People hate system messages for one simple reason, you can't dismiss them.

If they come too often, people ignore them. Which is bad.

Because of this, they're only used for grave emergency (downtime notices), or moderator elections. The mod-elections get the treatment since they're asking users to vote on who gets to wield the mod-hammer and we like eyeballs on that kind of decision.

On ServerFault, we're in the process of completely rewriting our FAQ.

As I said, this is a complete rewrite. The original SF FAQ was rather pre-StackExchange and now that we have 9 sites with potentially overlapping topics rather than the original 2, we felt this rather important document needs to have more clarity and to codify some meta 'case law' regarding topicality. This should serve much better as a 'what we are' document than our current one.

Since this is the first complete rewrite we've done since our own Beta back in Q2 2009, the vast majority of our users haven't been through one. We've added a line or two along the way, but nothing this drastic.

I feel, and so do several of our high-rep users, that something of this magnitude is on-par with a mod-election for importance to the user-base. Questions live and die through their conformance with the FAQ, which makes it as impacting as picking the person who will handle the flag-queue.

Is a complete FAQ rewrite worthy of a main-site system-message, even if only for the last day of voting?


I'll go on record as to saying yes, a major FAQ rewrite is an appropriate use of system messages (and I own up to having done it). For a complete FAQ rewrite (when you're not just debating one bullet point), it is good to have contributions from as many people as possible, not just the people who regularly visit metas.

I wouldn't put up a system message for the FAQ voting, though. The right time is during the writing, when there has been some activity already, perhaps a rough draft or a list of debated posts. Then put up a system message with a link to one meta post. Make sure people following this link can understand what's going on from just this one meta thread.

For the actual voting, a question is enough. Make sure its title is clear. I disagree with using a system message (well, maybe on meta, but not on the main site) if you're not expecting people to provide input.

  • Considering the votes the question got, and the votes this answer got, the conservative view is to only system-message for edits. Not votes. – sysadmin1138 Feb 10 '12 at 1:10

I think you're taking this a bit too seriously. The new FAQ doesn't represent even a minor change in direction for the website, nevermind a fundamental change in direction.

The vast majority of users really don't care. Many of them could not possibly care less. It's fluff. Important fluff for new users, but regular users are interested in getting their answers and getting on with their day - not navel gazing.

Those that are interested in the fluff already participate in meta either there, or here - and you've successfully notified both.

But this isn't a moderator election, and it's not server maintenance. (and certainly not the death of a computer industry luminary)

So leave it on meta. Write a blog post about it, and it'll show up as "blog (new)" in the link bar for awhile. Keep bumping it on meta. Tag it as featured so it shows up in the right side of the main site.

But don't use a main-site system message for it.

  • 4
    I think many users don't care about moderator elections either :-) – Paŭlo Ebermann Feb 7 '12 at 18:29
  • 1
    Maybe people don't care (though that changes when its their questions getting migrated or closed). But they should be given as many chances as possible to decide that they don't, and that means making the change as visible as possible. – Rob Moir Feb 7 '12 at 19:19
  • @RobMoir The system message is not dismissable. You are forcing people to deal with it whether they care or not. It's not merely giving them a choice - it's an in-your-face BIG SCARY ERROR MESSAGE THAT YOU GET TO READ ON EVERY SINGLE PAGE UNTIL WE CANCEL THE BIG SCARY ERROR MESSAGE THAT YOU GET TO READ ON EVERY SINGLE PAGE. – Adam Davis Feb 7 '12 at 19:45
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    Adam. I can only reply to each of your sentences with "Yes, I know. That doesn't change my opinion". The bold text isn't persuading me at all. What's so bad about BIG SCARY MESSAGES if they're done in a good cause? – Rob Moir Feb 7 '12 at 21:37
  • These are supposed to be System Administrators (and other IT Folk). They shouldn't be scared of any website error message. WE'RE NOT USERS. – Chris S Feb 9 '12 at 20:47

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