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Right at the outset, let me clarify that this is not a meta post to question the year-long suspension of rand al'thor. While I do not fully understand the necessity of this ban, I believe that if two moderators and a community manager have decided to take this drastic step of banning the top user of the community, the reason would be justified considering the information they have that the rest of us don't. What concerns me is the impact that rand's absence will have on PuzzlingSE.

I believe no one would argue if I said that rand has been the source of a huge volume of quality questions and answers in this community. While I am personally not very prolific in the math tag, I have always appreciated his math based questions. He has been actively providing top quality answers as his large rep clearly proves. Following the year-long ban, we will undoubtedly be missing out on a huge volume of quality posts. There are a few ways that we could deal with it that do not involve reinstating him. (While I would welcome his reinstatement, I do not believe in a mob movement to make it happen.)

  • rand should create another sockpuppet account so that the rest of us can still have access to the quality content that he churns out. Although I am not sure how rand would take to this suggestion, especially since he's been issued a ban from the community which would benefit greatly from his presence. Additionally, I am not sure that using a sockpuppet to circumvent the ban actually serves the purpose of the ban.

  • rand could channel his content through another user. d'alar'cop is a friend of rand as far as I know and he could post on behalf a rand, attribute the question to rand and then convert the question to community wiki (so he isn't the recipient of rep points that should've gone to rand). Again, I am unsure how rand would take to this suggestion.

Any other suggestions regarding the best possible solution to maintain the quality of PuzzlingSE would be welcome. A reminder: This meta post is not about why rand was banned, but rather about how we can deal with this absence to maintain the site's quality.

NOTE:
I have previously been accused of being a sockpuppet of rand. While I can shout at the top of my lungs here claiming I am not, I believe a mod would be the best person to confirm that I am indeed a different entity from rand.

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    $\begingroup$ Your first suggestion is against the rules. For the second, they may accuse me of spamming rand corp. #FreeTheSE1 $\endgroup$ – d'alar'cop Aug 31 '15 at 6:07
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How do we move past rand's suspension? It's simple, really. Ladies and gentlemen, it's time we make room for the new king of Puzzling.SE: Bailey M.

Please, hold your applause.

[End unofficial block.]


Guys, this sucks. We all know it sucks. Rand posted a lot of sweet math puzzles (which I cannot for the life of me solve nor imitate in any real fashion) as well as plenty of exciting, interesting riddles (which I can both solve and imitate, but who knows what was next in that big ol' brain of his?). We're going to miss his content here.

BUT, as Emrakul already pointed out, it's not like he was the only contributor to this site. There might be one or two fewer puzzles a day, as well as a few puzzles that stay open for a bit longer without answers, but at the end of the day, this will only be a minor blip on the content level of this site. Rand was a prolific poster, and he was consistent, but he certainly wasn't the reason that PSE was successful. There are still quite a few of us kicking around that made/make PSE into what it is today and what it will be in the future.

I think the best way to move past this is not to shun the moderators, or worry about the site's content, or anything like that. Let's just keep posting puzzles and answering other people's puzzles. If an issue of low quality or quantity content pops up, I know the moderators are dedicated to dealing with it. We're gonna be fine!


P.S. It's important to note that policy for site bans, as far as I understand it, is first ban gets you a week, second ban gets you a month, third ban gets you the year. So either the moderators dun goofed, or rand has done stuff like this before. Not that a past history is a reason to ban someone, because it's certainly not, but after two bans already, we as a community can't be too shocked that rand has found his way under the banhammer for a third time.

P.P.S. The idea of rand making a sockpuppet to post questions is pretty much exactly circumventing the ban. I think you know as well as I do that those suggestions are silly and not at all realistic.

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    $\begingroup$ All hail overlord Bailey! Long live the king! Now just stop posting for a while so I can try to catch up :P $\endgroup$ – NeedAName Aug 31 '15 at 18:22
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Truthfully, neither of these options is in the spirit of a suspension. They would be equivalent to unsuspension (though for the second, it'd be more work for someone else, and they'd likely end up suspended too).

[End official block.]


I'm going to be honest. I acknowledge that rand was a particularly significant contributor to Puzzling, and it's not as though we aren't thankful for what they've done. In a year, if they'd like, they're welcome back to the site, and it's important to remember this. A year-long suspension doesn't mean "get out, we never want to see you again;" it really does mean "come back in a year, and hopefully we can all move past this."

People change a lot in a year, and it's also a long time to clear the air. I hope that a year from now, the Puzzling mods don't have to look into rand's moderation history. I would be particularly unhappy if it came to this again.

As far as moving on... (i.e. to actually answer your question)

rand wasn't the only contributor to the site. It's you all who have made this site what it is. As far as Stack Exchange sites go, despite the rough road getting here, I think we've been fairly successful. It's not fair to the majority of the users on Puzzling.SE to attribute that success to rand alone, and it's also not fair to believe the our success in the future hinges on rand. I don't want to minimize rand's contributions, but it's important to acknowledge that they've been one among many who have made the site what it is.

Long story short? We've grown a lot - we have over a hundred active contributors a day. If we can't recover from this naturally, then we need to take a serious closer look at our community's health and what's supporting it long-term.

I doubt the community will see much turbulence, unless you chose/choose to follow what happens (and even then, hopefully it's a minimum). Recovering won't take long, and truth be told, I don't think it'll be rough. I think we'll all be a bit more relaxed if we take a moment to acknowledge that rand has done a notable amount for the site, and then acknowledge that the rest of us can do it, too - and have been for quite a while.


As a final note, if something has become unclear, or you're confused about something we can clarify (i.e. general policy not pertaining to a specific user), definitely feel free to ask.

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Losing the top user on a site is, unfortunately, not unprecedented. Whether because of death or life circumstances (I'm pleased to see I'm no longer the top user on Hermeneutics) or for reasons unknown, people stop contributing to a site they've previously been active in. While we can't know for sure how these events set a site back, we can say that sites beyond a very low level of activity have no difficulty surviving the loss of a top user. That's because a community is bigger than just one person. Currently, there are 833 avid user and over two full pages of users with access to moderator tools. No matter how prolific, one user does not make or break an otherwise healthy site.

I expect rand al'thor is the sort of person who will continue seeking an outlet for riddling. In fact, he's been part of a collective that set up a site for that very purpose: the Riddler's Den. As of this writing, there are 20 riddles there. Since it's a site dedicated to riddles, the formatting is more appropriate for the task than an engine that started life as a way for programmers to ask and answer their technical questions. (I've discovered the pain of mixing ordinary quotations with spoilers.) Check it out; it has a lot of potential.

It seems to me that Puzzling—Stack Exchange took a significant turn when this question was settled:

http://meta.puzzling.stackexchange.com/questions/1601/is-it-time-for-us-to-disallow-challenge-only-questions

Notice that the suggestion was jointly posed by the moderators and the community largely rejected the idea. To their credit, the moderators submitted to the direction the community prefered. The team has gone out of their way to embody our theory of moderation:

Even with active community self-regulation, moderators occasionally need to intervene. Moderators are human exception handlers, there to deal with those (hopefully rare) exceptional conditions that should not normally happen, but when they do, they can bring your entire community to a screaming halt—if you don't have human exception handling in place.

Suspending a top user is an exceptional situation par excellence.

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    $\begingroup$ You just did what he was suspended for. You literally promoted the site. $\endgroup$ – warspyking Oct 7 '15 at 23:07
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    $\begingroup$ @warspyking: There is nothing wrong with recommending a website or whatnot. The suspension reason displayed in this case refers to the self-promotion policy. Anticipating your response, the help center describes the difference between a healthy and a flawed approach to talking about off-site projects. It's a matter of respecting the purpose of the community and not abusing the trust of other users. As I've said elsewhere, the backstory of this suspension is complicated. $\endgroup$ – Jon Ericson Oct 7 '15 at 23:56
  • $\begingroup$ How complicated? $\endgroup$ – warspyking Oct 8 '15 at 0:10
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    $\begingroup$ @warspyking: Considerably. $\endgroup$ – Jon Ericson Oct 8 '15 at 0:38
  • $\begingroup$ rand himself has told me he don't even know full details on his suspension. And to the majority of users here, it all looks like a misunderstanding. $\endgroup$ – warspyking Oct 8 '15 at 1:21
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    $\begingroup$ Also the page you linked me to says "and if some (but not all) happen to be about your product or website, that’s okay. However, you must disclose your affiliation in your answers." which he did. It was only one post. $\endgroup$ – warspyking Oct 8 '15 at 1:23
  • $\begingroup$ @JonEricson I am new here (well new enough to not know Rand al'thar), is there an official reason for his ban ? $\endgroup$ – Fabich May 31 '16 at 15:11
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Just a thought, if I'm keying into the user-in-question's humour correctly, then I think the U.I.Q. has likely already moved on/gotten over it and will be back in a year. The focus of the site is on Puzzling [Beta] , not personality cultism or individual user rock star status. On the upside the U.I.C. has a year to whip up a brand new arsenal of riddles/puzzles.

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Concerning learning from past events to get to a better future, two major points are being missed:

  1. Collective accounts, even when set up in good faith and in a completely up-front fashion, are against the SE Terms and Conditions, which clearly state (term 1, 2nd paragraph, 1st sentence) that a subscriber to SE must be an individual.

  2. Moderators don't have the authority to waive this provision in the ToS. While they're not required to have perfect knowledge of the ToS or to take responsibility for enforcing them, let alone interpreting them, it is surely good practice for them to notify admin when such an account is created so that admin can decide whether the provision in the ToS should be disregarded.

Very important, massive great edit

I think maybe by staying strictly with the facts here I may have failed to make my point clear. The fact that a collective account is against the SE rules, and the simplicity of that fact, and the fact that this hasn't even been mentioned on PSE until I just mentioned it, shows just how appallingly badly the mods handled the whole business with the collective @MinderDaemon account.

Nobody disputes that that account was set up in a completely above-board and honest way, by four named existing users.

The moderators should have known that a subscriber has to be an individual. That's not a difficult fact that you need to be a highly experienced lawyer to understand. It's just as straightforward as the requirement that all users be at least 13 years old. It's all right to say that user individuality is not a matter directly affecting site content (neither is user age), but let's be serious here and recognise that moderators should have a basic knowledge of the rules and the terms under which people subscribe to SE sites. Yes, even if legally they're not agents of SE Incorporated. Let's note too that moderator @Emrakul is happy to talk about other aspects of those rules and terms at considerable length, here on Meta, in his effort to set the confines of the community discussion about mod policy on the promotion of other sites which has arisen after his and @Doorknob's decision to ban @Randalthor for a year.

The moderators assure us that the decision was given great consideration before they finally signed off on it, and that they sought advice from an SE official, who backed them. Look, OK, they probably didn't know the rule. Or they did but they thought it wasn't material. There aren't really any other possibilities. But if the whole business had been properly reviewed at that stage (which obviously it should have been), why didn't they realise that the reasonable course of action when the rule-breaking @MinderDaemon account was created would have been for them - or perhaps more appropriately for admin, having been informed by them - to write to the account, maybe copying in each of the four individual accounts, saying "Sorry guys, collective accounts aren't allowed on SE"?

Then none of this would have happened.

Whichever way you look at it, the matter of the setting up of an account in clear breach of the rules should have been considered prior to what was done with that account. And if by error that didn't happen at first, then it should have happened during the long and serious consideration and certainly when the matter went to the official.

Lest there be any disagreement here, let's recall that no-one has been accused of using their individual account to carry out excessive and suspension-deserving promotion of the other site. It's what was done with the collective account - which should never have been set up, but which everyone agrees was set up in good faith - that was the stated reason for the suspension.

Whose fault is it that the route wasn't taken of simply notifying the guys that they'd unwittingly broken the rules? Well mainly it's the moderators' fault. Partly it's probably also the fault of whoever in admin is responsible for ensuring that moderators know how to do their jobs properly and for ensuring that the terms and conditions aren't obviously breached. But this appears to me to be such a massive dun goof, compounded by the letter the moderators sent notifying @Randalthor of his suspension (which he has published), and compounded by their wriggling about saying they can't reveal details because it would compromise his privacy (when he's publicly given them permission to reveal details), and by @Emrakul's attempts to set the limits of the debate about the decision he himself was part of (there's a massive conflict of interest there), that I'm going to say what a lot of people are saying privately:

the moderators have acted incompetently, and they still don't get how they have acted incompetently.

So if you agree with the statement that

the decision to suspend @Randalthor for a year was wrong

please upvote this answer.

And if you do not agree with that statement, please downvote this answer.

I am not au fait with SE site graduation practices and moderator elections, but it was said recently in the chat room that the amount of traffic that is generally speaking considered sufficient, if sustained, to justify graduation, is usually reached by PSE when @Randalthor is here and, when he's not, it's kind of almost but not quite reached.

I have no doubt that those who are so inclined could engage in all sorts of "edge case" discussions about that. I'm certainly not going to. But it seems to me that it does suggest that now is a pretty good time for there to be moderator elections. That can be an important air-clearing ingredient in how this community moves forward.

Moderators here aren't elected at the moment, but there needs to be a community response to their decision, and so long as this post doesn't get removed, or made unvotable on, there will now be such a response (even if it's silence!). I am quite sure that once the moderators have taken on board what that response is, they will realise the importance of considering their position.

"How do we move past the absence of our top contributor" is the wrong question because it begs the question that needs to be aired: was the suspension right? Nobody is calling for "mob rule". It is legitimate for that question to be considered in a grown-up way by the community here on meta. The decision is capable of reversal.

I am quite surprised that nobody has asked that question here already, but this is the right place to raise it, because at the end of the day all decisions by moderators are supposed to be about helping the community function well. Every member of a community has the right to have an influence on how a community functions. The recent decision has certainly affected us a lot. Has it helped this community function well or hasn't it?

I have tried to phrase the key question here as simply as possible: was the decision right or wrong? Have your say.

Since the usual definition of "sockpuppet" involves an intent to deceive, this is the wrong word, as is "spamming", in relation to what has actually been done. (Both are appropriate, of course, in the larger context, but I am talking about their specific use in relation to the relevant known actions.) They obscure the matter of the SE rules and the question of whether the mods completely dun goofed. I do not want to insult anyone, but I'm sorry but I'm going to have to be negative here. Two of the moderators have seemed motivated by a kind of petty-official desire to control stuff and to argue like the most barrack-roomy of cod lawyers (or is it nightclub bouncers: we don't make the 365-day rule?) for their decision, and @Emrakul seems hell-bent on trying to dominate how the decision that he himself co-made is viewed by the community (plagiarism is a complete red herring). That's a far cry from acting as the "human exception handlers" that @JonEricson envisages as the proper role for ideal mods. And even @JonEricson is missing something important when he talks about human exception handlers and then talks about the exceptional circumstance of the suspension of the top user. Yes, that suspension is exceptional - but it's not a circumstance that the moderators are faced with and are handling; it's a circumstance they decided to cause! Something did come up, yes - the creation and use of the collective account - but when it did, it seems that the mods showed no awareness of the SE rules and spectacularly went off on one.

The pre-existing and existing policy is that some promotion of other sites is allowed - albeit, and understandably, only in small amounts - but what @Randalthor did was so small that really you have got to stand on your head and get into ridiculous contortions to say that it could have been any smaller without vanishing, and once you've realised that, you have to conclude that it doesn't deserve being kicked out for a year for. (It can also be pointed out that all four users are co-responsible for that account, so why single out the guy who clicked the button?) Remarkably, @JonEricson's answer above actually promotes the aforementioned site more than any of its owners have ever done in any question, answer or comment on the SE website! He says it's a good site, worth your attention, which is promotion in the literal sense. Something is clearly amiss.

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  • $\begingroup$ mob rule over mod rule $\endgroup$ – d'alar'cop Sep 9 '15 at 10:45
  • $\begingroup$ Accountability. For the community to thrive, somewhere along the line there have to be checks and balances, just as there were on the challenge question issue. The only other option is if you don't like something, big or small, and if lots of people don't like something that's big, then the only recourse is to vote with your feet. That's not the precedent here. It's not common sense either. $\endgroup$ – h34 Sep 9 '15 at 12:13
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    $\begingroup$ Getting away with breaking a rule once isn't an excuse to then break more rules. Just because the 4-way sockpuppet was allowed to exist doesn't suddenly excuse anything that happened after it. $\endgroup$ – Bailey M Sep 9 '15 at 13:22
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    $\begingroup$ What "more rules", exactly? Moderation policies made later don't count, and in any case are in a different class from terms and conditions. "Sockpuppet" implies deceit, so it wasn't one of those. There isn't a "suddenly". What could have been done better, why wasn't it, and how can the answers to those questions allow things to improve? The atrocious way this was handled continues. The ban is still in force, and the whole discourse about "plagiarism" is distracting. $\endgroup$ – h34 Sep 9 '15 at 13:38
  • $\begingroup$ I don't understand the downvotes. I fear the users are too scared to agree. $\endgroup$ – warspyking Oct 7 '15 at 23:06

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