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

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

+11
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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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General comments (10 comments)
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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, all originate from comments left as feedback to a potentially bad question.

Yes, disagreement can create all that. But is that the fault of the comment mechanism? Are the escalations caused by disagreement, or the vehicle it was delivered with?

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.

I agree that people don't want to lose face, and are therefore more likely to admit potential for improvement in private.

However, the social environment of a company is markedly different from a community run website. We don't have leaders in control of the financial well being of contributors. In a company, losing face threatens your livelihood. On Codidact, we're losing face in front of strangers whose opinion has little impact on our lives.

That's why I think that the visibility of feedback on codidact matters little, and thus little could to be gained by moving feedback private.

However, I fear much would be lost, because public feedback has a number of important advantages:

  • it helps prevent redundant feedback
  • it improves feedback quality, because people can give feedback on feedback, and see how others give feedback
  • it increases the reach of feedback, by showing the feedback to more people, some of which are likely to benefit, too

Overall, this makes giving feedback more efficient, effective, and therefore also less frustrating, which tends to result in more productive feedback and fewer escalations.

That is not say that we should not try to improve this point of friction. But I fear that privacy will do more harm than help.

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General comments (6 comments)
General comments
Lundin‭ wrote about 3 years ago

"But is that the fault of the comment mechanism?" Partially, because there's the "pile on" effect, there is the public shaming and the "Internet never forgets" aspect. And also the exposure - the bad question keeps getting exposed and piled on even after it's established that it should be removed. If everyone just did the close vote, down vote and move on then that would probably work better. Then of course there's also plain snark/rudeness or generally poorly considered comments.

Lundin‭ wrote about 3 years ago

"On Codidact, we're losing face in front of strangers whose opinion has little impact on our lives." Except it's in front of the whole world and not just some local people. And again, the Internet never forgets. While your co-workers at a company are prone to forget something embarrassing you did quite soon, the failure isn't likely documented and preserved for all eternity.

Lundin‭ wrote about 3 years ago

"it helps prevent redundant feedback" You'd think it would, but it really doesn't... if we look at SO it's pretty much the norm that some 2-3 people say the same thing in comments. Some like to copy/paste the close post message too, that the OP will see anyway when the question gets closed.

Lundin‭ wrote about 3 years ago

The main issue is perhaps that you give the option to leave feedback to people who have absolutely no interest in giving it, they just want the bad question gone from "their" site.

meriton‭ wrote about 3 years ago

The exposure thing is good point, might be worth a separate suggestion for improvement. About the "internet never forgets": that's true, but does that affect me? "the whole world": sure, but most people on this world couldn't care less about what I do online :-)

meriton‭ wrote about 3 years ago

"redundant feedback" I said it "helps" prevent redundancy, not that all redundancy is prevented. I am aware that people can still write redundant comments, but because people have means to see the redundancy, my hope is that less people will do so. After all, it's a waste of their time, so they have an incentive not to write redundant messages. "giving feedback should be optional": I agree.