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By design, Stack Exchange is based on community moderation. Non-moderator community members have access to almost all of the tools to do content curation/moderation. Even brand new users can identify edit needs and suggest improvements. There are relatively low rep thresholds for contributing in the review queues, and modest thresholds for performing most content-related moderation without review.

Moderators can do some tasks more efficiently than other users (e.g., single-vote mod hammer and no daily volume limits), but the moderator-specific tasks fall into a few categories -- user moderation, certain infrastructure maintenance, and certain content maintenance like comment threads and question migration.

While moderators are typically very active, high-rep users, who continue to volunteer time for content moderation, content moderation isn't generally a moderator responsibility (the moderator role is often described as intended to be an exception handler).

2021: a year in moderation provides some interesting stats. Note that it doesn't include some of the routine content curation, like editing posts outside of review queues, or providing help/guidance via comments. One thing that stands out is that much of what should be the community's responsibility has been handled predominantly by moderators.

Note that there is not a current problem with community moderation in the sense that the needed work is not getting done (although there are some proactive topics with few users interested in pursuing them). Everything that needs to get done to keep the site running smoothly and generally maintain quality is getting done, and on a timely basis. But that's happening because the posting volume is still low, and a disproportionate share of the workload is being handled by an extremely active moderator, who manages to handle a lot of stuff before other people notice it. That isn't a good long-term solution.

Long-term site success requires a greater level of community involvement. In fairness, the workload should not fall so heavily on the moderators. Beyond that, there is a need to develop the skills and experience (and sense of priority) in a broader base of current users and potential future moderators.

This question is to spur discussion on why community moderation is so minimal, and what we can do to get more people involved in it. I'll kick it off with a few thoughts in the form of answers. Readers should feel free to add answers covering other aspects and ideas, and to flesh out any of the ideas I've posted.

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    I honestly think this is a flaw in the system. SE just provides a space for communities to host their sites and some rules, but doesn't actively implement these rules. Small communities struggle to find active members because there's not much to do. And let's not forget that not everyone considers correcting grammar and formatting walls of text a fun and useful activity for their free time. It's far easier finding someone willing to answer a question than it is finding someone willing to moderate questions and answers of others.
    – Elmy Mod
    Feb 7, 2022 at 5:58
  • I've made one suggestion as a new meta post. Mar 13, 2022 at 12:12

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This is a small site. We have a relatively small core of regularly active, high-rep users. Many (most?) of the users with the privileges and experience to perform most content moderation without review are occasional visitors, and often don't do content moderation when they're here (which may often be due to no current requirements). Or they may do some content moderation but they visit only occasionally, so it doesn't have a big effect on the routine needs. There are so few people regularly participating in the review queues that posts will receive a few early votes, but processing to completion would not be timely if a moderator doesn't step in.

This suggests a few things:

  • Increasing traffic as a whole would increase the number of people who become repeat visitors, some of whom would contribute to curation/moderation. How to increase traffic would make a good topic on its own.
  • Make users more aware of the role and importance of community moderation. I occasionally see even some experienced users characterize very active curation as people being busybodies, sticking their noses in where it wasn't invited. A surprising number of users aren't really familiar with some of the underlying concepts of the platform.
  • Remind visitors of pending needs that they could attend to while they're here. People often visit for a purpose, like checking on questions or composing an answer, and may not think to check on what else could use their help. The review queues icon indicates pending reviews, but it isn't that attention-getting, and is very unreliable at accurately reflecting pending tasks. I'm not sure how much we could do in this area, though, as the user interface is very standardized.
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    1. I think it is a very good idea to start a thread on how we can attract and retain more visitors. I thought we had had a thread about that, but I cannot find it.
    – Joachim Mod
    Feb 6, 2022 at 11:17
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    3. Indeed, I think we can only really emphasize such a thing in the Tour, which most users will not retake.
    – Joachim Mod
    Feb 6, 2022 at 11:33
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    @Joachim, I assume 3 refers to the 2nd bullet? I was envisioning a dedicated Meta page as described in my comment on the other answer. Users would become aware of it as a new post, maybe receiving community editing, maybe featured on the main page for a while, and by following the link out of curiosity when it's referenced in an invitation comment. My 3rd bullet refers to some form of active mechanism reflecting pending tasks, like the review queues icon (which would be more effective if improved).
    – fixer1234
    Feb 6, 2022 at 19:39
  • No, to the third bullet point, specifically how visitors "may not think to check on what else could use their help". We can put reminders like that in our Tour, but I don't think it will be of much help.
    – Joachim Mod
    Feb 7, 2022 at 16:08
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There is no "recruitment" effort to attract or encourage participation in site curation. When a relatively new user has been a repeat visitor, and their postings suggest they could be a useful contributor, it couldn't hurt to invite them to participate in community moderation. We could create an explanatory page to point them to.

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  • We can start a new Meta thread about this, to point out what a community such as ours needs in the form of moderation. How to invite them, on a more personal level, might prove another obstacle: we can't invite them using their personal information, we can ping them, but that might prove very work-intensive. So we'll end up with the same problems: too few visitors, even less users interested in Meta, and hardly anyone would see such a post. I think posting it on the main site just for that reason is ..inappropriate (but mods are "exception handlers" :).
    – Joachim Mod
    Feb 6, 2022 at 11:27
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    @Joachim, what I envisioned was an A&C Meta page that explains/describes the concept/role of community moderation (what it is, why it is, the tasks involved, connection to privileges, etc.). It could also serve to educate new users who complain when their post is tampered with. This would be focused on promising candidates; the number of new users who return, contribute quality posts, and exhibit a good attitude is not that high. Invite would be in the form of a comment on a post of theirs pointing them to the page as something that might interest them (at the discretion of any user).
    – fixer1234
    Feb 6, 2022 at 19:25

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