What do you love about the moderator job on Science Fiction & Fantasy?
I've always enjoyed the work of maintaining the site by reviewing posts, editing, voting to close/reopen, etc. because I like to see the site in a clean and orderly state. As a moderator I am even more effective at keeping the site clean and orderly, so that's my favorite part of the job.
I also like to participate in Stack Overflow Gives Back. While not the same as making a donation with my own money to the charity of my choice, I like being able to direct some of Stack Overflow's money to the charity the company has chosen which I think is most deserving of it.
How do you spend your moderation time? Which tasks take the largest amounts of time? And roughly speaking, how much time do you spend on moderation tasks (not counting your "just plain user" time like asking and answering questions)?
On a typical day I'll spend about 15-30 minutes handling flags. Most flags are for comments or low quality posts. I also look at all the new SFF meta posts, and I often log into the Teacher's Lounge (the chat room for all moderators on the SE network) to see if anything noteworthy is going on. I spend some time in the review queues, but not nearly as much as I did before I became a moderator (many first and low quality posts show up in the moderator queue, I'm less likely to vote to close or reopen a question because my vote is binding and I need to be absolutely sure, etc.).
The tasks which take the largest amounts of time are (a) cleaning up plagiarism, (b) investigating users for abuses of their privileges, and (c) participating in meta discussions.
Plagiarism is usually time-consuming because plagiarists often do it dozens of times before they're caught, so we have to check each of their posts to see which ones were plagiarized. This can easily take 4 or more hours, even with multiple moderators working in coordination (Rand and I often tackle plagiarists together).
It is also time-consuming to investigate users for abuses of their privileges. Even a fairly straightforward offense (e.g. a rude/abusive post) takes some investigation to make sure there aren't any less obvious abuses by the same user and to determine the appropriate course of action (e.g. suspension or not, and how long of a suspension if so).
Most meta discussions aren't too time-consuming, but occasionally they can be if a discussion is particularly controversial and/or if the question is a request for explanation why a flag was declined.
I would estimate that I have to deal with a time-consuming task about once per month, on average.
What have been your biggest challenges as a moderator? Without revealing privileged information, can you talk about how you (personally and collectively) have addressed them?
Chat moderation. The old Mos Eisley could be unruly and has a terrible reputation with moderators around the SE network. Issues in Mos Eisley would often spill out to SFF meta, and there was (and probably still is) a mods vs. SFF users mentality which was often exacerbated by non-SFF moderators taking action in Mos Eisley. Chat moderation is difficult enough as it is, since it happens much more in "real-time" and a problem can occur at any hour of the day.
Chat moderation can never be perfect but some of the things we do to address problems include:
- ping other SFF moderators for help monitoring the room if a problem seems to be looming
- try to change the subject in the chat room
- pin a message to the room's board advising users not to discuss something that could lead to a problem
- review any actions taken by non-SFF moderators and discuss those actions in the Teacher's Lounge
- participate in any meta discussions resulting from chat problems
What's on your "moderator wish list", and why is it important?
A moderator should have been actively maintaining the site (editing, reviewing, voting to close/re-open questions, flagging, participating on meta, etc.) in his capacity as a regular user. Some reputation is necessary, but beyond the reputation required to unlock privileges it is not very important.
A moderator should be knowledgeable, regarding both the Stack Exchange model in general (e.g. how to use the various tools on the site, etc.) and the rules specific to the site(s) that person is moderating. Users will acquire most of the knowledge they need if they are actively maintaining the site.
A moderator should be willing to learn. There is a learning curve to the moderator tools and there is a lot of documentation on how to use them correctly. Documentation sources include the site itself (e.g. the site's help center), main meta (e.g. moderator cheat sheet and a guide to moderating chat), the Teacher's Lounge, and the Stack Moderators Team. I spent about 2 days when I was first elected reading all this documentation to make sure I was doing things correctly. Also, a moderator never really stops learning because he'll need to learn how to use new or rarely-used tools from time to time.
For dealing with disputes between users and users who need to be admonished and/or suspended, a moderator must be dispassionate and objective, even if he is involved somehow in the problem at hand. This may mean that the moderator needs to step away from the computer for a bit or ask another moderator for help, but very good moderators are able to resolve problems even if they have strong feelings about the issue. This is a very rare skill but is one of the most important. Unfortunately, I have seen various moderators across the network fail to be dispassionate and objective from time to time, and it is something I struggle with as well. Because of this, I generally avoid getting involved in a contentious debate so that I can more easily maintain my objectivity (e.g. I typically do not discuss religion or politics in chat so that I'm not invested in one side if things start to get out of hand).
A moderator should be irreproachable by holding himself to the highest standard of conduct. This doesn't mean that the moderator must have a completely clean record since the day he joined the network (users can and do change their behavior for the better) but the moderator should have a clean record since he became a moderator. It's a lot easier for a moderator to enforce rules when he abides by them himself.
Finally, a moderator must be willing to admit fault. No one is perfect and a moderator will eventually make a mistake. Best to own up to it and move on, and hopefully the community will do so as well.
What advice do you have for somebody considering this job? What are the questions people should be asking but aren't?
Recognize that you can't please everyone all the time. No matter what you do, at some point you are inevitably going to upset someone. For example, if the community is divided into two factions then at some point the moderators will probably have to take a side (e.g. to enforce a rule that not everyone agrees with)... which means you're going to upset the minority faction. Users will get upset even in the face of a clearly defined rule (especially new users who are well-meaning but just don't understand why the community has defined a particular rule) but as a moderator you must enforce that rule. Users involved in a personal dispute with each other may both get upset with a moderator who tries to find a compromise solution.
Since you can't please everyone all the time, it follows that you need some thick skin for this job.
How do you balance your "moderator time" with "regular user time"? Do you still feel like participating as a regular user after performing your moderator tasks?
Moderator tasks take first priority since there are a lot more regular users than moderators. I still enjoy asking and answering questions (or just browsing the site) on most days, though not if I've just spent several hours working on a moderator issue.