The following is a "digest" version of the 2012 Moderator Election Town Hall Chat. The format, as described on Meta Stack Overflow, is one answer to this question for every question asked in the Town Hall, containing all the candidate's answers to that question.

To view the digest chronologically, please sort the answers by "oldest".

If you have questions or comments about this, please do not answer this question as the answers are designed to be used for the questions from the Town hall itself. Instead, please ask on the parent question or in the Town Hall Discussion Room.

If you see any corrections which need to be made to this digest, or if you were a candidate who was unable to attend the town hall and would like your answers included, please @Rebecca or @TimStone in the chat room and let us know!

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Note that not every single message is captured in this digest, since I had some difficulty reconciling all of the extended conversation threads with the format of the digest. Please see the chat transcript for the unabridged conversation. If I omitted anything directly related to what's been posted here, let me know which messages are missing and I'll gladly amend the digest. $\endgroup$
    – Tim Stone
    Commented May 9, 2012 at 4:48
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the work, Tim! Sorry I had to miss the event due to Time-Zone. $\endgroup$ Commented May 9, 2012 at 7:19
  • $\begingroup$ @TimStone Is it possible to contact the candidates that have not answered the questions and ask them to? $\endgroup$
    – Phira
    Commented May 9, 2012 at 8:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Phira I'll ask Rebecca about the possibility of reminding the remaining candidates that they can still answer. If they do provide answers, I'll be sure to pull their responses into the digest. $\endgroup$
    – Tim Stone
    Commented May 9, 2012 at 14:46
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Well done @TimStone, doesn't seem easy at all to put all those messages together like this. Thank you. $\endgroup$
    – Gigili
    Commented May 9, 2012 at 15:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Willie: I guess my suggestion to fly current moderators and candidates to a live chat in Dubai didn't work. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented May 9, 2012 at 19:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Asaf or we can go the route of the US Republican nomination process and schedule 12 more debates. $\endgroup$ Commented May 10, 2012 at 7:43

12 Answers 12


MaoYiyi MaoYiyi suggested: I would like to see something to protect a new user, that asked a poor question the first time. Not everyone that is going to come to MSE is going to be a college student with knowledge of how to ask a proper question. IE. they ask a question and it gets harshly downvoted and now they don't have the points to do anything.

Peter Tamaroff Peter Tamaroff answered: That is true. We need to create a welcoming policy.

Gigili Gigili answered: I think the way we treat them now is not that problematic. I thought about having a public comment to welcome them and warn them about FAQ rules and such things since I have seen posting that comment might to lead to some serious problems. But what I've seen was to post that comment and editing their questions to an acceptable form afterwards.

Gigili Gigili continued: But we need to be careful, welcoming a new user shouldn't condone wrong behaviors. As it is, questions are being asked in a format which the whole community agree about, every new user needs to learn it. We should be careful about the quality of the site more than a user who comes, asks some questions and vanishes into the thin air.

Gigili Gigili concluded: I was always against the behaviors and thought which might make the site look like a forum, there's a huge difference between normal forums on the internet and a Q&A site.


Alex Becker Alex Becker asked: I think the key to attracting experts is to have good questions. How would the candidates go about promoting good questions?

mixedmath mixedmath answered: This is a very good question. And I don't think it's at all easy to answer. I tend to read and upvote the questions that pique my interest, as I hope that most users do. There is an unfortunate problem here that more basic questions and answers sometimes get more votes simply because more people understand them. I don't know a good response to this problem, but I admit that it exists.

Bill Dubuque Bill Dubuque answered: One possibility is to attempt to rally the community to crowdsource improvement of poor questions ,so that there are many good examples to be seen. If all of the front-page questions are well-motivated, then its likely that new users will follow the model.

  • MaoYiyi MaoYiyi asked: Like a style sheet, of good/bad questions?

    Peter Tamaroff Peter Tamaroff responded: Not really. We edit poor quality questions. Polish them so they look neat and shiny.

    • MaoYiyi MaoYiyi remarked: Yes, that does help, but it might be good to have an example they can check beforehand so you don't have so much work to do.

      Peter Tamaroff Peter Tamaroff responded: That is interesting. You can always choose the "votes" tab to get upvoted and downvoted answers. Maybe an interactive guide/tutorial/walkthrough will serve well.

    Bill Dubuque Bill Dubuque responded: The goal would be to attempt to keep the front page of questions to always be model examples. We have enough users to do that, if everyone helped a little. New users rarely read the FAQ, but they probably browse the front page.

robjohn robjohn answered: promoting good questions and discouraging poor questions are both nice goals. Improving poor questions and deleting poor questions are things that anyone can do. As a moderator, I don't know if there is anything more one can do.

Gigili Gigili answered: By upvoting them, posting them on personal stuff like G+ or FB if any, and bringing them up in a place like our chat room. But everything does not go as well as we expect.


Isaac Isaac asked: In every math.SE election so far, the highest-rep users have been the winners. Is this a good thing? Is it a result of users voting based solely on rep?

chessmath chessmath answered: User with hight rep are generally experts and helpful people. But it is not all

Gigili Gigili answered: I'd admit the more rep a user has earned, the more the community trust him/her. (there are exceptions to every rule). But it's not all about rep. In my case, I once registered, took a look and left the site as I wasn't motivated enough. It's about a month that I am active here since I got accepted to my fav-institute and I know I'll study mathematics, not computer science.

Gigili Gigili continued: That saying, I've earned about half of my rep during the last week, plus some important badges.

Gigili Gigili concluded: Also, I've seen many low-rep users being moderator on different SE sites.


Eric Gregor Eric Gregor asked: Are there any issues on which the candidates feel they would like to change the status quo? To what extent do you consider yourselves "progressives"?

mixedmath mixedmath answered: With respect to 'changing the status quo,' I do not believe that moderators have any special say in that respect. The SE model is that of self-governance, and in the Theory of Moderation there is a nice line: "Moderators are human exception handlers." In other words, I will be no more proactive than I was before, and I think that all users should feel that they have a role in the future of the community.

  • Eric Gregor Eric Gregor clarified: I didn't necessarily mean "as moderator." I'm asking about how you want MSE to evolve or not, etc.

    mixedmath mixedmath responded: That's very true. I'm sorry. I would say that I am not particularly 'progressive.' I like how the site currently runs, and I like how the community seems willing to participate on meta to address concerns. But if I were to do one thing, it would be to encourage more people to think they have a role in the community. Many decisions here are guided by the same 10-12 people here.

    Peter Tamaroff Peter Tamaroff agreed: That is rather my thought on the meta participation. We need more people participating. I think I have to participate more.

    • chessmath chessmath remarked: The problem is that the system doesn't help participate in meta. Mainly because of the downvotes in polemic opinions !

      Peter Tamaroff Peter Tamaroff responded: Well, that is one issue. People tend to down vote before discussing.

      chessmath chessmath concluded: I think we should have somewhere specific to discuss theses questions without voting or downvoting or upvoting.

    Bill Dubuque Bill Dubuque responded to Eric Gregor: You've touched on a key point: evolution. In some sense we are stagnant now as far as attracting further experts. The site needs a healthy balance of students and teachers. We need more teachers. To attract them we will need to eliminate some of the friction over the contentious issues. It can be done, but it will require careful thought.

Bill Dubuque Bill Dubuque answered with reference to mixedmath’s response: In fact, I think we should encourage users to play a greater role by participating more in meta. Often times it is difficult to infer what the consensus is on matters because too few folks participate on meta.

robjohn robjohn answered: I think that math.SE is very nice as it stands. However, I am always open to listen to ways to improve. If something seems like a good idea, I will promote it to the other mods.

robjohn robjohn continued: One thing I would like to see is better support of MathJax.

Peter Tamaroff Peter Tamaroff answered: I will participate in new proposals and ideas more actively as a moderator. However, I have proposed new ideas which haven't been really welcomed by the community. I think one should not force a change, but let it happen softly.

Gigili Gigili answered: Not on any special issues off top the of my head, but I need to discuss some special things with the other moderators, e.g. when to delete a question or an answer. And as I said, bringing up some special issues to meta seems necessary to me.


Alex Becker http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/d8f3b5ea4cc07f2bca5e7594a79024ed?s=16&d=identicon&r=PG Alex Becker asked: Candidates: Do you believe that promoting math.SE is part of a moderator's duty? If so, how would you go about doing so?

Peter Tamaroff http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/b05ae65885b5668b2dba114419bc0ce8?s=16&d=identicon&r=PG Peter Tamaroff answered: I don't believe it is a mods duty, but if one feels the site is useful and one can do something to improve it and raise more awareness of its great uses, then one should do so.

Peter Tamaroff http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/b05ae65885b5668b2dba114419bc0ce8?s=16&d=identicon&r=PG Peter Tamaroff continued: Any normal user that is slightly passionate about MSE should do so.

mixedmath http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/1066fe6e02bf9b9a52aef4c9b3f8457d?s=16&d=identicon&r=PG mixedmath answered: Do I believe that promoting MSE is a part of a moderator's duties? I think that's an interesting question. Whether or not it is a responsibility of a moderator (of which I'm uncertain), I think that in general we should all try to bring people here. I think that most who know me (in real life) know that I promote MSE, and I bring it up on my blog from time to time.

chessmath http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/8d4b364f032ec5fb17c157bd5df47247?s=16&d=identicon&r=PG chessmath answered: Promoting the site is duty of everybody who likes the site! And it is been done well we have high quality member here!

Bill Dubuque http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/860a1d8e8626a30e511098b703b61ea8?s=16&d=identicon&r=PG Bill Dubuque answered: I have rallied many folks from sci.math to join MSE. I think it is crucial to fill gaps in knowledge here, so that we have at least a handful of experts in all of the major fields of math.

robjohn http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/6089b0e9c9c12e6fa7ca556f3c860b66?s=16&d=identicon&r=PG robjohn answered: I don't think it is necessarily part of what a moderator is supposed to do here, but I think it is good to promote the site where possible. I have pointed several people to the site that I think would benefit from the site or who would benefit the site.

Gigili http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/cf4d8d67ef2dbe02a528fed9ab5360f8?s=16&d=identicon&r=PG Gigili answered: It's not of course a duty. But I've done it before for another SE as a regular user, so no doubt I'll do it when I am a moderator.


Antonio Vargas Antonio Vargas asked: Candidates, what authority (moral or otherwise) does/should a moderator have over other users?

mixedmath mixedmath answered: I think mods only really have the authority to identify what the 'wrong things to do' are - in the sense that only bad behavior should be 'moderated.' However, in meta discussions and other forms of communication, mods should try to guide the community to behave properly. But decisions as to what is and isn't proper should be community wide, not moderator-thin

  • Antonio Vargas Antonio Vargas asked for clarification: Thank you. Could you clarify what you mean by "mods should try to guide the community to behave properly"?

    mixedmath mixedmath clarified: By "mods should try to guide the community" I mean that there are many times, such as when new users first post, that someone should try and tell them how things are usually done here. Formatting issues, refraining from the use of imperative, NO ALL CAPS, etc. In responding to these in a good way, mods can set a good example for others.

    mixedmath mixedmath continued: I notice that Zev responds very well to first time users, for example. And I'd like to emulate that aspect of his moderation style.

robjohn robjohn answered: I think that moderators should, to a degree, try to lead by example, I have tried to behave to others here in a decent manner.

robjohn robjohn continued: as for authority, don't like to hold authority over others unless really needed (harassment, etc)

Gigili Gigili answered: I don't think so. I read somewhere that moderators are human exception handlers. That is, the difference between them and other users is handling difficult situations where a normal user simply doesn't care and act as "what pleases me" but the moderator needs to act like "what's the best for the benefit of the community".

Gigili Gigili continued: So no, they don't have the authority, the fact that they're more experience than others to talk about the rules and what's the right thing according to the site policies is something else.


Thomas Klimpel Thomas Klimpel asked mixedmath: The requirements for questions at philosophy.se are much higher than at math.se. Do you think that this simply mirrors the different communities of philosophers and mathematicians, or do you think that the standards for questions should be more comparable?

mixedmath mixedmath answered: It's true that the requirements for a question at PSE are very high. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that PSE is still working to find itself. MSE had a turbulent beginning as well, and there is still some evidence of this on the meta. But I think that as time goes on, and as PSE grows, the user base will develop a greater consensus on what questions should be around. That was very observant of you, and a good question.

mixedmath mixedmath answered: ... One thing that does surprise me here is that although many people comment when questions are direct copies of book problems here, such question statements sometimes receive many upvotes. It is not clear to me that such questions "show clear research effort"


Eric Gregor Eric Gregor asked: Is it possible that moderation might interfere with your day to day activities? Your own math, for example?

Peter Tamaroff Peter Tamaroff answered: I honestly hope it will not. I am a freshman in college, so the demand is not very extreme. I can personally cope with my academic duties, so I feel no problem will arise.

chessmath chessmath answered: It certainly will not interfere in my affairs, my fb activities will interfere more!

mixedmath mixedmath answered: Is it possible that moderating might interfere with my math research? It is possible. I am finishing my first year of grad school, and I'm just now beginning to consider my own research. I'm uncertain of how much of a time drain that will be. But I'd be surprised if it took more time than I spent this year - I feel that I did an inordinate amount of math in the last year. So I think my last year of participation is a good indicator of what my future level of participation will be

robjohn robjohn answered: there is always the chance of interference with a day to day activity. However, that is why there are multiple moderators; others can pick up the slack, and then I can pick up when they have other responsibilities.

Gigili Gigili answered: Currently, I'm in a step in real life that I don't have something like "my own math". But yes, it would if I had. I need to learn more before starting to study masters. I'd say you must pay for what you learn.

  • $\begingroup$ mixedmath's second answer belongs to the homework question. $\endgroup$
    – Phira
    Commented May 9, 2012 at 8:40
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, indeed. Fixed now! $\endgroup$
    – Tim Stone
    Commented May 9, 2012 at 14:44

Marvis http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/26ccf25f4d50464ee7934932ce91462d?s=16&d=identicon&r=PG Marvis asked: Will there ever be a consensus on homework? I got a down-vote here (How do you solve the following trigonometric equation?) for providing the complete answer.

I have become indifferent to homework questions since there seems to be no consensus. If the mods agree that posting solutions is allowed, kindly announce this on meta? Similarly, if the mods agree that posting complete solution to homework is not allowed, how will the user providing the full solution be penalized?

Peter Tamaroff http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/b05ae65885b5668b2dba114419bc0ce8?s=16&d=identicon&r=PG Peter Tamaroff answered: If the user asked not to provide a full answer, then the downvote is called for. Otherwise, I believe is under the answerer's criteria wether to provide a full answer or not. One can help with homework in many ways. Maybe some users feel you're trying to get some rep out of the OP by providing it, but I see no harm. I repeat, if the OP was explicit, then I think it is not correct to do so, but it is under each of our criteria to provide a full answer or not.

Peter Tamaroff http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/b05ae65885b5668b2dba114419bc0ce8?s=16&d=identicon&r=PG Peter Tamaroff continued: The penalization, if it should happen, has to be from the community itself. Just as when one down votes an answer that is not useful, wrong, misleading, confusing or whatever quality standard it is not meeting.

Bill Dubuque http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/860a1d8e8626a30e511098b703b61ea8?s=16&d=identicon&r=PG Bill Dubuque answered: I doubt there will be any consensus on homework. My view on such contentious matters is to try to make both sides aware of all the issues in hope that they will respect each others viewpoints, so that we can avoid friction on the main site.

chessmath http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/8d4b364f032ec5fb17c157bd5df47247?s=16&d=identicon&r=PG chessmath answered: About downvotes I don't like them at all! Normally this stick cannot be used by new users unless they are mortarboards! But the in the question should be explicit that he wants only a hint!

mixedmath http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/1066fe6e02bf9b9a52aef4c9b3f8457d?s=16&d=identicon&r=PG mixedmath answered: I do not think if I were to become a moderator tomorrow, my voice or opinion would be any more important than it was yesterday. What I mean is that having a new pair of moderators should not suddenly create a homework policy. In all likelihood, there will be the same sort of differing viewpoint about homework tomorrow as there is today.

mixedmath http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/1066fe6e02bf9b9a52aef4c9b3f8457d?s=16&d=identicon&r=PG mixedmath continued: ... However, to say how I feel about it: I think that what's most important is that we respect each other. Thus if someone carefully crafts an answer that guides the user to the answer, I would consider it impolite for another user to later craft a complete answer. But were someone to flag it - I would not delete it. I might comment - but deletion is too far.

robjohn http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/6089b0e9c9c12e6fa7ca556f3c860b66?s=16&d=identicon&r=PG robjohn answered: Homework is part of what goes on here. I think that hints should first be given to help provoke thought. If they show interest in working the problem, then more of the answer can be shown in an answer. After a time, say a week or so (to give the assignment to be due), a complete answer could be given for completeness of the site.

Gigili http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/cf4d8d67ef2dbe02a528fed9ab5360f8?s=16&d=identicon&r=PG Gigili answered: I can't relate it to being a moderator. As it is, I'm against posting complete answer for homework in my current position. I think when someone doesn't bother thinking how to provide hints instead of full answer, it's something to think about. But I didn't find a policy or such s thing on homework questions.

Gigili http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/cf4d8d67ef2dbe02a528fed9ab5360f8?s=16&d=identicon&r=PG Gigili continued: I plan to bring some issue to meta on first days after being elected. It seems to me this is the community where people care a lot about how to react to an special case, so one has to be more careful.


Rebecca Chernoff Rebecca Chernoff asked: Final thoughts from the candidates please?

Peter Tamaroff Peter Tamaroff answered: I think I said what I had to say, and if anything is missing, I'll try and address the concern the next time I can.

mixedmath mixedmath answered: I'd like to thank everyone for coming by and asking questions. I think that I can summarize the idea behind most of my answers very simply: I think a moderator should lead by example. Refrain from unilateral action whenever possible. Mods are not the voice of the community, but simply a single voice.

chessmath chessmath answered: Well MSE is an opportunity to learn and teach mathematics around. It also a way to diffuse maths, but we have to keep in mind that are many different levels knowledge in all Sciences! So be friendlier and that will be an amazing community, better a brotherhood .

Bill Dubuque Bill Dubuque answered: Thanks to everyone for joining us. I'm happy to continue elsewhere.

Gigili Gigili answered: Okay okay, now I'm really done with answering! Thanks for your attention!

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I don't think that chessmath's message was in direct response to the request for final thoughts, but since I was unable to work it in elsewhere I opted to include it here. $\endgroup$
    – Tim Stone
    Commented May 9, 2012 at 4:51
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thanks for your work on this, Tim $\endgroup$ Commented May 9, 2012 at 5:11

Peter Tamaroff Peter Tamaroff asked: This is a question from a student to users that are either teaching or had a teaching career. How do you feel in the atmosphere of math.SE? Is it sometimes immature or impersonal? Has anything made you reconsider your participation on the site?

chessmath chessmath answered: yes, yes, yes. But the problem is not the players but the game here.

  • Peter Tamaroff Peter Tamaroff asked for clarification: I can't get anything from that comment. What do you mean?

    chessmath chessmath clarified: The system encourages a competitive ambiance here instead of cooperating environment !

    Peter Tamaroff Peter Tamaroff asked: How so? I can recall more cooperative users than competitive. What I do see is criticism to answers/questions, which is natural in a scientific atmosphere.

    Alex Becker Alex Becker suggested: I think chessmath may be referring to the "race for reputation" that some users have perceived others engaging in.


Marvis Marvis asked: To attract good teachers and experts, the overall standard of the site must improve, which in-turn means that quality of the questions posed should improve and homework question be discouraged. Do you believe that questions should filtered more and questions that are too elementary must be discouraged? Your thoughts?

mixedmath mixedmath answered: On the one hand, I believe that questions should be asked in the place where it will receive the best answer. To that end, I see two major players in the math community: MO and MSE. I would be very, very reluctant to preventing any question from being asked here for being too basic. I don't really want to exclude anyone. Whether or not this will eventually lead to a degradation of the average question is unclear to me at the moment. If so, then perhaps change will be necessary.

mixedmath mixedmath continued: On the other hand, I am uncertain about how to actually attract more experts to the site. To be honest, many of of our experts are here almost exclusively answering questions rather than asking many, and I think it takes a special sort of person to do this. As long as there are questions of interest, I suppose they will stay. But attracting more? I'm very uncertain.

mixedmath mixedmath concluded: But I don't see that problem yet.

chessmath chessmath answered: Never discourage homework, maths is maths. If we had not homework the reason of the site would be less effective.

Peter Tamaroff Peter Tamaroff answered: By no means. Maths should be encouraged at any level. And most people dealing with basic arithmetic or geometry, I think, will not really choose this site to ask. The cases are very few and the answers are simple.


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