I'm more of a screwdriver1 person, not a hammer person.
There are so many things about questions on Worldbuilding that give me a headache. Like our constant battles with Good Subjective, Bad Subjective. Or our problems with Idea Generation or whatever categories it falls into now. Or our attempts to define Risk Factors for questions. Or our What-If problem. Or the fact that literally nobody, myself included, actually understands the boundaries of the site. That's a fun one.
So, can we proceed under the axiom that very few things about this site make sense?
Let's proceed under another axiom, too: I almost never agree with the idea of the mod hammer for closing or reopening questions. Many content moderation tasks that a moderator can do can also be done by the community, provided enough users do them (e.g. deleting a post or closing/reopening a question). There are some which regular users cannot - deleting comments, for instance. Here's why, in my view, we the mods have these special tools: Because they're for exceptions.
Moderators are exception handlers. We're not really meant to do things that normal users do. So we should mainly be acting in exceptional cases, right? Now, that does go counter to another description of moderators, as janitors, because janitorial work is normally pretty regular. However, the thing to bear in mind is that exceptions occur on a regular basis. There are just many, many, many more cases that don't require a janitor.
Therefore, the justification for my firm belief that moderators should largely be hands-off is that that's not our job. We should stay away from tasks the community normally does. Otherwise, using our tools is like cooking steak with lava:1 it's a bit overkill. Thus, I oppose the use of the mod hammer in most cases.
1 Actually, I think this one's technically molten metal, not lava. But "lava" sounds better.
It's not quite that simple.
There are exceptions to the rule of not using the mod hammer on questions. For instance, spam, offensive questions, rants, and other questions-that-aren't-questions should be dealt with quickly. Similarly, I'd argue that there are also extenuating circumstances where a "normal" question should be hammered - for instance, if a user keeps posting variants of the same question over and over, and something has to be done. So the rule isn't applicable across the board. My rationale here, though, is that these are exceptional cases, and thus valid instances for moderator intervention.
The point JDługosz and Monica is making, I think, is that preemptive closings are justified in certain "normal" circumstances. To a degree, I understand that logic. Questions that are unclear and would lead to answers that aren't good because the question would have to be edited, thus invalidating the earlier answers and making the users' work worthless, lead to pain and complications. As Monica said, this is a problem on Worldbuilding because answers here are often short and fast. At certain times of day, this can be even worse, because while we have users from all over the world, they're more concentrated in some time zones than others.
But . . . but . . . feelings.
New users complicate all of this. They need the most handholding, not because the rest of us are smarter, but because using a new site can be confusing and not easy. I'm always inclined to go easier on someone who's new and acting in good faith (spammers, I'm not looking at you). You could make an argument for acting quicker or acting slower on them. On the one hand, their questions often need the most fixing, as was the case in the second question you mentioned. On the other hand, having someone very quickly put your question on hold can be a frustrating first experience.
My inclination is always to give them some slack. Comment early, comment often. Point them to helpful site links, like the tour, the help center, the sandbox, or our faq posts here on meta. This helps them in the future, not just in this one case, and is quite a warmer welcome. I know a lot of people already do this - kudos! I just often prefer it to hammering a new person's question on hold if it's not immediately necessary.
As for timing. . .
I do need to address Monica's point, which I think is the best justification for using the hammer. She's not wrong. In fact, I think she's right. But it's never really easy to tell when that's going to be the case and when it isn't. Sometimes the community is fast, and sometimes the community is slow. That's really hard to predict.
That said, a mod doesn't have to jump right in. You may not get five close votes quickly. But if there are four others, then a mod vote is functionally the same as anyone else's. Even if there are only two or three votes in, you've still let the community have something of a say in things.
I really don't think a moderator should cast the first or second close vote unless it's blatantly clear that a question should be put on hold. Let other folks get a word or two in. But in the cases of exceptions, maybe it's okay to swing a little early. But not first. Almost never first. Third? Maybe. Fourth? Probably. Fifth? Yes.
To be clear, this is all an exception. Most of the time, the community does its job. But there are periods where things go slowly, and a mod may have to step in. These are exceptional cases.
I still disagree with JDługosz's answer.
You seem to think that collecting votes from established users is somehow better than getting a decision from a topic tag expert or a moderator. Actually, we can make a case that the reverse is true: Voting is a way to crowdsource without having those people necessarily be accurate.
I mess up sometimes. We all do. Moderators are held to a higher standard and are expected to be more firm in their convictions. That's one (unpopular) justification I've heard for not letting mods cast non-binding close votes2. But we're sometimes wrong, just like anyone else.
The consequences of a moderator messing up are generally not that bad. When I was just starting as a mod on HSM over two years ago, I remember someone saying that almost any action a moderator can take - with some exceptions, like destroying user accounts - can be reversed, either by the community, another moderator, or a Community Manager. Even when people are really stupid, disaster can be avoided.
Having multiple people weigh in, though, reduces the odds of someone making such a mistake. That's why the system of five close/reopen voters works as well as it does. Most cases do not involve a unanimous consensus - and that's fine. But if there's an "accurate" decision to be made, having five people make it means like there are some built-in redundancies.
I don't know what fraction of the time moderators mess up. I'm not sure if there's even a way to quantify that, because most decisions have some level of subjectivity. If there is a way to figure that out, I'd wager that the percentage is low. But I still don't agree that a moderator is significantly more qualified to make these decisions than anyone else.
2 And yes, I disagree with that logic.
To sort of wrap things up:
Here's my position, in a nutshell:
- Moderators are exception handlers.
- The hammer should usually only be used in exceptional cases, like for spam or when it's very clear that the community isn't acting.
- If you do use the hammer in the latter case, it's fine to wait for a couple close votes to trickle in, if it looks like the community will be slow. Little harm will usually be done.
- Let's be a bit nicer to new users when it comes to closing.
- Mods are fallible!
The use of the hammer on these questions is . . . well, questionable. I don't think I fully support it, and I think that moderators should only rarely use it. I almost never do.