I am going to piggyback on the thread about the 'horrors' of having salutations in your question. Nestled deep in the comments of that thread, someone said that using salutations are "not allowed" and there is a "hard rule already" regarding this. I couldn't find such a hard rule written anywhere. (If there is, please point it to me and accept my apologies).

So I must assume that this is some sort of unwritten, community hard rule. And if someone doesn't know about it, they will be dealt with in a manner decided by the powers that be in the community, possibly being embarrassed and/or starting an argument about why something was done a certain way.

I think it would save a lot of time, heartache and general BS'ing around if we just codify these rules and be done with it. It's not like Stack Overflow, et al. don't have written rules already (just check the FAQ ... one of the rules being "Be Nice").

So, what is the proper way to (1) determine whether a rule should exist (e.g., a dictatorship or democratic process) (2) codify that rule once it is determined that it should exist (3) enforce those rules if they are broken?

Let's just get these rules down "on paper".

(I want to make one thing clear as I have been accused by a member of Meta of wanting to do away with community moderation. That is absolutely not true. He claims that community moderation and a set of rules are mutually exclusive. I totally disagree with that assessment.

A huge point of forum moderation is to enforce a set of rules or guidelines for posters...whether they are officially written (some which we have), unwritten (some which we have), assumed (some which we have) or otherwise. All I am asking here is whether it makes sense to put some more rules in the officially written capacity to help in the overall well-being of Stack Overflow. My premise could end up being proved wrong and things remain as status quo, but in no way am I trying to remove the community flavor of this site.)


The fact is, it IS a democratic process. Amongst the 'rep groups' no one has more power than any other person. The only possible candidates for dictators would be Jeff and Joel, but even they are on equal moderator status with the other mods, so it would still be an Aristocracy (rule by the upper classes) or Oligarchy (rule by elite few). Both of these are candidates for SO, however, as more and more people achieve the necessary reputations, there are more and more voices with input.

The community is the deciding factor. When it comes to "Hi/Thanks" the community has come to the general consensus (with RichB at the helm) that they are not necessary, and will be counted as noise.

The problem with codifying the rules is that they then LOSE the aspect of collaborative cooperation. When the rule comes down as NO SALUTATIONS, then we have the problem of either obeying the rule that we don't disagree with, or disobeying the rules of the site. On the other hand, if the rules are unwritten then we always have the opportunity of letting the flow of the community decide how we should act.

I know I certainly wouldn't vote anyone down for a breach of an unwritten rule (unless they were being offensive) and I'm certain that the other mods wouldn't either. Matters of salutations and such aren't worth downvotes. They are worth an edit (amongst other edits) or a comment, but not a downvote. In this way, the users will gradually learn the feel of things.

Once the rules start getting handed down, you're going to get a lot of people who rankle against authority who will hate those rules. But if the rules are decided by the consensus of the community, then you'll find a majority fall under the "agree/don't care" category.

  • +1 for a well thought out answer devinb. I suppose I struggle with the fact that we have a rule here that says "Be Nice", which by all accounts should be obvious to most anyone, but yet we don't have a written rule that says don't use a salutation, which in and of itself is not an obvious rule. It certainly wasn't to me. You would think that if a site did have a set of rules like we do on the FAQ, the latter would be codified and the "Be Nice" rule would be the one with unwritten community acceptance. – Joel Marcey Jul 7 '09 at 14:47
  • @Joel: We have general rules for forming a mold in the community. The details are derived from that mold. – GEOCHET Jul 7 '09 at 14:49
  • @devinb: well said. – Shog9 Jul 7 '09 at 14:53
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    @Rich, let me grant you that you have details that are derived from the mold. And so I would bet that you would say "Be Nice" is part of that mold. But, when people use salutations or say "Thank You", don't you agree that fits directly into that mold of "Be Nice". So people may think using salutations are ok, but then find out later on that they are not. – Joel Marcey Jul 7 '09 at 14:58
  • @Joel: No. That is not being nice. That is being rude. You are wasting people's time and adding useless fluff and noise to the site. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3179/… – GEOCHET Jul 7 '09 at 15:00
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    @Joel/Rich: "Hi/Thanks" have become part of the current vernacular of common politeness. This means (Joel) that when someone says "Hi/Thanks" on SO, I don't regard it as being a personal comment to me, they are just adding 'fluff'. And to Rich, they certainly aren't being 'rude', they're just being redundant/pointless. I agree that they don't belong, but I think that 'rude' is a little too far. Unless they repeatedly fight for their right to 'Hi/Thanks' in which case they're being mulish and stubborn. – devinb Jul 7 '09 at 15:07
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    Kinda sad to hear somebody suggest a polite salutation is "rude." Wonder how many men respond to their wives "Good morning" with "Stop wasting my time!" – Sampson Jul 7 '09 at 15:11
  • @Jonathan: fortunately, my wife doesn't post questions on SO. So we can each continue to waste the other's time with sweet nothings, while not clogging up the site... – Shog9 Jul 7 '09 at 15:17
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    This was a good answer until you said the community decided salutations are not okay. The community is obviously split on the issue, when 50% of the people want something in a democracy it doesn't become a "hard rule" – Paolo Bergantino Jul 7 '09 at 16:18
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    @Paolo: Most posts do not have salutations, in fact, it is typically only new users, (and users who want to pick fights) who use salutations. For new users it is perfectly acceptable because they are trying to be friendly. For stubborn users, they are not trying to be friendly, they either did it by accident (email sign-off twitch) or they did it on purpose to pick a fight with RichB. If they did it on purpose to pick a fight, well, they found one, and it means they are essentially baking spam into their question. If they did it by accident that's fine, it'll get edited out and then forgotten. – devinb Jul 7 '09 at 17:25
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    If they are a new user, then I think we should just edit it out with a comment that says "Hi/Thanks are not necessary on this site =)" – devinb Jul 7 '09 at 17:26

The only rules that matter were written/approved by the SO Team. Ignore everybody else's self-proclaimed authority.

There's nothing wrong with saying "Hello" in your post. Just maintain and adherence to "Questions" and "Answers" and you'll be fine I'm sure.

Just avoid lengthy jabber like "So, how's everybody doing today? Good? Good. I've got a question if you have the time."

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    This is such anti-community advice. Unbelievable. – GEOCHET Jul 7 '09 at 14:31
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    Anti-community advice? How so. I agree with you that the community can work to develop rules, but the rules don't matter until SO approves/implements them. – Sampson Jul 7 '09 at 14:32
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    @Rich Read this slowly. Community-moderation is explicitly encouraged BY THE SO TEAM. That is why it's acceptable. YOU however don't get to create your own ad-hoc rules for the community to follow. They aren't rules. They're your opinions, unless they are shared by the SO Team itself - THEN they are rules. – Sampson Jul 7 '09 at 15:01
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    @Jonathan, the point of this website is to be community driven, Jeff & Joel know that they aren't scalable so they rely on high rep members of the community to moderate it. Hence, the rules are created and implemented with overarching guidance from Jeff, Joel & the rest of the team. – Nathan Koop Jul 7 '09 at 15:02
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    @Nathan, that's what I've been saying all along. The only power the community has is is that which was granted by the SO team. If the community decided it was a rule NOT to use the letter R, do you think that would work because "the community makes the rules."? Or do you think the community works to enforce the rules? – Sampson Jul 7 '09 at 15:03
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    I think that the community makes the rules, and enforces the rules. I think that forum for making those rules belongs here on meta (previously on the blog and in comments on SO). If the SO teams feels strongly against the way that the community is moving then they'll make their feelings known either on Meta, the blog or on the podcast and the community will weigh their opinions along with all the other facts. – Nathan Koop Jul 7 '09 at 15:12
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    @Nathan: Indeed, the community has overruled the team a few times in fact. – GEOCHET Jul 7 '09 at 15:13
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    The community cannot overrule the team. This isn't a publicly traded company. The team can decide to grant the community their wish, but that's about as good as it gets. We have no authority over them. – Sampson Jul 7 '09 at 15:15
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    The community has authority over the team because the team has granted that authority to the community. – Nathan Koop Jul 7 '09 at 15:20
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    Nathan, think about that. Do you honestly believe that the community has more authority than the SO Team? That the team MUST do what we collectively desire? Let's not forget who owns this place, who builds this place, and who commits their fulltime efforts to making this place what it is. It's not US. – Sampson Jul 7 '09 at 15:31
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    @Rich, Yes. Did you write the FAQ? – Sampson Jul 7 '09 at 15:34
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    @Rich: And, granting you that many people had a part in writing the FAQ, we can all have a part of changing, modifying, enhancing the FAQ in the future too. This thread is a part of that discussion whether we need to add some more rules to the FAQ. A very legitimate discussion for a site that is for asking questions about how StackOverflow is and should be run. – Joel Marcey Jul 7 '09 at 15:41
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    @Rich, you said "This is a request to change the site from community moderation". I can't be 100% clear with what you mean by that, but if you are saying I'm trying to move this site away from community moderation, then that is total crap and you know it. And, in fact, I take offense to that false accusation. I have not once said that the community shouldn't moderate this site. I dare and defy you to tell me where that is the case. The only thing I have done was (1) question a practice regarding a specific behavior around salutations that I disagreed with (2) asked how we might improve things. – Joel Marcey Jul 7 '09 at 15:49
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    mmmm... casual beers... – Nathan Koop Jul 7 '09 at 15:50
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    @Rich: They are absolutely not mutually exclusive. A huge aspect of moderation is to ensure posters adhere to rules, whether they are written or otherwise. I mean, come on, you personally are editing people's posts because they are not following a set of guidelines that you and other deem law. All this question was asking is whether some of those guidelines should be written and codified. – Joel Marcey Jul 7 '09 at 15:59

Most all the guidelines for stackoverflow are written, but you have to read a year's worth of blog posts and podcast transcripts to get caught up. I don't recall ever seeing salutations being specifically called out by a site admin, so they certainly aren't forbidden.

However, in the context of a Q&A site these salutations ultimately detract from your question. You are trying to be polite, but it's actually rude in this context, because it forces your audience to spend time reading information that isn't relevant to the question and completely ignores the future users who will come looking for help with the same problem.

  • Notice how I didn't use any salutations and "Thanks" in this question -- it went against every fiber of my being ;-) – Joel Marcey Jul 7 '09 at 14:16
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    I agree that "hello" isn't relevant, but it's of such negligible length that I don't see a problem. – Sampson Jul 7 '09 at 14:17
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    Yeah- it's not a problem. But for someone who is making an attempt to be courteous: any extra text is the exact opposite. – Joel Coehoorn Jul 7 '09 at 14:20
  • I agree . – Sampson Jul 7 '09 at 14:26
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    This puts into words an opinion I've been unable to express properly for some time now. Also, I especially despise salutations because they use up some of the limited question preview on the listing pages. Same thing goes for "I'm new to $LANGUAGE and I've having some trouble with X" stuff. At least put that at the end so I can ignore it and not feel like I've missed anything important. – Hilarious Comedy Pesto Jul 7 '09 at 14:43
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    @Pesto: I agree 100%. If it useless, it is coming out of a post. The unfortunate part is that very often there isn't much value in the post besides this useless fluff anyway. Symptom of that type of user I suppose. – GEOCHET Jul 7 '09 at 14:48
  • @Pesto: If somebody's not good at English, I can tell by myself. I wouldn't object to polite phrasing, but your comment about the preview is dead on. – David Thornley Jul 7 '09 at 22:06

A lot of unwritten rules will get spotted by people reading questions and answers before posting their own.

They'll notice that questions don't have the "Hi/Thanks" top and tail.

They'll notice that humour is reserved for comments and not encouraged in questions or answers.

Unfortunately most people come to StackOverflow to get their apparently intractable problem solved and aren't really bothered about the subtleties of posting a "good" question. If they strike it lucky and get an answer that works they might come back and participate, but they're probably already predisposed to post according to the rules.


The community makes the rules. They are formed and solidified through discussions here and on the blog. Ultimately everything gets vetted before the development team, but as the FAQ states: "This is our site".

There is another factor that should be acknowledged.

If you are the type that needs constant static rules on paper for everything on a site like SO, and you cannot accept the dynamic nature of SO.com's community moderation, then "this may not be the site for you.".

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    @Rich, you just quoted from a written rule in the FAQ that talks about editing when you said "this may not be the site for you". So there is a little bit of a double standard there. To be honest, I don't necessarily need a bunch of rules written down to make me happy, but I see it as a big time sink to have to do searches about whether or not using a salutation is going to cause strife before asking a question here. Many people read the FAQ before posting their first question and if such taboos as using salutations is clearly listed, then a lot less frivolous editing would have to be done. – Joel Marcey Jul 7 '09 at 14:32
  • @Joel: You shouldn't be resisting the removal of a salutation to begin with. It adds nothing to your post and is removed on its own. You should then learn from your mistake over time and realize you could be a better community member if you just stop posting it. Why you ever felt the need to argue is beyond me. I deal with these things dozens of times in a day. It is rare that I get a user that makes this big a deal over something so useless. – GEOCHET Jul 7 '09 at 14:46
  • @Rich, either your memory is short or selective. First, notice how I used no salutation in this question. So I am following the supposed unwritten guideline. Secondly, the reason this came to being was when I asked a question unrelated to salutations (moving a question to the community wiki) and you answered my question by telling me not to use salutations and providing no real inherent value to the actual question on top of that. It was only until you were pushed that you edited your post and added some helpful items. Then you went on to post the question about "Hi" and "Thanks". – Joel Marcey Jul 7 '09 at 14:53
  • @Rich, so this argument about "something so useless" is at least a two way street given you specifically asked a question here on Meta about it. – Joel Marcey Jul 7 '09 at 14:53
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    @Rich, All that said, I think, in the end, all of this is overall actually good discussion and should be beneficial to new users who come to these forums. Given by the amount of traffic to these question, you and I are not the only ones interested in figuring these things out. So I would 100% disagree with you that this is a "useless" discussion. – Joel Marcey Jul 7 '09 at 14:56
  • @Joel: You are still ranting and raving about being asked not to do something that the community has decided against. I have no idea why. It cost you nothing. I am sorry you seem to feel that you lost face in public. My answer was an answer to your question. You are going to have to go ahead and get over this one of these days. Let it go. The community decided. – GEOCHET Jul 7 '09 at 14:56
  • @Joel: And yet, you can't stop railing on about salutations, despite the thread on them where the community is clearly against them. – GEOCHET Jul 7 '09 at 15:10
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    @Rich, I will repeat myself again (which I shouldn't have to do to someone who I thought prefers getting to the point quickly and conciseness).....I am not railing about the salutations. The salutations were just a vehicle to aid in the discussion for a question like the one I posted here. This question stemmed from the salutation discussion but is a lot more general than that. The question I have posted here is a perfectly legitimate question for this site. It reaches well beyond the salutation discussion. But examples help illustrate points. Period! – Joel Marcey Jul 7 '09 at 15:24
  • @Rich: "Clearly against" meaning many votes on both sides of the fence. But hey, the accepted answer is to remove them. It's not like the person who asked the question in the first place had an agenda or anything. @Joel: This is part and parcel of the Rich B experience. – toast Jul 7 '09 at 17:03

I would say there are rules and there are community expectations and protocols. The rules are spelled out in the FAQ, in posts from Jeff and through the rules enforced programmatically by the system. Outside of that there are many community expectations and protocols. A person on there first visit to the site should not be expected to know or adhere to these; especially since they are dynamic by nature. However, as a person spends more time in and watching the community I would expect them to pick up on things that the community expects and self-enforces.

I think the salutations example is a very good one. I would be shocked if anyone's question has ever been closed for containing salutations and hopefully they are not discouraged for having included salutations. However, if someone is providing other edits it is absolutely appropriate to remove the salutations. And from that, I believe the person will quietly pick up on the fact that as a community we don't feel they need to or should be included.

Essentially, I think the difference comes down to this. Rules are enforced by the programmed system and through the official site moderators. The rest of the expectations are created by and managed by the community through the tools provided (voting, edits, flagging, etc); and they can change and adjust over time.


I personally feel that it is great that questions can be edited to clarify their points, or edited for spelling or grammer, but when someone takes the time to strip out a 'Hi' or a 'Thanks' it seems so a petty.

It's as if some bigshot blowhard came over and said shut up with your talking and ask me how I want to be asked. It's just plain rude that the only improvement you can make to my question is to make me blurt it out in the quickest way.

We've all had to deal with the know it all BOFH when we need information we haven't learned yet, but does he have to be such a bastard about it? And do we really need that attitude here? I think it adds no value for an editor to be such a douche.

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    That is exactly what we are saying. Stop discussing your life, and ask the question. That is what SO.com is for. Discuss things elsewhere. – GEOCHET Jul 7 '09 at 15:02
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    @jwcacces: the point is, you can be polite and concise. The rationale for stripping greetings and signatures have been spelled out many times: the former chews up valuable space in the preview, and the latter duplicates something the site adds for you anyway. Neither of those implies that you have to be rude or demanding in the rest of your question - indeed, doing so would be even more counter-productive. It's about making the most of the medium you work in, rather than fighting against it. – Shog9 Jul 7 '09 at 15:14
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    I'm personally more interested in the "Be nice" aspect of life then the "Ask it in the most efficient way possible" aspect of life. I believe it fosters a better community, and it will help to draw and retain tallented people into it. Curtness and businessness, especially when they are so petty, only serve to alienate people. – James Caccese Jul 7 '09 at 15:15
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    I think you're taking it far, far too personally. It might be petty, but it isn't rude. The changes are typically made without comment, they don't harm your chances of getting an answer, and many here would argue that they actually improve your question by reducing the noise: don't say in 20 words what you can say in 10. – Hilarious Comedy Pesto Jul 7 '09 at 15:15
  • @Shog9- I agree with you, I just feel it would be a better lesson if I learned it myself instead of feeling like the shortness police was enforcing a lesson on me. – James Caccese Jul 7 '09 at 15:17
  • @Pesto- Prehaps I am taking it alittle personally. I didn't mean to come off as such a whiner. :) – James Caccese Jul 7 '09 at 15:19
  • @jwcacces: I can think of no better way of helping you to learn than by silently editing your posts to be concise. – GEOCHET Jul 7 '09 at 15:26
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    @jwcacces: what Rich said. Trust me, this sort of editing isn't rude - i've been on sites that would just delete your post if it didn't quite fit in - no discussion, no chance to improve, definitely no one bothering to improve it for you. – Shog9 Jul 7 '09 at 15:29
  • @RichB: Yes, but I'd rather learn that lesson by emulating others then to learn it by having someone enforce it on me. Maybe if some others parts of my post were edited along with the greeting, but when it's just about the greeting, it just feels bad. Your style of teaching me just comes off as abrasive. – James Caccese Jul 7 '09 at 15:37
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    @jwcacces: Editing is a significant part of the SO culture. Posts are not editing to only remove the salutations in practice however, so that is not an issue. – GEOCHET Jul 7 '09 at 15:39
  • @RichB: Ok, I guess things have gotten better then I remember them. Oh, and I agree that good editing is absolutely fundamental to this site and it's culture – James Caccese Jul 7 '09 at 15:41
  • @jwcacces: Just how long has it been since you used the site? – GEOCHET Jul 7 '09 at 15:48
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    @RichB: New to meta, but I took about a 4 month break from active SO participation. Mostly because I was super busy. The petty editing was a turnoff, but not enough to push me away. I still lurk though. – James Caccese Jul 7 '09 at 15:52
  • @jwcacces: Amazing. – GEOCHET Jul 7 '09 at 15:54
  • @RichB: How so? – James Caccese Jul 7 '09 at 15:56

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