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Comments on Giving question feedback in private - a moderating system to reduce conflicts

Post

Giving question feedback in private - a moderating system to reduce conflicts

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Some background:

A discussion about deleting/preserving comments and giving user feedback popped up on Software Development meta here: How are we supposed to give feedback for poor questions if such comments are deleted? However, I believe these concerns are network-wide and should be discussed with the broader audience here on meta.codidact.

I wrote several posts about this back on the old, now deprecated Codidact forums. Here follows a modified version of an old post of mine.


Goals

  • Make new users feel more welcome.
  • Keep criticism constructive and mostly give it in private.
  • Reduce friction, conflict and elitism accusations.
  • Increase the quality of site content.
  • Don't repeat SE's mistakes.

We know from over 10 years of experience from SE/SO that one of the most common sources of drama, snark, rudeness, escalating arguments, conflicts, users feeling unwelcome, the community getting accused of elitism and so on, all originate from comments left as feedback to a potentially bad question.

SO has tried to deal with this with "welcome wagons" and other misguided attempts to improve new user experience, addressing the symptoms caused by their site design model, rather than the causes. This is the root of SO's problems: public shaming as a moderator tool.

It might perhaps work as a way to preserving content quality somewhat, but it keeps people away from the site by making them feel unwelcome or too intimidated to post. It's a design that creates maximum user friction.

The main problems of SO's model:

  • Humans often simply don’t take kindly even to constructive criticism, especially not when given in public for the world to see.

    The basics of leadership & keeping people motivated is to give praise loudly in public but to give criticism discreetly in private. This makes people far more likely to actually listen to the criticism and change.

    Solve this by removing the question from the public eye and then give private feedback to the poster.

  • Deleting posts “as slowly as possible”. Bad questions get slowly grinded down into the dust by down votes, comments, close votes, all in public, really rubbing it in. And even when it sits there with 5 close votes and -10 score, it is still published for everyone to see.

    Solve this by giving trusted users privileges to instantaneously remove a bad question from the public eye. This also minimizes friction as the question is moved away from those who haven't the slightest interest in helping new users.

  • “Bandwagon moderation”. The first veteran user who encounters a bad question and is willing to help out, often gives constructive criticisms with links to help pages etc. So far, so good - that initial polite comment is often all that’s actually needed. Yet we have subsequent users arriving later, piling on further comments or repeating what's already been said.
    It stops being constructive and derails into what the poster might interpret as “you are bad”. And it creates a negative atmosphere for everyone stumbling over that post too.

    Lots of such comments come from veteran users who are simply fed up by viewing the same endless flood of bad questions day after day. They actually don’t have much interest in helping the OP at all, they just want the crap question gone.

    Solve this by not forcing regular users to view bad content, again by quickly removing such questions away from the public eye to a “quarantine” area.

  • SO’s “crap hugging” policy of “we must preserve and publish all the crap ever posted and polish it until the end of time” is harmful. Similarly, when a question is closed since it can’t be answered and needs to be corrected by the OP alone, it is senseless to keep on displaying that question to the public.

    It is much more important for the community to reduce negative criticism and low quality content than to preserve some unsalvagable homework dump for all eternity.

  • In addition, do not force users who just want to use the site to become moderators, by having a messy rep system that assumes that people with good domain knowledge automatically make good moderators as well. This simply isn’t true. A better reputation & moderator privilege system than the one at SO is needed.

    [SOLVED] I believe the current Codidact system with privileges based on activity rather than rep solves this problem. We didn't have this system in place when I originally wrote this back on the old forums.


Proposal

  • Give trusted users and community moderators the powers to instantly close a post and move it to a "post feedback" area. Without any close vote consensus involving multiple users, similar to "dupe hammer" privilege at SO. ("Quarantine" feels loaded currently... "sandbox"? The name isn't important.)
  • This could possibly be a special kind of site category only viewable by those with an interest of helping new users. A slight tweak to the current category system perhaps?
  • The post will instantly disappear from the main site and normal users will no longer see it. These is no longer a need to pile on down votes and close votes.
  • Make it clear to the author of their post that it has been moved from the main site with the standard close reason messages. The OP can still view their own post even if it now sits in the "post feedback" area, regardless of what privileges they have.
  • Optionally reset all up/down votes on the post at this stage, since it has been removed and down votes no longer fill a purpose.
  • Feedback is given in comments as usual, but now only by people actually interested in helping.
  • Once the post has been edited into shape by the OP, a copy of the improved question can be restored to the main site by the same users/mods that had the privileges to remove it.
  • All the feedback & comments that were left about how to improve the post naturally stay in the "post feedback" area. They should remain semi-private and they shouldn't clutter up the actual question either.
  • If the post can't be salvaged or in case the OP isn't responsive, it stays closed and away from the main site.
  • Some automated cleaning of everything in the "post feedback" area could kick in after a certain time period (1 month?)

Down-voting is a recurring "hot potato" that we've discussed several times. With this system it becomes less prominent. But this is not a thread to discuss if we should have up/down votes or not.


What if there are conflicts anyway?

Disagreements of moderator/trusted user actions may be filed to the Arbitration & Review Panel. If so we might need some "severity grading" system depending on how serious every such issue is.

Serious issues like moderators or staff abusing their rights, breaking CoC and similar may require a more formal procedure along what's discussed in the draft at that link.

Minor issues such as "I disagree with close votes", "why were my comments deleted" could perhaps be handled with a smoother procedure, not necessarily involving the panel members but perhaps as well by neutral moderators.

Someone neutral just needs to hear out all involved parties and then make a decision, which probably just boils down to moving/keeping the post where it is, restoring deleted content or whatever may be the outcome.

I think it's important that moderators don't feel like they have to be on trial every time some disgruntled newbie disagree with them. But hopefully the above proposed system will reduce the number of such issues in the first place.

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1 comment thread

General comments (10 comments)
General comments
Olin Lathrop‭ wrote about 3 years ago

When I comment on a post I want everyone to see it. Also as a post author, I don't want a bunch of duplicate comments just because each commenter couldn't see what others have already written.

Lundin‭ wrote about 3 years ago

@Olin Lathrop‭ But the OP might not want that - you are missing the whole point. And this proposal is meant to reduce duplicate/careless comments from people who don't care to help the OP anyway.

Lundin‭ wrote about 3 years ago

One example from earlier today on SO. Some very bad question was posted with an image of code. I counted the number of comments telling the OP to post the code as text not as a picture. 4 people saying the same thing, all in all pretty hostile. And this post was so bad that it should just get removed, which would happen pretty much instantly with this system. Then at most one person can point out the problem. Then it's up to the OP to edit it into shape if they want an answer.

r~~‭ wrote about 3 years ago · edited about 3 years ago

‘unanimously close’ Did you maybe mean ‘unilaterally close’, or is your proposal actually that all TUs/mods need to agree to close/quarantine/draftify the question?

Lundin‭ wrote about 3 years ago

@ r~~ Ah yeah that's a strange wording, will fix it, thanks.

Olin Lathrop‭ wrote about 3 years ago

When someone posts a bad question, getting piled upon is well deserved, and is likely to achieve the desired result (shape up or ship out).

Olin Lathrop‭ wrote about 3 years ago

Another reason for all feedback to be public is that it helps all see what the norms are. As someone giving feedback, I want to write once "show a diagram" and have that cause others to include a diagram in the first place.

Lundin‭ wrote about 3 years ago

@Olin Lathrop‭ The purpose of these communities should not be to punish people for posting bad questions. That doesn't sit well with our "be nice" Code of Conduct. The most important thing here is that the question is removed as quickly as possible, both to set the quality bar but also to minimize needless drama. If your question is removed from the site, that alone ought to send the "shape up" message quite clearly.

Lundin‭ wrote about 3 years ago

@Olin Lathrop‭ To invent an electronics metaphore... Suppose I'm your boss and I've tasked you to design a PCB. Upon getting the result from you, I don't like it because I think the BOM is too expensive. How do I best tell you to swap out some expensive components: by sticking my head into your office and say "hey it looks good but can you swap out these Maxim parts for something cheaper?" ->

Lundin‭ wrote about 3 years ago

Or do I call out your design in front of everyone at the next personnel meeting and hold it up as an example for how we should not design electronics? What will make you the most motivated to 1) fix the PCB and 2) not get pissed off with your boss and quit?