[META] State of the Subreddit – 2020

Author: /u/Omega037

There have been quite a few changes in the subreddit over the past couple of years, both behind the scenes and more visibly. As such, the mod team thought it would be a good time to discuss our vision for the subreddit and get feedback on these changes and our moderation more generally.

Our Vision

To some extent, our vision for the subreddit is perhaps easier to define by what we aren’t trying to be, rather than what we want to be:

  • We aren’t trying to be a place for academic/technical discussions, since subreddits like r/MachineLearning, r/AskStatistics, and r/Python already cover those areas more specifically
  • We aren’t trying to be a place for learning about, transitioning into, or getting a job in data science, since there are countless other blogs and websites discussing how to do that
  • We aren’t trying to be a place for people or companies to promote themselves, either for commercial gain or simply to help them find a job

In a perfect world, r/datascience would simply be a social network for data science professionals to talk about anything related to work or not. They could discuss something technical if it really interested them, but they would be just as likely to discuss sleeping habits or joke about leadership using buzzwords.

In essence, we are trying to be a “water cooler for people in the DS industry“; having the kinds of conversations you might when you bump into someone while grabbing a coffee, or hanging out in the hallways of a conference between speakers.

Our Moderation

Unfortunately, the above vision has been hard to realize due to a number of factors. We wanted to take some time to explain some of the reasoning behind our moderation decisions, in order to get feedback. Here are some of the main reasons we remove posts:

  1. Blog/Project Links – People post links to a blog or project (often their own) with little to no discussion. These are usually attempts at self-promotion, and at this point we will remove almost all of these regardless of the quality of content out of necessity. In fact, certain commonly-used domains are entirely restricted.
  2. Learners/Transitioners – People who want to become part of the industry, but are not currently. In theory there is no problem with beginners involved in our conversations, but unfortunately the vast majority of these posts are very transactional in nature. The subreddit is treated as a Career Development Center or Technical Advisor, rather than the “water cooler” mentioned before. We originally planned to remove these posts completely, but a compromise was made to redirect them to the Weekly Entering & Transitioning Thread.
  3. Video Links, Surveys, and Listicles – These would be fine in theory, but in practice they have mostly tended to combine the negatives of blog links with the negative of being transactional. It is easier just to remove them all on sight, though perhaps some could be added back with more moderator capacity.
  4. Memes – Dealing with memes was a difficult choice, since they often prompt great conversations and certainly are something one would expect for a “water cooler” environment.
    On the other hand, they are usually pretty tacky and will overrun a large-ish subreddit if allowed. Thus, we remove memes on any day but monday.
  5. Technical Questions – This category is difficult, and decisions may differ depending on the moderator. Some questions clearly belong in one of the more technical subreddits, and are directed there. Beyond that, we assess whether it feels like a “Stack Overflow” question, a homework question, or a “Google Search” question, and then direct people to those places if needed.
  6. Junk/Low Effort – Name speaks for itself. This is actually somewhat uncommon for our subreddit, though that may be due to reddit’s automatic moderation at work.
  7. Politics/Off-topic – While eventually we wouldn’t mind having off-topic conversations like you might have at a water cooler, currently we will tend to remove them for consistency sake. Political discussions in particular are removed unless they are explicitly about data science, as we don’t want the kind of trouble those conversations can lead to on reddit.

More generally than the above factors, we try to consider each post and ask ourselves if the subreddit is better or worse with that content on it. As you might also notice, our mod team is often quite busy (more on that below), so sometimes we will leave removable posts up simply because they have a lot of activity by the time we see them.

Our Future

We are continuing to make changes to try to improve the subreddit:

  • Content – In addition to our long-running weekly “Entering & Transitioning” thread, we have tested “Meme Mondays” and “DS Topic of the Week” as additional content drivers. Furthermore, some work has been done to advance the wiki.
  • Moderation Bot – Our new moderation bot, u/datascience-bot, has allowed us to automate some of our work, and will hopefully one day be trained (based on our manual removals) to actually take on a significant amount of the moderation.
  • Removal Reasons – We want to improve our selection of removal reasons and associated text. This will help provide the person with more context/resources around the removal, and will hopefully provide better labels for the moderation bot to learn from.
  • Flairs – We sorta had a process for giving flairs to long-time users, but it needs to be revisited. The process around link flairs needs to be adjusted as well. Our hope is to actually build this capability into the moderation bot, at some point.
  • Moderators – We recently lost a couple of long-time moderators, and frankly we probably never had as many moderators as we needed to accomplish our vision. The subreddit has also grown significantly in size (10x in three years), and most of the existing mods have jobs and families that leave us with limited time for moderating the subreddit. Our plan is to begin recruiting new moderators as soon this State of the Subreddit discussion winds down.

Considering how long I have already made this post, I think I will leave it there. We welcome any questions, comments, or criticisms about anything discussed here or about the subreddit and our moderation in general.

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