I've been thinking about the role of a moderator on this site, and how best to build the site over the next months. Once I read on Meta that, once elected, moderators remain "in office" until they step down, I decided to make my thoughts public, because I believe I have pinpointed some issues that site leaders should take seriously. On the one hand, this self-nomination is real: if elected, I would try my best to be a good moderator for as long as I could. On the other hand, I would be pleased with any three moderators chosen from the current list of nominees, so my message isn't "Vote for Me," but, "I hope we all think about the folllowing things as we go forward."
I am an ABD computer science graduate student. My research interests could be broadly descrbed as distributed computing, natural computing, and Theory (Other).
I usually log into cstheory Mon-Fri from 9am-12noon, and 10:00-10:30pm, Central Time US, UTC/GMT -6 hrs.
I committed to the creation of cstheory early on, and was active in both private and public beta periods. Perhaps my most significant contribution to the site has been: I wrote the (now-official) policy on questions requesting guidance on research paper topics. This was a contentious issue, and a modification of the "no homework questions" policy, which had also been contentious. I also proposed the voting method used on Meta to determine whether a policy proposal succeeds or fails, and I helped design publicity materials for SIGACT News and for FOCS 2010.
Role of a Moderator
The official StackExchange position on the role of a moderator is much more limited than the roles our temporary moderators have, in fact, performed -- and it seems as though there is some disagreement among the candidates about the correct way to view the responsibilities of the job. I'll divide my thoughts into different areas.
I like the notion of directing traffic more than, say, being the heavy who closes off-topic questions, because the way site rules are enforced has an effect on the tone of the site overall. I am a big fan of the "virtual vote to close," which Ryan and Suresh often used over the last few months: they announced in a comment that a question wasn't consistent with site policy in its current incarnation, but then they gave the asker time to fix it. (This also meant they gave community members time to help the asker to fix it.) I am in favor of letting the community take care of most community issues, and saving the "emergency powers" of moderation for emergencies.
I believe the best traffic-director in all of TCS cyberspace is Richard Lipton, and his handling of the diversity of comments on his blog is something any site moderator would do well to emulate.
Welcoming new users and helping them succeed at using the site
Part of directing traffic, perhaps, but I wanted to separate it out for two reasons. First, we have discussed on Meta that a long term objective for this site should be that a researcher in another field (e.g., chemistry) with an interest in modeling a problem algorithmically, could come to this site and ask a question that might require several iterations to "get right." Second, I saw in a recent question that a new user was told his topic was not TCS and he should post it somewhere else, whereas I and others thought, indeed, it was in scope for this site. Moral being: A good moderator needs to know when a question is "well meant" even if it doesn't appear to be in scope at the moment, and will (allow the community to) work with the asker to produce something that benefits both the asker and the site.
Dave Clarke is perhaps the nominee with the best track record in this regard.
Conducts site organization and maintenance
StackOverflow now gets 2,000 new questions a day. Need I say more? We will probably never get to that sheer quantity, but a significant increase above our current level of traffic is something we need to plan for. Correct tagging, etc., is vital to creation of a useful community information repository.
Kaveh Ghasemloo and Sadeq Dousti are the co-best nominees in this regard. If we consider only the last 45 or so days of the site, Hsien-Chih Chang would join them as co-best.
Publicizes the site
This is out-of-scope, as far as official StackExchange policy is concerned, and perhaps Jeff Atwood & co. might consider additional community leadership positions, like "Site Ambassador." In the absence of any elected role other than moderator, I think there's no question that the ability to say, "My name is __, I was elected to a position of leadership in cstheory and I'd like to tell you about it," has more cachet than just saying, "I'm one of the most active members on the site." I have some ideas about next steps in site publicity, which I will mention next.
Not that this needs to be said, but Suresh Venkat is the nominee with the strongest track record in this area.
Next Steps in Site Publicity
We now possess a trove of world-class information and explanation. The most remarkable question on the front page as I write this is the one about techniques for reversing quantifiers. This question-answer could easily be extended to an hour-long lecture, or powerpoint presentation, or a blog entry as readable-but-deep as anything that appears on Lipton's or Gowers's blogs. I believe we should make a more focused effort to expand upon and publicize our best questions to the "outside world."
I'm a semi-regular guest-blogger on the Computational Complexity blog (my next contribution, on chemoinformatics, is scheduled to appear within the week), and I have an ongoing invitation to submit guest blogs that are on complexity broadly-defined. I would be happy to choose a question every couple months, and write about the issues it brings up, linking to the site, and giving credit to the original asker and answerer. This is something I would enjoy doing whether I were a moderator or not (though perhaps I should only say that after the election, ha). If a few of us started doing this, we could produce regular mini-publications on a variety of blogs, as well as newsletter for SIGACT, SIGPLAN, etc.
Other than blogs and newsletters, there are several other electronic resources, like the DISC/PODC mailing list. Collecting the "best" (or even just collecting all) of the distributed computing questions every couple months, and mailing them out on the DISC/PODC list would be a community service that would also advance the site. It would be a bit like a Technical Report Column -- putting everything at your fingertips and you could decide what, if anything, to investigate. So I would suggest we target some venues for this type of publicity, and then send them question lists periodically.
Finally, I bet a lot of conferences would be open to 10-15 minute announcements about the current status of cstheory, and examples of the best questions and answers in the field of the conference. If an announcement is too much, a poster at a prominent location as well as in the poster session seems easy to swing. So I'd suggest a thread on Meta where people announce conferences they are planning to attend (or helping to organize!) so other users can help them with publicity tools if they are inclined to give upates about the site at the conference.
Recognition for Service to the Community
I will spoil a surprise and reveal that I had already planned to ask Lance Fortnow next week if there was some "Service to SIGACT/TCS" award I could nominate Suresh Venkat for. He definitely deserves one. That said, recognition for someone like Suresh is nice but not necessary, whereas I would hope, for example, that if Hsien-Chih Chang decided to apply to graduate schools, he would be able to get a kickass letter describing how helpful he has been on the site, and how technically useful his comments and answers have been. Similarly, I hope Kaveh and Sadeq receive some type of recognition that is potentially useful when they are applying for jobs, etc. Also, I'd like to say the following, since I'm sure Sadeq would never say it himself: given the world political situation, it would be much more difficult for Sadeq to meet people on this site in real life than it would be for, say, me, to meet the same people, because he lives in Iran. I hope that if it is possible for cstheory users to ease Sadeq's travel to international conferences, that you please do so as he has been doing a lot for all of us.