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Inspired by this SF&F meta question, and given the upcoming moderator election, I thought it would be interesting to ask current and past moderators what it’s like to moderate U&L. (Blatant copying and pasting follows. All credit to TheLethalCarrot, Snow, and Monica Cellio.)

To be absolutely clear, this is about moderators’ perception of their own role, not what they’d like to see in moderators.

What do you love about the moderator job on Unix & Linux?

How do you spend your moderation time? Which tasks take the largest amounts of time? And roughly speaking, how much time do you spend on moderation tasks (not counting your “just plain user” time like asking and answering questions)?

What have been your biggest challenges as a moderator? Without revealing privileged information, can you talk about how you (personally and collectively) have addressed them?

What’s on your “moderator wish list”, and why is it important? By “wish list”, I mean things you would like to do as a moderator, but haven’t got round to yet (as opposed to qualities you would like to see in moderators).

What advice do you have for somebody considering this job? What are the questions people should be asking but aren’t?

How do you balance your “moderator time” with “regular user time”? Do you still feel like participating as a regular user after performing your moderator tasks?

  • A question for the future (I believe I asked it in chat this round): how many of the moderator-only duties are available through a mobile device's web browser? – Jeff Schaller Mar 22 at 0:59
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What do you love about the moderator job on Unix & Linux?

I actually enjoy cleaning up. I have no idea why, and anyone who has ever lived with me would be very quick to tell you this isn't a general feature of my character, but I am proud of this resource we're all building together and it is rewarding to do my bit to help it along.

Also, being a mod gives you considerable insight into the workings of the community and of SE as a whole and that is really an interesting perspective. Whatever your opinion on SE as a company, I think that it's clear that they've managed to build a great tool here and I like being a part of that.

How do you spend your moderation time? Which tasks take the largest amounts of time? And roughly speaking, how much time do you spend on moderation tasks (not counting your “just plain user” time like asking and answering questions)?

I don't really know how much time I spend on moderation tasks, to be honest. I currently have 11 SE tabs pinned in my default browser session. On a regular day, I will have work stuff on one workspace and SE stuff on another. So whenever I need a break from work I'll just swing over to the other workspace and see what SE has to offer. But it's really hard for me to quantify how much time I give to each part of my activity here since they tend to be very intertwined. I may handle a flag one minute and then post an answer in the next.

Roughly speaking, however, mod tasks on this site don't take that much time. We rarely have very many flags (I don't think I've even seen 20 at one time), so dealing with those doesn't usually take too long. Dealing with the occasional drama can take much, much longer, but that isn't too common.

What have been your biggest challenges as a moderator? Without revealing privileged information, can you talk about how you (personally and collectively) have addressed them?

The biggest challenge for me has been dealing with specific users who for a variety of reasons haven't been happy with the site, with other users or with me. I have spent hours in private chat rooms trying to sort out the various problems that inevitably arise when you get a bunch of opinionated nerds like ourselves in one place. This has at times been very frustrating, but it has also been very rewarding. Those times when I have managed to convince a user that we're not actually so bad, and have gotten them to understand what was going wrong are priceless.

What’s on your “moderator wish list”, and why is it important? By “wish list”, I mean things you would like to do as a moderator, but haven’t got round to yet (as opposed to qualities you would like to see in moderators).

I've long toyed with the idea of having contests. Say see who can answer the most old unanswered questions in a week or something. SE has been known to offer site swag for things like that and it would be nice to improve our answer to question ratio.

Back when I was first elected, I also thought it would be nice to highlight users who've had a particularly meteoric rise in rep. For example, the user who gained the most rep in a month (but only counting things posted that month, else Gilles would always win). Then we could give them a cookie congratulate them on meta. I was thinking this might be a nice thing for new users who've gotten invested in the site. Sort of a user of the month thing.

One thing I really need to find the time to do is open a meta discussion about what we really want to do with Kali questions...

What advice do you have for somebody considering this job? What are the questions people should be asking but aren’t?

Be ready to handle complaints. Be patient and fair but remember that you will make mistakes. When you do, own up to them, fix them as best you can and move on.

As for questions, I think most of the "important" ones are included in the election questionnaire boilerplate SE posted. I think mod candidates should be aware that the primary responsibility is janitorial. We really don't have as much POWAH as some users seem to think. We have some, sure, and we have access to some information not publicly available, but we are also limited in what we can do. Our main job is to keep things running smoothly, so if you're in it for glory, look elsewhere.

How do you balance your “moderator time” with “regular user time”? Do you still feel like participating as a regular user after performing your moderator tasks?

I definitely post fewer answers since becoming a mod. Moderating does take up some of the time I would otherwise have devoted to answers. I was the third user by rep not so long ago, and have now been overtaken by a couple of users who used to be yapping at my heels! At least they both know a lot more about *nix than I do, so it's not all bad :).

But I haven't stopped altogether (stats are from 2019-02-08 to 2019-03-08):

terdon's stats


Overall, I have greatly enjoyed being a mod here. I am very proud of this community and moderating it has been a very rewarding experience. Although I now also moderate two other sites, U&L will always be special to me.

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    I like your idea about contents & Kali. We should def. do both of these. – slm Mar 12 at 13:44
  • I've only just read this answer now and found it very insightful. You neglected to mention that you're also a moderator on askubuntu (though that site has a lot more moderators to share the workload with). Many thanks for all the good work you do in maintaining this resource and community. – Anthony Geoghegan Mar 15 at 18:08
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    @AnthonyGeoghegan you're very welcome, and thank you for your kind words. I didn't mention Ask Ubuntu (or Bioinformatics) since this was about being a mod here, not there :) – terdon Mar 15 at 19:59
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What do you love about the moderator job on Unix & Linux?

I find it quite enjoyable being a moderator. The other 2 mods are fantastic people and I only wish I could know them in the real world but gladly accept knowing them at least online.

As with any job there are ups and downs. From a pros side:

  • I'd say the most meaningful and rewarding aspect to the job is still being able to help nurture others as they're either coming into U&L or are coming into new areas. within either of these spaces.
  • Exposure to more of the backside of how the SE sites function.
  • Further insights into the meta aspects of helping a social community online function.
  • Learning from both SE staff and other moderators how to successfully steward a thriving online community.
  • Being a moderator has helped recruit more real world people to the SE platform as well as U&L.

How do you spend your moderation time? Which tasks take the largest amounts of time? And roughly speaking, how much time do you spend on moderation tasks (not counting your “just plain user” time like asking and answering questions)?

Typical day is probably 30 mins to 3 hours of site + moderator type work. For eg. if I've been using the site for 1 hour, mod work is typically 20-25% of that time on a given day. Some days it's higher but other days it can be lower.

Types of Mod Tasks

  • Going through queues and also dealing with flags and meta site questions.
  • Looking through mod dashboards, investigating anything that appears to be a potentially inappropriate use of the site.
  • Deal with any abusive comments or flair ups in comments.
  • Sock puppet and/or inappropriate use investigation.
  • Following up with upstream SE staff & directly interacting with users.
  • Merging & protecting Q's and A'ers.

What have been your biggest challenges as a moderator? Without revealing privileged information, can you talk about how you (personally and collectively) have addressed them?

The biggest issue(s) in the last few years have been in the sock puppet category IMO. This has become a growing area that pretty much didn't exist on our site when I first became a user & then a mod. This is a growing issue across all of SE and so there are ways that it's dealt with, but some of that relies squarely on the mods diligence in protecting the site.

The other area is in dealing with personalities. Being a Unix & Linux site we have that in spades 8-).

But so what, whether online or real world, people learning to co-exist has always been a problem and trying to navigate that can be both rewarding and frustrating at times.

What’s on your “moderator wish list”, and why is it important? By “wish list”, I mean things you would like to do as a moderator, but haven’t got round to yet (as opposed to qualities you would like to see in moderators).

item #1

Our site is fairly tame when you start to talk about it vs. some of the other SE sites. Our site has struggled with how best to deal with new users to U&L. I'd like us to come up with a much more polished policy around this so that we can all agree on it and then refer new users to it vs. what many new user's have been encountering when they first interact with our site.

I think this is a critical item to get a handle on since this is the primary way our site cultivates new users to contribute. Our continued push back in this area has hurt our site IMO.

item #2

Our site has done a poor job of advertising itself in the outside world. I'd like to see it more actively partner with Red Hat and other companies to make its presence known to the rest of the U&L community. Too many times I've been to various conferences and encountered a "What's that?" type of response to U&L as a "thing" on the Internet.

To be fair, this a common problem outside of Stackoverflow for SE as a whole, but this is something that many of us who hold status in the real world in the U&L community can help to facilitate.

What advice do you have for somebody considering this job? What are the questions people should be asking but aren’t?

I would encourage anyone that frequents the U&L site to consider being a moderator. People that work the queues and generally care about the welfare of U&L as a valuable resource on the Internet would find immense joy in being a mod, IMO.

How do you balance your “moderator time” with “regular user time”? Do you still feel like participating as a regular user after performing your moderator tasks?

This is probably the biggest challenge.

After dealing with mod issues for the last couple of years my energy to answer Q's has been used toward this endeavor more so vs. answering Q's. I would say that I've gotten much more out of being a mod because it's helped me to work on "meta" skills in learning how to see multiple sides of an issue, and learning how to see the world from other people's perspectives. These skills have been hugely helpful in growing in my day job as well.

Some of this comes with age, but I like to think that some of that came from being a mod as well 8-).

Resources

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    Are we having many new users, or a lot of abuse on discardable/drive by users to avoid playing by the rules/not investing on quality questions/sidestepping the gaming side of the site? – Rui F Ribeiro Mar 6 at 18:58
  • @RuiFRibeiro - no it's more well thought out than that. – slm Mar 6 at 19:11
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    You are now talking about sock puppet organised rings no? On a more simple level, I have some drive by accounts who are purposely sarcastic and rude to anyone doing moderation. – Rui F Ribeiro Mar 6 at 19:17
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    @RuiFRibeiro - correct – slm Mar 6 at 19:25
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    One of those days I really noticed in a short period of time half a dozen questions with the same writing style with "rep 1" users. – Rui F Ribeiro Mar 7 at 13:20
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    Moving on to other things, I do agree with the marketing/advertising part. I pratically stumbled on this site by accident, maybe searching for something in Google, or maybe while I was doing the Linux certifications, cannot remember the specifics. – Rui F Ribeiro Mar 7 at 13:26
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What do you love about the moderator job on Unix & Linux?

For me it's mostly about being able to fix things. Most reputation-based privileges on Stack Exchange are about unlocking the ability to cleanup new classes of problems -- being able to edit or even rewrite posts by yourself, then closing them, deleting them. Being a mod is mostly just another step that lets you handle new things, like cleaning up old comments on a post, dealing with comments that are posted as answers, redacting information from posts, merging accounts, dealing with sockpuppets and other types of vote fraud, and helping users with specific one-off problems they ask about. Also I get a lot of use out of the company yacht.1

How do you spend your moderation time? Which tasks take the largest amounts of time? And roughly speaking, how much time do you spend on moderation tasks (not counting your “just plain user” time like asking and answering questions)?

I check flags first thing every time I open the site, but it's usually no more than 10 minutes to get through them. The worst type of flag is probably excessive comments (posts are automatically flagged after 20 comments), because trying to figure out which comments are still useful, which have already been incorporated into the post and can be deleted, and which are just noise usually takes multiple passes of reading the entire thread.

What have been your biggest challenges as a moderator? Without revealing privileged information, can you talk about how you (personally and collectively) have addressed them?

I am easily frustrated by, to put it bluntly, stupidheads. As discussed above, I got into this to cleanup the content on the site. Deleting useless comments and non-answers brings me peace, and deleted comments rarely look up my personal e-mail address to send me hate mail about how I deleted all their sockpuppets and how are they supposed to get upvotes now and don't I have anything better to do? Fortunately jackasses stupidheads are relatively uncommon.

What advice do you have for somebody considering this job? What are the questions people should be asking but aren’t?

You really need to be interested in cleaning up content, that's pretty much the entire job. Most flags are either "this comment isn't a comment" or "this answer isn't an answer", and you read it, probably read the question, determine if the flag is true, and possibly delete stuff. Repeat forever. Fortunately our flag volume is pretty low and there's already three of us, so if you don't feel like dealing with a particular flag you can just pretend you never saw it and wait for terdon to handle it.2

How do you balance your “moderator time” with “regular user time”? Do you still feel like participating as a regular user after performing your moderator tasks?

Uh...not well:

I'm not particularly active in asking/answering anymore, but that holds true across all of Stack Exchange unless I happen to stumble on something that I know the answer to that hasn't already been covered. It's rare to see good questions here that don't get good answers quickly, so I don't generally need to post anything, and I'm happy to let other people cover things.


1 There is no yacht.
2 I have never done this.

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    For many years, I was a moderator of a web forum and the administrator of a number of mailman lists and I considered the role to be the online equivalent of a janitor. Given the non-existence of the yacht, it sounds like you have a similar perspective. :) One aspect of Stack Exchange that I really like is that, as a normal user, I can dip in and out of the review queues, depending on available time and cognitive energy levels. Anyhow, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you, terdon and slm for all the good work you collectively do as diamond moderators. – Anthony Geoghegan Mar 7 at 12:06
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    "if you don't feel like dealing with a particular flag you can just pretend you never saw it and wait for terdon to handle it." LOL – Rui F Ribeiro Mar 7 at 13:21
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    I concur we're very lucky to have @terdon here, he's extremely generous w/ his time and deals w/ A LOT. Michael is also awesome to have since he's been doing this for so long he's a terrific leader in keeping things in perspective and how to handle X. – slm Mar 7 at 13:51

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