Hi All,

I have come across quite a few questions now that have been closed a single Moderator (and a couple with 1 Moderator, and 1 Community Member).

Shouldn't this not happen? Half the point of the "SE-way" is that the community decides (with vote-to-close), and the moderators are brought in only if required. I am all for having active moderation, but this is still a community website, driven by the community itself.

I do not have a ton of examples, but a good one is here:

The community has obviously shown that the question belongs, but the moderator closes it in any case.

As an update, that question has had a couple more queries on why it was closed (and another asking why it was closed as a singular decision).

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    Anybody who reads this and barely agrees with it, don't forget to vote it up. Downvoters rarely forget to vote down things they disagree with. – Peter Turner Jan 18 '11 at 13:47
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    Another one... programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/37975/… "Unique to programmers" is an awfully hard test to pass. – MIA Jan 19 '11 at 2:27
  • @jim ok, I agree with you on that one. It's a bit broad but relevant and well asked. – Jeff Atwood Jan 19 '11 at 4:43
  • If any non-moderators are downvoting this, your thoughts as a comment would be very informative. – Nicole Jan 19 '11 at 23:11

Well, in this specific case, Programmers is a bit unusual because it's a proving grounds for a lot of network learning about "how do we allow constructive subjective questions?" -- something we did not really do en masse before this site was launched. And that is challenging.

(also, bear in mind that question predates a lot of these decisions being made)

Read up:

and of course:


That said, in the general case, I do like to see at least one other 3k user voting to close in addition to the moderator. But I support the moderators, and I think you need to make a case here for that specific question.

In my personal opinion, that question meets most of the 6 guidelines, doesn't run afoul of the explicit subjective pitfalls, and is probably OK. I have certainly seen much much MUCH worse.

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    Sure, and that's fair that decisions have been made in the interim of the questions running time. My main concern is not particularly geared toward wanting to see questions remain open or closed, but more for the sake of how the system works - in that there are 3K users with closing permission for a reason. I don't say the decision was wrong, but instead of simply closing it (as it is not offensive/etc to warrant instant closing), why doesn't the mod add their vote to the list? That's all :-) – Kyle Rozendo Jan 18 '11 at 12:56
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    My concern at this point is that heavy handed moderation is trending towards driving down the quality of the site. Before a mod closes a question, they really should ask themselves where exactly else this should be asked? If there's not a clear answer to that question, the mouse should stay away from the button. Mark handles this best IMO. He almost always asks for question improvement or clarification rather than flat out closing it right away. – MIA Jan 19 '11 at 2:47
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    @jim I don't agree with that -- questions are guilty until proven innocent, and left to their own devices, audiences tend to prefer that "fun" discussion which is enjoyable in the short term but corrosive in the medium term and absolutely suicidal in the long term. see blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/01/real-questions-have-answers and goo.gl/69E73 – Jeff Atwood Jan 19 '11 at 3:37
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    My concern isn't about the "fun" ones. My concern is when a legit question is closed in 8 minutes by one person for not being completely unique to programmers. If we're going to apply that rule, then there's not going to be a whole lot to talk about because the remainder's going to get closed as either belonging on cstheory, careers, or SO. That leaves us with a haskell love fest. At least comment with where it should be asked. – MIA Jan 19 '11 at 3:54
  • @jim I really have no idea what you're talking about now, unless you cite examples; the rules we have are in programmers.stackexchange.com/faq near the top (edit: ah, I see the example you cited as a comment on this question, so disregard this.) – Jeff Atwood Jan 19 '11 at 4:41

Popularity amongst the community isn't an automatic sign that it belongs here. There are all sorts of questions that don't belong here which would be well received by a programmer audience.

While the community can (and do) take an active role in enforcing the more definitive rules (such as these), the moderators exist for the cases where things are in clear violation to (a) keep the place in a decent order and (b) allow the community to focus on adding real value rather than having to spend their time taking out the obvious trash.

I think what would help would be that in cases where a question is either long standing or has a significant number of up votes (+10 or more), the mod could add an explanation of why it was closed.

  • Explanation is already there I think. – user2567 Jan 18 '11 at 11:49
  • @Jon - Sure, as I said in a comment to Jeff, I don't particularly mind questions being closed, I just reckon it would be better to simply add a close vote, than straight-forward closing. Adding a reason isn't a bad idea either however for straight removals. – Kyle Rozendo Jan 18 '11 at 12:57
  • @Kyle - I believe this has been discussed at length - whether moderators should be able to cast choose between casting a single vote and an outright close. I'm guessing that the logic runs that if an experienced mod sees it as a close it's almost certainly only a matter of time until it would be closed anyway so why have the question hang around being a bit rubbish when it's doomed. – Jon Hopkins Jan 18 '11 at 14:00
  • @Pierre - not from Walter that I can see. The information is there but it might be nice if Walter confirmed that that was indeed the reason (or if it wasn't then what was) - just as a courtesy given the level of activity on this question. – Jon Hopkins Jan 18 '11 at 14:03
  • @Jon - Sure, I agree with that where it applies. It however didn't in the above example, and i'm sure in others too. I am sure you see my point. – Kyle Rozendo Jan 18 '11 at 14:03
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    A case where a moderator has to override the community, as an aggregate, should be an extremely rare exception. – Nicole Jan 18 '11 at 18:23
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    @renesis that is not so rare on Programmers, since the community often wants things that are ultimately destructive in the medium to long term (e.g. "Rules suck! I want to talk about my favorite headphones for programming!") – Jeff Atwood Jan 18 '11 at 21:56
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    @Jeff, shouldn't it be rare? (in other words, isn't friction between the site's intended purpose and it's audience a bad thing, regardless of who is right or wrong? It just means different courses of action to correct that friction.) – Nicole Jan 18 '11 at 22:10
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    @Aaronaught That's misrepresenting what I said. I didn't say there wouldn't be inclusionists. If the community consensus is inclusionist, then you have a problem, at least, with defining your site in a way that the community as a group can understand and accept it. – Nicole Jan 19 '11 at 0:02
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    @Renesis: First of all, Stack Exchange is a representative democracy, not design-by-committee. Second, what you're describing is far from being the "community consensus", and that is abundantly evident from all kinds of meta threads. There is no community consensus here; arguably there isn't even a single coherent community yet. It's more like two communities that have been locked in a room and asked to work it out; the first, the free-for-all community, has been put on notice by the team that what they want isn't going to happen. The second is just trying to maintain order. – Aaronaught Jan 19 '11 at 1:03
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    @Aaronaught, Not trying to be rude, but have you been following what I was saying in the first place? I didn't say that's what community consensus is, or that I even know what it is. I said that if moderation-overruling-community is common, then you have a problem. – Nicole Jan 19 '11 at 1:24
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    @Aaronaught, clearly stated 8 posts up. We've gone in a circle. – Nicole Jan 19 '11 at 2:49
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    @Aaronaught - Do you think SE is a democracy? I've never seen it that way, to me it's always been clear that we play by Jeff and Joel's rules, they just happen to be rules that allow for a lot of community say and influence. But there are things - such as what constitutes on-topic / off-topic - that the community has very little say in, at least in the immediate time frame (that is it might influence it over months and years but not on an "I think this should stay open" basis). – Jon Hopkins Jan 19 '11 at 9:55
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    @Aaronaught - I still think that's over stating it. The moderators aren't the people who make the rules, they just enforce them. When it comes to rule making it's a benevolent dictatorship. – Jon Hopkins Jan 20 '11 at 9:21
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    @Jon: That really isn't quite true. While moderators clearly can't do anything they want, they have a fairly high degree of flexibility on how to run their respective sites. The core team members often don't agree with each other on core issues, but one thing that most of them do agree on is that moderators need a good bit of latitude and are also, on beta or fledgling SEs like this one, responsible for setting the right examples and helping to improve the quality of the site (since higher quality is, ultimately, what will attract people away from reddit or wherever else). – Aaronaught Jan 20 '11 at 15:00

I feel like I'm partly responsible for this, having brought special attention to the question and all, so I'd like to throw in my two cents.

The question itself is a useful resource, but that's only because the answers are of a reasonably high quality. Luck factored into this one; questions phrased the way this one was originally phrased have so much potential to end up like a reddit comment thread, and usually, they do. What's wrong with it?

  • It explicitly asks for opinions ("disagree with");
  • It doesn't ask for evidence, or imply that answers should be backed up;
  • It doesn't even ask for any elaboration.

In short, it fails the poll test. Fortunately, it happens to be a subject that many programmers are passionate about, and so many of them took the question seriously and answered it with the requisite amount of detail and care. I still think that luck and timing played a major part as well; when I open a question with a title like that, I expect to see dozens of one-liners, and it's kind of miraculous that there weren't any here (or maybe there were, and they got edited/deleted).

The quality of answers clearly indicates that it should not be deleted - but that doesn't necessarily mean it should be open. Closing a question sometimes means "this question is going straight to /dev/null", but sometimes it also means "this question needs an overhaul so it doesn't start attracting crappy answers". In this case, I felt the latter would have been an appropriate rationale, albeit a sudden and unexpected one.

I've put in a major edit to the question representing what I think would have been a more constructive version; I have a feeling it's going to get rolled back within minutes, but at least I tried, and anyone can view the edit history to see what I'm getting at here.

Now, off the subject of the specific question and onto the larger moderation issue, there are a few points to note here:

  • The more open-ended a question is, the more people become compelled to upvote it because they enjoyed the question, and not necessarily because it was useful and clear as upvotes are intended to be used. Popularity has to be taken with a grain of salt for certain types of questions, and moderators have to walk this tightrope frequently, sometimes overruling the community.

  • There are dozens if not hundreds of questions on Programmers.SE that were asked during or shortly after its "free for all" phase (before the "constructive" criteria were introduced), and it's unreasonable and unfair to expect all of the high-ranking community members to slog through the entire history and use up their close vote quotas. I actually spent one day here going through what I felt were the worst questions and flagging them; I got exhausted after about 10 of them.

  • The improved flagging system allows lower-reputation users to flag for moderator attention based on a specific close reason. This strongly indicates that, yes, it is OK and expected for moderators to occasionally intervene if the community is not pulling its weight. If the community was perfect, if it always did the right thing, then we wouldn't need moderators, right?

  • Although Programmers.SE probably has the highest number of 3k+ (close-rep) members of any of the Stack Exchange communities, there are still only about 70 of them. That number is good, but it's not huge. The trilogy sites have hundreds or even thousands of these privileged members, so it's natural to expect a high level of autonomy there; the same is not true of Stack Exchange sites where the number of these members is relatively low and many of them are still learning what Stack Exchange is all about.

  • As Jeff says, Programmers.SE is a bit experimental, and has a lot of checkered history to cope with. Since many of the rules are new and have not been followed or enforced consistently in the past, members here don't have a great example to follow, and they're left scratching their heads and saying "well, this question is pretty open-ended, but it's not as bad as this one over here..." and of course, there be dragons. Moderators are uniquely qualified to do the cleanup work necessary in order to make the site more consistent and set a strong example for the community itself.

Honestly, if I could sum all of this up in one sentence it would be that Stack Exchange sites tend to need leadership, not just moderation, and the diamond moderators are in the unenviable position of wearing many hats. Once the sites mature, then the role of diamonds will become less and less important over time.

I don't know how many people will agree, but I hope I've done a good job of representing the position and responsibilities of P.SE moderators and really all SE moderators here.

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