I have noticed on a number of occasions that people complain that their question or answer has received attention from people asking them to fix it up, when there are other questions that are just as bad or worse that have managed to pass by unnoticed.

To me this is directly analogous to the driver who has been pulled over by the police complaining that other drivers are breaking the law too, and why aren't they getting tickets?

I hope it is clear that two wrongs do not make a right. If there are other posts that are of poor quality, the correct response is to fix both, rather than neither.

Sometimes these posts will have escaped unnoticed because they are old and were written before the community standards were established. Sometimes, it is because they just managed to slip past while no-one was looking; there are only so many resources to go around. Sometimes, it is because one person has a genuine insight into a flawed answer that no-one else noticed.

The moderators (and I hope much of the community) are concerned about the occasional "broken windows" giving the wrong impression to visitors about what they can expect here.

You can help out. If you see a question or answer that doesn't meet our community standards, use a (polite!) comment to ask the author to fix it, or be bold and edit it yourself, or flag it to bring it to the attention of the sleeping busy moderators.

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    broken-windows - Existing inappropriate questions used to justify posting of new inappropriate questions "why can't I ask X when Y exists"... – gnat May 1 '12 at 12:35
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    Can we dial back the rhetoric a bit? A sub-optimal question is not a crime. It may need to be closed or cleaned up, but it is not a "wrong." – JohnMcG May 1 '12 at 14:21
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    @JohnMcG "Two wrongs do not make one right" is a fairly common saying in English, could we please dial back the paranoia a bit? – yannis May 1 '12 at 14:40
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    @YannisRizos I have to agree with John about the rhetoric, though. The OP directly compares asking a question which doesn't follow this site's guidelines with breaking the law and being pulled over by the police (using those exact words, btw). – Andres F. May 1 '12 at 20:20
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    @AndresF. The comparison isn't between writing a question and breaking the law, it's between an author complaining about one question being flagged while others aren't and a driver complaining about being pulled over when others get away. If you prefer a different metaphor, consider a child complaining about being disciplined when other children who were also behaving badly escape. – Caleb May 7 '12 at 2:48
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    @Caleb Sure, I get the gist of it. I was just supporting JohnMcG's opinion that the rhetoric is a bit too much (that is, the law-breaking analogy is unhelpful, and may drive us to an unhelpful mindset as well!) – Andres F. May 7 '12 at 17:05
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    @AndresF. My point is that the original analogy is quite helpful if you take from it that which was intended. I don't think any reasonable person, and certainly not ChrisF, would equate bad posts with law breaking. That's not what's being compared, so the point about rhetoric is baseless. – Caleb May 7 '12 at 17:16
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    Voting to close as "not a real question". In fact, there seems to be no attempt at asking any sort of question here at all -- instead it's essentially a blog post attempting to justify a moderating policy that (apparently) hasn't been popular. If he's not willing to write it as an actual blog post, then he should at least make an attempt at paying lip-service to the rules and writing it as a question with a self-answer. – Jerry Coffin May 24 '12 at 16:40
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    @Jerry: there is something of a tradition of posting opinion pieces on Meta, tagged [discussion], to allow others to disagree / suggest alternatives / raise concerns in the answers. Yes, it's the "forum-style" that's discouraged everywhere else, but the meta sites were created in part to bring forum discussions in-network, and the discussion tag is used to signal that. – Shog9 May 24 '12 at 16:48
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    @Shog9: There seems to be none of that here either though -- there's no room left for discussion at all. Rather, it's written as little less than orders from "on high" to the lowly, law-breaking heathens. – Jerry Coffin May 24 '12 at 16:52
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    Donno about you, @Jerry, but I see a great big empty "Your Answer" box down there. If you disagree with this, write something about it. Saying this discussion sucks because no one's discussing it doesn't really improve things... – Shog9 May 24 '12 at 17:04
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    There's a dozen comments here and a big blank answer box for everyone, of course there's room for discussion. – Ben Brocka May 24 '12 at 17:04
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    @Shog9: I said nothing of the sort. I said that the "question" doesn't seem to contain a question. I'll also go on record as saying that it seems to me that despite the "discussion" tag, the way it's written specifically discourages discussion. – Jerry Coffin May 24 '12 at 17:18
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    It's not a question, @Jerry. ChrisF is one of the guys handling flags, and therefore catches a lot of the flack that, IMHO, ought really to be directed at the folks who flagged without bothering to explain in comments what the problem was with the post they're flagging. He ends up picking up a lot of slack for other people. He's good at it. But it gets frustrating, and IMHO we can forgive him if that comes through a bit in this. That doesn't mean you can't respond, if you've a better way of putting it or disagreement or whatever. If Chris wanted to be an ass, he'd have locked the post. – Shog9 May 24 '12 at 17:40
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    @JohnMcG - I'm sorry that this came over as a rant. It wasn't intended as such, but as a reminder to people that they have the tools available to make and keep this site a useful resource. – ChrisF May 29 '12 at 14:27

Let me start by giving just a little bit of background. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away I was a moderator myself. My job as moderator was a bit different from moderators here though -- as moderator I was absolute dictator. I was free to make essentially any rules I wanted.

I suspect that total freedom led to a bit of soul searching about the role a moderator should take. Since I was free to do anything I wanted, I needed to think about what I really should do, rather than just operating within a given set of guidelines and dealing with whatever arose day to day. In any case, regardless of the reason, I did think about it quite a bit.

Giving credit where due, I should probably also add that I took a fair amount of inspiration from at least a couple of former moderators there. The first was Bob Stout. Before I met Bob, I think I sort of implicitly believed a view that I think is shared by many: that most programmers are basically sort of idiot savants -- good at coding, but not much else. Bob made it clear that almost the opposite was true: the best programmers are good at a lot of other things as well. The other former moderator I found inspirational was Thad Smith, who made two things clear. First that at least among programmers, showing an exceptional level of competence at writing code led to such respect that it simply eliminated most arguments on any other subjects. Second, that providing positive direction was much more important, and accomplished far more, than any amount of problem fixing you could possibly do (unfortunately, it wasn't until long after I'd stepped down as moderator that I realized the latter to nearly the degree I should have).

Anyway, I decided that leading by example was absolutely crucial, including enforcing the rules on myself much more strictly than I did on anybody else. If there was behavior that might be allowed part of the time, but might be considered even marginally questionable under some circumstances, then as moderator I would not/could not/should not engage in that kind of behavior under any circumstances at any time. With anybody else, minor infractions of the rules were best tolerated until/unless they really caused a problem -- but for myself, there could never be any question that I followed them absolutely, and never ever took advantage of my position to "get away" with anything that I couldn't/wouldn't have done if I wasn't the moderator.

Second, I thought a bit about who I should think of as a role model. I considered the possibility of a policeman, but rejected it. I've known a fair number of real-life policemen, and based on that have concluded that police work leads almost inevitably to a high degree of cynicism and in many cases also to people acting like petty tyrants.

I eventually decided that the Dalai Lama was a much better role model. Rather than giving anything that might even be mistaken for an order, I needed to remember that I was acting in a purely advisory role to people who were entirely free to depart the environs and ignore my very existence if they found me or what I had to say particularly objectionable. I needed to convince people that following my advice would lead to better lives for everybody involved, not just order them to do what I thought was right. To accomplish that, however, I needed to spend most of the time listening to them about what they wanted rather than assuming that the rules I'd made were (even close to) the final word on what should or shouldn't be. Ultimately, most of what I did was listen, summarize the highest ideals out of what I heard, and reflect those back as the ideals toward which we as a group should aspire.

Somewhat paradoxically, one other point I found particularly valuable was learned while I was in the military, where it was considered something close to the 11th commandment: Praise in public, punish in private. In other words, if I had anything to say that could possibly be perceived as negative about anybody, I needed to do that as privately as I possibly could. At the same time, when I had positive things to say (which I tried to make as often as possible) that should be done in public -- preferably as loudly and publicly as possible.

Finally, although I certainly tried to maintain maximum quality from a technical viewpoint, I concluded that the social aspects outweighed the technical aspects. People simply having some fun should be accepted as long as it didn't actively detract from the technical content. For a fair number of people it quickly became a game to discuss the most outlandish topic possible and still figure out a way to show that it was still really related to programming (interestingly, in many cases the more outlandish they initially appeared, the deeper the lesson they taught in the end).

Lest I be misunderstood, I don't intend to say that Chris is wrong and I'm right, nor that I was or would be a better moderator than him. At the same time I was more or less accused of simply saying "this sucks" without providing anything positive. While I don't think that characterization is entirely accurate, I'd rather make an attempt at a clearly positive contribution than something that's obviously been perceived as negative. Given the difference in circumstances, I'm not sure that my experience applies very well, but perhaps one or two little bits and pieces may (with suitable interpretation and modification) accomplish something useful -- and if not, maybe somebody at least found it mildly entertaining so maybe it still wasn't a complete waste of bits.

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    Thank you! This is a lot more constructive - and fun to read - than the comments. – Shog9 May 24 '12 at 20:23
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    This is a nice story, but I'm not clear on what parts of ChrisF's post you're addressing. Do you not want people to fix/handle/address similar problematic posts when they come across them? – user8 May 24 '12 at 21:06
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    +1: Your absolutely right. FWIW, @Anna Lear used to moderate like the Dalai Lama; but she got promoted. – Jim G. May 24 '12 at 21:40
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    @MarkTrapp You're being a lot nicer than I would have been. Jerry: ok, this is your life story, including a rather idyllic view of the Dalai Lama. I presume that you describe your experience as a moderator as a recommendation as to how this site's moderators (or at least Chris) should behave. The thing is, you don't explain what the difference is between how the moderators currently behave and how they should behave. You could make this post worthwhile by adding the missing part: what conclusions should be drawn, and why? If there is something to improve, what is it? – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' May 24 '12 at 22:04
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    @Gilles: If you think I'm going to make a public statement that somebody is doing something wrong, then I can only guess you didn't read it very carefully. If you don't like that, I guess I'll just have to live with your disliking me and/or my post. – Jerry Coffin May 24 '12 at 22:10
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    @JerryCoffin If you can't do constructive criticism, you aren't going to improve anything. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' May 24 '12 at 22:15
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    @Gilles: Perhaps. I thought what I posted was constructive, but if you disagree, so be it. I don't think something needs direct criticism to be constructive. – Jerry Coffin May 24 '12 at 22:30
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    @JerryCoffin I like turtles. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' May 24 '12 at 22:33
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    @JerryCoffin I guess it's just confusing, at least to me: you lambasted ChrisF for not making this a question or at least inviting enough for a discussion, and now that you've posted this very long response, you've either ignored or rejected any requests for discussion about what you've written here. Can you explain what, exactly, was the point of this post? How does this relate to what ChrisF wrote, and what, exactly, do you take issue with? Is it just the analogy of the speeding ticket? If so, and that line was removed, would you be in agreement with Chris? – user8 May 25 '12 at 13:39
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    I think this was mostly a response to Chris' final paragraph about helping maintain the site standards. Be a role model and set an example first before trying to correct other users. Praise frequently, loudly and in public if possible, and keep your criticisms as private as possible. Teach and advise instead of giving orders and enforcing. +1 for a great response :) – Rachel May 25 '12 at 13:58

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