I've noticed a particular a moderator on GIS SE has a tendency to immediately put questions on hold for arguable minor violations against the SE posting rules (eg formatting, linking to an image elsewhere). The enthusiasm this individual brings to moderating the forums is indeed appreciable and the blocks that are placed on posted questions are almost always based on a valid initial concern.

What I would raise issue with is the conclusion of blocking the post in certain situations, specifically when they are "active."

Specifically, the act of blocking questions undergoing active, supportive feedback by other users who are in the process of helping the user both answer their question and reformat the question in a more compliant format is neither helpful nor in the best interests of fostering of successful SE community.

In fact, its consequences are quite the opposite.

I would like to, in a respectful way (perhaps even through this post), both commend the moderator for their "vigilance" on this forum, but also ask that they temper their on hold trigger finger when a question is 90% valid and actively in the process of being improved.

What I would also like to request is that the same user not delete their comments to the OP after the on hold is released. It removes a critical layer of transparency, and one that holds the moderator as accountable for their behavior as they have held the OP.

What I am looking for: Comments and suggestions for how to best go about this.

Link to such a question: Mode (Statistics) on mapping


2 Answers 2


I suspect that I am the moderator that you are referring to, and I am happy to try and address any issues that you (or anyone) may have with my moderating style on this focussed Q&A site. GIS SE is not a forum and so the principles that I try to apply to it when moderating are those of a focussed Q&A site rather than those of a discussion forum.

Thank you for posting a link to an example of the concerns that you raise. I'll explain the action that I took there as an example of why I think it was appropriate, before going on to your generic concerns.

When I first saw Mode (Statistics) on mapping yesterday, it had been posted 6 hours earlier by a user who has been on the site for over 3 years and was simply:

I have a city map with digital boundaries. Each polygon has some numbers between 1 to 7. For example one of the polygon has 4,4,6,1,4,7,3,4,5,4,2(The mode is 4 for this polygon). I wonder is there any possibilities in Arcmap to find mode for each polygon and colored.

I considered it unclear and voted for it to go On Hold. I believe this was in line with the first comment by a very experienced user there an hour earlier:

How are these numbers stored? As a single text field or as 12 numeric fields of as 12 polygons each with a single number?

When I came back to it 3-4 hours later the asker had included a link to an image hosting site and the same potential answerer had commented:

I too cannot view the image it just takes you to a website full of crap/adverts. Edit your question and upload the image directly into stack exchange. It is unclear what you are describing. Are you saying that for example a polygon has 25 points intersecting it and these points have ID numbers ranging from 1 to 7 and it is the mode of these you want to extract?

The asker was offering to try and move their image to yet another external image hosting site so to me the question had not yet been improved sufficiently. I voted to leave it closed (for now) and made a comment of:

Please don't use a different website just use the Picture button that SE provides.

I think my actions above were fine. If I had not placed that question on hold, then I am not sure that the user would have tried to make it clearer, and it might still be unanswered. It may have received an answer anyway, but I review many thousands of questions each year, and to me it had the hallmarks of one that would only add to the workload being placed on our volunteers, which is described at Improving on 19,000 unanswered questions?

If a question does not meet the site's quality standards, and it is evident that it is going to take additional volunteered efforts to assist it to do so, then I am a firm believer that we should always vote to close immediately because the sooner it is fixed, the sooner it can attract quality answers, and we do not know how long the asker will be watching their question to provide any requested clarifications.

You have made a request:

What I would also like to request is that the same user not delete their comments to the OP after the on hold is released. It removes a critical layer of transparency, and one that holds the moderator as accountable for their behavior as they have held the OP.

If you ever see me delete a comment for what you believe to be an inappropriate reason then I am happy to have the post flagged so that I, or one of the other moderators, who I often ask for peer review, can review that course of action, and undelete them, if appropriate.

However, in the instance(s) that you cite, it sounds like the comment deletions are following SE guidelines in How do comments work?:

When should comments be deleted?

Comments are temporary "Post-It" notes left on a question or answer. You should not expect them to be around forever: Once a clarification has been made, an edit added to the post to include new information, or the issue in the comment is otherwise resolved, it is subject to deletion. In reality, many obsolete or chatty comments remain untouched due to the high volume of comments posted, but this does not mean that they can't or shouldn't be deleted in the future.

An overarching theme to your question seems to be whether I should vote to place questions on hold significantly less often. It is certainly something that I grapple with, and at times I go through phases where I do vote to place questions on hold significantly less often.

However, I keep being confronted with Improving on 19,000 unanswered questions? and I think "stitch in time" actions by moderators (who have been empowered to act instantly) are a necessary part of the strategy for avoiding unclear questions remaining open and attracting unclear answers. Unclear questions consume volunteer resources as they try to encourage askers to fix their questions, and prevent those potential answerers from actually answering questions to help build a repository of high quality focused Q&A instead.

  • 4
    The key assumption here is that putting questions on hold motivates people to improve them in a way that friendlier measures like comments and requests for clarification can not. Is there any evidence for this? I answer quite a few questions on this site, and I can't think recall a single case where the actions you describe (moderator override of close-vote system) was beneficial.
    – dbaston
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 0:26
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    @dbaston I've experimented lots with "on hold sooner", "on hold later", "just comment", "do both", etc and my strong perception is that question improvement to attract high quality answers (accompanied by comments, which I almost always do unless the on hold banner is already clear) is best done sooner rather than later. Nevertheless, I am now seeking quantitative evidence at meta.stackexchange.com/questions/300799/…
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 1:25
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    That discussion fails to consider that questions don't appear out of thin air: they're asked by people, and the way that moderator actions are perceived by people (not only the person posting the question) has an impact on the site. In other words, consider the effect of a moderating action on the community, not just the individual question. If behaviors perceived as unwelcoming drive away users that could otherwise make valuable contributions, is it worth it? (It doesn't matter whether one thinks users are justified in perceiving these actions as unwelcoming; the reality is that some do.)
    – dbaston
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 17:25
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    @dbaston this is precisely why the first comment I try to make to any new user is to ensure that they have taken the site's 2-minute Tour so that they are aware, while their first question is still being processed, that there is no chit chat and our focus is on answering their focused questions. Funnily enough I once had someone tell me that they thought it was unfriendly/unwelcoming to ask users to take the Tour.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 19:57
  • That was me, actually. Publicly asking someone to take the tour comes across as a suggestion that they don't know how the internet works. Recall this question that you asked: meta.stackexchange.com/q/289970. Remember that a "new user" may have been active on the site for years, but without registering for an account.
    – dbaston
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 12:13
  • That question was about experienced users - but I had forgotten asking it. In any event when a user joins the site, unless they come with 101 rep, I don't think they can assume we'll know their experience without going to their profile to look for other sites, which all takes more volunteered time.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 12:27
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    Even if they come with 101 rep, they may have been using the site for years. Best not to assume anything at all.
    – dbaston
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 12:31
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    I try to assume common sense will always prevail.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 12:46

A long response to PolyGeo, going in a new "answer." (The format here is a bit awkward for the context of Meta...):

Thanks for the thoughtful response.

There are a number of technical consideration as to the site’s guidelines which can reliably be used to defend your decisions and I have no doubt that you have considered them in great detail.

What I am reacting to is a sense of the overall tone of the moderation as it comes across (caveat being this is just my perception) to other users. I’ve got a few thoughts I’ll just drop below. There’s likely going to be no remedy to this, but I’ll just leave the below to see if it rings true with any others/you.

  • Consider response times. Overly ambitious curation risks being suffocating. The internet is asynchronous in nature. It is fantastic that you are able to dedicate so much time to GIS SE. I, for example, feel fortunate that I am able to spend as much time as I do on these SE resources, as well. That said, because of time differences and other obligations, there are standard delays between a comment and a response; 6, 10, even a day may be within reason. There are no hardcoded thresholds for such measures. If a user appears to be “responsive,” it might be in the interest of the community to give them the benefit of the doubt before putting their question on hold (which leads to next item).

  • Regardless of the intention from SE on the “hold” feature and comments, putting a question on hold can be a negative experience. I only have myself and my peers to cite as sources of course, but with some empathetic reasoning, I believe it’s not too hard to imagine what it might be like to be a relatively new user to SE and to have your question abruptly locked down. Again, no data to support this with hard evidence, but it’s again not difficult to imagine how such a user may use this negative experience to inform where they spend their time online when looking for information.

Final thoughts: You’ve cited your ongoing concerns about the 19k unanswered questions. This is admirable. That said, I am sure SO has a far greater number of unanswered questions. I am also sure that this is no doubt of great concern to that resource’s moderators as well.

SE (perhaps just because there is so many more users and thus questions), is less aggressively monitored. True, this results in a long tail of low quality results, but these questions have added value. I’ve personally observed some of those users “grow” into valuable contributors to SO under certain tags. Negative experiences early on might have prevented them from sticking around.

Here’s an example of such community flourishing: If you look at, say, the rise in popularity of MapboxGL and the related Node/JS suite of tools (TurfJS, etc.) (I’d argue that’s an area of great relevance), you’ll notice that the action around that is largely concentrated on SE. Many of these contributors were individuals that began working with spatial content through JS and many early questions were quite naive.

SE holds these MapboxGL and JS geoprocessing resources almost completely - this content has not had similar success in GIS SE. I’d argue it really belongs here on GIS. That said, I worry that GIS SE exhibits, at present an environment that does not foster these new communities.

I’ll close with this: While it’s important to keep those 19k unanswered questions in concern, we also want to make sure we do so in a way that does not exclude the next 19k from happening on GIS (and the 1% of those that are indeed valuable).

  • 1
    I think you are using SE when you mean SO a few times above. Also is your last sentence saying that you think it is OK for 99% of questions here to be less than valuable? I'm very comfortable with anything up to about 20% of questions being of low value but I think the higher that number becomes the more problematic it is to a site's reputation for providing quality answers instant-like.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 20:47
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    This does not appear to be an answer to your question, but rather, as you indicated in this post, a reply to @PolyGeo's answer. This is best suited for chat in its full form or as a comment in a distilled form.
    – Aaron Mod
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 3:13
  • I just realized that you have not taken the 2-minute Tour of this focussed Q&A site, which is similar to but not identical to that of Stack Overflow. If you prefer, or are more familiar with, forums then I imagine that the Q&A (rather than thread) format used here would seem quite different.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 3:37
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    I'm gonna "close out" my involvement here at this point. I think my point, as best as I'm able to make it, has been made. I appreciate your continued in depth investigation into my history and intense focus on any technicalities involved in this conversation - you are clearly quite driven. It's clear, though, that I've failed in conveying my message and I fear that further attempts here would be both a costly expense of my time and likely fruitless. I apologize for consuming your time and wish you the best in your continued moderation of GIS SE.
    – kuanb
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 4:23
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    No problem - as I said in my answer "An overarching theme to your question seems to be whether I should vote to place questions on hold significantly less often. It is certainly something that I grapple with, and at times I go through phases where I do vote to place questions on hold significantly less often." If there was something more important than that which you wished to raise then I am sorry that I misunderstood what you were asking.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 6:58

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