The following is a "digest" version of the 2011 Moderator Election Town Hall Chat. The format, as described on Meta Stack Overflow, is one answer to this question for every question asked in the Town Hall, containing all the candidate's answers to that question.

To view the digest chronologically, please sort the answers by "oldest".

If you have questions or comments about this, please do not answer this question as the answers are designed to be used for the questions from the Town hall itself. Instead, please ask on the parent question or in the Town Hall Discussion Room.

(A big THANK YOU TO REBECCA CHERNOFF for organizing these town halls and a huge THANK YOU TO Michael Mrozek for compiling this digest for me as I have been unable to do so this week. Thanks to Andrew Stacey for helping me copy and paste these in here!)

If you see any corrections which need to be made to this digest, or if you were a candidate who was unable to attend the town hall and would like your answers included, please @Josh me and let me know!

  • As promised, I have added responses to the questions as a comment after each one.
    – Caramdir
    Feb 25, 2011 at 21:47
  • Late, but I'll do the same.
    – Seamus
    Feb 28, 2011 at 13:57
  • 1
    I've closed this to prevent @Community bringing it back to the top of meta from time to time
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Mar 27, 2011 at 21:08

15 Answers 15


Lev Bishop Lev Bishop asked: @JosephWright For example if someone asks a question that is perfectly answered in the UK-tex-faq. Should we reproduce that answer here and try to hope that the stackexchange model will lead to it improving over time? Or should we just point to the FAQ (with a summary) to teach the new user where to look in the future.

Joseph Wright Joseph Wright answered: @LevBishop I'd favour a complete answer (taking the point that {TeX} is intended to 'stand alone' in that sense) but also a link to the FAQ when appropriate

Martin Scharrer Martin Scharrer answered: @LevBishop The FAQ should be definite linked too, but tex.sx should stay on its own feet, so summarizing as much as possible is important

Matthew Leingang Matthew Leingang answered: @LevBishop There should be two answers: the first one a quick link to the UK TeX entry, the second a more complete one with sample code. Both are useful.

lockstep lockstep answered: @LevBishop IIRC, I have written quite a few "pointer-plus-summary" answers. But my main area of expertise is biblatex, and the FAQ doesn't tell much about this package (and still refers to it as beta version).

  • Link + summary (in particular, how the faq applies in the present case).
    – Caramdir
    Feb 25, 2011 at 21:35
  • I think the link and summary approach is good, although if the question is more specific (e.g. includes an MWE) then the answer should be tailored accordingly.
    – Seamus
    Feb 28, 2011 at 14:07

Michael Mrozek Michael Mrozek asked: How much time do you anticipate spending on the site? How much of that would be "moderating"?

Joseph Wright Joseph Wright answered: @MichaelMrozek I tend to check in regularly through the day, but very little is 'moderating' as there is actually not that much to do, at the moment

Matthew Leingang Matthew Leingang answered: @MichaelMrozek I spend about an hour to an hour-and-a-half per day checking in, answering questions, and voting. I don't think that would change as a mod. I would probably reduce the number of answers I gave if moderating took too much time.

lockstep lockstep answered: @MichaelMrozek About as much time as in the last weeks, which may be too much. ;-) I can't give a percentage rate for "moderating", but I'll skip some user question I would have tried to answer before and will play janitor instead.

Martin Scharrer Martin Scharrer answered: @MichaelMrozek I'm checking the site several times a day (actually too often). I will do the moderating as it comes. I don't think it will be so much, at least not to much more as I do a lot of editing and flagging messages already.

  • The same as now: too much. Moderation time will go up somewhat (in comparison to the time I currently spend on similar work).
    – Caramdir
    Feb 25, 2011 at 21:44
  • From what I've heard, there isn't all that much to do in the way of moderating. I have tex.sx in a window in the "background" most of the day weekdays, and I expect I'd be fairly active in moderating if it was needed during most of that time (I live in GMT timezone). As for time active on the site, that depends on how much work I have to avoid...
    – Seamus
    Feb 28, 2011 at 14:02

Martin Tapankov Martin Tapankov asked: Is there a feature of TeX-SE that you are unhappy with, and would like to develop, change or promote?

Joseph Wright Joseph Wright answered: @MartinTapankov One issue I guess is that new users can't comment and can't post to meta so tend to post 'answers' to get noticed

lockstep lockstep answered: @MartinTapankov This is rather SO general, but I don't like zero-score accepted answers. Accepting an answer should also mean upvoting it, even for low-rep users.

Matthew Leingang Matthew Leingang answered: @MartinTapankov I really like the SE engine; it's so much different than other support systems (mailing lists, wikis, etc, so it's hard to say. I think there can be some growth on article-type pages for reference. CW questions are good but they don't always develop into informative, cohesive articles.

Martin Scharrer Martin Scharrer answered: @MartinTapankov I would like to have some more javascript based features, like a Select code button I suggested on meta. A automatic LaTeX preview would be cool, but I don't think it will be implemented.

  • Some way to mark answers/questions as potentially outdated could be nice (maybe a marker that we should revisit the question after X months). This might be useful for answers that work around a bug. For example tex.stackexchange.com/questions/2044/… does more harm than good, as current TeX distributions have relatively up-to-date versions of TikZ.
    – Caramdir
    Feb 25, 2011 at 21:42
  • I like @caramdir's suggestion!
    – Seamus
    Feb 28, 2011 at 14:04

Lev Bishop Lev Bishop asked: Where do you stand on the populism vs elitism scale?

Martin Scharrer Martin Scharrer answered: @LevBishop Both should be allowed side-by-side and are important. On the other hand I see a lot of beginner issues which could be addressed with some good CW.

lockstep lockstep answered: @LevBishop I wouldn't want to be elitist even if I complied with the requirements. :-)

Joseph Wright Joseph Wright answered: @LevBishop I wonder exactly what you mean: a good answer is a good answer, I'd hope

(Above expanded on in http://chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/message/571220#571220 )

  • If elitism means posting RTFM answers (or just a chunk of code where the OP has to find the relevant part), then I'm at the populism side. But I don't really know what you mean with this question. Generally I try to adapt my answering style to what I think the knowledge level of the OP (and other people having the same problem) is.
    – Caramdir
    Feb 25, 2011 at 21:39
  • I am a populist. That said, I think question askers should at least try and search for the answer to their question before asking it here...
    – Seamus
    Feb 28, 2011 at 14:06

Rebecca Chernoff Rebecca Chernoff asked: How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

Matthew Leingang Matthew Leingang answered: @RebeccaChernoff This community is very friendly so I think a simple meta question could resolve it. If not, I guess that's why there's an odd number of moderators. :-)

Martin Scharrer Martin Scharrer answered: @RebeccaChernoff Discuss it with him and/or on meta. This isn't a big problem here on tex.sx so far I see it. Only few questions are getting closed and these are always duplicates.

Joseph Wright Joseph Wright answered: @RebeccaChernoff It's not happened to date, partly because the existing team has been very much responsive to the community. I hope that the incoming moderators will take the same approach. I'd also go with the meta approach if the need arises

lockstep lockstep answered: @RebeccaChernoff If our difference of opinion would be about a duplicate-or-not close call, I would discuss it on meta. But as far as I know from skimming meta, this problem is a rather abstract one on tex.sx.

  • Send them a private message asking for their reasons (and pointing out why I disagree) and suggesting that we should ask on meta. Afterwards posting on meta asking for clarification on how the community would have us behave.
    – Caramdir
    Feb 25, 2011 at 21:33
  • I'd discuss it on meta. I think that is helpful for a number of reasons: having the debate in the open helps make clear the criteria for closure, having the debate at all means the mods can resolve their differences and moderate more consistently in future... [This is a lie, I'd probably defer to the other mods wisdom and leave it at that...]
    – Seamus
    Feb 28, 2011 at 14:09

Michael Mrozek Michael Mrozek asked: 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?

Joseph Wright Joseph Wright answered: @MichaelMrozek Another abstract one at present. I guess I'd talk to the other moderators about a strategy, then probably make contact with the user directly using the messaging system available to mods

lockstep lockstep answered: @MichaelMrozek I would ask him via mod channels to be more civil towards fellow site-users.

Matthew Leingang Matthew Leingang answered: @MichaelMrozek Tough one. Again, we are lucky in this community that we don't have such users. This might be a good application of gallery chat (Do we still have that?). I didn't know about the messaging system @JosephWright mentioned

Martin Scharrer Martin Scharrer answered: @MichaelMrozek As I see that there wasn't a case like that so far here. People which are very knowledgeable in TeX are normally quite grown-up. If it happens the user should be contacted to stop/reduce the behavior.

  • Post comments (nicely) pointing out how that user could help this site develop by being more considerate. But I don't really see this happening here, TeX is a pretty safe topic.
    – Caramdir
    Feb 25, 2011 at 21:31

Rebecca Chernoff Rebecca Chernoff asked: What do you plan to do to assist the site outside of responding to flags and standard close/delete maintenance?

Matthew Leingang Matthew Leingang answered: @RebeccaChernoff I'm a fanboy for the site by promoting it to my colleagues and mentees. I will continue to do such, mod or no

Martin Scharrer Martin Scharrer answered: @RebeccaChernoff I like to encourage the creation of some key material as CWs, like best practice, common errors and a sitemap. As well as some javascript based extra functionality (which I might program by myself). And yes, more & better tag wikis!

Joseph Wright Joseph Wright answered: @RebeccaChernoff Like @MatthewLeingang, promotion seems like a good idea (I link handy questions from my blog when appropriate). I guess also the occasional sweep through the unanswered questions is a good idea

lockstep lockstep answered: @RebeccaChernoff Refining the system of tags -- especially thinking hard about where one tag area ends and another one starts.

Stefan Kottwitz Stefan Kottwitz answered: @RebeccaChernoff Besides janitors work mods should assist with helpful comments, that's what I like to do and what I see as responsibility--being a guide to the site.

  • I'm with Stefan here. And trying to make discussions on meta more fruitful (by keeping track of them and not letting valuable contributions slide into obscurity before decision has been reached).
    – Caramdir
    Feb 25, 2011 at 21:29
  • I'd champion sorting out of the tag wikis, and maybe ask some big CW questions as Martin Scharrer suggests. I also mention the site when appropriate to people I know who might find it useful.
    – Seamus
    Feb 28, 2011 at 14:11

Andrew Stacey Andrew Stacey asked: Has being a candidate for moderator changed how you think about the site? (follow-up: if yes, would that go back to how it was before if you don't get to be a moderator)

Joseph Wright Joseph Wright answered: @AndrewStacey Err, no :-)

Matthew Leingang Matthew Leingang answered: @AndrewStacey I don't think so. I mean, I hang out here because I like it, not because I want to change it. And to be honest, I have lots of other commitments that I should be spending my most creative energies on. So I think the same about it as I did before, and will after the election.

Martin Scharrer Martin Scharrer answered: @AndrewStacey No, I still think the site is awesome!

lockstep lockstep answered: @AndrewStacey I'm more aware of the "maintenance part" and how valuable the work done on meta is. If I'm not elected, my interest in meta will stay about the same (rather than mount further).

  • No, or at least not to a measurable extend.
    – Caramdir
    Feb 25, 2011 at 21:25
  • It has changed. At the beginning I've only written TeX answers and was just a reader of Meta. After becoming mod pro tem, I tested and experienced more site features, I began to write opinions on meta, to comment more, to think about site promotion, both online and in print, and I did both.
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Feb 26, 2011 at 0:48
  • I think nothing much changed/would change. I have maybe become a little more likely to edit questions for clarity, and edit tag wikis.
    – Seamus
    Feb 28, 2011 at 14:12

Michael Mrozek Michael Mrozek asked: A diamond will be attached to everything you say and have said in the past, including questions, answers and comments. Everything you will do will be seen under a different light. How do you feel about that?

Joseph Wright Joseph Wright answered: @MichaelMrozek I guess it might be more helpful in the long term if the diamonds were 'static', as if we look really long term then the moderators will change over time. That said, if you are a polite person then there should be no issue. (Also, if you end up as a mod you can go back and edit comments !)

lockstep lockstep answered: @MichaelMrozek I will feel somewhat awkward about it.

Matthew Leingang Matthew Leingang answered: @MichaelMrozek I can only think of a few times when I said something I've regretted. So I don't have a problem standing behind the majority of my acitivity

Martin Scharrer Martin Scharrer answered: @MichaelMrozek I don't think the attitude of other users will change toward us. Here mostly shown knowledge and effort is important. New moderators just have to be careful to adept to their new power (so that a single close vote closes a question, isn't it?)

Stefan Kottwitz Stefan Kottwitz answered: @MichaelMrozek The diamond reminds me that my messages might seem as somehow official. I will remember that and mark very subjective messages accordingly. However, past questions, answers and comments and those in the future I see in the same meaning as of a member of the community, if moderator or not, not yet or not any more.

  • I guess it will make me a bit more careful before posing comments. I have mostly ignored the diamond next to our current moderatorsā€”I think there should be a distinction between mods acting as community members (posting answers, etc.) and mods acting as moderators.
    – Caramdir
    Feb 25, 2011 at 21:23
  • 2
    I am going to abuse the hell out of it. I am going to make tex.sx my own internet fiefdom. Mwahahahaha
    – Seamus
    Feb 28, 2011 at 14:13

Andrew Stacey Andrew Stacey asked: Okay, next question: What ideas do you have to ensure that the majority of running the site remains with the community? (as opposed to people thinking, "We have new moderators, let them do it all")

Joseph Wright Joseph Wright answered: @AndrewStacey One interesting part to this is 'what exactly is the community'. If you look through the user list, there is a long tail. As more people gain enough rep. to vote to close, 'proding' them to use these powers may be necessary

Matthew Leingang Matthew Leingang answered: @AndrewStacey One idea would be to capture the energy in users who arrive and quickly shine. Train them on good tagging and be an example for good question/answer coaching. Then your replacements are in wait.

Martin Scharrer Martin Scharrer answered: @AndrewStacey The number of 2k users which can edit posts etc. is not that high and people which got used to edit and flags thing will, I think, keep doing so. If this is not so and starts to be a problem a simple meta thread should be enough for this community to get things rolling again.

lockstep lockstep answered: @AndrewStacey I'm not in the least afraid that the other users would leave the community mods high and dry. Also, the number of high (say, 3000+) reputation users who are particularly able to assist the mods has been steadily rising.

Stefan Kottwitz Stefan Kottwitz answered: @AndrewStacey I like it to post a constructive comment instead of just taking action. Such as "hey, doesn't this look like a duplicate to this or that? Do the answers there help?" This still allows meaningful answers which might add more to the other answers and it points people to vote to close if they agree.

  • We will have less moderators than we have now, so I don't think people will think that way. Posting friendly reminders about various self-governance features that people might be unaware about might help too.
    – Caramdir
    Feb 25, 2011 at 21:20
  • We might have only 3 mods as of tomorrow, but we have 8 or 9 people who have committed to "acting like" mods as much as possible and I expect all the candidates will continue to do what they can to make the site better. I don't think tailing off of non-mod involvement in these things is likely. There are plenty of people who like the site and are willing to do this stuff.
    – Seamus
    Feb 28, 2011 at 14:15

Andrew Stacey Andrew Stacey asked: Do you think that competitions are a Good Thing, Bad Thing, or Other? There was some talk in the early days of having competitions, maybe best design of some graphic, or best solution of some complicated codey thing.

Stefan Kottwitz Stefan Kottwitz answered: @AndrewStacey If competitions are fun and belong to the TeX subject, I like it.

Joseph Wright Joseph Wright answered: @AndrewStacey Provided they are on-topic I think it's fine

Martin Scharrer Martin Scharrer answered: @AndrewStacey They could be very enlightening, but should not be overused or to aggressive.

  • If they are held in a friendly way, then I think they can be useful in keeping the community engaged and maybe getting a few more people on meta.
    – Caramdir
    Feb 25, 2011 at 21:18
  • Other. It all depends on how they are run. They are a Potential Good Thing. Or Thing with Good Potential.
    – Seamus
    Feb 28, 2011 at 14:16

Yiannis Lazarides Yiannis Lazarides asked: Mods need patience with new users do you guys have it?

Joseph Wright Joseph Wright answered: @YiannisLazarides I like to think so - the pro tem team have taken a 'slowly, slowly' attitude to closing, merging, etc. and I think that's worked well

Matthew Leingang Matthew Leingang answered: @YiannisLazarides Mods do not need patience as much as they need a text file (or starred meta page) with a standard list of canned comments that sound patient.

Joseph Wright Joseph Wright answered: @YiannisLazarides (There was some comment on this on the "teacher's' lounge" chat site - I suspect other sites expect a much more 'rapid' moderating approach

lockstep lockstep answered: @YiannisLazarides My reply to the first person who wanted to prod me to nominate myself was "I'm not patient". But I'll try to improve, I promise. ;-)

Martin Scharrer Martin Scharrer answered: @YiannisLazarides I think so, at least the PC interface allows me to overcome my anger before I answer :-)

Stefan Kottwitz Stefan Kottwitz answered: @YiannisLazarides I've seen that all candidates are patient and friendly like most of our fellow members.

  • I hope so. And the pre-prepared comments do help to sound nice and welcoming.
    – Caramdir
    Feb 25, 2011 at 21:16
  • I do some teaching at university in the "real world" so I have developed remarkable reserves of patience. Someone comes to my office hour in week 18 saying "I don't understand what we did in week 2, and everything else since has been difficult because of it" And I didn't even get angry...
    – Seamus
    Feb 28, 2011 at 14:17

Lev Bishop Lev Bishop asked: Do you notice any trend for certain attitudes, or types of questions [answers] here that you feel should be discouraged from this site? I don't mean obviously offensive or unreadable or wrong stuff that can be closed (and maybe deleted), rather stuff that takes the site into a direction that will potentially make it "worse" in the future.

Joseph Wright Joseph Wright answered: @LevBishop No, I think we've been pretty lucky in this respect

Stefan Kottwitz Stefan Kottwitz answered: @LevBishop I don't like the attitude of posting just a solution without any explanation. That should be discouraged, in my opinion. I don't like that some users, who contribute a lot of useful answers, don't even upvote the well written interesting questions they answered.

Martin Scharrer Martin Scharrer answered: @StefanKottwitz Yes, I have to second that. It's not very helpful or polite.

  • As Stefan said, answers that only contain code should be discouraged, but I'm not sure how (I usually don't upvote them, but lots of people do, so I think they are liked by a large part of the community).
    – Caramdir
    Feb 25, 2011 at 21:16
  • I think code snippets without explanation are a difficult thing to deal with: if they're good code snippets you can't justifiably criticise the answerer's contribution, but they are less helpful answers, because they aren't "customisable" in the way they would be if there were also an explanation. But I would like to encourage explanations to go with code snippets.
    – Seamus
    Feb 28, 2011 at 14:20

Martin Tapankov Martin Tapankov asked: Okay, a bit too late, but still: We have the usual "long tail" of users, i.e. the vast majority of registered users have low reputation, indicative of low contribution to the site. What do you think can be done to increase the number of people giving back and helping around?

Joseph Wright Joseph Wright answered: @MartinTapankov Related to what @AndrewStacey asked earlier. As I said there, I think we can give good answers and hope that people get engaged. We also need to 'prod' higher-rep users who don't regularly vote (on questions, to close, etc.)

Stefan Kottwitz Stefan Kottwitz answered: @MartinTapankov Vote up well written clear questions! Say "thank you", if they post their own found solution. Encourage their progress with comments and votes.

Martin Scharrer Martin Scharrer answered: @MartinTapankov I think it will be difficult to bring the I-need-help-with-my-thesis-First-time-latex-user to participate more in the site. We should make sure that everyone known about existing and potential privileges, like voting and the existence of meta.

lockstep lockstep answered: @MartinTapankov I don't see a contradiction. Low-rep users will always constitute a high percentage rate, but at the same time the absolute number of high-rep users will rise (or at least I hope so).

  • To some extend this is unavoidable. There will always be a many users, who come here for a question, get an answer and leave again. By giving good answers and being nice, we can try to get them to come back again.
    – Caramdir
    Feb 25, 2011 at 21:10

Closing thoughts

Matthew Leingang Matthew Leingang answered: I'd love to stay but I have to go check and see if my rep has increased. And then get back to work. :-P Let me say in closing that it's an honor to have been encouraged to nominate myself. And I want to thank the pro tem mods for setting such a good example.

Joseph Wright Joseph Wright answered: @RebeccaChernoff All of the candidates offer great skills for the position of moderator, but please do vote - the community is the key to the site

Stefan Kottwitz Stefan Kottwitz answered: I hope the activity will continue at this high level also after the election, in chat as well as on the meta site.

lockstep lockstep answered: I wish for a record-breaking voter turnout as a sign that this is a healthy community.

The discussion continued but as the official town hall ended here, so too does the digest!

  • 2
    We should have Town Hall type chats more often. Maybe we could organize a chat meeting once a month (or something like that).
    – Caramdir
    Feb 25, 2011 at 21:46
  • I think that's a really interesting idea, @Caramdir but given time zone issues and the like, perhaps it would be better just to have a room where the mods hang out and people can come and ask the questions whenever they are around. (With monthly round ups of interesting discussions)
    – Seamus
    Feb 28, 2011 at 14:22

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