People often ask me to describe the job of a moderator. Luckily for us, MetaFilter member SpacemanStix asked this question: #
Dear mathowie, jessamyn, and cortex: how many hours do you commit to keeping MeFi afloat? Is it a huge time commitment, not a big deal, or somewhere in the middle? It seems like a lot to juggle between three people. True? And if so, what takes up most of your time? #
The result is fantastic: a unique look at the work of moderators of one of the best and best managed communities on the Web. You can read the whole thread but I have excerpted here their main answers. I could have edited quotes and organized them by topic, but I think it’s great as is, an opportunity to learn how moderating works on a day to day basis. #
mathowie is Matthew Haughey, creator of MetaFilter (or Mefi).
jessamyn is Jessamyn West, moderator of MetaFilter since 2005, especially in charge of Ask MetaFilter, or Askme.
cortex is Josh Millard, part-time moderator of MetaFilter since 2007.
pb is Paul Bausch, part-time Web developer for MetaFilter.
MetaTalk, or MeTa, is the part of MetaFilter where members and moderators talk about issues concerning the site.
MeMail is short for MetaFilter Mail, a messaging service for members. #
I look at the website during all waking hours. I probably spend half my waking hours doing admin/mod stuff like checking new posts for spamminess, emailing people their forgotten usernames, tending the flag pile, etc. #
A “flag” is the way members alert moderators of any problem or rule breaking. It’s the essential tool of moderation for any community. The “flag pile” or “flag queue” is the list of flags that appears on a moderator’s dashboard. #
I’ve heard Matt and Jess describe the job as great because you only have to work like ten or fifteen minutes out of the hour—but that goes for every waking hour of the day. Which is a pretty solid description. #
Really, it’s pretty uneven. Some days I check in once every hour or half-hour or so and there’s just nothing to worry about — no new flags, metatalk is quiet, not much email coming in. Some days it’s heavier than heck and we end up deleting four threads and cleaning up after a pile of different messes in the green and the blue and fielding complaints or inquiries via the contact form and explaining admin reasoning over here. There’s no Normal Day, really, and what takes up most of my time is really a shifting aggregate. #
Spammer patrol tends to manifest in brief, bright flashes of pain: we spend ten or twenty minutes (give or take, depending on the cleverness of the spammer) digging to establish a connection, and then it’s delete and ban (or, sometimes, if things seem to check out despite pushing some buttons, shrug and keep an eye on). #
It doesn’t usually take a whole lot of time to deal with the askme flag queue; barring a real mess of a question (hardly rare, but not a ten-a-day M-F occurrence), cleanup is usually quick enough. We need to check in often, though, and on a heavy week when everyone and their uncle is having a fuckaround on the green it can be a real pain in the ass to keep up with, but overall they’re still fairly self-contained make-it-better issues: you fix it and it’s done and that’s that. Unless someone posts a… #
Metatalk thread. And a thread keeps going, and is explicitly interactive in a way that most admin stuff isn’t, and is really visible to boot, so it tends to require more attention over the long haul and require more patience to deal with folks being kind of publicly antagonistic — to us, to other users, etc — in a way that eats up a lot more energy and diplomatic capacity than discrete decide-and-fix stuff behind the scenes. Even email, where upset people sometimes are a lot more free with their invective or assertions than even an angry metatalk callout, are in a way a lot less trouble and stress because at least it’s just between us and whoever is writing, without a big audience along for the ride. #
So…yeah. I love it to death, I think it’s a vital part of what makes Metafilter work, but I kind of have to agree with Jessamyn that Metatalk is also (if partly by necessity) kind of the daddy of administrative time/energy drains on a busy week. #
Those really long MeTa threads that happen? We read every comment. Around about comment 800 when someone says “Hey mods, what about THIS edge case?” we usually reply. AskMe is usually quick but constant, exactly like cortex said, and a lot of the rest of it is just sort of vigilance, being around to keep an eye on stuff that looks sketchy, investigate a self-linky looking thing and giving the other mods a heads up when stuff looks weird. We also do a lot of prosaic link/post/comment/typo correction and back and forth email/MeMail with users about various topics, to say nothing of just interacting with the site as regular old folk, to the extent that we can do that. People contact me via email, MeMail, chat, facebook, phone (rarely) and regular old f2f. We don’t have any form letters (except when we were doing the backtagging project) everything’s real communication. #
Often the weirdest time-consumers are people who email and say “hey can you delete my comment in the tiger thread? I’ve rethought my position.” or something and then we have to track down who the user is by their email address, find out wtf thread they’re talking about and then what comment and then delete it, if we even can by that point. No real hassle, but multiply it by four or five in a busy day and there’s 20 minutes gone right there. #
I know that I personally take a lot of responsibility for AskMe, so I try to at least read all the questions and also the comments in any thread that has a lot of activity or a lot of flags. I also post a lot of the sidebar mentions, keep track of favorite stuff for podcasts, and listen to Every Single Music Track. The podcast alone is a fair chunk of work, an hour or two to record and then mathowie spends some serious time editing and polishing it. I make sure the faq is up to date. We all beta test new feature ideas [usually] and bump bugs over to pb to wrassle with and there’s a lot of back and forth that happens doing this, like figuring out why some people were still getting the MeFi “massage” message well after the site was back up, or debugging the image uploader issues, post-upgrade. #
We all spend a goodly amount of time also bringing each other up to date on what we’ve been up to. We can sort of follow each other’s admin trail but if something needs communicating we have a little back channel email about who is going to be offline when (outside of normal offline times) and what may need looking after if we’re tagging someone else in. I don’t know if I’d call it exactly a “huge” time commitment because with few exceptions we can fit it around other fun things and I think of huge committments as things that squeeze out what you’d rather be doing. I like doing this. #
Now is as good a time as any to mention something I’ve been wanting to say for a while. Because I work here, with my odd flexible schedule, and this huge crowd of bright and shiny nerds [and the rest of youse] it also lets me do the other things I do in my life like helping the little libraries of Central Vermont with their tech support issues, teaching email to old people, and travelling around the world teaching librarians why they shouldn’t be afraid of computers. This would literally be impossible if I had a “straight” job and unaffordable otherwise. #
Add to this that I think AskMe is one of the best proof of concept reference-via-hive-mind sites out there and a terrific living, breathing example of how to expand our idea of “what a library does” to “what people can do, given some structure and guidance and community” and I just wake up pleased about it pretty much every day. We should all be so lucky. Matt really took all the risks and the early slogging to get this all going — at the ROFLcon panel someone asked him how long he did the site himself before it started making a profit and he was like “um, six years” and everyone laughed like hell because what sort of a business model is THAT — and cortex and I both feel enriched (if overtired sometimes) getting to help out and, with pb, helping shape the site moving forward. #