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Pony Request: Anonymous answers
March 2, 2005 12:10 PM   Subscribe

This post led me to wonder: would anonymous answers be a useful pony to add to Ask MeFi? [MI]
posted by googly to Feature Requests at 12:10 PM (31 comments total)

Ask Mefi questions often address subjects of a personal enough nature that many people might not be willing to “out” themselves by replying in public. In the past, mefites have used third parties to communicate their answers on touchy subjects (as in this thread, for example), but this option is both unwieldy and not available to everyone. So in some cases, the capacity to provide anonymous answers might be useful.

Of course, this could easily be abused (I can only dream of the snarkfest that would result from everyone having the option to answer anonymously at all times). And it would probably be a big time-suck if Matt had to moderate every anonymous answer request.

So, is it worth it to implement this? And if so, is there a way to do it that can guard against abuse but doesn’t require excessive time from Matt?
posted by googly at 12:12 PM on March 2, 2005

posted by adamvasco at 12:36 PM on March 2, 2005

My feeling is no. Lurkers or current posters now have the $5 option of joining [anonymously except for an email address which can, itself, be anonymous] so they can see email addresses of posters if they want. Posters have the option of including contact information if they want people to get ahold of them. In rare cases, Matt or I have acted as a go-between and posted sensitive information for MeFites who wished to remain anonymous and that seems to work out okay. Since AnonyMe isn't actually completely anonymous [i.e. Matt always knows who you are and actually approves all anonymous posts] I can't see how this would work without upping his workload and not providing much functionality that isn't there already. Put another way, I don't miss this in the AskMe we have now. Do others?
posted by jessamyn at 12:36 PM on March 2, 2005

Not that I use the green all that much, but for my usage it's been fine the way it is. Not that encouraging people to buy sockpuppets is a good idea, but if you're really that worried about your boss finding out that you're mentally ill, you can easily go that route.
posted by Ryvar at 12:40 PM on March 2, 2005

Why not let user-flagging do the dirty work? MeFites tend to be fairly civil and insistent on keeping things that way. Perhaps if someone's anonymous answer(s) is/are flagged too often, disallow anonymous answering for that user automatically?

I could see benefit from this, although I could see how it could go sour as well. It may be more trouble than it's worth, since there is the option of private contact for askers who want such.
posted by Saydur at 12:45 PM on March 2, 2005

it's a good idea--there are some things that it would be better not to reveal under your own username (which leaves a trail) that could help askers--work things and sex things and semilegal advice things, for instance. And if the questioner is themselves anonymous, we can't contact them thru email or anything.
posted by amberglow at 12:47 PM on March 2, 2005

I can imagine that some kinds of questions would get more useful replies with anonymous answering allowed. I would be uncomfortable sharing something personal involving a family member knowing that it might one day be traced back to them. I also can't see myself bothering to create a throwaway account just for the purposes of being able to answer "anonymously".
posted by teleskiving at 1:15 PM on March 2, 2005

Anonymous answers are asking for trouble. For every person who uses it correctly, there will be ten who use it snarkily/jokingly. Email works just fine, and it's easy to get a fresh yahoo/hotmail account (if the person asks a question that may elicit anonymous responses and they don't list an email addy in their profile, that sucks for them). If someone really wants to answer anonymously to an anonymous question, then email Matt I suppose and tell him to forward it to the person, or email another member and have them post it by proxy. There's a lot of ways to get around having an 'anonymous post' option, and it would just create more headache than it's worth.
posted by rooftop secrets at 1:15 PM on March 2, 2005

sex things and semilegal advice things,

these are exactly the kind of things that don't make AskMeFi look good.
posted by matteo at 1:15 PM on March 2, 2005

matteo: not everyone uses your personal definition of "good."

Having said that, anonymous answers are utterly ripe for abuse. It's just more work for Matt, for not much in the way of a benefit.
posted by majick at 1:28 PM on March 2, 2005

In a perfect Mefi, then yes, absolutely, anonymous answers would be part of the system. But it would need perfectly behaved users, and I can barely even type those words without laughing.

also, I'd like to weigh in the side of sex questions not reflecting poorly on askmefi. Not in the slightest.
posted by GeekAnimator at 1:29 PM on March 2, 2005

I agree with matteo. ::gasp::

I don't think giving love/psychological/legal advice in this venue is appropriate because the variations of situations and the severity of bad decisions can tarnish an otherwise great, and usable, site.

I can sometimes barely trust my great friends to give me life advice; and these are people I've known for years, day in-day out. How can one truly give a great answer without understanding the complexities of the individual asking the question?
posted by BlueTrain at 1:32 PM on March 2, 2005

How about an option in the askmefi creation page that says either "Permit anonymous comments" (allow posters to post automatically without Matt's intervention) or "Anonymous comments only" (all responses are automatically anonymous) or both. Then, the only step in approving the thing would be Matt (or someone) approving the question as appropriate for anonymous responses.
posted by socratic at 1:34 PM on March 2, 2005

I don't think giving love/psychological/legal advice in this venue is appropriate

If used properly be the asker, AskMe can be very useful for these situations. In the first two, you can get points of view you didn't consider and advice on what you can do/what you should avoid. Sure, there isn't always a 100% fit solution for love/psychological questions, but AskMe can push the asker towards a viable solution for their problem.

For legal questions, I assume there must be a few lawyers on here as well as a few users who may have had to consult a lawyer about a similar situation.

AskMe is a powerful resource and it shouldn't be limited to 'I saw a cartoon 30 years ago' and 'my ipod isn't working' questions.

Anonymous answers would never work. Possible work arounds: sending an email to the person that asked the question (if you can), buying a new account that you can use to answer anonymously in the future.
posted by Arch Stanton at 1:41 PM on March 2, 2005

I can sometimes barely trust my great friends to give me life advice; and these are people I've known for years, day in-day out. How can one truly give a great answer without understanding the complexities of the individual asking the question?

And yet, somehow, those threads come up with some great advice, and I have yet to see any of those threads end up with, "Well, I followed your advice, and now I have a train wreck on my hands." Funny, that.
posted by GeekAnimator at 1:45 PM on March 2, 2005

I think it would be useful if the person who posted an anonymous question could post an anonymous comment to their own thread. Sometimes a question posted by an anonymous user requires clarification and it can be frustrating that they can't clarify without risk of outing themselves.

Anonymous answers from other users? Maybe not such a good idea.
posted by dodgygeezer at 1:46 PM on March 2, 2005

That's just it; used properly by the asker assumes that the person asking is of sound mind at the time, which is not always a safe bet. People aren't as sane as they appear to be. I'm not suggesting that we're all crazy, but that we all have issues that are especially hidden here, online. And because we like to remain anonymous, we're especially closed off to self-criticism and outside criticism.

And yet, somehow, those threads come up with some great advice, and I have yet to see any of those threads end up with, "Well, I followed your advice, and now I have a train wreck on my hands." Funny, that.

It only takes one lawsuit to bankrupt MeFi, or piss Matt enough to shut this place down.
posted by BlueTrain at 2:00 PM on March 2, 2005

It's just really hard to do, and I don't think anyone can come up with a good answer to the question of how it can be guarded against abuse without being a huge timesink, and the more I talk with lawyers, the more I realize what a tremendous legal risk it would be for me to allow, host, and be ultimately responsible for any anonymous comment.

So until this string of problems can be solved, it'll continue to be a no on anon comments.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 2:02 PM on March 2, 2005

Hmmm, that gives me an idea...
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:02 PM on March 2, 2005

If I knew a psychiatrist to recommend, and didn't want to reveal who I was in any way, I would get another gmail/yahoo/hotmail account and e-mail the information to them. How hard is that? Granted, the rest of you wouldn't get all the juicy details, but still.
posted by graventy at 2:19 PM on March 2, 2005

rooftop secrets has the only practical and effective way.
posted by dash_slot- at 3:10 PM on March 2, 2005

rooftop secrets has the only practical and effective way.

True. In fact, if there's something you want to add to a thread, you could always just say "This advice was sent to me from a user that wanted to remain anonymous"

Although, now that I've actually pointed that out, everyone will see right through me if I ever try to use it. Drats.
posted by GeekAnimator at 3:19 PM on March 2, 2005

A user that wanted to remain anonymous wanted me to add this:
"Way to go there, dumbass."

Too obvious?
posted by graventy at 5:18 PM on March 2, 2005

I don't miss this in the AskMe we have now. Do others?

Yeah. I've withheld answers for the same reason the questioner posted anonymously. If extreme embarrassment is a legit reason to post anonymously, then anonymous commenting should eventually be supported too.

It's the "approval" step that doesn't scale from the question level to the comment level. That's the problem. I don't have a good suggestion for solving that. But yeah, the feature is desired and would be valuable.
posted by scarabic at 8:15 PM on March 2, 2005

An idea:

Form on the site emails anon answer to questioner's addy. That's anonymous all around, easier to implement, requires no approval or hosting of risky content. And it spares the questioner having to set up a new anon email.
posted by scarabic at 8:19 PM on March 2, 2005

me too, scarabic--it sucks to have to watch your mouth when you can help.

and that's a good idea.
posted by amberglow at 8:25 PM on March 2, 2005

An idea I haven't seen suggested yet (although it might have been): Instead of anonymous posting, what about obfuscated posting?

By that, I mean that there's a checkbox which, when ticked, will hide the username for a posted comment from the viewing public (logged in or not). The comment itself is still attributed to the poster in the database, but the comment is displayed as "posted by ipleadthefifth" or something along those lines.

possibly restrict the "obfuscate" option to answers to anon questions, but this way there is still a traceable papertrail and people get the anonymity they crave.
posted by coriolisdave at 8:38 PM on March 2, 2005

Ok.. this seems like the umpteenth time I've posted something and had no response. Wow, do I feel like a conversation killer ;)
posted by coriolisdave at 10:32 PM on March 2, 2005

coriolis, obfuscated posting is what we have. It isn't anonymous, it's just pseudonymous, because The Matt Knows All. Obfuscated commenting just means more work for him.

I actually think that knowing in advance people can't answer your question anonymously puts some good constraints on the kinds of questions that are asked, or at least, how they are phrased.
posted by dhartung at 11:52 PM on March 2, 2005

I hope I don't get thrown out of the club for ignoring the "no posting after coriolisdave" stricture, but I'll say that the idea sounds good, though I probably wouldn't trust it.

I figure it would take our smartypants users about 15 minutes to figure out how to crack it.

Another, much wackier, idea would be to have a volunteer pool of users who would be willing to "post for anonymous". The answerer sends his/her answer via anonymous email to one of the volunteers, who will then post it with the prefix "PROXY-POSTING FOR AN ANONYMOUS USER:..." Or something. Since it's not an instant and simple procedure, only people really motivated to contribute something that they deem especially helpful would bother to go through the extra steps. (I think.)
posted by taz at 12:21 AM on March 3, 2005

They love me! They really, really love me!
My apologies dhartung. In my comment above, "obfuscated posting" should be replaced with "obfuscated commenting".
While obviously, there is some work involved for DearLeader(tm), in my happy little world I would imagine that it would be a fairly simple task of adding a 'showname y/n' field to the comment db? That should also remove the possibility of a savvy user cracking it - the posted-by information isn't being pulled out of the db at all.
Of course, not knowing the code from Adam (or any code, for that matter) means I'm probably wrong, and this is all liable for crackage and hackage and would take hours and hours anyway ;)
posted by coriolisdave at 2:23 PM on March 3, 2005

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