I noticed that Undo was playing around with the formatting sandbox last night and protected it.


Why? Isn't the sandbox supposed to be where any user (new or old) can play around with Stack Exchange's markdown editor or the API? Has there been a flood of spam or low quality posts to the sandbox?

To clarify, my question has two parts:

  1. Why would the sandbox be protected in general?

  2. Why was it unprotected and then re-protected again?

  • 1
    There's a separate API Sandbox which isn't protected :)
    – Cai
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 13:43
  • 1
    @Cai I did not know that existed, thanks.
    – JAL
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 13:44

3 Answers 3


Yeah, figured this'd come up. So here is the rationale.

  1. Smokey needs the association bonus for some projects we're undertaking. For a couple reasons, it's simply better to have it under its own account than run these projects under my account (not unilaterally nuking stuff on SO is one, having things properly labelled and attributed is another).

  2. I'd go the normal route to give it rep, but there's evidence that posts associated with the Smokey account have unfairly inflated vote counts. For example, I don't believe this is natural. I'd rather not post 'real' content with it and have that effect unfairly sort its answers above other folks'.

So that leaves three options:

  1. Go ask the team to manually give it a bunch of rep, which isn't going to happen.
  2. Try to get some kind of special privilege level which allows it to have privileges without rep, which also isn't going to happen.
  3. Find a question that doesn't matter and just give it some of my rep.

I chose 3, which required unprotecting the question then restoring it to its original state. If I had to guess, I'd say it's protected so we don't get a ton of spam answers in there.

Is this sockpuppetry? Yeah, in the strictest sense of the word, I'm running two accounts. Have been for a long time. What I'm not doing is in any way getting benefit back to my main account (or any Charcoal members). I'm giving it some fake Internet points on a question that doesn't matter, and that's pretty much the extent of it.

I'm open to feedback, of course, if anyone knows of a better way to do this.

For the curious folks, we're laying the groundwork for automated flagging. It's a long ways off yet, and we have quite a bit of research to do (including dry runs, etc.) Don't worry, we're not planning a takeover. Yet.

  • 1
    There is no better way to do this. I wonder though if the SE team was read in to this and what their opinion is. (And of course I didn't just upvote you to compensate your loss ;) Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 15:49
  • (Maybe Smokey could have asked a question how to earn the rep required? That would have yielded enough reputation on its own) Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 15:50
  • @PatrickHofman No, I didn't ask the team. In hindsight, that may have been wise just to cover stuff like this, but I didn't believe anyone would have a real issue with this (and I do believe it's kosher, if a little eyebrow-raising.)
    – Undo
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 15:51
  • If we're being strictly technical, this kind of thing is disallowed by existing policy, but... meh. I don't see a problem with it, because the project in question really does require the association bonus, and it's not getting anyone any benefit outside of that.
    – ArtOfCode
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 15:53
  • That is because there is no way under the currently rules to support bots. If SE would make a special bot user type, we could just discard all this nonsense. Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 15:55
  • @Undo I took the liberty to make the discussion open on this one, since I think we could do better than this. Feel free to share your vision here. Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 16:03
  • IMO automatic flagging is plain wrong. Flags should be cast by real human being. Period. Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 16:04
  • 2
    @ShadowWizard How does 99.8% accuracy, over 10k posts sound? It's a couple percentage points higher than my accuracy on SO. And we haven't even started optimizing that yet.
    – Undo
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 16:05
  • @Undo it's not about accuracy, it's about giving power to something that should not have such power. Detecting spam and crap is awesome, but actively flagging/deleting it shouldn't be automatic. In the very least, it is like misusing a sock puppet: any user can create another account, name it "My Bot", and start flagging everything twice. Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 16:11
  • 2
    @ShadowWizard "I'm going to flag everything twice with this" is definitely abuse. In reality, the endgame here isn't to flag stuff, it's to get a system accurate enough to be integrated with SE itself. We need an intermediate step, this is a pretty good one. Again, we're talking with the team about how far we can go with this.
    – Undo
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 16:17
  • 1
    I'm not talking about you, I know you won't abuse it. But other users who will see this will have a semi-legit case to abuse the system. IMO, if the goal is to integrate this into SE itself, let SE staff do this. (at least the bounty part, e.g. Shog could have started it too, or any other CM, then it would be less frowned upon) Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 16:21
  • 4
    Yeah, now we're comparing a team with an extremely good track record, and stats to back it up, to some guy who just decides to use a sockpuppet to flag stuff twice. It's not the same thing. Whose rep is used is, honestly, splitting hairs IMO.
    – Undo
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 16:24
  • For the record, this stunt was reverted by Shog9
    – tripleee
    Commented Mar 2 at 10:07

It was protected for a long time already. Oded protected it last before yesterday at Nov 17 '14 (see revision history around 118/119).

Undo was indeed playing around with it yesterday. He unprotected it at some point and protected it again when he was done testing.

It seems correct that this is related to Smokey, as you commented yourself. The timeline indicates these steps:

  • Undo posted a bounty with this notice: This is a way to funnel some rep to Smokey so it can hit the assoc bonus. Nothing to see here, just some sockpuppetry...;
  • Question unprotected;
  • SmokeDetector answered;
  • Question protected;
  • Bounty will be awarded to SmokeDetector, giving it a total reputation of 251.

The goal of these events seems to be that SmokeDetector can gain enough reputation so it can perform some basic actions like flagging on any site without the need for edits, etc.

For your updated question Why would the sandbox be protected in general?

That can have multiple reasons. For example tracking spam can get hard with the number of answers. Also, testing if you can post under a protected question on this site can be useful too sometimes. Whatever the reason is, Oded, who imposed the last protection, will have a good reason for it.

Should it be opened for everyone. I guess you could make a point for that, but I doubt it is really necessary. If you are that interested in the markdown editor, you can easily gain some reputation here.

  • But why is the question?
    – Cai
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 13:53
  • Why was the question because appearantly JAL thought it wasn't protected before and it suddenly was protected. That isn't true. It was protected already and Undo just reinstated that after testing. Why he unprotected it? You should ask him. Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 13:55
  • Ok but, "Isn't the sandbox supposed to be where any user (new or old) can play around with Stack Exchange's markdown editor or the API?" isn't it?
    – Cai
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 13:57
  • Well, testing if you can post under a protected question on this site can be useful too sometimes. @Cai Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 13:59
  • True, but assuming you want the sandbox open to everyone surely you'd unprotect it after
    – Cai
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 14:00
  • Furthermore, Oded deliberately protected it and updated the text in the question where it is explained it is protected. I guess it indeed stops VLQ posts and spam, etc. Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 14:01
  • @Cai "opening it up to everyone" was not the reason for unprotecting it, so there was no reason not to re-protect it when he was done. As for the real reason for unprotecting in the first place, I'll let you ask him.
    – ArtOfCode
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 14:08
  • @Art that wasn't my point, I know it wasn't unprotected for any significant reason and was re-protected because it was already protected before that... I'm saying why was it even protected in the first place?
    – Cai
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 14:26
  • I have clarified my question(s) in the original post. I guess there are two parts to it. I have reached out to undo in the SOCVR for clarity here.
    – JAL
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 14:32
  • 1
    It looks like undo unprotected the question to let smokey post to award the bounty? Still waiting for an official reply.
    – JAL
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 15:07
  • @JAL Indeed. Updated with the information from the timeline. Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 15:13
  • Is that... Kosher? I hoped undo checked with the Stack Exchange community team first.
    – JAL
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 15:15
  • 2
    He is a mod, I guess he knows the rules. And I think it is okay giving the appreciation for Smokey from the SE team. Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 15:15
  • @PatrickHofman et al., see reasoning here: meta.stackexchange.com/a/288143/215468.
    – Undo
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 15:47

Why would the sandbox be protected in general?

In my own opinion, it shouldn't.

However, after two deleted answers from low rep users, it is getting auto protected and even if manually unprotected, next answer that get deleted, auto protect kicks in again.

I unprotected it myself in the past, until SE employee protected it himself, and I saw no point fighting both Community and SE developer over something that isn't really crucial.

If someone really want to use it and can't due to low rep, they can ask (e.g. in chat, assuming association bonus exists) to temporarily unprotect it.

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