Since I'm the only moderator not campaigning for the next round, I thought I'd take a moment to share my thoughts of the last 20 or so months during which I've been a pro tem moderator. I hope it's mildly interesting, and semi-useful for the new team, whoever they may be, and I wish them the best. Some of it is just about my experience on the site in general, and some about the experiences as mod. It's mostly a brain dump while I wait for a bus in Toronto, so if I accidentally offended anyone or said something stupid, I assure you it wasn't intended.
Something great about the site is the community that's evolved. From people just excited about their own country and sharing their knowledge, to hardened travellers trying to get to the corners of the world, there's many regulars on here who are keen to discuss, share and expand the travelling world's knowledge repository on this site. This is what keeps me coming back, despite the occasional problem.
As a moderator, almost every time I log in, there's a flag or two. There are two types - mod flags, and review flags.
The mod flags - some of these are valid - an offensive sentence, a new user asking a question as an answer, or a spam, but many times it's also noise. Flags used to be exciting at the start, now I get a bit nervous when I see one, to be honest, as it often means controversy.
The review flags are the ones that I look forward to seeing, as almost always it's someone trying to improve the site, and often a newish user - adding a tag, improving a sentence, fixing someone's grammar. It's nice to see their spirit, and checking it out to see if it can be improved on even more.
Good grief, these have increased since we got promoted. We've had one site banned from being mentioned, and we regularly get self-promoters. I think the mods and the community are pretty quick about spotting them, but sometimes it's tricky to distinguish between the people trying to help with a link, and those pushing their site. It sometimes requires some investigation - googling their name and the site, for example, has revealed some of them.
Anyone who has spent time in the chat has seen issues. Whether it was teething problems when the site was new - the faq had to be updated for a few edge cases, or users clashing, or getting upset over things said/written, or (twice) users rage-quitting and trying to delete all their stuff (they aren't allowed to as per stackexchange rules, so everything has to be restored), it is upsetting, takes time, and has even kept me up a couple of nights worked up over it. Like can't-sleep-I'm-so-worked-up. In November I actually stopped dealing with the site for two weeks. Dealing with the rage-quitters (two so far) really worried me at the time - you try your best to help everyone and to make the site work for everyone - but sometimes one user will upset another just too much, and unfortunately sometimes it's the really good user who will leave out of frustration.
New mods will also notice that 90% of the problems/flags generally center around a handful of certain users - easily offended ones, controversial ones, odd ones. It's part of the frustration, unfortunately.
The time spent
It's been interesting to read some of the comments in the chat and meta recently about how the site seems to tick along. For the most part yes, but it's been interesting to see how occasionally out of the blue I've had to spent a long time sorting out an issue, or in discussion with other mods, or dealing with spammers. It's frustrating at times, and also rewarding when you see others saying how they find the site smooth - as it means you're doing your job when these issues crop up. Other mods too - Ankur has written several novella in the meta site explaining how we try to operate things.
What I've learned
I've loved how much I've learned as the site has grown. The countless bits of trivia, seeing the problems other travellers face - how they can be similar to mine, and sometimes completely different.
I've learned about controversies - namings for example (Arabian vs Persian Gulf, Burma vs Myanmar), I've almost completely changed my opinions on some issues, and learned tons about Israel/Palestine and the many issues in the Middle East (and indeed, which countries that covers).
I've learned that there are many people eager to travel, that some get offended way too easily on the internet, and that language barriers can be huge on English-only forums, as well as cultural barriers.
The nice surprises
It's been rewarding to see people comment on stuff that I didn't even think about - Andra's made some comments about me being polite on the 'welcome to travel.se' comments to new users posting fluffy/off-topic questions.
One of my favourite surprises on the site was when Rory Alsop joined and edited VMAtm's answer on What is the SHORTEST commercial passenger flight (with a flight number) in the world?. His father actually flew the world record shortest flight!
Another highlight for me was when Lifehacker referenced one of our questions pushing the stats up, and citing me. I actually had a friend randomly read the article and ask me if it was me(!).
What I look forward to from other moderators and the community in future
Now that I'm stepping aside as a moderator, I'm looking forward to the ability to be part of the community in decision making. One thing moderators have to deal with is that their vote is decide-all. If a community member votes to close, it's one of five, and 5 people closing a post makes it fairly obvious it's out of place. A single moderator closing it means a new user looks at that one person as the person to blame for their question being blocked. It means lots more consideration before voting, and it's interesting to see reactions to this.
I look forward to more decisive actions. One thing we tried to do during the beta was to be kind to new users - more so than you see on a lot of other SE sites - try to help them, comment, edit their questions, rather than closing. More and more I don't think this is possible as the site grows bigger - we need to be stricter in governing this, closing faster, and allowing them to edit and flag for reopening instead. This prevents flaky, fluffy questions from garnering answers, and indeed from clogging up the site, and serving as examples that people point to and ask 'if that got answered, why not mine?'.
I look forward to bigger chats. It'd be really good for moderators to hang out in the chat room more. One of the best part about the chat room is that we've almost never had to censor it. It's been a place for almost completely free discussion (for the most part) and it's been a real shame when the occasional person has spoiled it. It's a great spot to hop into for a quick discussion on any aspect of travel and life.
I look forward to more experts in travel. We have very experienced backpackers, some travel agents, country experts, flight attendants, pilots, travel startup members and more, each with their unique input, view and experience to share. I look forward to the site growing and seeing more of this.
I look forward to more meetups. I've met a couple of the users in real life, and I look forward to more of these encounters. It's great to put faces to the names.
We've built a great site. We have thousands of users, with new ones joining each day. We've had spammers, trolls and flame wars, and managed to deal with them. We're growing, and have a well-established community. And I look forward to being a part of this community.