What is meta? ×
Meta Stack Exchange is where users like you discuss bugs, features, and support issues that affect the software powering all 131 Stack Exchange communities.

Possible Duplicate:
Any way to send a personal message to another user?

Yes, I know that the request for PM functionality between users within the Stack Exchange Network (henceforth SEN) has been made many times before. Rest assured, I have read these questions through thoroughly. I also suspect that the points/suggestions I'm about to make have been said before, and considered. However, I've been looking through the various PM proposals on meta, and I haven't come across a particularly good rebuttal to these points/suggestions, so I'm creating a question here to voice these things in one place and give an opportunity for those in the know to respond to them in one place. Please read this whole proposal through, and don't just knock it on the head instinctively. :-)

If you haven't the patience to do that, please refrain from commenting or voting on this question at all. Pre-emptive strike: If this is closed as a dupe, I believe it will have been closed incorrectly, because I am raising points and giving suggestions which I highly doubt any other question you point to will have addressed completely.

What I propose

A private messaging system that could be used across all SEN sites. One centralized inbox, accessible via a user's network profile page, would store all received PMs. A user would be notified about new PMs via a similar mechanism to the one by which they're notified about new comments etc. directed at them; a red circle to the left of the StackExchange logo at the top-left of the page. A user could send PMs from this page via a 'send PM' link. The first time they tried to send a PM, they would be given a list of the terms and conditions of PM usage and asked to agree to them. On the send page itself, these terms and conditions would always be displayed, prominently, in brief, to remind the user what they may and may not use the system for. The terms and conditions would be (ones in italic may not be needed):

  1. No flaming / trolling / insults / spamming / continued messaging on a topic the receiver has explicitly told you to stop messaging them about.
  2. No unsolicited job offers (use http://careers.stackoverflow.com/).
  3. No technical questions or answers (use the relevant SEN site to ask or answer the question).
  4. No asking a user to look at / respond to your question

Any messages that were sent in contravention to these rules should be flagged for a moderator to review, and if found to have been violating the rules, the disciplinary procedure would be applied. This could be tweaked until the best procedure is determined, but I'd recommend starting out by the sending user being warned and losing reputation; on a second offence, the sending user having their PM functionality suspended, and losing a lot of reputation.

Users would set a 'reputation threshold' - the minimum level of reputation required to be allowed to send a message (which isn't in response to a message) to that user. This threshold would be customizable, although its default (and minimum level) would be 500, to help avoid PM spam.

A user could choose three mechanisms by which to avoid nuisance PMs. Blacklisting users they want to block, whitelisting users they will accept PMs from, and turning PM functionality off altogether.

The rules for offsite notification (e-mail, generally) of PMs to a user would be the same as those for notifications about new comments etc. directed at them.

I believe this system would be an extremely useful, justified addition to SEN, and would not detract from what SEN is at the moment in any way.

Criticisms

There have been some fundamental criticisms of the introduction of such a system, so I'll address them now.

SEN is not supposed to be a 'social networking' website.

Define 'social networking'. It certainly isn't the same thing as 'community', and indeed the idea that SEN is based on communities of people interacting is actively celebrated and fostered; it's considered the life force of SEN sites. In the history of human communities, you'd be hard-pressed to find one where there hasn't been at least some legitimate room for private communication between members of the community. With chat.stack*, SEN has gone even further down the road of acknowledging that fostering the social aspect of the site(s) is an important thing. I therefore submit that the introduction of PMs alone would not turn SEN into a social networking site, and that a social networking site requires many more elements - not least an emphasis on gossip, subjective discussions, trivia, and the like.

It would be used by job recruiters to send unsolicited job requests.

First, it would be made abundantly clear from the terms and conditions that this was not allowed. If a user ignored the terms and conditions, any user who received such a message could flag it. A moderator could review it and the disciplinary procedure would be applied if appropriate. The minimum 500 rep requirement should also make this much less likely because users who've built up that much rep are more likely to have some respect for the rules.

It would be used to harass / spam other users.

A user receiving such a PM should flag it, and a moderator would review it and the disciplinary procedure would be applied if appropriate. The minimum 500 rep requirement would make spamming much less likely.

New users would use it to bug established experts into looking at their questions.

The minimum 500 rep requirement would make it impossible for 'new users' to send unsolicited PMs with the system. If experienced users continued to get such requests from 'moderately new' users, they could raise the minimum rep threshold to stop even these users from sending them PMs, or even flag the message if they felt it had reached the level of harassment. Though I'm not sure about it (because I think there may be experienced users who'd be happy to have their attention drawn to questions they may be interested in), rule #4 above could be added, which would just flat-out ban this behaviour. Whether rule #4 was necessary could be determined during a several-month beta of the system, and an examination of whether it really was becoming a problem.

It's not missing/wanted.

A quick search gives me 20 meta.SO questions on this feature. Many in the community want it, and many have presented (in these questions) a valid use-case scenario where PM functionality would be a genuinely useful addition. It is both missing and wanted.

It would hide useful information from the community.

I accept that this is a potential problem, and is the toughest of the criticisms to deal with. For a start, usage of the PM system to ask a question which should be asked on a main site would be banned (#3 in the terms and conditions above). If someone received a message they thought should be asked on a main site, they could either respond and tell the sender that it should be asked on a main site, or they could flag the message and get a moderator to tell the user. The question could then be moved by the moderator to the appropriate main SEN site. Repeated violation of rule #3 would result in the disciplinary procedure being applied. Occasional inspection of PMs by moderators could also help to address this issue; if it was found that users were exchanging information that should be on a public SEN site, both users would be warned and their PMs kept under long-term surveillance to make sure they didn't do it again. I don't believe this to be an insurmountable problem.

Alternatives

There have also been suggestions by others for alternatives to a PM system, which would render a PM system unnecessary. I don't think any render a PM system unnecessary/unhelpful, and I'll address them here.

Use chat to send messages to users, outside the context of a site question.

Only a tiny proportion of users have ever logged into chat. If you try to start typing their username, it's somewhat unlikely to popup for autocomplete (only if they've logged into chat recently), and so is not useful for messaging the vast majority of users on SEN sites. Speaking of which, what is their username? If you see a user within a SEN site question, you can click on them and get to their profile, then go to their network profile, in which you would see a 'send PM' option, under my proposal. With chat, you have to go into the chat site for the SEN site in question and try to figure out their username, which is based on one of the SEN sites linked to their chat account. This can be changed, and their chat username might be different from their SEN site 'name'. If their username doesn't popup for autocomplete, how do you know what to write? @BestGuess at what their nick would be, and hope for the best? If it isn't perfect, the user will never be notified of the message. Even if the user has recently logged into chat, just figuring out their username could be a difficult endeavour. Yet, just because they haven't logged into chat - recently or ever - doesn't necessarily mean they aren't OK with receiving PMs.

Have a public wall for sending messages to people.

This proposal seems very similar to just creating a chatroom simply for this purpose, and so the criticisms are much the same as those for chat, above. How does one determine the username of the user you want to send the message to? Is it different for every SEN site? It wouldn't be a private message (and, by the way, neither is sending the message through chat).

Users should post contact info in their profile if they wish to allow others to contact them.

There are several problems with this suggestion. For one, the profile almost never gets used to give one's offsite contact information. I, and a small handful of other users I have come across, are the only users I've seen use their profile to give offsite contact information. However, I don't think that's because most users don't want to be privately contactable; it's more likely they forgot to put it there, didn't realize that this was the place they needed to put offsite contact information, or that they simply don't want to give IM or email details out to the world, but yet would be fine with a PM mechanism internal to SEN. I know I'd prefer it. Maybe 1% of users provide PM contact information in their profiles. Are we really to believe that 99% of SEN users don't want to be contacted privately, or is it more likely that their contact info isn't there for one of the reasons I've mentioned above? Additionally, if the user provides offsite contact info other than an e-mail address (which isn't a great idea if you wish to avoid spam), it relies on your having the necessary means to use that contact information. Yahoo IM address? You need Yahoo IM. MSN address? You need MSN. Skype name? You need Skype. A PM system internal to SEN would avoid this problem.

Users should leave a comment on another one of a user's questions/answers to contact them.

This is surely undesirable. It would break up the flow of the question's discussion with comments probably unrelated to the question/answer the comment was attached to, polluting the thing. It would make it more difficult for the community to utilize because there would be a bunch of offtopic comments in the question, its having been hijacked to be used as a de facto PM conversation between two users. This happens to a degree already, and it's not pretty.

In conclusion

I don't see any good arguments against introducing a PM system for users on SEN sites, and I think there are very good reasons for introducing it. Even if it's not made a priority, I think the proposal should at least be put on the 'to do' list rather than rejected.

share|improve this question

marked as duplicate by Pëkka, Aarobot, waiwai933, Shog9 Jun 5 '11 at 20:28

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

2  
Only if the system is voluntary and you have to opt in. So if I don't sign up I don't get any messages, from anyone, ever. –  ChrisF Jun 5 '11 at 14:15
    
@ChrisF Would it be that difficult if you received 1 message to quickly turn it off? There could even be a bar appearing along the top when you received your first PM, containing a link to turn it off with 1 click. Are you saying that's too much like hard work? –  Jez Jun 5 '11 at 14:16
7  
"I don't see any good arguments against introducing a PM system for users on SEN sites" - I don't see any compelling reasons to add one. –  Mat Jun 5 '11 at 14:17
17  
Stack Overflow is not a social network, despite calls for it to be turned into one. I don't want to be badgered into answering questions even once - because that's what will happen despite your rules. –  ChrisF Jun 5 '11 at 14:18
    
@ChrisF So you say that your having to click once in a link presented to you at the top of the page constitutes 'badgering'? –  Jez Jun 5 '11 at 14:19
    
An open question to all of you who have been modding my question down. I've gone to a lot of effort to address the criticisms of a PM system, and you guys vote me down. Why did you do that, when you don't appear to have had a problem voting THIS up to 85? You could at least refrain from voting. –  Jez Jun 5 '11 at 15:20
4  
@Jez Maybe you'd get less downvotes if you stopped flipping out every time somebody speaks? I read the whole question twice and I have no idea what the reason for implementing PMs would be. Mods can already e-mail users and send them chat messages (even if they haven't been on chat before); I don't know why normal users would need to contact each other. I would post an answer to that effect, but I assume I'd get a "No you're an idiot, voting you down" comment, so I'll just skip it –  Michael Mrozek Jun 5 '11 at 15:32
3  
Even if you say you raise new points with this new request, all I am seeing is you replying to previous arguments against such a functionality. Do you actually have any good reasons for a PM system? Because I seriously don't. –  poke Jun 5 '11 at 15:34
    
@Michael OK well I said reasons had been given by a bunch of other users in the other proposals, but how about: wanting to organize the promotion of an Area51 proposal? Wanting to ask whether someone likes a particular videogame they've commented on on gaming.SE? And, yes, asking somebody you know to be knowledgable on a subject to answer a question they have have missed (I addressed the issue where people might not want to receive such messages in my proposal)? –  Jez Jun 5 '11 at 15:37
4  
@Jez “asking somebody you know to be knowledgable […]” – if you know the person, you usually know how to contact that person. And I seriously don’t want strangers to ask me to participate in some random Area51 proposal (I really hate that!), or to chit-chat with me, just because of some random comment I gave on some question. If people want to chit-chat, they should do that in the chat, because there are people that are actually willing to chit-chat about random things. –  poke Jun 5 '11 at 15:41
1  
@Michael I mean that you've seen them make a lot of good answers on a SEN site. You'd be very unlikely to know how to contact them then. As for Area51 proposals, I was talking about msging people who've already committed to your proposal, not random people. And, if you don't want to have this (how many times until it reverberates through your skull?), YOU COULD TURN IT OFF WITH ONE CLICK! –  Jez Jun 5 '11 at 15:49
    
There might be a way to achieve what you want, but without spending six months of developer time to implement another hugely complex layer of functionality: Remind people of adding their contact info if they want to get contacted outside the site. –  Pëkka Jun 5 '11 at 15:52
5  
@Jez You rudely attacked the wrong person; you meant @poke. I don't know how you expect to convince anyone acting like that, but it's up to you –  Michael Mrozek Jun 5 '11 at 15:56
2  
@Lance: this one, so far as I can tell, actually is a duplicate. It's one thing to re-post a feature request if you actually have a new implementation that would solve existing problems, but "moderators and ToS will sort out all the ickiness" is naive beyond belief - @Jez, pair this down to an answer on the other suggestion if you have something new here that I missed. –  Shog9 Jun 5 '11 at 20:30
4  
Why would I want the author of some badly written question trying to convince me to answer it? If I want to answer questions I know where to find them. I don't need anybody telling me about them. And I know better which questions I want and can answer than some stranger that wants me to debug his programs. –  sth Jun 6 '11 at 0:08

4 Answers 4

up vote 1 down vote accepted

While I'm not sure if we need this functionality or not, I'd like to point out that the only reason I don't leave my contact information in my profile, is because I don't want some spider to find it and add me to some spam list. If they had a way of me posting it and keeping that from happening, then I'd leave my email.

I have no problem talking with people, and don't really understand those people who hate people contacting them. I was happy to meet someone new at the Stack Overflow meetup. It seems like the OP's suggestion of a one-click opt-out would solve problems for anyone who didn't like this functionality.

At the very least, it'd be nice to be able to put comments in the profile (that can be deleted by the profilee) so that someone could contact them without leaving 'contact' comments on other posts (which is what I have to do now to contact people (none of which have complained about being contacted)).

EDIT: I found this feature-request that asks for allowing comments in user-profiles. Please upvote it if you agree.

share|improve this answer
    
How does one vote to reopen? –  Jez Jun 5 '11 at 18:42
    
@Jez, like on all the SE/SO sites you need 3000 rep, then you'll see the reopen link. Since you're not there yet, you can just upvote it. –  Lance Roberts Jun 5 '11 at 18:43
1  
aha. Seems like there's a reason for posting populist rubbish on Meta after all! –  Jez Jun 5 '11 at 18:44
    
@LanceRoberts Spam? Gmail's spam filter works pretty good... –  YatharthROCK Sep 7 '12 at 18:27
    
@LanceRoberts But I have 300 rep and SO and I see the option to cast a 'close' vote... –  YatharthROCK Sep 7 '12 at 18:28
    
Vote here: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/172688/… –  user216196 Mar 20 '13 at 14:37

Stack Exchange exists to connect people who want to know something with the people who want to teach something. We offer rewards to people who ask or answer coherently and accurately.

That's it, nothing less, nothing more. If people want to go beyond the scope of the site, we have profile pages. People put their Twitter, Facebook, Skype and all kinds of other information there. That, and that alone says "You know, I wouldn't mind being chatty and talking to people beyond the Q&A and comments that already show up in my global inbox".

Everyone who participates on a site has a limited amount of bandwidth. We hope they spend that time asking or answering questions.

Why would more distractions help us achieve that goal? We introduced comments, we introduced chat, we introduced a nice global inbox so people can catch up.

Additionally, how would private messages be moderated? We service 1000+ flags per day on Stack Overflow, do I really need to police the "Why wasn't my question clear" private messages too?

This is an absolutely horrible idea.

share|improve this answer
    
Except that they don't put their information in their profile page most of the time, which I mentioned and you appear to have ignored. Voting you down. –  Jez Jun 5 '11 at 15:17
13  
@Jez if they don't put that information on their profile then it means they don't want to be contacted. What part of that can't you understand? –  Aarobot Jun 5 '11 at 15:21
    
What I can't understand is that 99% of people don't want to be contacted. I don't believe that, and I've given several other reasons in my proposal as to why they wouldn't put contact info there. I've also said that it sucks to have to have Skype, MSN, etc. to contact them instead of something built into StackExchange. –  Jez Jun 5 '11 at 15:24
8  
@Jez it sucks for whom? I don't see anybody complaining except for you and about a dozen other malcontents. 99% of people really honestly don't want to be contacted by random people on the internet. That's a fact. That's why Facebook took over the social networking scene: they let you choose who could contact you. –  Aarobot Jun 5 '11 at 15:26
1  
And so would my proposal, because I talked about black/whitelisting and turning it off. You haven't read my proposal. You are coming over as moronic. Speaking of malcontents, I'm beginning to think there are a group of about 20 cretins who patrol meta to ruthlessly vote down ideas that they don't agree with, even if they can't really come up with substantial criticism beyond 'I wouldnt use it'. Shame on you. –  Jez Jun 5 '11 at 15:27
8  
@Jez right, and the only semi-useful selection method came from ChrisF who said that the system would have to be voluntary, with whitelisting being the default - which you perfunctorily rejected because your proposal is, obviously, perfect in every way. Of course, if it were an opt-in system, then it would essentially be (ding ding!) chat! Congratulations, you've just reinvented a crappier version of something we already have. –  Aarobot Jun 5 '11 at 15:34
2  
Ah well - the OP is clearly not interested in hearing any viewpoints outside his own. Voting to close as noise or pointless. –  Pëkka Jun 5 '11 at 15:34
    
@Aarobot the only semi-useful selection method? What's wrong with blacklisting? A few random people with 500+ rep might PM you, yes, if you don't turn PM off which will take 1 goddamn click. So what? No, you're right I don't want an opt-in system, because 99% of users wouldn't realize it's there, just like they don't realize they're supposed to put contact in their profile now. –  Jez Jun 5 '11 at 15:43
    
Pekka's other trolling account. Appropriate name. –  Jez Jun 5 '11 at 15:43
5  
@Jez: People aren't "supposed" to put contact in the profile. That is a voluntary action. As for what's wrong with blacklisting: everything. It's never been a viable method of accomplishing anything useful. Do-not-call lists, Soviet-era spam filters, RBL/ORBS/DNSBL, ignore lists on discussion forums, all miserable failures. But maybe I should just let Jeff Atwood do the talking - he is, after all, the one you truly have to convince. –  Aarobot Jun 5 '11 at 15:47
    
@Aarobot Jeff there is talking about antivirus and spam blacklists. What an utterly terrible comparison. Do you think there are as many malicious users on SEN with 500+ reputation that just really want to go around spamming people? Do you think there's some way whereby, when you blacklist a SEN user, you could accidentally blacklist 10 others? No? Your comparison is absurd. –  Jez Jun 5 '11 at 15:57
3  
@Jez: No, I don't think there are a lot of those. I do think (actually, know) that there are a lot of self-absorbed, self-righteous twits who will continue to harass and annoy long after it's been made clear that their feedback is no longer welcome. Case in point. Blacklists don't solve that because (a) it's trivially easy for somebody to create a new account, and (b) it doesn't prevent them from annoying other people once they cotton on to their situation. –  Aarobot Jun 5 '11 at 16:02
4  
@Jez SO's mods are volunteers. I don't think they're keen on wasting their time sorting out crappy "plz help me" PM messages. –  Pëkka Jun 5 '11 at 16:19
2  
@Lance: that's quite a leap. How did you manage that? Do I not like talking to people because my name is on telephone do-not-call lists? –  Michael Petrotta Jun 5 '11 at 19:03
3  
@Lance: No, I'm saying that 99% of the people don't like talking to the sorts of people who demand to see private messaging capabilities on a Q&A site. –  Aarobot Jun 5 '11 at 19:42

I don't see a case for this kind of complexity. I have been on these sites for almost two years now, and not once been unable to contact someone I wanted to contact.

There are already various ways to contact a user:

  • E-Mail, Skype, or other means of contact put into the profile

  • A polite "off-topic, sorry to bother you, but ...." comment underneath one of the user's contributions (If it's really warranted and likely to interest the user)

  • Pinging them in chat (if they are active there)

I don't see why anything beyond this is necessary.

share|improve this answer
    
I've address these in my post and you've ignored it. Voting you down. –  Jez Jun 5 '11 at 15:14
    
@Jez I read your proposal twice, and simply can't see a compelling argument for why a PM system is needed. I also can't find any in your links. The combination of using contact data in the profile and, failing that, using comments (a method you don't mention in your proposal) is completely sufficient in my eyes. –  Pëkka Jun 5 '11 at 15:25
    
I don't mention using comments to message people? Read the last paragraph under 'Alternatives'. –  Jez Jun 5 '11 at 16:14
    
@RegDwight Hey, how's the German stackexchange going? Do you think you'll be getting enough traffic for the thing to successfully go live? –  Jez Jun 5 '11 at 16:17
    
@Jez ah, fair enough. Overread that. I disagree with your assertion though - a polite comment, inviting the user to continue the discussion elsewhere (like in a chat room), is not noise. It's also easy to clean up when the addressee has answered. –  Pëkka Jun 5 '11 at 16:17
1  
@Jez What makes you think that the answer does not interest anyone else? –  Phira Jun 5 '11 at 18:20

This undermines the whole principle of the site. Its a question and answer site, I post a question someone answers, simple.

I don't see where private messages adds any value to that function, in fact as you point out in the 'It would hide useful information from the community' section, it devalues it.

I'm not even sure why or how I'd use this feature, inline with the T&C's you outline. What am I going to message, essentially to a stranger, which isn't just going to be tumbleweed or idle chit chat.

If people want to chat there is a facility for that.

share|improve this answer
    
I've told you that there are many examples of people saying why they wanted to use it in the posts I reference, and you've ignored them. Voting you down. –  Jez Jun 5 '11 at 15:15
2  
@Jez 20 people out of a million is hardly an impressive statistic, especially considering that every single prior request has been voted down dozens of times. The people who want it are outliers, like you; people who just don't get it. –  Aarobot Jun 5 '11 at 15:24
    
You would've been saying that about chat if it hadn't been implemented yet and I proposed it. YOU can't find a 'compelling reason' for it. So what? YOU don't have to use it. Apparently plenty of people find a compelling reason for it here. –  Jez Jun 5 '11 at 15:25
    
@Jez: The chat system was created as a means of handling extended discussions and soft topics, which an astounding number of people did and still do want - not for the purpose of meeting a private messaging requirement. The latter is just a side-effect (and yet an important one - one which already does everything that's salvageable in your proposal). –  Aarobot Jun 5 '11 at 15:42
    
@Aarobot You say that chat isn't intended for PM (correct), then go on to say it should be used for a form of PM, as a side-effect. Utter nonsense. –  Jez Jun 5 '11 at 15:47
2  
@Jez: I said that the chat system was not created for PM. That does not mean that it doesn't already serve all of the current and future PM needs of the site; it does. Don't use straw-man arguments to try to highlight fictitious logical inconsistencies. –  Aarobot Jun 5 '11 at 15:52
    
@Aarobot And I disagree completely. You still haven't addressed the assertion that, because somebody hasn't entered chat, they don't want to receive private messages. The two are completely different; you're treating them as if the same. Whatsmore, chat is opt-in. An opt-in system is guaranteed to get far fewer people than an opt-out one, and when it can be made SO easy to opt out (1 click), I see no good reason not to make it opt out. Really, those complaining about the idea are saying they're too lazy to click once. How do you guys manage to breathe? –  Jez Jun 5 '11 at 16:00
1  
@Jez What exactly is it that you want to private message, and why do you think it adds value to the stack overflow experience? –  addedlovely Jun 5 '11 at 16:19
    
@addedlovely For example; wanting to organize the promotion of an Area51 proposal. Wanting to ask whether someone likes a particular videogame they've commented on on gaming.SE. And, yes, asking somebody you know to be knowledgable on a subject to answer a question they have have missed (I addressed the issue where people might not want to receive such messages in my proposal). –  Jez Jun 5 '11 at 16:29
2  
And why does that add value? I guess the first point you'd be able to tell from the comment they left? As for Area51 I haven't used it, but the promotion is surely already handled by stack already, i.e. You post the proposal, and its gets displayed already. If its good it will rise up through the noise. And as for asking/harassing people to answer a question, that will just devalue the experience with too much risk for it being abused. –  addedlovely Jun 5 '11 at 16:35

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .