I just stumbled across something that I'm not sure whether I like it or not. Well, actually, I know that I don't like it. I'm just not sure whether I'm being a bit over-sensitive or not. It seems a bit small and petty (of me), but first impressions are important.

One thing I really really like about TeX-SX is how friendly we try to be, particular with new users. This might be a feature of TeX itself: we all remember vividly that day when we sat down to write our first TeX document and stared in bemusement at web pages, books, or whatever as we tried to figure out what on earth was going on. I think that that shared memory helps us with new users: a lot of stuff here is confusing and it isn't clear at the start how it works. So when someone comes along and does something wrong, we don't jump on them but try to explain what is the best way of doing things.

One thing that helps with this is our list of stock messages. For those who haven't encountered this list, it's a list of templates that can be used in common situations, particularly with new users. Note the "can be used". There is no compulsion about it. The point is that these make it really easy to be polite! If you don't have time to compose a detailed specific message, you can just copy one of the templates and know that it won't be rude or abrupt.

Another thing that helps (I think) is that we take our time. We have the luxury of doing this because we don't get that many problem posts: TeX-SX is probably one of the easiest sites to work out if something is "on topic" or not. I know that other sites have problems with this and there, of course, it's important to act fast. But here I like to think that we give people time to correct their own mistakes. Certainly when I was a pro-tem moderator we did this, and reading Joseph's blog post shows that this still continues.

Why am I saying all of this? It's because I just spotted some activity by a non-TeX-SX moderator on the main site which whilst not going against the letter of the law, doesn't take into account our local interpretations of it. 10k users can see the original at Tikz figure in Beamer shifting way to the right of the frame. For the rest, the story is that a new user posted a question as an answer. This is common enough that we have a stock message for it. Werner posted a comment that explained that the situation very nicely (this wasn't the stock message, but is at least as polite which is part of my point about these messages):

Best to ask a new question, since (i) this is not an answer to the question, even though you mention it; (ii) you won't receive the attention required to answer it here.

This got a "great comment" vote, though I don't know when that happened. Shortly after this (2hrs), one of the non-TeX-SX moderators came along and posted this comment:

Welcome to LaTeX! If you have another question, please ask it by clicking the Ask Question button. Meanwhile, stating that you know the rule and then ignoring it shows blatant disregard for the effort of our entire community in curating this site. Please respect what we are building here -- we're not just being picky, these are lessons we've learned over years of asking and answering, and making that information as useful as possible for future searchers.

As far as content goes, I can't fault it. But as a "welcoming message" then I can. Quite apart from the site name (I imagine all the ConTeXt users up in arms at this point!), I don't like the "blatant disregard", nor the "Please respect" phrase (general rule of thumb: any phrase using the word "respect" probably isn't respectful!). Also, TeX-SX is just a little over a year old and we're a different community to the SE/SO one. We're learning our own lessons.

The user went on to post a fresh question and left a new answer at this one saying:

OK, I have posted another answer. Tx,

Since this user didn't have the reputation to comment and is new to the site, that's not actually an unreasonable thing to have done. It's not the right thing, but they'll learn. The non-TeX-SX moderator then posted:

Welcome to LaTeX! Please don't add "thanks" as answers. Invest some time in the site and you will gain sufficient privileges to upvote content you like, which is the LaTeX way of saying thank you.

Now this message looks just a little bit odd. Why the "Welcome to LaTeX!" again? Didn't we just have that? And the second sentence doesn't make any sense at all. This isn't a "Thanks" message. Okay, it has "Tx" in it (which I guess expands to "Thanks"). The last sentence is similarly brusque to the previous message. So this one has me a little confused.

Until I look at the time stamps on this second exchange. The user posted their question, and their "Tx" message before the non-TeX-SX moderator appeared on the scene. The "Tx" message was to Werner! So the whole situation was over before the non-TeX-SX moderator appeared, the new user had learnt about posting new questions, okay they needed to know about non-answers (but we have a polite stock message for that too). They had even been given an answer to their question in this time! So all that was really needed by a moderator was to delete those two non-answers, and even that wasn't urgent as the user had learnt what to do and Werner's comment contained all the necessary information.

The more I look at the non-TeX-SX moderator's comments, the more they look like stock comments themselves. If true, this would be a bit ironic given Jeff Atwood's comment on our stock comments thread:

I'm not a huge fan of any automated "one size fits all" processes like this, but as an experiment to see what happens, it's OK.

Now I could try to contact the non-TeX-SX moderator themself. They have asked a question (one!) here, though I don't really think that they are a member of our community yet. Indeed, I hope that this moderator joins in this discussion. But really I want to know what our community thinks of this.

Of course, I may be just jumping at shadows. This may be a single event and not a precursor of more intervention from the SE team. If so, I'll be happy. If not, I'll be worried. I like our community. It's not perfect, but it's a lot nicer than any of the other SE sites I've participated in (though photography gets close). Of course we want to make it better, and would welcome help in doing so, but this doesn't feel helpful to me.

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Just to explain how a non-TeX.sx moderator could act here: the person in question is a StackExchange employee, and therefore has mod powers on all SE sites. –  Joseph Wright Sep 30 '11 at 8:09
    
I agree with this, just one minor correction: new users have the power to comments to their own answer. So the user could have posted the second answer as a comment to the first one. I have to say I was somewhat annoyed when I saw and flagged this, but not sufficiently to add a comment. –  Caramdir Sep 30 '11 at 20:24
    
@Caramdir: Good point, though I would say that knowing where one can and cannot comment is one of the things that I wouldn't expect a new user to understand straight away. I'd also say that I completely agree with the flag, and with the eventual deletion of both "answers". –  Loop Space Sep 30 '11 at 20:35
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I find myself a bit at odds here, and I hope I am not coming across as antagonizing. For as unwelcoming as HedgeMage may have been perceived, her actions now mark the first time she has decided to step in and lend a hand. In a sense, she is new to the community - sure she has one post, but as you note you don't consider her a part of this community yet. Why then, all this massive jump at a single event, while also citing that the community prefers to to not jump on people and instead explain the best way of doing things? –  Grace Note Sep 30 '11 at 20:36
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@GraceNote There's very little way in which a new user who is employed by stackexchange and is asserting moderator powers without having participated previously in the community could be perceived as anything like a regular new user. So the comparison is really a bit misplaced, I think. –  Alan Munn Oct 1 '11 at 0:49

3 Answers 3

I fully agree with your post (especially the sentence "One thing I really really like about TeX-SX is how friendly we try to be, particular with new users.").

I would suggest contacting HedgeMage about this and inviting her to the discussion, since she is not just a non-TeX-SX moderator, but actually a "Community Manager" who has recently joined the Stackoverflow team. She was introduced on the Stackoverflow Blog a couple of months ago: http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/06/welcome-valued-associate-susan-stewart/. She is basically a representative of Stackoverflow, so I feel it would be valuable to let her know how we feel about this.

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Joseph says he'll get in touch with her: chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/message/2059482#2059482 –  Loop Space Sep 30 '11 at 8:17

Of course the Stack Exchange Community Team has all rights of intervention also on this site. However one should also take into account the general atmosphere of the site.

During the six months I've been here, I've seen very few cases of misplaced question like the one in TikZ figure in Beamer shifting way to the right of the frame and, from what I can remember, all were resolved after asking the poster to open a new question. The user in question was at his first posting here and might very well have misinterpreted the rule as just a recommendation. From the profile, that user has no accounts on other SE sites, for instance.

I think that less than a day is too shorter a time for deciding to delete a misplaced post. And, since we are at it, I find that

it shows blatant disregard for the effort of our entire community in curating this site

is rather rude, considering the user's inexperience. I can understand that in sibling sites with much more traffic than ours such problems have to be addressed with strength in order to keep a high quality. Our amount of messages still allows for more patience, particularly with inexperienced users.

Good parents must say no, sometimes, but there's a way to say no to a three year old child and another one to a teenager.

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The 'less than a day' point is significant for me. We've been pretty clear since the best that people get >24 h to respond to a flag-based comment. –  Joseph Wright Sep 30 '11 at 20:19

I'm the "non-TeX-SX moderator" mentioned above.

My name is Susan Stewart (aka HedgeMage) and I'm a member of the Stack Exchange Community Team. You can reach me at <my first name> @stackexchange.com or, when I'm awake and online, find me in various SE chat rooms.

I happened to be using TeX.SE last night while working on a small side project, saw some flags sitting there, and took a few minutes to pitch in. That's what the Community Team does -- we shepherd new sites along, and routinely check in on the more mature ones to lend the moderators a hand and/or see that they are still moving along well. There's no hostile takeover going on.

I am concerned that chastising a user who took the time to state that he knew the rules and chose to ignore them raised such a reaction here. This is day-to-day mod stuff: if we can't give a firm "don't do that" when someone ignores the rules (having already been educated on them) our only recourse is to let them work up to a ban. Good parents say no sometimes.

It's not a threat to Mom's authority when Dad says no, nor is the reverse true. So, don't worry so much. The Community Team is here to help, and we're certainly open to what site moderators and the wider community have to say when there's a real issue to address.

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This is exactly the wrong attitude, at least for this site. We have very few problem users, and we pride ourselves on the friendliness of the site. What we objected to (and I think I speak for most here) was that (i) your comments were much sterner than is the norm here and (ii) they were made in addition to similar (and frankly more polite) comments with equivalent content. stackexchange is supposed to be about community. Well welcome to ours, but don't tromp on our own social conventions. –  Alan Munn Sep 30 '11 at 19:39

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