- How, specifically, would you go about creating and maintaining an atmosphere at Christianity.SE in which new users of the site, who don't know the site's rules and culture, feel welcomed to participate in the site while they are learning and navigating its rather complex rules and culture? How would you make it more likely that new users will become regular users?
This is a great question, and there are certainly many great things that we can do on this front. Let me suggest two general principles: be friendly and manage expectations.
Be friendly: Have you ever walked into small, mom-and-pop type store and been greeted by a heated debate taking place between two employees? There's a reason it's relatively rare – it's bad for business. Real life business know that customers are generally more likely to stay and buy if they are shown respect and are comfortable in their surroundings. It's not a perfect analogy, but I'd suggest that there are lessons to be applied here, such as the importance of friendly communication and no arguing in the comments of new users' posts. If a new user receives abrupt criticism and/or a dozen pings due to a lengthy scope discussion on his first question, I don't blame him for never coming back.
This is a cultural issue that cannot be addressed by the efforts of one person, not even a moderator. But in my capacity as a moderator I would a) be sure that good-faith users received a friendly word of some kind, even if it is only as I am deleting their "not an answer," b) encourage users to avoid communicating in ways that might be perceived as abrupt or rude, and c) aggressively push discussion and debate on new users' posts to chat/meta.
Manage expectations: When was the last time you walked into a store, asked about a product being prominently advertised in the window, and been told that it hasn't been sold in that establishment for the past two years? It's a bad look – it confuses and frustrates the customer, and makes it unlikely that they stay in your store, even if you have other things they may want.
I see two ways that we do something similar: a) we have a generic name that might seem to invite any question related to Christianity and b) we have hundreds of closed questions that we as regular users rarely see but that thousands of brand-new visitors see first when they find us through a search engine.
To alleviate these issues, I don't believe that we need to do anything extreme, but we do need to be aware of them, and act accordingly. Here, I'd suggest the importance of a) every new user being exposed as early as possible to the site's tour, and possibly a foundational meta post or two, and b) appropriate cleanup, locking, or deletion of closed questions. As a regular user, I have flagged hundreds of comments on closed questions and dozens of popular closed questions for a "historical lock." In doing so I hope to communicate to visitors that this is a Q&A site, not a forum, and that some types of questions are not on topic.
As moderator I will encourage users to flag such posts, and I will encourage 10k-rep users to get involved in the deletion of egregiously off-topic questions with little redeeming value. I will strive not to deviate from the current practice of the moderators with respect to the locking/deletion of such content, unless the community wishes otherwise.
- Given the intensely personal nature of religious beliefs many visitors to this site have a hard time separating theological positions from the way the site functions and is moderated. As a moderator a diamond will be attached to everything you say and have said in the past, including questions, answers, comments, and chat messages. Everything you will do will be seen under a different light. How concerned are you that you may have or will say things that don't reflect the tone and tenor expected of a moderator? Do you think you've set a pattern to date of showing understanding towards others' views even when you disagree?
The weight of a diamond is certainly far from trivial. In some ways it would certainly be disconcerting to have a diamond attached to my posts, comments, and chat messages in which inexperience, hastiness, and frustration appear. Hopefully it is evident that the patience afforded me during my time here has done me some good; I feel that it has, at least.
That said, I do not recollect any situations in which I failed to treat others with respect. This is partly due to my tendency to avoid unnecessary conflict; I dislike heated debates over anything, including theology. Nonetheless some have felt challenged by a post or chat message of mine, leading to some small controversy, and in response my pattern has been to demonstrate respect for others and find common ground.
Thus I do believe that I have demonstrated a pattern of respect, and I have no intention of deviating from that. I am confident that I will make mistakes, but I also believe that I have demonstrated a willingness to admit mistakes and learn from them.
- For many types of questions, the community has established relatively clear guidance on when to close and when to leave open. But not all question types have such guidance, so I'd like to know how you'd handle one in particular, to get an idea of your general approach. What would you personally do about exegesis questions that don't specify which tradition's view is desired? Comment, close, delete, what?
I have made my view on this matter clear elsewhere, but as moderator my role would be to maintain the community's standards, not my own. Thus my general approach would be to use comments to encourage users to specify a tradition when I believe that it would be beneficial, emphasizing that doing so will improve the helpfulness of the answers they receive (not that the question will otherwise be closed). By extension I will thus allow/encourage the community to moderate such questions via the close vote mechanism, and not interfere with a mod-close/mod-leave-open except in egregious cases.
- How do you understand this site's relationship with our sister site Biblical Hermeneutics?
I wouldn't say that I'm a fan of the "sister site" moniker, though I understand why it exists. The two sites are close relatives on the Stack Exchange network, partly because the two sites have many of the same users, and partly because the subject matter is often similar.
To me, Christianity.SE and BH.SE serve two different purposes, and this has resulted in different emphases and strengths. Boiled down to a crass generalization, I'd suggest that Christianity.SE is designed for the church (doctrine, history, etc.) and BH.SE is designed for the text (hermeneutics, original understanding, etc.). Because of the close relationship between many churches and various texts, it's natural that there will be overlap in subject matter. But the underlying approaches to asking and answering questions on the two sites will typically be different.
Given my relative inexperience on BH.SE, I have found Dan's meta post on this subject to be very helpful. The question of when to migrate can certainly be tricky, and I will heavily rely on other Christianity.SE mods and especially BH.SE mods when making migration decisions.
- How do you distinguish between a bad/incorrect answer that merits downvotes, and a post that is "not an answer" and ought to be deleted? For example, consider answers to questions that a) have denomination/tradition scoping, b) request an overview/biblical basis, or c) ask for sources.
This can be a challenging distinction to make, and I've learned that complete agreement in certain cases may not be possible. But in general, I view something to be "not an answer" when it fails to demonstrate appropriate effort in answering the question. A bad/incorrect answer demonstrates such an effort, but misinterprets or misuses sources. To be more specific:
- If a question specifies a tradition, but the answer makes no attempt to demonstrate that the view provided represents that tradition, it is not an answer. Poor defense of a view, such as with "this is what my pastor said" or "I'm Lutheran and here's what I think [about your question on Lutheranism]" moves the answer into bad/incorrect.
- Requests for an overview or biblical basis ought to be answered with attempts at an overview or biblical basis. If an overview is requested and only one view is provided in the answer, the answer should attempt to demonstrate that only that view exists. If biblical basis is requested and the answer is "there is none," it should attempt to show that no biblical basis has been claimed by proponents, not that the biblical basis is unfounded.
- Questions asking for specific resources, such as published works or sources for a claim, ought to be given answers providing such resources, or with evidence/an argument against the existence of such a resource. If the resource provided is inadequate in some way, it is likely bad/incorrect, but still an answer.
All this said: sometimes bad/incorrect answers should be deleted too. It can be valuable to keep some heavily downvoted content, but answers that add nothing of value, even if technically "answers" according to the above, do not benefit the site and should be liable to deletion.
- What, if anything, threatens the continued success of this site? How will you work to remedy/prevent that?
I am optimistic about the future of this site. I believe it successfully fills a valuable niche in the "Christian website" world – as far as I know, there is no other broadly cross-denominational Christian Q&A site or forum that successfully avoids debate and flame wars.
That said, I'll mention a couple areas that deserve at least a watchful eye, if not concern: expertise and community moderation.
More expertise: Elsewhere in this answer I've addressed the general importance of welcoming new users in greater detail. But I'd add here that I hope to see not just new users who have a question or two, or who happen to be able to answer a few questions that ask about their own tradition or denomination's beliefs. I also hope we attract more expert and semi-expert users from a wide variety of traditions. We do have a few of what I'd consider true experts in our active user base, but not many. We have more "semi-experts," but still not many. I'd love to see that change, so that the quality of the content we produce can continue to improve. The specific steps I outlined elsewhere (being friendly and managing expectations) I believe will help in this regard.
More community moderation: A related matter is the development of new participants in community moderation. As a moderator, I plan to continue to regularly visit the site multiple times per day, but the last thing I want to do is squash community moderation. Instead, I want to encourage active participants to gain an understanding and appreciation for the structure and guidelines of this site, and get involved in all aspects of community moderation. That means more meta posts seeking to clarify or modify guidelines, more voters (up/down, close/open, and delete/undelete), more users in the review queues, and more users querying the Data Explorer to find and address problematic questions, answers, and comments. To me this means patiently explaining challenged decisions (like declined flags and mod closures), moderating with a light touch, and making people aware of the tools they have at their disposal to keep the site running smoothly.
To put it another way, I'm not necessarily concerned if our traffic or new content metrics are stable or decline somewhat. I measure success largely by the quality of the content we produce, and indirectly by the level of community activity in creating that content and dealing with low-quality content. That's ultimately how we build a site that has an impact.
Addendum regarding pedantry: I believe that the use of precise language in our content is important. This is particularly crucial in some types of questions, because it allows us to easily explain why certain answers aren't a good fit for the site – for example, using "biblical basis" language rather than "what does the Bible say about..." allows us to ensure that answers do not become a debate, even though many new users don't realize the significant difference in these phrases.
That said, we should be careful that a desire for precise language does not morph into a legalistic pedantry that loses sight of the purpose of our guidelines. Simply adding the words "biblical basis" or "overview" to a question shouldn't automatically be enough to keep a question from being closed. And using different but equivalent language, like "biblical evidence against" or "biblical case for" or "general survey," shouldn't be considered cause for closure.
It's my impression that we normally stay on the precise language side of the continuum, though we aren't immune from tendencies toward pedantry. To combat it, it's important to teach the why of our guidelines, not just the how. We should address this sort of unhelpful pedantry when we see it, being sure, however, to do so with charity and patience, particularly because of the risk of misunderstanding.
- How has your meta site participation to date been beneficial? Have you worked toward community actions that did good? Have you demonstrated leadership (e.g. made a post now tagged faq, suggested a now conventional policy, etc.)?
Since I joined the site I have consistently been one of the most active participants on meta, addressing the concerns of new users (e.g., here and here) and explaining guidelines (e.g., regarding duplicates, overviews, and multiple perspectives), in addition to more run-of-the-mill tag discussions and support requests. Over the last two years, I have the highest answer score on the discussion tag of all users, with an average score of 5.9.
But I'd guess that the two most helpful things I've done have been the creation of a "New Answers to Old Questions" chat room and the writing of a new faq question/answer that explains why pastoral advice questions are off-topic here. For over a year, the NAOQ chat room got regular visits that helped ensure that great new answers weren't ignored just because the questions were old. And now our pastoral advice close vote reason directs new users to an explanation of why we don't feel we can provide personal advice.
- How will being a moderator affect your close votes? A moderator's close vote holds immediate power; your close vote immediately closes the question. Some suggest no difference in close voting behavior while others suggest that a light touch is necessary to keep the community engaged. Do you favor one of these theories or something else?
The number of close votes I cast will dramatically decline if I am elected moderator. As a normal user I can vote to close any question that I personally feel that should be closed, but as moderator I must a) consider the community's wishes and common practices and b) encourage community involvement in closing questions. Thus my close votes would be normally limited to obviously and egregiously off-topic questions.
- 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?
The first step would be to handle the flags appropriately. If that doesn't cause the behavior to improve, after seeking recommendations from other moderators, I'd typically move to a private chat, in which I would not focus only on the negative behaviors. If nothing changed, I'd send (or, even better, encourage another moderator to send) an email warning. And if that didn't work, sadly, suspension would be appropriate.
- How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?
This is a pretty straight forward two-step process. The first step is to consider how important the matter is. Just because a different moderator does something at a different time or in a different manner than I would have doesn't mean that he did anything wrong.
The second step, once it's established that I consider the matter important, would be to privately discuss it in a moderator chat room. I have found Latin.SE's moderator chat room to be extremely helpful in better understanding my colleagues without having a spotlight shining on our disagreement.
Once such understanding is achieved, in some circumstances it may be appropriate to make it clear that moderators disagree – I don't believe that maintaining the illusion of unanimity is always necessary. But when this is done, it should be done carefully and respectfully, after internal discussions, and with the consent of other moderators.