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The philosophy of StackExchange is one of meritocratic governance; users who contribute more have more abilities to govern the content and structure of the site. So far most of our question closures (including 'on hold') have happened because our pro-tempore moderators have stepped in and used their moderator superpowers to close the question. This is important early in the beta phase because there aren't enough users with enough reputation to effectively curate the site.

As our userbase grows, however, it is important that the moderators step back and allow the users to curate the site and only intervene in extreme cases. The moderators are of course included in the group of users, they just have to avoid exercising their special moderator superpowers.

The question is: How many high-rep users do we need to govern the site effectively without moderator intervention? As of right now we have 18 users with the required 500 reputation level to cast close votes.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for raising an excellent question. I have added the featured tag to increase visibility of this post. On behalf of the moderator team, we would like to see active community discussion on this question. And my apologies for having to remove one of the tags you selected in order to add the featured tag; SE will only allow 5 tags. $\endgroup$ – user16 Mar 3 '15 at 14:03
  • $\begingroup$ @GlenH7 (or another mod) Are moderators allowed to cast 'regular user' close votes? I was under the impression that they were, but I've never been one. $\endgroup$ – Chris Mueller Mar 3 '15 at 19:27
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    $\begingroup$ To my knowledge, the answer is "No." Mod votes are always binding votes. And I believe that applies with review votes as well. For example, two community reviewers are required to approve a suggested edit, but only one mod review is required. $\endgroup$ – user16 Mar 3 '15 at 19:30
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    $\begingroup$ @GlenH7: Correct. Pretty much everything a moderator does is a unilateral action (what I like to call a 'hammer vote'). Upvotes and downvotes are the exceptions I can think of off the top of my head. $\endgroup$ – hairboat Mar 3 '15 at 23:18
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This comment on hazzey's answer got too long, so here it is on its own.

TL;DR: Moderators should intervene less and less over time, but we shouldn't plan for it; it will happen on its own as the community grows.

Yes: the goal of any Stack Exchange site is to be self-governing enough that moderators are exception handlers, picking up the cases that fall through the cracks. Sites are designed to be moderated by the community, but we instate moderators to make sure things stay tidy, especially on a very young site where relatively few members of the community have moderation-related privileges.

What we don't do is appoint moderators and then ask them to stop closing questions once the community reaches a certain size or level of activity. This sort of thing happens organically over time:

  • Currently, when a bad question is asked, here's what happens: a few users vote to close it; others without close voting privileges flag it. A moderator sees those flags in the review queue and closes the question with their hammer vote.
  • In the future, when a bad question is asked, a few users might vote to close it; others without privileges might flag it; and by the time a moderator gets to it in the queue, the bad question has already been closed by 5 user votes. No actual mod intervention required.

That's not something we have to plan for. That's something that's going to start happening someday, and it will be a signal to the moderators (and the SE staff) that the community is more self-moderating and self-sustaining than it was when it was very young (our little site, all grown up! *sniff*).

At that point, moderators will still use their hammer close and delete powers - if, for example, they happen to be the first person to come across a spam answer, or if a question has 4 close votes already, or if something really egregious happens (which is an exception for them to handle). But most curation and moderation will be done by the community - and that's the way it should be.

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    $\begingroup$ I'd like to add that it's important for newer communities to have this conversation. Not everyone involved with the site will be an "old SE hand" and may be less familiar with the mechanics of the site. My hope (and that of the other mods) was that this meta discussion would prod additional members of the community to step in and help with community moderation. We're fortunate to have a solid cadre already in place, and the site only benefits from having additional community participation. Thanks for the solid answer! $\endgroup$ – user16 Mar 4 '15 at 0:49
  • $\begingroup$ @GlenH7 Very good point. I hope my answer doesn't discourage others from chiming in about this, because there's a lot of nuance involved in figuring out the right level of moderator intervention for communities at any age/stage. $\endgroup$ – hairboat Mar 4 '15 at 0:55
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    $\begingroup$ Nah, this site is already well on its way to ignoring anything said by someone with a diamond after their name. ;-) $\endgroup$ – user16 Mar 4 '15 at 1:44
  • $\begingroup$ +1 despite the annoying and way too common inappropriate overuse of the word "organic". $\endgroup$ – Olin Lathrop Mar 12 '15 at 12:45
  • $\begingroup$ No pesticides on our sites, @OlinLathrop. $\endgroup$ – hairboat Mar 12 '15 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ Which is a particularly silly use of the word "organic", since many pesticides are organic chemicals. $\endgroup$ – Olin Lathrop Mar 12 '15 at 14:54
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It seems like you are making a bigger issue out of this than is necessary.

I don't know that moderators can cast "regular" votes, so any time they vote, it is "the vote". At this point it just means that we have active moderators. That is a good thing!

Also, the traffic on the site is still very low. I can go through all of the recent activity a couple of times a day with ease. That means that between our three moderators, the same thing should be happening. For the voting reason above, it would make the moderators seem to be busier than might actually be the case.

Once the site is getting well above the recommended 10+ questions and 25+ answers a day, the rest of us lowly users will be casting the final close votes more often. It seem like this will just naturally take place.

That is unless GlenH7, Air and Trevor are iron-fisted rulers that ban everyone who gets 4K rep.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not trying to make an issue out of anything. The fact is that StackExchange is designed to be moderated by the community. To quote from the blog post just linked: "What do community moderators do? The short answer is, as little as possible!" The goal of this question is to discuss when the appropriate time is for our moderators to switch to just being users on the issue of close votes. $\endgroup$ – Chris Mueller Mar 3 '15 at 19:32
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    $\begingroup$ @ChrisMueller - More accurately, at that fabled point mods only handle the stuff that the community can't handle. But yes, the goal is for the community to handle as much as possible. $\endgroup$ – user16 Mar 3 '15 at 19:34
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    $\begingroup$ I guess we'll learn when someone gets to 4K. ;) $\endgroup$ – Air Mar 4 '15 at 4:38

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