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Here's what I see:

  • In general, the current (spoken) opinions (link) seem to be that we should try and avoid a Stack Exchange bias, though most of the users here are moderators of Stack Exchange sites, and also that we shouldn't make questions and answers overly specific to Stack Exchange sites. I agree with these opinions.
  • At the moment, there is at least one question that I know of where the answer might not be particularly useful for the asker. The specific example I have in mind is here: Should I do anything to protect, or even privilege, minority opinions on my site? A look at the profiles of both show that one is an SE mod (thrice over, in fact) whereas the other is not an SE mod, but likely a mod of a different community.

To be more specific, the person who asked the above question is an SE mod, and the issue presented in the question (large and slightly antagonistic factions, where one dominates the other) is also one that I have an interest in, being an SE mod of a religion site. The question was asked in a way that is broad and general, and pretty much avoids being biased towards Stack Exchange (so far as I can tell). The answer does have good points regarding potential ways to resolve the issue, but also has a good deal regarding modifying the voting system. Now, I know that SE mods (of individual sites) can't do anything about how the voting system works, but other non-SE sites can. So, in that sense, that answer is useful at least in part to a wide audience.

But, and here's the core of my question, should we be concerned about whether an answer is useful to the person who asked the question? On the sites I frequent, there is a guideline/rule that stipulates that answers must fit with the question. To give a specific example, on Christianity.SE, a Catholic answer to a question asking for a Protestant perspective would actually be considered "not an answer" because no matter how well-written and sourced the answer is, it's an answer to the wrong question. To give another example, on Math.SE, an answer involving calculus or other high-level math on a simple algebra question would likely be considered unsuitable, a bit overkill, and frankly, probably unhelpful. To give yet another example that many people should relate with, on Stack Overflow, questions rooted in one programming language should not be answered with a solution in another language, and it is often similarly unhelpful to try to "help" someone who has an issue with a program by suggesting they use a different program instead.

One way to go about this on this site (Moderators) could be to encourage people to reveal in some way what their background is. One benefit of this approach would be that it would, I think, help with "translation", so to speak. If I, an SE mod, ask a question and get an answer from a moderator of, say, a phpBB-style forum, then I will likely have a better understanding of how their answer answers my question, and in what areas.

Another approach would be to continue asking general questions and answering in general ways. The problem I see with this is that a plethora of subjective questions is not exactly conducive to helping a site thrive. Rather, objective and clear questions are the way to go. If our questions and answers remain general and broad, the worth of questions and answers will be more subjective, and hence more subject (ha) to being affected by popularity.

Personally, I would rather askers and answerers make it clear what background they're asking and answering from, and be welcoming to non-SE mods. I want to see productive, interesting, and reasonably objective questions and answers, and I think that would be helped, rather than hindered, by knowing where askers and answerers are coming from.

Alright, fellow moderators and users...what do you guys think?

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    For what it's worth, I intentionally asked that question broadly, because I think of it as a behavior/policy question, not a technology question. While the problem I'm thinking of is on SE, I don't want this to be SE-only and that kind of problem exists elsewhere too. If folks think I should have asked it in an SE-specific way I'd like to hear that (maybe in a separate meta discussion). – Monica Cellio Jul 30 '14 at 2:19
  • @MonicaCellio: Yes, and I think that your question was a good one to ask and good to ask in that way. However, the slight mis-match between question and answer made me wonder if that might be problematic in the future. – El'endia Starman Jul 30 '14 at 2:36
  • I agree that answers that assume certain site features, in the absence of them being stated in the question, pose a problem. I wonder whether we need to force specificity onto questions or generality onto answers (hence your question, I know). – Monica Cellio Jul 30 '14 at 2:42
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One of the hard things about sites like this is that I, for whatever reason, might not want to reveal much about where I am coming from and what I am asking for. It might be for a site I work for, or some place I volunteer, but I might not want the information to be easily traced back to its source in case a user/employer/whatever figures out I am talking about them.

For example, if I want to ask a question about a forum connected to my workplace, I might not be able to announce I come from XYZConversation forum, or what have you, but I still might have issues that I want to be able to find solutions to.

So, I don't think we should make a background a requirement, as that is going to create a lot of division as we make more and more fine-grained differences between places.

I think it should be up to the poster to decide how much of where they are coming from they can comfortably reveal, and be content with that (although, if we need to know more, we can always ask in comments or the like!).

At the end of the day, we want this site to be applicable to the wider audience of the internet the same way any other site would be - I want someone from a car forum and someone from a obscure anonymous cryptocurrency chat room to both be able to come here, share their experience and concerns, and find things that will help them. :)

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  • Good points. Perhaps it would suffice to simply say a little about what kind of community you moderate? As in, Stack Exchange vs. a typical forum vs. something more like 4chan vs. etc...? – El'endia Starman Jul 30 '14 at 1:48
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    Yeah, having some sort of "this is a forum/chat/q&A site" would likely help, but I don't think we should push for a lot beyond that right out of the gate. – Ash Jul 30 '14 at 1:51
  • Sounds good to me, and I'd personally be happy with that. – El'endia Starman Jul 30 '14 at 1:53
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I am the answerer of the linked question and I have pretty much no moderator experience. My answer may reflect that.

On the other hand, I have been a lurker on certain online communities for years, and active to the point of power user on others. I have seen moderator leadership bloom and grow in some instances and crash and burn in others.

I am here because community leadership, diversity, and policy interest me and I would like to contribute as much as possible. Unfortunately I don't have questions to ask about specific problems because I'm not a moderator and haven't encountered such problems. I feel that I can contribute constructively by answering. I don't expect my answers to be slam dunks, but I try to make them good. I would definitely like to learn how to be better, and appreciate any feedback, whether it is in the form of edits, comments, votes, or even other answers on the same question being voted up above mine.

If the community doesn't want me to answer because I don't have mod experience, I'll respect that decision, but I would like to think that non-mod viewpoints are welcome here, per Should we accept questions about moderation issues from users' points of view?

With that diatribe out of the way, I can get to answering the questions you asked.

Should we encourage posters to at least state their background?

In most cases, I don't think that posters would need to include their background unless it is very relevant to the question at hand. (The poster should be following the listed self-promotion policy if it applies). In fact, encouraging posters to include their background might cause an anchoring bias, where knowledge of the user's background prejudices the reader for or against their posted answer.

Should we be concerned about whether an answer is useful to the person who asked the question?

Yes, of course! This is a Q&A site, so useful answers are the main goal. However, I don't agree that encouraging posters to state their background helps to achieve this, as the usefulness of an answer should stand on its own merits and not need any background context to make it any more or any less useful. If the answer is about the wrong technology, or the wrong platform, or doesn't apply to the question, or overlooks important info provided by the question, then that answer should be treated as not useful because it is not useful rather than because it came from a user with background X.

To use some of your mentioned examples:

  • On Christianity.SE, a Catholic answer to a question asking for a Protestant perspective would actually be considered "not an answer" because no matter how well-written and sourced the answer is, it's an answer to the wrong question.

    • (I'm not very familiar with this topic, so please let me know and I'll edit it out if I blunder into something offensive)
    • Would an answer in a Protestant perspective be more useful if it came from a minister, from a long time practitioner, or from someone new to the Protestant faith?
  • On Math.SE, an answer involving calculus or other high-level math on a simple algebra question would likely be considered unsuitable.

    • Would an answer based in simple algebra be more useful if it came from an algebra student, from an algebra teacher, or from someone with a PhD in Math?
  • On Stack Overflow, questions rooted in one programming language should not be answered with a solution in another language

    • Would an answer in the correct language be more useful if it came from a programmer fluent in multiple languages, from a programmer familiar with only the mentioned language, or from a programmer?
  • It is often similarly unhelpful to try to "help" someone who has an issue with a program by suggesting they use a different program instead

    • Would a solution in the mentioned program be more useful if it came from a regular user who had encountered and fixed the same problem, from a power user of the program who had dealt with it for years, or from an employee at the company which owns and supports the mentioned program?

Chances are that the answer from the more "expert" user will be a better answer than the one from the novice, but if they were otherwise the same exact content, does mentioning the source of the answer make one better than the other?

tl;dr

I think that we should not encourage the source of the answer to prejudice future readers about the content of the answer.

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  • Make no mistake, I very much value and want non-mod users to participate on this site. It's frequently good to have a significantly different perspective. I think the fact that you're not a mod kinda brings out one of my points a little more because I wrongly assumed that you were a mod, and so interpreted your post differently than I should have. – El'endia Starman Jul 30 '14 at 3:30
  • @El'endiaStarman I didn't mean to imply some sort of censorship goal, I'll edit the post to reflect that. Out of curiosity, how does my perspective as a user rather than a mod change how my posts should be interpreted. To take it to the extreme, are you thinking of something that might be flat out wrong when said by a moderator but would be fully correct when said by a user? I am a bit puzzled, as the OP mentions in the linked post that I've already pointed out to the community at large that we should be voting on posts not people – Matt Giltaji Jul 30 '14 at 16:00
  • Well, mainly, I assumed you had moderator experience and were basing your answer on that experience. As it happened, I assumed wrong, and so read your answer a little differently than I otherwise would have. – El'endia Starman Jul 30 '14 at 16:25
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I don't think there is enough difference between how moderation works on one community versus another to require giving your starting point as part of the question or answer. On Christianity.SE, the policy makes sense because there are significant differences in theological basis based on which denomination you are coming from, but the same is not true of moderation.

The rules of a given site may vary based on where you are coming from and if the question is unavoidably dependent on those rules, then the rules should be mentioned, but the exact community will often be of no value to the question or answer.

That said, I would encourage people put their experience in their profiles so that people can check where people have learned from and try to emulate moderators from the communities they most respect, however, I don't think it is necessary as a matter of site policy.

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