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For various reasons, SE site moderators occasionally want to send a message to all users. It could be to announce a new in-site contest, promotion, or event. It could be to alert people to pending legislation that threatens the viability of the site, or to pay tribute to an industry visionary who has recently passed away.

Right now, the only straightforward method that moderators have to get such a message out to all site users is a system message. The guideline provided to moderators on the spot for the use of this feature is:

They should be used sparingly, and only for important announcements.

Both "sparingly" and "important" are subject to interpretation, and perhaps could mean different things on different sites. However, SE staff have indicated that:

System messages were meant for emergencies, stuff like ... the website is going down in 5 minutes, be warned.

and that uses such as the ones described above constitute an "abuse" of the functionality.

Given that the need to send messages to all users apparently is felt by moderators ranging from those on small betas to company founders on SO, and that the undismissable system message is not an appropriate channel for such messages, I propose that SE should create a separate channel, designed specifically for moderators to make site-relevant announcements that are not at the emergency level.

Some distinctions between such site announcements and system messages could be:

  • Make site announcements dismissible.
  • Make site announcements' HTML restricted.
  • Limit the number sent per week
  • Put them on the side or in the inbox instead of at the top of the page.

Whatever makes sense to keep them from being spam channels for rogue moderators, but still provides a tool that moderators can use to help them build community by communicating with it.

I've received the suggestion, via a comment and an answer, that "featured"-tagged meta posts do the trick. I submit that small type, halfway down the sidebar, on some questions, under the heading "Visit Meta" is not a particularly effective way of reaching out to a site's users. If most people are like me, they probably rarely notice anything on the sidebar, especially stuff that's not dependably there. In addition, "Visit Meta" likely means very little and certainly not the same thing as "Site Announcements" to a large fraction of people who visit SE sites.

It occurs to me that this functionality may be at once more dangerous and less necessary on SO and other mature, high-volume sites than it is on most SE sites, which are much smaller and still working very hard to build communities. On the latter, there are many fewer (by orders of magnitude) people to annoy with any given message, and the necessity for creative measures to build community is much more present. Perhaps this dichotomy explains why people who are used to moderating the likes of SO see this idea as dangerous or unnecessary.

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What channel? Another banner? That sounds like the same channel –  random Dec 12 '11 at 15:52
@random, I proposed some potential distinctions. There could be other possibilities, such as a prominent sidebar element that's labeled appropriately and displayed consistently, or a message in people's inboxes. –  Isaac Moses Dec 12 '11 at 15:55
Mods (and team members) have certainly made some calls that I disagree with over the past few years, but I can't think of anyone I'd call a "rogue moderator." The team can always dismiss any message at will. –  Pops Dec 12 '11 at 16:22
How about a notification like (or identical to) the one already used for the badge announcements, bounty expiry, and such? Dropdown, dismissable, top of the page, implemented, and familiar. Seems ideal for certain kinds of mod messages. –  Kevin Vermeer Dec 12 '11 at 16:54
Still kinda toying with the idea, but: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/104309/… –  Shog9 Dec 13 '11 at 6:02
@NineShogsShogging, your idea sounds like it could serve this purpose and be very useful generally. –  Isaac Moses Dec 13 '11 at 14:58
People haaaate too many notifications like this.A community calendar sort of idea seems possible, assuming it doesn't bug people. I would be very restrictive of the ability to annoy all users, regardless of how good the cause. –  Ben Brocka Dec 18 '11 at 17:40
@BenBrocka, I suspect that how much people hate notifications depends on the site and on the nature of the notifications. For example, I have yet to hear any complaint from within the community about the errant system messages we were posting on Mi Yodeya, and they were recently on a weekly basis. Like I suggest at the end of this question, perhaps the need for restricting this sort of communication scales up with the size of the community. –  Isaac Moses Dec 19 '11 at 8:22

7 Answers 7

One tool that would be useful for this purpose (although still more cumbersome than I'd prefer) is Community Promotion Ads, which are currently enabled on launched sites, but not on betas. It seems to me that beta sites that are still working to build a community up to a self-perpetuating size and activity level need these sorts of events, and the promotion thereof to the site's user base, at least as much as launched sites do. I think that they ought to be enabled on beta sites, too, from the get-go.

I'm aware of two requests (so far) on individual betas' metas for this functionality:

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You have to start with the premise of why are you contacting the users? I completely disagree that the type of contact used on judaism is at all necessary.

As for the examples in the question, the tribute one isn't a good one at all. Look at the top answer, more than a few of us at are echoed in:

"I did support the Jobs message; in retrospect, I think that was a mistake".

It comes down to this: We don't want moderators routinely contacting all users, that's why no such mechanism exists.

Also, from me, not a company line: IMHO the system message should be moved to being a developer only tool so this kind of abuse doesn't happen again.

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Just to be clear, the abuse on Stack Overflow both times, was not by a community elected moderator. –  Lorem Ipsum Dec 12 '11 at 16:20
@yoda - no, it wasn't (we've had internal discussion around this since those messages)...it was however abused on smaller sites dozens of times, something the community team has had to convey repeatedly. –  Nick Craver Dec 12 '11 at 16:24
See the last part of the question. On smaller, less mature sites, mods need to work hard and creatively to bootstrap a community, and that sometimes includes inviting people to participate in contests, etc. And, the "all users" that would be contacted is a set that is orders of magnitude smaller than, e.g., SO's. –  Isaac Moses Dec 12 '11 at 16:26
@NickCraver, if this is a repeated problem in the user base (by which I mean the moderators), isn't that evidence that there's a piece of functionality missing? In other words, if this information is trying to flow from mods to users, and the path of least resistance is one that you deem inappropriate, is the correct response to provide another, more appropriate path, or to try to stop the information from flowing altogether? Which response is more likely to be effective and productive for the community? –  Isaac Moses Dec 12 '11 at 16:28
... and if you provide such a channel for mods, I'd agree with you that system messages could then be reserved for sysadmins. –  Isaac Moses Dec 12 '11 at 16:32
@Isaac - the portion of anonymous users that have no stake in the site and don't want to see it is usually roughly the same though. You're not contacting all users with a message, you're contacting everyone who views the site, that's a huge population difference. It's more for the community team to approve something like this as being needed, it has such huge potential for abuse we wouldn't stick it in without great reason. –  Nick Craver Dec 12 '11 at 17:20

I don't think this is a good idea.

The top of the site is already pretty littered with notifications (the inbox, badges, system messages, user drop-down) and I'd rather not see another. You're essentially proposing to duplicate the system message system, since you want that high visibility, except you want to make it dismissable. I don't see a way to avoid massive clutter and information overload if something like that was added.

The other problem is that I don't think you should contact all users unless, as with a system message, it's for the rare and important message. Whether you do this through emails or in-site messages with an inbox notification or something else, you're essentially spamming someone with something you admit isn't important enough for system messages.

I agree with Dr. Mrozek that a post is the best way to go. Less importance means less visibility.

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Personally, I have no problem with allowing side moderators to use system messages for all kinds of community-relevant announcements, but that's apparently not the sense of SE staff. I feel that there needs to be a middle ground between that which is for emergencies only and that which is effectively invisible to most users. Mods on smaller SE sites have to work hard and creatively to build a community, and reaching out to the existing community should be one of the tools available to them –  Isaac Moses Dec 12 '11 at 16:00

Perhaps mods can be allowed to post drop-down messages (like the new-badge one), that users can dismiss. Either these can affect only the site as a whole (or all registered users) or, perhaps, allow mods to set them only for sets of people (those with the power to review suggested edits, perhaps, reminding people of a backlog).

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This sounds like the perfect job for the tag. You can post on meta and tag the question and it will show up in the main side sidebar (this will happen even without the tag, but the tag is a way to force it)

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Featured meta titles appear as small type, halfway down the sidebar, on some questions, under the heading "Visit Meta." I don't think they're a particularly effective way of reaching out to a site's users. –  Isaac Moses Dec 12 '11 at 15:37

Perhaps the "visit meta" area in the sidebar should be more prominent, be titled "site announcements", and include only (and meta-tag:announcement if implemented) posts.

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Quite frankly, a blog post is the best place for this type of contact.

Personally, I really don't like the system message that already exists. IMHO, the only purpose for that is if the site is about to go down for maintenance.

Everything else, put it on the blog. Your engaged users are probably already reading that, and the "unengaged" ones won't care anyway. Further, usage of company blogs for announcements of upcoming things or whatever is already a common meme.

Why not just use the tools that are already available?

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Agreed that blog post is the best solution. Many users already see it, and there's that little new post indicator on the top whenever something goes up. –  nhinkle Dec 16 '11 at 21:01
I think less than half of the SE sites, especially if we include the betas have blogs. –  hippietrail Dec 16 '11 at 21:12

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