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.