess, and more presence than itinerant moderators can provide.

So... Can this be used in public rooms if needed? If so, this might also satisfy another request: Appoint chat moderators exclusively responsible for moderating chat

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    Currently, it's impossible to appoint a room moderator outside of actual moderators in those specific rooms (not that it hasn't been tried). It could theoretically work if we were to invest in testing and providing clear rules and guidance, it just isn't something we set out to do with this project. – Brian Nickel Dec 15 '20 at 20:32
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    From a technical standpoint, what happened is that we went from if (user.IsModerator) { super powers } to if (user.CanModerate(room)) { super powers }, with a short circuiting check inside CanModerate that rejects non-mods. The internals could be expanded to allow users beyond that, but there's no guarantee that everything would actually work as intended. We certainly don't have a single checkpoint that allows/rejects every permission within a room. – Brian Nickel Dec 15 '20 at 20:39
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    You'd have more to worry about than just the room I'd guess, @Brian: most of the time that'd work, but a handful of tools that don't normally use the room as context should probably be available to room mods (suspend, unsuspend, user permissions) to use for folks in the room, while loads of moderator tools shouldn't be even when they are or could be room-aware (delete / destroy / anonymize user, stats pages, purge - well, I kinda think "purge history" shouldn't be available to anyone, but def. not more people). Probably best to approach on a tool-by-tool basis. – Shog9 Dec 15 '20 at 21:31
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    Hence, the significant of testing and planning needed. Suspension would be fine because it's not tied to a room so only actual moderators can do it, but they could kick mute someone (expected). Same with deleting users and such. That brings up the good point that a bunch of routes have both a CanModerate check and a moderator-only attribute at the controller level, so we'd have to revisit that. Moral of the story still stands, this project opens the door to the feature you're asking for but it would need to be its own project. – Brian Nickel Dec 15 '20 at 22:12
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I, among others, was at the heart of the troubles of 2019. The situation, and the passion that overflowed into animosity damaged me a great deal - seeing the network I lovingly worked for tearing itself apart from the inside.

The old TL wasn’t (I believe) at the heart of the troubles, but it certainly didn’t help. The safe space I needed as a moderator just wasn’t there - it was horribly toxic at times. And because all participants had the same powers, no one did anything. The calls for calm from the calmest of moderators was quickly overwhelmed by the endless circling of the angst.

More than a few moderators now don’t visit the TL, and the goodness that comes from that support and collaboration space is lost to the entire network.

At the time of my leaving over a year ago, there were baby steps toward reconciliation and control.

I, for one, am glad to see this path to harmony come into fruition. This is a big step forward - I have trust in the moderators who will doubtless step up to the plate.

I sincerely hope that this change welcomes the lost moderators who might use this as an opportunity to return the the TL and help bring unity and consistency to the moderation of the network as a whole.

Thank you.

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This has kinda been in the pipeline for awhile - I'd suggested the move as a "temporary" thing, which got tempermanent. It's going to be nice to have the tools to moderate ourselves ("Quis custodiet ipsos custodes") as well as a starting framework.

It's also really nice to have some of the plumbing from the OG TL - like being able to whois mods.

Quite a few mods are also happy that they don't need to split their attention between two chatservers from what I can tell.

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    I'm among the latter. The nice thing about keeping to one server is that you only have to be in one or two chatrooms, and pings from anywhere will instantly make a sound and appear as a dropdown topbar. That doesn't work across servers. – Rand al'Thor Dec 15 '20 at 19:19
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    Or three servers - the SO mods had always had to be on two - now they're back to that number. :) – Catija Dec 15 '20 at 20:22
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I ask the following hesitantly, as I know that the changes mentioned here were a bit of a priority when it comes to chat...

Are any future touches to normal chatrooms coming at all?

We've got a couple of open feature requests that are positively received, and it would be nice to see them implemented, or at least responded to (this one has a response from Pops, but that was awhile ago).

I know I'm not alone in feeling like chat is a bit neglected, and while I completely understand that the TL moderation tools were a priority item... Chat needs some TLC - its moderation tools in particular.

Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled that the TL moderation issues were addressed, because it's very important that the mods have a place to discuss mod-related topics safely, but I feel as though chat as a whole needs a bit of help. Would you be interested in giving it some love?

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    I'd love more love for chat, but I feel like SE has a little growing to do before that can happen :( – Journeyman Geek Dec 16 '20 at 1:55

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