tpg2114's questionnaire answers:
(Side note -- thanks to ACuriousMind's post for being the first and setting a format)
- How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of answers with mixed or negative scores, but still manages to get thousands of rep (because upvotes count much more than downvotes)?
I understand such users can, in mild cases, generate resentment about the way the system works, and in more serious cases, gain access to the tools awarded high-reputation users that may be inappropriately used and/or abused. The disparity between reputation for upvotes and downvotes is a question I have raised previously for discussion.
The discussion at the time resulted in something that I still believe is true: a majority of high reputation users are not doing it for the reputation. They are doing it to educate others and to share their passion. So while some users may be able to game the system by producing mixed content, it will be relatively few. And I feel it would take a long time before they earned a high enough reputation to really do frustrating, site-harming levels of damage.
Long before that point, I would expect such users to either get bored or to mature to the point that it is no longer a problem. I don't think moderator intervention is required until actual damage is done, at which point the StackExchange platform and policies allow easy reversal of the damage and tools to remedy the situation with the user in question.
- As a moderator, what would be your highest priority between "Growth of the site" and "Quality of the questions and answers of the site"?
On some level, I challenge the premise of the question. I don't see that the two are diametrically opposed -- I believe the two go hand-in-hand. Quality questions and answers come from returning users, and the site grows by providing quality questions and answers so that users do return.
So, in that frame of reference, my focus would be on the quality of the site. By providing a wealth of information on a wide-variety of topics in physics, people will be driven to the site. And those who return will bring questions (and hopefully answers) that challenge and engage the users already here.
All that said, the role of a moderator in this process is relatively limited. Ultimately, moderators are an insignificant percentage of the content generators/handlers for the site -- the users must be engaged in quality and growth. To that end, as a moderator, my priority is ensuring that quality is maintained in a form that is welcoming and encouraging to users who want to be active participants in the goals of the site. Contrary to many of the debates the site has had previously, quality and friendliness are not opposites; rudeness is not required to communicate one's point effectively. This is, of course, balanced by the limited content length in comments (this is not a forum, after all) and the impersonal nature of the internet that may lead one to feel things are more personal and rude than they actually are.
- For some moderator actions, the current mods wait for a consensus from the whole group before taking the action. We have varying preferences about when to do this and when to just take action directly without checking with others. Which mod actions would you wait for consensus on, and which ones would you just do without checking? If you're not sure about a certain action, are you more likely to be conservative and wait for consensus, or be proactive and just do it?
Consensus is essential when there is uncertainty. Or at the very least, advice and guidance from those with more experience is essential.
Some actions create obvious situations where action must be taken. I can't enumerate a list here, but I will paraphrase US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart (read about the case) and Lord-Justice Stuart-Smith (the so-called Elephant Test) -- I'll know it when I see it. Spam, derogatory and offensive language, threats, etc. are all obvious and require immediate action.
More subtle topics, particularly those involving returning users, require some discussion and consensus building. Particularly because it may be a one-off instance or it may be a repeat problem, something that a new moderator (or even an existing one) may not be aware of.
- How much time do you expect you can commit to moderating the site? (A couple hours a month? Ten hours a week? Ten hours a day? Take a good guess) Also, do you anticipate any reason why that amount of time would significantly decrease in the future?
Simply put, as much as is needed. It would be hard to estimate how much time I actively spend on the site currently, I generally pop in and hang out for 10-15 minutes at a time, every few hours. As a result, it would be easy to catch things as they occur and deal with it accordingly. Naturally, more important or time consuming tasks can be completed as needed with very few scheduling constraints.
In the next several months, I will graduate. Given my current position in my research lab, virtually any job I take will be less time-consuming than what I am doing now. I may not be able to spare 10-15 minutes every few hours during the workday, but I will be able to dedicate longer stretches of time as needed.
- A diamond will be attached to everything you say and have said in the past, including questions, answers and comments and chatroom messages. Everything you will do will be seen under a different light. Do you feel like all the material you've posted on the site reflects that you would be a good moderator? Will becoming a moderator induces significant changes in what you do—and refrain from doing—on the site (outside the obvious addition of moderator duties)?
Obviously I am biased in my perception, but I feel that all of my material on the site has been constructive, and most importantly, something I stand behind. My activity on Meta has been focused on formulating policies and helping to define the role of the site. I haven't won every argument, but I feel that I have always been civil, level-headed and supported the results, even when I don't agree with them. I have also engaged in discussions with users who, at various times, have rubbed others the wrong way or been rubbed the wrong way themselves. In the cases I can recall participating, I have tried to remain objective and impersonal.
Rather than champion myself, I would encourage everybody to review my participation on the site (and for that matter, on the entire StackExchange network). I will happily discuss any content, past or present.
The biggest change in day-to-day activity is refraining from pulling the trigger on the close vote since it is now binding. As a regular user, I have no problem expressing my opinion about whether a question is off-topic -- a question takes 4 others to agree and if I'm wrong as a regular user, no harm. As a moderator, that luxury no longer exists. On the other hand, I don't see putting a question "on hold" as a death sentence or a condemnation of the user or the topic. It is a chance to improve the question in a way that is fair to those who will spend time answering (nobody likes writing an elaborate answer only to have the question change drastically).
- Where do you think the boundaries of our scope should lie, in terms of topic? In other words, where do you draw the line between "physics" and other topics, and how do you feel about questions that lie in the various grey areas between physics and other disciplines? Do you generally feel that our scope should be broader or narrower than it is now? How are your views on these topics likely to affect your actions as a moderator?
I feel this area, more than any others, is the best use of my skills as part of the moderation team. I have started several conversations directly regarding this area:
- What is engineering and what is experimental design?
- What is the fate of the engineering tag?
- Should we allow software questions? (take 3)
- Big list resource questions
as well as extensive participation in related areas (as well as the dreaded "homework" topic):
- Engineering questions and answers that are closely related to Physics
- It is on-topic to ask about computer software useful to do some particular task?
- Network science can be a branch of physics
- Adding computational science to the list of on-topic items in the Help Center
- Realistically, are atmospheric physics questions on topic and acceptable?
- Are questions about mathematics used in physics always off topic?
- Engineering questions and answers that are closely related to Physics
I firmly believe that we should not look at Physics.SE as isolated from the other sites in the StackExchange network. The entire network is like a library -- there is no reason to go to the physics shelf if I have a question about chemistry.
Gray areas are okay, provided the content is asking for an underlying explanation of the physics. My favorite punchline whenever this comes up is this: This is a site of physics, not physicists -- asking for a good apple pie recipe is not on-topic just because you are a physicist. Likewise, how to take derivatives are not on topic just because it came up in a mechanics class.
As a moderator, I would continue to bring up topics for discussion that may reside in these gray areas. I want to make sure the community can provide clarity for what it expects, and I enjoy leading those discussions.
- In what way do you feel that being a moderator will make you more effective as opposed to simply reaching 10k or 20k rep?
There are two simple answers: first, I will become more effective because I will get access to the moderation tools immediately; second, many flags and interactions with users require moderators and are not available to high-rep users.
My reputation-earning participation on the site has always been in a small subset of the community, the fluid-dynamics questions. Because it is a small subset, it would be difficult to get from 10k to 20k and so I would be able to contribute more, immediately, as a moderator.
- Where do you think the boundaries of our scope should lie, in terms of level? That is, do you see this as primarily a site for physics students, or for physics researchers, or both equally? How is your stance on this likely to affect your actions as a moderator?
This is a site for researchers of physics and students of physics. This is subtly different from physics students and physics researchers. I feel this site is best served by catering to those whom require and can share knowledge of the many areas of physics and not by catering to those who happen to be students in a physics class.
A business major desperately trying to pass a kinematics class is a physics student and not the target audience. But an engineering student who needs to understand why a bridge may collapse is welcome (provided the questions and answers are about the underlying physics) because such a person is a student of physics.
Likewise, we are not limited to physics researchers (those who research topics one would classically consider physics). A chemist who would like to understand the statistical mechanics underpinning of chemical reactions is welcome here.
Now, as a moderator, I don't see how my views directly influence my actions. The community decides the scope of the site and it may grow, shrink, or otherwise adapt over time. My position as moderator is to lead the discussions, help formulate the resulting policies, and help educate users in the enforcement of the policies. The community is self-policing and will enforce the standards set forth.
- 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?
It takes a broad view of a users activity to understand whether there is a problem or not. We've all had bad days and so maybe the comments are out of character. It is also possible that, given the limited length of comments, that some things come across as rude/abrupt because they are succinct. This generally is the case when relatively new users feel slighted because they expect the site to behave like a traditional forum.
The nature of the flags must also be considered. No user, no matter how knowledgeable, no matter how much reputation, may be threatening, post spam, nor make extremely offensive statements. To a lesser extent, ad hominem attacks are not welcome either. Content should be criticized, not people. And even in the criticism of content, it doesn't need to be rude to communicate effectively.
All of that said, the approach would be to build up a good understanding regarding the track record of the user in question and try to determine the motivations. It may be temporary, it may be targeted (the users in question may have a history together), it may be an overly-sensitive person flagging, or it may be a legitimate problem. And in some cases, it could be a combination of all of the above. Once the problem is understood, it can be approached accordingly.
- How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?
The first step is to open a dialogue. Just because I feel something shouldn't have happened, doesn't mean that I am correct. It also doesn't mean that I am impartial -- perhaps I feel something shouldn't have been closed, but the policies are quite clear that it should have been.
I don't think that moderators should create policy, but they do act as arbiters of policy and as a result, their actions may lead to policies expanding or contracting without it ever being formally written down. As this happens, it is important for other moderators (and especially for the users) to start a dialogue when they feel the actions have extended beyond the scope of the written policy. Maybe the result of the discussion is the actions should be formally written down because it is better for the site; perhaps the result is that the policy is clarified in an opposite direction of the actions taken. In either case, the role of the other moderators is to lead a discussion with the community.
This site is strong enough now that I would be hard pressed to imagine a truly egregious action would not be called to attention by regular users. And I hope that is the case -- the users are the ultimate resource of the site and the wishes of the community need to be respected. I would encourage users to discuss the rules and moderation of the site openly -- and most importantly -- in a civil and constructive fashion.