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Stack Overflow is growing, and an increasing number of employees do not have a lot of reputation points on the SE main sites.

Many of them are interacting with the community on the respective Meta sites, though. Showing those employees with 1 reputation point like a complete newbie feels off, and is not reflective of their role, investedness, and experience. After all, they spend their entire working days thinking about or working on SO.

Employee accounts should be given special treatment on per-site Meta sites where they have no chance to ever gain any rep on the main site. Rep and badges could be simply hidden:

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or, even better, their role could be displayed:

enter image description here

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    I can't say I'm overly fussed as long as there's a diamond there (although only staff that need them have them). What sometimes happens is that a low rep user without a diamond will make a somewhat official answer on meta. Where they're < 5 rep and you're familiar with the system you can work out it must be a staff account. Otherwise you have to check their profile (where they're supposed to mention they're staff) or the network staff page (if up to date) to make sure it's genuine. This idea could help with that and avoid the Sorry, but who are you? comments. – Jon Clements Aug 2 '17 at 8:22
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    If done, better also change the diamond to something else as diamond is moderator for most people. – Shadow The Princess Wizard Aug 2 '17 at 8:24
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    @ShadowWizard fairly sure there's been plenty of discussion about distinguishing staff from community moderators before... – Jon Clements Aug 2 '17 at 8:25
  • @Jon true, but not combined with what's being suggested here which makes it different. – Shadow The Princess Wizard Aug 2 '17 at 8:26
  • @Shadow I hear ya. Keeping the scope to this as proposed so it doesn't get conflated with those past discussions and stand on its own merits may be more productive though. – Jon Clements Aug 2 '17 at 8:29
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    I generally like the idea to show the position, not just that the user is an employee. But I'm not sure I'd want to hide reputation for them in general, while meta rep is generally useless, it does correlate somewhat to how well users know the SE ecosystem. There is a bit of a difference between a 1 rep employee answering, and Shog with 300k rep answering. – Mad Scientist Aug 2 '17 at 8:40
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    @MadScientist oh, yeah, I mean per-site Metas like Meta.SO. Not necessarily here on the main Meta, edited to make clearer. Just posted here because it seems like the right place – Pekka supports GoFundMonica Aug 2 '17 at 8:44
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    Wouldn't it be easier if Joe asked a simple RegEx question? I hear rep comes cheap in that tag ... – rene Aug 2 '17 at 9:35
  • Don't employees already have a symbol on their user card? A little SE icon next to the diamond. When you hover over it is says "Employee" – DavidPostill Aug 2 '17 at 9:43
  • @DavidPostill but you get the user card only when you have a certain number of points, no? – Pekka supports GoFundMonica Aug 2 '17 at 9:53
  • @DavidPostill nope, nothing like that. Probably you're using some userscript which adds it somehow. (e.g. scraping the team page to know who is employee.) – Shadow The Princess Wizard Aug 2 '17 at 9:54
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    @David, yup 100% script. It's called SOX, and one of its features is: "Add the SO logo after employee names to make them stand out" – Shadow The Princess Wizard Aug 2 '17 at 10:00
  • @ShadowWizard Yes. Thanks. Just found it myself - I have too many scripts :) – DavidPostill Aug 2 '17 at 10:03
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This touches on something that's been discussed a lot over the years, both here on meta and internally within the company. It's a complicated topic; it's got layers. I'll try & cover it fairly here before addressing your specific proposal.

Problem #1: it's confusing to see what appears to be a normal, low-rep user acting in an official capacity

The most frequent complaint is the confusion caused by seeing some user you've never heard of is doing something that only an employee can do: posting announcements on meta with 1 rep, status-tagging bug reports, sharing internal goals or strategies, offering swag giveaways...

It's bad enough that we have a bunch of opinionated jackasses on these sites writing official-sounding answers even when they haven't been hired yet; on top of that there are a bunch of obscure privileges that are attached to an employee status (or even specific team memberships within the company), and yet none of this is visible.

Worse, we recently made the company directory harder to find, thus making it more difficult for a dedicated reader to verify employee status without bookmarking the URL or relying on some sort of userscript.

Problem #2: the only "special user" indicator we have is the moderator diamond

When Stack Overflow was created, there was no difference between "moderator", "employee", and "founder of the company" - so we only really needed one status indicator, the diamond. Even as more employees came online, there still wasn't a need to differentiate between statuses... It wasn't until the first moderators were elected from within the community that there were effective differences in privilege among people with a diamond next to their name... And even then, we tried to minimize what that meant.

But today, there are 300+ employees, and they all have some special privileges even if those amount to nothing more than being able to make edits on meta or view some internal email inbox. Giving them all moderator privileges wouldn't just be a bad security practice, it wouldn't even reflect that original philosophy of equivalence that Jeff was aiming for - depending on the topic, a good many employees may actually know less about how a given community operates than the average member of that site.

Problem #2.b: adding a new "special user" indicator is a non-trivial amount of work.

But what about a different indicator? I've always been partial to - perhaps we could just toss one of those next to all employee names?

Well... That's still not easy. Users get rendered a lot - the code paths for plopping a username on a page are heavily used and heavily optimized, with lots of denormalization and carefully-tuned lookups... And "is arbitrary user an employee?" isn't a check that's done. We'd have to add new types and new checks throughout the system to enable this without killing performance, so before we go down that road we should think good and hard about whether that's what we actually need... Which brings us to some more problems:

Problem #3: some employees are users too

I came to Stack Overflow to answer programming questions, not to find a job coordinating moderator elections. I signed onto Seasoned Advice to trade tips on making rhubarb meringue pie, not settle arguments or discuss tagging features. As it turned out, I've ended up doing a lot more of the latter than the former these past few years, but I still occasionally enjoy using these sites for the purpose they were designed for. Even when I'm writing here on meta, an awful lot of the time I'm just sharing, like, my opinion as a user - I don't really need or want a conspicuous indicator implying that "THIS IS THE OFFICIAL ANSWER IGNORE ALL OTHERS".

And... I'm not the only one. An awful lot of folks here at the company started as regular users and like to continue to be a part of the sites that brought them here. The features and policies we discuss here on meta affect them just as they affect everyone else - they'd like to be able to contribute to those discussions without feeling like they had to vet their own opinions through some internal gate-keeper first.

Problem #3.b: more employees should probably be users, too

...And even the folks who never used these sites before getting hired should probably be encouraged to at least try answering or asking a question here and there, especially if their job is in some way connected to the design or operation of Q&A - what chef doesn't taste while cooking?

Granted, there are ways to do this without using your Official Employee Account - most sites allow anonymous participation in some form, and there's always the option of using sockpuppet accounts (something we've encouraged community managers to do for years). But, that's extra work and can be awkward at times.

Problem #4: knowing that someone is an employee doesn't mean they're not full of it

I have never fully agreed with anyone at Stack Overflow Inc. about how closing should work. I probably disagree with a fair number of people as to what makes an appropriate edit too. And, as some of you know, I... tend to be pretty free with my opinions.

...Which means there are currently 8+ years worth of very-much-not-official opinions here on meta attached to my employee account.

And that's probably ok... Unless we start making them look too official all of a sudden.

Problem #5: even if I'm the employee directly responsible for the system I'm writing about, I might still not be writing in an "official capacity"

Remember Problem #4? Well... I've also written a whole bunch of answers about how closing works in an official capacity. And those are all just mixed in with the ones where I'm implying that voting to close was the worst idea ever, or that we should replace the gold-badge hammer with some sort of spiked mace.

There's really no substitute for actually reading what I'm writing before deciding if it's legit, and the same goes for everyone else.

Problem #6: employees occasionally escape

I mean, leave. Go on to other jobs with other companies, leaving behind a bunch of official answers attached to accounts that are now very much not employee accounts. Or sometimes just go on to other jobs at this company, with different titles and different responsibilities.

This is a really important factor to keep in mind if, after reading the preceding 5 sections, you're still thinking some sort of special user-card is a good fix.


Ok, all that background crap out of the way, let's look at a few different ideas for solving these problems, including the one in this question I'm supposed to be answering here.

Solutions, technical and otherwise

  • Add special symbol to employee names
  • Replace reputation & badges with employee role

    These would go a long way to fix problems #1 & #2, at the cost of making problems #3,4,5 and 6 worse.

  • Add employee information to the pop-up "hover card" This potentially avoids some of the cost of implementing this (#2.b), while also keeping the information segregated from the post itself (easing #3-5). OTOH, it also requires readers to hunt it down, particularly an issue on mobile, making it less of a solution to Problem #1.

  • Encourage employees to put relevant information in their profiles and introduce themselves when posting officially.

    This solves ALL of the problems, with the only downsides being that it's a bit noisy and can be hard to remember to do. At some point (say, when you're trying to respond to 100+ people after a new launch), the overhead is just too much to reasonably ask. That said, it's not a bad idea at all for the first few posts from an employee who has never posted on meta before. Here's the guidance I posted on our internal Stack Exchange site:

    1. If you've never posted on the site before, introduce yourself briefly. Something like,

      Hi, I'm Shog and my responsibility here at Stack Overflow is washing bottles to prevent the spread of listeria! Now, on to why there's suddenly a "brush" option under every post...

      Yes, we're generally not big fans of superfluous greetings and signatures, but in this case it serves a real purpose: letting folks know who you are and why you're providing an official statement even though no one's ever heard of you before.

    2. Fill out your about me section with a few details on what you do here.

    3. Put a link to https://stackoverflow.com/company/team in your "about me" (alternately, use some other official source confirming that you work here). This serves only to satisfy some of our more paranoid users, which may save you an irritating comment exchange on down the line.

  • Add an employee-only "official statement" option when posting

    This is probably my favorite suggestion thus far, since it would require very little effort but still allow fine-grained control over where and when it applies. The actual output could be something like what you suggest (replacing rep/badges with job title) or even something more dramatic (banner / background color), but critically it would only apply to individual posts rather than everything written by every employee everywhere.

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    That last one. Yes please. – ItamarG3 Aug 2 '17 at 18:18
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    The last option would be great, particularly for official posts ... for example, when the design team introduces the new site design to the users of that site after graduation.... or for major announcements... adds some gravitas to the post to make it obvious that this is "policy" rather than someone's opinion - who happens to also be staff. In the interim, though, the profile/intro is a good solution and used often. – Catija Aug 2 '17 at 18:24
  • As I was reading through your list of problems, the "option" option came to mind immediately. Definitely the most efficient way to fix this, I think, especially if it can be edited to a post later. (In case the employee forgets to click it when posting, for example.) – Kendra Aug 2 '17 at 18:26
  • That sounds like announcement re-invented? With the difference that when used in this context it can work.... – rene Aug 2 '17 at 18:32
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    @rene well, that would only be useful for questions. Presumably, this wouldn't matter if the post is a question or an answer... so when Brian fixes a bug on the iOS app, he can post an answer as an "official statement" so that we know it's actually a fix as opposed to the users who write up add-ons to do what people ask for in FRs. – Catija Aug 2 '17 at 18:37
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    Oh wow. I did really just mean "oh hey why not hide employees rep so they don't feel awkward and have their credentials questioned". Did not expect a Shog9™ Premium Experience™ Five-blade Answer℠! :) That last idea sounds reasonable. One way to deal with employees escaping would be to then grey out the avatar next to their official posts but leave the role in place, so you see "John Doe / Community Manager" but can't click on it, like it is now for deleted/disassociated users. – Pekka supports GoFundMonica Aug 2 '17 at 19:26
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    Only the best for you, @Pëkka. Also, I may have wanted something I could point to the next time this comes up, since I feel like we've had this conversation internally about once every two months for at least 6 years now. – Shog9 Aug 2 '17 at 19:54
  • An admittedly hacky way around 2b would be to allow employees' username to contain some character - like ♠ - that would be disallowed otherwise. The check would only be needed at the time of name change. Employees would appear as Name ♠♦ or Name ♠ depending on whether they have a diamond; or simply Name if they choose not to give themselves that character on some or all sites. – user315433 Aug 3 '17 at 1:56
  • Yeah, we did that once before, with a trident @alex. It worked ok. – Shog9 Aug 3 '17 at 2:05
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This cuts both ways. Is the fact that Shog9 participated on SO since its earliest days, and earned over 100K there, completely irrelevant for meta.SO? To me it is relevant, and I don't want 100K to be hidden. Or, to take another example, when Jon Ericson comments on something at Christianity Meta, there's added weight of him being a major contributor to the site.

The network contains a lot of sites, and when an employee enters some discussion on a per-site meta, it matters to users whether the employee spent some time in the trenches of the main site, or has just descended from some ethereal sphere.

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    This could be addressed by having the reputation level control it. Staff under X reputation have their roles, staff over X reputation have the reputation. – Catija Aug 2 '17 at 14:55
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    Even more confusing. "This person used to be a product manager, but it looks like they are not anymore", after someone earned more rep. – user315433 Aug 2 '17 at 17:06
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There's no need to hide their rep points. Instead, making them stand out in an alternative way is better, like using another diamond rather than ♦. Also, we can replace the grey "moderator" with "administrator" in their profile pages.

Anyway, rep point is the straightest indicator of someone's participation on the main site, and it's no bad to have a low rep on a specific site - they all have high rep on MSE!.

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