Greetings, Puzzling friends! Here are my answers to the questions for Moderator nominees.
- A puzzle becomes tremendously popular, spawning many similar, easily-reproduceable variations. New users flock to the site, eager to post their own version of the puzzle, but some regulars feel that the new wave of puzzles are too simple and of low quality. How do you react and how do you respond? To give a more concrete example, imagine if we were getting 10 of these a day, some better than others. It could be that none of them are too broad, but it's evident for many of the newer ones that the poster didn't put in much thought/effort when constructing them.
Puzzle types "so simple anyone can make them!" will always pop up and attract new posters and, inevitably, result in some low quality puzzles. But the community does exactly what it should in response - good puzzles will be upvoted, and poor ones won't be (or will be downvoted into oblivion if they're truly bad). Genre fatigue will also set in if we're seeing too many of one type of puzzle, resulting in minimal upvoting or, eventually, reactionary downvoting. I think it would be a mistake to preempt the community's self-moderation by taking any response beyond what I'd do for any puzzle on the site - up/down-vote, and VTC/VTD if appropriate due to low quality, overbroadness, etc.
If it's a small number of users flooding the site with inferior puzzles (of ANY type), a word to them might be appropriate, but beyond that I would prefer to let things run their course. Numerous examples show that eventually the rash of low quality imitations dies off when it is no longer rewarding to the posters; I'd just let it do so.
Hopefully the newcomers will stick around long enough to see the glut of similar questions, understand that the later ones get diminishing returns, and will be motivated to try something less formulaic for their next puzzle.
- As a moderator, your votes are binding - close, delete, tag synonyms, etc. How will this change how you usually VTC/VTD?
Today I VTC/VTD when I see something deserving of it, because I know it takes multiple votes to be effective and I try to contribute to community policing of our site. Often, posts deserving VTC/VTD get addressed before I even see them, so the community handles these quickly and appropriately. If my vote were binding, I would trust the community to keep doing what it already does so well, and would reserve my vote for cases where it is the last vote anyway, or where action is not discretionary (e.g. questions from a competition — off-topic by policy) and need not wait for community consensus. A Moderator's vote should represent, not replace, the will of the community that elected them.
- Puzzling is very different from most sites on the network. What do you think should change to reflect this difference in the way the site actually works, rather than just the way we use the system that's already there? (E.g. the ability to reward questions more than answers, changes to the wording of the help centre, etc.) As a moderator, with an improved level of access to Stack Exchange employees, how would you seek to bring about such changes?
In honesty, I feel like PSE is so different from how Stack Exchange normally works that there are parts of our site that operate in spite of, rather than because of, the way SE is designed. I've spent some time reading through old requests for some of the changes I think would help us tailor the site to better meet PSE's unique aspects and have to say I've come away from that experience feeling uncertain that our community as a whole, and the Moderators that represent it, even have enough of a voice to effect those changes. So I have two thoughts here.
One, we're making it work regardless: even if we're forever fated to have to live within the constraints of the larger network's design, at least we know how to reward the more epic puzzle postings by upvoting "Wrap-Up" posts, or getting around verbiage deficiencies by adding our own more relevant comments where appropriate, and so on.
Two, it seems like the issues of more reputation for questions or more tailored verbiage have already been discussed at length, the community's opinions on these matters seem clear, and yet no change has yet to materialize; and I daresay it's not for lack of motivation or effort by the current Moderators. I would like to understand better some of the apparent inconsistencies in the tone and message of the responses to these requests to date, to see if the powers that be are telling PSE to merely frame the requests more completely, or if they're telling us it's not going to happen.
In any event, our site is a question-answer format, it just happens to be one where in most cases the purpose of a question is not to solicit information or a solution unknown to the poster, but rather to pose a challenge to the other members to solve the puzzle. It's true that this is not how most of the rest of the network operates, but we've already adapted what the network provides to make its format work for Puzzling; I don't see why our unusual makeup should automatically preclude us from being able to ask for changes to site mechanics that we could then repurpose to suit our unique needs. I want to see the greater effort needed to pose quality, interesting, challenging puzzles be commensurately rewarded with greater reputation, and would like to see us have greater control over verbiage so we can better tailor our help pages and our VTC/VTD reason text to reflect how PSE works.
- How much time do you think that you will be able to spend actively moderating every day? What is your usual activity pattern over the week?
I spend a lot of time here. PSE has become a permanent fixture on my browser, I'm probably on here to one extent or another a good 80 hours a week, and I generally keep current on new posts and active in chat when I'm on (and catch up after I return). I'm most active from about 3pm to 4am UTC, with somewhat less regularity on weekends. As a Moderator, everything I do would have "the diamond attached", but I would be ready to actively moderate any time I was on. I regularly look at review queues currently (several times a day, plus any time the review indicator is displayed or when I see something questionable), and I'd be as diligent with Moderation activities.
- With the diamond attached to everything you've said in the past, do you think you have represented the ideals of this community? And will you continue to do so in the future as you are held to a slightly higher/different standard?
Both here and elsewhere I always hold myself to a high standard, and I truly hope the past record of everything I have said and done here reflects this. While I make no claims of perfection, I cannot recall making any post or comment I wish I had not made, and believe I have not given anyone cause to accuse me of being a poor representative of this community, or of not upholding its ideals. As a Moderator I would be even more conscious of my duty to exhibit helpfulness in the face of confusion or inexperience, professionalism in the face of unreasonableness, level-headedness in the face of turmoil, all due transparency in the face of uncertainty, and accountability at all times to the faces of the community at whose pleasure I serve. I would be the representative I would want representing me, so as not to tarnish that Diamond.
- Not every user is well-informed about site policy, and many things on this site are not policy, but rather convention. What would you do if an established user began telling newer users (in comments or in chat) that they need to follow certain "rules" that are not in fact rules (either contrary to policy or simply convention)? Keep in mind that the established user probably believes (for whatever reason) that these are in fact "the rules".
This is something that, hopefully, no Moderator would have to deal with; there's nothing stopping any member of the community from challenging misinformation being spread as fact, and I would hope that would happen here as well. In any event, a response to the misinformed statement, politely pointing out that the "rule" this person is proselytizing about is in fact not a rule, should suffice; and if written policy or convention exists to contradict their position, I would cite it. If the person believes they speak for the community, but cannot show that they do, I would invite them to raise the question on Meta to find out what the community actually thinks. If they persist to the point of being divisive, I would probably raise the issue on Meta myself if it hadn't been yet. If the community decides against them, or forms no clear consensus for their position, then that person would be out of line in continuing to agitate for their so-called "rule" and Moderation escalation would be the next step, as it would be in any case where a user is disrupting the community.
As a final comment, someone being "established" does not make their opinion count more than anyone else's, and an argument of "I've been here for three years, I know what the rules are!" would be quite unavailing; if anything I would expect a long-time member to be more amenable to gentle correction or redirection to Meta, not less.
- Suppose someone posts a puzzle that you, and maybe a couple other users, don't think has a solution. But you also can't prove the absence of an answer, by definition. (Assume that, if you comment, the user isn't responsive or helpful. But please do mention if you would comment.) What do you do in this situation? Suppose the user is a new account, and this is their first question - does your action change?
There have been many puzzles I've seen here that, at first look, I didn't see any way to solve. But I would be a fool to assert that if I can't solve it, it must have no solution. I would do what I do today - nothing, initially. If the puzzle gets no answers, or all the answers are rejected, at some point I would (again) do what I do now - add a comment suggesting it may be time for a hint, or to give some feedback to the answerers to help guide them to the intended solution. If this is a new account and/or the user's first question, I might make those comments a little earlier or provide more detail (example links, or if appropriate, links to "What (Not) To Do" posts), but this wouldn't change my action significantly. Most puzzle setters want their puzzles to be solved, so will tend to add hints or provide more feedback when prompted (or, often, without prompting) — or else if they don't get an answer quickly they abandon their question and move on. Either way, short of the completely inappropriate action of closing/removing the question as presumed unsolvable, I don't think there's any action that could, let alone should, be taken.
- Suppose you observe a new user post their first attempt at creating a puzzle. The response is lukewarm, and the comments are helpful and posted in good faith. However, they're a little naive to the tone of constructive criticism, and as a result, come across... a little bit degrading and dismissive. (And maybe in your fair judgement, the commenters really are right: it's not bad, but it's not a great puzzle, and needs a bit of work.) There are a couple questions: How do you react to this situation? Do you respond to this situation at all? Suppose you see this becoming a problematic and frequent pattern. What do you do? I ask this question, because I do see this happen, and it's a situation that's always made me a little bit uncomfortable. I now know what I'd do, but it's taken me a while to figure it out, and it's definitely a personal stylistic decision.
Most puzzlers, I think, want to get better. and are eager for honest but constructive input on their puzzles. I've often heard it said that we're all here to improve, and I think most of the people leaving comments have good intentions at helping others improve the quality of the puzzles they post, but not everyone is equally adept at the constructive part of constructive criticism, so a well-meaning person might well leave a really off-putting comment.
I would want to avoid having the feedback to the puzzle-setter be overwhelming, either in tone or in volume; we've seen that happen, and had a Moderator suggest the torrent of well-intentioned commentary be scaled back, which is exactly what I would do as well. It's not very welcoming to a new poster if they feel the entire community is telling them that they or their puzzle are inferior — let's not let that happen!
If the same user is consistently coming off as abrasive in comments, I would try to reach out to them privately to suggest they observe the wording other people use when responding under similar circumstances, and suggest they try to similarly constructive — perhaps by adopting and adapting some of those responses for their own use. If the user persists in posting unsuitable comments, thus straying into "No effort to learn and improve over time" territory, Moderation action would be called for; see also my answer to the following question.
- How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?
While a steady stream of valuable content might provide some context as to whether or not a user should be given the benefit of the doubt regarding a questionable post or comment, nevertheless each submission to the site should be viewed independently. This cuts both ways; we judge the post, not the poster, and thus sometimes undelete content that is worthwhile even if the poster is deleted for cause. We should similarly judge the post, not the poster, if they post a comment that is at odds with the fundamental Stack Exchange model of Be Nice. The Penalty Box is explicitly there to address "patterns of problem behavior" including all the points under the Disruptive behavior heading of the Penalty Box page, pretty much all of which would be on point in this scenario. Moderation shouldn't be an immediate escalation to penalizing bad behavior; the goal is to educate the user. I would follow what I understand to be a fairly typical progression - commenting directly in response to problematic comments, if appropriate; removing abusive or blatantly non-constructive messages; trying to address the concerns with the user in private; formal Moderator warning messages/email; and then, if problems still persist, using the Penalty Box.
- How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?
Moderators are supposed to represent the community in their actions. If I felt someone was not doing so, or if I questioned the reasoning behind one of their actions, I would seek to discuss it with them, to understand why they took the action they did. Of course, Moderators are ideally well-established, conscientious persons who act with care and deliberation in the best interests of the site, so by default I would be looking at their action in the light most favorable to them, as their action was in all probability well-intentioned and likely made based in part on facts I'm unaware of. Especially if I was a new Moderator, I would want to learn from the situation, to understand why the Moderator believed their action was appropriate.
Regardless, Moderator actions are not absolute, nor infallible, nor permanent; well-established members of the community can collectively act to reopen or undelete messages, within certain boundaries, so if the community disagrees with an action by one of its Moderators they have some recourse. And there will always be, hopefully minor, differences of opinion about what to do with certain posts. But I think in general, the Moderators should be reacting to the requirements of site policy and to the consensus opinion of the community, not acting of their own volition; assuming all the Moderators are broadly following that philosophy, there shouldn't be a compelling reason to create divisiveness over a difference of opinion about an isolated case here and there, so I would be greatly disinclined to make a mountain out of a mole-hill. (If there was a pattern of such disagreements, that would be a different matter.)