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On November 2013 I created this "secret" persona in which I went all out:

  • New email address
  • New JSFiddle account
  • New GitHub account
  • Permission from the Stack Exchange team to run my experiment
  • ... And so much more.

Why did I do this?

  • This was an experiment if people can treat a new user any different from a user that they have seen before and have interacted with before.

How long was this supposed to run for?

Results

  • It seems that new users do get looked at completely differently on Stack Overflow, even if they do use the same coding methods, habits, etc. that were used in their original account that they were criticized for, whereas a new account is given help and guidance.

  • Being a new user lets someone experience what it is like to start fresh and see Stack Exchange in a new light.

    • I had to go through suggested edits again which I take for granted every day by making minor to major edits on a posts with no checks or balances.
  • I learned that new users do get much more help from "seasoned veterans".

  • I was so used to being upvoted because I had >60K rep for almost every answer I gave even though it was crappy, now I saw that you had to work at it for a good answer and cannot just post the 1st thing that comes to mind and cultivate your answer to perfection before posting it.

  • Being a high rep user has many privileges, but people seem to judge everything you say based on past posts, and it was relieving to not have that burden put on me anymore.

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31  
You should delete both of them and never turn on your computer again. –  someDoge Jan 14 at 22:27
6  
That's beside the point. Was your hypothesis confirmed? –  Geobits Jan 14 at 22:28
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This question appears to be off-topic because it is about a personal account decision and not a question about the use or running of Stack Overflow. –  Servy Jan 14 at 22:28
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Turn off your computer and make sure it powers down. Bury it completely - rocks and boulders should be fine. Then burn all the clohes you may have worn when you were onlineee. –  Jan Dvorak Jan 14 at 22:29
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But you acted as a troll. You didn't act as a normal new user, you deliberately were a dick to some people. For no reason other than to "experiment." –  someDoge Jan 14 at 22:30
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He isn't running "an experiment." He is acting like a child and pretending it has some higher purpose. Reality is, this question is off-topic/spam and will be closed as such. And everyone will forever think more in some ways, as well as less in some ways of @Neal. –  someDoge Jan 14 at 22:31
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@Jhawins sorry but as someone looking on this from the side you're the one being childish so far, throwing accusations around. Having sock can be totally legit, experimenting how new user is treated is also legit and got some potential. –  Shadow Wizard Jan 14 at 22:34
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I don't see a question here or any meaningful reporting from an experiment. Nothing to answer, nothing to discuss. –  Rosinante Jan 14 at 22:38
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Wait a sec... if this @Jhawins is another identity of you Neal, this will be just hilarious! :D –  Shadow Wizard Jan 14 at 22:39
27  
worth noting: "Permission from the Stack Exchange team to run my experiment" –  gnat Jan 14 at 22:40
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I feel this question holds merit because of the results stated, not to mention the permission from the SE team to do so. –  Sterling Archer Jan 14 at 22:41
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I applaud the use of this experiment, since I feel people always need to treat the newbies like they were in their shoes. –  Lance Roberts Jan 14 at 22:46
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@qwertynl I don't know. What else did you learn that you think would be of value to others who haven't done this experiment? If you didn't learn anything useful, then why bother posting at all? If you're going to make a big deal of posting your results, I'd think you'd want to have some meaningful results to post. –  Servy Jan 14 at 22:49
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Neal, if your point is "the community treats my sock puppet more nicely than my regular account even when they post the same things" then that point is well taken. But I don't think it makes sense to take your very specific situation (with past run-ins with the community) and apply it to the experience of new users in general. It's an interesting experiment but in its current state, this report seems somewhat confusing –  Pëkka Jan 14 at 22:59
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Neal runs an experiment to find out what people would think of Neal if they didn't know he is Neal. People discover he's Neal, and get pissed off precisely because of who he is. Neal proves people are meaner to him because he is Neal. So, how productive can this discussion be? –  bfavaretto Jan 15 at 3:08

4 Answers 4

up vote 42 down vote accepted

I don't see why this should be downvoted, provided the OP performed an actual experiment and in good faith.

That is, he just participated as he normally would have participated on Stack Overflow -- civilly, of course -- but as a new user instead of a 60k+ rep user.

Also note that he asked first...

Permission from the Stack Exchange team to run my experiment

... which is exactly what one should do for an experiment like this.

I find we often forget what it's like to be a new user, how many site behaviors and checks are specific to new users, and how different the experience can be.

So I applaud this experiment (provided it was done in good faith, and with some semblance of science). it's good to occasionally come back in as a new user, to "walk a mile in their shoes". Not because of any grand conspiracy against new users, but because we are regulars who come here every day all the time and we simply forget.

(note that you almost get the new user experience on other Stack Exchange sites, though you do come in with the rep and veteran bonuses usually, so not quite..)

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14  
I don't see why this should be downvoted take a look through the revision history. The first several revisions were quite bad. As it is now, it's not terrible, but still not great. As for how it stands now, it's not that the experiment itself was a bad idea, but simply that I see very little value in the results. These are mostly concepts that are widely accepted among the meta community; there is nothing new or interesting to learn here. Without regard for the quality of the experiment, the quality of the summary is very, very low. –  Servy Jan 15 at 3:05
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I seem to remember Jon Skeet talking about creating a new account just to see how much 'being Jon' influenced how his contributions were received, I wonder what came of that. I'm also going to confirm that this user did absolutely nothing wrong, because he did not do anything that he couldn't otherwise do with a single account (e.g. vote for his own posts). –  Tim Post Jan 15 at 4:27
    
@Servy what kind of summary would you expect from the experiment that has been prematurely aborted? The very first revision looks more like a support request, and pretty decent one, an answer to which cold make a useful reference to those running similar experiments and having them aborted. FWIW, notice about permission from team to run experiment was there from the beginning... –  gnat Jan 15 at 6:53
    
...piling downvotes and careless closure of this question look like a typical MSO gang behavior –  gnat Jan 15 at 6:57
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I don't see anything wrong with this experiment, but I don't think it is particularly remarkable or ground-breaking. Mostly anecdotal, but not worth a downvote either. –  Benjol Jan 15 at 7:39

First of all

I don't feel you need a dummy account to test that. Look at posts done by new users that seem valid and it will show you how they are received.

It seems that a new user does get looked at completely differently on Stack Overflow, even if they do use the same coding methods etc that were used in their original account that they were criticized for, whereas a new account is given help and guidance.

I highly doubt that a new user, posting a well formulated question that perfectly fits the Q&A standards and the Help Center guidelines will get a different reception than any other users. I don't say it doesn't happen like this, I just say that I'm sure talking about the majority of cases here. The fact that users are treated differently is because they are not aware of all the rules, and guidelines already in place so they usually ask "poor-quality" questions. As for the fact that they are given help and guidance, we don't really need a dummy account to test that, look at the behavior of new users on the main page for an hour and you will see how it works.

Being a new user lets someone experience what it is like to start fresh and see the Stack Exchange in a new light.

Why? Reputation / Badge speaking? Yes.
Other than that, I don't think it makes any difference. Ask a question, get an answer. Same process same thing.

had to go through suggested edits again which I take for granted every day by making minor to major edits on a posts with no checks or balances.

Yes. And same goes for very other privilege that you get along the way when you acquire reputation. Once again, don't think you need to create an account to notice that or post on meta to give those results.

Overall

I think the observations here are pointless. We could have learned from a post with example and real content but the current post looks like a way to show to the world you've been using a dummy account and that you are using the experience result thing to point it out.

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2  
Shhhh! Let him figure it out on his own @JoshC –  amanaP lanaC A nalP A naM A Jan 14 at 22:46
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I highly doubt that a new user, posting a well formulated question that perfectly fits the Q&A standards and the Help Center guidelines will get a different reception than any other users. -- So do I. New users don't get treated differently because they are new... they get treated differently because they post vague, underspecified, bikeshed poll shopping questions and then argue about them getting closed. –  Robert Harvey Jan 14 at 22:48
    
Which my "new user" did not do.... I guess I should have tried that too @RobertHarvey :-\ Too late. Next time then? –  amanaP lanaC A nalP A naM A Jan 14 at 22:55
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You don't need a new user account to post vague, underspecified, bikeshed poll shopping questions and then argue about them getting closed. You can achieve all the same effects using your existing account. If anything, we might slam you harder, since you really should already know better. –  Robert Harvey Jan 14 at 22:57
    
Haha Exactly why I would not do it with my existing account. I wish I did not out my new account so early... :-( –  qwertynl Jan 14 at 22:59
    
Testing, diamonds will now persist? –  Shadow Wizard Jan 15 at 14:00

I fully agree with what Jeff said - and I don't have much else to add regarding your particular experiment. Thanks for coming and sharing your experience, this is valuable insight.

I want to talk about the business of multiple accounts in general, because it's important for folks to know some stuff.

Most importantly, note that what you did was technically quite difficult, because our system is engineered around the concept of a single account with many linked profiles. A single slip of using the wrong email or wrong credentials in the wrong place most likely would have triggered an automatic merge of your accounts - and there's nothing that we could have done to prevent it. We do not technically support users having multiple accounts, but we don't disallow it for the most part.

That said, you don't need any particular permission from us to create a second account, for whatever reason, provided that you don't do anything that you couldn't otherwise do with a single account. This includes voting for your own posts, starring your own messages in chat, coordinating flagging between the two, etc. You should also strongly consider not creating a secondary account for the express purpose of contributing lesser quality posts without fear of reproach - that's going to bring an uncomfortable level of moderator attention on you, and quite possibly out you.

You're of course welcome to contact us if you wish, but there's no need to do so if you just intend to contribute positively, just under a different name. If you're planning anything even remotely strange, then yes - please do get in touch.

The Stack Exchange community team routinely creates anonymous accounts to judge the experience that any reasonably articulate individual would enjoy, or perhaps endure, depending on the site. New community managers are often not announced for the first few weeks of their employment specifically to give them the opportunity to do this.

Valid reasons for maintaining independent accounts while contributing include:

  • The desire to separate recreational or faith-based contributions from your more professional profiles on certain sites.

  • The desire to not be associated with contributions that entail revealing more about yourself than you're comfortable doing

  • The desire to avoid embarrassment by revealing that you don't know something that you feel you probably should (note, this is going to be key if a site in Japanese is going to work)

  • The desire to do exactly what you did, experience the site as a new user

Regarding the last bullet, I don't think it's possible to experience the site as a new user completely, especially after being immersed in our culture for so long. You simply aren't going to make many mistakes that new users tend to make, which drastically reduces the chances of having critical, or even negative interactions with others. That's something that you need to think about.

If you decide to create a new account, just be certain that you don't do anything with it that you could not otherwise do with a single account - or you will likely find yourself on the wrong end of a moderator's action, which could include the removal of one of the accounts and a hefty suspension.

And remember, if you're outed - even accidentally by the system doing what it's programmed to do, that's just the way it goes, it's a risk you need to accept.

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I think you would be shocked by the lack of shame at not having basic knowledge in Japan. People are assumed to come in to their job with zero knowledge when they start out, and are openly encouraged to admit what they don't understand and struggle to find the answers much of the time. –  jmac Jan 15 at 6:17
    
That's interesting, jmac - I've heard of Q&A offerings similar to us starting there, and then just folding because people just did not want to ask questions. Would you say then you suspect that they weren't promoted or designed correctly, and it wasn't really a cultural thing after all? I'm really interested in anything you've got to say on it, given your location :) –  Tim Post Jan 15 at 6:52
    
It was probably a combination of lack of incentive from their organizations to use it, lack of motivation for self-learning, lack of visible improvement to management, and lack of champions within the organization showing them what it can do. Larger Japanese companies are really "grass roots" and require individuals to champion anything new and create use cases that get management to enforce use on the apathetic masses. There are a lot of social/cultural reasons that things are that way, but no matter how good a system is, change is a tricky thing to tackle. –  jmac Jan 15 at 7:02

Running a simple query: http://data.stackexchange.com/stackoverflow/query/159894/post-quality-for-user

qwertynl (1022697) had an average score of 1.29

Neal (561731) had an average score of 1.96

I am sure better queies could be made, but their might be some useful information (assuming same quality of posts) to be gleaned

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The 'Neal' account participated during a time when it was much easier to get up-voted. 'Neal's' highest up-voted answer would probably have fared half as well as today, due to a number of factors - the length of front page visibility for any given question being a big one. I'm not sure how you'd accurately calculate around that bias, unless 'qwertynl' was created at roughly the same time as 'Neal'. Things just really changed in the last three years. –  Tim Post Jan 15 at 5:36
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btw reran Neal with where Posts.CreationDate > '01/01/2013' and it dropped to 1.92 –  Glenn Teitelbaum Jan 15 at 5:43

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