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I had a question about commenting on posts by new users (and sometimes experienced users). I see a post that just has a link without context, or some vague/poorly formatted answer, and I think about how to fix it. As I'm about to leave a comment, however, I think "hmm, I'm not a mod, maybe the user will react poorly to me" and instead I opt to flag the post.

I used to be a forum administrator, so I'm not a fan of users who try to do the jobs of moderators i.e. "mini-modding". Is it appropriate for users to leave comment similar to what a mod would write, or should we just stick to flagging?

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    Please read: A Theory of Moderation. Unlike many traditional forums, newsgroups, blogs, etc., Stack Exchange not only encourages but depends on community-led moderation, "mini-mods" and "junior janitors" - experience has shown that leaving this to a team of full-time Moderators simply does not scale. Moderators on SE are the exception handlers, trusted with cleaning up the mess when the larger community is unable to for whatever reason; they are intended to be the last line of defense. – Shog9 Aug 13 '11 at 18:56
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    Quote the Stack Overflow faq: "At the high end of this reputation spectrum there is little difference between users with high reputation and ♦ moderators. That is very much intentional. We don’t run Stack Overflow. The community does." – corsiKa Aug 21 '11 at 21:55
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I used to be a forum administrator, so I'm not a fan of users who try to do the jobs of moderators i.e. "mini-modding". Is it appropriate for users to leave comment similar to what a mod would write, or should we just stick to flagging?

One of the biggest mistakes that a user can make is thinking of Stack Exchange as a forum. The Q&A platform has shown, many times that it isn't suitable for handling extended discussions. That's because the system is specifically designed to make the best information rise directly to the top.

Voting is every Stack Exchange citizen's duty. Voting is what makes the system work. Remember, you're casting your vote to indicate if information is of good or poor quality, don't worry about rewarding or penalizing the author when you do this. A few down votes provides more than enough signal to someone that something might be wrong with their question or answer, where several up votes tell the author that they provided a great answer.

If you want to leave a comment to explain what you think is wrong or should be improved, that's completely up to you. Voting is the most important thing.

If you see a post that is particularly stinky, that's when flags should be used. When it comes to answers, sending a flag is basically telling your moderators that something is seriously wrong with the post that should be handled right away. It also implies that it's something that the community can't fix on its own, such as a post of very poor quality that can't be helped by editing.

Every user that can vote on any given Stack Exchange site is a moderator, to the degree that their reputation permits access to privileges. Diamond moderators are really just exception handlers that step in when they are needed.

  • If a user gets a down vote on a question or an answer, but no comment, they may not realise what they have done wrong. An instructive comment, as to why you down voted might help them write a better question or answer next time. – Bill Michell Sep 13 '11 at 18:46
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Please comment/down-vote/vote to close if you have the reputation.

The community can only call itself that if users (of all reputation scores) are engaged in promoting good behaviour. By just flagging a post you are trying to absolve yourself of the responsibility that you should have.

Also it shows that the rules and guidelines of the community are agreed on and enforce by all users not just those with a diamond after their name. This is one of the important differences between Stack Exchange and other forums. The more reputation you have the more trust the system has in you and at high levels of trust you are not that different from the moderators and site owners.

This particularly applies to users with more than 3,000 reputation (not you) who choose to flag a question as off topic rather than voting to close. I'm more likely to cast my binding vote to close if a question already has a couple of close votes.

  • Chris, as a user who lately got over 3k, should I only vote to close or flag too? At moment I vote to close if I think the question doesn't fit on programmers.SE. I flag only, if it's quite obviously that it must be removed (When I flag I always vote to close in addition). – thorsten müller Aug 13 '11 at 20:55
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    @thorsten It sounds like you're doing everything exactly right. We try to let the community do its thing and we also keep an eye on the "questions that are getting close votes" stats available to 10k+ users. Flagging is only necessary for sub-3k users and for questions that are in need of faster handling or special attention. – Adam Lear Aug 13 '11 at 23:17
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It is absolutely appropriate. I personally love seeing comments that I'd leave left by someone else and that's only in part because that saves me typing. :)

As moderators, we are doing our best to let the community handle as much of its own organizing as possible. Seeing mod-like comments from the community members tells us that we're all collectively on the same page. It's a nice sanity check to have.

The only requirement is that the comments should be polite. I'm not saying that yours wouldn't be, but I want to cover all the bases. It's sometimes tempting to make a snarky or a snide comment, but it's important that we all keep our cool and remember the "be nice" part of the FAQ especially when it comes to commenting on new users' posts.

ChrisF and Tim Post both touched on the reputation aspect, so I'll just close with saying that having regular community members contribute to site's moderation with comments and votes is what makes Stack Exchange awesome, unique, and community-driven.

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Why not? All it does is make the content of the site better and improve the chances of good answers to good questions. Often, it allows problems to be corrected before a moderator needs to get invloved, which is great for everyone.

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