Massimo Ortolano’s answers
Here are my answers to the questionnaire. Some of the questions were already asked during the 2018 election: my opinion on these has not significantly changed during the last year and half and I've thus reported a few of the old answers.
- What is your time zone? What is the time period you are available for moderating our site everyday? Please specify the answer in UTC format.
My time zone is that of Central European Time, UTC+1 (UTC+2 during summer time). I'm usually intermittently available throughout all day, but I cannot specify a fixed time period because my availability depends on my work schedule, in particular lectures, meetings and experiments. Overall, I may be available for from 30 min a day, to about 1 hour, depending on the days.
- New users and posters tend to struggle more than experienced users. What would you do as a moderator to improve the onboarding and also improve the welcome felt by new posters to Academia SE?
This is an age-old problem that affects most if not all of the online communities, not only those from Stack Exchange. The components of this problem are the expectations of the newcomers, those of the community, the size of the community (one can guide just that much what thousands of people tell to each other), the composition of the community (yielding, for instance, an acceptance bias toward certain questions with respect to others), the limitations of the platform (discoverability of the help center, visibility and form of guiding messages etc.) and — indeed — personality of the moderators.
Honestly, I don't have a definitive solution, and probably no one has (see also the attempts from the Stack Exchange staff). What I did so far is to use comments, our Meta and chat to explain the source of the issues, to help to better understand the culture of the site, or to convice the community that certain questions can be on topic (I'm not claiming that I've been successful in any way). This is also commonly done by our moderators. I think that a few meta questions and answers exemplifying my approach to this problem can be the following:
Could we please reopen these questions about salary and treat all salary questions in a uniform way?
Double degree: why was this question closed as duplicate?
To sum up, I'd continue along these lines, maybe in a more systematic way.
- Do you have any previous experience as a moderator, either on Stack Exchange or on other kind of communities (e.g. newsgroups, forums etc.)?
Yes, I've been an administrator and moderator of an Italian forum about circuit theory, electronics, physics and mathematics.
- What question or answer of yours on meta best exemplifies your philosophy on moderation? Why do you feel this is the best example?
Even though at first glance it might not seem directly related to moderation, I choose this answer because I think it exemplifies well my understanding of people's way of voting, and the way in which complains about up or downvotes should be handled.
- In what way do you feel that being a moderator will make you more effective as opposed to simply reaching 10k or 20k rep?
Well, really, the tools that are at disposal of 10k or 20k users are really not so effective. In practice, as a standard user, one can only bring to the attention of the community and the moderators a possible issue. Then, a few actions are triggered by the collective action of the community (e.g. enough spam flags can trigger the automatic deletion of a post), but most of the other actions should be taken by the moderators.
- 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?
I wouldn't deal alone: I'm convinced that problematic cases like this one should be discussed among all the moderators. I'd first propose to have a private chat with the user to convince them to avoid this kind of disruptive behaviour. I'd consider suspension as a last resort.
- How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?
I think that for borderline cases we should leave the decision to the community. Therefore, I wouldn't reopen or undelete the question unilaterally, but I'd propose to the other moderator to agree on publishing a meta question to see what the community thinks about the closure/deletion/etc.
- What do you think the moderators' role should be with respect to Hot Network Questions list questions, given their potential for controversy and "passerby" users from the network? How do you think presence on the HNQ list should affect moderation decisions, given its frequency?
This is a tricky point. In this meta question I proposed that we introduce a post notice for controversial questions but, at the same time, I suggested in this answer that we shouldn't remove questions from the HNQ list. The most upvoted answers in that Q&A suggest that we should remove from the HNQ list questions related to "suicide or severe psychic health problems" and when "the asker is a victim of sexual discrimination or misconduct": this is certainly a sensible thing to do, but I think that more should be done to prevent people in particularly difficult situations to give easily recognizable details when asking questions, because removing a question from the HNQ list is just too slow of an action to be really effective if someone has malicious intentions. Here, the Stack Exchange staff should provide more mechanisms to help this prevention (for example, with dedicated tag warnings, with improved visibility).
- Comments can be tricky to deal with, and are often flagged as obsolete/no longer needed. Under what circumstances will you delete comments?
Comments are really another tricky point for at least two reasons. First, there is a clear discrepancy between the intended usage of comments from the Stack Exchange staff and the intended usage from many users. Second, it appears that moderators have limited tools to deal with comments. For instance, at present, comments can be moved to chat only once (there are suggestions to improve these tools, but we don't know if and when they will be implemented).
In principle, I think that comments should be deleted only when they are rude or offensive, or when they become obsolete. A long list of comments can be moved to chat, but I'd avoid deletion. However, for answers, I think that comments that point out significant technical, regulatory or legal flaws should stay attached to the answers and not moved to chat or deleted. Of course, this principles might not be fully applicable because of the limitations of the moderation tools.
- What is your stance about the current scope of Academia Stack Exchange and how this is enforced? Should we close any question that does not strictly comply with the current scope? Should we be lenient and keep open questions that can potentially generate good answers even if borderline off-topic? Should we narrow or broaden the scope?
It's clear that we receive many questions that are off-topic according to the current policy, but it's also clear that there are several users who are willing to answers these questions because, well, it's useful. And we have many examples of borderline off-topic questions which generated wonderful answers (this one from JeffE is probably the archetype of such an excellent answer to a very personal question). So, in general, I'm inclined to be lenient, but I'd also suggest to those who think that answering certain types of now off-topic questions could be useful to a general audience to bring it up on our Meta to propose to broaden the scope. The important thing is to reach sufficient consesus to have a uniform treatment of certain questions. I'll be therefore happy to broaden the scope in case of well-conceived proposals.