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I recently posted a meta question on Stack Overflow (How does the Community bot know a question needs clarification?) about the Community user, asking how a bot could identify a question as being unclear. This stemmed from a personal misunderstanding of what the Community user was, based in large part due to the "Bot" tag on the Community user:

Community user page labeling the user as a "Bot"

I was also confused by this bit of text I saw while skimming the user page:

I'm a background process that helps keep this site clean!

However, a closer look at the user page indicates that in addition to being an automated process (a "bot" in a traditional sense), it's also used as a stand-in for an "anonymous user":

I do things like

  • Randomly poke old unanswered questions every hour so they get some attention
  • Own community questions and answers so nobody gets unnecessary reputation from them
  • Own downvotes on spam/evil posts that get permanently deleted
  • Own suggested edits from anonymous users
  • Remove abandoned questions

The first and last bullet points are what I'd typically classify a "bot" as doing. The middle three are related to its role as an anonymous user.

Looking at the community-user tag on Stack Overflow meta, I see I'm not the only Stack Overflow user who has been confused by this user acting as both a bot and an anonymous user:

I realize this ultimately isn't a huge deal. But it does appear to be confusing people enough that they're asking about it on meta. I guess I don't even have a concrete suggestion. But having the Community bot do bot-like things and anonymous user-like things does appear to be tripping some people up.

This user appears to be common across Stack Exchange sites, so this issue isn't specific to Stack Overflow.

Should something be done about this, and if so, what?

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  • The first words in the community bot profile says: “About// Hi, I'm not really a person.” Where does it say it is a human user? The decision to label the account as bot is an improvement on its former status IMO, which was ambiguous. Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 8:42
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    @Mari where did you see OP thinking the community bot is human user? I read the question again, carefully, such thing is never being said or implied, and that's not what the confusion is about as far as I can tell. (It's about the different roles it's doing) Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 12:13
  • @Mari-LouAСлаваУкраїні — Shadow is right. It's not a confusion between human and non-human user. It's confusion between an automated process that performs actions (a bot) and an anonymous user (a human action whose authorship is hidden).
    – M. Justin
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 15:41
  • @Shadow where the question says "But having the Community bot do bot-like things and anonymous user-like things does appear to be tripping some people up." Seems to refer to an "anonymous user", who is a human, that is where people are being ‘tripped up’. Why else does the title talk about community user? Moreover, can robots/automated programmes be defined as "users"? Can they? Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 17:01
  • @Mari the issue is the usage of the word "user", I think. I now understand that for you, and probably more people, "user" by itself implies human, but that's not true. There can be bot user, and there can even be a cat user. So it's about what the user is doing, rather what race they/it is. Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 17:54
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    @ShadowTheKidWizard For me at least, the confusion isn't around the term "user" as much as it is "bot" and "background process". I get bot user and anonymous user. But "bot" and "background process" both to me imply automated actions separate from user actions. Posting anonymously feels less like an automated process and more like a human action — posting under an account that hides their identity.
    – M. Justin
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 19:41

1 Answer 1

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Well, the bot label only dates back to 2021 and I vaguely recall the community user has almost always existed, or at least was an early addition to the code.

Practically, it’s a solution to "everything needs to belong to a user" when there isn't any user and kinda has always been there.

I guess in theory, since things like the roomba, old post bump script and deleted users could have distinct names, but that probably adds complexity, and people will be wondering "who's that jerk Roomba who keeps close voting things?" instead.

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    Well global rename to something like "System Process" would make it bit more clear what it is. Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 9:14
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    "Practically, it’s a solution to 'everything needs to belong to a user' when there isn't any user" is probably the best way to capture the "everything else" scenario. Automated actions performed by the system get associated with the Community user, but it's also a worst-case-scenario fallback if we can't otherwise associate something to an actual user record. But mostly it's just automation. Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 13:12
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    "Roomba who keeps close voting" unless I misunderstood this paragraph very badly, did you mean "deleting"? Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 15:37
  • Well yes... But that's mostly there for comic effect 😅 Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 23:00

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