January 2013 Newsletter

2013-02-01 by . 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.

Filed under newsletter

Summer and Fall 2012 Omnibus Newsletter

2012-12-18 by . 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.

Filed under newsletter

May/June 2012 Newsletter

Wow, Moderator FAQs and Cheat Sheets

We have never published a “Moderator Manual” for Stack Exchange. Learning the ins and outs of moderation is largely done “on the job.” But our intrepid Moderator community has stepped up and produced some fantastic compilations that should be part of every moderator toolbox:

Stack Exchange Moderator FAQ

Moderator Cheat Sheet

These posts include many common issues raised by Moderators in the Teachers’ Lounge. Give these a once-over and bookmark them for later; you’ll no doubt find them useful.

Community Bulletin Board

We’ve discouraged the use of system-message banners for general announcements and non-critical events. As the Emergency Broadcast System for your site, it must remain clear under normal circumstances. But long last, we have a feature explicitly designed for you to post announcements, events, site news and such:

Nailing it upon your Community Bulletin Board

The Community Bulletin Board is a place for you to post scheduled events, featured meta posts, or to simply highlight anything of interest to your community. The basic guidelines for using this are:

  • Items should generally involve the scope of your site.
  • Descriptions (separate from titles for scheduled events) should be short but descriptive.
  • Add your scheduled events far enough ahead of time to allow folks to make time for them.

Also, please remember to remove the [featured] tags from posts once they are no longer relevant. This happens automatically if you wait long enough, but let’s try to keep the ‘featured’ posts both relevant and timely.

View Deleted Comments

You can now display all the comments left by a specific user in one listing, including those comments which have been deleted.

To view a user’s comments, navigate to their profile and click the ‘mod’ link. Select the ‘info’ tab and click ‘comments’.

Using the tabs across the top, you can view ‘active’, ‘deleted’, or ‘all’ comments. This is a useful feature when you are looking into the general behavior of a user, or investigating a reported pattern of abuse.

A More-Readable Privacy Policy

Have you seen our reformatted, easier-to-read Privacy Policy?

Stack Exchange Inc. Official Privacy Policy

While updating the Safe Harbor/EU privacy requirements, we went ahead and included a much-welcomed “English for the rest of us” description for each section. These headings make it easier to find what you need when privacy issues come up.

Filed under newsletter

April 2012 Newsletter

On Cross Posting, Migrations, and Scope Gerrymandering

Finally, a blog post that tackles some of problems faced by sites with overlapping domains. This is a good read with some notable policies for dealing with this issue. It’s worth familiarizing yourself with, particularly for younger sites. Have a look.

Respect the community – your own, and others’

Your Role in Copyright Enforcement

What do you do when someone claims an answer was copied illegally, or maybe a teacher is claiming that a student is posting test questions on your site? Here in the States, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) tells us very specifically how to handle claims of copyright infringement.

Your role in enforcement — As moderators, you are not employees of Stack Exchange. In essence, you are free to moderate the site for content how you see fit. If you are ever notified about copyrighted material, and feel like taking it down, that’s cool… but you are not required to do so. You are not DMCA agents (we have those of our own). If you get a request for takedown, you can either remove the post OR point the person to the Copyright Policy linked below.

Here at Stack Exchange central, we have to be concerned about claims of copyright infringement that may not be valid. If WE (Stack Exchange Inc.) get notices to take down offending content, the claimants need to follow DMCA procedure and contact us with the correct form. It’s all outlined in the Terms Of Service:

Stack Exchange Network Terms of Service

“Reporting Copyright Infringements”

Our TOS covers all the relevant info about DMCA.The claimants will have to contact us with the necessary forms and information. That makes the issue pretty simple and straightforward on your end. Delete or reply with link.

Filed under newsletter

March 2012 Newsletter

New Voting Fraud Detection Tools

The primary way to gain reputation is by posting good questions and useful answers. But with any competitive system, there will always be a few people who try to cheat (Vote Fraud and You). We take this very seriously, and provide some serious tools for detecting and dealing with voting fraud. This tool set got a recent upgrade:

'mod' > 'links' > 'Suspicious vote patterns'

If there is suspicious voting activity (an unusual number of votes shared between accounts), the links found in this list will provide some nice visualization tools to see where shared activity might be occurring.

A note of caution — Not everything listed here is necessarily bad. Unless you are familiar with these tools, I would encourage you to bring suspected fraud issues to the Teacher’s Lounge where we’ll walk you through the process to investigate it further. For details, see this fraud detection tools discussion in chat and what to do if you find fraudulent activity.

Reputation Recalc Removed

The ability to recalculate a user’s reputation has been removed from the ‘mod’ menu. The function is no longer necessary because the displayed score is now kept current with all the voting activity.

Up until recently, a user’s reputation score was only an approximation user’s actual score. Actions like deleting posts or removing users (and their votes) weren’t always reflected in the user’s displayed score. Over time, these discrepancies would add up, so a recalculation was the only remediation. That action is no longer necessary.

A system-wide recalculation was performed, so if your users are asking about unexpected changes in their reputation score, you can refer them to this blog post:

Reputation and Historical Archives

New Stack Exchange Beta Theme

If your site is in beta, it’s about to get a much-needed facelift. We are retiring the familiar “Sketchy” theme and rolling out a more-polished and finished design for the beta sites. The blog post below will answer any questions your users may have. It also outlines some of the reasons behind this change and how it will benefit your community.

The New Stack Exchange Beta Theme

Filed under newsletter

January/February 2012 Newsletter

Flag Weight is Dead, Long Live Flag Weight!

Due to popular request, flag weight has been removed from user profiles. It is gone.

Instead, when users flag posts, they will see a ‘helpful flags’ count on their profile which links to a flag audit page. This listing contains a breakdown of flag outcomes by flag type (moderator attention, spam, offensive, etc).

Users can only see their own count, but moderators can see the count on every user’s profile page. This allows you to see if a user is doing a good job of flagging posts… or letting you know if they are consistently misusing flags in some way. Now with the transparency of the audit pages, moderators can feel easier about ‘declining’ flags as a learning experience to help users improve their flagging activity.

Moderator Capacity Issues

Moderating is a volunteer activity and everyone needs a vacation once in awhile. If moderation starts to become a daily grind, don’t hesitate to take a break. If you’re going to step away for more than a few days, just let us know. We can cover for you.

And if the moderation overload becomes chronic, please tell us! With 268 moderators, sometimes obvious signs of under-staffing are missed. If we know there’s a problem, we can take corrective measures to address the workload.

Tag Wikis on Your Meta are Now Editable

If you’re a long-time reader of our Moderator Newsletter, you’ll remember the significance of filling out your Tag Wikis. Now you can edit the wikis on your meta site, too. Sometimes the default tag wikis are not right for your site. Now you have full control to design the tag wikis to fit your community.

Direct Links to Comments Now Supported

Did you know you can link directly to a comment for reference? The time stamp following a comment is now a permalink to that comment. Try it out for yourself; it’s been enabled everywhere: http://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/5436/direct-link-to-a-comment#comment319463_120688.

The Canonical FAQ on Meta SO

I’m not generally a big fan of crowd-sourced FAQs. They tend to accumulate increasingly obscure issues which eventually devolves into the bulleted list from hell. But the Meta Stack Overflow questions tagged ‘faq’ have actually shaped up into a nice collection of the most-asked questions users have. Next time you’re not quite sure how a feature works, use this resource as your “cheat sheet” to find the answers: Meta Stack Overflow Questions Tagged ‘faq’.

 

Filed under newsletter

December 2011 Newsletter

Absentee Moderator Policy

We are in the process of implementing a policy for “absentee moderators” —

Any moderator who is not active on the site for a period of six months is subject to removal of their moderator abilities.

Moderatorship is an elected position, so if an absentee moderator returns to the site, they may be eligible for reinstatement. We understand that sometimes life happens: projects come up at work, other obligations take priority. If you need to take an extended leave of absence, just let us know and we will make the necessary accommodations. This policy is simply a way to help us better determine where additional help may be needed.

System Messages for Chat Events

This is old news, but it’s not widely known. When a moderator creates a chat event, a system message will be generated automatically to remind everyone when the event is about to occur. This came up as a revelation to most moderators during Chat Cast #031. These notifications can make a huge difference in the visibility for the event. Chat events created by non-moderators will not generate this notification.

Notes on Migrating Posts

This issue seems to come up a lot in the Teachers’ Lounge — When you see an exceptionally good question that doesn’t fit on your site, migrating great content to another site can sometimes be appropriate. But don’t hesitate to simply close mediocre off-topic questions. Migrations were never meant to simply shuttle off-topic question to the next “closest fit.” Ideally, the author should re-ask the question in the context of the proper site, but if a lot of great content has already been added to the post, migrations can be a useful tool. But don’t feel obligated to fulfill every flag request to migrate a question. Just close mediocre off-topic questions. When in doubt, ask in the Teachers’ Lounge.

Slow Month? Not Really.

For those who don’t follow every announcement in meta.stackexchange.com, I try to keep this newsletter to the top 5-7 thing you need to know each month. But this month is filled with redesigned profile pages and user experience improvements that you’ve likely already found. So rather than filling space with fluff, I’ll close this year out with a few resources every moderator should find useful:

  • If you don’t frequent the moderator chat room, it’s worth dropping in from time to time to check the list of “pinned” discussions on the right sidebar. Those starred messages do a pretty good job of summarizing the major concerns and announcements of the previous weeks. So, if chat isn’t your thing, a brief visit once every few weeks will provide a nice summary of the more notable events stemming from those discussions.
  • The Recent Feature Changes to Stack Exchange listing provides an up-to-date log of all the major new features added to Stack Exchange. Check it out every few weeks to see the new features and functionality added to your site.
  • If you don’t follow the Stack Exchange Blog, you may want to at least bookmark the reference category. It holds many of the most referenced blog posts and policy decisions you are likely to need.

That’s all I have for now. See you next month and Happy New Year!

Filed under newsletter

November 2011 Newsletter

/Review Page Improvements

In a recent newsletter, we discussed the importance of the /review page to help you acknowledge (and educate) new users who contribute to your site.

The /review page received an important update that will help make reviewing easier (see New bronze badge for “reviewing”). We now keep track of the reviews you perform so you don’t have to see them again each time. Further, we suppress posts that were reviewed by two other people so every person doesn’t have to review all posts. We also provide ‘Your Review Stats’ to help you track your progress. This feature is still under development, so give it a try and please let us know of any features you would like to see!

Suggested Edits History

Much like reviewing a user’s questions and answers, you can now review a user’s suggested edits for your site. From their profile, select the ‘activity’ tab. Click on ‘suggestions’ to filter by the suggested edits.

Moderator Flag Filters

We added filtering to the moderator flags so you can narrow the list to one flag type — close requests, low quality flags, not an answer, vandalism, etc. By focusing on one type of problem at a time, the process much more intuitive and manageable. A menu on the right of the flag page shows how many flags there are in each category.

Improvements to the moderator tooling is a high priority. If you have any suggestions how to improve the interface, please let us know in the Stack Exchange Meta.

Global Email Notifications

Did you know you can now receive your Global Inbox notifications by email? When you receive comment replies, chat messages, or new answers, you don’t have be on the site to keep on top of your user communications. The email opt-in check box at the bottom of your Global Inbox lets you redirect notifications to your preferred email address… daily, weekly, or every 3 hours. If you check the Global Inbox during that interval, the notifications will not go to your email.

Anniversaries

This time of year, many sites are coming up on the anniversary of their graduation. Birthday celebrations really are a great way to spark some interest in the extracurricular activity of your meta site. When your anniversary approaches, you will receive an email reminder with the date. Ask your communities if they want to have a virtual event or contest to mark the occasion. If you can work out the details and rally some support, it makes us really easy to say “Go for it!” We can provide funding for prizes, swag, or whatever you think you users would enjoy. See the Super User’s 2nd Anniversary event for inspiration.

Private Chat Room Policy

A gentle reminder about the policy email you received recently: “Private chat rooms are reserved for moderator use only.” (If you missed it, please let me know and I will send you a copy)

Private chat rooms are for the sole use of moderators when discussing sensitive information with each other, or with individual users. Please do not provide access to private rooms for selected users. We like to keep communications out in the open, and establishing “elite,” private rooms for subsets of the community goes against what Stack Exchange is about.

If you feel you have an exceptional need for a private room, please contact the Community team. If you are currently operating a private chat room for your users, please phase it out now so we don’t have to make the rounds shutting down rooms abruptly. Thanks.

Filed under newsletter

October 2011 Newsletter

View History of Flagged Posts

When a post has been flagged, you can now look at the activities (editing, tagging, etc) that occurred before and after the flag. This is useful for determining if corrections have been made to the post.

To see the history of a flagged post, select:

mod > show flag history

This will list the sequence of edits and flags and display any added comments. If the flag is resolved, the timeline will also show which moderators looked at the post.

Adding Annotations to Posts

Moderators can now annotate posts with notices which do not belong in the posts themselves. To annotate a post, select:

mod > add post notice

and choose from the list of available notices:

  • Citation needed
    This post does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.
  • Current event
    Post is related to a rapidly changing event.
  • Honeypot question
    We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer: please explain why you recommend it as a solution. Answers that don't explain anything will be deleted.

A list of annotated posts is available at: http://<site-name>/annotated-posts?tab=noticed

Currently, only the annotations shown above can be added. If you have recommendations for additional notices, please suggest them at: Support for banners?

Adding Notices to Locked Posts

Locked posts cannot be voted on or changed in any way. If the locked post is a question, no answers can be added. Now you can add an explanation of why the post was locked:

  • Content Dispute
    This post has been locked while disputes about its content are being resolved.
  • Historical Significance
    This question exists because it has historical significance, but it is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site, so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here.
  • Honeypot question
    This post has been locked due to the high amount of off-topic comments generated. For extended discussions, please use chat.

Optionally, you can now configure how long you would like the lock to last so you don’t forget to unlock them after a short cool-off period has elapsed.

More Notices, Network-wide

Other features now allow the addition of action-based notices. Declining flags, posting bounties, and rejecting suggested edits all allow you to add additional information to help educate users.

Lower Rep Needed to View Suggested Edits

The reputation requirement to gain full access to the suggested edit queue has been lowered to 5,000 reputation (1,500 during beta). This should help lessen the workload of approving suggested edits now that more users have access to the full queue.

Filed under newsletter

September 2011 Newsletter

Blog Post Roundup

There were a few blog posts last month that are particularly applicable to site moderation, so for those who haven’t seen them, here is September’s suggested reading list.

The Future of Community Wiki

The suggested edits feature made community wikis rarely (if ever) needed. This blog post outlines when (and when NOT) to make questions community wiki.

Hint: If you’ve checked that “convert to wiki” button recently, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Improved Tagging

When tagging a question, descriptive tag excerpts now pop up as part of the tag completion. But for this to work, you need good tag wiki excerpts. Tag excerpts shouldn’t just define generic terms, they should educate users about when to use those tags!

Gorilla vs. Shark

“Gorilla vs. Shark” is about a subtle type of poll which appears far too often: the “which is better?” post. When users asks for “this v. that” comparisons, they rarely detail what problem they are actually trying to solve. Answers can only be a rough guess of what information would actually be helpful. “This v. that” questions would be better expressed as examinations of the underlying concepts without all the mock conflict.

Flags Too Often Marked [declined]

Marking a flag [declined] was designed to deter serial abusers of the flagging system, but we find that this “slap on the wrist” is being used more often than is beneficial.

Flags should be closed as [helpful] under most circumstances. If you feel strongly that a question was flagged in bad faith, it is okay to mark it [declined]. But try to err on the side of clearing as [helpful] whenever the user is trying to be genuinely helpful, even if you do not necessarily act on the flag.

Users are asked to flag posts to help keep the city street clean. Even if you feel the flag was not technically correct, you don’t want to continually send the message that their help is no longer wanted. That is not what the feature is about.

We clarified the guidance for when to dismiss a flags as [helpful] or [declined]:

dismiss flag on this post as…
[helpful]   the flags have merit but no further action is required
[declined]  the flags are unhelpful or noise

Super-Ping to Reach Individual Users

The regular @ chat alerts only notify someone if they’ve been in the chat room in the last day or so (see chat notifications help). But did you know moderators can use a special @@ notification to contact anyone on your site, even if they have never been in the chat room? Moderators can use the @@ super-ping that will always put a notification in the user’s inbox. The syntax is

@@<chat id>

or:

@@<user id on site>@site.stackexchange.com

So, for example, typing:

@@98786@meta.stackoverflow.com

would generate an inbox notification to me, even if I’ve never been in that chat room.

Costanza Wallet

With a nod to the famous Seinfeld sketch, users are no longer limited to two login credentials (OpenIDs, OAuth, etc), but can have as many as they need. In addition, logins are now stored at the network level (not per site).

This means a few changes to the moderator interface. To view a user’s credentials, use the “my logins” link next to the edit button on user profiles. Also, merging accounts now includes additional protections because the merge applies to every site network-wide. If a candidate has +2000 rep on any site, the merge requires developer approval. The additional notifications will all happen automatically.

For further discussions about multiple logins, this is a good opportunity to plug the weekly SE podcasts (SE Podcast #16, starting at 5:20).

That’s all I have for now. See you next month!

Filed under newsletter