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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, 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 are willing to help out often 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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10 comments

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. Olin Lathrop‭ 11 days 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 11 days 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. Lundin‭ 11 days 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? r~~‭ 11 days ago

@ r~~ Ah yeah that's a strange wording, will fix it, thanks. Lundin‭ 11 days ago

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5 answers

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I'd like to propose a different way of thinking about the problem (and I agree there are problems here).

Some premises:

  • New users don't know how things work, so we need to keep it simple.

  • Many non-veteran users are deterred by bad "people" experiences -- if your question is off-topic then ok no harm, but if people leave comments, especially public ones, that you read as criticizing you, that feels bad. Prevention is better than cleanup, because first impressions matter.

  • Many engaged community members want to lend a helping hand, but don't want to do redundant work or be part of a pile-on. Posters also don't want to be on the receiving end of an unintended pile-on ("this is the 27th person who's privately told me that"). If feedback is private, some sort of status information still needs to be public, like "3 users have given private feedback in the last 24 hours".

  • Not all users want to receive private feedback; some would prefer everything be public. (This has already been demonstrated in a comment.) People shouldn't be required to engage in private discussions.

  • People giving private feedback benefit by being able to work together. We've seen enough "joint debugging" in comment threads to know this. Private does not mean 1:1.

I envision a system where, by default, a new post gets a "private-ish feedback" thread (after we have threaded comments). A poster can turn it off, by post or as a user preference. For a post that has this thread, people with some ability to be determined (to keep out drive-by trolls) can see the thread and participate. Other people can see that the thread exists -- something conveying that private discussion is happening already.

For questions, the asker should be able to directly put the question on hold while addressing feedback. (If the owner alone put it on hold, then the owner alone can reopen it -- otherwise people won't do it.)

The question isn't hidden or relocated; that'd be more confusing than helpful, I think. I'd like to think that the combination of it being on hold and the visible presence of private feedback would be enough to signal to other community members "we're working on this; be back later". "Regular" comments wouldn't be affected; this is about adding one special thread, not removing anything else.

There are a lot of details to work out were we to take this approach, but I want to get feedback on the high-level idea before tackling them. Thoughts?

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7 comments

Can you clarify what ‘regular’ comments are for, in this vision? What's left that isn't a separate answer, isn't a proposed edit, and isn't feedback? r~~‭ 11 days ago

Regarding "New users don't know how things work", I think that the system itself could provide ways of guiding those users. Example: the Ask Question page could be like a "wizard" that instructs the OP to check that the question conforms to whatever the site considers on-topic ("Have you checked that [list of requirements]?"). Of course keeping it simple, but the idea is to prevent people from asking off-topic questions, instead of allowing and trying to fix it later hkotsubo‭ 11 days ago

On smaller communities, it might be feasible to rely on community members to help every single new user to fix their questions, but as the site grows, it becomes utterly impossible to give personal assistance to all. Making the system do the heavy work, and prevent the problem before it happens (at least in most cases), is a much better solution, IMO. Don't get me wrong, I think your private-ish feedback proposal is a good idea, but it should serve to handle exceptions, and not to be the rule. hkotsubo‭ 11 days ago

@hkotsubo‭ better contextual guidance is one of our goals, yes. We're not there yet, but it's a design goal. Monica Cellio‭ 11 days ago

@ r~~‭ links to related information, starting points for investigation (not an answer but maybe building blocks for an answer), comments/questions that are more tangential but still might be of interest (e.g. did you know there's a new version of that library that solves this problem?). These are things that are of public interest and aren't just for the OP. Monica Cellio‭ 11 days ago

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I strongly against of the idea of a private feedback for the reasons that were already named in other answers. No point to repeat them one more time.

But I find an idea of the Sandbox, Workshop, whatever we call it amazing. Moreover in a different community I had proposed something similiar to it by myself. I was quite frustrating about big amount of Qs from begginers who didn't know to write Q properly and were turned down just because of that.

Some thoughts about implementation:

  • I think it should be like a chat section cause I imagine discussion about how to improve Q would be active so comments won't fit. But if it is hard to implement best to start with usual answers and comments and change it later if needed.

  • A separate category sounds reasonable but I don't think it makes sense to hide it from general view. Those who have no interest in such helping could ignore that category.

  • I think that all Qs that were closed should be moved to this new category automatically and removed from there after some period of time. Not certain about this one but I definitely don't want to see closed Q with no chances to improve because they seemed off-topic to someone.

  • I would prefer don't have voting system in a new category at all - some people really cares about downvotes.

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2 comments

Thinking out loud: could be another button at the top of the question list instead of a new category. Consider that more than one category could have this need, so we wouldn't want to spawn an extra category per, but we might be able to separate them another way. Monica Cellio‭ 10 days ago

SO did a big experiment with mentors who would help people write better questions. I wasn't part of it but from what I heard it was based on chat similar to this. Not sure why exactly they cancelled the idea, could go dig at old posts at their meta. I would guess the people willing to actually listen to advise are usually those who need it the least. Lundin‭ 9 days ago

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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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6 comments

"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 10 days 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 10 days 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 10 days 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. Lundin‭ 10 days 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 10 days ago

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I initially was lukewarm about this proposal but now I think I like it, at least in the broad strokes. In particular, I prefer the idea of a separate place where work-needed questions are temporarily held—I'll call it the Workshop—with its own comments, over an optionally-private comment thread.

The reasons to have a separate Workshop all stem from the ways that interacting with questions being workshopped (should) differ from interacting with acceptable questions. These differences include:

  • The audiences are different. The audience for regular questions is the set of people interested in answering questions. The audience for questions in the Workshop is the set of people interested in improving other people's questions. Different audience members should see the things they're interested in.

  • The available actions should be different. A question in the Workshop should not be answerable. This prevents answerers from wasting their effort on answering what they think the question is, as opposed to what the final form of the question will be. It also, of course, provides real motivation to askers to work with the community to graduate their questions from the Workshop. We might also want voting in the Workshop to work differently—I have a pretty loose sense that a question upvote currently means ‘I'd like to see someone answer this question,’ and a downvote ‘I think this question doesn't belong here or needs improvement,’ and in the Workshop neither of those conditions really apply. But maybe we'd want to have a vote to graduate a question, instead of making it a single user's decision?

  • The nature of the commentary is different. Threaded comments might be an acceptable way to separate question-feedback comments from other comments, but keeping the question-feedback comments in the Workshop seems like it would do an even better job of showing people what they want to see by default.

I'm not as excited about the proposed mechanism for how questions end up in or get graduated from the Workshop, but it'll do as a starting point.

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0 comments

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I don't think that giving any messages (feedback) in private will be a good idea. There's two reason:

  1. If you add a feature where user can "message" in private (1:1 no one else even moderator can't access/see) than, some user will use abusive/harmful words. So, 1:1 isn't a good idea.
  2. Now, what if moderator can access them. So, no 1 won't happen. So, is the feature OK? No, totally not! Cause, there's lot of user. If you see a poor quality post than you will feedback in private which only moderator only can access. Then, if I see the same post I will do the same thing. So, the author will get tons of private feedback which are saying the same thing.

So, messaging (giving feedback) in private won't be good feature.

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.

It's a good idea. Cause, In SE there's lot of poor quality post which have no answer and, they are closed. However I update the post SE doesn't open it. I don't know why. I had faced the issue. Poor quality post should be deleted cause, user like me review old posts. If user sees posts like this we(user) feel annoyed. So, it would be a good idea to delete posts like them.


Most of new user (like me) don't know how to ask a good question. And, we don't want to search a lot to search for how to ask a good question. While it's completely like we are just wasting time. So, when user creates an account in Codidact. Then, they should be redirected to a page where they can read about How to ask a great question?, How to use MathJax?, What is meta?(Not every understand how meta works . I was one of them also. @MonicaCellio told me in a post) and some more. And, there should be a logic given the user can't ask any question until he reads "How to ask a great question". If user gets knowledge how to ask a good question than it will very useful for others (answerer).

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2 comments

@Lundin your question is very big. And, I had read the post very earlier. That's why I couldn't add all of information. I will try to update my post later if possible. :) <3 Istiak‭ 1 day ago

I think your arguments here are regarding implementation details. How many and who gets access to the feedback channel isn't all that important, by all means give all trusted users access to it. What's important is that the poster only gets feedback from people actually willing to give it, in a patient and polite manner. But with this system, giving users feedback & trying to "salvage" bad questions becomes secondary. The key is that such questions are swiftly removed with a minimum of friction. Lundin‭ about 18 hours ago

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