Moderator Vacancy Investigations

From Usenet Big-8 Management Board

General Considerations

Moderated groups add a few unique problems to the issues mentioned in the Group Removal FAQ.

When a regular message is posted to a moderated group the news-server does not simply add it to the news spool. Instead the message is send by mail to the moderation address. If the moderation is not working this means that all regular posts submitted to the group just vanish into nirvana. This is extremely frustrating to users. Also an unmoderated abandoned group can be revived by dedicated users. A moderated group without a moderator is dead.

When a message containing the header line "Approved" is posted to a moderated group the news-server just adds it to the news spool and forwards it to neighboring servers. To counter abuse, most servers restrict the right to set such a header line to selected users. However, the contents of the "Approved" header is not checked. There are no provisions to handle crossposts. One approval is enough for any number of moderated groups.

It is standard policy to inform target groups and related groups about plans to remove a group. However, it is also a long-standing tradition that a moderator acts as a sovereign, i.e. that nobody interferes with his decisions. Especially not by posting messages with a forged approval. And the Big-8 Management Board is not a super-moderator above all others.

For this reason special care has to be taken.

  • A group without traffic might have a fully functional moderation, but no users.
  • The moderation might be only momentarily out of order.
  • The moderation might be hard at work to get things going again.
  • Users might be willing to take over moderation and are just waiting for the right occasion.

Proposed Procedures



  • if posting to the group shows no reaction or outright fails (e.g. because mails bounce)
  • and the group is inactive for an extended period of time
  • and a proponent informs the Big-8 Management Board about the situation
  • and the moderator(s) cannot be reached by some other means
  • then a formal Moderator Vacancy Investigation is started

In the course of the MVI the following might happen:

  • moderators show that they are still alive
  • moderators ask for help
  • users volunteer to take over moderation
  • proponent decides to push forward with a Removal RFD

As a general rule:

  • if the moderator(s) of a group object to its removal, the group will be retained
  • perception of poor moderator performance is no ground to declare a moderatorship vacant
  • moderators who are paying attention to submissions to their newsgroup(s) have the freedom to reject any and all posts that they consider unfit for the group(s)

Determine that a vacancy exists.

People who believe that a group has been abandoned may initiate the MVI by writing the Big-8 Management Board. Please provide as much information as you can about the group, its charter, the previous moderator(s), and the reasons you have for thinking the group has been abandoned. Various methods may be used to try to contact the previous moderator(s):

  • Normal USENET posts to the group
  • E-mail to any published contact addresses for the moderator(s)
  • Publication of an informal MVI in news.groups.proposals
  • Self-approved posts to the group (not recommended, do so at your own risk!)

If the board is convinced, it will publish a formal MVI. It will be crossposted to news.announce.newgroups, news.groups.proposals, and the target group, effectively overriding the moderation on a temporary basis.

  • Any group that has been inactive for more than 24 months would be presumed to have a moderator vacancy.
  • If the board posts an MVI announcement to the group, and no response is received from the moderator(s), then the presumption would be that the moderators are missing in action and that suitable replacements may be sought.
  • If there is a response, then the moderators of n.a.n. will use their judgment. ((Jim Riley, November, 2006: There are currently *131* moderated groups that have been inactive at least 24 months. I do not expect that there will be much response to the posting, or if there is, it will be to confirm that the group is indeed no longer being actively moderated. The 24-month timeout should avoid most cases where the moderator intends to revive their group.))
  • The moderator of a group may declare a vacancy, in effect resigning, by informing the moderators of n.a.n.
  • A 3rd party may request that a vacancy be declared.
  • In this case, the burden of proof will be on the person making the request, and the final determination will be made by the board.
  • A perception of poor moderator performance would not form the basis for declaring a moderatorship vacant. Moderators who are paying attention to submissions to their newsgroup(s) have the freedom to reject any and all posts that they consider unfit for the group(s).
  • Roughly 10 to 20 moderated groups become inactive each year, which would set an outer limit for these type of requests.

At any stage in this process, a moderator may prove that the post is not vacant by replying to a post made to the group. This would prove that the moderator is alive and paying attention to posts relayed via NNTP from a poster to the submission address. The reply made be made via e-mail; the dialogue need not appear in the group itself.

Place the group under interim management.

  • The submission relays will be changed so that any submissions can be captured. Someone interested in reviving a group could examine these to determine if there is anything worthwhile being posted to the group.
  • Post a periodic (monthly?) message to the moderated group noting its vacancy.

Find a more permanent solution.

  • Assign a new moderator.
  • Convert the group to unmoderated status.
  • Remove the group.
  • Leave the group under robomoderation.

Cleaning Up Checkgroups: Riley's Strategy

  • The only type action initiated by the moderators of n.a.n. would be removal of a group. I would begin with the longest inactive and move forward. I would expect their action to be more in the form of posting notice to remove the group, unless someone comes up with an alternative proposal for moderation Real Soon.
  • A possible rate might be 5 groups per month. This would remove the backlog in about 2 years. Once such a program began, it might trigger activity to preserve other groups before they come under scrutiny for removal.

Suggested Boilerplate for an MVI

This is a formal Moderator Vacancy Investigation (MVI), begun 
because the moderated newsgroup {newsgroup name} is not functioning, 
and may have been abandoned by its moderator.  This investigation 
will attempt to verify the reasons for non-function, and may result 
in the removal of the group or the selection and installation of a 
new moderator.  In practice, the Big-8 Management Board considers 
the third alternative--changing the status of the group from 
moderated to unmoderated--as likely to cause more harm than good.

Suggested boilerplate to send to members of the abandoned group

What follows was cribbed from an e-mail between a board member and a group of people interested in reviving a moderated group. Feel free to use it or not as you like in trying to communicate what is needed to fill a vacant post.

We are looking for a moderator for the (currently empty) 
newsgroup {newsgroup name}.

Some background on the job: moderating a newsgroup requires that
somebody involved have a fair technical background, both to get the
software up and running and to maintain it.  Moderation can be run by a
single individual, or by a team of moderators, depending on the software
chosen.  And the software can be set up to require hand-approval for each
post, to be entirely controlled by the robot, or somewhere in between.

Non-technically, moderators are expected to be impartial and fair;
they effectively own the group in question, and with that comes some level
of responsibility.  Within those bounds, the rules are pretty flexible; as
long as moderators maintain a user-base, they're probably doing fine.  Perhaps
the most important requirement, early on, will be to do some active
recruiting for the group, and to write up appropriate documents to explain
how things are set up and why.

Essential questions that a new moderator or group of moderators
have to answer:

- Who is going to participate?  It doesn't have to be all of you, 
and it doesn't have to *just* be you.  

- What kind of moderation software should be used?

- Who is going to actually run the software?

- Should the moderation policies be revised?

[insert link to current policies, if available]