If we haven't met, I'm Bob Cross and I'm one of the Mechanics interim mods. I've been here since the beginning and I intend to stick around. Now's your chance to decide whether you'd like me to keep the little diamond next to my name. ;-)
- I have occasionally seen a user with a high network-wide rep (ie has a lot of positive interaction on other SE sites) cause a lot of friction on a site they have recently joined by insisting that "the site is doing it wrong." If this occurs here, and causes trouble with the easy going Mechanics community, how would you handle the situation?
This has happened here more than once. My general strategies go something like this:
As always, it helps to try and start a conversation. Sometimes it helps to talk about the differences between communities: for example, on Stack Overflow, a high percentage of the question askers are above the level of technical novice. Many of them are looking for refinements to their basic knowledge base. However, on this site, many of the visitors are barely cognizant of the basic vocabulary. They aren't stupid people but they've never had to identify an intake manifold from an exhaust manifold.
Another important technique is to give the person with a strong opinion a chance to express it. Ask questions:
- What specifically is the site doing "wrong"?
- What do you think we should change and why?
- Are you sure that the people on Site X (where they do things in the way that you suggest) are exactly the same as the people here?
- Have you considered issues like the "pink tax"? (which, if you haven't heard of it before, is a silly name for grossly sexist behavior often associated with motor vehicles).
This conversation usually helps: the person with a strong opinion had a chance to express it and is given the opportunity to adjust their thinking to mesh with this new audience.
When emotions flare, however, it's sometimes important for you (as the mod) to take a step back and invite other voices to the conversation. Sometimes people just don't like you and there's really nothing you can do about that. As a mod, there's quite a bit of social baggage associated with the diamond next to your name. Sometimes, when a "normal" user steps in (and might say the exact same words that you just did), the dynamic changes and it's easier to reach a consensus. Because here's an important point: sometimes the new guy is right and the site is "doing it wrong." This is supposed to be a dynamic community (rather than a static one) and it's important for the mods to adapt to the new normal when it changes.
In the end, though, it's possible that the new guy with super high rep on other sites just wants something that the community doesn't and, as a mod, it will be your job to say no. You'll need to do it politely but you'll still need to do it.
- What, if any, previous moderator (or similar) experience do you have from a different Stack Exchange site, a different website, and/or the real world (e.g. arbitration)?
I'm not a mod on any other sites (although I've been a mod here for about five years) but I do quite a bit of people wrangling in other aspects of life.
I'm a teacher & mentor: I first started teaching for pay in 1989 and I was apocalyptically awful. Since then, I've always been in some sort of teaching or mentoring role. Remembering those early years has been an excellent restraint on my ego in situations where I know more than someone new. Helping someone else learn is hard work!
I'm a "leader": I also have many years of "leading" a team without actually being the boss. This means that I can't actually tell people what to do and force them to do it. I have to help form a consensus that the team will support. This is one of the most challenging aspects of effective moderation: you can't just declare how things are going to be and then expect it to happen.
- 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?
These two issues are disjoint. No one gets a free pass to ignore the rules of civil discourse. Standard rules of communicating with a problem user and related escalations apply. As always, it all starts with communication.
Note that this is a good way to build the sense of community. Everyone is treated the same (as best we can) and people appreciate visible evidence of that.
- How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?
It depends on the specifics. If, as is frequently the case, the mod was the last close vote of five, I would regard this situation as users expressing their opinion in a normal way. There's no reason for me to take mod-level action just because I have a different opinion. I might start a conversation in an open forum about the question but I wouldn't do anything special.
If, on the other end of the spectrum, the mod was the only vote, I would ask why they had a strong opinion. A discussion would ensue and they might convince me that there was a problem that needs action or I might convince them that further consideration is warranted.
- During Beta (and even today), we pride ourselves as being a very welcoming SE site to newcomers. One might argue that this has a lot to do with the manageable level of questions and new users coming in to the site on a per-day basis. Now that we've graduated, increased site traffic is a realistic possibility. What policies would you adopt to ensure that the site's association with the "Be Nice" moniker remains?
This is bigger than just me.
The easiest way to make it easier to welcome new users is to encourage users to be welcoming. We have a core group that have taken ownership of our site themes and philosophies. It will be important to encourage them to raise the "next generation." This is a difficult people problem without an easy answer.
- It is a distinct possibility that you would not be able to answer as many questions while moderating. Why do you believe that you could contribute more to the site's overall benefit as a moderator rather than a regular user?
I'm definitely not able to answer as many questions as I would like and that's okay. I'm not the only user on the site and, as long as people are getting the help they need, the site is working as intended.
Also, this is one area where my awareness that I'm not an expert in all things mechanical is a strength. My feelings aren't hurt that I can't answer a lot of questions because I don't have time. I also can't answer a lot of the questions that we're seeing now because I have no idea what the answer is!
Instead, I can concentrate on helping people write good questions, write good answers and encourage civil discourse by providing an objective view on what's being said vs. what I think is intended. It's not as glamorous but it has apparently been appreciated by the community!
- Moderators, like all humans, are susceptible to fluctuations in the space-time continuum. There will be easy-going periods and times when they are overwhelmed with things in life. More often than not, site moderation will take the backseat. Evidence: of the five moderators on this site throughout Beta, (to my knowledge) only two remain active. How much time do you realistically think you can devote to the site? What would you do if you believe it is difficult to continue with moderation responsibilities in the long run?
As one of the two mods cited, I can safely say that life does sometimes get in the way. My expectation is that the time I can contribute to the site will continue at roughly the same level: I'm on the site everyday and try to hit mod requests as soon as I can. My real life schedule does sometimes make the response time a bit quirky (e.g., I'm often in a lab where I have no network access) but the queues have been dealt with pretty quickly.
In the long run, I don't have any reason to believe that my situation is going to change. However, there have been times when I have been called away from the normal routine. For example, today I'm overseas with very spotty access to the Internet. Like always, I let people know ahead of time that I would be a bit spotty for a while. At this point, volume is low enough on the site that our existing mods and high rep users have easily handled any issues that I would have normally dealt with. I expect that some variant of that same routine will continue.
- We have a high percentage of unanswerable questions that lie in wait for further information/clarification from the asker. This is not always due to laziness or neglect on the OP's part; it can take weeks for them to find the opportunity to collect further details about the problem. As a moderator, what would your policy be towards such questions, and how would you mitigate the issue of accumulation of unanswerable queries on the site?
I don't see this as a moderator policy. This is clearly where the community should drive.
This has definitely been a topic of discussion here and, while I have opinions, I try not to inflict them at a moderator level. I try to restrict my involvement to specific questions and answers and, usually, I avoid actions that have immediate mod-level effect (e.g., voting to close).
As we've discussed many times, our new users often don't even know how to properly use an SE site, much less understand the mechanical components of the vehicle that has broken down in front of them. I regularly encourage direct engagement with new users: it's a lot more work than a close vote but it has paid off with effusive thanks.
On the other hand, there have been plenty of cases where a question was abandoned in place years ago with no chance of being fleshed out. When those questions are flagged for mod attention, I usually concur right away.
- What mechanical experience do you have, and where did you do the bulk of your learning on the subject?
My experience is all at the enthusiastic amateur level and I learned it all from books, websites (like this one) and in my garage through trial, error and more error. I generally limit myself to major structural evolutions on my vehicles: e.g., intakes, exhausts, turbo up-pipes, struts, springs, tires and wheels. This hobby has lead to an investment in many modestly esoteric tools in my garage and has saved me quite a bit of money overall. For example, the time that I avoided replacing a catalytic converter because I was able to diagnose a failing O2 sensor - the prices for those two fixes are wildly different!
In the end, I'm not an expert. I'm just some guy. I like to think that I represent the users who are like I was: wants to learn, has little idea of where to start but only needs the slightest encouragement to get started.
- As a moderator, how will you keep your fellow moderators in check?
Looking at the list of candidates, I think that this is unlikely to be a problem. I've known many of the people on this site literally for years.
However, it's not impossible that we need to have a "hang on, I think you've gone off the rails there" discussion. In that case, we'll start an adult conversation with the basic ground rule of "we should always be at least civil with each other."
If it turns out that there's a personal issue (i.e., two of us just aren't understanding each other because our personalities aren't fitting that day), I've never been afraid to reach out to other to ask for another opinion or to jump in as one in a situation that I can see is going wrong. If a situation ever became completely out of check, of course we could escalate things but I would certainly prefer to keep family business within the community.