I recently read an article in Wired which points out in passing that our personas on online networks are projections of who we want to be - an avatar. When answering SO questions, I usually spend some time considering the wording of my responses to ensure that they are consistent with who I want to be. (Unless I'm rushing to be frist!)

Yesterday, I noticed that several of my questions had been changed by several editors.

Some of the edits were welcome, like spelling fixes, or capitalizing the first word of a question.

And some were understandable, like capitalizing Unix, or adding more descriptive text to a link.

There were the more questionable ones, like capitalizing Google when it is used as a verb: "what to google". (Sorry trademark lawyers, you lose this round) (If someone changes it to read "Bing it", I'm outta here).

But then there are the ones that don't add any value, but do change how I "sound"

  • "Here's a starting point - please add..." --> "Here's a starting point. Please add.."
  • "Has someone done a port" --> "is there a port"

And the worst are the ones that erase my personality altogether:

  • teh "interweb" became "internet".
  • "Do you know those movies where...." is apparently not a good title.
    • I have to admit, I knew that one was not going to stand...

Maybe I am choosing not to capitalize windows, and believe "VC 2005" is a better description then "Visual Studio 8". (The start menu says '2005'.) What right do the editors have to take those quirks from me?

The real question: Can and should I re-edit my questions to restore my personality?

  1. https://stackoverflow.com/posts/7019999/revisions
  2. https://stackoverflow.com/posts/826027/revisions
  3. https://stackoverflow.com/posts/341817/revisions
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    Dude... You need a blog! – Shog9 Aug 12 '11 at 20:56
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    If your personality requires people to spend extra time parsing the post first go, you need a change – random Aug 12 '11 at 20:58
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    One thing the responses to this post show me: "slightly ironic" doesn't transmit well over the series of tubes that makes up the "interweb" – AShelly Aug 12 '11 at 21:32
  • See also meta.stackexchange.com/questions/41090/… – rlb.usa Aug 12 '11 at 22:06
  • I see what you did there, @Giles. And it's funny, since it was that type of drive-by trivial editing that triggered my post here. Any single one I wouldn't have noticed, but when every answer on the page was changed, it caught my attention. – AShelly Aug 12 '11 at 23:27
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    Meta is probably the last place on SE where you need to link things like "series of tubes" and "interweb". We get it. You don't need to explain it to us. "Slightly ironic" transmits just fine, you're just over-delivering it. – Bill the Lizard Aug 12 '11 at 23:57
  • @Bill, I have a serious question. If "We get it", why did I get not 1 but 2 answers telling me there is no such thing as the interweb? I mean, I get the main point: it seems like I'm making a fuss about trivia (and questionable grammar). So I'll let all those edits stand. But I am suprised at the answers that seem not to recognize that a top 5% user might be winking when he says 'interweb'. (That was the only one I was seriously considering reverting.) – AShelly Aug 13 '11 at 0:20
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    @AShelly: Are you sure you're not the one who's misunderstanding? I'm sure they get the humor, but read the rest of the answers. It makes the posts less readable for some. Stack Overflow is an international community, and colloquial humor doesn't always translate. The community here on Meta is usually quite a bit more relaxed about it, but we try not to let it bleed over to the main site very much. – Bill the Lizard Aug 13 '11 at 0:55
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    "Has someone done a port" is simply wrong. It's not grammatically correct and doesn't make much sense to a native English speaker. It's logical that that got edited. Likewise, "teh interweb" is far too informal for professional communications like this one. You're not writing an email to friends here. You're posting a question to a professional community of experts. The fact that it happens to be online does mean that you can misspell things, use grammatically nonsensical phrases, or otherwise make your posts difficult to read. There are still plenty of ways to have personality. – Cody Gray Aug 13 '11 at 6:20

Can and should I re-edit my questions to restore my personality?

Can you? Sure.

Should you? Probably not. Ask yourself why someone would go to the trouble of editing your words in the first place… Is it possible you were less than clear, or even outright distracting in your choice of phrasing? If so, accept the changes and be glad someone cared enough to make them…

If, putting aside your pride, the edits still make your text objectively worse, then yeah — feel free to revert them.


Your personality is ungrammatical. Is it really important that your questions be less clear because it's a reflection of your inner self? You can “choose not to capitalize windows”, but it's wrong. Windows is an operating system; windows are the things on your house that let light in. There is no such thing as the “interweb”, and “Do you know those movies where” is one of the most useless titles I've ever seen. I don't know why someone would change “VS 2005” to “Visual Studio 8”, but on the whole these edits seem to make the questions better.

  • I would say that "Java Programming Exercise Issue" (to pick a random title from the front page) is a far more useless title. Neither one says anything about the question, but mine got more eyeballs on it, which was my goal. (And as I said, I knew that title wasn't going to stand for long). – AShelly Aug 12 '11 at 21:54
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    @AShelly There are plenty of poor titles. Go ahead and improve them! And if you knew already that your title was bad… don't post it! – Gilles Aug 12 '11 at 22:04
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    @AShelly You are wrong. Your title is far worse. – meagar Aug 13 '11 at 17:54

I recently read an article in Wired which points out in passing that our personas on online networks are projections of who we want to be - an avatar.

Here's the thing — Stack Overflow isn't about you, or your persona. It's not about the users at all. Personality and tone and all that — as Shog9 alluded — belong on a blog.

Stack Overflow is about great questions and great answers. User accounts, reputation and all that? They are about facilitating those who've shown they can ask great questions and/or answer them to keep up what they are doing. This is reinforced by the entire design of the reputation system — it is a motivator, yes, but the only benefit you get from it is functionality. Your answers don't get promoted based on reputation.

As the FAQ says:

If you are not comfortable with the idea of your contributions being collaboratively edited by other trusted users, this may not be the site for you.

It can be easy to feel like personas are important here, because Stack Overflow does share some attributes of blogs and forums. But remember the ultimate Stack Overflow Venn diagram:


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  • If it makes you feel better, you can just pretend I was referring to the filename, since nothing was ever done about it :) – Nicole Aug 12 '11 at 21:47
  • I heartily disagree with It's not about the users at all. Besides the strong attribution properties of the platform, rep, and a number of other things, Q&A is useless without users. SE is not gathering a database of Q&A like gold to hoard away in a basement. Good Q&A is so real people get answers to their problems. (Plus it makes certain people money, of course). It's all about the users. – Matthew Read Aug 12 '11 at 22:51
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    @Matthew Would it be more clear if I said posting is not about the users? I think you've misunderstood me. Of course the driving purpose of getting excellent questions and answers is to help people. But, SO has specifically de-emphasized user personality because they believe that's the way they help the most people in the long term. – Nicole Aug 12 '11 at 22:56
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    I don't disagree with the overall point. Being a unique and special snowflake through bad writing holds no appeal for me. – Matthew Read Aug 12 '11 at 23:01
  • +1 for pointing out that that persona is not the most important aspect of the site. I really leaned toward accepting this answer. But I actually think that SO users do have online personas, which they do cultivate. I want to be able to point a prospective employer to my answers and say "This is what I'm like as a programmer" (Which is why I'll let the edits stand - They can discover my quirks later :) – AShelly Aug 12 '11 at 23:04
  • @AShelly - Thanks, and you have a good point. While I stand by what I said, it's true that SO (the system) has de-emphasized users to its own end-goals, but your personal motivations for participating are very different -- and showing personality in your writing is not a bad thing for your own purposes. (In this case, other users are not acting in your interest, but in the site's interest, and that's OK.) – Nicole Aug 12 '11 at 23:22

As it says in About Stack Overflow:

Stack Overflow is collaboratively built and maintained by your fellow programmers. Once the system learns to trust you, you’ll be able to edit anything, much like Wikipedia.

And in the FAQ:

Other people can edit my posts?!
All contributions are licensed under Creative Commons and this site is collaboratively edited, like Wikipedia. If you see something that needs improvement, click edit and help us make it so! (…)
If you are not comfortable with the idea of your contributions being collaboratively edited by other trusted users, this may not be the site for you.

It's common for people to rewrite posts to improve the quality of the prose.

  • “Here's a starting point - please add...” → “Here's a starting point. Please add..”: your punctuation was poor. That's a point of detail, not worth editing for, but worth fixing if you're editing a post for other reasons anyway.
  • “Has someone done a port” --> “is there a port”: I wouldn't use the word “do” here. The rewrite is terser and idiomatic and retains the meaning perfectly.
  • “interweb” → “internet”: that should have been “Internet”.
  • You know those movies where” is a very poor title indeed. It doesn't say anything about the question!

Upcasing “google” when it's a verb is wrong, though I wouldn't bother to edit back for that one correction. I also downcase “unix” to mean the OS family (as opposed to “Unix” to mean the now discontinued product from AT&T, and “UNIX” for the trade mark). On the other hand, “Windows” is a proper name and must be capitalized (“windows” is the plural of the common noun “window”).

It's always better to expand abbreviations, at least the first time you use them. Not everyone knows that “VC++” means “Visual C++”, and people with a question that's similar to yours are likely to search for “Visual C++”, so the phrase had better appear in your post.

You can roll back these edits. But you should not, because they improved your posts. Posts are not meant to reflect your personality, they are meant to convey information. This is an information sharing site; being comprehensible is more important than being original. Leave the language quirks for your blog.

  • Minor nitpick: The phrase "Here's a starting point - please add..." is not actually grammatically incorrect. (Well, to be even nitpickier, it kind of is, because that should be an em-dash, rather than a hyphen. Which is usually simulated in ASCII by using two hypens.) But yeah, 100% agree with the rest. :-) – Cody Gray Aug 13 '11 at 6:24

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