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With the advent of the user card which explicitly supports links for twitter, google+, and others, we should also include explicit links to the most used form of communication on the internet - email.

Historically mail links were removed from markdown due to an issue with some types of blockquotes.

I don't think we need to allow email links inside posts, but the user profile is special and should allow them.

One method would be to detect email addresses and linkify them. Another would be to allow the markdown email link that was disabled. The most explicit would be to simply allow "mailto:" style urls, which are currently rejected - only HTTP urls are allowed.

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Hey now, if you downvote you must have a good idea as to why this shouldn't be implemented, and I'd like to hear it. Post an answer! –  Adam Davis Sep 7 '11 at 14:44
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Completely in favor of this, can't understand why it's disallowed –  Kyle Cronin Oct 10 '11 at 20:21

4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted
+500

There are a few arguments against having mechanisms for private communication in profiles, but they aren't viable. All that remains is an argument in UI, and I propose that we allow use of the standardized and convenient mailto: UI. Here are the arguments against enabling users to communicate by email from links in their profiles:

  1. Allowing visitors to email users could move valuable Q&A off the site.
    For this to have an impact, you need:

    1. A population of visitors who choose to search for email addresses in profiles instead of using the "Ask a question" button. This would be strange behavior, to say the least.
    2. A population of users with email-enabled profiles who choose to respond positively to questions sent by emails instead of posting the question on the site and self-answering. The most likely targets would be high-rep, experienced users, who probably would not do this.
    3. Continued growth of these populations until it began to impact the volume of the site. I assume that the majority of high-rep users who post their emails would discourage the behavior in group 1. Simultaneously, by not contributing to the site, the people in group 2 make themselves less visible. There's no reason this fad would grow, and a couple reasons it would die out.

    I agree that it would be bad if people stopped contributing to the community. After mailto: links are implemented, it's possible that content may be communicated in email instead of being shared. However, I find no evidence that it would have a significant impact.

  2. Posting mailto: links would subject people to spam.
    Spamfilters are great these days. This comment from '09 mentions a publicly visible email address, getting 500 spam/day, and less than 1 in 5,000 getting through. There is an argument that this wastes bandwidth and processor cycles somewhere, but that's a pretty weak argument for not allowing legitimate users to enter a certain kind of URL.
    Also, it should be noted that entering your email in your profile with any markup at all is completely optional. If you are worried about spam, don't add it. No one is proposing that we make your sign-on URL public.

  3. I don't want other users to contact me.
    As in the preceding paragraph, if you don't want to post your email, don't do it! You get no extra protection by not allowing others the freedom to post theirs in a user-friendly way.
    I've found, from my time in the chatrooms, that my fellow SE users are quite friendly. I can understand that people might want to meet up in person, but there's no way to do private communication on SE. Plain-text emails in profiles work, sure, but why not make them clickable?

It should be noted that these arguments also apply to the twitter, google+, personal website links, and plain-text emails that we currently have available. Because these are allowed, implemented, and encouraged, it's plain that personal communication doesn't need to be discouraged by preventing mailto: links.

The only thing that is accomplished by not allowing these links is a UI pain where the user has to copy-paste the email into their mail client, instead of using the simple, fast, and standardized single-click on a link to start up an email client with the email pre-populated.

This is not a request to enable behavior that wasn't allowed before. This isn't a request to implement a complex feature. It's just a request to turn off the block in a place where it doesn't make sense.

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I for one would never put my e-mail address in the 'user card' in whatever form. I don't want to make it easy (easier) for bots to find it, nor do I want SO users - however friendly they might be - to address me directly through e-mail.

Arguments for this can be found in the above related questions. The most important reason in my opinion is:

  • SO (and other SE sites) are communities; anything that gets answered outside of the community is no longer adding to the community

If you really want people to get in touch with you through e-mail, I can imagine linking to a contact form (that you secured thoroughly of course) and some hint in your profile like 'add ABCDE to title to reach me'

The extra step (the form and the hint) will give you added security and might also make people avoid contacting you directly (because of the extra effort).

If you want people to get in touch because of a professional reason then Careers should be happily assisting you into reaching possible employers.

All in all I do not agree with the proposal. Hence a downvote.

EDIT
In response to the comments: the proposal is to allow 'mailto' or some equivalent in the user card / profile. My arguments can be rephrased as:

  • no, I don't agree to the proposal because I believe in the power of the community and I understand that this particular nature of the forum is part of the original idea of the founders; I would hate to see that people just look for the number one poster in a particular topic or tag and e-mail him instead of asking the community; if the system makes this 'direct contact' difficult, it's - in my opinion - exactly to avoid that
  • I do not mind if things get handled outside of the site and will definitely not start a witch hunt for those who do just that; and I wrote above about possible methods to have people contact you without the need of mailto in the user card (and with an eye out for security risks)
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If you don't put your email address in your profile, you won't get either of these problems. Some users (myself included) have good spam filters, and don't mind being contacted. –  Kevin Vermeer Sep 27 '11 at 13:26
    
And the part about bypassing the community? –  Wivani Sep 27 '11 at 13:42
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@Wivani there are things the community cannot and will not do (such as contract work, or just chatting about things that aren't Real Questions). Stack Exchange won't be harmed by users taking off-topic or not supported things off site. –  Adam Davis Sep 27 '11 at 13:56
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Your reason seems to imply that you worry about the community being starved of questions and answer by a new fad where everyone browses to a profile and emails people. I would ignore questions that get sent to my email, I might post and self-answer if it was really useful - But I think this is unlikely. The users who email questions to people with links in their profile are not the ones who post really useful questions. –  Kevin Vermeer Sep 27 '11 at 14:02
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We encourage linking to web pages and blogs in the user cards, these sites almost always have mailto links. Not everyone has these, and email is one of the best ways to PM a member outside of the context of the website. –  Kevin Vermeer Sep 27 '11 at 14:04
    
@Wivani - Your edits indicate that you didn't understand my points, which are being upvoted. I've posted a more detailed rundown in an answer. –  Kevin Vermeer Sep 27 '11 at 15:56

After reading Jeff's 2008 blog post summarizing his views about email (Is Email = Efail?) and his earlier post about publicizing information (When In Doubt, Make It Public), I finally realized why I disagree with the idea of a mailto: link in the User Card:

The raison d'être of Stack Overflow is making programming knowledge public. This is in direct conflict with the most common use case of email, which is making information private.

User Cards currently expose contact information that can be shared.

  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook

If The Powers That Be at Stack Overflow were to make it easy to email someone directly through the User Card, they would be implicitly encouraging a communication medium that is at odds with the underlying philosophy of the Stack Exchange network. Note that this is a philosophical argument against email rather than a technical one. I think that most of the other concerns have been convincingly addressed by Kevin's answer.

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This is an elegant reason against it, but I have trouble believing that it is actually holding Stack Exchange back - if it were, it would smack of protectionism, since there are many things they could release publicly that they do not (source code to stack exchange, stats, etc). They do not embrace openness to the degree that makes this argument reasonable. –  Adam Davis Sep 27 '11 at 18:10

There is a workaround - some URL shortening services like is.gd will work with mailto. I'm using one in my profile - clicking this should open your email client with kyle.cronin@gmail.com as the recipient.

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Hey this helpful. Thx. –  SamtheBrand Jan 30 '13 at 5:05
    
Brilliant fix, thanks. –  yorkw Feb 13 at 3:38

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