I am part of an online non-Stack Exchange community. For the past two years, it has been ruled as a "benevolent dictatorship" by the founder with nearly all issues handled personally by her, with moderator powers rarely handed out to even her most trusted community members. In the past few months, she has expressed strong interest in significantly expanding the number of moderators, primarily because of her dwindling availability to actually be online when trouble is brewing.
Her solution to this has been a new, complex system of ranks for community members. To earn each rank, one must generally 1) have a certain continuous period of active participation (with defined minimum activity thresholds) without being cited for misconduct and 2) complete defined community-building projects, such as hosting events or bringing in new recruits. Certain serious offenses that do not warrant an immediate ban can result in being demoted a level.
Level 1 is the base "full member" level, and requires passing a written (true/false and multiple choice) test on community rules plus minimum participation at Level 0 ("Guest"). Levels 2-4 come with increasingly fancy flair but no real additional powers or responsibilities, while Level 5 is full moderator with demotehammer and access to the secret mod lair where everyone gets to wear fancy robes and act like they are really powerful people.
To be clear, moderatorship is automatic upon completing the requirements for Level 5. Earning the level does not make you eligible to run for moderator, it literally makes you a moderator by the very nature of the rank.
I congratulate the founder for recognizing the need for additional moderators, but I question whether rewarding members who demonstrate excellence in memorizing rulebooks and hosting activities are going to be the best to judge whether a new member is a troll or just needs a little guidance. To that end, what are benefits and downsides of linking moderatorship with community achievement?
To be clear, I am not questioning the founder's moderator skills. I have found her judgment to be consistently wise and fair when deciding what behavior to allow, how to provide gentle guidance to users caught in misconduct, or when someone should be outright banned. What I question is her process for designating new moderators.
The founder's rank system is interesting and potentially useful in encouraging increased community participation and buy-in. I'm not questioning that. What I'm questioning is its utility in choosing moderators.