In June, we had a Moderator Election here at Stack Overflow (as well as on other sites, which we'd continue to run several over the course of the summer). While the running of the election wasn't distinct from any past election, what was different was the form of notification we used. Instead of a System Message, we opted to use the brand new Community Bulletin. But this wasn't fully satisfactory. While part of the intent is that people who are not interested in the governance can skip over it, it is a major issue when the people who are interested are not properly notified of these events.

While a lot of the discussion on this originates from elections, the Community Bulletin as a whole could use some improvement. Part of the reason we introduced the bulletin was as a means to allow the community and its moderators to easier promote elements like contests or important meta discussions - things which we forbid moderators from using System Messages for. That way, the System Message remains a utility for identifying critical server notices and outages, but the important-yet-not-dire stuff is still visible.

We're considering reinstating the functionality of System Messages to hold election notifications, and also at the same time making it dismissable in some fashion. System Messages will now be restricted to solely system critical announcements and for elections. Thoughts?

  • Does that mean that you're removing the automatic system notice for chat events created by mods? Or is that already long gone? That one always felt a bit out of place Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 16:51
  • @MadScientist Uh, good question. But I would imagine that would be even more out of place in this system, so, hm... what are we going to do about that?
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 16:51
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    Related: Why was this election (June 2012 for SO) even more unpopular?
    – yannis
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 16:52
  • +1 for "making it dismissable in some fashion." I hope this extends to all system messages. Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 16:52
  • @MadScientist I think those go into the bulletin now, don't they?
    – Zelda
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 16:53
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    Why not stick with the notification in my inbox approach? That way, I'm notified even if I'm not on SO... Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 16:56
  • @yoda Do they appear in Inbox or Notifications? That part is potentially problematic.
    – Aarthi
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 16:57
  • @Aarthi Inbox (I think), but the bulb lights up at the same place... I don't really treat them differently. Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 16:58
  • @yoda the problem is when the notice is put in notifications -- the "blue light" only shows up AFTER your red ones.
    – Aarthi
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 17:02
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    "same time making it dismissable in some fashion" - I'm about to go to lunch, but this seems like a potentially problematic approach. The fact that the system message hasn't disappeared is often an indicator that a particular bit of maintenance is taking longer than advertised, which people who dismiss the message might then be oblivious to (...and then come to complain on Meta that the site isn't working).
    – Tim Stone
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 17:03
  • I'm also not terribly convinced that the system message is a good place for prompting people to get involved in the election either, even if the community bulletin has its own faults. I get the impression that the biggest problem with elections is the follow-through for each of the stages, and I'm not sure these messages influence that...but I'd have to think on it a bit more to suggest any alternative, which requires food.
    – Tim Stone
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 17:05
  • @Aarthi The problem of course is that the bubble doesn't turn purple when you've got both!
    – Tim Stone
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 17:07
  • @TimStone OH IF ONLY! ALAS! swoons
    – Aarthi
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 17:08

3 Answers 3


Personally, I think this is a really good idea. Elections are an absolutely critical moment for any site, as they are the way for the community to decide who they want to be their leaders and enforcers. Moderator roles are diverse and contain multitudes; it's important that elections have true visibility, as they occur infrequently.

Moderators are also elected "for life" so that makes it more crucial that users be fully aware of an election going on.

That said, system messages in their current incarnation appear on every single page of a site (main, questions, etc) and it's important for the company that those spaces don't become a source of blindness for users -- especally when SE's doing something like, say, a database migration or testing a fail over. If we put SO into read-only mode, for example, it's necessary that the system message be seen and acknowledged by our users. To a degree, this blindness has been avoided by forbidding the use of system messages for non-critical purposes entirely.

I think we're conflating two issues here: the lack of visibility of the community bulletin board and the problems of our system message use. Both are deserving of time and consideration. (To put it another way: the community bulletin needs to be "fixed twice.")

Focusing on system messages: Maybe the best solution to this (to avoid bombardment and to maintain visibility) would be to make these messages dismissable. That way, system messages retain their visibility without sacrificing their informative nature. Users could dismiss a sysmessge when it was acknowledged. This could extend to chat event notifications, elections, and the site being in read-only mode. This means that when a new message pops up, users would have to click to dismiss (meaning they saw it) while also avoiding the message leading to blindness -- it wouldn't appear on every page ad nauseum (familiarity breeds contempt and so forth).

So, tl;dr version: yes, this is a conversation that needs to be revisited. I think we should make these banners dismissable.

[EDIT]: Note that I do not think this should take the place of the global notification. I like that thing, I think it's almost MORE visible than the system message, and I like that feature.

  • 5
    "... community to decide who they want to be their leaders and enforcers" That's a cool way to say "janitors" Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 16:59
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    @NullUserExceptionอ_อ Perspective is everything. :)
    – Aarthi
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 17:00
  • Meh. As important as these elections are to some people, the vast majority of folks on a site care more about... Well, asking and answering questions. And that's ok. We can keep finding more and more intrusive ways to spam them about it, but if the numbers don't increase much I won't be very surprised - or particularly concerned.
    – Shog9
    Commented Oct 16, 2012 at 2:40

Depending on the site, system messages range from discreet or nigh-invisible. This is why you have no credibility when you berate moderators for using it for mildly important site-wide events. Given the way it is implemented, it is obvious that system messages are intended for general announcements for all visitors that are not of critical importance.

Yes Virginia, there is a system message

For really important announcements such as planned outages, a notice with more visibility would be appropriate. I propose the notification bar illustrated below. I didn't invent that; I found it on some website a while back.

notification bars

As you can see, these bars are of a bright color and partly overlap the usual site content. Furthermore, they don't go away until you explicitly dismiss them. Now that's spectacular. Obviously you wouldn't want to use them for frivolous purposes (such as, say, telling a user that one of their questions has been migrated, or that they received a bronze badge), but for “critical server notices and outages”, this seems appropriate.

An election is also important enough to announce in such a spectacular fashion. However, a notification bar is not enough: I'd like to get a timely notice of an ongoing election even on a Stack Exchange site that I visit infrequently. For that purpose, I think a personal notification (in addition to the on-site notification bar) is ok. I think election notifications should be given a little more importance: they could rate the inbox.

  • Enough with these half-measures, I say - time for interstitial pages!
    – Shog9
    Commented Oct 16, 2012 at 2:42
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    Styling is a major issue, this was partly brought up in some of the early discussion so it's good to have it more concretely out here. We have since cycled out the top banner you bring up, which was once used for election notifications (now we use the inbox's "notifications" tab for that particular part), as it had become a "dismiss on sight" element for many users. If it were restricted to system critical messages, however...
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Commented Oct 16, 2012 at 14:14

Back then I thought that elections still deserved more than the Community Bulletin, and I still think it is a good idea to give them this increased visibility.

Making them dismissable is also a good idea, for elections they could even auto-dismiss when you have voted.

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