The redesigned user profile sees it fit to speculate about the motives and inclinations of the user. E.g. here:

  • Apparently, this user prefers to keep an air of mystery about them.

  • We respect a laser-like focus on one topic.

  • Keeping a low profile. This user hasn't posted... yet.

It's possible that such attempts at humor are suitable at a social network (I wouldn't know) but they look out of place here.

  • The user may have blanked out the about me box because they were harassed off-site in connection with their SE activity.
  • The user may be offended by the implication of narrow-mindedness. "We respect" reads like a politically correct statement about a mentally challenged person.
  • The user may be keeping low profile because they've died; and it may be their friends/relatives who came across the profile. The anticipation expressed by the ellipsis in "... yet" is out of place then.

My point is: if you don't know the user, don't speculate about the reasons why their online presence is what it is. Stick to the facts:

  • The "about me" section is empty.

  • There are no highly rated posts on other sites.

  • There are no posts.

  • 4
    What if my "about me" actually says "Apparently, this user prefers to keep an air of mystery about them. "?
    – Braiam
    Mar 21, 2015 at 19:32
  • 15
    @Braiam then it will be a different colour - #222222 instead of #aaaaaa
    – Tim
    Mar 21, 2015 at 19:36
  • 36
    Suggest changing blank profile text to "Apparently, this user was harassed off-site in connection with their SE activity, or they are dead."
    – Jason C
    Apr 6, 2015 at 3:24
  • 16
    It's getting kind of annoying to read the same thing over and over again when I view users profiles... Just make it blank please
    Apr 20, 2015 at 4:26
  • @Roombatron5000 As a temporary solution, you can block that section with Ad Block.
    – Tim
    Apr 25, 2015 at 16:09
  • @Tim At the cost of not seeing actual information that some users put there.
    – user259867
    Apr 25, 2015 at 16:15
  • 1
    @2mkgz Nope, it doesn't block actual user stuff. It works because the CSS makes the text a different colour.
    – Tim
    Apr 25, 2015 at 16:18
  • @Tim I see, thanks for suggestion. .text-muted, .placeholder {display:none;}
    – user259867
    Apr 26, 2015 at 0:12
  • 12
    "We respect" reads like a politically correct statement about a mentally challenged person. - this says a lot more about your views than any problem with the profile messages. May 9, 2015 at 14:25
  • 8
    If I may, there is an usability problem more than a problem of political correctness: until I landed on this question I had absolutely zero idea of what "we respect a laser-like focus on one topic" exactly meant. Aug 28, 2015 at 12:14
  • Actually, I prefer this instead of the 1st one. Oct 23, 2015 at 4:47
  • Wait, shouldn't it be "this user prefers to keep an air of mystery about HIM" or "THESE users prefer to keep an air of mystery about them" i find it kind of weird.... maybe i don't get it
    – Antoine
    Nov 22, 2016 at 16:29
  • Ho no wait that's already in an other question : meta.stackexchange.com/questions/261359/… sorry about that
    – Antoine
    Nov 22, 2016 at 18:54
  • So now this text is not shown - we'll see whether it will stay this way. The change was recent: Some changes to the profile while we make it responsive.
    – Martin
    Aug 6, 2021 at 9:45

4 Answers 4


Thanks for highlighting this. I'm not totally convinced on all of your concerns, but:

There's one really helpful catch in here:

  • At least with regard to the "Air of mystery" bit that's in the about me, we probably should find a way to let the user see that it's there (which also lets them eliminate it if they want; putting a space in that field will suppress it).**

Short version on the rest:

Hopefully, we're not quite at the point where any and all attempts at humor need to be squashed. (Soon. But not yet.)

  1. We don't want the page to be more full of "zeros" than need be, and want to avoid placeholders that seem to suggest someone not having done or finished something more than is necessary.
  2. I'm not convinced that many people will be too concerned that these read in any way as actual reflections on them; I think they're not too pejorative, AND hard to read as anything but an attempt at humor.

We'll keep an eye on user reactions and keep an open mind, though.

Slightly longer version:

I think it is very, very hard to think many people would read these as a possible positions the site is taking (speculatively) about a specific user's intent. The text is pretty clearly placeholder text that's obviously not in any way about that individual user.

The highly factual proposed alternatives all sound fine:

  • The "about me" section is empty.
  • There are no highly rated posts on other sites.
  • There are no posts.

But they all seem to suggest something missing, or that the user is failing to do.

They all imply tasks not completed, fields not filled in, etc. The lighter placeholders are designed to lead to less risk of sounding "judge-y".

I'm having a little trouble making the leap from the (pretty clearly kidding) tone of "we respect a laser like focus..." to a a vibe associated with either political correctness or how one might speak of the mentally challenged, but we'll keep an eye out for any misunderstandings that may make us want to reconsider.

  • 8
    I agree with this. I think that they are funny, but the user 100% should know they are all there. What about a "view my public profile" button, like Google+ and Facebook do?
    – Tim
    Mar 21, 2015 at 20:39
  • 26
    I think the underlying opposition to many of these changes (e.g., "people reached" and this one) is that they are "fluff" being presented on a network of sites that prides itself on getting to the meat of the information as quickly and efficiently as possible.
    – jonsca
    Mar 21, 2015 at 20:41
  • 9
    @jonsca we ARE all about that, but we've always been up for a little fun where it's not in the way (like in empty fields on the profile, say). And People Reached is actually all about reminding people WHY we're so relentlessly anti-noise; its job is to reinforce the need to optimize for re-usability, by highlighting the number of downstream users who depend on finding answers fast. But I hear you - there's a delicate balance to maintain between frivolity that undermines the mission and cold humorless drudgery.
    – Jaydles
    Mar 21, 2015 at 20:54
  • 3
    I'm definitely all about the pursuit of humor, if my comment history over the years hasn't betrayed that point. As someone with both a sense of humor and a financial background, I'm sure you know that diminishing returns are an issue in both industries :) If everyone at work has seen your clever XKCD, it starts to quell the SNR of your PowerPoint.
    – jonsca
    Mar 21, 2015 at 21:27
  • 8
    @jonsca, you know what's NOT funny? Telling people I used to work in finance. Couldn't you focus on my prison time, or all the bunnies I used to kill for sport? Less shameful. ;)
    – Jaydles
    Mar 21, 2015 at 21:33
  • 1
    @Jaydles Clearly you've just let those out of the bag yourself!
    – jonsca
    Mar 21, 2015 at 21:37
  • 1
    @Tim Since, unlike on Facebook, you don't need an account to view SE profiles at all, "view my public profile" can be accomplished by just logging out or opening a private browsing session or whatever.
    – senshin
    Mar 21, 2015 at 21:42
  • 2
    @Tim Not necessarily the same on Facebook, unless things have changed since I last checked - there can be different visibility for "logged in but no connection to me" and "not logged in".
    – senshin
    Mar 21, 2015 at 21:47
  • 32
    Please change it back to nothing but white space. It's very hard to appear "funny" to a large international audience with a few unasked for "jokes". If user's want to be funny in their about me section, they can already, and many do a lot better of a job at it than this spectacle. If the developers want to be funny, they can do that in their about me, in comments, in their posts, etc. But they shouldn't be trying to "make funny" on other user's profile.
    Mar 22, 2015 at 2:57
  • 2
    @Tim "Well at least he hasn't been involved in unicorn exploitation..." well I should hope not! Lady Stackicorn is reading over my shoulder right now, and she was quite mortified at the possibility. Mar 22, 2015 at 3:43
  • 3
    "They all imply tasks not completed, fields not filled in, etc." That's the point…
    – bjb568
    Apr 6, 2015 at 3:32
  • 11
    I'm with @Roombatron5000 here - I simply don't think those are funny. I'd prefer if you would either use a descriptive text like "this user has not filled out their 'about me'" or just leave it blank. And the bit about "laser-like focus" feels way off when you read it on a help vampire profile whose laser-like focus is spamming SO with low quality crap...
    – l4mpi
    Apr 16, 2015 at 8:32
  • 5
    The lighter placeholders are designed to lead to less risk of sounding "judge-y" But if they bring in interpretations they fail in that area by definition.
    – Jan Doggen
    Apr 16, 2015 at 11:06
  • 4
    I have had a similar question (253554) migrated here. Currently I am resisting suggesting it is a duplicate because I find this answer completely unsatisfactory. If this is to be the official justification for these placeholder texts, could you please explain why something (a very mildly funny, somewhat snarky remark) is to be considered less "[a placeholder] that seem[s] to suggest someone not having done or finished something more than is necessary" than nothing at all? Apr 16, 2015 at 14:14
  • 14
    Additionally, why should we believe that someone else's profile is the appropriate venue to practice one's comedy routine? While hardly grossly offensive, on sites other than SO (which do not have a tradition of non-incidental humor and memes), it seems rather out of place to say the least. It isn't so much a matter of people being humorless wretches who hate fun, but that people come to the different sites with different expectations. Hope these comments do not seem too confrontational but I really think the answer needs to be clarified if it is an official position. Apr 16, 2015 at 14:19

What about when a user first sees their profile, they can select to show / hide these or fill in the profile (for the badge - make that clear).

Currently, a user doesn't even know these display. This is what I see as a new user editing my profile:

enter image description here

This is what a Visitor sees:

enter image description here

I think the user should chose what is displayed - something like this:

enter image description here

My mock-ups are quite bad - I struggled to fit in this and the original information.

Until then, keep it blank - it's better safe than sorry.

If this isn't changed, could the text click here to edit at least be changed to click here to edit - and get your Nth badge.

  • 26
    Not sure about the checkbox, but thanks for pointing out that the site is saying those things behind the user's back.
    – user259867
    Mar 21, 2015 at 19:41
  • 2
    Yes, this is the most serious part of the problem. I have been trying for 5 minutes to figure out what my profile looks like to another user, and I don't know how. There is no way to "view my public profile" and, after searching for ages, like hell if I can even figure out how to log out of SE.
    – user289068
    Apr 18, 2015 at 19:00
  • Click the SE dropdown menu.
    – Tim
    Apr 18, 2015 at 19:43
  • Tim, would you consider making this into a feature request, or letting me do it citing this answer and crediting you with the idea? I think it's important and might not have gotten enough attention because it's buried in this lengthy post. I looked for an existing request but didn't find any. Also, as @Yes said, many people don't even know these things exist, so a link to this would serve a dual purpose. May 15, 2015 at 19:59
  • @Sue could you clarify what you mean? :) I'm happy for you to use any info I post here btw
    – Tim
    May 15, 2015 at 20:44
  • Sorry I wasn't more clear! What I meant was, I like the idea of showing people what their profile looks like and giving them an option to choose whether or not they want that text. Users should be given both information and control. I doubt these messages will be eliminated, so adding something, like your check boxes, might be the best approach. Your first paragraph could be re-worded as a stand-alone feature request, enabling new users, or those who haven't read this discussion, to see it. You're much better at this, but if you agree, I'll write it, citing this answer! May 16, 2015 at 20:20

(TL;DR; further down)

Issues with Changing or Removing

In response to Oleksandr R. - "since users have not asked for this text, taking it away is not a problem".

Users have not asked for most functionality we have on the sites, but that doesn't mean it can just be removed without problems or users being unhappy about it.

It's Stack who own the sites not the users, so can do anything it wants, whether users asked for something or not it can be removed.
Sure they can do it, but as far as I've seen Stack try to keep it's users happy!

So just because users did not originally ask for the default text doesn't mean it can be removed without it being a problem.

Changing or removing the current default text is literally changing what is displayed in user profiles.
Some users might be aware this current default text is there ("air of mystery" etc) and are happy with it, and actively chosen not to edit in their own text.

So removing that means you are quite possibly altering profiles for users who would not want it changing.

Removing the default text changes their profile, whereas my idea changes "nothing at all" in terms of what is currently displayed in profiles. The change would be seamless, unnoticed, and my idea actually provides more choice to manage.


---------------- TL;DR; ----------------
Instead of changing or removing the current default text ("air of mystery" etc), just add it into their profile so it's editable - as if they'd previously edited and put it there themselves.

This allows the default text to be editable in their profile, users can see their profile shows this where before couldn't, and they can make their profile blank where previously they could not.


New Users:
Just add the default text.

Current Users:
If user has no text saved in their profile then add the default text in.
(default text is not currently saved in profiles, it's just shown by a script when someone views it).

NOTE: Their previously having no profile data would have shown this default text publicly to other users within their profile anyway. So we're not adding anything new other than it now being stored/saved in their profile.


My idea provides the following improvements and new profile control:

  • No changes to what is shown in their profile
  • Can now alter this default text to their liking
  • Remove default text completely and leave profile blank
  • Remove default text and add their own text

Currently users viewing their profile do not see the current default text, and may presume it is empty, so leave it as that's how they want it.

The suggested change would make the text visible to them when viewing their own profile, so they can see and edit their actual profile text even if it is the site's default texts.

This suits anyone who wants the default text, and those who do not.

  • 4
    I disagree but cannot downvote due to insufficient points. I think, since users have not asked for this text, taking it away is not a problem. If they like it so much, they can manually add it again. I also do not accept the rationale that since all user profiles have been effectively changed once without notification or consent, it's better to edit users' profile text and make it permanent, so that if they don't like it they can delete it. If users have to have profile text, wouldn't it be better to make it a requirement on signup, rather than filling that field with some default nonsense? Apr 16, 2015 at 17:37
  • 1
    @OleksandrR. "since users have not asked for this text, taking it away is not a problem" Asked or not, they have been given it. How do you know if users want this text or not? You expect every user who does not want the default text removing from their profile to have posted on Meta "Please leave the default text"? This is a change without telling users about it. Which I actually see worse than the issues raised about the text/humour itself.
    – James
    Apr 16, 2015 at 17:40
  • @OleksandrR. My point is, with my proposal there is no change to how it currently is. Their having this initially forced upon them without prior consent does not mean it is ok to have it removed again. That is doing it twice, but also with an additional issue that tens of thousand of users might like this text, not edit their profile intentionally to leave it there, and continue to believe it is still there.
    – James
    Apr 16, 2015 at 17:44
  • 5
    If they have been given the text now, what you are proposing forces it on them. Since the text refers to the user in the third person, I highly doubt a significant number of them would want to keep it. In other words, I think more people would just be annoyed and have to delete the text if your suggestion were followed, than would appreciate it. How many users had this in their profile before it was inserted for them (which could be some measure of its popularity)? I bet none. So, easy come, easy go. What you are proposing is still a change and thus the consent issue is the same either way. Apr 16, 2015 at 17:45
  • 1
    @OleksandrR. "I think more people would just be annoyed and have to delete the text" They already have this text, so your argument basically states some people do not want the current text, so my idea showing it to them means they can manage it as they want. But my idea also does not take it away from those who like it there. You removing it from everyone does, and you change people's profiles without asking or informing them. What I propose does not force anything onto anyone, it "reveals" and "makes editable" what is already there.
    – James
    Apr 16, 2015 at 17:56
  • 1
    @OleksandrR. "I highly doubt a significant number of them would want to keep it" Based on what data? I highly suspect a huge amount would. So what do we do now? "What you are proposing is still a change and thus the consent issue is the same either way" No it is not. Mine changes nothing other than showing them what they already have. You suggestion to just wipe it all clear does make changes
    – James
    Apr 16, 2015 at 17:57
  • 1
    Okay, well, you're entitled to your opinion, but I maintain that I think this would make matters worse than they are already. I also do not think that this drastic suggestion will gain any currency. So, I will leave it at that, if you don't mind; I am not interested in debating a completely hypothetical unwanted behavior as well as the current situation. Apr 16, 2015 at 17:59
  • 1
    @OleksandrR. I have no issues here, we're just chewing the fat :) I just see facts really, not hypothetical debate. My idea factually makes no actual changes to text currently in their profile, it just reveals what is there now and gives options to manage it. Wiping it clean is factually making changes.
    – James
    Apr 16, 2015 at 18:03

If I might say one thing in support of the "no about" formula: it made me learn about the singular they.

I am totally in favor of a bit of humor, especially in unexpected places, and I think that if somebody is offended by these default phrases, they should probably consider that whoever wrote that was trying to make us smile. In my case, with success.

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