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We've had rumblings in a few quarters over the last few months that point to dissatisfaction in a slice of the community that seems significant enough to me to say "let's get it out here". That dissatisfaction is around closure of questions and a sense that in certain circumstances SFSE is too quick to close and too quick to mark questions as duplicates, in a way that discourages participation and generates ill-will.

I want to take this opportunity to try to define space for a discussion and set some parameters as to what we can reasonably consider in-bounds.

Questions and Principles, Not Personal

I would like to keep this focused on questions and on the needs of the community. I will delete out of hand ad-hominems against SFSE moderators and the community members who cast votes, which is the entire userbase over 3,000 reputation.

I'd like to avoid getting too much into the weeds on specific posts that are closed. I'd like us to talk as much as we can about principles, and ask that we use specific examples to illustrate points about how we collectively moderate and curate this community - not to address frustrations on single posts.

On a personal level, I am most interested in how we effectively and compassionately communicate what we do to create goodwill and help all members of the community grow and learn.

Key Facts About Moderation

I'd like us all to keep in mind a few facts about community moderation:

  • Our purpose is to keep the signal-to-noise ratio high. We can talk about what does and does not constitute noise, but abrogating the idea of moderation or altering the core structure of the Stack Exchange platform isn't and can't be on the table. We will always be a structured and rigorous community; that's our raison d'etre.
  • Moderation is a duty shared by the community (3,000+ rep users, of whom there are 215 - healthy growth since the last time I checked!) and the three elected moderators: me, Adrian Larson, and Matt Lacey.
  • The 3 elected community moderators cannot and will not overrule the will of the community (the voting userbase mentioned above) across the board, although we may choose to intervene in specific cases where there's a clear need.

Open Questions for Discussion

  • Leaving aside the matter of whether people read them, do our Help sections and close reasons clearly communicate what we consider on-topic and off-topic?
  • What can we do to better communicate how to improve a closed question - and how to get it reopened?
  • When questions are closed as duplicates, what can we do to message that closure as helpful assistance to the asker, rather than an impediment or discouragement?
  • Can we be more explicit about thresholds for closure across our community to help standardize our work and offer clarity to askers?
  • If you are a 3,000+ rep user, do you feel that you have the tools, guidelines, and documentation you need to be an effective moderator of the community? If no, what is missing?
  • If you participate on other Stack Exchange sites that you feel are well-run, what lessons can we learn from them?
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  • Thanks for writing this up David! – Matt Lacey Nov 14 '19 at 22:34
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Leaving aside the matter of whether people read them, do our Help sections and close reasons clearly communicate what we consider on-topic and off-topic?

Our On-Topic help topic spends a lot of time talking about things that are essentially off-topic, while the off-topic section (dont-ask) also does this. Some more positive examples would help.

Also, I've noticed some confusion with the close reasons "unclear" and "too broad" (a number of questions that are borderline get flagged both ways at the same time). I'm not sure how we can fix this, but I feel our close reasons could at least use some review and revision.

Finally, I think it would be beneficial if there were more help topics on "how to debug a situation" or "how to read a log", etc. We have a few questions and answers that address this, but having something in the Help that we could reference might be useful.

What can we do to better communicate how to improve a closed question - and how to get it reopened?

When I badge-hammer, I always try to include a brief explanation of why it was closed, and I offer a chance for the user to edit the question and then ask to re-open, which I'd gladly retract my close vote in that case (I think I've only had to do this once). I think that someone out of the five close votes should leave a comment, or another community member.

Unfortunately, this does not always happen. In fact, I'd say it's likely not to happen in most cases, unless there happens to be a "New Member" flag on the post, in which case, they'll get a semi-canned comment instead of a personalized response. I realize that there's a lot of questions to go through, I just feel like there's not enough personal attention going on all the time (myself included).

I don't have a solution to this, either, other than bringing up that we should be willing to spend a little more time on each question and treat our question feed less like an assembly line of questions that we have to drudge through.

Of course, not every question needs personal attention (e.g. spam), but maybe we could err a bit more on the side of personal attention for borderline questions--maybe they don't speak English well, or maybe they simply don't know how to communicate what's wrong. We should try to take that into better consideration.

When questions are closed as duplicates, what can we do to message that closure as helpful assistance to the asker, rather than an impediment or discouragement?

I touched on this already, but we should offer a personalized comment explaining why the duplicate close reason was used, how they can improve their question to make it not-a-duplicate, and offer to retract the vote with a sufficiently good edit.

Also, I feel like canonical questions, while I (and others) thought was a good idea, I think unit tests, for example, have been basically deemed "off-limits" or "off-topic". I think that it might be beneficial to have some of these answered, since the canonical questions are too generic in some cases. We probably need a separate discussion about where we draw the line.

Can we be more explicit about thresholds for closure across our community to help standardize our work and offer clarity to askers?

Yes, we can. Tying into the previous section, we should have discussions about where we draw the line with unit test questions, or customization questions, or Components (Aura, LWC), etc. Also, we should be more willing to provide edits for questions that are borderline instead of putting the onus on the poster to fix, especially for new members and those who appear to be struggling with English.

If you are a 3,000+ rep user, do you feel that you have the tools, guidelines, and documentation you need to be an effective moderator of the community? If no, what is missing?

As with the overarching theme of this answer, I feel like our guidelines are indeed a bit vague. I also feel like people are too willing to follow the letter of the guidelines, and not the spirit of the guidelines. It would be much better if our guidelines expressed their intent/rationale rather than just presented as the "law of the land." Again, I don't really know how to fix this, just mostly trying to bring this to attention.

If you participate on other Stack Exchange sites that you feel are well-run, what lessons can we learn from them?

I largely stay away from them, many of them seem rather harsh on their guidelines. If anything, I would say that we can learn from them by not being them. I believe that we can still closely follow our guidelines, our intent, without alienating newcomers and dissuading long-time members from possibly losing interest in helping.

Stack Overflow and many sister networks tend to be elitist, and we can avoid following that path by focusing more on intent than rigidity and an air of superiority. We're here to help others, and that should be our goal. Not focusing on our reputation, not focusing on how many answers we put out. It should be about more comments, more edits, more communication, and ideally less closures. We're not those other networks, we've got our own rhythm, and it works pretty well, but we can do better in the service of Ohana and our community.


I'm not blaming anyone, it just seems like we've had a bit of "drift" over the years in our policies, while never really "formalizing" them, and it's probably time for a reevaluation of what we believe and how we're going to proceed in the future. We can close less questions while not compromising our quality. We can be more friendly to those who ask just one, or maybe just a few, questions. We can lower the barrier to entry to be more welcoming. We don't need to be the Developer Forums, or a Chatter group, allowing all the signal-to-noise found there, but we can improve our content one edit and comment at a time.

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  • Thank you for sharing these detailed and insightful thoughts. I see several things that I feel are quickly actionable or at least able to spin off into more focused discussions: revising help pages and close reasons, for example, is fairly easy and I already have some work sitting in a note towards the latter. – David Reed Nov 19 '19 at 1:04
  • Thinking about the ideas that are a little more towards site culture: I wonder whether an approach we could think on is canonical questions on meta that go beyond the help sections to try to define the spirit of the laws, so to speak. I believe Code Review uses that approach heavily and they seem to have some good material, but I'm not involved enough in that stack to have a sense of its success there. – David Reed Nov 19 '19 at 1:06
  • I would love to work (alongside others) on resources for "how to debug a situation", "how to read a log", "how to write a good bug report". Those resources would be hugely valuable to this community but also to many outside. – David Reed Nov 19 '19 at 1:11
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I'm thinking about sfdcfox's answer, but I didn't want to highjack a discussion in the comments. Are the queues that high that we couldn't spend the time to give personalized comments to the questions? Or is there a requirement that the action has to be done within a specific time?

I think we should change the perception from a task to get through the queue as quickly as possible, and more into something that a user could spend some time writing a comment that will assist them and the community.

If that takes longer and a question stays open for a little longer till another user can get to it, is that necessarily a bad thing?

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  • I used to make a lot more comments but too many of them ended up with the OP thinking "if I can change this persons mind my question will stay open". I don't see improvement, I see both sides digging in & becoming entrenched while the end goal (an answer) is left aside. Also the longer a question is left open, the more votes/answers/comments it gets the worse the OP reacts when it is closed - since they see engagement as a vote towards the question being "good" when really its just "answerable". In reality the system needs to work towards improvements over raw closure. – battery.cord Dec 9 '19 at 15:57

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