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Moderator vacation

Moderator vacation

Stack Overflow uniquely requires moderators to operate with a standard of duty. Even so, moderators generally feel a sense of obligation to be around in case of problems. Such voluntary dedication is much appreciated and often means people really enjoy what they are doing. But everyone needs a vacation from time to time.

Currently, we have no good way for moderators to communicate their vacation plans to either to Community Managers (we suggest they email us), other moderators (this usually happens in chat) or other users (more on this momentarily). In addition, the temptation remains to "just handle that one flag" if a moderator happens to browse their site while theoretically off-duty. Finally, I believe "vacation" might be a graceful way for moderators to step down if the job stops being fun and rewarding.


Provide moderator with a vacation toggle they can flip to indicate they are temporarily off-duty. It will have the following effects:

  1. The diamond will be removed from the user's display name everywhere on the site.
  2. All moderator abilities on the site will be unavailable for the duration of the vacation. That includes access to the flag queue and the flag indicator.
  3. Their name will remain on the moderators tab of the Users page (/users?tab=moderators), but the diamond will be absent there too.
  4. Moderators will retain their abilities on chat (to keep in touch with their colleagues in moderator rooms) and will receive moderator newsletters via email. (Ideally, newsletters would be saved up like a newspaper vacation hold, but let's not over-complicate this.)

When the vacation period is over, the moderator may flip the toggle to go back on duty. However, there are two important restrictions:

  1. Vacations must be at least a week long. The primary motive is to prevent moderators from flipping to non-moderator status to cast a non-binding close vote (or somesuch) and returning to moderator status immediately. But it also helps enforce the idea that the feature is about taking significant time off and not just taking every weekend off. (Feel free to take the weekend off, by the way. There's just no need for this particular feature in that case.)
  2. Moderators who take more than three months off in a (calendar?) year will need to contact the community team in order to regain access. This will allow moderators to retire from the position without drama or guilt. Retired moderators would not necessarily be guaranteed their position back, but it would be a rare exception for us to deny someone who wants to become active again.

Open Questions

  1. Is this a feature long-serving moderators even want?
  2. Are the access options appropriate for a vacationing moderator?
  3. Instead of removing the diamond, should moderators on vacation be signified some other way? (Such as an outline of a diamond.)
  4. Should there be a shorter minimum or different maximum vacation?
  5. Is there anything I missed?

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@WendiKidd WendiKidd commented Mar 6, 2016

  1. I like the idea of the outline of a diamond better than it disappearing entirely.
  2. I'm not sure exactly when I would use this feature. If I'm going on a trip for 1-2 weeks, I don't want to publicly display that I'm "away"... In that case I think you just let your fellow mods know (and I also think this really varies depending on size of site). Plus I can see this opening up strange situations with users... "Wait a minute, we have 2 mods on vacation? The sky is falling! We need to have an election!" ...but really we're going to be back on Monday... You know?
  3. I think a critical piece to this (and to solve some of the issues in 2) would be setting and end-time for the vacation when it starts. Now, if you want the graceful-bow-out option, you can also choose to not select an end date. But it's like suspending a user... 1 day, 7 days, custom number of days, don't suspend at all... Same thing. When will you be back? Next week? Next month? No clue? All those are okay answers. It could display on your profile too, like a suspension; "Moderator is currently on vacation, will be back in X days." (or some other message for indefinite). Might stem the panicking users I'm envisioning thinking the sky is falling if we're away.

Those are all the thoughts I have initially. I don't really see that I'd get a lot of use out of this feature, but I'm on a small site. Maybe it would be useful to keep track of it on the larger sites with lots of moderators.


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@Wrzlprmft Wrzlprmft commented Mar 6, 2016

I do not think that one vacation status can cover the needs, we need more:

First, if I am on a vacation, business trip or similar, I wouldn’t feel the need to be kept from my moderator powers. I still want to be able to nuke spam, delete obsolete comments when I stumble upon them and similar. However, if I really want to be certain that I feel no obligation to moderate, that’s another thing.

Second, I do not want all the world to know when I am going on vacation. However, when I am taking a time-out from moderation to focus on other things, publicly displaying this may helpful, as nobody nags me to do anything.

I think that at least the following three options make sense:

  • You keep your moderator powers and there is no public indication that you are on holiday. Choosing this option is mainly a way of informing the other moderators and the CMs that you are less available for some time. Arguably, this should be only be available for shorter time periods.
  • Your moderator powers are removed and this is publically displayed (i.e., your diamond is gone). This is a good option if you want to force yourself to stay away from moderating for some time.
  • You keep your moderator powers but it is publically displayed that you are on vacation/retired (I suggest the outline diamond for this job). This option mostly makes sense for emeritus moderators, who do not have the time or nerves for full moderation activity anymore, but still feel capable of lending a hand now and then. After all the trust that was given to them when they were appointed/elected should still be in place and thus, the community/SE should not object to them keeping comments clean or deleting crap when they see it. Also, as these people were moderators for a reason, they should be trusted to leave the important decisions to the active moderators.

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@fredley fredley commented Mar 7, 2016

I'd second the outline-diamond idea - especially if moderators are to keep chat powers. I don't think picking a time in advance is necessarily the best though, and prefer the idea of a toggle.

There have been times when I've needed, or wanted to step away from the site for a period of time to cool off. I don't always know how long this will be, and after one incident I didn't know if I would want to come back. In all the occasions past when I would have used this feature, I would have preferred the toggle idea. The minimum time off is a good idea in these situations too, a week is good. I'd suggest a shorter maximum time, maybe a month?

One other detail, which I'm sure was part of the plan anyway: put an orange (not blue) diamond notification out for the other moderators on the site to let them know.


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@fredley fredley commented Mar 7, 2016

One more consideration: there needs to be a minimum time on as well as off. You don't want someone coming back for a week, then going away for three months again.


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@lukebarone lukebarone commented Mar 8, 2016

Great write up.

  1. When I go away, it's usually to have a 4-day weekend; I can count on one hand since I was 16 how many times I have been away from home for longer than 7 days (twice to camp, once to Disneyland, twice to Cuba). I can count on a notepad how many 4-day vacations I've taken (3/year to one destination, 2x to another, and scattered here and there for other weekend trips). The minimum time should be shorter. I'd suggest 3 days minimum, again, to discourage the Weekend effect described above.
  2. We should be able to toggle a switch if we're wanting to come back early, and gain our powers, when on a desktop browser. I know I do lots of moderation from my cell phone, such as deleting spam posts or closing off-topic questions; I believe this type of thing should be blocked outright (mobile access? No mod privileges at all on vacation!) to encourage us to put down the phone.
  3. Leave the diamond as-is, to prevent any possible panic, and for our own privacy. I don't mind other mods on my site knowing when I'm away (as you stated, it happens in Chat), but I'd prefer that regular users not know that I'm gone. Leave the diamond filled in; that also allows the previous suggestion of having an outlined diamond for retired mods, too.

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@badp badp commented Mar 8, 2016

Any sort of visual indication that the mod is currently not-actively-a-mod seems only good for drama. "OH MY GOD WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR DIAMOND/BLUE."

A moderator who wants a vacation probably wants less drama, not more, and they definitely don't want any drama to be about them.

Once three months pass I guess it's fair game to make the cosmetic change happen, since you have lost your right to be a monkey with a gun in there hand. That also means that community managers who do not wish to reinstate a moderator's access can keep the discussion between them and the modrater, and nothing visually changes on the site.


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@Zizouz212 Zizouz212 commented Mar 9, 2016

If we want a vacation, I see two reasons:

  • We are actually going on a vacation
  • We need a small break

In both cases, what do we do? We just let other's know. Personally, I doubt that I need to tell others in the community that I'm heading out to visit family or something like that, and if I'm going to be away for a while, I'll just want to let my fellow mods know. Maybe I'll let some of the community know. If I'm taking a break to cool down, then I doubt I'll ever want people in the community to know. If something major happened, that will not be a fun thing for others to handle. I could see it being viewed a bit like a "mod departure" - and would just spark arguments between supporters and well... non-supporters on places like chat and meta.

I don't see much of a purpose to this, and I doubt it would serve that much of a real benefit to anyone else. To fix the informal way of letting others' know I'll be gone, I'll probably just want a little switch on my profile available to moderators/community managers to signal "hey, I'm a little less active!" People will still come on a little bit, and they might want some mod-handling duties, like flags, but it lets people know that they won't be active for serious things, such as mod messages or suspensions.

I'd like that above functionality. To stop people from using it for stuff like work (or school in my case), maybe we only need it for 3 days? This provides some leeway if someone goes on a weekend work trip, or if I've got something like final exams.

About the hollow diamond idea, I'm not sure I like it. Maybe that's because I support retired mods having a hollowed diamond, but also because it shows the community that something is up.


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@ararslan ararslan commented Mar 10, 2016

I agree with @Zizouz212 on this.

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