Just curious on moderator etiquette here.

In reviewing "unanswered" questions that appear to have been answered but for which an answer has not been accepted I'm wondering if it is appropriate for a moderator to email them nicely (and only very occasionally) and ask them if they will revisit the site to accept an answer?

It would also give us a chance to tease out more info about their question if in fact they didn't get a good answer in hopes that with more info someone will answer it.

So would occasionally emailing askers of questions who've abandoned them be inappropriate, or acceptable?


I'm asking mostly in reference to new StackExchange sites like WordPress Answers which don't have the number of users that an SO has and don't have an ingrained culture yet, i.e the vast majority don't understand the SE mechanisms yet. After a site is "on it's feet" this might not longer be an issue.

Related: How to Solve the “New Users Who Don't Return” Problem?

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    How would you know if another moderator has emailed the person or not? Oct 23 '10 at 21:56
  • @Peter Boughton - Good question. Moderators could cc the other moderators (when a site is small like ours) and/or tag it with an agreed on tag? Maybe this is more of a question for sites still in beta who are trying to grow their user base? See my reply to @Pekka below. Oct 23 '10 at 22:11
  • I think you need to update the question to make it clearer you're talking primarily/solely about new .SE sites - although I now see your link points to the WP site, it wasn't immediately obvious. Oct 23 '10 at 22:24
  • @Peter Boughton - Thanks for the suggestion, will do. Oct 23 '10 at 22:32

So would occasionally emailing askers of questions who've abandoned them be inappropriate, or acceptable?

My feeling is that it is inappropriate, and not in sync with the way SO generally interacts with its users. In my view, it would also have no chance of any mention-worthy success. E-Mailing the OPs of abandoned questions would fix a small one-digit percentage of abandoned questions at best. Tons of users will not have given an E-Mail address, or will simply not care.

If the consensus should one day become that questions with no accepted answer are a problem, there will have to be other strategies to solve it.

  • @Pekka: Thanks. I'm curious though if you realize I'm moderating a new site (WordPress Answers) and not Stack Overflow? I think our constituency is less technical and less aware of the StackExchange mechanisms than programmers who frequent StackOverflow. Wondering if that changes anything? FWIW one of my biggest concerns is not so much that unaccepted answers but answers which don't have enough detail so they don't get answered so the asker simply abandons them. Emailing might be able to get more info, get their question answered and turn them into an active user. FWIW. Oct 23 '10 at 22:08
  • @Mike no, I didn't realize that you're from the WP site. Hmm. On one hand, you might have a chance of building a healthier question base than SO by starting "hygienic measures" like this early. On the other hand, it still feels inappropriate - I can live with my ISP sending me the occasional E-Mail, or some shop I bought something from. A Stack Exchange Q&A site starting to "reach out" to users like that... Naah, doesn't sound right to me. Rather allow "force-accepting" of questions (but this has been suggested before and was always turned down.)
    – Pekka
    Oct 23 '10 at 22:22
  • But @Mike you have a point about the audience. Maybe there needs to be a more comprehensive E-Mail notification system after all, something that was always turned down for S[OFU]. The key point in my view is that it needs to be opt-in.
    – Pekka
    Oct 23 '10 at 22:29
  • @Pekka - Fair points, thanks. Clearly I'd like to be able to do this but don't want to do it if it is "wrong." I wouldn't see any given user getting emailed frequently unless they asked lots of questions and simply abandoned them. But don't you think if they got a few emails they would remember to accept an answer? I think the problem is mostly people just don't know they are expected to and the SE mechanism does a poor job of educating them on these expectations. Maybe I should ask this question on our meta. Hmm... Oct 23 '10 at 22:32
  • @Mike good points, too, and I can understand the desire to contact those users. I think this is an universal enough issue to be discussed here on Meta - but maybe under a different heading, something like "We think there are users who forget about our SE site, or can't find their way back - what can be done about this?" or something
    – Pekka
    Oct 23 '10 at 22:41
  • @Pekka - Opt it would be great! Of course that takes getting the SE team to agree and then implement, something I figured was a high hurdle in the short term. :) Good suggestion on the other question, thanks! Oct 23 '10 at 22:50
  • @Pekka - Done! meta.stackexchange.com/questions/68410/… Oct 23 '10 at 23:09

Almost every interaction between SOFUE and the user happens when the user comes to the site, and the only regular exceptions are when the user requests email about events or an RSS feed.

I think a out-of-blue email from the moderators that "you're not taking advantage of an optional feature" would violate that "you come to us" spirit.

There are several automated mechanism for letting users know about the acceptance feature, and a veritable hoard of folks who mention it in the comments if the OP starts to build up a big deficit. I figure that has got to be enough.

I suppose that for new sites there may be a time when the population and culture isn't set and many or most of the participants are not using or unaware of the feature, and that might justify an active effort on the part of the moderators. But even then, would @comments not be a more appropriate mechanism?

  • @dmckee - Good comment, thanks. The issue with @comments is people who don't return to the site will never see them. Personally I really wish SE where more proactive in contacting people because for most people SE is not their life and "out of site, out of mind." Now I think SO has become so integrated into a programmer's life that the rules might be different for SO compared to the newer sites but I completely acknowledge that me wanting SE to be more proactive doesn't mean that it will become so or frankly even that it should. Oct 23 '10 at 22:23
  • @dmckee - BTW, what doesn't "SOFUE" mean? Oct 23 '10 at 22:51
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    @Mike the totality of Stack Overflow, Server Fault, Super User, and the Stack Exchange sites.
    – Pekka
    Oct 23 '10 at 22:52
  • @Pekka - Ah, thanks! Oct 23 '10 at 23:12
  • @MikeSchinkel: As I recently discovered, italicized "@replies" don't work (currently #11). However, note dmckee is the author of this post (currently #10), so he gets notified of all comments.
    – Gnome
    Oct 24 '10 at 1:48
  • @mike why would you italicize replies? What purpose does that serve? Other than making them not work.. :) Oct 24 '10 at 1:54
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    @Jeff: Some people want to set them apart so they don't run in with the rest of the text. Colons are frequent, for example. (And I believe colons were more common than @ before January, when @user didn't work.)
    – Gnome
    Oct 24 '10 at 1:59
  • @Roger Pate - Thanks for the head's up. Oct 24 '10 at 8:17
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    @Jeff Atwood - Why challenge the user rather than consider that the UX might be suboptimal? I italicize because it causes the user name to visually stand out; I had no idea it didn't work. Speaking of, it's a shame SE doesn't have Twitter-like screen names where we can know that @references work. The non-unique aspects of SE screen names has always felt like an opportunity lost to me. Oct 24 '10 at 8:18
  • @mike I'll challenge anyone who I think is overthinking things -- and certainly adding extra formatting to @reply names is. Nobody does that on Twitter, for example. Oct 24 '10 at 8:20
  • @Jeff Atwood - Nobody does it on Twitter because Twitter does it for them. And how is wanting to present content in a format that is easier to read "overthinking?" And what harm doesn't overthinking do? Oct 24 '10 at 8:30
  • To continue that comment issue, the users (okay, one) have started actively rebelling with purposefully broken comments...
    – Gnome
    Oct 25 '10 at 20:06

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