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?
These kinds of cases always need to be considered on their individual merits, since every person and every situation is different.
That said, my immediate response would be to try to defuse any active conflicts the user may be involved in, using the tools and authority available to me as a moderator. This could involve contacting the user privately, as well as removing any overheated and unproductive arguments and any individual comments that clearly cross the line.
In the long run, the two main questions I would ask myself (and other mods, if necessary) with regard to such a user would be:
Is there anything I can do to help this user behave in a manner that is less likely to put off others, and are they likely to actually change their behavior, if encouraged to do so?
If not, is this user's presence, on the whole, doing more harm than good to the site?
Sometimes, in any online community, hard decisions do need to be made, and sometimes that includes deciding that a particular contributor, while productive as an individual, is doing too much damage to the rest of the community. In such cases, it may be necessary to kindly tell that individual that, unless they can adjust their behavior to be less noxious, their participation is no longer welcome.
How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?
I would generally start by contacting that moderator, and discussing it with them. It might well turn out that it was a simple mistake, or that there might be reasons for the action that I was not aware of.
If the issue did turn out to be a genuine difference in opinion and/or interpretation of policy, I might seek a third opinion from other moderators, SE staff, and/or the site community (via meta). The same would apply if I was, for some reason, unable to contact the other moderator in a reasonable time.
I would not generally undo another moderator's action unilaterally, unless I was reasonably confident that action had been an obvious, unintentional mistake (e.g. a simple mis-click), or that the situation had changed sufficiently that the original reason no longer applied (e.g. a question closed by another mod as unclear was edited into shape).
In any case, if reverted myself, I would not repeat my action without discussing it — wheel wars are never a good thing.
In your opinion, what do moderators do?
As I noted in my nomination, I believe that there are two main parts to the job of a moderator:
On one hand, a moderator is a janitor — someone who makes sure the floors stay clean, someone you call in when the toilet is overflowing. In concrete terms, this involves things like handling flags, deleting crap and generally handling all the boring stuff (like, say, merging duplicates, migrating questions or editing comments) that only moderators can do. It's a dirty and often thankless job, but someone has to do it.
The other part of a moderator's job is to moderate — to step in when tempers get too hot and ensure that, despite our differences and misunderstandings, we all mostly get along. This is the (mostly) non-technical side of moderation, and is why we have the diamond after our usernames and, hopefully, a long temper. It means trying to understand where every user, no matter how seemingly difficult, is coming from; it means delving into heated disputes to understand what started them, and, more importantly, how to resolve them; and it also means, if necessary, gently but firmly telling a user that "this is not how we do things around here."
In any case, both parts serve the same overall goal: keeping math.SE running smoothly, so that all of us can enjoy it and learn from it.
A diamond will be attached to everything you say and have said in the past, including questions, answers and comments. Everything you will do will be seen under a different light. How do you feel about that?
I post under my real name, and generally try to avoid saying or doing anything that I wouldn't want my name associated with. I hope that, as a side effect, I've also managed to avoid doing anything foolish enough to embarrass math.SE as a whole, should I be elected as a moderator.
How would you use the powers conferred to moderators to be more effective than just the powers earned by standard users for hitting 10,000 or 20,000 reputation?
There are plenty of things that ♦ moderators can do that even 20k users cannot, such as handling custom flags, deleting and undeleting comments, merging duplicate questions and migrating questions to arbitrary sites (just to mention a few off the top of my head). I do hope that I will be able to contribute to the smooth operation of math.SE just by taking care of such chores.
Of course, moderators also need to deal with the interpersonal aspects of the community here on math.SE. I've been told that I have a long temper; I rarely get angry, and I generally try to understand both sides in an argument — both traits that I expect will come useful for a moderator.
Finally, I should admit that I have a specific personal interest in getting access to the moderator tools on Stack Exchange: I'm the maintainer and primary developer of SOUP, an unofficial client-side interface patch for Stack Exchange sites that fixes a number of bugs in the SE user interface and adds some missing features. While I've previously been able, with the help of other moderators, to include some improvements to the SE moderator interface in SOUP, becoming a moderator myself would allow me to do that much more easily, and also more generally to develop tools to facilitate the work of both myself and other moderators.
Have you ever been suspended? If so, provide particulars, including when, why, and for how long.
No, I've so far never had that pleasure. ;-) And yes, you're free to check that.
Since the meta site is a completely different website, where policy issues are handled, how versed are you in the meta site? If you're not posting many questions or answers there, do you at least follow it passively and read the discussions and the comments there?
I do try to keep an eye on the meta sites of any Stack Exchange site I participate on, so as to have an idea of how the community norms are evolving, and, when appropriate, to contribute my own two cents.
In addition to meta.math.SE, I also actively participate on the global meta.SE site, where network-wide Stack Exchange policy and technical issues are discussed. I would hope that, as a moderator here on math.SE, I would sometimes be able to bring a useful wider perspective to things.
What is the most serious problem facing Mathematics Stack Exchange today? And what would you hope to be able to do about that problem as a moderator?
I believe that the biggest "problem" math.SE is facing is that it's grown big. By total question volume, we're currently the second biggest SE site after Stack Overflow, edging out even Super User. By questions per day, the margin is even wider.
We have big city problems, now.
We're lucky in one way, though — we're only the second-biggest SE site. Many of the problems we're now facing here on math.SE are things that were problems on Stack Overflow already years ago:
- We have "problem statement questions." SO has "gimme teh codez!"
- We have endless low-quality homework problems. SO has endless PHP questions. ;-)
- We have users gaming the automatic deletion system to get old, marginal questions deleted. On SO, people wish they had more users doing that.
OK, I may have been a bit facetious with some of the examples above, but the point stands: SO has faced many of our hurdles before, and survived. (Note that I say "survived" here, not "solved" — there's no magic bullet for most of these problems.) I believe that, as a community, we can learn from the experiences of other SE sites, including SO; both from the mistakes they've made, and from the practices they've found to work.
How would you personally prefer that so-called PSQs [Problem Statement Questions] be handled? Given the current policies and customs of the site, how do you think that they should in fact be handled?
Personally, I feel that questions consisting of just a problem statement, with no explanation of where the problem comes from or why a solution is needed, are generally bad questions. I downvote them when I see them, and encourage others to do the same. I also don't personally wish to contribute to cheating or other academic dishonesty, and thus try to avoid answering questions I suspect to be attempts at such.
On the community level, I feel that there really are only three effective options we could choose for dealing with such questions:
We could simply accept the existence of PSQs on math.SE, and learn to live with them. This would not mean that anyone would be personally compelled to answer or upvote such questions, but it would mean accepting that some members of the community do.
We could try to shift community consensus, and encourage more users not to answer such questions, but to downvote them off the front page instead. If, and only if, we can get a sufficient fraction of the active users on this site to agree that we don't want such questions here, this alone would be enough to deal with the problem.
Finally, there is the "nuclear option": set up a clear and definite policy permitting (and mandating) moderators to instantly close any and all questions consisting of only a problem statement on sight, using an explicit and specific close reason (e.g. "This question consists only of a problem statement with no accompanying explanation [...]. Such questions are not permitted on Mathematics Stack Exchange."), and to delete any answers to such questions.
Yes, this would be a drastic action, and would likely result in the loss of many valid and even valuable answers, and probably many contributors as well. I believe, however, that it would be the only possible way to force this issue, in the absence of an effective "grassroots" community consensus. Personally, I don't think such extreme measures are called for yet (if ever), but that's what it would take.
In any case, I don't really feel that the current "middle ground" practice, of a fraction of the community trying to close such questions by voting (using the generic "missing context" reason text), while another part is busy answering them, is particularly optimal for a number of reasons (which I started to enumerate here, and then realized that this isn't really the time nor the place, and this answer is long enough anyway). That said, as long as close-voting such questions is considered reasonable here, I obviously won't try to stop anyone from doing so. I do wish those people would at least also downvote them, too.
This is aimed to the candidates which do not have the Deputy badge, and no reviewer badges for the queues available to them. How do you think you'll handle flags, when you've yourself flagged successfully only a few times?
While my flag count here on math.SE is fairly low, I do actively flag problematic posts on any and all SE sites where I come across them. I currently have 235 helpful flags on Stack Overflow (out of 298 total), and I estimate my total network-wide flag count to be at least twice that. I believe that's enough to give a fairly good idea of how flagging works, at least as much as anything short of being a mod does.
(Also, as I noted above, I just might have a little bit more experience of how flags get handled than most non-moderators would.)
Do you expect being a moderator to affect your involvement in other aspects of the site (e.g., review queues, editing, posting questions/answers)? If so, in what ways? If not, why not?
Being a moderator takes time, and obviously that time has to come from somewhere, so I expect that, as a moderator, I will likely spend somewhat less time actually answering questions.
On the other hand, as a moderator on math.SE, I would certainly be spending more of my time on this particular site, and coming across more potentially interesting questions here, which might well increase my participation here (while, presumably, stealing time from other competing activities).
What is your opinion of efforts to delete questions that have correct answers? Does it matter whether they are votes to delete or downvoting to help the autodelete process apply to the question?
IMO, what matters most is not whether an answer is correct, but whether it's useful. For better or worse, the "long tail" of math.SE is full of trivial, over-specific questions with trivial over-specific answers that, while perfectly correct, are unlikely to ever help anyone except the original poster of the question.
That said, I'm certainly not saying that anyone should go on a massive deletion spree to eliminate all such old questions. Not only would that be a quixotic quest, but those long-tail questions and answers, while doing very little good to anyone, are also doing very little harm. Mostly, they just lie forgotten, deep in the dim-lit halls and dusty corridors of math.SE, and IMO, it's often best to just let them stay that way.
As for gaming the system by using "tactical" downvotes to push marginal questions under the auto-deletion threshold, I feel a bit ambivalent about that. On one hand, such tricks can be abused, and certainly it would be more open to just submit such questions to the normal deletion process. On the other hand, if a single downvote is enough to push a question below the threshold, it can't have been a very good question, or have had very good answers, to begin with (or else we have more serious problems with our voting process). Thus, while I'd like to see people first ask for community feedback before carrying out any large-scale "cleanup" campaigns like that, I can't really make myself get too worked up over small, isolated cases of such trickery.
(I am glad that the technical issue that made such automatic deletions irreversible for non-moderators has been fixed, though.)
As a moderator, you will often find yourself interfacing with upset users, resolving conflicts, or issuing suspensions for out of line behavior. These situations require empathy and emotional intelligence. Do you practice compassion in your non-mathematical life? In what ways have you prepared to facilitate a harmonious community?
I've been told, by several people I know, that I'm a very calm person, and hard to upset.
I was not always so — in fact, I used to have a lot of terrible tantrums as a child, over principles I was not willing compromise over, but I eventually grew out of it, as I realized that such behavior is generally not very productive, and that there are far better and more effective ways to make the world a better place than to dig in one's heels at every slightest perceived unfairness.
I do still tend to feel bad, at a visceral level, when I see someone being treated unfairly, through no apparent fault of their own. One thing that has changed for me, with maturity, is that I've come to realize that most conflicts in any human society — at any level, from playground fights to geopolitical crises — are, at their roots, based on some sort of miscommunication and the inability to see things from the other side's viewpoint. Thus, I generally try to see arguments from both sides, and to understand where the participants are coming from and why they might hold the beliefs and attitudes they do, even if I may not personally share them.
On a practical level, I do have quite a bit of experience with how interpersonal conflicts tend to develop in an online environment, where the lack of facial expressions, tone of voice and other instinctive emotional cues can often hinder communication. I've been on Usenet, with its often all but endless unmoderated flame wars, since the late 1990s, and a contributor and administrator on Wikipedia, with its often convoluted community politics, since the mid-2000s, and I believe both experiences have taught me a lot.
One lesson I learned on Usenet, and mentioned in my nomination for adminship on Wikipedia, is that "The endless arguments can be frustrating too, if one is personally involved, but when it gets too hot, I feel that the smart thing to do is to pull your head out of the fireplace, lay back and watch the flames from a safe and comfortable distance." Those are still words I try to live by.