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I think sometimes there is a need to post question as anonymous, reason being to avoid linking content of a question with the identity of the questioner. This may not be so evident or required on technical sites like stackoverflow.com but sometimes is a necessity on sites like http://fitness.stackexchange.com/ or maybe in future depression.stackexchange.com

On such sites user may not want to link his identity to some questions where he may detail about his being over-weight or skinny or maybe some other attribute which he may like to keep private and avoid making his concerns public, but still want to ask a question with valid data.

I am not suggesting that user asking question should not be registered or not responsible for content. I think all down-votes or up-votes should still be attributed to user, but this way most users would not suffer the new user restriction, and reputation could even be used for a bounty. The only change should be that while asking question a valid registered user can hide his identity (the whole user signature block/user card and the reputation should be replaced by "identity-hidden") and that question should not be listed in his public profile.

Anyway identity of questioner doesn't add much value to question. If we think such anonymous question may reduce social nature of Stack Exchange sites, and maybe majority of questions will become anonymous we can curb that by putting a daily or monthly limit per user or put a price of say 50 reputation per anonymous question.

PS: I don't think this is duplicate of

How to post anonymous questions to SO?
Should there be anonymous answers (and questions)?
Need to ask a question anonymously

because motive for question and reason for feature request are different, and I propose a different solution too, because creating another account for asking such questions has many problems which having a single account doesn't have

  • I don't have to manage other account
  • If I keep single account I still may want to keep my details to be linked to my non-anonymous questions
  • I may want to use reputations I earned as bounty for anonymous questions

Quora also allows anonymous questions and may be we can take some hint from there.

share|improve this question
"social nature of stackexchange sites"? Ha! You must not be from around here. –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Apr 27 '12 at 15:24
+1 I think this is a valid point, and I was actually thinking of proposing this myself. –  Ephraim Apr 27 '12 at 15:27
-1 ? what is wrong with my question, @BoltClock'saUnicorn social nature I have just hinted , tried to see what harm a anonymous question can make(people do see other people's profle though(, and I am a veteran at stackoverflow and know how anti-social it can be, you are an expert ;) –  Anurag Uniyal Apr 27 '12 at 15:28
This may not be a dupe of the two questions listed in the question body, but I think it is still a dupe... looking for link. And the suggestion itself seems both more complicated and less effective than just logging out, using a browser other than your usual one or using Private Browsing mode. –  Pops Apr 27 '12 at 15:29
@Popular demand, it is not about browser, are you suggesting I create a fake profile to ask anonymous questions? and if I have to put bounty on my question where from I will get reputation? –  Anurag Uniyal Apr 27 '12 at 15:31
@PopularDemand, but then it becomes harder to keep track of the question, you have the new-user limits, and you can't comment. If your an already established user, you shouldn't be forced to go back to these restrictions just because you want it anonymous. –  Ephraim Apr 27 '12 at 15:31
@Ephraim: Any new user can comment on their own questions, their own answers, and answers to their own questions. So the comment restriction shouldn't have that much of an impact. –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Apr 27 '12 at 15:33
@Ephraim You can always comment on your own posts, and answers to your own questions. You can always edit your own posts. I doubt you'll need to flag or vote to close your own question. CW and voting privileges are irrelevant in this situation. You can use your regular account for chat and meta stuff. You have a point with the harder tracking, but I feel like that's a valid price to pay for wanting to be anonymous. –  Pops Apr 27 '12 at 15:34
you still have the rest of the new-user restrictions problem. –  Ephraim Apr 27 '12 at 15:34
no pictures, and only 2 links... –  Ephraim Apr 27 '12 at 15:36
@BoltClock'saUnicorn what about the bounty? –  Anurag Uniyal Apr 27 '12 at 15:36
@Ephraim In my experience, people are pretty good about editing images/links in for you as long as they're not blatant spam. A bigger concern might be not having enough rep to offer bounties, but that's got to be a fairly minimal case. –  Pops Apr 27 '12 at 15:37
@Arjan - that's a good point (it would probably be very hard for Jon Skeet to be anonymous). what I would suggest is having the rep on anonymous questions be shown by reputation milestone (500+, 1000+, 3000+, etc) –  Ephraim Apr 27 '12 at 15:55
"This may not be so evident or required on technical sites like stackoverflow.com"or is it? ;-) –  Arjan Apr 27 '12 at 16:08
@Arjan's comment inspired me to check the big list of reputations (AKA the Users page) on SO. Even on the 300th page, the number of people who have a given rep score is in the single digits. As of this writing, out of all the millions of SO users, only one has exactly 2559 rep. Combine rep score and badges, and you have a great chance of being able to uniquely identify users well beyond the 1000th page; that's over 36,000 people! (And yes, I know this is a tangent, I just thought the lack of dupes was interesting.) –  Pops Apr 27 '12 at 16:36

5 Answers 5

Here is my 2 cents on it:

A user who want's to create a question anonymously can simply make a new account, however:

  • That means I have to manage other account
  • I can't use reputations I earned as bounty for anonymous questions
  • I can't keep the reputation I earned
  • I can only post 2 links in my answer, and I can't add pictures
  • If I had over 200 rep on another account, I would not get the 100 rep association bonus, and have to earn the 100 rep over again.

A possible solution, that was linked to by Arjan was to disown the question. This would still allow you to award manual bounty, up-vote, and edit (but only if your above 3k rep)

Problems with this solution:

  • I can only edit it if I am over 3k rep
  • I can't accept an answer
  • I can't keep any of the rep I earn from it

Here is my solution:

  • Add a "make anonymous" check-box (where "make community wiki used to be)
  • Have the question be listed as "Anonymous user", however administrators can still view who the actual user is to prevent repeated spam.
  • For the user's reputation, instead of having an exact number, display it by milestone (meaning display it as "100+", "125+", "200+", "250+", "500+", etc)
    • If the user has more than 20,000 rep, it would just be displayed as either "20,000+", or ">20,000" (that way, Jon skeet can have anonymous questions too... :D)
  • Anonymous questions only give 3 rep, per vote
    • IMHO, a user should still benefit from questions that were up-voted, even if they were anonymous, however, to avoid having users do it for every question, have an up-vote be worth only 3 rep, instead of 5. There would obviously be an exception for sites like depression.se where the majority of questions will most likely be anonymous.

That's just my 2 cents on it. Not sure if others agree, but I though I would share my ideas.

share|improve this answer
If done, I would suggest not displaying the user's rep at all -- it's not really needed for anything. It might also be a good idea to make creating anonymous posts a privilege requiring some minimal amount of rep (say, 100 points), both to reduce the potential for abuse and to avoid confusing new users with advanced features. –  Ilmari Karonen Sep 4 '14 at 19:17
However, implementing this feature on top of the current SE system is likely to be rather difficult, mostly due to the many ways (e.g. SEDE) by which the "hidden" information might leak. A lot of special case handling would have to be added throughout the codebase to plug them all, and even a single missed case could break the whole scheme. (Actually, the best way to do this might be to create a new "dummy" user account, internally linked to a real parent account, for each anonymous post. That way, any legacy code that didn't know about anon posts would just show the dummy account name / ID.) –  Ilmari Karonen Sep 4 '14 at 19:27
Displaying reputation is useful to get an immediate sense of how familiar the user is with the site, and by extension how likely their question is to be well-formatted and on-topic. However you can get this sense with a very inexact display, eg. I would have the smallest interval be 100, and cap out at 5-10k since the difference between that and 20k is likely insignificant. –  Saposhiente Mar 10 at 4:48
One problem with displaying reputation by milestone is that you can gain information about who the user is when the reputation changes: You can watch the listed reputation, and when it crosses a milestone you can look for users who have recently passed that milestone, which if you're fast enough can be a very small list of people. –  Saposhiente Mar 10 at 4:50
@Saposhiente, Rep display is not the only problem. If I suspect that you posted a question, I only need to upvote it and observe your reputation changes on your user page. Best way is to batch in reputation from anonymous posts as a once bi-monthly event to prevent tracking. But it still would be flawed. Only way is for the user to opt for "secret rep" like what is done on Quora (rep exists, but is not shown at all). –  Pacerier Mar 28 at 14:42
@Ephraim, Actually the bigger problem is that it's harder to be kept track of notifications to the question. –  Pacerier Mar 28 at 14:53

Your profile can always be completely free of information and unlinked to others. And there's nothing wrong with creating a second account so long as you don't sock-puppet votes or answers across accounts. You can always come through an incognito window on Chrome or the equivalent and just not make an account at all.

share|improve this answer
however, you still have the new-user restriction problem. You get 100 automatic rep for an associated account over 200, which you would have to earn yourself if you created a new, separate account. –  Ephraim Apr 27 '12 at 15:46
I think that's the biggest thing people don't realize - that having multiple accounts is perfectly acceptable as long as you are not abusing the system. –  jadarnel27 Apr 27 '12 at 15:46
Keeping same profile have many advantages a) I don't have to manage other account b) if I keep single account I still may want to keep my details to be linked to my non-anonymous questions c) I may want to use reputations I earned as bounty for anonymous questions –  Anurag Uniyal Apr 27 '12 at 15:48
@Rosinante: A problem occurs that by posting multiple questions, one somehow reveals information about oneself... Even if your account is completely free of information, while asking questions, small details can be added together to get a bigger picture. –  CommuSoft Jan 2 at 19:25
@CommuSoft, Then those small details would still be leaked even if you are asking anonymously. In other words, allowing us to post anonymously wouldn't reduce the risk that you already face. –  Pacerier Mar 28 at 14:55

Essentially your account already is anonymous (we've got no way of knowing who you really are unless you choose to tell us). What you really want to do is post with a different identity.

I'm sort-of roughly sympathetic to what you want to do (post question anonymously), but I think the scope of your request goes way too far beyond what you actually need.

As others have said, in this case you should just create a second account. I've done it several times, and never practically experienced the reputation limitations you list as being a problem. There's nothing to prevent you editing and putting a bounty on the question with your 'real' account, after all.

Oh, and how about posting anonymous answers? (You can do that with a second account too.)

(Forgive me for being suspicious, but are you also concerned about any upvotes on your anonymous question being 'lost'?)

share|improve this answer
I understand there are workarounds, what I am asking is for a proper feature to achieve that. –  Anurag Uniyal Apr 28 '12 at 5:00

You can guarantee that every guide to privacy/safety online will say something like

If you don't want it on the Internet, don't put it on the Internet

Quite aside from the fact that the Stack Exchange network is emphatically not a social network or discussion forum, everybody else's suggestions to just use Private Browsing Mode should work for you.

If you are personally so concerned that something personal may be in one of your posts, then

  1. Why are you putting it out there for all to see?
  2. Why are you refusing to take the sensible basic step of separating your personal identity from the information?
  3. Why aren't you asking the question anonymously?

As has been commented by others, even as an anonymous user, you can do everything that you need to do with your own question, so I don't see a problem.

The only possible exception is if you want to start a bounty - well, if you have enough rep on the site to do that, then you can start a bounty on the question without having to be the OP so I still don't see a problem.

Even having a "Post Anonymously" checkbox where only mods can see the true user details is not really a solution. With all due respect to the mods, just because someone is a moderator, it doesn't magically make them any more trustworthy with your personal information than, say, a high-rep user on the site.

The only safe way to post personal information on the Internet is to simply not post it at all. If you must, then it's your responsibility to attach as little personally identifiable information as possible along with it.

Having the SE network take stewardship over protecting your identity would shift the personal responsibility from you to them, and in my opinion that is just too much to ask.

Or, to put it more succinctly - Your information, your responsibility.

share|improve this answer
I don't agree with that moderator should be able to see poster's detail, I don't see how that adds any benefit to moderating/editing/flagging question. –  Anurag Uniyal Apr 27 '12 at 22:12
I think you answer is quite logical to some extent except If you don't want it on the Internet, don't put it on the Internet I want it on internet and want to be anonymous but want other benefits too, is there any problem in wanting such thing? –  Anurag Uniyal Apr 27 '12 at 22:14
@AnuragUniyal - The reason that a moderator should be allowed to see the attached account to prevent the user from repeatedly posting spam. If they can see the account, they can see that there was multiple spam questions, and the can initiate a ban as necessary. I guess, maybe only administrators can see it, instead of moderators. –  Ephraim Apr 27 '12 at 22:39
@AnuragUniyal is there any problem in wanting such thing? - No there isn't, but then why would you want it associated with your user account if you want to ensure complete (or as complete as you can manage) anonymity? You can't have anonymity but then expect the benefits of people knowing who you are. The Internet doesn't work like that, and neither does real life. That is the core issue here. There's an English language saying: You can't have your cake and eat it. –  RivieraKid Apr 28 '12 at 14:52
@RivieraKid I think it is totally possible, why you think it is not possible, what is the problem with solution I proposed, I will be anonymous , I will still be using my bounty, I will still see all my anonymous questions in profile, I will still get downvoted for my anonymous questions –  Anurag Uniyal Apr 28 '12 at 15:03
@AnuragUniyal, you can achieve everything you asked for without making any changes to the way the site works. The extra complexity and the extra bugs that will likely be introduced as a result, I would argue, just isn't worth it when existing functionality can already deliver what you've asked for. –  RivieraKid Apr 28 '12 at 16:11
@AnuragUniyal, I'm not saying that you shouldn't be able to be anonymous, I'm saying it doesn't make sense to want to be anonymous, and have that anonymity directly linked with your public, non-anonymous profile. The system as it currently works, can already satisfy your request. –  RivieraKid Apr 28 '12 at 16:15

Why, exactly, do we need a new feature for this? Just don't put any personal identifying information into your user account, and no one will know who you are. In fact, no one will know anything more than you want them to know.

You see…

"On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog."

I don't think that otherwise creating a feature to officially support this is a good idea. Anonymity is great, but only to the extent that it doesn't interfere with accountability.

share|improve this answer
how does it interfere with accountability, I am proposing all downvotes still go to poster, I am saying may be 50 rep for such questions –  Anurag Uniyal Apr 28 '12 at 15:04
Downvotes have nothing to do with the type of accountability that I mean, and what does "50 rep" have to do with anything? Users need to be accountable for their contributions. If the site supports a separate "anonymous" account, we lose accountability. You could basically do whatever you wanted on the "anonymous" account, and if it were suspended, you could just create a new one. The only way to solve this would be to associate the anonymous account with your IP address, then we've come full circle: you've lost your anonymity. @anu –  Cody Gray Apr 29 '12 at 8:30
I think you totally misunderstood what I suggested, I am not talking about anonymous accounts, other people are saying that you can open another anonymous account, I am suggesting current registered accounts should be able to post some questions as anonymous, i don't understand how that interferes with accountability? –  Anurag Uniyal Apr 29 '12 at 15:18

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