Wow, Moderator FAQs and Cheat Sheets
We have never published a “Moderator Manual” for Stack Exchange. Learning the ins and outs of moderation is largely done “on the job.” But our intrepid Moderator community has stepped up and produced some fantastic compilations that should be part of every moderator toolbox:
These posts include many common issues raised by Moderators in the Teachers’ Lounge. Give these a once-over and bookmark them for later; you’ll no doubt find them useful.
Community Bulletin Board
We’ve discouraged the use of system-message banners for general announcements and non-critical events. As the Emergency Broadcast System for your site, it must remain clear under normal circumstances. But long last, we have a feature explicitly designed for you to post announcements, events, site news and such:
The Community Bulletin Board is a place for you to post scheduled events, featured meta posts, or to simply highlight anything of interest to your community. The basic guidelines for using this are:
- Items should generally involve the scope of your site.
- Descriptions (separate from titles for scheduled events) should be short but descriptive.
- Add your scheduled events far enough ahead of time to allow folks to make time for them.
Also, please remember to remove the [featured] tags from posts once they are no longer relevant. This happens automatically if you wait long enough, but let’s try to keep the ‘featured’ posts both relevant and timely.
View Deleted Comments
You can now display all the comments left by a specific user in one listing, including those comments which have been deleted.
To view a user’s comments, navigate to their profile and click the ‘mod’ link. Select the ‘info’ tab and click ‘comments’.
Using the tabs across the top, you can view ‘active’, ‘deleted’, or ‘all’ comments. This is a useful feature when you are looking into the general behavior of a user, or investigating a reported pattern of abuse.
While updating the Safe Harbor/EU privacy requirements, we went ahead and included a much-welcomed “English for the rest of us” description for each section. These headings make it easier to find what you need when privacy issues come up.
On Cross Posting, Migrations, and Scope Gerrymandering
Finally, a blog post that tackles some of problems faced by sites with overlapping domains. This is a good read with some notable policies for dealing with this issue. It’s worth familiarizing yourself with, particularly for younger sites. Have a look.
Your Role in Copyright Enforcement
What do you do when someone claims an answer was copied illegally, or maybe a teacher is claiming that a student is posting test questions on your site? Here in the States, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) tells us very specifically how to handle claims of copyright infringement.
Your role in enforcement — As moderators, you are not employees of Stack Exchange. In essence, you are free to moderate the site for content how you see fit. If you are ever notified about copyrighted material, and feel like taking it down, that’s cool… but you are not required to do so. You are not DMCA agents (we have those of our own). If you get a request for takedown, you can either remove the post OR point the person to the Copyright Policy linked below.
Here at Stack Exchange central, we have to be concerned about claims of copyright infringement that may not be valid. If WE (Stack Exchange Inc.) get notices to take down offending content, the claimants need to follow DMCA procedure and contact us with the correct form. It’s all outlined in the Terms Of Service:
“Reporting Copyright Infringements”
Our TOS covers all the relevant info about DMCA.The claimants will have to contact us with the necessary forms and information. That makes the issue pretty simple and straightforward on your end. Delete or reply with link.
New Voting Fraud Detection Tools
The primary way to gain reputation is by posting good questions and useful answers. But with any competitive system, there will always be a few people who try to cheat (Vote Fraud and You). We take this very seriously, and provide some serious tools for detecting and dealing with voting fraud. This tool set got a recent upgrade:
'mod' > 'links' > 'Suspicious vote patterns'
If there is suspicious voting activity (an unusual number of votes shared between accounts), the links found in this list will provide some nice visualization tools to see where shared activity might be occurring.
A note of caution — Not everything listed here is necessarily bad. Unless you are familiar with these tools, I would encourage you to bring suspected fraud issues to the Teacher’s Lounge where we’ll walk you through the process to investigate it further. For details, see this fraud detection tools discussion in chat and what to do if you find fraudulent activity.
Reputation Recalc Removed
The ability to recalculate a user’s reputation has been removed from the ‘mod’ menu. The function is no longer necessary because the displayed score is now kept current with all the voting activity.
Up until recently, a user’s reputation score was only an approximation user’s actual score. Actions like deleting posts or removing users (and their votes) weren’t always reflected in the user’s displayed score. Over time, these discrepancies would add up, so a recalculation was the only remediation. That action is no longer necessary.
A system-wide recalculation was performed, so if your users are asking about unexpected changes in their reputation score, you can refer them to this blog post:
New Stack Exchange Beta Theme
If your site is in beta, it’s about to get a much-needed facelift. We are retiring the familiar “Sketchy” theme and rolling out a more-polished and finished design for the beta sites. The blog post below will answer any questions your users may have. It also outlines some of the reasons behind this change and how it will benefit your community.
Flag Weight is Dead, Long Live Flag Weight!
Due to popular request, flag weight has been removed from user profiles. It is gone.
Instead, when users flag posts, they will see a ‘helpful flags’ count on their profile which links to a flag audit page. This listing contains a breakdown of flag outcomes by flag type (moderator attention, spam, offensive, etc).
Users can only see their own count, but moderators can see the count on every user’s profile page. This allows you to see if a user is doing a good job of flagging posts… or letting you know if they are consistently misusing flags in some way. Now with the transparency of the audit pages, moderators can feel easier about ‘declining’ flags as a learning experience to help users improve their flagging activity.
Moderator Capacity Issues
Moderating is a volunteer activity and everyone needs a vacation once in awhile. If moderation starts to become a daily grind, don’t hesitate to take a break. If you’re going to step away for more than a few days, just let us know. We can cover for you.
And if the moderation overload becomes chronic, please tell us! With 268 moderators, sometimes obvious signs of under-staffing are missed. If we know there’s a problem, we can take corrective measures to address the workload.
Tag Wikis on Your Meta are Now Editable
If you’re a long-time reader of our Moderator Newsletter, you’ll remember the significance of filling out your Tag Wikis. Now you can edit the wikis on your meta site, too. Sometimes the default tag wikis are not right for your site. Now you have full control to design the tag wikis to fit your community.
Direct Links to Comments Now Supported
Did you know you can link directly to a comment for reference? The time stamp following a comment is now a permalink to that comment. Try it out for yourself; it’s been enabled everywhere: http://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/5436/direct-link-to-a-comment#comment319463_120688.
The Canonical FAQ on Meta SO
I’m not generally a big fan of crowd-sourced FAQs. They tend to accumulate increasingly obscure issues which eventually devolves into the bulleted list from hell. But the Meta Stack Overflow questions tagged ‘faq’ have actually shaped up into a nice collection of the most-asked questions users have. Next time you’re not quite sure how a feature works, use this resource as your “cheat sheet” to find the answers: Meta Stack Overflow Questions Tagged ‘faq’.
Absentee Moderator Policy
We are in the process of implementing a policy for “absentee moderators” —
Any moderator who is not active on the site for a period of six months is subject to removal of their moderator abilities.
Moderatorship is an elected position, so if an absentee moderator returns to the site, they may be eligible for reinstatement. We understand that sometimes life happens: projects come up at work, other obligations take priority. If you need to take an extended leave of absence, just let us know and we will make the necessary accommodations. This policy is simply a way to help us better determine where additional help may be needed.
System Messages for Chat Events
This is old news, but it’s not widely known. When a moderator creates a chat event, a system message will be generated automatically to remind everyone when the event is about to occur. This came up as a revelation to most moderators during Chat Cast #031. These notifications can make a huge difference in the visibility for the event. Chat events created by non-moderators will not generate this notification.
Notes on Migrating Posts
This issue seems to come up a lot in the Teachers’ Lounge — When you see an exceptionally good question that doesn’t fit on your site, migrating great content to another site can sometimes be appropriate. But don’t hesitate to simply close mediocre off-topic questions. Migrations were never meant to simply shuttle off-topic question to the next “closest fit.” Ideally, the author should re-ask the question in the context of the proper site, but if a lot of great content has already been added to the post, migrations can be a useful tool. But don’t feel obligated to fulfill every flag request to migrate a question. Just close mediocre off-topic questions. When in doubt, ask in the Teachers’ Lounge.
Slow Month? Not Really.
For those who don’t follow every announcement in meta.stackexchange.com, I try to keep this newsletter to the top 5-7 thing you need to know each month. But this month is filled with redesigned profile pages and user experience improvements that you’ve likely already found. So rather than filling space with fluff, I’ll close this year out with a few resources every moderator should find useful:
- If you don’t frequent the moderator chat room, it’s worth dropping in from time to time to check the list of “pinned” discussions on the right sidebar. Those starred messages do a pretty good job of summarizing the major concerns and announcements of the previous weeks. So, if chat isn’t your thing, a brief visit once every few weeks will provide a nice summary of the more notable events stemming from those discussions.
- The Recent Feature Changes to Stack Exchange listing provides an up-to-date log of all the major new features added to Stack Exchange. Check it out every few weeks to see the new features and functionality added to your site.
- If you don’t follow the Stack Exchange Blog, you may want to at least bookmark the reference category. It holds many of the most referenced blog posts and policy decisions you are likely to need.
That’s all I have for now. See you next month and Happy New Year!
/Review Page Improvements
In a recent newsletter, we discussed the importance of the /review page to help you acknowledge (and educate) new users who contribute to your site.
The /review page received an important update that will help make reviewing easier (see New bronze badge for “reviewing”). We now keep track of the reviews you perform so you don’t have to see them again each time. Further, we suppress posts that were reviewed by two other people so every person doesn’t have to review all posts. We also provide ‘Your Review Stats’ to help you track your progress. This feature is still under development, so give it a try and please let us know of any features you would like to see!
Suggested Edits History
Much like reviewing a user’s questions and answers, you can now review a user’s suggested edits for your site. From their profile, select the ‘activity’ tab. Click on ‘suggestions’ to filter by the suggested edits.
Moderator Flag Filters
We added filtering to the moderator flags so you can narrow the list to one flag type — close requests, low quality flags, not an answer, vandalism, etc. By focusing on one type of problem at a time, the process much more intuitive and manageable. A menu on the right of the flag page shows how many flags there are in each category.
Improvements to the moderator tooling is a high priority. If you have any suggestions how to improve the interface, please let us know in the Stack Exchange Meta.
Global Email Notifications
Did you know you can now receive your Global Inbox notifications by email? When you receive comment replies, chat messages, or new answers, you don’t have be on the site to keep on top of your user communications. The email opt-in check box at the bottom of your Global Inbox lets you redirect notifications to your preferred email address… daily, weekly, or every 3 hours. If you check the Global Inbox during that interval, the notifications will not go to your email.
This time of year, many sites are coming up on the anniversary of their graduation. Birthday celebrations really are a great way to spark some interest in the extracurricular activity of your meta site. When your anniversary approaches, you will receive an email reminder with the date. Ask your communities if they want to have a virtual event or contest to mark the occasion. If you can work out the details and rally some support, it makes us really easy to say “Go for it!” We can provide funding for prizes, swag, or whatever you think you users would enjoy. See the Super User’s 2nd Anniversary event for inspiration.
Private Chat Room Policy
A gentle reminder about the policy email you received recently: “Private chat rooms are reserved for moderator use only.” (If you missed it, please let me know and I will send you a copy)
Private chat rooms are for the sole use of moderators when discussing sensitive information with each other, or with individual users. Please do not provide access to private rooms for selected users. We like to keep communications out in the open, and establishing “elite,” private rooms for subsets of the community goes against what Stack Exchange is about.
If you feel you have an exceptional need for a private room, please contact the Community team. If you are currently operating a private chat room for your users, please phase it out now so we don’t have to make the rounds shutting down rooms abruptly. Thanks.
View History of Flagged Posts
When a post has been flagged, you can now look at the activities (editing, tagging, etc) that occurred before and after the flag. This is useful for determining if corrections have been made to the post.
To see the history of a flagged post, select:
mod > show flag history
This will list the sequence of edits and flags and display any added comments. If the flag is resolved, the timeline will also show which moderators looked at the post.
Adding Annotations to Posts
Moderators can now annotate posts with notices which do not belong in the posts themselves. To annotate a post, select:
mod > add post notice
and choose from the list of available notices:
- Citation needed
This post does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.
- Current event
Post is related to a rapidly changing event.
- Honeypot question
We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer: please explain why you recommend it as a solution. Answers that don't explain anything will be deleted.
A list of annotated posts is available at:
Currently, only the annotations shown above can be added. If you have recommendations for additional notices, please suggest them at: Support for banners?
Adding Notices to Locked Posts
- Content Dispute
This post has been locked while disputes about its content are being resolved.
- Historical Significance
This question exists because it has historical significance, but it is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site, so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here.
- Honeypot question
This post has been locked due to the high amount of off-topic comments generated. For extended discussions, please use chat.
Optionally, you can now configure how long you would like the lock to last so you don’t forget to unlock them after a short cool-off period has elapsed.
More Notices, Network-wide
Lower Rep Needed to View Suggested Edits
The reputation requirement to gain full access to the suggested edit queue has been lowered to 5,000 reputation (1,500 during beta). This should help lessen the workload of approving suggested edits now that more users have access to the full queue.
Blog Post Roundup
There were a few blog posts last month that are particularly applicable to site moderation, so for those who haven’t seen them, here is September’s suggested reading list.
The suggested edits feature made community wikis rarely (if ever) needed. This blog post outlines when (and when NOT) to make questions community wiki.
Hint: If you’ve checked that “convert to wiki” button recently, you’re probably doing it wrong.
When tagging a question, descriptive tag excerpts now pop up as part of the tag completion. But for this to work, you need good tag wiki excerpts. Tag excerpts shouldn’t just define generic terms, they should educate users about when to use those tags!
“Gorilla vs. Shark” is about a subtle type of poll which appears far too often: the “which is better?” post. When users asks for “this v. that” comparisons, they rarely detail what problem they are actually trying to solve. Answers can only be a rough guess of what information would actually be helpful. “This v. that” questions would be better expressed as examinations of the underlying concepts without all the mock conflict.
Flags Too Often Marked [declined]
Marking a flag
[declined] was designed to deter serial abusers of the flagging system, but we find that this “slap on the wrist” is being used more often than is beneficial.
Flags should be closed as
[helpful] under most circumstances. If you feel strongly that a question was flagged in bad faith, it is okay to mark it
[declined]. But try to err on the side of clearing as
[helpful] whenever the user is trying to be genuinely helpful, even if you do not necessarily act on the flag.
Users are asked to flag posts to help keep the city street clean. Even if you feel the flag was not technically correct, you don’t want to continually send the message that their help is no longer wanted. That is not what the feature is about.
We clarified the guidance for when to dismiss a flags as
dismiss flag on this post as…
[helpful] the flags have merit but no further action is required
[declined] the flags are unhelpful or noise
Super-Ping to Reach Individual Users
The regular @ chat alerts only notify someone if they’ve been in the chat room in the last day or so (see chat notifications help). But did you know moderators can use a special @@ notification to contact anyone on your site, even if they have never been in the chat room? Moderators can use the @@ super-ping that will always put a notification in the user’s inbox. The syntax is
@@<user id on site>@site.stackexchange.com
So, for example, typing:
would generate an inbox notification to me, even if I’ve never been in that chat room.
With a nod to the famous Seinfeld sketch, users are no longer limited to two login credentials (OpenIDs, OAuth, etc), but can have as many as they need. In addition, logins are now stored at the network level (not per site).
This means a few changes to the moderator interface. To view a user’s credentials, use the “my logins” link next to the edit button on user profiles. Also, merging accounts now includes additional protections because the merge applies to every site network-wide. If a candidate has +2000 rep on any site, the merge requires developer approval. The additional notifications will all happen automatically.
For further discussions about multiple logins, this is a good opportunity to plug the weekly SE podcasts (SE Podcast #16, starting at 5:20).
That’s all I have for now. See you next month!
Welcome to the Stack Exchange Moderator Newsletter. This monthly newsletter highlights the top community-related issues and events of the previous month.
Past Issues now Archived
The monthly newsletters are now archived in blog format. You can see all previous issues of the Community Moderator Newsletter at http://moderator.stackexchange.com/. The newsletter will continue to go directly to your inbox, but the blog format provides a convenient way to find and reference previous articles.
A Recipe for Supporting Community Conferences
We continue to sponsor community leaders to attend interesting, relevant, and useful conference. This latest blog post goes into greater detail about how to sponsor community leaders to attend or speak at an event on behalf of your site (of course, moderators are eligible, too!). Take a look at the article to see examples of the vinyl stickers, t-shirts, flyers, and cool business cards we put together to support your community’s events.
A Fresh Look at Area 51 Analytics
Many users have asked what the statistics in Area 51 mean to the future of their beta site. We’ve said on many occasions that a site can remain in beta as long as it takes, but this latest blog post takes a closer look at what those analytics numbers mean and, more importantly, what you can do improve your participation and traffic.
Your Site Has a Newsletter
Have you noticed the newsletter ads appearing on all of the sites? Despite our aversion to spammy email, this feature has been in high-demand. We’re hoping these newsletters will get less-engaged users coming back to the site. Newsletters include the top questions for the week, unanswered questions, and (coming soon!) important moderator announcements. They’re a great way for users to catch up on what they might otherwise have missed each week.
Deleted Comments now Visible
Moderators can now view any deleted comments on a post. From the ‘mod’ menu, click on ‘show deleted comments’ (available only if there are deleted comments on that post). This should prove handy when cleaning up obsolete or resolved comment threads. Once comments no longer serve a purpose, they should be deleted.
Collecting Anonymous Feedback
Typically, about 90% of your site’s traffic is from anonymous unregistered users. We now provide a way for these users to provide feedback on posts other than passively incrementing the post’s view counter. This data is currently being evaluated to see what we can do with it. If you have any suggestions, add your feedback to that meta thread!
That’s all I have for now. See you next month!
Welcome to the Stack Exchange Moderator Newsletter. This monthly newsletter highlights the top community-related issues and events of the previous month.
Helping Users When Deleting Answers
It used to be that, when you deleted a post, any comments you left to the author were also removed from their inbox. We changed that behavior so you can now reach the author of a deleted post to explain your actions.
When deleting a post, simply leave a comment immediately before deleting it. Your comment will appear in their inbox, even though the post has been deleted. Note that this only works for moderators and only for comments to the author of the post (@replies to other users will not work)… and the post has to be deleted within one hour after leaving the comment. The details are outlined in this meta post.
Subjective Close Reason Replaced with “Not Constructive”
Asking users to avoid questions that are subjective has long been a source of confusion on Stack Exchange. Outside our computing and mathematics sites, most questions are somewhat subjective. The problem starts when questions become unreasonably subjective, and expecting users to understand the difference was also, in itself… subjective.
For that reason, we changed the criteria for closing those questions to “not constructive — This question is not a good for to our Q&A format …”
I like this change because it removes the pointed accusation that users are being too argumentative. It explains, instead, that we simply choose to forgo these types of questions because the answers will not likely be useful to this site. “We expect answer to generally involve facts, references, or specific expertise; This questions will likely solicit opinion, debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion.”
This is a clearer, less user-hostile explanation about “what kind of questions can I ask here.” It diffuses somewhat the rhetoric of closing as a personal attack to one of educating and espousing “What’s special about Stack Exchange.”
Community@ Email Address
The Community Team is up to five members: Rebecca (rebecca@), Dori (dori@), Josh/”Shog9″ (shog@), Susan/”HedgeMage” (susan@), and Robert (rcartaino@). In addition to our direct email addresses, we now have a “team” email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you wish to address the entire team in one shot, feel free to use this Community email address.
Increasing User Retention
We started taking a closer look at how many of your highly engage users keep coming back to your site month after month. Most websites are a “leaky bucket,” but if your site consistently fails to keep users coming back, that will effectively put the brakes on your site’s growth. Consider the effort you put into getting new users — A site with a high churn requires enormous growth just to avoid a decline in involvement.
Review your /review path
The first step to reducing churn is to actively engage your newest users. Have you seen the /review path under the tools menu? At 200 rep, a review entry appears in the top menu; at +10K reputation, it appears under the ‘tools’ menu.
These are the first posts a new user has ever submitted to your site. One of those users just may be your next big user! But if that new user doesn’t understand how your site works, it’s all for naught.
Did you know…
It’s human nature: If a user receives any indication that someone noticed them on your site, the probability that they will return goes through the roof! It’s not just a bit of glowing praise or a hearty “good job” that keeps users interested in the site (although that is nice), but any acknowledgement that someone noticed their presence. Please make a special effort to regularly review a user’s first posts and vote, comment, or flag them appropriately. Encourage your community to do the same. Don’t be a “leaky bucket.”
One User’s First-Time Experience
Maybe you’ve heard this before — a hands-on style to community and user engagement is critical, especially when it comes to educating new users who are new to this style of “knowledge creation.” But it’s nice to hear it from a first-time user; How she went from being the “poster child for bad posting etiquette to becoming their poster child for fast learner! A poignant tale …” and a good read.
That’s all I have for now. See you next month!