Author Archive

June/July 2013 Newsletter

2013-08-12 by Grace Note. 0 comments

Deleted Comment Improvements: Undelete and In-line View

Deleted comments may now be undeleted by moderators. This can be useful if a comment was accidentally deleted during a clean-up, or if there is valuable guidance that was otherwise removed without cause. In addition, deleted comments can now be loaded directly onto the page, allowing you to view them alongside the post and in order with the rest of the comments.

Check left side of post → ‘# deleted comments’

Learn more → ‘start’ » Moderators should be able to undelete comments

Review History For Close Votes

Moderators can now review items in the close vote queue which they had previously skipped. As a moderator, sometimes you’ll come across an item in the review queue that you think the rest of the community should look at first – but you had no way to follow up on it prior. With this new functionality, you can re-evaluate items in the event that no community action was taken. This does not apply to items which you did not explicitly skip or otherwise act on.

Check lower right corner of close review queue → checkbox marked “Show only my own reviews (including skipped)

Learn more → Let moderators navigate the review queues at will

Moderator Badges

We’re happy to announce that we’re adding two new mod-only gold badges to our roster to honor those who have dedicated so much of their time to helping run the sites on our network. The Constable badge will be awarded to users who have serve as a pro tem moderator on a beta site either for at least one year, or until the site reaches graduation. The Sheriff badge will be awarded to users who have served as an elected moderator on a site for at least one year.

We’d like to take this time to thank the entirety of our moderator base for the work they put in every day to keep the network operational and our Q&A solid. We love you all.

Close Flags and Low Quality Flags Now Place Posts In Review Queue

Flags for closure (“does not belong on this site”) are no longer considered to require urgent moderator attention, and no longer go into the moderator flag queue. Instead, they put the question into the “Close Votes” queue for users to review. The flags on them will be processed based how the item gets processed in the queue – flags will be approved for questions that get close votes, and declined for those that do not. This should allow moderators to focus on the more immediate needs on their site, but you can always dive into the review queue yourself (found under /review/close) if you want to check on closing jobs.

Similarly, low quality flags (“very low quality” under “it needs ♦ moderator attention”) will also send posts into the “Low Quality Posts” queue. The number of flags on such a post will affect how many “Looks Good” pardons a post needs to get out of the queue without editing. Additionally, once a post has been dismissed from the queue (for better or for worse), further flags won’t place it back into the queue. Unlike close flags, these remain items considered for moderator attention, and will remain in the moderator flag queue.

Read more on close flags → Replace close flags with close suggestions

Read more on low quality flags → Can flags send a post into the low quality review queue?

Handling Custom Close Reasons

With the new close system introduced in our last issue, we have introduced the ability for moderators to supply custom off-topic close reasons for their sites. Each site can have up to 3 off-topic reasons specified, which will be shown as part of the blurb that appears underneath a closed question. If you have not yet done so, you should work with your community on your Meta site to determine what these reasons should be for your site. For some advice on things to think about while working on this, I recommend reading the accepted answer for What do site moderators need to do to support the new custom question close reasons?

Sharing Private Information

Contacting users should be reserved for serious moderation issues only. When you find yourself in the position of needing to contact a user privately, make sure that you don’t inadvertently reveal any personally identifiable information about another user in the message.

Examples of how this can happen accidentally are:

  • Giving the user names of other accounts that have been seen at the same IP address of the person you’re contacting. You’ve just revealed the IP address of other users to someone else if they aren’t the same person.
  • Giving the user names of other accounts that voted for or against the user you’re contacting. While this doesn’t explicitly violate our privacy policy – voting is something that should be completely anonymous.

As a general rule, you should avoid talking to users about other users in private communication. If you must mention a specific user to another user, make sure you do so only by mentioning the user by their display name, and do not reveal any additional information about them.

Relating to this, PII on user profiles is now hidden by default on all use profile pages. This is done to stress the fact that this information should not be shared or related and to make it more obvious to normal users that their information is only visible to them (and moderators). Please continue to exercise caution whenever you handle PII.

If you feel unsure, please contact the community team before initiating contact with the user.

Live Updates For Future Moderator Newsletters

Starting with our August 2013 issue, we’ll be providing articles regarding mod-specific functionality changes immediately here on stackmod.blog. In essence, rather than building up several articles over the course of a month, we will be providing news as things are added to the system. At the end of each month, all the compiled articles up until then will be grouped together and sent via email, just like we do today. This is the one of a few things we’re doing to make our communication to moderators more timely.

The content of the updates here will continue to focus on items that are specifically relevant to moderation. For general system changes or fixes, our Recent Feature Changes thread on Meta Stack Overflow generally has a more comprehensive list.

May 2013 Newsletter

2013-06-13 by Grace Note. 0 comments

New “Help Center” is Live!

We just rolled out the new ‘help’ center linked at the top of your site. The gist of this project is to consolidate the various FAQs, meta posts, and blog posts into a much more comprehensive, educational resource. See Introducing a brand new, consolidated, Help Center. This is an on-going project, so we’ll be adding many more articles and features addressing your ideas and concerns.

Please note that the article, “what topics can I ask here?” replaces the old on- and off-topic section of the FAQ — so please be sure yours is up to date. If your site has particular needs not addressed by the Help Center, please discuss your ideas with the community in meta, tagged [help-center].

Changes to the Closing System are Rolling Out

After months of discussion, work, and input from the community, we’ve begun rolling out changes to the close system. These changes are designed to improve the closing experience for both the community and the author of the post. Please read through the Closing Changes meta post for more information. The new reasons are being tested on Meta Stack Overflow this week, and we’re aiming to launch them everywhere else early next week.

Suspensions Limited to One Year

We are capping the length of time you can suspend a user to one year. If you are currently using the suspension system to, essentially, lock an account with multi-year suspensions, please simply ‘destroy’ the account instead. We maintain access to account information (IP addresses, email, access logs, etc), even after the account has been destroyed, so there is no need to hold an account hostage just to preserve those records.

If you have clear evidence that an account is being used inappropriately (spam, sock puppets, persistent trolls, circumventing suspensions, etc), continue to message or suspend the user as you see fit. If the account is clearly not made in good faith (i.e. promoting discount gucci handbags), feel free to proceed to deleting it. If there’s any doubt, please contact the community team before deleting the account outright.

Finding Problem Users in Chat

We’ve added a few simple reports to the chat system, listing users with potential problems like ‘multiple flagged messages’, ‘ignored by multiple people’, and ‘users who have invited multiple people’.

These reports are are located in the chat directory:

Leaving Comments on Deleted Posts

Moderators are now able to leave comments on deleted and locked posts. This will allow you to leave helpful guidance when a post need to be deleted quickly (or has already been deleted). Remember that your comments will appear in a user’s inbox, even after it has been deleted (July 2011), so please leave a short note when a user’s post disappears unexpectedly!

Swag Changes

With the network getting bigger and the number of moderators growing, we unfortunately have to stop doing customized business cards for moderators on graduated sites. Designing and producing those ended up taking more time than anyone had anticipated. We’ll still offer and send out business cards to any moderator who wants them, but they’re going to look a lot more like the cards we have for our employees: front back

On the upside, we are also introducing a new item to show our appreciation for everything you all do:

These will be available exclusively to moderators and employees and should go into production shortly. If you’d like one, please fill out your information here and we’ll have them shipped out ASAP once they’re ready.

April 2013 Newsletter

2013-05-10 by Grace Note. 0 comments

Deleted Question Visibility

We’re happy to announce that going forward, any user can see their own deleted questions if they are given a link. They still cannot access it via the profile page, but any link will suffice. We hope that this new functionality will make guidance for new users a lot easier for mods, as well as making the experience as a whole much smoother.

As a reminder, if a moderator leaves a comment within an hour before deleting a post, this leaves a permanent entry in the post author’s inbox that links to the post. This, combined with the new visibility of deleted questions, allows you to communicate with the users even if you have to remove the post.

Early Deletion Privilege Tweak

We’re introducing a tweak into the existing 20k privilege that allows users to delete closed questions before the first two days pass. Now, in the first two days, users with 20,000 reputation can only delete a closed question if it has a score of -3 or less. After the first two days, deletion requirements are the same as always.

Deletion within the first two days is meant to handle egregious posts and terrible spam. We hope that by altering the privilege in this fashion, it should avoid issues with removing otherwise salvageable posts too quickly and allow time for askers to learn and/or edit their posts.

New Audit Stats Available with Advanced Review Stats

We have added some new statistics for your studying pleasure to the Review Audit Stats we introduced in last month’s issue. We have also made the page a lot more accessible with a simpler route than before:

   From the page top ‘mod’ link → ‘links’ » ‘Advanced review stats’

The following new statistics are available on this page in each queue:

  • AvgDuration(s) notes the average time that the user spends on each task in that queue in seconds;

  • AuditTotal notes the total number of audit tasks that the user has run into in that particular queue;

  • AuditPass% notes what percentage of audit tasks that the user has successfully completed compared to all tasks run into within that particular queue.

We believe these stats will be helpful in identifying or analyzing suspicious or curious activity within the review queues.

A Small Note About Contacting The Community Team

When you send us an email as a moderator, especially through the team@ support address that everyone uses, please be sure to identify that you are a moderator and on which site you are a moderator. This will help us parse the information of the email faster.

March 2013 Newsletter

2013-04-01 by Grace Note. 0 comments

Calling for Elections – Need More Help? Just Ask!

In the past, the community team was monitoring sites to determine when they needed more mods in order to maintain good coverage. Recently,we realized that we’re usually not the people most qualified to know when there’s a need. You are!

Going forward, the main trigger for us to consider holding elections will be the existing mod team telling us they need more help. As of now, any time you feel that your site is understaffed, either because the workload is increasing or because there aren’t enough active moderators, please get as much team consensus as possible, and then email the Community Team to let us know how many additional mods you think make sense to add.

After reviewing these requests, we may suggest a different number, or offer to reach out to any less active mods first, etc. But most of the time, since you’re in the best position to tell us what your team needs, and we’ll work with you to get an election scheduled.

Review Queue – Advanced Statistics

We have made a more in-depth set of review statistics available to moderators. Each queue now includes the number of times a reviewer has picked each available action, and what percent of their total actions it represents. This should provide you with a much better overview of how your community is using review, as well as a way to detect those who seem to be reviewing in bad faith and may need to be temporarily blocked (see below).

    Go to review via the top navigation bar → Pick any queue » ‘stats’ » ‘Advanced stats’ in the right sidebar

You can change the queue you’re viewing at any time using the dropdown labeled “Queue:”.

Suspending Users from Reviewing

We have implemented a system for blocking users from using the review queues for 1 to 30 days.

Most people using Review do so in a helpful manner, but you may encounter a few users who do not. If someone does not appear to be reviewing in good faith (always choosing the same action, regardless of content, repeatedly approving poor edits, etc.) short time-out may be a gentle reminder to slow down and pay attention.

    From the page top ‘mod’ link → ‘links’ » ‘Review bans’ » Enter user ID or URL

This page also includes a list of user who are currently banned, either by a moderator or due to failing audits. This functionality is available regardless of whether your site has audits enabled.

New Unicode Tag System

Full Unicode support for tags now available and can be turned on for sites that need it. If you think your site would benefit from it, make a meta post, including examples of how it would be beneficial, gather community support, and propose a plan for how you’d use these tags either alongside or instead of “normal” tags. The more information you can provide, the more easily we can implement your request. Once you have all of the information gathered, email the Community Team, and we’ll be happy to review the thread.

How to Contact Users

This is mostly a reminder. It is rare that a moderator should need to directly email a user at their email address, especially with regards to normal moderator duties. Most of your private contact needs should be done through moderator messages – it’s both less intrusive to the user and also automatically informs the rest of the moderators and the Community Team that something is happening. If you find yourself needing to email a user for moderator reasons but not using a moderator message, make sure to also BCC the rest of your team, and the Community Team, on every exchange so that everyone is on the same page.

February 2013 Newsletter

2013-03-11 by Grace Note. 0 comments

Always Leave a Paper Trail

It is sometimes necessary for a moderator to take unilateral action without community process or review. Whenever possible, it is extremely helpful to leave artifacts about what happened. Comments can be left, even on deleted posts, to be a public-facing notice of the action. Flags can be used when deleting troublesome comments to separate from simple cleanup. A strange run-in with a user or concerns about a user’s recent activity, can be annotated on their profiles.

These artifacts will help your fellow moderators, the Community Team, or even regular users of the site to understand why actions were taken. It can help not only for their own information seeking benefit, but also as an easy way for yourself to remember why you may have taken an action.

User Merge Clarifications and Process

In last month’s issue, we announced a major policy change regarding how user merges are handled – namely that they are to be sent to the Community Team. The removal of moderator access to the tool has been completed.

To speed up the process, moderators may use the same form that a user uses in order to submit a merge request on their behalf. It remains a part of our quick help center available at the bottom of every page.

    From any page footer → ‘contact us’ » ‘Merge user profiles’

In order to prevent confusion, please enter your own email address and not the email address of the user that requires merging when submitting the form.

Audits in Review Tasks

Audits have been inserted into the review tasks as a means for catching users who try to skim past the review tasks unscrupulously. At the moment, this is only enabled for Stack Overflow, Super User, Server Fault, and Programmers. On those sites you may observe progress on how users are faring on the audits in your mod tools as follows:

    From the page top ‘mod’ link → ‘links’ » ‘Review Audits’

    Follow updates on the development on Meta Stack Exchange → review-audits tag

We’re constantly working out the kinks as new reports come in about the process. As we smooth things out, this will eventually be able to be deployed across more sites in the network.

January 2013 Newsletter

2013-02-01 by Grace Note. 0 comments

Brand New About Page — a Quick Start to the Network

We’re rolling out a massively revamped ‘about’ page for each site, designed to help introduce new users to Stack Exchange. It replaced the original about page on all non-Meta sites. Your feedback is appreciated. We also have some guidelines to keep in mind when making changes to /about.

    Learn more → “Quick Start” guide to help new users learn the basics

    See the /about guidelines → What should we put in our about page?

User Merge Guideline Changes

We are changing our guidelines with respect to how users are merged. From now on, users who request to have accounts merged (accidental duplicate accounts, unregistered user replicants, people who lose access to their original account) should all be directed to the appropriate user merge Help section on your site.

    From any page footer → ‘contact us’ » ‘Merge user profiles’

On the topic of sockpuppetry for voting or other unacceptable behavior, please do not merge these accounts on your own. Please review such cases with the community team by sending us word at community@stackexchange.com.

New Moderator Message for Targeted Voting

A new ‘contact user privately’ template has been added.

    From the user profile → ‘mod’ » ‘contact user privately’ » ‘select message template’ » “targeted votes”

This is designed for handling users who may not have sockpuppets, per se, but are engaged in sketchy voting practices with friends or associates.

Analyzing Review Tasks on Posts

Moderators have a new tool to list the review tasks performed on a post. Similar to observing flag history, posts now have a review history that can be studied. It’s available from any post that has had /review actions.

    From any post → ‘mod’ » ‘show review history’

    Learn more → Add moderator-visible review task links to posts that are enqueued

Votes Analysis Tool Update

We have improved the voting analysis tool used to examine voting trends from one user against others, especially on the end of invalidated votes.

    From the user profile → ‘mod’ » ‘info’ tab » ‘votes’

Separate instances of vote invalidation is shown as separate events. The date of each incident is also displayed. Additionally, we now display invalidations both incoming and outgoing on the user.

System messages are now unavailable

System messages (a bit of text displayed near the top of every page on the site) have always been intended for system-critical notifications – the site going into read-only mode for maintenance, zombie hordes attacking, etc. However, they were often used for rather more mundane events.

Some time ago, we added a Community Bulletin Board tool for non-critical announcements of general interest to the community. Now that it’s been out in the wild for a bit, we’ve removed moderator access to the system message tool.

Summer and Fall 2012 Omnibus Newsletter

2012-12-18 by Grace Note. 0 comments

New /help System

We always provide an avenue for users of our sites to contact us. Using information gathered from the volume of emails we received, we developed a new “help” page dedicated to answering a lot of the most common support questions. It can be found from the “contact us” link at the bottom of every page, and you can see Stack Overflow’s version here.

http://stackoverflow.com/help

This may have been developed primarily to assist users who are heading to ask the team questions, but we hope it can still be helpful to our moderation team. The many links contained within, and the guides written for them, should be usable for meta, chat, and comment inquiries from new users who run into these issues.

Changes to Migration

After many discussions regarding the complications that arise from migrating old and highly voted questions from the larger sites over to smaller sites, we have implemented some new regulations and systems regarding migration.

First, migrations are no longer permitted for questions older than 60 days. This is a simple block that prevents the migration from happening, even from moderators.

Should it be important to move older posts, there is an alternative method for performing these. It’s a three step process. First, the destination site will build a listing of questions which would be acceptable to migrate. Then, the source and destination communities will confer together and help confirm which posts are valid to move over, by vetting the losses. Finally, once the two communities have come to a consensus, the list can be brought before the Stack Exchange Team to perform a one-time migration of all the posts.

New Under-Age User Policy

We have amended the process for handling users who are found to be less than 13 years of age. Suspension until they reach the required age is no longer a valid option as it still leaves potentially sensitive information online.

Therefore, the new policy is to please send any discovery of such individuals to the Community Team. We will handle the disposal of the user’s private and identification data. You can reach us through community@stackoverflow.com.

Plagiarism

We have added a new template to the selection of pre-written moderator messages that you can work from when sending a message to a user. This message is for handling users who are plagiarizing their posts from other sources, be it in our network or completely external. Below is an excerpt from it.

It has come to my attention that several of your answers consisted primarily or entirely of text copied from other answers or websites, without any indication that you were quoting nor any reference to the source of the text. Such plagiarism disrespects those authors who put effort into the original answers, and will not be tolerated.

Please remember that plagiarism and copyright are two separate things. We do not place the duty of seeking and enforcing copyright on moderators.

Enhancements to /review System

As announced much earlier in the year, we implemented a /review system to help reduce the load on moderators. It is aimed at streamlining the access of normal users to the elements that need their privileges (namely, editing and closing). Two new features have been introduced in the past months.

First, there is what we call “audit” tasks. These are items in the review queue that are not actual items from the site, but rather tests to confirm that users are actually paying attention. Their job is to catch users who would blow through the queue without proper review. Information on failed audits is logged (and the reviewer chided) – repeated failures may result in users being blocked from /review for some period of time (we’re currently sending warnings and imposing blocks manually).

Second, the much-requested “reopen queue” has been introduced. The sister component to the close queue, this queue contains questions that have votes to reopen them. Reviewers may elect to further vote for reopening, or to opine that the question should stay closed (one moderator “leave closed” response – or three such responses from ordinary users – will remove the post from the queue).

Private Email Contact

This is just a small reminder of our policies regarding email contact. Contacting a user by private email should be exceedingly rare. Whenever it is at all possible, please use the following from a user’s profile page.

> ‘mod’ > ‘contact user’

This provides full disclosure and visibility to the other moderators (and the Community Team), as well as keeps records on the site and linked to the user for easy reference.

If you absolutely MUST contact users via private email, please BCC the Community Team and the rest of the moderators.

And please note that use of email addresses for personal use (i.e. outside strict issues of moderation) is against our privacy policy. If you have need to contact users outside these conditions, please contact us for clarification.