- Some users believe this site has a negative atmosphere, and that this is a problem for the site. Do you agree? If so, what should moderators do to foster a more positive, friendly environment?
I don't think the site is pervasively negative. There's definitely some negativity, and I think we can divide that into a few types:
I don't actually see a lot of rudeness on the site right now. Most users manage to Be Nice, although I think we can probably do just a little bit better than we're doing right now.
I'd like to encourage users to flag anything that isn't Nice. Even if it's not the sort of thing that merits a strong response like a suspension, we can contact users and let them know we'd like them to be just a bit nicer.
Comments should always focus on posts, never on users. We should all try to remember that any kind of correction, criticism, or explanation for a downvote will be taken badly if it's not phrased neutrally and politely. It's very important that we be allowed to leave comments with criticism or corrections, but we have to make sure we do so in a way that doesn't hurt anyone's feelings.
I think downvoting is an important part of the site, and I think people should be able to vote how they wish. Some users prefer to concentrate on downvotes, and that's okay.
My personal feeling is that we as a community should try to concentrate on upvotes and work to educate users in cases where they've made mistakes. If we, as a community, upvote any time we see a positive contribution, the upvotes will definitely far outweigh the downvotes.
I do think that we've had some unjustified downvotes, and that makes me kind of sad. I've brought these up whenever possible with the Stack Exchange community managers, but votes are private, and it's really hard to know for a fact that a downvote was in bad faith unless it's part of a very blatant series of serial downvotes.
I've gotten some votes reversed in the past, but for the most part the community team is really reluctant to reverse votes. Unfortunately, a few users feel this is a problem, but at the moment there isn't much we can do about it as moderators. Although we can present evidence to the community team, it's really up to them and not us.
I'd like to encourage users to start by commenting, pointing out a problem in a neutral way, then downvote later if there's a major problem that still isn't resolved. If you do it that way, people can learn and fix their answers; people will get less defensive; and users won't simply ignore your downvote, because you've taken the time to explain what's wrong.
Overall, I don't think the atmosphere is that negative, but it's definitely not perfect. Please do your part by Being Nice, and help us moderate by flagging anything that crosses the line.
- Many users post answers as comments. Do you think this is a problem? If so, what do you plan to do about it?
I do think that answers-in-comments are a problem. Why? There are a few reasons:
- They're permanently featured above all answer posts, no matter how highly upvoted.
- They can't be downvoted or edited if they're wrong.
- If they're right, they might discourage someone from writing a more complete answer post because the question is “already answered”, even if the comment is just a one-liner and a real answer would be more detailed.
Overall, I think that answers-in-comments are a bigger problem when they're wrong. Wrong answers can be downvoted or edited. Wrong comments cannot; the comment system wasn't designed to be used for posting answers.
I also think the community is in favor of posting answers as answers. We have a highly upvoted meta post titled Comments are not for answers, and users actively flag answers in comments to get moderators to take action. Whenever I post comments “Please post answers in the answer box”, it usually gets several upvotes.
But this sentiment isn't universal. I do believe in removing answers-in-comments when they're flagged, but people keep posting them, and occasionally people get quite upset when they're removed. So rather than start by removing them, I think that we have a few different approaches we can use on a case-by-case basis:
- If a comment is incorrect, it can sometimes be addressed with another comment pointing that out. Users tend to remove comments themselves once they realize they've made a mistake.
- If a comment is correct, we can leave comments encouraging them to post their answers as answers. The comment can be removed once this is done.
- If a comment is correct, but the user doesn't want to post it as an answer, we can post it for them. All comments are Creative Commons licensed, and as long as we give attribution to the commenter, anyone can post them as part of an answer.
- In cases where users continue to leave answers-in-comments after repeated messages, we can contact them privately and try to correct the behavior.
So sometimes I think it's more helpful to engage with the commenter than to simply remove the comment. I do think that in most cases comments in answers should eventually be removed, though. The comment system simply isn't designed to be used for posting answers.
- Japanese.SE has lost, or almost lost some of its most active members: sawa (account deleted), Tsuyoshi Ito (mostly no longer answering), Dono (mostly no longer answering), Derek Schaab (gone), Matt (gone), l'électeur (periods of not answering), Choko (left for a period of time). While there are probably multiple factors involved (burn out, real life, etc.), over half of those users have cited issues with other users or the site itself. (Also, over half of them are Japanese; there may be a cultural issue intertwined.) What will you do to prevent the site from continuing to slowly lose its most engaged users?
This is an interesting question, but it's also really difficult to answer:
- None of these cases are like any of the others.
- If I were to talk about specific problem cases in this answer, I'd probably be violating the confidentiality of our users, and if not, I might well end up making the users I've singled out uncomfortable.
I think that we can expect some turnover. The site's been around since 2011, and it's almost 2016. Not everyone is going to stay with the site forever, and while the site has lost some valuable contributors, it's also gained a number of new ones. I honestly feel our site is doing fairly well right now, much better than in 2012 after some of our major contributors left. Some of our best contributors signed up or only became active in the last couple years.
I think that there have been a couple situations where valuable contributors left that could have been avoided. I wish I could say more about specifics, but I can't. All I can say is that, although it's too late now, we can learn from how those situations were handled and do better in the future.
Moderators don't control users, though, and people don't necessarily stay or leave because of things that moderators do or don't do. It pains me to say this, but a lot of the time there isn't much that moderators can do to make users stick around.
All we can do is handle each situation on a case-by-case and try to do our best.
- What will your approach to the Japanese.SE chat room be as a moderator? For example, do you plan to make yourself available in chat? Do you believe the chat room needs more moderation?
I'm not sure we've ever actually had a chat flag in our chat room. I think chatters on Japanese.SE tend to be well behaved, and I don't think we need a great deal of chat moderation.
That said, I think I've been somewhat remiss as a chat moderator. Sometimes messages really do cross the line. There are messages that could have been flagged but never were. We may not need much chat moderation, but we probably do need more than we have right now.
Moderation usually takes place in response to flags from users, and chat has its own flagging system. The problem is, the chat flag system doesn't really work very well, and I'm particularly doubtful that it'd be helpful for messages written in Japanese. When you flag something in chat, that flag is shown to all users who've accumulated 10k reputation across the network, many of whom are not moderators and most of whom don't know Japanese. This can quickly escalate problems instead of making them better.
So I'm reluctant to encourage our users to use chat flags. Instead, I think the best strategy is for us to have a moderator presence in chat whenever we can, even if we aren't actively chatting all the time. And when moderators aren't present, users should bring chat messages to our attention by using a custom flag on one of their own posts on the main site, typing in a custom message about the problem in chat. (It doesn't matter which post; it's just a way to send a message to the moderators.)
It's really important that we know when someone thinks there's a problem that needs moderation, so let us know! Remember, rude messages in chat can lead to suspension on the main site as well.
- In what way do you feel that being a moderator will make you more effective as opposed to simply reaching 10k or 20k rep?
In a lot of ways, it doesn't. A lot of the things I do, I'd be doing anyway: editing posts, retagging, leaving comments asking for clarification, closing and reopening, and so on.
As a moderator I can unilaterally close or reopen a question, and I think that's particularly useful for questions that are clearly off-topic or unanswerable which might not otherwise get closed quickly enough. There are always folks willing to post answers to translation requests if they don't get closed in time, and I think moderator closing powers are most appropriate in cases like these.
Moderators are also in a better position to work with the tag system. In particular, it's easy for us to rename or merge tags. Although there's a tag synonym system set up for normal users to use, it just doesn't work very well.
But the most important moderator abilities aren't really extensions of the things that regular users do. Moderators handle exceptional situations, handling flags, talking to users when there are problems, warning or suspending if need be. I don't know if doing these things make me “more effective”, but I'm willing to do them when they need doing.
- How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?
Producing valuable answers doesn't mean it's okay to be rude to other users. The most important rule on Stack Exchange is Be Nice, and if you can't be nice, it doesn't matter how good the answers you write are. You're going to have to take a break from the site.
Of course, suspension isn't necessarily the first tool we use. We can talk to users and let them know there's a problem before taking any action, giving them an opportunity to change their behavior. We can edit problematic posts, of course, though anyone can do that; and we can edit problematic comments, although I'd usually rather remove a comment than change someone's words, given that comments don't have a public edit history. (Occasionally I think it's fine to edit a flagged comment, for example if there are two sentences, one helpful and one mean; we can remove the mean sentence without changing the author's words.)
We also now have a tool to move long strings of comments into chat, and that can be helpful as well. If an argument isn't actually rude, chat is probably the right place for it – comments aren't really designed for extended discussions.
Still, Be Nice is the rule, whether you have 1 reputation or 10000. If need be, I'm perfectly willing to suspend a high reputation user.
- How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?
I'd be reluctant to undo what another moderator did without talking to them first, and we have private chat rooms where we can do just that. But if I really felt strongly about reopening or undeleting or whatnot, and I couldn't convince the moderator in question that they did the wrong thing, I'd probably start a meta post and see what the community thinks.
After all, moderators act on behalf of the community. When we unilaterally close or delete a post, that's generally because we think we're doing what the community wants. We're using our own judgment of course, but as moderators we're trusted to use that judgment in a way that aligns with the consensus of the community. If two moderators disagree, the right thing to do is probably find out what the community thinks is the right choice.
- In your opinion, what do moderators do?
We keep the site running smoothly.
Most of the things that need doing, the community can do. Closing posts, retagging, reviewing, deleting, and so on. Moderators are community members who've volunteered to do the rest – handling flags, doing things that require special information, talking to the Stack Exchange community managers on behalf of the community, and so forth.
But really, we're just regular users that do a few extra things to try to help out.
- A diamond will be attached to everything you say and have said in the past, including questions, answers and comments. Everything you will do will be seen under a different light. How do you feel about that?
I've had a diamond attached to my name for almost three years now, so there won't really be much of a change.
I think that to some extent, diamond moderators can help set the tone of the site. I try to leave comments frequently, and I try to do so in a way that I think is good for the community – asking questions when we need more information, discussing facts neutrally, being friendly when appropriate. When I mention a post or a comment, I try to focus on the facts presented in that post or comment, not on the person who wrote it.
My hope is that other people will see this example and do the same :-)