I had a conversation yesterday with a user who couldn't see all the content due to workplace firewall rules. (no imgur allowed - but pastebin is, go figure)

He sent me his email in a me-him chat room, which apparently still isn't private.

Fortunately a Moderator notice what was going on and deleted the personal information after asking.

This could be solved by implementing a whisper function. Whisper allows private messages between two users currently in the same chat room. This is typically invoked in IRC like:

/whisper @UserID Message_goes_here

And @UserID would see my message in the normal chat window with distinctive formatting.

Chat is preferred to an email proxy or message box as it is opt in - I have to be in the chat room, and can leave at any time, closing the connection.

Whisper is also preferred as it is clunky, less likely to be used for ongoing conversations. It is to some degree self limiting.

  • 4
    Why not just exchange Twitter id's and DM each other there? Stack Exchange isn't really the best place for private conversions.
    – JonW
    Oct 24, 2013 at 21:50
  • How do we exchange Twitter ids privately? There is no way on the system for users to exchange private data. Oct 24, 2013 at 21:51
  • 1
    There are legions of ways you can exchange something outside of the SE network, the chat rooms are not the place. Oct 24, 2013 at 21:55
  • You don't need to exchange Twitter id's privately, just share those and then follow each other so you can then privately DM that way. Unless your Twitter is private (which kind of defeats the purpose of having one)
    – JonW
    Oct 24, 2013 at 22:03
  • Why the antagonism? There are plenty of ways we can ask questions as well, so why implement SO at all? Some form of private message is an enhancement to the community. Even an email proxy like on craigslist or wikipedia would suffice. Oct 24, 2013 at 22:08
  • 5
    "Some form of private message is an enhancement to the community" Care to elaborate? How will the wider community benefit from private messaging?
    – yannis
    Oct 24, 2013 at 22:12
  • 5
    There's always strong resistance to anything social networky; for fear it would distract from the main mission, excellent questions and answers for a wide audience Oct 24, 2013 at 22:19
  • 2
    To those that say just use twitter, I suggest you just use Yahoo Answers. Oct 24, 2013 at 22:21
  • 1
    Possible usage of private messages: sending usernames and passwords (e.g. back when blogs were a separate login), providing links to a desktop sharing tool, channel for a recruiter to solicit talented individuals (I know, there's the career site, but not everyone is listed there).
    – BMitch
    Oct 24, 2013 at 22:26
  • 4
    @BMitch none of which is what stack exchange is for Oct 24, 2013 at 22:38
  • 5
    @BMitch also if I want to be contacted by recruiters they'll find contacts in my profile page. Let's not turn SO into another tool for stalking people. Oct 24, 2013 at 22:40
  • 6
    @BMitch We can (or at least should) assume that whomever's not listed on the career site (or didn't mention something about that in their 'about me', with contact information) doesn't want to be contacted regarding career opportunities. Oct 24, 2013 at 22:43
  • 1
    @RichardTingle by that logic, we shouldn't have a chat system or a Careers 2.0 site. I'm not sure how used such a feature would be, ideally, it would be rare. But then I don't see the need for one-boxing, starred messages, or many other chat features for a Q&A site.
    – BMitch
    Oct 25, 2013 at 1:12
  • 1
    One other possible usage: the ability to message a moderator privately on a matter without flagging a specific post. Perhaps they are having problems with a particular user in the chatroom and don't want to make the situation worse. Since we have @user messages, chat replies, and super pings, a private ping to someone else in a chatroom doesn't seem so far off the chatroom scope.
    – BMitch
    Oct 25, 2013 at 1:17
  • 1
    What's wrong with just posting your email and then deleting it 30 seconds later? We do that all the time in ServerFault's chat... Oct 25, 2013 at 4:15

2 Answers 2


I see some merit in the proposal, but I personally believe it's not worth the effort of implementing it as the use case is definitely not crucial to the majority of people.


  • It covers the use case in which two users need to communicate privately and cannot find any workaround to safely exchange contacts.


  • It's not a such a common case, IMHO. There's usually a workaround. As many proposed in the comments, exchanging Twitter accounts is one example. Also, speaking about myself, my email is far away from being private, but in case I needed to frequently share my contact without disclosing my personal email, I would simply create a secondary address.

  • As clearly exposed in Any way to send a personal message to another user?, adding to StackOverflow the ability to contact other users introduces the risk of:

    • hiding useful information from the community
    • having users privately "harassing" others

In short, this feature would introduce low benefit at cost of high potential risk.


I'm not strongly in favor of the feature, but I can see the merit. The main usage for a feature like that should be sharing contact info that moderators are occasionally called in to remove from chat logs today. Anything more private would be a two step process, share contact info, and then contact the other user offsite.

For those that suggest publicly sharing some outside contact info like an email address or twitter handle, that opens up individuals to stalking outside of SE, or it turns the contact into a 3 step process. Considering I've had people threaten myself and family just because I deleted their answer for being a non-answer, you'll have to forgive me for not wanting to give out any public details that can lead back to my physical presence.

PRO (at least of one implementation design)

  • We have @user messages, replies to chat messages, and super pings, so a private message doesn't seem so far out of scope for the chat room.
  • Notification of messages can be handled the same way @user messages are handled today, a ding if you're in the chat room, or a notification/inbox message if you're away.
  • For mods, it can be implemented as a [hidden] message in chat similar to deleted and edited messages today, able to be opened on the chance that there's abuse, but otherwise invisible to anyone else in the room.
  • The feature could only be used to contact to other people in the room like @user messages today, so people getting these messages are already open to being messaged in the chat room.
  • The private messages could be excluded from any data exports/archives, and visible to only the recipient (and moderators) in the transcripts.


  • Harassment: this would be seen and handled by a mod
  • Spam/junk: only users with the privilege to get in the chat room could use it. And abusers could be booted from the room.
  • Hiding useful information: it would be seen by a mod and called out, or the recipient can copy/paste for everyone to see.


  • It may be abused by people that should be talking publicly in the chat room.
  • It may be abused by moderators that should be using mod messages or public chats/comments.
  • It may be abused by users that should be flagging a post.

To me, the cons should be handled by moderators that would see the abuse and stop it, just as we do now everywhere else on the site.

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