This is Discrete lizard.
- Comments are starting to build up on a question. A commenter asserts that the question makes no sense and should be closed. The asker maintains that the question is perfectly clear. You have no idea as it's about a domain of CS that you know nothing about. What do you do?
If the question is truly nonsensical, there must be a reason why. Assuming the commenter did not write something such that I can clearly see that it is indeed nonsensical, I will ask the commenter to explain such that I can understand the problem with the question. I will not interfere unless someone can convince me that the question is nonsense or someone can convince me it is fine. (If the community has e.g. closed the question while I wait, so be it, apparently they know more than I do)
Note that I want the commenter to provide 'evidence' for their claims and not the asker. The main reason here is practical: the commenter should know a bit how this site works and would likely be much more capable of deciding what is close-worthy or what not. Often, askers on such questions are new and do not yet know what is clear or on-topic.
Of course, if the comment chain becomes too big or cluttered, moving part to chat would a good idea; and if people are not being nice or not constructive, we should address that as well.
- What is your take on "problem dumps", "check my work" and "hint-only answers", respectively?
"Problem dumps" are possibly nice exercises, but asked in a form that is most unhelpful for the student asking them. Obviously, just giving them the answer is not very helpful and sets a bad precedent. I think the best approach here is to request them to show their work. If they don't do so (often, they don't even have any interaction beyond posting the question), I just ignore the question. I advise others to do the same, but they are free to answer if they feel like it, even if that doesn't help the student asking the question.
"Check my work" is reasonable question, but simply a bad fit for this platform. I think the best is to explain in a comment that this is the case and request the asker to transform it into a question we can actually provide a decent answer to. Again, if the user does not reply or someone decides to answer it is not ideal in my opinion, but people are free to act that way.
For "hint-only answers", my main take is that if your hint is so large that it does not fit into a comment, it is not a very good hint. I recommend not posting a hint as an answer. One reason is that hints are hard to evaluate: how do I know whether a certain hint solves the asker's problem? How should I vote for them? How do we compare them with answers that actually solve the question and not give hints? Another is that it discourages actual answers, which in some cases are reasonable to give. I would be pretty let down if I was searching for a solution of some problem and found a cs.se page with my problem in the question, where the only answer was some vague hint I don't get.
Things get a bit more tricky when the asker explicitly asks for a hint, rather than a solution. I would still prefer to have the hints in the comments (and not have an answer at all), but I would not bother people who decide to give the hint in an answer, since that is what is explicitly asked for.
All these terms are related to the broader concept of homework, so let me finish by noting that those who answer questions on cs.se are not obliged to solve your homework for you. They would rather do something else if you do not cooperate: note that we are free to 'do as we please'.
- What is this site's biggest challenge? How do you think it could be solved? (This doesn't need to involve moderators: if you think the solution needs to come from a different class of users, or from Stack Exchange, that's fine.)
"User moderation". That is, the challenge is to handle the incoming stream of questions mainly through moderation by privileged users. To see what I mean, have a look at 2018: a year in moderation and check out the following row:
Questions closed 1,180 595
This means twice as many questions are closed by moderators as by regular users. If you look at the same row of similar reports of other SE sites, you will find that this is really uncommon.
What does this mean? It means that the community cannot express their opinion on what is on or off-topic by themselves, but has to rely on moderators to do so. This is not ideal, since moderators should be there to handle exceptions where regular users are ill fit to decide, not handle the routine. Of course, this also means more work for the moderators, which they would rather spend on other ways to maintain the site.
Since we are looking at 'challenges' for this site, lets try to generalize. What I mentioned here is only a symptom of the underlying problem. Who can actually vote to close? Any user with at least 3k reputation. On this site, there are about 69 users with enough reputation. However, not all of them are very active in their interaction with new questions. From what I can see in comments, we have a ~10 user core of >3k users that interact a lot with new questions, about 10 >3k users that interact consistently on new questions with tags within their specialty and a lot users with less than 3k rep. Note that most questions do get a lot interaction from the community, but there simply are too few users actually consistently closing questions to easily get 5 close votes even on 'obviously' close-worthy questions.
When I look at >3k rep users, there is one thing that jumps out at me: most of them are 'old', in the sense that they have been around here for quite a while and that I barely see them doing anything on newly asked questions. It isn't easy to get 3k rep on here. It surely is possible to get 3k rep in a relatively soon-ish time, but it requires answering a lot questions in relatively little time. Not an investment many people can make.
To make a long story short, I think that user-moderation on this site is currently 'broken' and I believe the cause is simply that too few active users have enough reputation, which may be caused by the fact that getting 3k rep here is hard. This is the challenge.
Now, for a solution, I have do not have a clear idea. However, there are multiple options that can be more or less handled concurrently:
Raise the issue on meta and ask for reasons why people do or do not help with moderation.
I can try to contact high rep users that aren't very active in moderation tasks to ask them to do more.
Try to encourage the community to upvote more often, such that 3k reputation is easier to reach.
I could try to ask SE to change the reputation required for certain priviliges (I highly doubt they will do this, but if they would, it could work.)
- Some common tasks for the community do not (seem to) have a single clear solution, such as how to handle unclear or underspecified questions. Individual users have different approaches to such a problem that all have their benefits and flaws and sometimes interfere with eachother. What, if anything, do you think you (as a moderator) can or should do about such a lack of consensus in the community?
Note that I am the author of this question, so let me first give you my honest opinion: I have no idea and it would probably depend a lot on the specific issue at hand.
However, I can think of a few things that might be good to do, so let me discuss that here. The first step is to see whether we have a problem. This can be done by asking users directly in a meta thread, inspecting unwanted behaviour that gets reported via flags, or other inefficiencies that reach your mod-sensors somehow. If I think we have a problem (I would probably first discuss this with other moderators), I should do something, if not, I shouldn't do anything.
Given that I think some consensus is nessecary, starting a discussion on meta would be the best way to proceed. Hopefully, we can reach some consensus there and then it is simply a case of 'enforcing' whatever was decided by reminding users who do not act according to the new policy. If we cannot reach a workable consensus on meta, I think I must conclude that the 'medicine' may be worse than the disease and leave it at that. At least we know why we do things differently.
- Someone posts a question that seems fine. It may well be homework, but it's not too broad to answer, and the asker has tried a reasonable approach and got stuck. A flag on the question claims that the question is part of an ongoing contest that forbids online assistance, asks for the question to be speedily deleted, and requests to send identifying information to the contest organizers so that they can ban the asker for cheating in the contest. What do you do?
First, lets see if there is some established policy on the matter, time to search meta. This has been discussed before, but it doesn't look very conclusive. Ok, so lets see what is reasonable. First of all, I'd say the responsibility of not letting participants of a contest cheat by asking others is the problem of the organizers of the contest, not ours. But, I do not think it is unreasonable to delete the question until the contest has finished (assuming the contest finishes within reasonable time limit, a week/month or so.) After that, I see no reason to keep it deleted, so I can undelete it at that point.
As for sending identifying information, it is not my job to play internet detective either. This seems a bit unreasonable and if the user was only slightly clever, they can easily have a different email, name and even IP-address than whatever is known to the contest organizers. Also, I'm not sure if I am even legally allowed to disclose this information. So, I will ask them to ask that to SE staff and they will probably tell them that they won't give them this info (I assume). In any case, handing over personal data of users here is not my decision to make as a moderator.
- In what ways have you already been contributing to moderating the site, with the tools available to you as a member of the community? What do you see as your most significant contributions to site moderation so far?
I have contributed quite a lot to helping new users clarify their questions and helped maintaining the quality of new questions, mostly using the various queues to see where I can do something. I think the most impact of my moderation contributions is definitely in explaining things about this site or how to improve their questions to users in the comments of their question.
- Assume the community acts differently than you would have, or directly rescinds one of your actions, e.g. closing or reopening. What do you do?
If the decision was minor, I will simply leave it be, people are allowed to have different opinions. If, however, I notice a pattern or see that people disagree on a topic I think is important, I think it is good to see why there is a disagreement. I think I would roughly take the same strategy as in my answer to question 4, where I additionally hope to at least understand those who disagree with me. If it turns out the community also sees or understands my point but still disagrees, then so be it, I will do what the community wants.
- Has your behavior been claimed to be nonconstructive by moderators on any Stack Exchange sites (including chat) to a degree that might (or did) lead to suspension if you did not change your behavior? If yes, explain the situation, and if you have learned any lessons from the interaction. How would you handle a user in a similar situation if you become a moderator?
I did have a rather heated argument in chat about a year ago. It never escalated to bans or (threats to/warnings of) suspensions, but my behaviour was claimed to be at least nonconstructive by some (although I cannot recall whether this included moderators).
I will not go into the details here (because I forgot most of them, and because that isn't the point), I think it is enough detail if I say that I strongly disagreed with certain moderation actions of another (non-moderator) user and suggested that they do that. It quickly became clear other users did not agree with my opinion and severely disliked my suggestion, which led to the argument.
What I learned from this is the following: at the time, I did not understand why people reacted as such: I was reasonably polite and wanted to have a normal discussion about this topic, I did not understand why people claimed I was not polite and did not want to discuss this topic, but only declare their opinion.
Now, I do understand the reaction, or at least the discrepancy between my experience and that of others. In the end, what matters is not how you say things, but what you say. Sure, cursing like a sailor is unlikely to give sympathy, but not doing that is just a baseline. So, neither my perception of my behaviour, nor did my actual behaviour mattered: sometimes, people really don't like what you're actually saying and take offense at that.
If I see a user in the same situation, then I see a user that has somehow managed to say something that is universally disliked by some group. I will first try to see if I can understand that users' position. If it is a reasonably coherent position, I will try to first mention to the user that I understand their position (even though I may not agree with it) and then proceed with general de-escalation tactics. (telling people to stop discussing things or at least to cool down, chat-suspend if they don't listen to that etc.)
- 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?
The first step is to talk with the user, explain that some things they say attract a lot of undesirable discussion and ask their motivation. Then, I will ask them to stop doing whatever generates undesirable discussion, while reminding them that their efforts in answering are most appreciated.
Then, we wait. If the user behaves themselves, then great, problem solved. If not, then warn the user that such behaviour is not tolerated and explain that there are rules and being an active contributor does not mean you do not have to follow the rules.
If the troublesome behaviour persists even after that, treat the users like a 'regular troublemaker': have a stern talking-to, warn them, suspend them and such.
- How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?
If I think that this was important or do not understand the motivation of the other moderator, I will ask them in a private (i.e. invisible to regular users) room to explain why they did so. If I think that, after this explanation, that they have a policy I disagree with or still do not understand completely and is not confirmed to be desirable by the community, I will explain the general matter on meta and ask the community for their input, such that we can make clearer policy and the moderators do what the community wants.