New “Help Center” is Live!
We just rolled out the new ‘help’ center linked at the top of your site. The gist of this project is to consolidate the various FAQs, meta posts, and blog posts into a much more comprehensive, educational resource. See Introducing a brand new, consolidated, Help Center. This is an on-going project, so we’ll be adding many more articles and features addressing your ideas and concerns.
Please note that the article, “what topics can I ask here?” replaces the old on- and off-topic section of the FAQ — so please be sure yours is up to date. If your site has particular needs not addressed by the Help Center, please discuss your ideas with the community in meta, tagged [help-center].
Changes to the Closing System are Rolling Out
After months of discussion, work, and input from the community, we’ve begun rolling out changes to the close system. These changes are designed to improve the closing experience for both the community and the author of the post. Please read through the Closing Changes meta post for more information. The new reasons are being tested on Meta Stack Overflow this week, and we’re aiming to launch them everywhere else early next week.
Suspensions Limited to One Year
We are capping the length of time you can suspend a user to one year. If you are currently using the suspension system to, essentially, lock an account with multi-year suspensions, please simply ‘destroy’ the account instead. We maintain access to account information (IP addresses, email, access logs, etc), even after the account has been destroyed, so there is no need to hold an account hostage just to preserve those records.
If you have clear evidence that an account is being used inappropriately (spam, sock puppets, persistent trolls, circumventing suspensions, etc), continue to message or suspend the user as you see fit. If the account is clearly not made in good faith (i.e. promoting discount gucci handbags), feel free to proceed to deleting it. If there’s any doubt, please contact the community team before deleting the account outright.
Finding Problem Users in Chat
We’ve added a few simple reports to the chat system, listing users with potential problems like ‘multiple flagged messages’, ‘ignored by multiple people’, and ‘users who have invited multiple people’.
These reports are are located in the chat directory:
- For Stack Exchange Sites → http://chat.stackexchange.com/admin/users
- For Stack Overflow → http://chat.stackoverflow.com/admin/users
- For Meta Stack Overflow → http://chat.meta.stackoverflow.com/admin/users
Leaving Comments on Deleted Posts
Moderators are now able to leave comments on deleted and locked posts. This will allow you to leave helpful guidance when a post need to be deleted quickly (or has already been deleted). Remember that your comments will appear in a user’s inbox, even after it has been deleted (July 2011), so please leave a short note when a user’s post disappears unexpectedly!
With the network getting bigger and the number of moderators growing, we unfortunately have to stop doing customized business cards for moderators on graduated sites. Designing and producing those ended up taking more time than anyone had anticipated. We’ll still offer and send out business cards to any moderator who wants them, but they’re going to look a lot more like the cards we have for our employees: front back
On the upside, we are also introducing a new item to show our appreciation for everything you all do:
These will be available exclusively to moderators and employees and should go into production shortly. If you’d like one, please fill out your information here and we’ll have them shipped out ASAP once they’re ready.
Always Leave a Paper Trail
It is sometimes necessary for a moderator to take unilateral action without community process or review. Whenever possible, it is extremely helpful to leave artifacts about what happened. Comments can be left, even on deleted posts, to be a public-facing notice of the action. Flags can be used when deleting troublesome comments to separate from simple cleanup. A strange run-in with a user or concerns about a user’s recent activity, can be annotated on their profiles.
These artifacts will help your fellow moderators, the Community Team, or even regular users of the site to understand why actions were taken. It can help not only for their own information seeking benefit, but also as an easy way for yourself to remember why you may have taken an action.
User Merge Clarifications and Process
In last month’s issue, we announced a major policy change regarding how user merges are handled – namely that they are to be sent to the Community Team. The removal of moderator access to the tool has been completed.
To speed up the process, moderators may use the same form that a user uses in order to submit a merge request on their behalf. It remains a part of our quick help center available at the bottom of every page.
From any page footer → ‘contact us’ » ‘Merge user profiles’
In order to prevent confusion, please enter your own email address and not the email address of the user that requires merging when submitting the form.
Audits in Review Tasks
Audits have been inserted into the review tasks as a means for catching users who try to skim past the review tasks unscrupulously. At the moment, this is only enabled for Stack Overflow, Super User, Server Fault, and Programmers. On those sites you may observe progress on how users are faring on the audits in your mod tools as follows:
From the page top ‘mod’ link → ‘links’ » ‘Review Audits’
Follow updates on the development on Meta Stack Overflow → review-audits tag
We’re constantly working out the kinks as new reports come in about the process. As we smooth things out, this will eventually be able to be deployed across more sites in the network.
Brand New About Page — a Quick Start to the Network
We’re rolling out a massively revamped ‘about’ page for each site, designed to help introduce new users to Stack Exchange. It replaced the original about page on all non-Meta sites. Your feedback is appreciated. We also have some guidelines to keep in mind when making changes to /about.
See the /about guidelines → What should we put in our about page?
User Merge Guideline Changes
We are changing our guidelines with respect to how users are merged. From now on, users who request to have accounts merged (accidental duplicate accounts, unregistered user replicants, people who lose access to their original account) should all be directed to the appropriate user merge Help section on your site.
From any page footer → ‘contact us’ » ’Merge user profiles’
On the topic of sockpuppetry for voting or other unacceptable behavior, please do not merge these accounts on your own. Please review such cases with the community team by sending us word at email@example.com.
New Moderator Message for Targeted Voting
A new ‘contact user privately’ template has been added.
From the user profile → ‘mod’ » ’contact user privately’ » ’select message template’ » ”targeted votes”
This is designed for handling users who may not have sockpuppets, per se, but are engaged in sketchy voting practices with friends or associates.
Analyzing Review Tasks on Posts
Moderators have a new tool to list the review tasks performed on a post. Similar to observing flag history, posts now have a review history that can be studied. It’s available from any post that has had /review actions.
From any post → ‘mod’ » ’show review history’
Votes Analysis Tool Update
We have improved the voting analysis tool used to examine voting trends from one user against others, especially on the end of invalidated votes.
From the user profile → ‘mod’ » ‘info’ tab » ’votes’
Separate instances of vote invalidation is shown as separate events. The date of each incident is also displayed. Additionally, we now display invalidations both incoming and outgoing on the user.
System messages are now unavailable
System messages (a bit of text displayed near the top of every page on the site) have always been intended for system-critical notifications – the site going into read-only mode for maintenance, zombie hordes attacking, etc. However, they were often used for rather more mundane events.
Some time ago, we added a Community Bulletin Board tool for non-critical announcements of general interest to the community. Now that it’s been out in the wild for a bit, we’ve removed moderator access to the system message tool.
New /help System
We always provide an avenue for users of our sites to contact us. Using information gathered from the volume of emails we received, we developed a new “help” page dedicated to answering a lot of the most common support questions. It can be found from the “contact us” link at the bottom of every page, and you can see Stack Overflow’s version here.
This may have been developed primarily to assist users who are heading to ask the team questions, but we hope it can still be helpful to our moderation team. The many links contained within, and the guides written for them, should be usable for meta, chat, and comment inquiries from new users who run into these issues.
Changes to MigrationAfter many discussions regarding the complications that arise from migrating old and highly voted questions from the larger sites over to smaller sites, we have implemented some new regulations and systems regarding migration. First, migrations are no longer permitted for questions older than 60 days. This is a simple block that prevents the migration from happening, even from moderators. Should it be important to move older posts, there is an alternative method for performing these. It’s a three step process. First, the destination site will build a listing of questions which would be acceptable to migrate. Then, the source and destination communities will confer together and help confirm which posts are valid to move over, by vetting the losses. Finally, once the two communities have come to a consensus, the list can be brought before the Stack Exchange Team to perform a one-time migration of all the posts.
New Under-Age User PolicyWe have amended the process for handling users who are found to be less than 13 years of age. Suspension until they reach the required age is no longer a valid option as it still leaves potentially sensitive information online. Therefore, the new policy is to please send any discovery of such individuals to the Community Team. We will handle the disposal of the user’s private and identification data. You can reach us through firstname.lastname@example.org.
PlagiarismWe have added a new template to the selection of pre-written moderator messages that you can work from when sending a message to a user. This message is for handling users who are plagiarizing their posts from other sources, be it in our network or completely external. Below is an excerpt from it.
It has come to my attention that several of your answers consisted primarily or entirely of text copied from other answers or websites, without any indication that you were quoting nor any reference to the source of the text. Such plagiarism disrespects those authors who put effort into the original answers, and will not be tolerated.
Enhancements to /review SystemAs announced much earlier in the year, we implemented a /review system to help reduce the load on moderators. It is aimed at streamlining the access of normal users to the elements that need their privileges (namely, editing and closing). Two new features have been introduced in the past months. First, there is what we call “audit” tasks. These are items in the review queue that are not actual items from the site, but rather tests to confirm that users are actually paying attention. Their job is to catch users who would blow through the queue without proper review. Information on failed audits is logged (and the reviewer chided) – repeated failures may result in users being blocked from /review for some period of time (we’re currently sending warnings and imposing blocks manually). Second, the much-requested “reopen queue” has been introduced. The sister component to the close queue, this queue contains questions that have votes to reopen them. Reviewers may elect to further vote for reopening, or to opine that the question should stay closed (one moderator “leave closed” response – or three such responses from ordinary users – will remove the post from the queue).
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.