4

In connection with the moderator elections, we are holding a Q&A thread for the candidates. Questions collected from an earlier thread have been compiled into this one, which shall now serve as the space for the candidates to provide their answers. Due to the submission count, we have selected all provided questions as well as two of our back up questions for a total of 10 questions.

As a candidate, your job is simple - post an answer to this question, citing each of the questions and then post your answer to each question given in that same answer. For your convenience, I will include all of the questions in quote format with a break in between each, suitable for you to insert your answers. Just copy the whole thing after the first set of three dashes. Oh, and please consider putting your name at the top of your post so that readers will know who you are before they finish reading everything you have written.

Once all the answers have been compiled, this will serve as a transcript for voters to view the thoughts of their candidates, and will be appropriately linked in the Election page.

Good luck to all of the candidates!


  1. What do you think this site's biggest challenge is? (E.g. post quality or quantity, too many/few closures, bad tools/guidance, etc.) What do you think should be done about it (whether it's by moderators, users in general, Stack Exchange staff, etc.)?

  2. The community may benefit from having you as a moderator, but what do you hope to gain? Why would you choose subjecting yourself to the additional responsibility?

  3. This site occasionally gets new users who do not yet understand the Stack Exchange norms. How do you propose to educate them on best practices (when and how to ask questions/post comments/post answers)? Sometimes new users simply will not respond to suggestions, though. At what point (if ever) is it reasonable for you as a moderator to cut your losses and start downvoting, closing, or even deleting their posts without explaining yourself?

  4. 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?

  5. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

  6. Users occasionally get into spats in comment sections. What is your role as a moderator in policing civility? What about in managing content (preventing substantive content from being drowned out by commentary)?

  7. This site sometimes gets low-quality questions and answers (idiosyncratic, poorly researched, poorly explained, riddled with typos, etc.). What do you think the moderator's role is in dealing with these types of posts? Should moderators be interventionist or laissez-faire in dealing with these posts? If interventionist, how should moderators intervene?

  8. Stack Exchange for Emacs: cute? nice? neat? awesome? how-dare-anyone-use-anything-else?

  9. 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?

  10. In your opinion, what do moderators do?

5

Gilles's answers

  1. What do you think this site's biggest challenge is? (E.g. post quality or quantity, too many/few closures, bad tools/guidance, etc.) What do you think should be done about it (whether it's by moderators, users in general, Stack Exchange staff, etc.)?

Here the problem is more to find a challenge than to choose one. But actually, I do have something. I've noticed a tendency to say RTFM a bit too often and too curtly. It isn't a very widespread problem, but it isn't a single user either. While Emacs does have an excellent manual, we must keep in mind that there's a lot of it, and a some Emacs terminology is unusual (frame, window, buffer, minibuffer, mark, point, …). Pointing people at the manual is fine. Downvoting questions that are trivially answered by looking it up is fine. Being rude because someone didn't know the proper term is not fine.

  1. The community may benefit from having you as a moderator, but what do you hope to gain? Why would you choose subjecting yourself to the additional responsibility?

I already have this responsibility on other sites (French and Computer Science. I don't hope to get any direct benefit. The main indirect benefit I hope to get is to foster a site where experts can participate comfortably which gives me a better chance of getting expert answers when I need them — or discovering new things passively by watching answers to other people's questions. Being a moderator is one of the ways I can ensure that everybody gets a good experience.

  1. This site occasionally gets new users who do not yet understand the Stack Exchange norms. How do you propose to educate them on best practices (when and how to ask questions/post comments/post answers)? Sometimes new users simply will not respond to suggestions, though. At what point (if ever) is it reasonable for you as a moderator to cut your losses and start downvoting, closing, or even deleting their posts without explaining yourself?

Comments are usually fine for educating people. Sometimes chat can help too (I've had users thank me for closing their question after I'd spent a few minutes chatting with them to explain why!). If someone just won't respond, then there's a point where you just let go and focus on them not giving others a bad time. There isn't a clear cutoff, it's something you have to get a feeling for. I hardly ever delete a post with no comment unless it's clear abuse (spam, troll, nonsense…); I use Autoreviewcomments for the most common situations and often tweak the wording to adapt it to the specific case.

  1. 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?

Producing valuable answers is great but it must never be at the detriment of others. Usually people can be educated — some people don't realize that they come off as rude and that they don't have to point out everything that's wrong. If someone is downright abusive, or just won't remain constructive after repeated remarks and warnings, there's a point where you just have to tell them to take a break, no matter how high their reputation is.

  1. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

Discuss it, either in private first or directly in chat or meta, depending on the situation.

  1. Users occasionally get into spats in comment sections. What is your role as a moderator in policing civility? What about in managing content (preventing substantive content from being drowned out by commentary)?

Moderators can move comments to chat, that's often a good way of getting long-winded discussions off to a better medium. Usually I leave a reminder to please incorporate any conclusion back into the answer. If there isn't just a discussion but an actual spat, merely telling the users involved to keep nice is often enough. When it isn't, see (4). Regarding managing content, Stack Exchange manages that fairly well through the comment/answer distinction; when users insist on editorializing in answers, sometimes moderators should step in and keep the answers on-topic.

  1. This site sometimes gets low-quality questions and answers (idiosyncratic, poorly researched, poorly explained, riddled with typos, etc.). What do you think the moderator's role is in dealing with these types of posts? Should moderators be interventionist or laissez-faire in dealing with these posts? If interventionist, how should moderators intervene?

To some extent, moderators should enforce quality standards if the community won't do it. I haven't seen a need for that on Emacs.SE though. Moderators can downvote or edit bad but not deletion-worthy posts like everyone else. Lack of effort is not a reason to close questions.

  1. Stack Exchange for Emacs: cute? nice? neat? awesome? how-dare-anyone-use-anything-else?

Nice. (And a big thanks to Sean Allred!) I prefer it to the Android app for most things, though I still mainly use a browser. If Stack Exchange exposed an API for advanced actions (closure, flagging, flag handling, etc.), I'd probably use SX more.

  1. 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've been both a high-rep user and a moderator on various SE sites, and I don't think the diamond is fundamentally different. It's more visible on comments, that's all. I'm still always speaking as myself and every reader will color what I say with their perception of me, that's unescapable.

  1. In your opinion, what do moderators do?

There's the technical part. Settle cases that the community can't do by itself because not enough voters are present. Implement decisions reached on meta. Speed up clear-cut cases. Use dangerous tools like tag merging or user destruction.

And there's the human part. Smooth things up. Settle disputes. Inspire or incite heated cases to cool off. Decide when to rein things in and when to cut off people. In a word, moderate.

(Ranting Pontificating waxing lyrical isn't moderator stuff, that's just me.)

  • I posted my answers after having the benefit of reading yours. They're really good. – Dan Feb 16 '16 at 15:45
4

Dan's answers

  1. What do you think this site's biggest challenge is? (E.g. post quality or quantity, too many/few closures, bad tools/guidance, etc.) What do you think should be done about it (whether it's by moderators, users in general, Stack Exchange staff, etc.)?

Although I can think of several challenges, I think that the biggest one is keeping people engaged with the site and active on it. We were never going to maintain the enthusiasm of the early beta days when people were posting lots of interesting questions/answers and voting heavily. However, I, and others, have noticed a gradual drop-off in voting and a harder-to-measure decline in the "interestingness" of questions.

Voting is a public good because it keeps people enthusiastic about the site and rewards them for asking/answering interesting questions. Interesting questions keep people coming back. As such, everybody has to take part, but high-rep users, in particular, need to lead by example. It's not because they're high-rep per se, but because they got to be high-rep by being active and knowledgeable. One can share knowledge by answering questions, and that's great. But one can/should also share knowledge by asking questions from which a lot of people can learn.

  1. The community may benefit from having you as a moderator, but what do you hope to gain? Why would you choose subjecting yourself to the additional responsibility?

I learn a lot about Emacs from this site, and I want it to continue for that very selfish reason. To be honest, I'm tempted to free-ride and let other people put in the work to keep it going.

However, I look at moderating this site as my way to contribute to the wider Emacs community. It's wonderful software with great documentation, and I haven't paid a cent for it. I couldn't begin to quantify how I've benefited from it, and, implicitly, from the countless volunteer-hours that went into it. I dabble in programming, but I'm no programmer. Moderating this site is my way of contributing my time to the collective hat.

  1. This site occasionally gets new users who do not yet understand the Stack Exchange norms. How do you propose to educate them on best practices (when and how to ask questions/post comments/post answers)? Sometimes new users simply will not respond to suggestions, though. At what point (if ever) is it reasonable for you as a moderator to cut your losses and start downvoting, closing, or even deleting their posts without explaining yourself?

We need to be welcoming to new users, and careful how we interact with them: I'd like them to stay and post good questions/answers. A friendly "Welcome to Emacs.SE!..." comment that offers constructive advice (clarify what you'd like to know, one question per post, so break yours up into multiple posts) is probably the most useful way to go.

There are occasions when new users don't respond to suggestions. Happily, it's not very often. I think we need to be especially forgiving of people whose first language is not English: smart people who speak the site's language imperfectly should not be penalized or made to feel stupid for it.

For those that really don't respond to suggestions -- the rare users who treat the site as their free, personal tech support -- I think it's fine to downvote and/or close after making a reasonable effort to get them up to speed on the site's norms.

  1. 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?

There are plenty of users on this site that generate great answers, so I don't think we need to tolerate abrasive behavior for fear of losing an irreplaceable resource.

Most people are reasonable, and most will recognize when they've allowed themselves to slip into an internet spat. A polite, "let's keep it friendly" intervention in the comments is usually plenty (along with a reminder that posts/comments should be kept on topic). For repeated problems, a private chat would be the next step, along the lines of "you contribute a lot of good stuff here, but some people are finding your tone off-putting." If it ever came to the point where we'd seriously consider suspending someone, it would need to be after consultation among all of the mods.

  1. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

Discuss it privately. In general, I'd prefer to err on the side of leaving things open if anyone can make a reasonable case to do so. That also means that I'm happy to be overruled by fellow mods.

  1. Users occasionally get into spats in comment sections. What is your role as a moderator in policing civility? What about in managing content (preventing substantive content from being drowned out by commentary)?

See answer (4). I think mods need to keep the site a reasonably friendly place. I don't think it means coddling anyone, and I don't think it means constant affirmation. But I do think it means that users should have a reasonable expectation that their posts will get constructive responses.

An aside on managing content: some of our posts get long-running comments sections, some of which is ephemeral. We've adopted a loose norm to allow chattiness, but I think mods can perform a useful service by waiting for the chatter to die down, and then curate the post by removing superfluous commentary. Doing so makes the post useful to the user who finds it a year later and doesn't want to wade through the babel in the comments section.

  1. This site sometimes gets low-quality questions and answers (idiosyncratic, poorly researched, poorly explained, riddled with typos, etc.). What do you think the moderator's role is in dealing with these types of posts? Should moderators be interventionist or laissez-faire in dealing with these posts? If interventionist, how should moderators intervene?

See answer (3). I do not think mods have a specific responsibility to clean up posts; I think it falls on everyone, but particularly high-rep users. However, given collective action problems, I think mods will end up doing a big chunk of it in practice.

I think our value-added here is not copy-editing. As part of moderating, we get an expansive view of the site that transcends specific questions. Our real value-added, when we do intervene, is to recast questions in more general terms that will be relevant to a much wider range of users than the original post was.

I think we should use reasonable discretion before choosing to edit posts in this way, and when we do, we should leave a comment for the original author to explain why we did it, and to offer to role back the changes if they conflict with the author's intent.

  1. Stack Exchange for Emacs: cute? nice? neat? awesome? how-dare-anyone-use-anything-else?

To be honest, I still use the browser for most of my SE work (cue irony). I like the idea of sx.el and it's on my list of things to do. However, I use evil with a very idiosyncratic keymap, and I just haven't worked up the gumption to set up the sx specifics so that my fingers will DWIM.

  1. 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?

Honestly, I find this part to be a bigger burden than the actual time I spend moderating. By "burden," I mean that I spend more time thinking about what I'm doing on the site, and, more specifically, how I can justify it. By "justify," I don't mean "how can I get away with X," but rather, "will reasonable users agree that X is a reasonable thing to do?" It imposes a responsibility to be more constructive and patient than I otherwise might be.

  1. In your opinion, what do moderators do?

We facilitate sharing. That means we help to keep the site running smoothly by taking care of administrative tasks. It also means that we encourage people to teach each other things through their questions, answers, and comments.

4

PythonNut's Answers

Sorry I'm a bit late to the party. I'd like to point out that I wholeheartedly agree with everything Dan, and Gilles have written. So I don't just copy everything they've said, here are my answers, to be taken as supplemental thoughts and personal rephrasing.


  1. What do you think this site's biggest challenge is? (E.g. post quality or quantity, too many/few closures, bad tools/guidance, etc.) What do you think should be done about it (whether it's by moderators, users in general, Stack Exchange staff, etc.)?

    I personally think that this site suffers from poorly posed questions. I don't even mean poorly researched questions, I mean questions where what's actually being ask is not well-defined, and especially where the titles are not specific enough. While the question may be good, it may not be helpful to others simply because it is difficult to find.

  2. The community may benefit from having you as a moderator, but what do you hope to gain? Why would you choose subjecting yourself to the additional responsibility?

    I could say that I hope to contribute to this community, which strengthens it and indirectly helps me, but that's not quite it. If I don't become a moderator, someone else will, and I'm far from certain that I'd make a better moderator than any of my peers.

    So why would I subject myself to responsibility? There are a lot of people in this world who do not take responsibility, and I think that's very sad. I'm here because I think it's good practice (in both senses of the phrase). 1) I want to gain the experience of having this responsibility and 2) I feel it's my obligation to assume as much responsibility as I can reasonably account for.

  3. This site occasionally gets new users who do not yet understand the Stack Exchange norms. How do you propose to educate them on best practices (when and how to ask questions/post comments/post answers)? Sometimes new users simply will not respond to suggestions, though. At what point (if ever) is it reasonable for you as a moderator to cut your losses and start downvoting, closing, or even deleting their posts without explaining yourself?

    Without explaining myself? I don't think this is ever acceptable. Downvotes should come with explanations, and this applies doubly so to closures and deletions. How can we expect users to improve if we do not point out what's wrong? It's certainly up to the user to make what they will of the explanation, and if we need to repeat ourselves, so be it.

    I'm certainly not suggesting that the original action not be taken. If a post should be closed, it should be closed. If a user produces a consistent stream of low-quality posts, they will find that they 1) are wasting time asking questions that will not get answered and 2) will lose reputation, and may ultimately be unable to continue asking. Both of these are bad for the user, as well as the community, but if a user won't listen to comments and private chats, then the system will eventually take care of it.

  4. 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?

    For a user who is consistently argumentative (beyond the measures in #6), a private chat is the next sensible step. I've honestly never seen someone who I thought was deserving of suspension, but if the situation ever became that grave, I would definitely ask the other moderators to weigh in as well.

  5. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

    I'm almost confused by this question, it seems to obvious. What would I do? I would ask the other mod about it in a chat. If I agree with their explanation, then there's no conflict. If I don't, I'll supply my line of reasoning. If we still disagree, we can call on the third moderator to break the tie. If that can't happen, I'll back down. I'm not going to have a ton of experience as a moderator, and I'm okay with being wrong.

  6. Users occasionally get into spats in comment sections. What is your role as a moderator in policing civility? What about in managing content (preventing substantive content from being drowned out by commentary)?

    As far as I know, the canonical answer is to move substantive discussions to chat.

    When it comes to conflict, I hope that jumping in with an objective and reasonable request for civility will help. Fundamentally, I cannot compel anyone to be nice, and if things go to far, I'll be forced to clean it up.

  7. This site sometimes gets low-quality questions and answers (idiosyncratic, poorly researched, poorly explained, riddled with typos, etc.). What do you think the moderator's role is in dealing with these types of posts? Should moderators be interventionist or laissez-faire in dealing with these posts? If interventionist, how should moderators intervene?

    Of course, see the answer to #3. If the English is particularly bad, I will fix it to the best of my abilities. My grandparents learned English as a second language, and I think we should be forgiving of linguistic challenges. Poorly explained questions usually deserve a comment, and poorly researched questions can either be commented on or closed.

    A laissez-faire community cannot govern itself. I certainly hope I'm not a laissez-faire user, and I don't expect becoming a moderator will change that. I tend to do more copy-editing (e.g. syntax highlighting comments), especially in old posts, but this is something I already do as a normal user.

  8. Stack Exchange for Emacs: cute? nice? neat? awesome? how-dare-anyone-use-anything-else?

    Cute. I don't use it, but it's on my long list of cool stuff to check out.

  9. 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?

  10. In your opinion, what do moderators do?

    I'm going to answer these two at the same time. Moderators are leaders. They have an obligation to not only perform moderation exclusive, but to also be a role model for other users. The diamond is a symbol of authority, sure, but it also distinguishes exemplary members of the community. To this day, I have yet to see a moderator that was not a paragon of good conduct.


If you think I'm being naive, (or maybe just wrong) please let me know! I always appreciate constructive criticism.

  • Thanks for the thoughtful answers! – Dan Feb 18 '16 at 1:19
3

Jordon's Answers

  1. What do you think this site's biggest challenge is? (E.g. post quality or quantity, too many/few closures, bad tools/guidance, etc.) What do you think should be done about it (whether it's by moderators, users in general, Stack Exchange staff, etc.)?

Specific questions that a Emacs generalist can't answer, usually dealing with Latex, ESS, CEDET, Spacemacs etc. The problem with these questions is that the population of people who can answer them is a lot smaller, and without understanding the tools it is hard to vote on or review the questions and answers. I think the only thing we can do is try our best to upvote answers on these questions to hopefully keep people around who can answer them.

  1. The community may benefit from having you as a moderator, but what do you hope to gain? Why would you choose subjecting yourself to the additional responsibility?

Enjoyment, I use this site because I like Emacs, and I like building the community around it. It's very rare that I need to use this site to have a question answered, yet I check the site everyday so I can help other users with their questions. Like my nomination said, I am here because I enjoy helping people get hooked on Emacs.

  1. This site occasionally gets new users who do not yet understand the Stack Exchange norms. How do you propose to educate them on best practices (when and how to ask questions/post comments/post answers)? Sometimes new users simply will not respond to suggestions, though. At what point (if ever) is it reasonable for you as a moderator to cut your losses and start downvoting, closing, or even deleting their posts without explaining yourself?

The turning point is when you get no response. Converting an answer into a comment, or flagging duplicates should be done no matter what. If the user is new I think you should leave a welcoming comment explaining what is happening. I would always comment before downvoting, and downvote before closing. Though first and foremost I would follow whatever procedure has generally been accepted by the other mods and SE overall.

  1. 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?

A user's valuable answers would have no effect on how I'd respond to improper comment behavior. I would preface a response comment with a thank you to make sure they know their contribution is appreciated, but it wouldn't change anything else.

  1. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

I would ask them why they closed it and offer my opinion as to why it shouldn't have been. I would aim to work with the other mod, and not against them.

  1. Users occasionally get into spats in comment sections. What is your role as a moderator in policing civility? What about in managing content (preventing substantive content from being drowned out by commentary)?

I would tell them to move their conversation to chat. If the comments provide substantial content for the question I would ask that they add it to an existing question or post a new one. If the conversation does move to chat or some time has passed, I would seek to delete all unhelpful or unrelated comments.

  1. This site sometimes gets low-quality questions and answers (idiosyncratic, poorly researched, poorly explained, riddled with typos, etc.). What do you think the moderator's role is in dealing with these types of posts? Should moderators be interventionist or laissez-faire in dealing with these posts? If interventionist, how should moderators intervene?

I think it is everyone's duty to flag duplicates no matter what. My desired approach would be to comment first, edit second, downvote third, and if no improvements are made, flag to close. This is not specific to moderators, any users with specific rights should aim to actively review such posts. I would be extra lenient if the user is new to SE. I would hope to work with the new user to help craft a good question or answer, this is what I would do now and it would not change if I was a moderator.

  1. Stack Exchange for Emacs: cute? nice? neat? awesome? how-dare-anyone-use-anything-else?

Awesome, though I do not use it regularly.

  1. 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 have no issue with that. I put my face and relatively unique real name next to everything I do on this site. If I didn't feel comfortable standing by and defending my actions and words in person, I wouldn't post it. I expect scrutiny.

  1. In your opinion, what do moderators do?

Step in when normal users can't. Be an advocate for the software and the site. Steer the content of the site towards great answers, great questions, and friendly interaction.

  • 2
    I especially like your answer to #1. I've been trying to think about how we should handle Spacemacs questions for a while now. – Dan Feb 18 '16 at 15:21
  • 2
    Spacemacs is definitely a hard one because often users think their problem is Spacemacs related when in fact it is not Spacemacs related at all but the wording of the question causes non-spacemacs users to pass them by. – Jordon Biondo Feb 18 '16 at 15:47
  • 1
    Also like your #1. Another, more extreme example, would be TRAMP. You can probably count the number of people who truly understand what's going on behind the scenes on one hand. – PythonNut Feb 18 '16 at 17:57

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