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This comes up from a moderators perspective, but affects the entire way the site operates so seems sensible to bring up here. The moderators can see the e-mail address given when a user registers, which can be used if there is a need to get hold of someone directly. This might happen if a question or answer is flagged, for example. However, it's quite possible to register without giving an e-mail address using the OpenID system. Now, this poses a challenge if there is a need to send a message directly to a user. The only way is to do so 'in public', say as a comment to a question. How do people feel this should be handled? One option is to take the attitude 'no e-mail, no notice of any moderator actions', but to me this seems a bit heavy-handed. On the other hand, posting a public message also seems a bit off. Thoughts?

  • @Joseph: Did you mean me by any chance? Didn't know that the mods and only the mods see the e-mail addresses (if provided), interesting. Posting it in public seems a bit off to me, yes. Hmm ... – Hendrik Vogt Nov 8 '10 at 19:04
  • @Hendrick: Well, I note that you would fit this category :-) However, the point is pretty general, particularly with newer users who might need a 'prod' in the correct direction. A public 'ticking-off' is not really a great plan, but with no e-mail address the only thing to do I guess is post a comment asking for one. – Joseph Wright Nov 8 '10 at 19:27
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    I'm not sure I follow. Why would you need to contact a user privately? If a public action violates a norm, then a public rebuke seems in order to discourage others from violating the norm. That said, I can't recall an instance that Hendrik was out of line. He seems like a pretty ideal user. But then, maybe I'm biased because he points out my mistakes (which is always extremely helpful). I must simply be misunderstanding. – TH. Nov 9 '10 at 9:43
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    I never said it would be for a negative reason. Imagine, for example, that a post gets a 'mod action required' flag, and that the mods want to say something to the person who reported it: "we're on it", or similar. – Joseph Wright Nov 9 '10 at 10:35
  • @TH.: Sorry for intentionally being cryptic. But thanks for the praise :-) – Hendrik Vogt Nov 9 '10 at 14:37
  • @Joseph: Ah, okay. I was just misunderstanding. Thanks for clearing it up. – TH. Nov 10 '10 at 0:51
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It seems that private moderator messages have just been enabled. Maybe a moderator can confirm this.

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I've wanted more than once on a SE site to send a user a message for private reasons and tracking them down is not always easy! (Indeed sometimes impossible.) I would strongly support being able to "private message" a user through the SE system, although I don't know if anyone here has the power to add such a feature.

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    +1; I think such a feature would be good. Perhaps make a feature-request? – Hendrik Vogt Nov 9 '10 at 15:04
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    I guess down to the SO team: I'd be surprised if we are the only place where this has come up. Like you, I've wanted to send the odd person something direct. – Joseph Wright Nov 9 '10 at 15:52
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    This has come up many times and soundly rejected by both the developers and the community. For each time it might be useful, it will be overused and abused thousands of times. In a crowd-sourced system like this focused on information (not users), a private messaging system just doesn't fit. Consider if everyone just wants to "send the odd person something direct." Well, that's an awful lot of occasional messages, mostly to people who do not come here for private messaging. Philosophically, it's not a good fit. – Robert Cartaino Nov 9 '10 at 18:35
  • @Robert, @Joseph: Have to say that I agree with Robert here. From MathOverflow, I think that the times when that would have been useful are far outweighed by the times when it would have swamped me. – Loop Space Nov 9 '10 at 18:58
  • @Robert: You're right, if anyone was able to use this feature, it would get overused. But what about giving this power only to the moderators (as the OP)? – Hendrik Vogt Nov 10 '10 at 11:08
  • @Hendrik Vogt: Not likely for the same reason Moderators don't get special "official" Moderator email addresses. Moderators are supposed to be part of the community and we want to keep those interactions on a personal level. We don't want to perpetuate the idea that a message from a moderator comes from High On where the mighty Blessed Ones live. We have and use email, like everyone else. – Robert Cartaino Nov 10 '10 at 19:14
  • @Robert: Thanks for your answer. I'm sorry, but I'm not sure I can really follow what your saying. What I meant: Wouldn't it be good if the mods had the possibility to leave a message on a user's page; and the user get's notified that he's got a new "reply" that only he can then see on his user page. If your answer means that you wouldn't support such a solution, then I didn't quite get it. – Hendrik Vogt Nov 10 '10 at 20:44
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(More of a comment than an answer, but we're on meta so who cares?)

Knowing (as I do) a little of what prompted this, I'd like to rephrase Joseph's "question" a little:

Please supply an email address in your "profile". This can only be seen by moderators so it's reasonably private. It's useful because sometimes the moderators might want to contact you privately about something. Two possibilities are:

  1. You did something that needed moderator action: the moderator might want to email you to explain what they did and why so that the situation can be avoided next time.
  2. You asked a moderator to look in to something: the moderator might want to email you to say that they were following it up, especially as these things can take a little while to sort out.

So if you don't supply an email address, then you accept that we can't contact you and either must explain things in public (in the first case) or you must just trust us to be doing our job (in the second).

(apropos of nothing: "must just trust us" is a great phrase)

  • Seems fair: as you might guess, I simply wanted to record somewhere that this point exists. – Joseph Wright Nov 9 '10 at 19:13
  • @Joseph: I know, but I don't think that that came across in your original post. I think that in your effort to make it a question, you hid the main point a little. – Loop Space Nov 9 '10 at 19:19
  • I've accepted this answer as it seems to cover things nicely: no e-mail address, no surprise if things 'just happen'! – Joseph Wright Nov 10 '10 at 18:04
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It's hard to speak in generalities about something that is usually handled on a case-by-case basis.

Emails are usually a courtesy to notify someone so that questions/people/livestock don't simply disappear without a trace. But if someone does not provide contact information, they can't be contacted.

If a communication is inherently private, I would not make it public simply because the user did not provide the means of that private communication. But it's hard to say how to handle any particular situations without specifics.

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