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A community with too many moderators may suffer from "over moderation" if too many users are moderating and not enough are doing whatever the community does. Additionally, the larger a moderation team, the more difficult it is to handle problems in a consistent manner.

A community with too few moderators though can easily get out of hand, making it difficult to bring things back under control later.

How can one estimate the number of moderators that are appropriate for a given community, based on its size, membership, etc? What metrics or other factors are most important in making this decision?

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It depends on the community. If you get barely any trolling, you won't need many mods. However, if 50% of content is spam, you may have to get a lot more mods.

I'd say start out with three total mods (including you and anyone else that has powers over the site) and see if you need more. This way you can wait a while to make sure that there's an actual need for sixteen moderators.

Keep in mind that SO has millions of users and only 17 moderators. Arduino SE (which I'm a part of) has roughly two thousand users and three moderators. Every situation will be different: mod duties will change, efficiency/effort put in may change between people on the same site, and the tools might change requiring more or less work.

(Also note that three is an odd number so you can vote :D)

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