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I have been using Stack Overflow every day for the past 8 years (I mean, actually every single day), and I still feel I know very little about what happened to the questions I contributed to.
The issues described here were reported before, but bear repeating in 2016.

(Context: "Second Iteration Of The Stack Exchange Quality Project!")

Case in point: "Restrict user access at component level within a stream", and its associated timeline.

That question was closed a day later, but I knew nothing about it.
I stumbled upon that question a year later, belatedly edited it, and the moderator kindly reopen it.

The moderation process has worked as intended... except for that one year hiatus during which IBM RTC users were exposed to a cryptic question I could have made clearer much sooner.
And I do care about the quality of old questions and their answers, as they bring long-lasting value to the site.


More generally, for heavy users of the site, the notifications are few and sparse (and I understand it is not an easy problem to fix, without spamming to death said users).

When you answer a question, you don't know much about its other events like edits or other answers.
You might be a bit more aware of (at least) edits, if you "favorited" the question (which is why I have 17000+ "favorites": is that why "favorites" were set for initially? Apparently so)

But you don't know about a lot of other events needed to manage your own answers:

  • You don't know about flag/close votes (as illustrated above, and discussed in 2012 and before that in 2011)
  • More generally, you don't know if a question you answered "gets into trouble" (being continually downvoted when an edit would make it clearer: mentioned in 2013)
  • You don't know about upvotes/downvotes on other answers (if I answered a year ago and a new answer gets a lot of upvotes, I want to know about it and fast!).
  • You are not notified when comments are posted on different answers in the question you participated, as I mentioned in 2009.
    This is true as well for questions you would like to follow, as Pekka proposed in 2010 with "Subscribing to questions and comments that don't belong to you" (almost implemented in 2011... but removed since).
  • You don't easily know which bounties you are in, and you you know nothing at all about a bounty, which you posted an answer, once it is expired, and your answer was not selected.
    It is not just about the reputation points: those bounty questions are actually interesting and challenging. If I did not answer it properly, I am legitimately interested in knowing the actual answer.
  • And you don't know about link rot (I have a ton of answers I should update with updated links, I have also lost quite a few pictures because I did not edit quickly enough some old pictures hosted by imgur.com back in 2012, as illustrated here). Something was tempted in 2012... but since then abandoned.

So how would you improve (in the context of the "Stack Exchange Quality Project"TM 2016) the experience of existing users who want to know what is going on with the questions they are contributing to?

  • Recent (at least partially) related request, which was marked dupe of a dupe of "How do favorite questions work?" – Cai Oct 20 '16 at 8:39
  • @Cai Yes, favorites are an old issue. But this illustrates how the notification problem goes well beyond the favorite questions. – VonC Oct 20 '16 at 8:41
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    I agree (wasn't implying otherwise by my previous comment), favorites aren't ideal for "following" questions and the issue does go much further (such as your own posts as you said). – Cai Oct 20 '16 at 8:43
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    Having myself around 2K answers I sometimes have the same feeling: I don't know what happened to a question I participated in unless I get pinged with a comment or some up/downvote (example: your answer used to be quite upvoted but now there is a better one: it may be time to remove it for the sake of highlighting the new one). A little dashboard with "recently closed", "changing trends of votes / new heavily upvoted answer" or "bounty open" affecting questions you answered would be helpful. – fedorqui Oct 20 '16 at 9:32
  • Your question and all those that random linked focus on notifications, but perhaps thinking of it as a dashboard (as fedorqui also suggested) instead would help here? Deciding what exactly to notify about is hard, but providing lists of events, with some ability to sort and filter, would let users look at the bits they care about. Imagine if you had a list of recent events on questions you'd answered, which could be filtered by type (close/open, edit, new popular answer) - seems far more manageable than an inbox. – Cascabel Oct 26 '16 at 0:16
  • Hi Jefromi! Nice to see you around; I really miss your insights on Git (last ones are from April 2012). A dashboard would be nice, but I mainly wanted to document my experience on SO. Considering the "SE Quality project" is about putting "highest priority on small-ish things that could potentially make a big impact first, drill down into things that are going to take a bit of work, with priority given to things that could help the largest number of users have a better experience on the site."... I wouldn't hold my breath: regular contributors are not exactly the "largest number of users". – VonC Oct 26 '16 at 6:49
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There are so many points the OP has raised, it would be difficult to provide a satisfactory answer for each one. So, I will limit myself to answering the bounty concerns.

Normally on smaller sites, if you are interested in a bounty question, you keep track of it while it is displayed on the feature button. However, this is quite a feat on SO where there are 390 questions currently offering bounties. A staggering number.

Fortunately, whenever a user answers a bounty question, the post is recorded in their answers list on their profile page. It is a simple matter of clicking on that answer and seeing how that bounty concluded.

I don't see how SE could possibly notify every user who has answered one or more bounty on one or more sites that a bounty is about to expire (as someone who has posted an answer, you should already know this), that a new answer has been posted during the bounty (idem), and why you should be notified if the owner has not selected your answer.

Should SE notify every single user who has ever answered a bounty that a new answer has been posted, once that bounty has expired? Should they be notified every time a comment has been added? The numbers must run into thousands and tens of thousands. How many would actually appreciate the notification arriving (almost daily) in their inbox?

  • "as someone who has posted an answer, you should already know this" How would I know OP added a bounty a week or a month after I answered? I don't get any notification about that. – Patrick Hofman Oct 21 '16 at 7:41
  • @PatrickHofman the OP was referring to bounties which he has posted answers ..and you you know nothing at all about a bounty, which you posted an answer, once it is expired,... On smaller sites it is easier to see when a new question has a bounty, this is visible on the feature tab. But I admit this is much more of a problem on SO, of which I am not a participating member. – Mari-Lou A Oct 21 '16 at 7:42
  • "that a bounty is about to expire" The post is not about a bounty to expire, it is about a bounty set on a question you have an answer to. – Patrick Hofman Oct 21 '16 at 7:46
  • @PatrickHofman I disagree, please reread the snippet I quoted. – Mari-Lou A Oct 21 '16 at 7:48
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    Bounties are anecdotal, and their issue is about finding back questions which had a bounty (long expired) which you posted an answer. But more generally, this is about rethinking the notification (or lack thereof) problem. As you said: "Should they be notified every time a comment has been added? The numbers must run into thousands and tens of thousands". Exactly. As a regular contributor, my answer wold be: "yes, if a pixel moves on pages I am interested in, I want to know. Now". How that kind of notification would be done is the challenge. – VonC Oct 21 '16 at 8:27
  • @VonC I think some sort of subscription has to be put in place. I'm not sure how useful it is knowing that a comment has been posted on a bounty question I answered five years ago. But I might be curious about a new answer posted on an old (bounty or non) question, and if the OP accepted this new answer, that would be worthwhile viewing. Knowing SE, I suspect that the answer lies here: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/53585/… – Mari-Lou A Oct 21 '16 at 10:38
  • @Mari-LouA Again, regarding bounties specifically, the issue is to even know what were the questions with bounty you were in (once they have expired). The comment/answer and other evolution mentioned in my post apply to all questions, and I use favorites as a poor man's way of being notified of some events. Whether the notifications would come through a push or pull (subscription) model, you would still have to determine how to present them in a way that is useful, manageable, and actionable. – VonC Oct 21 '16 at 10:48
  • @Mari-LouA Thank you for editing my question, by the way. Now, it almost looks like "proper english" ;) – VonC Oct 21 '16 at 10:50
  • @VonC If you have been awarded a bounty, that is fairly easy to keep track off, there's the sections earned bounties, and offered bounties on your user profile. If you didn't win the bounty, but you remember the benefactor's username, you can visit their profile page instead. It's not an ideal system by any means, and it would be extremely time consuming if you wanted to keep tabs on fifty-hundred questions, but it's probably worth your time, and going the extra mile, for a restricted number of questions, – Mari-Lou A Oct 21 '16 at 11:07
  • @Mari-LouA I agree. The current system is, to say the least, open to improvement. Hence my question (for bounties and for the rest. Mainly for the rest). – VonC Oct 21 '16 at 11:12

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