Some forum feedback on wide-ranging and heavily replied-to discussions

So, this is just general feedback on the forum. Perhaps a feature request will come of it in the future, or maybe I’m the only who has this experience. I have tried to follow a few threads in the forum’s General section, such as:
!https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/what-inaturalist-is-for/2995
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/recruiting-more-identifiers/2388/201
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/the-category-of-cultivated-is-problematic-for-plants-in-urban-landscapes/2317/123

I sort of gave up, because the discussions seemed to quickly veer wildly away from what I thought the original poster intended, and grow tendrils of side-discussions which, if followed, would lead me even deeper into the weeds. I think any topic that has more than 100 replies (or maybe fewer) might want to be curtailed and redirected into other threads, in the interest of topic integrity/coherence. Is there a fair and reasonable way to accomplish this? Should the original poster be allowed to end the discussion early, thereby forcing those who want to follow a side-trail to start anew with a different topic name? Any other suggestions? The idea is not to stop discussion but to make the forums more useful. Sorry for the mixed metaphors, and thanks in advance for considering my input!

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I feel like when we moderated in a more “heavy handed” way like that people didn’t like it. It’s a hard balance

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I understand the desire as well and your input is certainly welcome and valid. Like Charlie said though, I do feel very hesitant to moderate as we once had tried to after significant complaint from the community. I too find it frustrating and perhaps the best thing I can think of is a few more dedicated souls volunteering to become moderators or chiming in as active users and reminding their fellow users to keep things clear to read for everyone by remaining on topic as much as possible.

…with diplomacy and grace of course

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Thanks for your replies. This wasn’t necessarily a request for more moderating. I was thinking the original poster could decide to close his/her thread, or flag it for auto-closure, or that the system could just auto-close a discussion after some number of replies, with a message like “this thread is reaching its contribution limit and will auto-close at 100 replies. Please start a new thread if you want to extend the discussion.” In other words, it doesn’t have to feel like being moderated. I realize these ideas would probably require feature requests but I’d upvote them.

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The issue with this is discussions will be repeated with no easy way to track the beginning of the “thread.” It is already a challenge to search for topics without having intentional duplicates. Currently, if a topic doesn’t receive a reply for a large amount of time the topic auto-closes, and if a conversation really gets off track moderators can step in. Original posters can also message @moderators and request moderation action (like closing or unlisting a topic if their privileges don’t allow them to do so on their own) or flag content which will automatically prompt review by moderators. If you can help us out by flagging the posts you think take a topic off the rails you can bring our attention to areas that need some splitting or management and we can take more timely and efficient action. That is totally acceptable and in accordance with the community guidelines.

I think at this point the feature requests category is limited to features for iNaturalist so bringing it up in the forum feedback category is the best thing to do. You can also create a poll in the topic in lieu of a feature request vote system if you wanted to elicit feedback in that form.

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Maybe just an automatically inserted line after the original post but before the responses saying something like,“Please remember to keep the discussion on the topic raised,” might help?

Sometimes all that’s needed is a polite reminder.

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I have been guilty of heading to the weeds… good obs to be had out there though! :)

Seriously though, when a topic is started it is often because there is a problem, a fault, or even just a desire to share experience. Seldom is the problem well defined, and seldom is the solution clear when offered, so the conversation will tend to drift around the issue looking at it from different angles. For me, it is when the moderation curtails that “from other angles” exploration of the problem that the community will protest loudest at the intervention.

When the conversation is more “that reminds me of this other problem I encounter” is when it should truly be pulled in, and I am regretfully guilty of that, for sure.

You moderators do a fantastic job. You will never get enough praise for what you do, that is just a fact, unfortunately!

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Didn’t realise there was much resistance to moderator efforts. I’m definitely an advocate for very heavy-handed moderation as long as it’s reasonably unbiased towards opposing views. Just to offer a counterpoint, as you are generally only going to hear from the people complaining.

I’ve seen the failure mode of inadequate moderation in online communities several times, and the failure mode of becoming an echo chamber is what has happened to basically every community online that touches on anything remotely political. I haven’t seen heavy-handed moderation of tone, off-topic conversations or similar lead to many problems.

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Speaking of grievances, is this a good time to talk about some over-ambitious identifiers who need to be reined in?

I’m joking of course. As for the real topic here – discussions veering off course – I think it’s the burden of both the moderator and the participants to keep things on track. If we get too far off trail, as humans tend to do, the moderator has the option to issue a warning, temporarily suspend the discussion, or shut it down. I think that’s an adequate set of possible responses. But I also think that being too heavy-handed in stifling discussion is a bad idea since it sometimes takes some meandering to see an issue from all angles.

I agree that some discussion threads go on too long, there are too many lengthy posts to read, and some of us simply give up following them (I know I do). Not sure how to deal with that.

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I feel like Holden Caulfield: “The trouble with me is, I like it when somebody digresses.” :grin: I have to be honest, unless it’s a very specific request and requires a very specific answer, I don’t mind drifting off topic. Or, at least, I allow for some drifting because that’s what conversations generally do, and I often learn from and enjoy how people add to and change an idea. I suppose if the original poster was annoyed at the path the topic took, it might be fine for the person to conclude it, but I like the lighter hand with moderation.

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