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A “friends list” on Stack Overflow would be nice

Already, in my brief few months on Stack Overflow, I have noticed some distinct personalities and have come to expect certain kinds of responses from certain people. I moderate how I say things to those people so that they can best hear what I'm saying (sometimes choosing to wisely stay silent), and I learn how to read what they're saying more effectively so I can better understand them. I should be able to tag notable personalities I've encountered to facilitate this process.

Individual people have a history of behavior. It would be very helpful for me to record my opinion of that history in a way that allowed me to act on it quickly and efficiently in the future. Being able to simply tag someone with a particular tag I choose so I have a shorthand reference to their history of behavior as perceived by me is a good way to do this.

I would like these tags to appear next to their name and user icon every place that is displayed.

Part of the reason I want this is because there are a large number of users who appear as 'unknown' or 'unknown (google)' or some other thing and use the default random geometric art icon. If I could just recognize them by their names, I would be much less interested in this.

I've read through some discussions of the community surround Stack Overflow and its related sites. A common fallacy I see technical people (including myself) fall into is that if you can just get to the objective truth that should be obvious to anybody that all these messy differences of opinion and personality clashes will become moot. That is just not how people work, and basing decisions on how to run a community on the assumption that you can somehow makes things work that way will just lead to endless difficulties.

This site is not a pure ground of questions and answers; it has people and personalities and all the messiness that this entails. I would rather see that tackled head on than quietly ignored in the hopes that the purity that isn't there will somehow magically assert itself.

Conversely, if people are insistent that somehow who people are is not important, and only the questions and answers are, then I think we should put everybody on even ground with the 'unkown' people and hide names, reputation scores and achievements from view. All of those things are either handles by which someone might form an impression about someone's history on the site, or explicit recognition of that history. If peoples' history's and identity are not supposed to matter, they should be hidden so that they don't.

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    "I would like"? Rather than "I want" in title, I would say. Because I want waffles, but nobody is going to make them for me anyway.
    – Gnoupi
    Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 10:50
  • @Gnoupi, Point taken, and done. :-) Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 11:16
  • Is there anything else about my request that is poorly worded or otherwise flawed that causes people to give me negative points for it? Or is it just because you disagree. Are you modding up or down based on your personal opinion of the worth of my request, or based on some objective criteria of what constitutes a well formed and valid request? And if it's personal opinion, doesn't that seem rather hypocritical to you? Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 11:22
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    Voting is different on Meta from SO - here it's often used to indicate if people agree or disagree with your proposal.
    – nb69307
    Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 11:30
  • nod That's fine then. :-) Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 15:43
  • @Omnifarious You might want to community wiki this at some point, otherwise you might loose 10+ points. Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 16:27
  • @Chacha102, I don't really care how many points I lose. Knowing that people are that willfully blind to the realities of being a human being is very interesting information. Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 16:44
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    He's gained 30 points and lost 10, so he might as well keep it non-cw if the only concern is effect on reputation.
    – Pollyanna
    Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 16:46
  • @Pollyanna, I don't intend to be on this part of the site much, so the limitations reputation places on your ability to interact on the site isn't an issue. And I don't perceive my reputation score here as reflecting on anything important about me since it really has no reflection on the quality of what I say only on how much people like it. Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 16:55
  • May those who upvote us, upvote us. And those that downvotes us may Jeff turn their hearts; And if he doesn't turn their hearts may he change their usernames so we'll know them by their tags.
    – Pollyanna
    Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 20:10

6 Answers 6


I was reminded the other day that we're supposed to be answering questions, and voting on those questions without giving too much attention to who asks them.

The tag system is designed to help us keep track of question topics, not the people behind those questions.

The same applies to answers, of course, because they're tied to the questions.

The site is a collection of people and personalities, but we have different user ids to help us distinguish each other.

I think allowing users to tag other users might lead to abuse.

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    +1. Exactly. It should be a matter of each question, not of who asks them. Because ultimately, high-rep users can rephrase the question, and people can bring quality answers for people searching a solution on Google, and landing on the SOFU sites. In this case, it doesn't matter who asked.
    – Gnoupi
    Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 10:58
  • Except, half the user ids here are 'unknown'. Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 11:11
  • And I don't want to go answer a question by someone who is just going to give me negative points because I question one of their points or prove them wrong. Conversely, if someone has always been polite and thankful for answers, I really want to go answer their question. Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 11:14
  • Lastly, how is a tag, only seen by myself, going to be abused? Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 11:20
  • By 'abused' I just meant used for an unintended purpose. Yes, I agree it sometimes seems like half the users are 'unknown'. It's difficult to recognise those gravatars sometimes, but with a little practice ...
    – pavium
    Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 11:36
  • @Omnifarius: The more time you spend on the Trilogy sites, the less the downvotes hurt. You'd be hard-pressed to find a user with editing or closing privileges who's not been downvoted at least once. Never mind who is asking the question, mind the question itself. Remember that it's not just the asker who will vote -- even if they downvote you for a trivial reason, a single upvote will still be a net gain.
    – John Rudy
    Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 15:35
  • @G.P. LeChuck, I'm sorry, I'm not going to do that. Who people are matter. I'm not going to pretend that they don't. I think it's broken, inhuman and inhumane to do so. And I don't mind being downvoted. I do mind being downvoted for stupid reasons. Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 15:42
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    @Omnifarius: That is your choice to make, but don't expect the system (which is designed for the "broken, inhuman and inhumane" approach) to bend to your will. Here, who people are only matters when they are abusive -- and there are tools for that already.
    – John Rudy
    Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 15:54
  • @G.P. LeChuck, then the system is wrong and refuses to implement any kind of discouragement for being a jerk. I went through and read the entire Rich B thread. People like that ruin a site for everybody else if people pay attention to them. What they do isn't abuse and shouldn't need to be handled with administrator power. But it is damaging. And, conversely, there are people who are a joy to interact with, and they make a site better for everybody. Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 16:39
  • And yet could you spot Rich B today if you tried? (I can ... ) The position is that Content Is King. People do have differing personalities, and moderator attention is the appropriate way to handle inappropriate behavior. It's unfortunate that it is sometimes necessary -- but such is life on the Internet. It's not like this site is comprised primarily of a bunch of 4chan jerks. What do you need to know that isn't already in their content? If someone's a jerk on a site like these, it's because of what they wrote, hence you need only go by content, not individual. SO is not a social network.
    – John Rudy
    Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 16:58
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    @G.P. LeChuck, when someone votes people down simply for disagreeing with them or exposing some of the assumptions behind their question or answer as being flawed then I don't want to interact with them anymore until I see evidence the behavior has changed. They aren't worth my time and attention. Someone more worthy of it (which is almost anybody) will eventually ask the question and I'll then happily answer it. Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 17:03
  • @G.P. LeChuck, if people don't matter, then I think names and reputation scores should be hidden. I've seen some amount of evidence that someone's reputation counts more for whether or not people take what they say positively than their words do. Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 17:05
  • @Omnifarious: If you feel that way, that's fine -- like I said above, it is your choice to make. But the system is not liable to change to support that. If you feel the need to keep track of people for those reasons, then you are free to implement your own solution -- a text file with names and + or -, for example, would probably suit you well enough. The name/rep score hiding has come up before; I used to be neutral on it, but now it's important for Stack Overflow Careers integration.
    – John Rudy
    Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 18:41

Jeff Atwood has repeatedly declined requests that allow users to vote on, tag, flag, or otherwise 'mark' users.

However, the key point here is:

What is the problem you are trying to solve, and how will this improve the site for everyone involved?

The problem you indicate is largely personal. You have a problem communicating with some people on the site, and you want a way to remember that you need to change your communication patterns on a per-user basis.

Firstly, you haven't demonstrated that by giving you this tool, something will significantly change for the better site wide for everyone.

Secondly, you don't quantify the effects you are currently experiencing - we don't understand the magnitude of the problem - how often you have this difficulty, and how bad the effects of it are when they are improperly managed.

Thirdly, you don't show that others need this feature - please show comments, edit wars, etc that demonstrate a need for this system - that is, you should be able to show objectively that if people had been marked appropriately, certain discussions would have had a better public outcome.

Fourthly, you don't demonstrate that it won't be used poorly - in other words you don't show that your current marking scheme won't result in more 'bad' marks than 'good' marks. In effect you are implementing an invisible 'demerit' system.

Fifthly, you don't show an adequate understanding of unintended consequences - what if someone breaks into the system and gathers the data, publishing it widely? What if it's accidentally exported in the data dump? Should administrators have access to it? If a user learns that they are marked badly by someone, or many people, what recourse do they have to have their record expunged if they change their behavior significantly (say they start being treated for depression - is it right to continue to use your bad assumptions?

Sixthly, this is not a social networking site. It's not a site for discussion. If your conversation requires you to know the history of the person rather than the objective discussion at hand merely to communicate with them, you are not using this site correctly.

  • Then please justify why people should have names, biographies and reputation scores at all. That seems like an explicit invitation to form an impression of them based on your interactions with them or their history on the site. Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 17:15
  • @ Omnifarious - If people do not receive recognition for their effort, they may not do the work for free. In other words, it's an incentive for them to contribute.
    – Pollyanna
    Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 17:19
  • +1; needs more upvote love. Best overall answer.
    – John Rudy
    Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 18:44

This is what Greasemonkey is for. You can change the site to be whatever you like, in the privacy of your own home. You don't need permission, support, or anything else. And, it's programming so you can ask how to do it on Stack Overflow itself! :)

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    You should totally ditch that and try jquery.
    – Pollyanna
    Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 18:34
  • big grin Yeah, that's what I've been thinking. Gives me a good excuse to learn to use Greasemonkey. And it neatly solves the security issue Pollyanna raised. Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 19:02
  • @Omnifarious: And it neatly solves an issue you personally are experiencing. And if you came back to Meta and posted your Greasemonkey script, the others who've agreed with you (and they're out there, because they upvoted the question) can also benefit from it, without any of the negative ramifications. Win-win.
    – John Rudy
    Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 19:21

IMHO, it's already too tempting to remember users. The attribution blocks on every question, answer, and revision give folks a sense of ownership and probably encourage some to participate more than they would otherwise, but they also make it tempting to consider criteria other than "is this a good question", "is this a good answer", "is this a good edit", etc.

As others have said, if you feel a user is being abusive, then flag the post where they're expressing that attitude. Otherwise, try to remember: the real value of SO isn't asking questions and getting answers, it's finding answers to questions that have already been asked. If the question is good enough to find its way into search results, and your answer to it stands the test of time and the scrutiny of other readers, then it doesn't matter so much how the person who originally asked the question acted - your answer will still matter long after he has been forgotten.


That would be a great idea to keep track of who is who when users keep changing names. While it shouldn't matter so much for Q&A, it makes a difference in the comments.

  • Thats another request ... we need to have some sort of way to keep track of user name changes Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 16:23
  • @Chacha102, yes there are requests out there (that I've upvoted) for tracking name changes, but I think in the light that those aren't being implemented, this would be another way to keep track of things (though not as good a solution) Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 16:29
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    The thing about the name changes is that it's most likely a uniquely Meta issue. Yes, it happens on the other sites, but to nowhere near the degree it happens here. (I'm a classic example of that. It is, in fact, the reason I've not changed my gravatar to my "preferred" headshot -- no fair changing both name and face!)
    – John Rudy
    Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 16:36
  • they are implemented, but only for mods. That's ok by me.
    – perbert
    Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 17:26

I've implemented the system for my username. Please let me know what tags you'd like to see there - I'll put the highest voted comments below as my personal-interaction tags, so we can have a sense at how well the system might work in practice.

  • Heh. Someone just used my full name including 'tags' in their comment response in another question. It'll look really strange when I go back to normal...
    – Pollyanna
    Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 18:53
  • laugh Well, so far, earnest is all that comes to mind. Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 19:01
  • Oh, thoughtful is good too. Commented Jan 25, 2010 at 19:08

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