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Notice, this question isn't tagged . This question isn't about a specific question (despite specific questions being linked). The linked questions serve only as examples of the behavior this question seeks to discuss. To be clear, this question is about the moderator behavior of re-opening questions that were closed and have not been edited since being closed and then no comment or explanation is left by the moderator.


Twice now I've seen 200_success re-open a question that was closed with the question receiving little to minimum edits between being closed and then re-opened. It doesn't necessarily bother me that he believes these questions should be open.

In one case, he re-opened that was vote-to-closed by 5 non-mods. I took objection to the close reason, and after posting a meta question explaining why the question actually should be closed, he did finally agree with my reasoning and re-close the question. Here's the meta question from me and here's the original question.

Now, he has re-opened a question that was closed by another moderator. I'm not going to post a meta post about that particular question, because I was on the fence about whether that question should be closed or not--I don't have strong feelings either way. Here's the original question and here's its edit/close history.

What bothers me isn't that he is re-opening questions. What bothers me is that either the community voted on an open/close action or a moderator decided on an open/close action, and without explaining himself to those who made the original decision either in the comments or on the meta, he overruled the decision of those who made the original decision--despite no significant edits being made. In the first example I provided, there were no edits. In the second example, the only edit between being closed and being opened were two edits to the title--but changing a title doesn't change the question.

So in both cases, 200_success's actions said "You 5 who voted to close this question were wrong." and "You moderator who closed this question was wrong."

I'm not even saying that he's wrong to say those things. Some times questions get undeservedly close-voted and sometimes moderators make mistakes. The problem here is that 200_success's actions told people they were wrong and yet he made no effort to explain to those who were wrong why they were wrong. And in the first example, 200_success ended up admitting that he was wrong and the original action was correct, so the question was closed-reopened-closed... and the reopening could have been avoided had 200_success just had a conversation about it on the meta.

The CodeReview community is relatively small. If there are users with these powers (vote-to-close or moderator) powers, it is important that we point out to them when they've used them incorrectly so we can correct the behavior and avoid questions being closed incorrectly in the future.

Moreover, with the community being so small, that makes reopening questions that much more dangerous. You can not vote to close on a question more than once. If you cancel your vote to close or your vote to close succeeded and the question is later re-opened, you are never allowed to vote to close that question again, no matter how it is edited. When a moderator unilaterally reverts a close vote from 5 users, he should be very careful in doing so because he has eliminated their ability to close it again.

Basically, the gist of this is, we should be having discussions on the meta before overturning a close vote on a question that has received no edits since the close vote, right? At the barest of minimums, the re-opening moderator needs to leave a comment on the question explaining why the close reason voted on doesn't apply to the question.

And remember, people who vote to close can also vote to reopen.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @200_success I don't mean for this to be a personal attack on you. It could be that others are doing it as well. It's just been you to do it on ObjC questions which is how it reaches my attention. I do think this issue needs to be discussed. \$\endgroup\$ – nhgrif Aug 14 '14 at 22:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ If anyone is interested in hard data, using Data Explorer I found only 13 questions, that were reopened only by 200_success and also closed by other people. (The query can be relatively easily modified for other mods.) \$\endgroup\$ – svick Aug 15 '14 at 0:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ This question isn't just about 200_success. Nor is it about all questions that were reopened. It is about moderators reopening questions closed without post-closing edits and without the opener explaining the action. \$\endgroup\$ – nhgrif Aug 15 '14 at 1:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I realize that, but 200_success is the obvious test case. And I don't know how to detect all those things using a Data Explorer query, my query is more like a start that you can use for further investigation, not anything final. \$\endgroup\$ – svick Aug 15 '14 at 9:26
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This specific question is directed toward 200_success, but I think the point you are raising is independent of that.

Let's break down your question in to what I think are the relevant parts:

  1. Is there a concept of a super-mod in Code Review - do we have a 'hierarchy'?
  2. Is there a policy from the mods for closing/reopening things that the community is not aware of?
  3. What is the right thing to do for moderators when it comes to enforcing Code Review policy, and community consensus, especially when it comes to going against community policy/consensus:
    • Should overriding happen on meta before moderator actions are taken?
    • Should moderators comment when they make 'overriding' decisions?

I would also like a 4th thing, "What else should the community be aware of?"

OK, answering those things:

Super Mods

Technically, there is nothing special about any of us, we are all equally empowered. Our goals are aligned, but we act mostly independently. When it comes to the exception-handling process that moderators are supposed to do, then we all pull our weight, somewhat equally.

Close/Reopen 'Mod-special' policy

Moderators follow the same thought process for closing/reopening questions that you do.

Sometimes there are special circumstances the community is not aware of, like flags, network-wide actions (spammers), account mergers, copyright actions, etc. These things would not typically be visible to members, and the results of them are normally 'obviously sensitive', and there's no issue.

What should mods do when overriding community consensus

That's an interesting one.... interesting because there is community action, and community inaction....

Moderators are supposed to be exception-handlers. For that to happen, it means that every time moderators act, it 'must' be exceptional....

... including when we vote to close, and no-one else has. i.e. if the community has done nothing, is the question OK? Is our first vote 'overriding the community'?

We do a lot, we comment, we edit, we close, we reopen. All of those things are things the community can do too. There are things that, at the time we do them, are just 'normal' for us mods, yet, when looked at through a different perspective, they are moderator-only exceptions, and overriding community action/inaction.

Moderators cannot possibly ask for community consensus on all the exceptions we process. Actually, by design of the Stack Exchange software, moderators don't vote — they make decisions. The justification for our decisions is the continued confidence of the community, which we hope we have earned.

And, we cannot comment on everything either. It would slow the process down so much that the expected hour-or-so commitment per day would be impossible.

There are some things, like this reopen situation, where a meta discussion is needed, but is that normal? There are many, many instances where the overriding-the-community action was the right thing to do, and comments were made, and meta posts were done. There are also times when it was done and there were no comments, or meta posts, but we got it right anyway.

What I am saying, is that, for the most part, I feel we are getting a really good balance between getting things right. Occasionally, we need to stop and re-evaluate, perhaps like this time.

Conclusion

We do, for the most part, get things right. We also, occasionally, make mistakes.

Also, we have limited time, and resources. We can't discuss everything we do, simply because of the time constraints. Furthermore, as appointed representatives of the community, moderators are tasked with making decisions.

When you disagree with moderator action, do what you have done, raise a meta post, flag the post, comment on it, or bring it up on chat, whatever. I like to think we are approachable, and friendly enough to deal with it.

Should we be more careful about communicating when overriding community-consensus on closed/reopened posts? Probably, and I guess the next times this happens there will be a comment, or two.

In a graduated site, Moderators are elected, and 'assume' the trust of the community to get it right (most of the time). Here, we are 'pro tem', and appointed. I like to think we have the trust from the community anyway, but it is slightly different. We have to adjust our style to match the community policies set in meta.

Occasionally we need to 'nudge' the processes we use, and adjust the way things are done, as we realign to site/community policy.

Feel free to keep us on track.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Between the two, the more concerning to me is the case where a moderator overrides the decision of another moderator. The moderators are expected to know better than the community, so I'm a little okay if overriding a community vote to close doesn't necessarily get commented on (as a community member, I can initiate that discussion if I feel it's needed I suppose). But when a moderator overrides another moderator, I feel something more is expected. What's to stop the first mod from just reclosing since he obviously thinks it belongs closed? \$\endgroup\$ – nhgrif Aug 15 '14 at 2:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nhgrif - as moderators we have access to a moderator only chat room. We often need to discuss sensitive things (there's also a room that all moderators from all sites have access to). The three of us often discuss things, and we get along well. There have been a number of occasions where we have disagreed on some actions, and have resolved things out very well between us. If you are concerned that there's some sort of 'battle' going on with the mods,then your concerns are unfounded. We are fine. \$\endgroup\$ – rolfl Aug 15 '14 at 2:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ If there ever was a 'spat' between moderators, and there was tension, then the SE folk would get involved, and some other action would be taken. At a higher level, moderators are also moderated. \$\endgroup\$ – rolfl Aug 15 '14 at 2:22
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General remarks

First of all, I appreciate the feedback. While good moderators can strengthen a site, bad ones (whether deliberate or unwitting) can be toxic. If any community member is unhappy with a moderator action, I'd much rather know about it.

Second, moderators do make mistakes. Community members do too — sometimes five of them together. Fortunately, nearly all actions are undoable.

As you've observed, languages with less traffic tend to get more moderator action and less organic closures/reopenings. As an reviewer, moderation affects you more than average.

How and why I decide to close questions

I often close questions that appear obviously broken, or that need clarification. I'd much rather put the question on hold while the author works out the issues. Fixing such issues after a first answer has been posted would generally invalidate any answers, so swift closure is beneficial.

Some reasons for reopening

If a question is marginal, I prefer to err on the side of leaving it open. This is especially true if the question already has an answer. If it stays closed,

  • Early answerers will be unfairly rewarded with upvotes.
  • Latecomers, forced to sit on the sidelines, will feel compelled to answer in comments instead.
  • Having a half-dead question lying around doesn't do much good.

I'll usually consider the existence of an answer as evidence (but not the only factor) that the code is reviewable.

Specific question

My reasoning on question 59864 was as follows:

  1. There were two existing answers, including one by you, before @Jamal closed it. I interpreted your answer as an expert assessment that the code was reviewable.

    In retrospect, I suspect that you felt compelled to answer as a "rebuttal" to the first answer, which you felt didn't address the issues properly.

  2. @Jamal wasn't sure about closing the question. He closed it with your support. So, there never was a community consensus that it should have been closed in the first place.
  3. Even though the question mentions "architecture" a few times, it's not a high-level architecture question. For example, "Should I use WebSockets or polling?" would be an architectural question that is blatantly off-topic. On the other hand, this iOS question is asking about whether the code presented is sane or insane. I don't see such questions as being off-topic. The question could have been better if there were a more substantial amount of code, but there was already enough code to write two reviews.
  4. Since it wasn't a pure architecture question to begin with, as soon as the word "architecture" was taken out of the title, I felt that it was good enough to reopen. (Remember, reviewers are free to comment on any aspect of the code, not just what the author wants to ask.)
  5. It's sufficiently concrete that I doubt Programmers.SE would be interested in it. Basically, it's closer to being of interest to "Just You" than to "All Programmers".

    Scope of Programmers.SE

    Migration would probably be rejected. Bouncing hot potatoes between sites is horrible for user experience. Anyway, I think that the question deserves to be kept on Code Review on its own merit (even though it's not a great question).

Signposting

Stack Exchange moderators are encouraged to leave comments explaining their actions. In many cases, I do. However, as you can see, the reasoning here was quite complex. If I had write that kind of explanation for every routine action, nothing would get done. I'm glad to explain my actions on request, though. And if there is a general sentiment that I made a mistake in a specific case, I'll gladly undo my actions. If the community feels that I'm being too heavy-handed, I can act on that feedback too.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Ultimately, I think this answer misses my main concern. I'm okay with a moderator coming in and overruling a decision that a previous moderator or community vote made, but given that a decision was already made and you're overruling that decision and doing it without comment. \$\endgroup\$ – nhgrif Aug 15 '14 at 1:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ When one moderator closes a question and another moderator reopens the same question with essentially no edits to the question, then there is disagreement among the moderators. That's fine, that's going to happen, but they need to try to be on the same page. I feel that any time this happens, automatic protocol should include opening a meta discussion on the question. I'm also fine with erring on the side of leaving it open while it's being discussed. \$\endgroup\$ – nhgrif Aug 15 '14 at 1:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ But when one moderator overrules another moderator, can we at least open a meta discussion and say "I just re-opened this question closed by this other moderator. Here is why I feel it should be open." and let the community have a discussion? For the record, with the question Jamal closed, I have no strong feelings, and I'm perfectly fine with it being open. It's probably the right call. The concerning part to me isn't that it's open--it's that you've overruled another mod without comment or explanation. \$\endgroup\$ – nhgrif Aug 15 '14 at 1:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ A complex reason for re-opening a question is actually MORE reason for you to post some sort of comment or open a meta discussion about it. If leaving this question open is correct, then Jamal was wrong in closing it, and I was wrong in supporting it, but if you don't show us why leaving it open is right, we will continue to make the misjudgment in the future and questions will continue to be misclosed in the future when it would be better to not be closed in the first place. \$\endgroup\$ – nhgrif Aug 15 '14 at 1:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps I was a little too hasty with closing the question, but I did also leave a comment for the OP in particular. I am surprised that you didn't leave a comment, even to tell me (indirectly) that my judgement was wrong and it should've stayed open. I mostly followed nhgrif's hesitancy about keeping it open, but I also personally felt that it wasn't much code to review (which, then again, is kinda stupid since I don't even know Objective-C). On the other hand, I don't know what an ideal architecture question looks like, so I just look for keywords like this to help decide. \$\endgroup\$ – Jamal Aug 15 '14 at 1:43
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Basically, the gist of this is, we should be having discussions on the meta before overturning a close vote on a question that has received no edits since the close vote, right? At the barest of minimums, the re-opening moderator needs to leave a comment on the question explaining why the close reason voted on doesn't apply to the question.

I don't think we have to have a discussion for each of these. I see a Meta post being necessary if the community is having trouble deciding on a question, and may also want moderator support. We seem to be getting better at deciding on most questions, otherwise there may have already been many more Meta posts for specific questions.

I agree with the other moderators that grey areas will keep coming up, and getting rid of them can take a lot of energy. Perhaps you can agree that a Meta post serves a better purpose if it can set a precedence for future questions of the same sort. Otherwise, I don't think it's such a bad thing to keep a borderline off-topic question. After all, we're already aware that "working" code can mean different things, and it's hard to say if a piece of code is truly working.

Do I think that a Meta post about this particular question was okay? I suppose it was, at least to ask about the differing moderator actions without edits. I too was wondering about this abrupt reopening, although I myself could just ask that moderator in our private chatroom. Overall, I don't quite think the community should be concerned about such an action, unless it's the scope that's still uncertain to them. In that way, they can just ask either moderator why a question was open or closed, while giving a reason why it was not seen as a suitable action.

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Speaking as a private contributor, rather than as a moderator…

  1. Our mission is to review code or to have our code reviewed. Any other activity is a distraction from that goal.
  2. Of course, some overhead is unavoidable, to ensure that the community is aligned and happy.
  3. Closing off-topic questions is necessary to maintain quality. However, open questions should be the natural state; closing should require the burden of proof. Reopening a question should require less explanation than closing it. Furthermore, on reopening, moderators routinely clean up comments on the question that were instrumental in getting it to an acceptable form. Therefore, you shouldn't expect much of a comment trail on open or reopened questions.
  4. I'd rather that we not expend effort reviewing the topicality of questions when we could be spending time reviewing code.
  5. Routinely triggering a meta-discussion over every difference of opinion would generate paperwork and controversy that doesn't need to exist.

What I would like to see

Disagreements will happen on marginal posts, and such disagreement is natural and healthy. All it takes to raise the issue is a simple Meta post:

Should question 59864 have been closed?

I see that Setting up tab bar, navigation, and view controllers in iOS was closed by one moderator and reopened by another. What was the reasoning? I think that it should have remained closed because ….

Tags:

Any user can raise such a meta-question on any post. It takes about 5 minutes to write a response. The responses can be more democratic as well — it wouldn't be restricted to the moderators directly involved. If we get one of those every few days, it's no big deal.

Mentioning it in our chat room could also work.

On the other hand, responding to one request to re-evaluate our processes takes an extraordinary amount of energy. It takes a lot of effort to craft a non-offensive response. Not to mention, your proposal places an overhead burden on future actions that are considered routine today. I don't think that it is likely to result in any more happiness than posting questions as needed.

If you are routinely dissatisfied by the explanations given to posts, then it's time to raise a more general issue.

In summary: more code review, less drama please.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't understand why one moderator opening and another moderator closing the same question should be a routine, every-day occurrence. That's kind of my point to all of this. If moderator A is routinely closing questions that moderator B is routinely re-opening, shouldn't moderator A just stop closing the particular questions moderator B closes? Consider how it looks to the asker who gets his question closed an a custom close reason is posted (along with a comments suggesting what the question needs more of), then inexplicably reopened? \$\endgroup\$ – nhgrif Aug 15 '14 at 11:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ "If moderator A is routinely closing questions that moderator B is routinely re-opening" — more examples please? \$\endgroup\$ – 200_success Aug 15 '14 at 11:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ We're discussing policy for future behavior and you're answer states that it'd be okay for moderator B to routinely re-open questions that moderator A has closed. "Not to mention, your proposal places an overhead burden on future actions that are considered routine today." I don't want a moderator overruling another moderator with no explanation--when they're supposed to be on equal grounds--to be routine. \$\endgroup\$ – nhgrif Aug 15 '14 at 11:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Because you are right, Jamal did run the idea of closing it by me. Without a good explanation of why he should't have closed it, how can I know to say "No" to him in the future? He was on the fence about it and I was as well. If he's on the fence in the future, and I, being a person apparently consider an expert in whether ObjC questions are closeable or not, should be more informed about what side of the fence to push him to so we can avoid him closing in the first place in the future. \$\endgroup\$ – nhgrif Aug 15 '14 at 11:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Gray areas exist. Humans try to make the best judgements we can. That's all there is to it. \$\endgroup\$ – 200_success Aug 15 '14 at 11:41
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To answer your question; I like my moderators active and involved, in all aspects.

That said, (and perhaps this should be a feature request), if a mod single-handedly undoes a close/open decision by the community then I would like to see that in my inbox if I cast one of the 5 votes.

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