Anonymous Ask MetaFilter, we need to talk June 3, 2010 6:34 PM   Subscribe

The number of anonymous questions, as a percentage of all AskMe questions, has been rising steadily over time [13 out of 100 today]. We were sitting around talking about this over email and what limits we could implement, when we figured maybe we'd just try to talk about it instead....

We're happy everyone likes AskMe so much. And we're happy there's a mechanism for people to ask questions anonymously if they have to, but there's a lack of community utility with these sorts of questions and we'd like to find a way to politely ask people to ease up a bit. We can't talk to individual posters about it [except in rare cases where people abuse the feature which almost never happens] so this is sort of an open note.

Please feel free to use the AnonyMe feature if you need to, if you have a question to ask that you don't want to be associated with your username. Please try to not use it unless it's important. Here are a few other questions/guidelines to help use the feature more sparingly and more effectively.

PRO
1. Is it obvious why your question is anonymous? [you can include a side note to the mods that we can delete before posting the question if you want] Do you ask a lot of AnonyMe questions when you may just need a sock puppet?
2. Did you include an email for people to follow-up with you? Not required, but it may be helpful for dealing with clarifications and followup questions.
3. Did you include enough information about your problem including your location, other AskMes you may have read, or things you may have already Googled?

CON
4. Did you include so much information that it seems like what you really need is a chance to vent and you don't really have much of a question?
5. Is it a "just curious" sort of question?
6. Is the question anonymous because it's likely to star a big fight?

AnonyMe questions seem to wind up in MeTa more and just take more time. We'd like to see the feature used a little less frequently, but we'd rather toss this out to the community before implementing anything mechanical to do it. As we say on the AskMe guidelines page, ask if it's important. But also keep in mind that it's a feature that's intended to be a community resource. We approve almost all questions right now [85-90%] but one of the options we're considering is being stricter on what we approve.

Any other questions or comments about the AnonyMe feature, feel free to ask.
posted by jessamyn to Etiquette/Policy at 6:34 PM (337 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

I think its because we have a huge asshole population here.

We all want to be big bad assholes, but nobody wants to admit that they have a hard time with their family, the opposite or same sex, their boss, their colleague, their intern, their lab partner.

So we send questions anonymously. I have a reputation to uphold here...I can't let everyone here know that I am secretly a dummy.
posted by hal_c_on at 6:45 PM on June 3, 2010 [9 favorites]


I wonder how many people have significant others on the site. none of those anon questions were me, honey, really, cough
posted by desjardins at 6:47 PM on June 3, 2010 [6 favorites]


Do you ask a lot of AnonyMe questions when you may just need a sock puppet?

I'm looking at the recent Anonymous Qs, and I think sock puppets would have been appropriate for a large chunk of them.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:48 PM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wonder if the number of anonymous questions might drop if there were a programmatic way to say, "Yeah, throw up some meta tags in the HTML to prevent indexing of this question by various search engines, because my real reason for this being anonymous is not because I want to keep this from the rest of MeFi, but because I don't want this easily found."
posted by adipocere at 6:48 PM on June 3, 2010 [22 favorites]


There was definitely a time when if I had even a doubt, I would be anonymous because I didn't want to have something negative associated with my username. Now I try to exercise a bit of restraint I guess. I think if you were more strict, one side effect would be that people would do a bit more work finding the answer themselves before resorting to anonymous AskMes.

I'm not sure how many anonymous questions I've posted in the past year (hopefully not too many!) but I do think there are definitely times when it's useful.

It's a bit of a derail, but if sock-puppetry really is a preferred solution to this, then you should make this clearer. I've never been very clear on when sock-puppetry is good and when it isn't.

Look, I go to meetups. I don't want people to know about my health issues, or how terrible I really am. I probably care more about how people on the site might react than people finding me through a search engine.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:51 PM on June 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've said it before and I'll say it again: Get rid of anonymous questions.

If you need to ask about the thing wrong with your privates or whatever that bad you can get a sockpuppet. And in the rare, rare, rare case that a Chinese dissident needs help the mods can always make an exception.

But anonymous questions are a scourge.
posted by Justinian at 6:53 PM on June 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


HAving people use sockpuppets kind of defeats the purpose of having AskMe in the first place. It also costs money, which is a minor amount but worth discussing since essentially advocating more usage of sockpuppets is asking users to spend more money to use one of the basic and popular features of the site.

The use of sockpuppets also doesn't exactly reek of community resource and closeness, since in the end, they're anonymous anyway, only able to respond in the question thread.

Just took a glance at today's Anon questions and aside from the toe fungus question, it seems pretty obvious why they're anonymous. Financial info, job questions one wouldn't want current/future employers to be able to google, health matters one wouldn't want insurance companies to be able to google, etc.

I don't think anything needs to be done, personally.
posted by cmgonzalez at 6:53 PM on June 3, 2010 [16 favorites]


Failing that, limit one anonymous question per year. Or ever.
posted by Justinian at 6:53 PM on June 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


I would prefer to use a sock puppet to ask all my embarrassing or sensitive questions, but my understanding is that this is actually against the rules?
posted by prefpara at 6:54 PM on June 3, 2010


HAving people use sockpuppets kind of defeats the purpose of having AskMe in the first place. It also costs money, which is a minor amount but worth discussing since essentially advocating more usage of sockpuppets is asking users to spend more money to use one of the basic and popular features of the site.

GOOD. Metafilter has never been about getting as many people to use the site as possible. Matt had signups closed for years. Maybe its time to consider that a few more barriers to entry for crappy anonymous questions arent a bad thing.
posted by Justinian at 6:55 PM on June 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


if sock-puppetry really is a preferred solution to this, then you should make this clearer.

Yeah this is part of the purpose of the question. Sock puppets are good for a few things

- asking something you don't want with your username
- the rare lulzy comment
- asking a question that can be followed-up without mod assistance

They're really not good for other things

- maintaining multiple identities on site
- getting around the one question a week limit
- the same joke over and over and over

And with some people if we say "hey don't abuse this" they sort of know what that means and other people are like "well I get 52 questions, plus MORE if I have a sock puppet" and we're like "er no, not exactly" We also know there are times when people need to ask a lot of questions, but we want to make sure that sort of thing balances somewhat.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:55 PM on June 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Is AnonyMe really a community problem? Just not seeing it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:55 PM on June 3, 2010 [34 favorites]


How does a sockpuppet defeat the purpose of AskMe?
posted by P.o.B. at 6:56 PM on June 3, 2010


Sincere question: Why are anonymous questions bad?
posted by moxiedoll at 6:57 PM on June 3, 2010 [12 favorites]


Against the rules? Of course not. It's only against the rules to use a sock puppet to get around the posting time limits.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:58 PM on June 3, 2010


asking users to spend more money to use one of the basic and popular features of the site.

Anonymous questions should be neither a basic nor a popular feature of the site.

I agree with Justinian, but I would modify it: One anonymous question per user, and after that only by special request that is subject to super-strict scrutiny by the mods.
posted by The World Famous at 6:58 PM on June 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


Non-snarky question, but can you spell out why anonymous questions are a problem from a mod POV? I don't disagree with you but I'm having trouble articulating why I find overuse of the Anonymous feature problematic.
posted by lalex at 6:59 PM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Anonymous questions remove the element of community in the same way that anonymous comments on the blue would remove the element of community. We do not allow anonymous comments on the blue for that reason; virtually the same logic can be applied to anonymous questions on the green.
posted by Justinian at 7:00 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


The World Famous is man of discerning intelligence.
posted by Justinian at 7:01 PM on June 3, 2010


How does a sockpuppet defeat the purpose of AskMe?

but there's a lack of community utility with these sorts of questions , according to the post regarding anonymous questions. So how exactly would a sockpuppet add to "community utility" in terms of AskMe?

That was the point I was making.


Anonymous questions should be neither a basic nor a popular feature of the site.

I was referring to AskMe, not anonymous questions.
posted by cmgonzalez at 7:03 PM on June 3, 2010


Is AnonyMe really a community problem? Just not seeing it.

It's a problem for a few reasons

- People ask and answer questions in part because they're part of this community, they know people, thay've gotten to know them over time, people have personalities and reputations. When you see someone's question, you often know other stuff about them which helps you asnwer their questions. AnonyMe questions have only what is written which means people often read into whatever's written there. They're more rorscach than anything else. They don't really contribute as much to people getting to know people, except the answerers, I guess.
- They're mod intensive. We approve every one. Many wind up in MeTa. They sometimes require follow-up. People email to ask why they're not approved. None of this is a big problem, but each is a little problem.
- We know loosely who is asking questions and some people seem to use the feature a lot. We've spoken to a few people who used it what we felt was too much, but there are definitely a chunk of people who seem to use it to ask a lot of "just wondering" sorts of questions which feels to us as not really why we built the feature.
- There are a LOT of questions. Over ten percent of them are now anonymous and more are coming in constatnly. We'd like the ratio to be a little lower so people are spending more of their energies and efforts helping other known community members.
- In a day where 10-15 questions are asked, we have to approve them in batches. I try not to approve them in the middle of the night US time but it means there's, again , five or ten minutes every hour that just go ro reading and approving these questions.

As I said, this is not a huge problem but it seemed like before saying "okay we can only approve this many per day or people can only ask this many per year [something currently impossible since we don't track who has asked a question at all in the database] we'd bring it up first.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:03 PM on June 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Anonymous questions remove the element of community in the same way that anonymous comments on the blue would remove the element of community.

I disagree- I don't think I need to know everything about everyone in order to be in community with them. In fact, to be honest, I'd rather not. My parents and I don't talk about sex, for example, and our relationship is none worse for the wear.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:03 PM on June 3, 2010 [21 favorites]


Anonymous questions remove the element of community in the same way that anonymous comments on the blue would remove the element of community. We do not allow anonymous comments on the blue for that reason; virtually the same logic can be applied to anonymous questions on the green.

The two sections serve different purposes, and a one-size fits all set of rules isn't very smart nor applicable. Apples and oranges.
posted by cmgonzalez at 7:04 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


All of my sock puppets have car questions.
posted by Jon-o at 7:04 PM on June 3, 2010 [10 favorites]


The anon questions are the most interesting on the site. In fact, I check my bookmark for anonymous questions daily, more often than I check the Ask front page. If there is a way to ease your moderator burden, it would be nice to keep the feature and its content around.
posted by Tristram Shandy, Gentleman at 7:05 PM on June 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Why are anonymous questions bad?

If I had to guess, I'd say:
  • They take proportionally more moderator time to approve and deal with any message passing.
  • They're more likely to get fighty because commenters tend to get rough with the asker because they know they can't respond.
  • If the asker leaves off important information or there's ambiguity in the question then the commenters are left to debate/fight about what was meant.
If the above is accurate then it seems to me that the best way to improve anonymous questions is allowing the poster to comment anonymously. Now I know this has been brought up countless times and rejected because the current schema doesn't allow for it. But what if you just added a single field to the question table, and during the anonymous posting process a random password is generated and both shown to the poster and then stored in that field. Then the system can accept anonymous follow-up comments from anyone that knows that password which is presumably only the poster. There would still be no association between accounts and questions, and you wouldn't have to worry about password recovery or anything -- if the poster lost the password then it would just devolve into what we have currently.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:07 PM on June 3, 2010 [8 favorites]


Could there be a minimum threshold of activity (ask questions or answers) before you are allowed to request an anonymous question? I suppose that depends quite a lot on whether anonymous questions are from new users, which I obviously don't know.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 7:09 PM on June 3, 2010


I've offered ranty rants about this before, but many of the anonymous questions are really badly written and omit vital information (jurisdiction for legal questions comes to mind immediately), and then respondents get into arguments with each other over what the OP meant. A recent example is the "I'm a Slut?!?" post--there's a good amount of noise in that thread because the OP tagged the question with "infidelity" but doesn't mention it in the question, leading people to make assumptions one way or the other--did she or didn't she? (She did, that slut.) I realize that people are often in extremis when they write their anonymous posts, and they have my deepest sympathies etc. But it's an immutable law: garbage in, garbage out.

I also have a visceral reaction to people who don't explain why an innocuous question is being asked anonymously, or why they obfuscate details. If you are asking an anonymous question, you don't have to write "I live in a major U.S. city." It's anonymous. Many people live in NY, DC, Boston, Philly, LA, whatever. We're not going to track you down.

My pony request would be that each anonymous question posted automatically generates a, say, 30-day anonymous login that would allow the OP to participate in the discussion, so the thread can be more useful.

GRAR! Everyone is so stupid! Grar! grar! grar. meh.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:10 PM on June 3, 2010 [17 favorites]


If the above is accurate then it seems to me that the best way to improve anonymous questions is allowing the poster to comment anonymously.

This would encourage more Anon questions, which the Team Mod is saying is getting to be an issue. Currently it's not a big issue, but if the trend continues, it'll present problems and they're trying to prevent it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:11 PM on June 3, 2010


I disagree- I don't think I need to know everything about everyone in order to be in community with them. In fact, to be honest, I'd rather not. My parents and I don't talk about sex, for example, and our relationship is none worse for the wear.

Thats a very close-minded approach. Why don't you talk to them about sex first, and then decide if your relationship improved because of it.

That would be the objective way to do it; Metafilter approves of that. Tell us what your results are.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:11 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


So how exactly would a sockpuppet add to "community utility" in terms of AskMe?

It would cost $5 and thus reduce the number of anonymous questions. Which would mean a higher percentage of questions would be non-anonymous.

The two sections serve different purposes, and a one-size fits all set of rules isn't very smart nor applicable. Apples and oranges.

Whether or not they serve different purposes is orthogonal to whether we want to maintain a sense of community across the colors. The question isn't whether we want the blue and green to serve the same purpose, it is whether we want a sense of community to be paramount on both.

Also, people who use @username make baby jesus cry. And I got deleted for snarking at someone who did it. I'm sorry :(
posted by Justinian at 7:13 PM on June 3, 2010


Thats a very close-minded approach. Why don't you talk to them about sex first, and then decide if your relationship improved because of it.

Ha ha, ha ha ha. No.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:13 PM on June 3, 2010 [27 favorites]


Jessamyn, are Team Mods goals here to keep the number of AnonyMe questions low, while increasing the community feel with those anon questions, hopefully in a non explosive manner?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:14 PM on June 3, 2010


Our goals are to make people think twice before using them and be more clear when they do use them. And ask fewer "just wondering" questions without any specifics that make people go GRAR in their answers.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:17 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think anonymous answers would be fun, just so we could give ridiculously stupid advice and see if people take it.

what?
posted by jonmc at 7:17 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


How about, after you ask an anonymous question, you have to wait THREE weeks instead of one before posting to Ask.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:17 PM on June 3, 2010 [8 favorites]


Could there be a minimum threshold of activity (ask questions or answers) before you are allowed to request an anonymous question?

I think the mods have said before that they want to avoid this, because it encourages people to dive in and answer with fluff even if they really don't have anything to say or don't actually know anything about the topic.

This would encourage more Anon questions

I'm not really seeing the causation there -- are there really people out there with embarrassing/personal questions that are holding off asking them because they wouldn't be able to interact with the thread?

I kind of the see the two things as orthogonal: there's the number of anonymous questions, and then there's the amount of mod work generated on average per anonymous question. My suggestion goes to reducing the latter, and all the other stuff mentioned so far goes toward reducing the former.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:18 PM on June 3, 2010


It would cost $5 and thus reduce the number of anonymous questions. Which would mean a higher percentage of questions would be non-anonymous.

If someone bought and used a sock for a personal question that they didn't want attributed to themselves, than for all intents it's still anonymous. Sockpuppets used expressly in this way would spread the community "thinner", not tighten it up.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:18 PM on June 3, 2010 [8 favorites]


I say get rid of anonymous questions but okay the use of sockpuppets for questions one doesn't want associated with one's profile (which I guess you've already done, if I read correctly).

Or if there's a way to do it, limit AnonyMes to maybe two per year per user. That would make people really, really weigh the importance of their question before posting.
posted by amro at 7:19 PM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


as an actual sock puppet--i think it's fine that people use sock puppets for questions they wish to ask anonymously. in looking over the anon questions today, i think the toe fungus question and the relationship one (the white lie) are ripe for that consideration.

overall, i think the moderators need to stiffen up their standards for anonymous questions. i see a lot of incomplete ones, i also see a lot of questions in which responders end up attacking the premise of the question as opposed to actually answering it.

i really don't like it when people use a throwaway address in an anonymous question. yeah the potential for information exchange is great, but it kind of defeats the purpose of the anonymous question, and it also takes the answers off the page and into private email. someone might say something pretty stupid in an email, but not post it as a reply to a question.

my suggestion would be to limit the number of anonymous questions that are posted per day on the site--not by the user. Allow only one or two per day. the list of questions waiting would grow long, which would delay their actual posting and encourage askers to create a sock puppet account. it would also allow the moderators to better review anon questions for those more suitable for the site.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 7:20 PM on June 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's a bit of a derail, but if sock-puppetry really is a preferred solution to this, then you should make this clearer. I've never been very clear on when sock-puppetry is good and when it isn't.

It's not super clear because it's kind of complicated. To add to what jessamyn said, my take on it is something like this:

If you need to ask a question anonymously basically once in a great while—like maybe once a year or less, that sort of thing—then using the anonymous feature is a totally reasonable solution generally speaking.

If you find that you're using it more often than that—you have a series of anonymous-for-good-reasons questions you find yourself (or foresee yourself) needing to ask on some ongoing issue, or you have specific sorts of questions you need to keep dissociated from your main handle for whatever reason—then it's probably time to set up a second account that you keep partitioned off from your primary, so that you can use AskMe in the normal (and in most way preferable) manner.

So that's the context where using a sockpuppet for anonymous stuff makes sense. Things that are good about that: you keep the normal ability to respond, saving us work in a few ways (we don't have to shuttle responses around for you for followups, people will treat the question like you're there in the room instead of presumably incapable of responding, people can mefimail you, etc); there's a degree of continuity of identity across your psedonymous questions that helps people be responsive to developing issues where its helpful and in general have a sense of (alternate) you as a consistent entity.

Where we don't want people using sockpuppet accounts is to play stupid identity tricks (i.e. having more than one active persona, for lack of a better word, on the site; engaging in non-pseudonymous-question-asking stuff like commenting or posting on the blue), or to try and get around the 7-day per-person (not per-account) limit on questions. We will l in fact get on your case if we see either of those things going on. But using a sockpuppet as a compromise solution to ongoing privacy-sensitive issues with askme is an okay thing to do, and in a lot of cases better than asking a series of anony questions.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:26 PM on June 3, 2010 [6 favorites]


I always assumed there was a box where the poster had to give a reason why the question should be anonymous. Then that info is shown to the mods when approving the question but not anywhere else. I know from previous metatalk posts about it that this isn't the case (I've never posted an anonymous question) but maybe it should be.

It's more of a mental block than anything, making someone justify them self will make them think a tiny bit harder about what they're doing and may put some people off. But if they have a decent reason, which most people do, then it won't be a problem (I presume it will put off the casual askers the most). It could also give the mods more information to go on when deciding what to approve if you do decide to get stricter about approval criteria, an idea I don't have a problem with in abstract.

Anonymous questions don't bother me either way generally since I tend to skip a lot of the relationship stuff already. But I tried to imagine what it would be like if 75% of questions were anonymous and that's just not how I want askme to be. We're nothing close to that level now, and will probably never get that way, but the current trend is for anonymous questions to grow and it's a trend that's worth being concerned about I think.

Unfortunately the best way I can see to keep it down is have the mods make judgement calls and only let through questions that are clearly written with decent information and a new question (rather than a rehash of stuff that's been covered before, like what if I get offered job A and I want to hold out for job B?). I say unfortunately because, while it would make things better for the readers/answerers, making those kinds of judgement calls is difficult and not much fun. And more people would complain about not being approved and we'd have meta threads with people bitching about what was approved and ug. I like the people that work here too much to really wish all that upon them.
posted by shelleycat at 7:28 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Our goals are to make people think twice before using them and be more clear when they do use them.

Anonymous questions don't bug me as an answerer, so it's a bigger problem than I realized. I don't want the mods to be bogged down in unnecessary trouble, nor do I want community members to feel disconnected and fighty. And yet. I think it's useful and important that AskMe remain a place where MY BONER HURTS type questions can be asked and answered.

Maybe there should be rules? Because I've noticed a lot of anonymous questions that are kind of baffling in their anonymity... but, understandably, the "this question is embarrassing" threshold is going to be lower for the poster than for a reader.... and both will be FURLONGS lower than the "I oughtn't post because this'll inconvenience the mods" barrier.

Maybe let everyone know that an anonymous question has to reach a common-sense and mod-judged level of necessity? And if you don't want your (not objectively embarrassing) question tied to your name, you can pony up the $5?

(I asked a lot of questions there myself - but guys, I think I solved it!)
posted by moxiedoll at 7:28 PM on June 3, 2010




See, now ideally (imo) the thing would be coded to allow users to ask Annom questions without Mod intervention, and there would be a counter, X number of annoy questions per month/year per user. The counter wouldn't keep track of what questions the user asked, just that they did so. There would also be a expiration-based method for the annoy user to reply in-thread (perhaps a thread specific password auto sent to the users memail which triggeres the ability to post annom in that thread only while it remains open.

But, I understand something of this nature would be an absolute bear to shoehorn into the existing structure and so it will not occur.
posted by edgeways at 7:30 PM on June 3, 2010


I'm curious if the increase in number of anonymous questions is in any relation to the increase in the number of meet ups (including the 10th anniversary ones). Cus I think after you've met people in the community in person, you'd be less likely to share more personal negative stuff.

But yeah, looking at the most recent ones, the erectile dysfunction one is the only one I'd let stand. Mostly everything else seems like with some tweaking it needn't be anon. I have no idea why livability in Gainsville and Ob/Gyn's and Hospitals in Toronto really need to be anon, but there you are.
posted by NoraCharles at 7:32 PM on June 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Our goals are to make people think twice before using them and be more clear when they do use them.

This seems like a losing battle, as we are all special snowflakes, especially new users who may not get the community and limited resources aspect of AskMe. Rewriting the anon posting page to make it shorter and more direct might help though.

And ask fewer "just wondering" questions without any specifics that make people go GRAR in their answers.

I don't get this part. Since you guys review the questions, I'd say don't allow those sort of questions.

Data point: I asked an anon question before, and there was a part that was unclear with it. One of the mods wrote back, via email, asking if I had meant something else with that part. But since I was trying to be, you know, anon, I didn't use my regular email, so I didn't see it until days later, after the question had already been approved and posted. Just a data point.

As to the larger question, from a technical standpoint, a single sockpuppet could be assigned to each account, which could only be used for asking anonymous AskMe questions. This sockpuppet would allow users to comment only in their questions. Buying a sockpuppet would of course be a big no no then. But coding all that might be a pain and I'm sure there are other things that would need to be thought through.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:33 PM on June 3, 2010


I think anonymous answers would be fun, just so we could give ridiculously stupid advice and see if people take it.

This differs from my regular advice in what way?
posted by Jon-o at 7:34 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, since you asked, this would be my solution:

1) Do whatever needs to be done behind the scenes so that the mods will, in fact, know who asked the anon question. Make that clear on the form, although I think most everyone assumes now that you guys know who is asking what.

2) Make changes on the back end so that when you decide not to approve an anon question, the poster gets an automatic email that explains why (kind of like the reasons for deletion that's posted in deleted posts)

then

3) Stop approving so many. Try to keep it down to one or two a day. Kick the rest back with the suggestion that they can still post themselves, buy a sock puppet, whatever.

I honestly think that it will be more work in the short term, but in the long term you'll see a decline.

That being said, I do feel strongly that anon questions are by far one of the most unique and useful parts of the site. I myself used the anon question feature at what was probably the lowest time of my life (right after my son was born) and without question the answers and support I got changed/saved my life. Had I not been able to ask that question anonymously I probably wouldn't have vocalized my PPD to anyone, ever, or at least not until the situation got much, much, MUCH worse.
posted by anastasiav at 7:34 PM on June 3, 2010 [32 favorites]


Why are anonymous questions bad?

They aren't bad per se. We allow them for a reason. But they have some extra costs associated with them, and a steady increase in the proportion and volume of anony questions over time means an increase in those costs and less mod time/energy available to deal with other things.

The costs:

- Lack of accountability. By design, it is hard for us to figure out who is asking what, and many of the mod tools we have for general community management etc. do not work for anonymous questions. Which means we have a harder time keeping an eye out for problematic behavior like abuse or overuse, and cannot as easily connect the dots on problematic patterns of behavior across multiple questions.

- Difficulty of managing editing needs. As we don't by default even know who submitted an anonymous question, we have no straightforward way to check in with someone if their submission is mostly okay but flawed in some distinct fashion (missing info, problematic phrasing, too dang long, unclear on why it needs to be anonymous) and so we're left making approve-or-deny decisions in the dark, which can suck for borderline stuff.

- Message passing. Folks who want to follow up on their questions need to go through us.

- Different in-thread dynamics. With anonymous questions there's a seeming lack sometimes of the sense of the poster being there—without prompt followups from the asker to clarifying questions and such, things become more people taking turns saying their piece or arguing with each other or speculating about the intentions of the anonymous asker.

None of those things are dealbreakers, we don't mind dealing with them in moderate doses, but that they're involved and do take up extra mod resources means we're interested in keeping the volume of anonymous stuff we deal with contained. What we've seen is significant growth in the proportion of those questions over the last 12-18 months (from like 5% to 10% of the daily average) and we'd basically like to reverse and contain that.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:37 PM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


If We started using this account instead of an anonymous one to ask questions, the user base might start feeling a little uneasy.
posted by the Cabal at 7:38 PM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Mods - Would stricter moderation of the current crop of anonymes potentially achieve the goal of reducing the frequency of anon questions without having to make any huge policy changes on the site?
posted by orville sash at 7:38 PM on June 3, 2010


I'm another fan of the anonymous question - and I don't even use the feature a lot. Instead of threatening community, I think it does a lot for the community in making sensitive issues safe and permissible to bring up without imposing a social penalty on your known identity, giving people the opportunity to talk about them and learn from them while reducing exposure (both on and offsite) for the person having the problem. The response threads are always useful not only to the asker, but all the future searchers who have similar questions, so the value of the information contributed is as high as in any other AskMe Thread.

That aside, I can certainly see how the burdens associated with them could disproportionately consume mod attention. It does seem like some things -- having complete info in the question, being clear on why the question needs to be anon, prior research - could be factored into the question-approval process on the front end, hopefully saving mod effort on the back end. Since approval is required for each question, could there be an Atul Gawande-style checklist that mods run through mentally before approving? Like, "Is there sufficient info? Are we clear on why this is anon? Has the person Googled or searched past AskMe? Is there a clearly stated question or problem to be solved? Is the person just curious?"

Tightening up the standards for what passes muster as an anon question seems like it might help relieve some of the issues that later go to MeTa or require mod intervention to post details on behalf of the user, etc. Anonymous questions should indeed be a haven of last resort, not a "just curious" thing, but I imagine the culture of what flies as an anon question would gradually change if everyone who submitted a poorly crafted one got MeMails back with requests specifying what would make the question better and more acceptable.

It seems to me that AnonyMes are not so much a community problem (people like them and like knowing that the safety valve is there) as a management problem demanding moderator time. Seems like back-of-house solutions might best apply. I would have no problem with doling out a small number of AnonyMes available per user per year - 3? 5? and with clear requirements that had to be fulfilled before a question was approved. Raising the bar on what gets posted feels fine to me. But I wouldn't want them to go away entirely. They're entertaining, and the anonymity option is really welcome on an internet that's trending increasingly toward accountability and traceability. We have this wonderful sweet spot where voices are trusted and responses are trusted, but every now and then you can enter the confessional under the veil of secrecy. I wouldn't want that to disappear, because it allows some difficult moments and painful truths to be discussed.
posted by Miko at 7:40 PM on June 3, 2010 [46 favorites]


I think the thing that bothers me the most about having a high percentage of anonymous questions is, no Best Answers.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:41 PM on June 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


A special breed of sock puppet would help maybe? Gives anon functionality while denoting that the user is a member using the sock puppet just for anon questions - not another identity.
posted by gomichild at 7:42 PM on June 3, 2010


Would stricter moderation of the current crop of anonymes potentially achieve the goal of reducing the frequency of anon questions without having to make any huge policy changes on the site?

Most likely. Before we did anything specific we wanted to see how other people felt about this as well. We're not planning any major policy changes in any case, this question is exactly what it looks like.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:42 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't get this part. Since you guys review the questions, I'd say don't allow those sort of questions.

To some extent I think we're considering that. Pulling back a bit on what goes through is one approach we can take. The downside to that is we don't have, due to the inbuilt anonymity of the submission process, any slick way to let people know their question wasn't approved. They just wait and see and it shows up or it doesn't (and people have wildly differing expectations about the turnaround time, some are cool giving it a few days while others write to us after a few hours to ask).

So finding a way to reduce the volume of incoming destined-for-denial anony submissions would be good for everyone. Fewer things to deny, fewer people wondering what's up with their question not showing up.

To that end we've talked a little today about putting a more stern "hey, are you positive you need to ask this anonymously?" sort of disclaimer on that anony submission page. To a degree what we're talking about in here and what folks have to say in terms of feedback about this may help us figure out what that extra guidance might be.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:42 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


(on posting and reading cortex's comments) it does seem that the difficulties fall to the mods. I wonder how much of this results from the filter or screen the mods have in place for anonymous questions. I've always thought that was gallant and respectful, but it seems to create some of the very problems you as mods are suffering from.

I wonder how people would feel if the questions weren't that anonymous to the mods? What if the system was set up so mods could easily and immediately see who was asking? Yeah, that would be weird for people who have maybe met the mods or have some other association. On the other hand, that very weirdness could function as a check on some of the more egregious questioning. And it would allow you to better track users who make excessive use of the function, and allow you to write back and give suggestions for reshaping questions that aren't well crafted to start with.
posted by Miko at 7:43 PM on June 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Would stricter moderation of the current crop of anonymes potentially achieve the goal of reducing the frequency of anon questions without having to make any huge policy changes on the site?

I bet that would get tricky. No one wants to hear that their special snowflake anon question isn't good enough, so the GRAR quotient goes up. Plus the mods probably don't want to be in the position of increasing the denials and having to deal with that GRAR.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:44 PM on June 3, 2010


I've used anonymous questions a few times, not because I needed the question to be anonymous in the information-theory sense but because I simply didn't want it popping up in the news feeds of people I might see at the next meetup or in my history for the few friends and family who know my username. In short: yes, I use it where a sockpuppet might do.

So why don't I get a sockpuppet? Well for one, because I've already paid my membership fee. I didn't even think about the ability to decouple my questions from my username as a "premium" feature that I would need to pay extra to access.

I've considered getting a sockpuppet for other reasons (because $5 really isn't a lot), but I didn't want to pollute the namespace with an account I'm only going to use a few times.

Regarding the ability to exchange feedback with the poster, and Justinian's concerns about "removing the element of community"... wouldn't these be solved by just creating a "concealed username" feature on askme posts? You click a checkbox, and it substitutes "[username concealed]" on the question and any subsequent comments you write in that thread. The checkbox has a footnote explaining that it doesn't make your message anonymous, that the mods can still see who posted it. That would enable both clarifying discussion and accountability.

Of course, there might be some deeper implementation considerations there, since as it stands just adding a "conceal OP" flag to the AskMe wouldn't prevent the Infodump from revealing the user who posted it. Either the Infodump would have to be accepted as a way to undermine this feature, or it would have to be discontinued, or the data structures would have to be modified to hide poster user IDs for some Ask posts.
posted by Riki tiki at 7:45 PM on June 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yes, there have been an awful lot of anonymous questions recently, and my knee-jerk reaction was "The hell? WTF, people?" But once I thought about it, I wondered why it should bother me (or anyone), and I let it go as being an utterly baseless response.

People have their reasons for not wanting to put their username to something. For me (and yes, I have asked, I think, three anonymous questions in my 5.5 years here), it's not a matter of being googled or whatever, but that I found the questions so embarrassing or shaming that I didn't want people to know it was me. Maybe those reading or answering wouldn't find them so, but isn't how the poster feels about needing help or advice more important that the how others feel?
posted by tzikeh at 7:47 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


TPS: I'm looking at the recent Anonymous Qs, and I think sock puppets would have been appropriate for a large chunk of them.

I'm looking at the same list, and I can't see why a good 1/4 or 1/3 of them are anonymous at all.

Examples. Most of those have no real reason to be anon; a couple (plus more from the list I didn't include) have minor reasons, but could easily be re-written to avoid potentially sensitive details.

What about a 'dead zone'; a page somewhere that contains the rejected anon questions from the last 2~3 days? It'd have to be somewhat isolated from the rest of the site; no links from the main pages (perhaps only linked on the Anon AskMe page & user profiles?), with robots.txt exclusion, etc.

If your anon AskMe doesn't turn up on the green, you can look there for an explanation. All decisions are final, no correspondence will be entered into, etc. If you don't like the explanation, you can a) post in Meta and out yourself, b) repost your Q as a non-anon AskMe, or c) try your luck next time. Other members can look there for personal amusement, but the limited lifespan would reduce the potential for in-jokey lulz & stunt-anon-posting. Non-members see nothing.
posted by Pinback at 7:49 PM on June 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


What if the system was set up so mods could easily and immediately see who was asking?

Maybe the system needs to assign account names or numbers on the backend, so the mods can have a sort of history to deal with, without seeing exactly who it is? That way they could tell that user "XJfoxtrot" keeps asking more silly anon stuff and they can send a message on the backend telling them to knock it off or that their anon question has been denied for X reason, but they're not looking at the actual users account? Might be a coding headache, just a thought...

Anyway, I think it's really important that anon stuff stays mostly anon, i.e. the mods have to dig to find out the identity and as a rule don't do that, but if there's a problem they can find out.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:50 PM on June 3, 2010


cortex: It seems like most of these problems could be addressed by having a private table of who asked anonymous questions. As a bonus, this would also allow users to anonymously bestow the coveted Best Answer.
posted by shii at 7:51 PM on June 3, 2010


Anonymous questions are a growing proportion because you're removing hypotheticals, which used to make up a large portion of questions.

At least we learned how to get rid of bodies before those types of questions were banned
posted by blue_beetle at 7:51 PM on June 3, 2010


Hi,
Sock puppet of a modest user, here. I created this account when I discovered I was seriously ill. I created it because I realized that I was going to have a lot of questions about my illness and I wanted an anonymous way of utilizing the awesome resource that is askme. There were a couple of times before I had this account and used it enough, that I was prevented from asking things about this experience unless I used the anon account. And I did.

My other account has a lot of information connecting me to my real life. Before I had this account, I didn't know how to utilize the help available without the anon account. But outside of this account, I have a very small anon presence on the Web. Mostly because I believe that if you aren't willing to stake your real life reputation on what you say on the Web, then what you say is likely to be too superfluous to advance the conversation. Not always, just mostly.

But at the same time, the anon account has provided a lot of help. I like the thought of people using socks when they're appropriate, and hell, they're only $5. And socks help you organize your issues. Until one gets lost in the dryer.

Let me also offer that giving you folks another $5 is something I look for opportunities to do. I want to support this community. I can, modestly with my wallet, and this isn't so much a hardship as an opportunity.

I like having both options. I think the best path here is to encourage socks for moral anon uses, but to also keep the anon account an option, though perhaps one more light and simple filter ought to be implemented on anon in askme, or a rewrite of the description about the use of the anon account to perhaps encourage the thoughtful use of socks. Thanks for providing and accommodating both options. Hope your modification ultimately allows both options, but policy modification seems sensible.
posted by 0BloodyHell at 7:51 PM on June 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


Interesting suggestion. "User XJFoxtrot has asked these 14 Anonymous questions in the past year." I have no idea how hard that would be to build in, but it accomplishes the goal of tracking overuse and inappropriate use and could allow messaging from mod to user.
posted by Miko at 7:52 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


On socks: I've never contemplated a sock account because it just seemed like something you would use only as performance art. It never occurred to me that it might be an encouraged strategy for asking questions that don't track to your main user identity (which might be connected to your RL identity). But encouraging that as a strategy also seems contrary to the goal if the goal is to build community upon some assumption of consistent user identity. If everybody's got a sock, and socks are running around wantonly making appearances whenever, then we sort of lose the consistent identity piece that we value. It could start to feel like Mardi Gras - you know, be whoever you want, just change your name, it doesn't matter, identity is performance.

I already get kinda weirded out when I realize how many active sockpuppets there already are (and I'm always the last to clue in), but it's not really a negative at this time. If it's actually official policy that we should all have a sock instead of asking anonymous questions, that would really make me look at the site community differently, and start playing the "whose-sock-is-who" game more seriously.
posted by Miko at 7:59 PM on June 3, 2010 [7 favorites]


I am guessing the rise in anonymous questions has to do with people realizing more and more how easy it is to find someone online if you're determined. (so, eg job questions, city-location questions, etc)
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:00 PM on June 3, 2010 [6 favorites]


The downside to that is we don't have, due to the inbuilt anonymity of the submission process, any slick way to let people know their question wasn't approved.

So have them give you an email address. It doesn't have to be associated with anything, or even the same between questions, so there's no reason why it can't be as anonymous as the actual question. But have a field where the asker has to type in an address which then is seen by you guys and no one else (and put a note that you won't approve stuff without an address). It seems like this would fix at least some of the problems and again put a small mental block in place which makes people only post if they're committed to the process.

Also put on the posting page something about it taking up to three days (or whatever) to approve so you can ignore anyone getting back to you too fast. If you want to cut down on what you approve then outline that on the posting page too. Sure lots of people won't read it but at least you have something to point to when they complain. Like when I'm teaching my classes and I tell all the students 'you have to do x to get full marks' then when they do y instead and complain the question sheet isn't clear I just shrug and tell them to pay attention when I'm giving instructions. By the end of semester I had many of them taking notes while I talked and their experiments ran better too.
posted by shelleycat at 8:00 PM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hmm, do the mods know why AnonMe's have been growing? I ask out of curiosity and wonder if an answer the question could point to a solution.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:01 PM on June 3, 2010


I think the fact that the mods need to review each anonymous question to determine if it's appropriate is a total time suck. There needs to be disincentives to users asking anonymous questions.

How about establishing a policy that anonymous questions won't get posted for at least a week after they are submitted? They can be reviewed by the mods at leisure, and anyone who wants their question posted more quickly can just get a sock puppet, or ask it in a way that removes the need for anonymity.
posted by jasper411 at 8:03 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think a combination of allowing fewer anonymous questions and making it so anonymous questions are still tied to your account and you can reply in thread and mark best answers would be good.

Honestly, though, i sometimes worry about ask metafilter. If you're curious, you can find out a lot of information about some mefites from their ask me history (occupation, medical problems, relationship woes, location, family members, and so on).
posted by empath at 8:05 PM on June 3, 2010


Yeah, I think in most cases, people should just pony up the $5 and get a sockpuppet. I can really only think of a couple cases where anonymous should be necessary :

1) Anything involving your job or the law. I mean, you could still use a sockpuppet for this stuff, but I can understand people being super super paranoid about the possibility -- however slight -- that somebody may look in their post history and try to Scooby Doo their identity.

2) When you don't want your posting history to affect the outcome of your question. Sometimes people will look through a poster's history and take that into account when answering the question.

Personally? I think that AskMe should be default-anonymous -- and in fact, I've thought about coding up a default-anonymous version of AskMe. Basically, for every question you would get a one-time-use screen name that you could also use to respond in comments. Of course, you would always have the choice of asking a question as your "permanent" identity, but this would be totally optional. Why do I think things should be this way? Because I don't really think that having a strong personal identity is that essential to a Q&A site, and in some cases even distorts the answers. Furthermore, I think that people should be free to ask questions about sensitive subject sithout fear of being Scooby Doo'ed. However, I know this is not how AskMe was designed, so I would never seriously suggest this particular pony.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:07 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


So have them give you an email address. It doesn't have to be associated with anything, or even the same between questions, so there's no reason why it can't be as anonymous as the actual question.

This is tricky because we don't really want to go back and forth with every AnonyMe writer. If we say "well your question was okay except for these parts..." then we're in a back and forth editing situation with them which is worse, timewise. Our feeling is, if your question was important and for some reason it's not approved, you'll ask us. Sometimes we do email and, like in Brandon's example, people don't check their email.

I really don't know why the AnonyMes have been growing, we just did some numbers and it seems like two things are true

- the number of daily/weekly questions generally is steadily increasing but not by a lot
- the number of anonyme questions as a percentage of these questions is increasing

So I remember back when we were worried about questions rolling off the front page too quickly and we implemented MyAsk and some other filtering stuff that people could do. Now we're just looking at the overall percentage of AnonyMe questions and thinking "huh, that looks high."
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:12 PM on June 3, 2010


Afroblanco: If the recent and well known AskMe about a friend in trouble had been anonymously posted, instead of from a well known user, would it have ended as well as it did?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:15 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


If I created a (non-jokey) sockpuppet and used it for what would otherwise be an anonymous askme, I am certain I would screw up at some point in that or another thread. I like the anonymous option (I can think of twice I've used it), and I'm not sure that encourage most members to have dual identities will make Metafilter a better place.

I also get annoyed and unanswerable anon questions - like those that really need jurisdiction to be of any use. I think a more stringent rejection policy, or perhaps a direct line from the mods back to the asker, could address that. Sadly, that means more works for the mods, work that clearly should be done by the person asking the question. I think the anon form even clearly states that you should probably include your location if it's important, but we all know people don't read.

One pro to a sock-puppet approach could be better answers in anonymous askmes, I know there have been a few occasions where I haven't pitched in an answer for the same reason that the asker chose to be anonymous.

To solve this programatically, you could make some sort of one-way salted hash from the username to some sort of vaguely recognizable phrase with some iconographic reminder that this was a puppet, and let people use that on a one-to-one basis when they want greater anonymity.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 8:18 PM on June 3, 2010


I kind of agree with empath on this one - while it is important to build up community and like jessamyn said to be able to better answer questions based on your knowledge of a user, I'm curious as to the percentage of traffic that AskMe gets - members vs nonmembers. As in, is a large part of the site's utility based on organic google hits for questions that have long since been answered? Or is it more important for the individual member who gets a specific response to their specific question?

In both of those cases I think anonymous questions don't really pose a problem in terms of 'continuity,' something that only really matters to the people who are here every day. Not that it isn't important, just that it might be hard to judge from the inside. And hey, how many lurkers are reading this but not contributing to the conversation? Is it a silent majority?

That said, it is probably a priority to streamline things for the mods - and someone asking an anonymous question, since they're already taking one extra step of making their identity anonymous, won't mind one MORE step in the process, almost like a static page that says 'are you double sure that this should be anonymous?'
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 8:21 PM on June 3, 2010


jessamyn: Do you guys keep stats on anonymous questions? I'm wondering if people who ask anonymous questions generally only ask one or two over the years or if a small (or medium) number of people tend to ask a whole bunch of anonymous questions and, thus, hog the resources.

It seems to me that the problem and solutions are different if you have a huge number of people asking one anonymous question than a relatively small number of people asking a whole bunch of anonymous questions.
posted by Justinian at 8:23 PM on June 3, 2010


One point: some people are mentioning solutions that involve adding more lag to the anonymous posting process. I think that would hurt the utility of the feature for some of the cases where it's really well suited. (Eg, "I did xyz while having sex and now it hurts, what do I do?") It would be nice if there's a solution that doesn't require adding lag.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:30 PM on June 3, 2010


Maybe we could just make the Human Relations category invisible to Google spiders. It seems to have the vast majority of AnonyMes.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:32 PM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm curious if the increase in number of anonymous questions is in any relation to the increase in the number of meet ups (including the 10th anniversary ones). Cus I think after you've met people in the community in person, you'd be less likely to share more personal negative stuff.

Oh, absolutely. It's one thing to post embarrassing and difficult details about your personal life when you've never been to a meetup and you have a few dozen comments over four or five years.

But for me, and for other like me, who have been to meetups and who have made friends off the site and have been guests in their homes and who have dozens of photos on flickr with our MetaFilter names attached to them, it's a different game entirely. Because of this higher profile, there are a lot of issues I will not discuss here except anonymously.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:35 PM on June 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Justinian's opinion that occasional anonymous questions "remove the element of community" strikes me as utter nonsense. Any community of thoughtful people understands there will be moments when a member would want to ask something without identifying who they are. Allowing that option *encourages* good discussion that wouldn't happen otherwise, and helps the community stay strong, supportive, open and helpful. The exact opposite of what Justinian claims.

I can empathize with the mods about the extra work required and the worrisome trend of more and more anon questions, but think anastasiav is exactly right in calling anon questions one of the most useful parts of the site. Given the upward trend and the mods' desire to limit them, it makes sense to have stricter standards for approving an anon question. I think that would help a lot, and seems the obvious best first step. I'd suggest also adding a clear statement on the posting page that the site is trying to limit the percentage of questions that are posted anonymously.
posted by mediareport at 8:35 PM on June 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'd suggest also adding a clear statement on the posting page that the site is trying to limit the percentage of questions that are posted anonymously.

This is also definitely the way we're leaning. We'd prefer to be more clear and maybe approve slightly fewer questions.

Do you guys keep stats on anonymous questions?

We don't. In the database they're all linked to the one user account, there is no actual mechanism in the database linking the anonyme questions to the person who asked them. It takes real human eyeballs to correlate stuff like timestamps and IPs if we want to figure it out [it's a little easier if we combine that with the email the system sends out, but the db itself has no idea who asked what]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:39 PM on June 3, 2010


I say it goes hand in hand with a rise in prudishness and fear of public opinion in our culture.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:40 PM on June 3, 2010


Instead of spending five bucks on a sock puppet account that could be abused how about setting up temporary throw away accounts? For $1.75, you get an account that is limited to The Green and is only active for three weeks which is long enough to resolve and update and AskMeFi query. Users can purchase this as often as they want. This service would only be available to existing members. The option to create this account could be an option that could be selected in one of the screens presented during the construction of the AskMe post.
posted by Jon-o at 8:43 PM on June 3, 2010 [18 favorites]


Mods,

Is it at all feasible (from technical and moderation standpoints) to create some kind of Concealed User question? Something that would allow the user to follow up within the thread and would allow the mods to contact the user easily and track their use of the feature, but would also foil casual snooping? It's been mentioned a few times, and sounds like a good compromise to me, but if it's not possible, than perhaps you should just tell us to
posted by Rock Steady at 8:43 PM on June 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Drop it.

stupid iPad
posted by Rock Steady at 8:44 PM on June 3, 2010


Anonymous questions should stay, for Miko's excellent reasons. Lately it has been getting ridiculous (, and a lot of the questions don't seem to have a true reason for anonymity.

Sure, I learn from anon questions, but honestly, those are the entertaining questions. It used to be that an anonymous question was like sweeps week. It pains me to be so base about it, but if we're approaching the issue from a humanist standpoint, doesn't it make sense to admit that we like this juicy stuff?

My first instinct is to say to have the mods approach it like an advice columnist. I think that 1 or 2 relationship-filter questions enough would be good for me. Maybe 2 sex questions. Career questions are lame, and don't really work in this case. Whatever mods think is interesting. Can folks resubmit if theirs isn't chosen in a given month/week/year?

I think more discretion is necessary overall, though the fact that I trust the mod's judgment might be coloring my opinion here.

AnonyMe is for Gossip.
posted by frecklefaerie at 8:45 PM on June 3, 2010


I know close to nothing about computers, systems, how this would work mechanically, but:

I agree with a few suggestions above: could you put a few free community sock puppets in rotation, and dole them out to Anonymous users for the first couple days of the question (when the ability to follow up would be most important)? So let's say I want to ask an Anonymous question about the tawdry extramarital affair I'm having with Batman. Instead of saying "posted by Anonymous" it would said "posted by SockMe7," and in place of the normal MeMail saying my question had posted I'd get an email saying "the password to SockMe7 is XBUJBDD and will expire in 2 days." After 2 days, I'd get closed out of SockMe7 and then it would cycle to the guy who's in love with his best friend, or whatever.

That way I could answer follow-ups, at least, which in my opinion is the #1 problem with Anonymous. It wouldn't solve the "community" issue, but then neither would regular sock puppets. And maybe it's just me but I would have no problem with the mods knowing who was SockMe7 on such-and-such a date. (Whether the mods would mind knowing is a different and just as valid question, as is whether it could be accomplished without the mods having to know.)
posted by sallybrown at 8:53 PM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's work up front for pb, but it sounds like the best solution here is to allow users to post questions anonymously, then post anonymous follow-ups to those questions.

Encouraging the creation of a ton of sock puppets might lead to more trouble down the line, as it's going to be hard for some people to avoid wandering into the adoption of sock puppet behaviors you don't want, like using it as a Batman mask that unleashes a more Dionysian version of the "real" user. Mods might spend more time investigating problem possible sock puppet accounts than they would passing along messages from anonymous askers.

Certainly, the anonymous asking page should ask would-be anonymous askers if they really need it and present some typical cases for justified anonymizing. However, I think a hard limit or things that make people afraid to ask anonymous questions would make the site less richer. Personally, as a reader of questions and answers, I find anonymous questions are among the most informative here.
posted by ignignokt at 8:55 PM on June 3, 2010


What about a 'dead zone'; a page somewhere that contains the rejected anon questions from the last 2~3 days?

No, I think that would be a bad idea in practice.

But encouraging that as a strategy also seems contrary to the goal if the goal is to build community upon some assumption of consistent user identity. If everybody's got a sock, and socks are running around wantonly making appearances whenever, then we sort of lose the consistent identity piece that we value.

I agree that it's not something we're interested in seeing become a wanton, everybody-is-doing-it sort of thing. We don't want to encourage that, which is part of why there's a $5 speedbump on account registry and why we keep an eye out for weirder or abusive seeming dual-personality stuff with alternate accounts.

In context, the folks who would have a good reason to have an privacy-firewall alternate account are only a fraction of a fraction of the userbase: people who not only use the anonymous askme feature at all (which is, I'd estimate, a small portion of the active askme-using userbase though the question of how to determine that figure for sure is a sticky one in its own right) but use it regularly enough that they ought to consider the sock option instead for the reasons we've talked about above.

If that comes down to fifty or a hundred fairly active anony-using people moving their existing asking-anonymously practices over to asking-pseudonymously, we're talking about a small shift, not a large one, and one that's actually a bit positive in the community-continuity sense because at least their anonymous questions have some internal consistency of identity even if its apart from the identity more visible to the community in their main account.

That we'd like to find some way to reduce the number of anonymous questions coming through the gates is a given; the question is more of whether that is best accomplished by encouraging people to take their anony stuff to a pseudonymous second account, or by encouraging people to think about how borderline questions can be asked under their main handle with a bit of extra care about potentially touchy details, or by encouraging people to just plain skip on some of the low-stakes questions they might otherwise only ask anonymously. I'm inclined to think the answer is in some mix of those.

Hmm, do the mods know why AnonMe's have been growing? I ask out of curiosity and wonder if an answer the question could point to a solution.

We don't know why. I wish we had a firm idea of the cause, but I doubt it's any one specific concrete thing.

I'd guess its just growing familiarity with and tendency to use the feature, maybe mixed with as LobsterMitten suggests a growing sense of caution about privacy in the popular zeitgeist. To some extent the answer is just "because we've let it happen", but it's been such a slow shift that it took us till now to really feel like a significant trend was being borne out beyond the bounds of local ups and downs.

So have them give you an email address. It doesn't have to be associated with anything, or even the same between questions, so there's no reason why it can't be as anonymous as the actual question.

I dig the idea, but it may (and this goes for some other accountability-minded suggests people have made in this thread) be problematic to the degree that it'd bother folks to have some additional paper trail involved, and it does sort of put more pressure on the wary folks or the unsavvy (I know setting up a spare email address seems awfully trivial to a lot of us, but it doesn't to everyone).

If I created a (non-jokey) sockpuppet and used it for what would otherwise be an anonymous askme, I am certain I would screw up at some point in that or another thread.

It's okay to drop us an "oh shit I accidentally outed myself please help" note in an occasion like that. It happens every once in a while.

It seems to me that the problem and solutions are different if you have a huge number of people asking one anonymous question than a relatively small number of people asking a whole bunch of anonymous questions.

If anony patterns resemble basically every other user behavior pattern on the site, and I don't think there's a clear reason to think they wouldn't, we're probably looking at a typical power law or 80/20 situation: a relatively small proportion of the active userbase being responsible for a very large chunk of the activity, with the balance taken up by a whole lot of low-frequency users. Think long tail. So if we can encourage the most active users to modify their user of the feature significantly, that should hopefully have a measurable impact; if a portion of the folks in the tail also react, that'll help too.

Stuff like active discussion in metatalk may help with the power users in particular, since they're more likely to be aware of and follow discussions here; modifications to the posting page will probably help with the long-tail folks in particular.

Is it at all feasible (from technical and moderation standpoints) to create some kind of Concealed User question?

This sort of thing would involve a significant shift in our long-standing "stuff is fundamentally anonymous within the database itself" policy, is the main thing. It'd be technically feasible to change that, yes, but it'd be a big social/policy change that we've heard from many people in previous discussion would make them very uncomfortable, and which we're not hot about ourselves either. So that's the roadblock there: not that we can't do it, but that we're not really thinking we should do it.

It's a complicated question, definitely, but I think we're going to have to be in a position where making that change was really overwhelmingly compelling before we'd seriously consider tackling that kind of fundamental change to how the system works. So, I don't know if it's a "hey, drop it" thing precisely, but I do want to be clear that there's reasons why we're not snapping those suggestions up.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:01 PM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


jessamyn: "there's a lack of community utility with these sorts of questions "

I'm sorry to be dense, but can you clarify this? It seems like you're saying utility is linked explicitly to identity.
posted by boo_radley at 9:01 PM on June 3, 2010


I agree with Miko that the feature hiding to mods the name of people asking anonymous questions is morally cute but not useful. Anonymity should be granted for publishing, not for mods' eyes. As I understand it, it is this feature that doesn't allow counting (hence the possibility of limiting) the number of anonymous questions asked.

I am also wondering if the anonymous topic is not just the canary in the coal mine about the scaling of Mefi with more and more members. I have found a personal solution (explained in my profile) to deal with it, but I think that if the community agrees, there is a lot of room to have more explicit rules for having more meaningful conversations.
posted by bru at 9:04 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


cortex: "This sort of thing would involve a significant shift in our long-standing "stuff is fundamentally anonymous within the database itself" policy"

Only if you replace anonymity entirely. Why couldn't you just leave the anonymous askme functionality intact for the people who really need it, and enable the concealed username functionality for people who want to do that instead?

It really does sound like that would address most of the use cases you guys seem concerned about.
posted by Riki tiki at 9:10 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why do I keep reading "AnonyMe" as "AnnoyMe"?

Anyway, some suggestions:

Two levels of "Anonymous" questions, one, kind of a "Confidential", where the Mods (or more likely, ONE Mod) know the identity of the asker, might make administration somewhat easier (I don't know about the rest of you, but I'd trust the MeFi Mods with SOME of my secrets) and the other, already existing "Top Secret" level, with tight usage limits (twice a year per user?).

And the site may benefit from having formally acknowledged and regulated "sock puppet" accounts. I can think of a lot of drawbacks (and what incentive to we have for current socks to come clean? Okay, that sounded funny.) but when you know formally what 2nd account belongs to whom, it's not hard to get earlier warnings of abuse, not to mention better enforcing the posting limits.

Feel free to tear my suggestions to shreds...
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:10 PM on June 3, 2010


Encouraging the creation of a ton of sock puppets

I don't think that's what's happening here; the mods are simply saying that if you start to find you have some ongoing need for questions you don't want attached to your main account's history (and there are hundreds of valid reasons that can happen), go ahead and create a new $5 account instead of asking the mods to post those questions anonymously. It's a sensible solution that reduces the amount of work they have to do, while reassuring users who've been thinking that creating a new account for sensitive issues was heavily frowned upon.
posted by mediareport at 9:11 PM on June 3, 2010


Just an idea... when you guys needed someone to watch the site during the US overnight period, you signed on Vacapinta. Why not sign on a mod who only deals with AnonyMes? (I have no idea who gets paid around here, if money's an issue just forget it.)
posted by IndigoRain at 9:13 PM on June 3, 2010


by encouraging people to think about how borderline questions can be asked under their main handle with a bit of extra care about potentially touchy details, or by encouraging people to just plain skip on some of the low-stakes questions they might otherwise only ask anonymously

These are the things I think would work the best. They would be more work for you guys up front but would pay off longer term. I don't know about the sock puppet thing, I can see how it works if you have ongoing issues but that's so rare, it doesn't seem like it would make much of a difference in general.

I can also see the downsides of making people give you an email but figured I'd throw it out there.

I think my attitude is "make them work for it". But more than that, tell people up front they'll have to work for it so hopefully they won't complain so much when the work needs to be done. Want an anonymous question posted? Write a good question worth posting! I may have spent too much time grading student assignments recently though, and the semester ends today so that should wear off soon.
posted by shelleycat at 9:13 PM on June 3, 2010


Oh, also like to 2nd boo_radley's request for clarification from jessamyn about how anonymous questions lessen "community utility." Not snarky, just unsure how you're thinking that works.
posted by mediareport at 9:15 PM on June 3, 2010


Miko had an excellent comment above that I agree with entirely. I'm not seeing the problem with anonymous questions from a community standpoint. The community (with known, repeated identities) is there plenty in the comments. I find that these are often some of the most useful questions on MetaFilter. I have learned a lot by reading other people's anonymous questions. I know it takes more mod attention than the mods would like, but I think it is worth it.

I also have never understood the lack of empathy on why certain questions need to be anonymous. For example:

I have no idea why livability in Gainsville and Ob/Gyn's and Hospitals in Toronto really need to be anon, but there you are.

Because people can get fired if their employers learn that they are thinking of taking a job somewhere else? Or planning to get maternity leave? Yes, I know the latter is often illegal, but it still happens.

As far as making a sock puppet account and reusing it, I'm a bit wary of it, because it is trivially easy it is to locate someone's super-secret MetaFilter account if you know a little about them, and then you know a bunch of other stuff about them.
posted by grouse at 9:19 PM on June 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


how anonymous questions lessen "community utility."

I feel that having AnonyMe questions as an option for people is useful to the community, but if there are too many of them it inhibits the sort of community-building function that AskMe otherwise sort of engenders. I didn't mean anything in particular by it, but just that in an online environment where really all you have to identify people is their username and the words associated with them, having a bunch of unassociated questions seems to not build community the way the other stuff does.

This isn't something I've been dwelling on and getting bugged by, just something I generally think where there needs to be a balance and my gut feeling is we're leaning a bit too far on the "too many AnonyMe questions" side.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:24 PM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I can see why longtime/active users don't want to ask about drinking problems or touchy relationship issues under their regular user name.

But I would support newer users of the site not being able to post Anonymously, because I wonder if some of those questions are from newbies who don't realize the limitations of asking via Anonymous.

I find myself wanting to point out that y'know, you don't have to use your real name and link to your home address here. How many layers of anonymity does one need to protect sorta basic privacy? The non-lifethreatening-or-embarrassing health questions and the employment issues seem more likely to me to be anonymous for fear of the "outside world" getting wind of them.
posted by desuetude at 9:29 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


That makes sense, jessamyn. It's about balance and "too much," etc. It does need to be emphasized, though, that the anonymous option in AskMe isn't just useful - it's actively *important.*

I've done a bunch of helpline counseling in the past, which is definitely affecting my opinion here, but some of the things being said in this thread about the worthlessness of anonymity as a tool for helping people are really off-base and need to be clearly rejected. Occasional anonymity is a net community plus. By far.
posted by mediareport at 9:37 PM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


That's a thoughtful answer, jessamyn.
I don't really have a particular interest in making anonymous posts, so my perspective might be a bit outside the norm for this topic. I support your "use them intelligently" idea for anonymous questions (and even signed ones).

Having said that, I think there's communal value in answering as a known entity, and answers may provide a better sense of an individual than his questions.

Sent from my phone.
posted by boo_radley at 9:39 PM on June 3, 2010


It's much more common for me to look at Anon questions these days and think "Really? Anonymous toenail fungus? Really?" so yeah, I can see how the PIA factor is going up there.

I think the best response is to batten down the hatches on Anon questions. The guidelines on that form are, plainly speaking, neither good nor clear, nor do they set the bar very high. I genuinely think that with every toenail/Gainesville/asthma question the mods let through, more users are encouraged to look back at what gets approved and ask equally useless and system-abusing questions.

I'm wondering if the reason so many of these wimpy Ask questions get through is because TeamAsk doesn't want to have to deal with the back and forth emails when a question is rejected/never appears. Which, honestly, is fair enough, but I think more than anything indicates the current admin system isn't sufficient to the task.

I think something like a new form that's a bit more discouraging with:

1) Better guidelines on what makes a justifiable Anon question
2) A statement on the form that as of June 2010, Ask allows anonymous questions through only rarely and the question is unlikely to be posted.
3) A box requiring you to add the reason your question is anonymous

...and more rigorous weeding of questions approved would set the bar higher.

Optionally, you can include a checkbox that says "If your question is rejected and you want to know why, an Ask moderator can send the reason to any email address you provide. Otherwise, your question will simply not appear. Decisions of the moderators are final."

And then have the approval form send rejection notices with the entered reason (ala rejected MeFi posts) from noreply@ask.metafilter.com so all y'all don't have to have a zillion conversations with askers about this.

Really, what I'm saying is that the quality of those questions increasingly sucks and the volume is a pain in your asses, so just batten down the hatches and say No! to more Anon Asks.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:48 PM on June 3, 2010 [8 favorites]


- the rare lulzy comment

What do you mean, "rare"? Is that some kind of crack about COOKING ME?

This isn't over!
posted by Passillododorconquail Buttonquivorybidododorbacon at 9:53 PM on June 3, 2010


Okay, how about this: a new site called AnonyMe. Any $5 user can use it, and you get one question a month. To the regular AskMe posting page, you add a highly emphasized note to say "hey, you are NOT posting anonymously; if you intended to post anonymously, go to AnonyMe instead." To the new AnonyMe posting page, you add a highly emphazied note to say "hey, are you sure this needs to be anonymous? If you post this in AskMe, you're likely to get better answers, and to make the community a better place. Plus, you can post a question a week instead of a question a month."

So now people who over-use the mods' grace on anonymous posts won't be a burden, and overall the mod burden will be somewhat less, people who hate the anonymous questions can stay away from them, and with a one-per-month limit we'll have an immediate 75% reduction in chatfilter questions (because, presumably, it is a subset of users doing the chatfilter thing anonymously, one question per week.)
posted by davejay at 10:07 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, and by making it a separate site, we reduce the likelihood of oh-shit-i-just-posted-non-anonymously-because-i-forgot-to-check-the-box-mods-please-hope-me risk that would come from simply automating the anonymous posting process within AskMe.
posted by davejay at 10:11 PM on June 3, 2010


I dunno, the idea of asker moderation seems simpler to me.
posted by boo_radley at 10:15 PM on June 3, 2010


This sounds like a number of problems:

1) Anonymous questions are more work to post because they require mod approval.
2) Follow-up requires mod time.
3) Anonymous answers about questions embarrassing enough to prompt anonymity are either A) time-consuming to go through mods or B) require throw-away email addresses or C) discouraged because the answerer does not want to do A) or B).
4) Anonymous questions are of lower quality.
5) Anonymous questions (and answers, for that matter), after a certain point, do not increase community rapport the way that nonymous (did I just make that up?) questions and answers do, although that is not a problem for some users.
6) Anonymous questions are something of a tracking problem, which makes figuring metrics that much tougher.
7) Anonymous questions are often requested that way without being too justifiable.
8) Anonymous questions are increasing in proportion, which wouldn't matter at all if the previous problems were not in existence.

With that many problems, I doubt that a single measure would suffice. And ... people are not prone to read guidelines or follow those if they have read over the material.

A pb-based technical solution to #1, #2, and #3 would probably make #7 and #8 worse, although solving just #2 and #3 computationally ought not to make #7 and #8 bubble up.

#6 could be tracked in a very loose fashion — after the question is closed, the database could "disconnect" the user behind the question from the data, aside from "adipocere has had 5 Anonymous questions in 2008." That would make questions eventually anonymous in the database itself, while still providing some kind of tracking. That could be used to tamp down on #8.

If mod approval was still part of #1, #7 might be speedbumped in a fashion involving a "Hey, yeah, here's the field where you justify that this ought to be anonymous." That might help with #8 as well.

It's a shame micropayments just aren't "there" yet, or I'd suggest some five dollar charge per anonymous question, which would save the creation of essentially empty facades of users. With the money going to some kind of fund split half and half between beer for the mods (or tasty beverage of choice) and, given the proportion of DTMFA-related anonymous questions, beverages of higher alcoholic content.

While five dollars is hardly important for most MeFites, sockpuppets do not solve the "who wants to meet cortex and try to have a conversation with him while he is also remembering you registered that funny name, SquishSquish, to post about seeking help for your chronic habit of picking your nose while watching crush videos" problem also created by anonymous questions.

I do not think #7 is solvable in any other fashion than by tamping down on #8.

As to the causes for the desire for anonymity, the source of #8, I guess we've got:

A) MeFi-centric embarrassment
B) Search engine fear
C) Members feeling increased comfort in asking embarrassing questions
D) Members having increased vagueness and chatfiltery whatever they would like to get off of their collective chests

I suppose A and C would actually increase as the level of community increases — if you're a bunch of strangers anyway, I wouldn't care about admitting that my bellybutton smells like Roquefort and wondering how to fix it. That would mean that A and C have a slight negative feedback loop with #5.

B is fixable with the aforementioned meta tags — perhaps as a checkbox?

#4 is just a facet of D. That chatfilter "urge" is strong and will likely bubble up wherever people can post if they don't have a place to direct it. I mean, it bugs the ever-lovin' Hades out of me how many damn big box stores (Walmart, Target, etc.) are being built with the entrance on the left and the exit on the right, contrary to the standard American driving and walking rules, but I have just enough self-restraint not to post that as an anonymous question. Although, if anyone would like to clue me in ...

Many issues created by multiple sources. I think some technical stuff could ease the symptoms and problems created, but the drives are harder to manage.
posted by adipocere at 10:27 PM on June 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


desuetude: I find myself wanting to point out that y'know, you don't have to use your real name and link to your home address here. How many layers of anonymity does one need to protect sorta basic privacy? The non-lifethreatening-or-embarrassing health questions and the employment issues seem more likely to me to be anonymous for fear of the "outside world" getting wind of them.

I agree with this on principle, but with a huge jump in basic interconnectedness on the internet and search engine sophistication, it's become so easy to link identities across websites that whether or not you use your real name almost becomes a moot point. There have been a lot of instances in the past where members have proven how easy it is to build a near-complete and scarily accruate biography of someone just based on their posting history.

I use the same username, or some variation thereof, for nearly every website. it really wouldn't be that hard to track me down and find out my employer, location, phone number, etc. I realize that this is totally my prerogative and it was a conscious decision on my part, but I feel like the practice of using similar usernames for different websites isn't totally outlandish or even unwise, so there'd probably be a good reason to separate some information you post online from your primary identity even if your primary identity isn't necessarily linked to your offline persona.

(MeFi meetups are a whole other kettle of fish altogether.)
posted by Phire at 10:27 PM on June 3, 2010


OMG just approve fewer questions.
posted by mullacc at 10:30 PM on June 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


nonymous (did I just make that up?)

The word you were looking for is pseudonymous. (at least on metafilter)
posted by empath at 10:33 PM on June 3, 2010


If you need to ask about the thing wrong with your privates or whatever that bad you can get a sockpuppet. And in the rare, rare, rare case that a Chinese dissident needs help the mods can always make an exception.

I agree somewhat with this. But I do think the sockpuppet "solution" has the power to create as many problems as it solves. This problem has been creeping, and there's no reason to think it won't continue to creep right on into sockpuppet use.

So I have a solution:

The "temporary" sockpuppet. Want to ask an anonymous question? You pay $5 (or whatever the mods think would work) for a one question-only sockpuppet. You can respond to comments or clarify - only within that question - for as long as the question remains open. So it's a bit like a sockpuppet, but the cost would prohibit abuse, and the getting around the one question a week thing.

(And now I've just read davejay's similar idea. But I like the one-time only thing better than once a month.)
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:34 PM on June 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


What would be the incentive to pony up the same amount of money for a temporary sock instead of a new account?
posted by Phire at 10:35 PM on June 3, 2010


If you want to know who is using the anonymous thingy and why they're doing it and how often they're doing it, why not ask? You already have the code to produce anonymous surveys. Even something as simple as this:

1. How long have you been on the site?
2. How many questions have you asked?
3. How many of those questions have been anonymous?


...would give you a lot more information than you already have.


"But for me, and for other like me, who have been to meetups and who have made friends off the site and have been guests in their homes and who have dozens of photos on flickr with our MetaFilter names attached to them, it's a different game entirely. Because of this higher profile, there are a lot of issues I will not discuss here except anonymously."

Yeah, in this sense anonymous questions disproportionately benefit people who are very active in the metafilter community, both on-line and off, so restricting them would disproportionately affect us, probably negatively.

Like jason's_planet, I know a zillion mefites in real life, I'm dating someone who is active on the site, my real-life name is connected to my account in multiple ways, there are pictures of me at meetups, and...other stuff. I also am one of the few people here who openly practices some really alternative shit, sex/love/lifestyle wise so to some extent I represent those communities, whether I (or they) like it or not. All of these things weigh very heavily on me when it comes to posting certain personal questions.

Recently, I asked a question about some hardcore shit that I really needed to ask, as in I was freaking out to the point of being unable to sleep. The answers I got to that question were helpful in the extreme.

So yeah, I think anonymous questions have utility and that they are good for maintaining a community while making sure that everyone has equal ability to ask sensitive stuff, especially people who are prominent, notorious, old-school, TMI, happy to have their account connected to their real name...or whatever. Those people are really valuable to the community feel of the site.

I hope I am making sense, here. Basically, anonymous questions have value to the community, especially to people who put a lot of themselves into the site, and I think they are awesome, and it sucks that they're a lot of work but I think that they are worth it and great the way they are.

Sockpuppets are cool, but I didn't know they were cool until about 5 or 6 months ago, and I've been reading since early 2007. For a site where consistent identity is important, most people probably assume that it is against the rules to have a sockpuppet.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:40 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


There have been a lot of instances in the past where members have proven how easy it is to build a near-complete and scarily accurate biography of someone just based on their posting history.

Yeah, see, I wasn't very impressed by the ZOMG of this in practice as a privacy concern. I am not convinced that female, short-haired, bisexual socialists-leaning foodies working in non-profit administration in Philadelphia are such a rarefied breed that I'm instantly recognizable to anyone other than Mefites with whom I'm already acquainted. (Except for that one time.)
posted by desuetude at 10:42 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I agree that there are increasingly too many anonymous questions, many for not very clear reasons.

My sense is that the solution is two-fold. First, the disconnect at the back end between the asker and the mods (where it's apparently a huge pain to figure out who asked the question originally) adds friction to the system -- it's harder to identify problem users, harder to contact users for clarification of a question, harder to do pretty much anything. I don't know how easy the fix is, but I'd think it's as simple as tying the anonymous request form to your MeFi account number.

Secondly, I think the mods are erring way too far on the side of approving anything labeled "anonymous" that comes across their plate. Reserve anonymous questions for ones where the person has clearly articulated why (perhaps in a separate text box comment area?), in terms that make sense to the moderators, and where the asker isn't such a routine customer as to need a sock puppet account.

I'm strongly against anonymous answering. Having an account with a goofy name and no identifying information is $5 away, and you can answer embarrassing questions to your heart's content. Even sock puppets, if they comment often enough, become recognizable "personalities" on the site -- free-floating "anonymous" never has and never will.
posted by Forktine at 10:45 PM on June 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think the vast majority of Anonymous questions are questions that you just shouldn't be asking to a large group of strangers. If the question is "My husband is cheating on me, what should I do?", maybe that's a question for your best friend or your sister/brother, not 5,000 or your not-so-closest colleagues. There are myriad forums for these kinds of things.

A good Anonymous Q is one like, I think, "My weiner is covered in warts, has this happened to you?" or "I just inherited 70 kabillion bucks, what's my best investment option?".
posted by GilloD at 10:55 PM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Late to this discussion but I want to add my 2c.

At least once a week if not more I'm interested in a question that I see and considering answering and only later note that a) it's anon and b) there's serious information missing and c) it probably didn't need to be anonymous in the first place. C) happens more often than the others... My feeling is that a good portion of anonymous questions never needed to be and a higher proportion of anonymous questions end up being semi-polluted in a clusterf*** trying to clarify - without the asker's participation - just what the situation really is. Even worse is when I see Jessamyn or cortex contribute a long post with clarifying issue - having been a community manager elsewhere, I know that the time that takes and how challenging it can be.

I get that everyone has a different comfort level about disclosing certain things online, and that there is a real utility on a site such as this to have this option available. At the same time, I think it's perfectly appropriate to have community norms established in terms of what kind of questions are going to be permitted to be asked anonymously.

Unfortunately there may be a gap between some people's comfort level and what is permitted (and I totally trust the mods to determine the standard). I think that's a valid tradeoff for the fact that a lot of the questions may still get asked, only under an established ID.

In practice, that would still involve a little time in that the person who wanted the Q to be anonymous should have a canned response communicating that the question doesn't meet the standard for anonymity, and suggest that they post the Q under their ID.

The unintended (or maybe partially-intended) consequence may be more sock puppet accounts, which I think would be a Very Bad Thing (may be a kneejerk reaction on my part - I'm not a fan of socks, period) - but there's already a pretty good and reasonably well-respected norm to NOT use socks willy-nilly, so that consequence might not be so bad in practice.

Bottom line - more severity on the part of the mods on this issue here would be very welcome to me, and I think could have very positive community-building effects, even if only to reduce the noise level that anonymous questions can ratchet up unnecessarily.
posted by mikel at 11:04 PM on June 3, 2010


Actually, GilloD, I think medical questions, which should be asked of a doctor, and questions seeking financial advice, which should be asked of a financial services professional, are not very good anonymous AskMe questions. But asking what to do about a suspected cheating husband is exactly the sort of thing that a forum can give pretty good advice about and where asking anonymously could be a very good idea.

(And questions seeking legal advice, for reasons discussed extensively in other threads, should generally not be asked on AskMe at all - anonymous or not.)

I have noticed that it seems like the breadth of anonymous question topics has increased over the last few years, concurrent with the increase in the number of anonymous questions. I assumed that this was the result of a change in the mods' willingness to allow anonymous questions that would not previously have passed muster. Maybe tightening up the standards for what gets approved for Anon posting would fix the issue. Or maybe that would be too burdensome for the mods.

I can't imagine that anyone, outside of extraordinary circumstances that could be handled on a case-by-case basis, really needs to post more than one anonymous AskMe question per year. So I think a one-per-year (or one per user, ever) rule could be very helpful, assuming there are currently people who ask more than one per year.
posted by The World Famous at 11:05 PM on June 3, 2010


It sounds like the anonymous question backend is due for an overhaul.

The way I understand it, all anonymous submissions are tagged by usernumber (?) and placed in a big queue, where the mods approve or deny them one by one. If denied, there's no easy way for the asker to know if or why it happened. There's also no easy way for the mods to keep tabs on asker activity -- identifying the submitter of a question requires matching the timestamp in the anonymous queue with the timestamp of an email alert containing the submitter's username, and is rarely done. This is good for privacy, but a pretty ramshackle, ad-hoc system that makes large-scale analysis and moderation difficult. Finally, the nature of the central Anonymous account makes asker feedback difficult and indirect and eliminates things like highlighting of the OP's posts and Best Answers.

I have a rough idea for a new system that addresses most of these problems. It would be difficult to implement, but would have great payoffs in usability and efficiency of moderation.

In an ideal system, anonymous questions would be associated with a user's account, and would manifest differently to different parties. Here's how I see it working:

Asking a question

All anonymous activity would be managed at a special "My Anonymous" page. This page would function like the Mefi Mail inbox in that it's one URL that would display the relevant private content to each user. The link to this page would appear to logged-in users along the top bar of AskMe, or perhaps in their profile.

When clicking this link for the first time, you'd be taken to a submission form with firm guidelines as to what should qualify as an anonymous question. After you compose your post and click "Submit," the page would refresh and show the question as if it were posted, only with the comments disabled and with a prominent message informing you that the question is awaiting moderator approval and to check back within the next few days. At that point, clicking on the "My Anonymous" link would take you to this preview. There would also be an option to retract your question if needed.

Moderation

Submitted questions would go into a queue for the mods. All questions in the queue would be tied to their submitters by a unique ID -- perhaps their usernumber, although that could present privacy problems for anybody with a memorable or well-known number, such as a very low one or something like that. Because of the unique ID, the mods would be able to look up all questions posted by a given user without knowing their identity. They'd also be able to send a blind MeMail/email to the user if they needed to clarify something. There should still be a way to identify the user if necessary, but it would be behind a barrier or two to safeguard privacy. Maybe a separate table correlating unique IDs to users that the mods could reference. Make this fact clear to users on the anonymous submission form.

If a submission is approved, the "please wait" message on the user's "My Anonymous" page would go away, the question would be posted to a standard public URL, and the comments would open for business. The user would also maybe get an automated Memail/email alert letting them know their question was accepted (this would be an opt-in feature, for privacy's sake). If they visited their "My Anonymous" page again, they'd be shown a message telling them they have to wait X days until their next question, and maybe a link to their current active question.

If the question is denied, the preview at the "My Anonymous" page would update with a standard black deletion box explaining why it was rejected. The user would get the (optional) Memail/email letting them know. There would then be an "OK" button below the deletion reason that, when clicked, would clear the rejected question and return the user to the submission form. Or maybe to a "please wait one week" message, if the mods think that a lot of people might send in junk question after junk question if rejected questions didn't "count."

This would give users a way to keep track of the status of their question and get some explanation if it's deleted, while avoiding the messy back-and-forth of direct contact with the mods via email.

Participation

Since anonymous questions would be tied to the user's account, they'd be able to participate anonymously in their own threads as long as they're logged in. This means follow-up responses and Best Answers. To the rest of the site, this activity would be attributed to the generic Anonymous account, but any flags would appear to the mods as tied to the unique ID I mentioned earlier, to allow for (anonymous) recognition of problematic askers. The only uncertainty I have is how much of this new functionality should be exposed to users -- should they be able to view their own anonymous questions in their profiles, for instance? What if they're using a shared or public computer? Maybe the site should require the user to log-in again whenever the "My Anonymous" page is accessed, like Google does when logged-in users try to access certain sensitive pages.



Anyway, again, such a system would be a challenge to implement from scratch. But it would solve a lot of problems at once -- difficulty of moderation, confusion over question status, management of one's anonymous questions, use of Anonymous to skirt the once-a-week limit -- while allowing for community-strengthening dialog with anonymous posters (which also eliminates the need for throwaway emails, sockpuppets, and mods-as-inbetweens). It would add a lot of long-term value to the site, much more than something like Memail.

Thoughts?

please don't kill me with your ninja powers, pb
posted by Rhaomi at 11:05 PM on June 3, 2010


Now if we could systematically ban the knee-jerk "you shouldn't ask this question of a group of strangers" response and put those posters on probation I would also be all for that ;->
posted by mikel at 11:05 PM on June 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm sure there are a bunch of people asking more than one anonymous question per year. Only because I have been repeatedly surprised by the number of people who ask so many non-anonymous questions that they want a pony whose sole purpose is to queue up questions to be posted as the timer runs out. So at this point I'm going to assume that a non trivial amount of people have the burning need to post anonymous multiple times per year.

Personally I think a $1 fee for an anonymous question would solve the problem without requiring keeping track of who asked which question (since you would need to know when a year is up). If your question isn't worth $1, you probably didn't need to ask it anonymously in the first place.
posted by Justinian at 11:19 PM on June 3, 2010


Oh! I know! Let users click an anonymous checkbox that encrypts their username with a one-way function*. Nobody would be able to map it back to their "main" username, but that poster's anonymous comments would add up to a separate and distinct posting history to better serve the community as a whole.

*i was gonna say an anagram or encode it with ROT-13, but then I decided to make it a serious suggestion.
posted by davejay at 11:21 PM on June 3, 2010


We could call the feature "insta-puppet".
posted by davejay at 11:22 PM on June 3, 2010


Worries about a couple of the solutions proposed above:
Seems like having a whole separate interface for anonymous questions with followup would make anonymous posting seem more like a standard routine part of the site (rather than a rare break-glass-in-case-of-emergency thing), thereby encouraging more users to post anonymously.

And making small-fee-based anonymous questions risks making people feel entitled to as many as they care to pay for ("hey, I'm paying for the privilege, how dare you refuse my longwinded question?").
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:35 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are thousands of users here who depend on mods keeping this place in order. Maybe those 10 (or whatever) anonymous questioners every day are using a disproportionate amount of our resources by eating up mod time that could be better spent not micromanaging personal dramas about toenail fungus.

At the very least, charge extra for anonymous questions. Figure out what it costs to manage the typical anonymous question (real corporate cost of employing that mod at that machine for that amount of time) and then double or triple it to add profit and discourage pointlessly anonymous activity. If the actual cost is lower than 20 dollars, make it 20 dollars anyway on the SAIT principle.

After there is enough money coming into the system to justify managing anonymous questions, it's a matter of making sure you have the staff to do so. Is there a staff shortage at MetaFilter Network Inc.?
posted by pracowity at 11:43 PM on June 3, 2010


An anonymous question should cost substantially more than a sockpuppet account.
posted by The World Famous at 11:47 PM on June 3, 2010


Okay, I asked an anon question while drunk. I got the greatest answers in the world to it. (thank you over and over, namesarehard!) I was so completely destroyed (I mean genuinely emotionally, not in the drunken context) at the time, and part of it was venting, I freely admit. I also admit that wasn't the best use of the site, but yet, you know what? It kind of was. I would never, never have posted that under my own username, because I am really new to the site and didn't want to jump in with a big rant about something that was an obviously touchy subject here (depression, if you want to know, not toenails). But I tell you what - it let me know A) that this site was worth the $5 times roughly 10 million, based upon the wonderful, sympathetic and knowledgeable answers I received. and B) sometimes you just need the most impartial judges you can possibly get. I can see how if X commenter knew it was Y posting, X would respond differently than if Z asked the same exact question.

I say keep it.
posted by deep thought sunstar at 11:56 PM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I would think that stricter moderation of anon questions would be a spike in short-term work, but eventually be a long-term positive. There should probably also be a warning or something when attempting to ask anonymously giving guidelines on what should or shouldn't be anon so people will know in advance. (I would check what the page looks like now, but I cannot currently ask a question on AskMe!)

Also, a volunteer anon mod (I don't know who is paid or not to be a mod)?
posted by asciident at 11:57 PM on June 3, 2010


I wonder why anyone would post one of those "I'm incredibly vague and don;t have a real question" type questionms anonymously when they are not able to mod the thread and express disapointment in every single answer in the prescribed manner...
posted by Artw at 12:12 AM on June 4, 2010


What about taking the burden of moderation away from the mods and throwing it to the mefites? AnonyMe's could get automatically posted to a page where mefites could drop in and add a Yea or Nay vote to them, with a threshold of yea triggering posting to the green.
A lot of anonymous user contribution sites seem to work successfully on this model,e.g. fml.
posted by Billegible at 12:17 AM on June 4, 2010


I've noticed the trending upwards of anonymous questions and did actually think about what that was doing to the mods' workload. But I've also made use of it myself, exactly twice in the last six years. Like others have said, I've been to some meetups and want to be able to keep going to meetups without having other folks there look at me sideways. So I'd want to keep the availability of anonymous questions, they are an extremely useful vent for the community.

I'd be totally fine with setting a limit, though. One or two anonymous questions a year. If you need it more than that, get a sockpuppet. It's a valuable resource but it does have costs to the moderators, so encourage more judicious use of it. Rather than forcing the mods to be the bad guys not approving a question, put the responsibility on us to use the function with care. We can handle it, we have our big kid pants on.

Well, most of us do.
posted by ambrosia at 12:23 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Sincere question: Why are anonymous questions bad?"

They're not, on spec. But the sort of questions that tend to be asked anonymously add no value to the site as a repository of knowledge: they're generally the same broad scenarios adapted to the particular circumstances of the writer. I'm not even sure they really help the questioner who probably already knows the answer or intended course of action but isn't admitting it to themselves.

Another idea: delete all anonymous Qs after a period of time since their reference value is close to zero. It might discourage any showboating and/or made-up tomfoolery. That's if we can't do away with them entirely, which I don't think is a bad idea.
posted by nthdegx at 1:17 AM on June 4, 2010


I'm very late to the party aren't I? o dear and I had such a nice costume picked out too...
posted by infini at 1:28 AM on June 4, 2010


Also late to the party here, but I have a few ideas I haven't caught in my scan of the above.

First, this is a growing pain that is rather unsurprising as site use continues to increase. If its requiring more management time / resources, the solutions are essentially to a) increase management capacity, or b) decrease inputs (i.e. limit site usage) that are causing a strain on management time / resources. I would propose that some of both might be the best approach.

Regarding decreasing inputs: I definitely agree with the idea of setting a limit. In addition to that, I would suggest that the mods consider charging a fee for anon questions. It is important that a limit is in place first however so that Anon questions are not simply seen as a hoard-able commodity. I would propose something in the $3-5 range as a starter, enough to make people think twice or three times before asking their question, not enough to be overly strenuous on users who are cash-strapped but have an important question.

Regarding increasing management capacity: The benefit of the cash influx is that you can pay for a shiny new mini-mod responsible solely for the management of the Anon question queue. They can handle all the follow-up emails, CC their managing mods when necessary for larger discussion, basically act as a shit-deflector for the mods, which is what any good staff member is responsible for. Also, I would recommend that anyone responsible for this job is a) not a volunteer, and b) contracted with clear stipulations of employ, particularly around the sensitive nature of the work.

Its your site, mods. You can either allow it to grow, or you can limit the growth in thoughtful ways that make the site better for everyone (what you seem to be doing herein) - but still limit the growth. In either scenario - there is still growth, and at some point if the growth remains a constant, increasing your management capacity is going to be the only choice.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:57 AM on June 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


suggestion: change the anon post function into an application for status. anyone can apply to have his question asked anonymously but there is no such right. that way you would have to sign off on questions being posted anonymously.
posted by krautland at 2:26 AM on June 4, 2010


I think I would prefer to see an 'X anon. questions per year' function rather than charging for the question. The process of asking questions should continue to be free (well, free for me, $5 one time charge for all of the noobs), just on principle.

That said, it would be good if the database implementation took some measure to preserve anonymity, in case of subpoenas, etc... So maybe when you ask an anonymous question, it sets the 'asked an anonymous question' flag for midnight on a random day within (say) two weeks on either side of when the question was actually asked. Then when the subpoena from the divorce court (or wherever) comes to the mods, they can reasonably state that they can't know which anonymous question any particular user asked.

In the interest of allowing a re-ask of a question that was denied (and then modified to be more acceptable), I would suggest allowing two, or maybe three, anonymous questions per year.
posted by kaibutsu at 2:38 AM on June 4, 2010


Also, do consider that attaching a cost for asking an anonymous question makes the question non-anonymous from a legal perspective. At that point, there's a pay-pal receipt, destroying deniability.
posted by kaibutsu at 2:41 AM on June 4, 2010


What's the relationship between new posters and anonymous questions? I ask because if there's a strong showing of new users among the anonymous AskMes, they might not see this (or really understand how the place works).

So it might be a matter of placing a note about it on the sign up form and on the AskMe form to the tune of 'we ask that you post anonymously only when really necessary as it undermines the transparency and sense of community that benefits all users'.

Or some such.

I think people are really struggling with anonymity and privacy these days and are kind of hypersensitive because of the amount of attention Facebook has gotten with their policies, so I think it might reflect that to some extent.

I struggle with it like crazy myself and have for a while. Lately I've been wondering, what if I just said 'fuck it' and turned all my FB settings to public--what difference would it make?

But anyway them there's my thoughts on anonymous AskMes and I apologize if I'm repeating things that have been said.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:43 AM on June 4, 2010


If the solution involves setting up a new site or a new sign up process or a new mod, then it doesn't seem to be easing the workload on the mods or solving the problem (if you see it as such) of too many anonymous questions.

A limit sounds like a sensible idea, though for it to have an effect then individual people would have to be asking several anonymous questions a year which, by the sounds of it, isn't occurring. A better suggestion is that an anonymous question should 'cost' several regular questions- it would ensure the anonymous questions are important enough, and also reduce the overall number of questions coming out.

That being said, I don't have a problem with the amount of anonymous questions - only with the quality of them. I think a more rigorous process that makes it clear to the user that they need to include any relevant information would result in clearer questions, and therefore less of a problem. This would have to be an automatic step, as if it came down to the mods to review and reject or make suggestions for improvements to each question, then it would simply be increasing their workload and adding to the problems caused by anonymous questions, which is precisely what we're trying to fix.
posted by twirlypen at 2:45 AM on June 4, 2010


But anonymous questions are a scourge.

So are sock puppets. They're the termites of the internet.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:46 AM on June 4, 2010


I like onefellswoop's suggestion above:

1) A "confidential" questioning mode, which supports "anonymous" OP replies. This would be implemented with full programmatic knowledge of identity on the backend; it just wouldn't be displayed to the public. Bonus feature: it shows up in your recent activity.

This could be used for the vast majority of currently anonymous questions: what's on my dick? Should I dump him? Does this guy really like me, or is he just like my sister more? etc.

2) A truly anonymous questioning mode that acts just as it does now. This one is for questions where, you know, a subpoena might come into play. Divorce questions, questions with incidental information about illegal activities.

These would continue to be as worthless as they are now, but people concerned over that level of anonymity could have their cake.

(Damn, that reads back real ineloquent. I'm exhausted. Bedtime!)
posted by Netzapper at 2:48 AM on June 4, 2010


Sorry to weigh in again; I love this kind of discussion.

My preference would be, if this were something I had to administer, is to address the issue through design/front end.

Programming changes don't just require resources to implement, they require resources to maintain over time. If they break, they need to be fixed. If everything else gets upgraded or changed that new thing has to be looked at as well.

Policy or heavy text changes don't get read. So I think that the greatest effectiveness is in a one sentence statement on the anonymous form and on the the larger policy/FAQ page, saying in the most succinct way possible that people are asked to please be judicious in their use of anonymity, including deep anonymity (anonymous versus 'a terrible llama') on Metafilter.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:59 AM on June 4, 2010


My suggestion would be to implement an intermediate grade of question between "full-on public question" and "completely and totally anonymous." This would simply be a way for the poster to have their name redacted from the question and any replies they post; I assume this would be sufficient anonymity for 95% of currently-anonymous questions.

This would be a checkbox on the posting page asking the poster if they want their name suppressed. Then the post, and any replies that user posts in the thread, will have the name redacted.

95% of anonymous threads don't need to be anonymous to the extent they currently are (where even mods can't easily ascertain who's asking the question). I'm not sure if for the other 5% (where for legal reasons or whatever, there really does need to be no way to find out who's asking) you just say screw it and let them fend for themselves, or still keep the anonymous posting form and dramatically tighten the requirements for its use.

[on preview, very similar to what oneswellfoop said]

Sidebar: And I'm pretty sure the idea of putting noindex tags on any component of AskMe is probably a non-starter from a site revenue perspective.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 3:38 AM on June 4, 2010


Then when the subpoena from the divorce court (or wherever) comes to the mods, they can reasonably state that they can't know which anonymous question any particular user asked.

It probably needs reiterating, but: the current system is functionally anonymous at a db level, which means in the case of an unexpected malicious breach of the server some dickhead cracker can't put the pieces together from our data tables and figure who asked anonymous questions. Which is great. But once we start talking subpoenas, that's not necessarily bulletproof since you're actually suggesting that we utter a reasonable sounding lie in the face of a legal mandate.

I'm not fond of the fact that a legal proceeding can compel data to be delivered like that, but this is one of the reasons we periodically stress in conversations about anony stuff that our system is not intended to be bulletproof. This is not a fundamentally, hardcore anonymous service, much as we do our best to make it functionally anonymous under normal and potentially abnormal circumstances.

Stuff that needs to be subpoena-proof, etc, needs to be handled by a much more thoroughly paranoid service, or the security aspect of it needs to be handled on the front end by asker themselves through e.g. reliably anonymous one-time-use accounts via fakey paypal signups and accessing the site through a chain of secure proxies and so on and so on. Protecting your identity against the full force of some entity dedicated by legal or extralegal means to the discovery of it is beyond the scope of Metafilter or, really, pretty much any site or service not primarily and to some extent suicidally dedicated to that purpose.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:46 AM on June 4, 2010


I certainly wasn't saying the mods should lie in the face of a subpoena; if they have other information outside of the database, of course they would need to give it up in the face of legal pressure. But if there isn't an additional email trail, and anonymous questions are common enough that the mods actually don't remember question X, then is there really any information about the question beyond what's in the database?

The cracking example is another good reason for anonymity at the database level, though, and I do think it's worth considering how an implementation could keep questions anonymous at the database level.

Ultimately, security of any kind is a deterrent, not a guarantee, regardless of whether you're defending against thieves or lawyers. (Or is that redundant?) It's just a question of how much effort it takes to overcome the security measures in place.
posted by kaibutsu at 4:17 AM on June 4, 2010


Need a way of making people think more before posting anonymous AskMes? Sounds like a job for MetaFilter PointsTM!
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:21 AM on June 4, 2010


I suggest three things.

1) one anonymous question per month per account. This cuts down on the rare abuser but doesn't affect the person with a real need. If someone needs another question, they can get a sock. Just raise the bar a little higher.

2) make it clearer that anonymous questions are not anonymous to mods -- and make changes to the back-end system to make it easier on yourself. Your assurances of "genteel security" via timestamps and whatever are irrelevant: if mods can find out who a poster is with five minutes of work (and you've said as much), then people with paranoia are already not posting anonymous questions. So you're being genteel for no reason at all; we already trust you or we wouldn't post. Obfuscate -- put the real ID behind a click so it's not jumping out at you -- but please make the back end software work for you, not against you.

3) clarify the sockpuppet stance. "If you need to ask a series of anonymous questions about a particular and sensitive topic, e.g. a job, your relationship, a sickness, a legal issue -- creating a new account for that situation might be best. It gives AskMe respondents a way of following on your history, it gives them a way to contact you via MeMail, and it gives you a way of responding in-thread."

The community is the richest part of MetaFilter; thanks for being so thoughtful about it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:29 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


one anonymous question per month per account.

I think that's way too many. If you're posting one anonymous question a month, you're already abusing the system.
posted by amro at 4:57 AM on June 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Cortex, I paid five bucks! I expect you to go to jail for me! *gets excited* Remember that scene in Cryptonomicon with the big coil around the doorway being activated as the servers are pulled out? That's what I want!

*strokes goatee thoughtfully* Or perhaps the Suicidally Dedicated to Anonymity, Subpoena Proof Semi-Criminal Forum is a better idea. Heloise Hints from Hell. Payments via e-gold. Find some experts in zero knowledge proofs for some of the exchanges ... I think I feel a business plan coming on!
posted by adipocere at 5:15 AM on June 4, 2010


rta "strokes goatse thoughtfully"
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:21 AM on June 4, 2010


Make it one, maybe two anonymous questions per year. Or more accurately, force a six month time limit between anonymous questions. If you need more than that, you should be setting up a sock puppet.
posted by molecicco at 5:24 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I strongly think that one a year (except maybe in exceptional circumstances which you can discuss directly with the mods) should be the maximum on anonymous questions per user. If you have more than that, get another account and use it for your series of embarrassing or highly personal questions.

Equally, I am strongly opposed to the suggestions that would allow for easy "click here" semi-anonymizing of questions and answers. With most of us are hiding behind anonymous-ish accounts (and anyone who is using their real information being free to set up a second account for embarrassing/personal asks and answers), there's no reason to build in a second layer of semi-anonymity.

Finally, I was struck by the comment above (I think from allkindsoftime) wondering if moderator capacity is becoming a limitation as the community continues to grow. I don't know anything about the site finances, but if the money is there and the current moderators are feeling stretched thin by new demands on their time (eg by increased numbers and percentages of anonymous questions), the obvious solution would be to bring someone new onboard.
posted by Forktine at 5:33 AM on June 4, 2010


For me, I've been tempted to ask almost any "sensitive" question (i.e. one that's not about cats - and sometimes even those) anonymously as there is a larger and larger "I AM JUDGING YOU" population on the site lately. Or they've been more vocal. Or I'm more sensitive to them (though I doubt this, as I've heard the same from other users). When I do ask a question, I feel the need to pre-emptively defend myself.

Lately, I asked a question about my job and nearly asked it anonymously - not to protect my employers, who knew I was asking - but because I feared that the AskMe community would immediately jump on me for "Doing It Wrong." Thankfully, this didn't happen, but I did feel the need to "moderate" my own thread to pre-emptively combat the infinite "THERAPY!" brigade. This could just be my problem, but tricky questions seem to be getting touchier responses now than they were a year or two ago.

I imagine - and I don't think I'm wrong, based on off-site conversations - that a lot of users feel this way and one way to possibly combat the problem is for answerers to ease up on the judgement a bit and focus more on answering the question in a straightforward way and not one that makes the poster feel like a jerk for asking.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:34 AM on June 4, 2010 [13 favorites]


She's worn out, tired, drained, and at times says "it feels like he's won. He's beaten me 100% to where I don't even have self confidence in being around company anymore. All I get are lectures about how I act/am."

This sounds like a good solution in that it avoids technical work for a social problem and doesn't seem as though it would impact mod time significantly.

...in an online environment where really all you have to identify people is their username and the words associated with them, having a bunch of unassociated questions seems to not build community the way the other stuff does.

Yes and no, I would say. Sure, it's hard to develop a read on the person asking the anonymous question, but there's still plenty of community going on the answers. In fact, I'd say it's the very definition of community because you have a lot of known personalities banding together to help a another member of the community.

That said, the recent spate of questions makes me think you guys should be more strict about approving anonymous AskMe and encouraging people to get a sockpuppet.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:36 AM on June 4, 2010


I feel the need right now to make an anonymous comment under an obvious sockpuppet








how'm I doing?
posted by hugbucket at 5:41 AM on June 4, 2010


>>She's worn out, tired, drained, and at times says "it feels like he's won. He's beaten me 100% to where I don't even have self confidence in being around company anymore. All I get are lectures about how I act/am."

>This sounds like a good solution in that it avoids technical work for a social problem and doesn't seem as though it would impact mod time significantly.


Is there a connection here I'm not seeing?
posted by Forktine at 5:42 AM on June 4, 2010


I'm very late to the party, but for what it's worth:

1. I've asked a few anonymous questions, anonymous because
1a. if my employers found out I was asking the question, it could get hairy for me at work. In short, because I'm a bit of a coward.
1b. it was a hot-button issue that can cause a lot of divisiveness in the community, I was under hella stress, and didn't want the question tied to my user name with ensuing future consequences. In short, because I was a bit of a stressed-out coward.
1c. it was personally embarrassing and I didn't want my name attached to it. In short, because I'm a bit of a coward.

2. I could have used a sock puppet for any of these questions, but wasn't aware that a sock puppet was an encouraged option. I thought they were strongly discouraged, actually, and that if there was more than one ID logging on from the same IP it could result in bannination or at least a stern glare.
2a. I really don't see the difference between having a lot of anonymous questions and a lot of questions from one-off usernames with no site history.
2b. I often click on usernames and tend to think poorly of people that seem to have signed up just to ask a question, haven't contributed any answers, and don't seem to be involved in the community, without considering whether or not that user is a sock puppet. It seems leechy to me, and gives me a mental frowny face.

3. I would gladly have paid $5 to ask any of my anonymous questions; were there an "optional fee" on the AnonyAsk page saying "Anonymous questions take up a lot of mod time and energy, if you would like to contribute an account-equivalent amount of money to ask this question, it would have be appreciated."
3a. Tricky but interesting: were there an optional fee that would be put into some sort of "MeFi Public Good account" for acts of community largesse such as expressed in the recent help-the-Russians brouhaha, or to buy a gravely ill long-term site member a hospital room upgrade, or whatnot, I would feel even better about putting money in the pot for AnonyAsk questions. I trust the mods and matthowie to do these things wisely; in fact, I look at this sort of "public good pot" as a fait accompli, as the site's success has allowed matt to do some wonderful things for people sometimes, and mentally I've always associated my $5 fee with being some minute micropayment part of all those acts.

4. I've definitely noticed the uptick, and agree that a lot of anonymous questions (some of mine included) could have just been regular questions if the asker would nut up about the situation. I'm as guilty of this as anyone.

5. I would have had no, absolutely none, zero objections to the mods knowing it was me asking the anonymous question. But I've been using AnonyAsk to duck consequences of asking awkward, divisive, or job-discomfort questions, not ones that would result in a shattered life, bloody murder, or financial ruin.
posted by Shepherd at 5:42 AM on June 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


So every anonymous question is reviewed by a mod. Yet I can create a sock puppet for $5 and ask a question today with no review. How does that make sense? Why not just do post-deletes of anon questions like every other type of thing on this site?
posted by smackfu at 5:46 AM on June 4, 2010


What if anonymous questions remained in limbo for an extended period of time before being presented to the mod for approval. If you knew it was going to be 72 hours before you saw your question you might look for other solutions.
posted by shothotbot at 5:48 AM on June 4, 2010


Is there a connection here I'm not seeing?

Whoops, wrong copy and paste! Should have been like this:

This is also definitely the way we're leaning. We'd prefer to be more clear and maybe approve slightly fewer questions.

This sounds like a good solution in that it avoids technical work for a social problem and doesn't seem as though it would impact mod time significantly.

*goes to get coffee*
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:49 AM on June 4, 2010


Probably a bad idea, but if you want to increase the community aspect of Anon questions, why not get the community more involved in their posting? We have a large number of very helpful users who respond to questions with quality answers almost every day. Get a gaggle of them together and have them set priority to the Anon questions.

So, to beanplate:

- The mods set a maximum percentage of Anon questions that they want to see per day. Let's say it's 10%.
- Using historical data for the past X months, we can find out how many questions are asked on an average Monday. This tabulation can be automated and posted on a page somewhere so everyone knows that "Oh, there are normally 87 questions asked on a Monday, so we'll see 8-9 Anon questions that day."
- When asking an Anon question, it is made clear (just as it is now) that there will be a delay between submitting and posting. This delay would be formalized to a minimum of 24 hours.
- During this delay period, each member of the gaggle has the opportunity assign 'points' (or something, 'points' has a weird connotation, but it's better than 'votes' ) to each Anon question in the queue.
- Each gaggler only has a certain number of points to give per day. Let's say it's 10 and they can give up to 2 points to any question.
- Gagglers cannot see who posted the Anon question, they only see the question.
- At the start of the next day, the top Y Anon questions, where Y equals the set percentage of allowable Anons per day, are pulled from the queue for posting that day.
- The selected Anons are then posted in random order evenly distributed over 24 hours.
- Remaining Anons stay on the queue. If they don't get posted in, say, 2 weeks, they go away.

Nomination for gagglehood would be based some formula that would take into account Best Answers, favorites, and participation on the green. I'd hope this would also help dissuade jokey answers getting favorites as, well, would you really want the dude with the snarky bon mott pouring over the AnonyQueue? Of course, the mods have final confirmation power. Period of service would be a month with a forced month off to help prevent burnout and increase community participation.

I think the wait between asking and posting an Anon would be helpful towards decreasing their number. If you have an embarrassing pressing issue (I THINK I BROKE MY PENIS!), then you should really be going to a professional anyways.

I don't like the idea of paying for Anon questions. I think there is more of an expectation of quality/service when money changes hands. You are asking a community of trusted people for non-professional advice/information, after all. If I went to a friend for advice and they said, "I could tell you, but that'll be 2 bucks," I'm not sure I'd want their input anyways.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:51 AM on June 4, 2010


- People ask and answer questions in part because they're part of this community, they know people, thay've gotten to know them over time, people have personalities and reputations. When you see someone's question, you often know other stuff about them which helps you asnwer their questions.

Yes, this is part of why I decided NOT to ask my most recent question anonymously. It's pretty well known that I'm a nanny and it would be a reasonable conclusion to assume that I wrote the question anyway. Either that or someone would say "You should ask gfm, she's a nanny" which would pretty much defeat the purpose of the question.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:53 AM on June 4, 2010


there is a larger and larger "I AM JUDGING YOU" population on the site lately. Or they've been more vocal.

Oh, I totally get that sense as well. I don't want to spend 5 bucks on a question to get yelled at.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:56 AM on June 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


I didn't read all 150+ comments, but I didn't see this suggested in the 1/3 or so of the comments I got through. How about charging for anonymous comments? If it is that important to by anonymous the user shouldn't object to ponying up $2 for the question. Granted, connecting a Paypal account to the question means the user probably isn't anonymous to the mods, but I imagine there is some way to mitigate whatever risk is associated with that. As we all know, there is no true anonymity on the Internet anyway.
posted by COD at 6:00 AM on June 4, 2010


COD: Go back and read the most recent comments - your question's been covered.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:02 AM on June 4, 2010


If the asker leaves off important information or there's ambiguity in the question then the commenters are left to debate/fight about what was meant.

This is definitely my biggest gripe with anonymous questions.

And it's not just a case of writing your question better in the first place. I know that with my (all non-anonymous so far) questions, some part of my question always ends up being unclear or misinterpreted, and I can never predict what part of it that will be.
posted by dfan at 6:03 AM on June 4, 2010


desuetude: "There have been a lot of instances in the past where members have proven how easy it is to build a near-complete and scarily accurate biography of someone just based on their posting history. "

Regarding this whole idea, even though I was careful to use a username here that I don't use anywhere else (and I use a few different usernames throughout the Internet), a stranger here has already connected me to a screen name on another website via a similar topic discussion. It's true that you don't have to use your real name here but I am aware that it could possibly be connected.

I've also always been the only person I know IRL who uses Mefi, but the downside of Mefi's greatness is that I talk about it a lot, and I talk about it positively, and I've gotten a couple of people interested in signing up. It would be really awkward for my best friend to say "so what's your username there?" and me to say "erm, sorry I don't want to say."

So I'll probably just jump on the sockpuppet bandwagon. I agree with the idea that since in most places they're discouraged (including here as a 2nd persona), it was never a viable option for me until now.

COD: "connecting a Paypal account to the question means the user probably isn't anonymous to the mods"

We've been through this in the past... even right now you're not really anonymous from the mods in that, if they really needed to (someone threatened suicide for example), the mods could track down your identity. So the Paypal account connection is really a nonissue. I trust the mods not to out me.
posted by IndigoRain at 6:17 AM on June 4, 2010


There's a behavior you want to reduce but not prohibit. Why isn't the obvious solution imposing a small fee?

In other words, I'm in favor of Jon-o's idea. If someone doesn't feel it's worth $1 or $2 to be anonymous, they probably don't need the anonymity. Bonus: these accounts could be designed to allow the OP to anonymously contribute in the thread ("posted by anonymous #583").

As a side note, I do think too many anonymous questions is a serious concern. Having people follow up by emailing the mods and having jessamyn post a comment -- not necessarily knowing if it's by the actual OP (!) -- seems really makeshift. It'd be nice if everyone always included all the necessary information in their post, but we know this doesn't happen (this is true of AskMe in general, not just anonymous questions).

And, you know, the one time I posted an anonymous question, I tried really hard to avoid the "You left out important information" problem by erring on the side of including all possible background details that someone might want to know. And guess what? This really skewed the answers I got, because people overinterpreted the fact that I had written a detailed question! If someone leaves out details, we complain that they've left out essential information, but if they try hard not to make this mistake, we say: "Ah, you're beanplating! You're obsessing over details!"
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:17 AM on June 4, 2010


I agree with several posters upthread: Limit them and charge for them. Even if you guys hadn't alluded to it, I think it's reasonably apparent that a significant proportion of anonyme's - dare I even generalise that perhaps the more problematic ones - are coming from a fairly small cohort of users (small within context of the site, that is).

Both limiting and charging for anonyme's would have the dual effect of placing a limitation on that cohort, and encouraging both them and mefites in general to use some serious consideration before clicking submit.

By doing so, I think you would increase the overall quality of anonyme's and at the same time fairly drastically reduce the quantity of them as well.

Married to a strong moderation policy (you guys should totes delete some more of the stupid ones), I think it would effectively solve the problem. And, if someone really needs to exceed their limit, or is broke, they can always email you guys just like we can now - but let's face it, anyone reading anonyme's would see that those cases where its both justified and urgent are in a small minority.
posted by smoke at 6:18 AM on June 4, 2010


I would gladly have paid $5 to ask any of my anonymous questions; were there an "optional fee" on the AnonyAsk page saying "Anonymous questions take up a lot of mod time and energy, if you would like to contribute an account-equivalent amount of money to ask this question, it would have be appreciated."

I don't understand this. I mean, I understand being willing to pay $5 to ask an anonymous question. But that feature already exists: you can buy a sock puppet account. That's why if they do implement Jon-o's idea (temporary anonymous accounts), the charge should be less than $5 (I'd say somewhere from $1 to $3).
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:24 AM on June 4, 2010


What about a simple daily quota of anonymous questions for the whole site, and after that's been filled you can't post?

Set it fairly generous, say what the level was before it started to become a problem - then if people need it and keep trying they'll be able to get their question in within a few days.

If it's a rare case when it is time-limited, people could email the mods and ask them to make an exception.
posted by Not Supplied at 6:27 AM on June 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


oh also: If you need more than that, you should be setting up a sock puppet.

You know, I just kind of feel that for the vast, vast majority (not all, but vast in an Ozymandias-dunes-kind-of-way) that if you need more than that you are either:

a) kinda deluded, about the question, its importance, yourself, other things
b) at the wrong site
c) or asking the wrong questions

I mean, sure, there's a few cases where the need is clear (the illness example upthread is an excellent example, clearly a great case for regular anonyme's), but those are the exceptions, not the rule, and I don't think our beloved mods have any difficulty handing exceptions on mefi, it's the daily grind that's the challenge.
posted by smoke at 6:28 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't understand this. I mean, I understand being willing to pay $5 to ask an anonymous question. But that feature already exists: you can buy a sock puppet account.

But then there's a wait of a week, assuming that some situation just randomly arises that you need to ask an anonymous question.
posted by cashman at 6:32 AM on June 4, 2010


I think charging for anonymous questions makes them not-anonymous.

I think that instituting a new, complicated system is ill-advised, as it makes this issue larger, not smaller.

I'm pretty sure that simply having to add an explanation for the moderator as to why a question needs to be anonymous will solve part of this problem.

I am often surprised by how often the same misunderstandings are brought up (you'll get banned for a sockpuppet, linking to your own photo on Flickr in AskMe is ban-worthy self-linking, anonymous questions are connected to your user profile, etc.) And then I go check the FAQ, and realize that my knowledge of these guidelines is more formed by history and less by documentation than I thought. Maybe it's time to overhaul some of the documentation.
posted by desuetude at 6:32 AM on June 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's time to start tracking anonymous AskMes behind the scenes. No one knows where the AnonyMes are coming from (unless I've misunderstood moderator comments on this issue). Is it a small cohort like smoke thinks? Is the increase substantially from that large subset of users who only use AskMetafilter? Is it the reverse-principally from engaged users across many subsites? Is it an across-the-board increase, related to Facebook-prompted privacy concerns among the general internet populace?

Data is required before the best solution can be determined.
posted by Kwine at 6:33 AM on June 4, 2010


I don't understand this. I mean, I understand being willing to pay $5 to ask an anonymous question. But that feature already exists: you can buy a sock puppet account.

It hasn't yet been explained, really, why sockpuppets better than anonymous questions other than the forced $5 contribution to the site. In my case, I find non-contributing "members" that seem to have signed up only to ask a question more mildly aggravating than flat-out anonymous questions.

Some folks also live in circumstances that make it difficult for them to have $5 on demand that can be delivered electronically (regardless of how they signed up for MeFi originally; circumstances change), which is why I (would, hypothetically) prefer a "suggested voluntary contribution" approach.
posted by Shepherd at 6:57 AM on June 4, 2010


me: I don't understand this. I mean, I understand being willing to pay $5 to ask an anonymous question. But that feature already exists: you can buy a sock puppet account.

cashman: But then there's a wait of a week, assuming that some situation just randomly arises that you need to ask an anonymous question.

What's the difference between anonymous questions and sock puppet accounts in this regard? You're supposed to wait a week with either of them.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:59 AM on June 4, 2010


I also like Jon-o's solution, and came to suggest something similar. Each user could have access to 1 or 2 anonymous questions a year, either for free or for a small charge. These questions would be posted with a unique string of some formula - for example &anon714. That way the mods could track back to the user if necessary.

The major problem with sock puppets is that you have to comment either on the blue or the green before asking a question, and there is a waiting period. Perhaps established users could be fast tracked to avoid these complications, under penalty of losing both accounts.
posted by fermezporte at 7:04 AM on June 4, 2010


I for one have never posted an anonymous question, but could easily imagine needing to do so, and my personal take on those that have been posted is that 70/80% of them are justified in requesting anonymity. And that they are valuable to the community as a whole. So my vote is to keep them. But I see the mods' problem with this.

There is already a specific form to which we are linked when preparing to post an anonymous question. So how about this:

Instead of merely putting a list of guidelines at the top of the form, and the normal Title, Brief version, Extended version, etc. boxes further down the page, how about first linking to a page where all these issues (previous research, etc.) are listed, and the user is required not just to check a box, but to physically type the word|s "Yes" or "Yes I do" or "Yes I have" (exact wording required should be specified next to the box) to each one. And then a box where a brief, free-text reason should be given for wanting an anonymous question posted. And finally, a note pointing out (as others have already suggested) that this takes up valuable moderation time, and an optional donation of $x to this PayPal account would therefore be appreciated by all the community. Box to check: "Yes I have donated" or "No I have not donated". And then proceed to the page where the question is drafted and submitted.

I submit, m'Lords, that this procedure would be (a) easy to automate, (b) filter out the wankers who don't really have an important question to ask, and (c) reduce new mod input to reading and assessing the free-text justification for anonymity, while simultaneously reducing the overall numerical workload.
posted by aqsakal at 7:05 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Would stricter moderation of the current crop of anonymes potentially achieve the goal of reducing the frequency of anon questions without having to make any huge policy changes on the site?

Most likely. Before we did anything specific we wanted to see how other people felt about this as well. We're not planning any major policy changes in any case, this question is exactly what it looks like.


This makes sense to me.
posted by R. Mutt at 7:06 AM on June 4, 2010


Some folks also live in circumstances that make it difficult for them to have $5 on demand that can be delivered electronically

True, but there isn't some unalienable right to ask anonymous AskMetafilter questions. Services cost money. If some people have trouble either affording it or being able to transfer the money, would it be so terrible if they're just not able to ask anonymous questions?

OK, if someone is really, really in a desperate situation of being unable to transfer $5 (or whatever the charge is) and needing to ask something anonymously (say, a horrible situation at work where they have only us internet commenters to turn to, and it would be disastrous to link their Mefi account with the question) ... they could always find another trusted Mefite to post it as "asking for a friend." I'd imagine that such dire situations would be rare.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:07 AM on June 4, 2010


Sorry, hit "Post" too soon...

Obviously, if all the questions on my hypothetical filter page haven't been answered correctly, and the "justification" box is empty, the filter is rejected by the server until it has been satisfactorily filled in, and only then does the member proceed to the actual question-drafting page. Sorry.
posted by aqsakal at 7:08 AM on June 4, 2010


It hasn't yet been explained, really, why sockpuppets better than anonymous questions other than the forced $5 contribution to the site.

While theoretically there is not much difference, practically it makes them not the mod's problem anymore.
posted by smackfu at 7:09 AM on June 4, 2010


The major problem with sock puppets is that you have to comment either on the blue or the green before asking a question, and there is a waiting period.

Ooh, good point -- I forgot about that. I officially withdraw my previous comment that normal sock puppets would be as good as paid throwaway anonymous accounts.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:09 AM on June 4, 2010


Hmm. Not a fan of the logic that “the community knows other things about the poster that could help in answering the question”. AskMe, in my recollection, suffered and perhaps still suffers from an inability or unwillingness of posters to take the Op’s premises at face value. I’ve always held the view that if the OP holds back or distorts information, he or she loses value from the answers accordingly, in all likelihood knows this, and is making a calculated decision (probably out of a desire for anonymity, at least with regard to specific details – something which actual anonymity would, I think, help with).

Automate it. And hell, make them all anonymous. There’s no reason why you need to know more than the confines of the question as asked.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:10 AM on June 4, 2010


While theoretically there is not much difference, practically it makes them not the mod's problem anymore.

Yeah, you're right. It's Sunstein and Thaler's "nudge" concept: people overwhelmingly choose the default option. Even if it's technically possible to buy a sock puppet to ask one question, few people will think to do that. Also, many people who wouldn't go out of their way to spend extra money (by using sock puppets) would accept a built-in charge for anonymous questions.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:13 AM on June 4, 2010


There's a behavior you want to reduce but not prohibit. Why isn't the obvious solution imposing a small fee?

It's an obvious solution, and several folks have (in this thread and in previous discussions) had reasonable straightforward ideas about how to implement it.

But it's not necessarily a desirable solution, for all that. Someone upthread touched on one reason: when you introduce a fee, you introduce a sense of entitlement for services purchased. Rejecting a free anonymous question is one thing; rejecting something with money on the table is another.

Working it as pay-on-approval to mitigate the idea of gambling with that fee would introduce a need to maintain a submitter/submission paper trail of the sort we're so far avoiding.

It also makes a central value-metric out to be cash money, which has nothing at all to do with what makes a good question. Broke-ass people can have really legit anony questions, people with lots of spare cash can have crappy ones. So it's sort of a lopsided gatekeeping measure on that front.

Beside those problems, dealing with it in terms of a fee give the impression that the problem is not the volume of questions but the lack of income from them—that it's fine to ask questions as long as you're paying for them. That's not where we're at; we'd like to achieve a scaling-back of the volume of anony questions, period, regardless of whether someone's willing to drop $1 or $2 or $5 or $20 on 'em.

So if we were gonna break the database-anonymity chain in service of something, we'd probably skip the cash angle entirely and just look at it from a rate-limiting perspective and say, yes, once a year. Twice a year. Something like that. Money becomes a non-issue, and people can't attempt to buy their way into overuse of the feature. I don't know that this is something we're likely to seriously consider in any case, but it'd be a more practical reason to change that db-anonymity policy than anything fee-based.

It hasn't yet been explained, really, why sockpuppets better than anonymous questions other than the forced $5 contribution to the site.

See my second-to-last paragraph in this comment, and the whole of this one. The dedicated-pseudonymous-sockpuppet route isn't the ideal case from a community-continuity perspective—the ideal case is the infinite, frictionless plane where no one ever feels the need for anonymity beyond their main account—but it's a functional compromise for those folks who find they need anonymity on a regular basis, a compromise that's marginally better in those cases than just asking a string of anony questions.

In my case, I find non-contributing "members" that seem to have signed up only to ask a question more mildly aggravating than flat-out anonymous questions.

Which is your prerogative but doesn't really inform policy in this case; AskMe is a system that works well in aggregate, and does not require perfectly symmetrical give-and-take by every member. Some folks have more questions than answers compared to other folks. You can choose to modify your own answering behavior based on theirs, that's your right, but people answering first and foremost because they feel like they have a good answer to the question in front of them is the engine on which this place runs.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:31 AM on June 4, 2010


"many of the anonymous questions are really badly written and vomit vitaltrivial information"
posted by Eideteker at 7:35 AM on June 4, 2010


On the bright side, mass-sock-puppetage would make it much sooner that we'll have a competition for the 200,000th username...

Services cost money.

Yeah, except for when they don't.

There's a lot of calibration to be done in trying to find the 'right' price point. If it's too cheap, it won't solve the problem. If it's too high, you shut out users who can't pay it. And it's quite possible to do both, simultaneously.

As a person who only rarely uses money on line, I can very much understand the concern about shutting out people who wouldn't want to deal with a payment option at all. Paypal frustrates the hell out of me; I'm currently grappling with it to pay for another really important thing that can only be paid for via PayPal, and it sucks hard, and isn't likely to be resolved in less than a week.

Third, payment will give a greater sense of entitlement to users who have now PAID for the right to ask their anonymous question. I imagine that paying users will be much more likely to bother a mod with requests to modify their question, post anonymous replies, and so on.

Forth, I think it would reduce the sense of openness of the site. While the mods provide the servers and the bandwidth (for which they are heartily thanked!) it is the community (yes, including the mods) which provides the answers. Charging for individual questions feels rather more mercenary than the current scheme; I think it has the potential to reduce the sense of community within the site. [insert lengthy polemic about the alienating effects of capitalism here.]
posted by kaibutsu at 7:40 AM on June 4, 2010


AskMe is a system that works well in aggregate, and does not require perfectly symmetrical give-and-take by every member. Some folks have more questions than answers compared to other folks. You can choose to modify your own answering behavior based on theirs, that's your right, but people answering first and foremost because they feel like they have a good answer to the question in front of them is the engine on which this place runs.

Fair enough.

Honestly, I think a paragraph at the top of the AnonyAsk page that says you encourage the use of a sockpuppet for anonymous questions, click (here) to set one up, might solve half of the problem out of the gate.

If somebody has a problem that can't wait a week, or doesn't have/can't manage $5, they can proceed to the regular form. I'd have no objections, personally, to a soft cap of one or two questions a year, and a contact-a-mod-if-circumstances-warrant caveat with that.
posted by Shepherd at 7:44 AM on June 4, 2010


If telling the community to cut back on the number of questions doesn't help, the idea of limiting the number of anonymous questions per day (24 hour period) makes sense just to keep the mod workload manageable.
posted by immlass at 7:46 AM on June 4, 2010


> But then there's a wait of a week, assuming that some situation just randomly arises that you need to ask an anonymous question.

What's the difference between anonymous questions and sock puppet accounts in this regard? You're supposed to wait a week with either of them.


The distinction is that with an anony submission, you have to wait a week from your last question; if you're five days out from that, it's 2 more days before you can submit. If instead you elect to go the privacy-sockpuppet route, you've got a week to wait from that moment regardless of how close to the end of the timeout you are.

It's a small distinction, and one that basically by our calculus shouldn't really be a big issue because by the time you're registering a sock for asking-a-lot-of-anonymous-questions reasons you should hopefully have gotten the idea that the need exists and would plan ahead a bit to get the account up and running. But I'm pretty sure that's what cashman was addressing.

The major problem with sock puppets is that you have to comment either on the blue or the green before asking a question, and there is a waiting period.

To be clear, you do not need to make any comments anywhere before asking a question. We require comment-on-the-blue only as a prelude to making a post to the front page of the blue; it's more an anti-instaspam measure than anything, and doesn't come into the green, where it's just a week wait, period.

Which works out pretty well as a dichotomy, and here's why:

One cost of the required-comments thing on the blue is that we get more noise than we would otherwise, from spammers as well as just too-enthusiastic new folks trying to get a post up immediately on signup if they didn't read the posting requirements clearly, or to hump on over that threshold come the day they can actually post. On the blue that means a little noise in a more noise-tolerant part of the site, in exchange for what is functionally an early-warning system about big payloads of spam or crappy first posts. We can watchlist these folks to be super forewarned about their actual front page posts, do some pre-emptive googling to figure out if they're spammy elsewhere or run SEO services or yadda yadda, and basically be instant-kill ninjas about the posts when they actually go up. But, again: the cost is some extra noise up front from their brainless quota-filling comments.

We don't want to do that on the green: crap answers are more of a problem than crap chatter. So no required comments there, just a plain week wait for everybody.

And then I go check the FAQ, and realize that my knowledge of these guidelines is more formed by history and less by documentation than I thought. Maybe it's time to overhaul some of the documentation.

Totally, I think making some of the stuff we're talking about in here more clear in the FAQ would be a great idea.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:46 AM on June 4, 2010


filter out the wankers who don't really have an important question to ask

*sigh*

The main problem with anonymous questions is not that people are willfully abusing the system, so maybe let's not call people judge-y names?
posted by desuetude at 7:54 AM on June 4, 2010


hey kaibutsu: preview buttons. use them.

On keeping database anonymity:
One could imagine limit systems that retained anonymity at the expense of knowing EXACTLY when the next question would be allowed.

For example, suppose each user had K anonyme's per time period of T days. Then each time you use one, the number you have available reduces by one. Then every day the system goes through all users and reduces increases the number of questions available to each user by 1 with a K-in-N probability (up to a cap of K). Having K>1 means one could keep a hold-out question for the 'should I amputate my foot?' question, while using the others in more traditional ways ('should I amputate my boyfriend?'). So one-a-year could look like three every three years or something. It's probabilistic, so there's no way of knowing exactly when the anonymous question was asked.

(FWIW, I don't have much of a horse in this race, since I've never used AnonyMe. (or have I? bwa ha ha...) But I do have an interest in the mods staying happy, and the site remaining Good.)
posted by kaibutsu at 7:56 AM on June 4, 2010


one anonymous question per month per account.

This has been noted by a few people but that's waaaaay too much. We're thinking like one or two a year, but again we know that sometimes shit comes up so we don't wan to make a hard limit. And yeah the money thing is a non-starter. Too many touchy issues tangled up in money that we don't want to get into [now if you could pay in favorites... just kidding].

There are other sites that have the "you can be anonymous anytime" option, and I find it really weird. It seems like everyone's participating with two accounts, it's harder to get a feel for everyone, and people ask all sorts of shit anonymously, stuff that doesn't seem to "need" to be anonymous, but it's just random and peopel are conscious it seems of tracking their reputations of their main accounts.

And yeah the FAQ could be much better about this.

I'm not sure if this is just one of those "penduluum needs to swing the other way" situations or something that needs to be overhauled, but it's been good to get people's feelings on the whole deal. We think the AnonyMe feature is an important one [I know I've used it myself, was very very helpful] and we want to retain that utility while finding a way to make it slightly easier to manage.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:01 AM on June 4, 2010


So I just signed up for a sockpuppet to ask a question that I'd been on the fence about.

Paying attention to how I was feeling through the process, for what it's worth:

1. No problem with the fee.

2. Taking precautions to make sure I won't screw up and cross-post thanks to the browser remembering the wrong username and logging me in automatically: installed a browser that I normally never use, signed up using that browser, will only use that browser for my MeFi sockpuppet and nothing else, and will probably uninstall the browser once the question is asked.

3. Definite "hmm, I guess this isn't really that anonymous for the mods" moment when I paid. Followed by a "they can see IP address anyway, so that was never really more than an illusion" realization.

4. Irritation about having to wait a week as opposed to being able to post my question right away, since I would be able to ask this question from my "normal" account, anonymously, right now.

5. Followed by a feeling of relief that I can ask a more interesting, and more fun question, using my regular account that I'd been holding off on doing because that would have locked me out of the anonymous ask for a week.

6. Am now considering using the sockpuppet to ask an anonymous question, because I'm a jackass.

On the whole, if I'd been told out of the gate (on the Anonymous form, ideally -- yes, I read the FAQ, once, when I joined, but I'm not in the habit of consulting it when using what I see as "regular" site functions) that a sock puppet is encouraged for non-urgent questions, I would have definitely done it. Only one of my three anonymous questions has been **!!urgent, the others could have held a week.
posted by Shepherd at 8:03 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Beside those problems, dealing with it in terms of a fee give the impression that the problem is not the volume of questions but the lack of income from them—that it's fine to ask questions as long as you're paying for them. That's not where we're at; we'd like to achieve a scaling-back of the volume of anony questions, period, regardless of whether someone's willing to drop $1 or $2 or $5 or $20 on 'em.

I'm fine with your other reasons for not wanting to charge for anonymous questions, but this one doesn't make sense. The more money you charge, the more you'd "achieve a scaling-back of the volume of anony questions, period." Charge $1 and you'd dissuade some people but probably not many. Charge $5 and the volume would go down significantly. Charge $20 and probably most people would tilt toward asking non-anonymously or not asking at all. Charge $100 and anonymous questions would almost never be asked.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:15 AM on June 4, 2010


the ideal case is the infinite, frictionless plane where no one ever feels the need for anonymity beyond their main account

Indeed. The view from up here is breathtaking, cortex, I am certain that you would be amazed and fascinated.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:18 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe it's time somebody hired more than two moderators per 50,000 users? Just a thought.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:20 AM on June 4, 2010


Maybe it's time somebody hired more than two moderators per 50,000 users? Just a thought.

If we otherwise felt that we were struggling, this is something we would do. But really we don't work too hard, it's just that this takes up proportionally, a lot of mod-time for something that we don't see as one of the site's core functions. We'd rather spend more time replying to email and maintaining the FAQ and working on new features.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:22 AM on June 4, 2010


All Posts made from the post-anon.cfm page are directed to the shiny new AskMe subsite, AnonyAskMe. The background colour will be yellow, and the site will be colloquially known as the Piss Bucket. "Take it to the Piss Bucket!" will become the latest site meme, eventually replacing "Tee-Em-Eye!" as le rebuke du jour when people overshare personal details of their lives.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:22 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


What about a whole 'nother board, where all the questions are anonymous by default, and approved automatically? Maybe deleted automatically if they get flagged more than (x) times. Sure it would get jammed with chatfilter but maybe something like non-archiving could be done to save space. Sometimes I don't feel like bothering to look at an anon question because there's no way to get followup, but sometimes I'm seriously bored and want to read some text (MeFi is one of the few sites I can read on my Blackberry) and I often wish there were MORE questions to read and respond to.
posted by The otter lady at 8:23 AM on June 4, 2010


The more money you charge, the more you'd "achieve a scaling-back of the volume of anony questions, period."

Yes, but not for the right reasons. I can, generally speaking, scale back any kind of behavior by charging increasingly more for it. That doesn't mean that the behavior that persists is the cream of the crop, it just means that it's the behavior someone is willing to pay the most to engage in. It's the wrong angle of approach; it attempts to solve a problem (reducing sheer volume independent of the worth of, or legit money-independent need behind, the questions being asked) that is not the problem we're trying to solve (reducing the volume of questions being asked largely in terms of scaling back or reworking lower-stakes or less-anonymity-required or serial-anonymous questions).

Again, as a solution to a sheer volume problem the fee thing isn't a crazy idea and someone could certainly try to build a Q&A site around that, but it's not an idea that cleanly approaches what we're trying to accomplish in this case and it's not an idea that we're at all hot on implementing on mefi in any case.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:24 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


My vote is either to leave it the way it is or do away with them all together. Sockpuppets aren't really a good solution.

IMO, it's not broken.

Mods can see a queue of who has asked what, and if they can't see, instantly, that TomMelee has asked 7546 questions in lifetime, 476 this year, 21 anonymous, then ask Plutor to fix that up. I'm comfortable with a mod having the authority to say "Listen Tom, you've already asked a bunch of questions this year, and I don't really think this one about what color to dye your cosplay outfit needs to be anonymous." Hell, make it an autoresponder button "Your request for anonymous has been denied, please ask it regularly or not at all." Really, make it as little work as possible for the Moderators.

And, I know Jessamyn takes a very ethical approach to anonys by not really looking at who they are from--but honestly, if it's a question that someone can subpoena mods for or you are plotting to close all libraries, ask the question elsewhere.

But really, don't answer it if you don't want to. Seems pretty simple. 3-5 times a week I start to answer, and then I realize I'm adding noise to the signal and I walk away.
posted by TomMelee at 8:26 AM on June 4, 2010


Are people even reading jessamyn and cortex's replies in this thread?
posted by desuetude at 8:31 AM on June 4, 2010


Also, if you need a Commissioner of The Piss Bucket (To tidy and post responses from AnonyAskers), I am pretty much sick of my present job. I am clean, discreet, work cheap, fully bonded, and can supply my own sash.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:31 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well, I've asked an anonymous question and I asked the mods to facilitate getting it on AskMe quicker than usual because I have faith in their discretion. If I didn't trust the mods I wouldn't be typing anything here.

It was something that was highly sensitive and because I also tell friends and family about my favourite website I didn't want them to read a question about something on here and have it connected to me before I was prepared to talk to them about it.. not yet, at any rate. I wanted some unbiased feedback. The fact that I wasn't able to reply was irritating to begin with but turned out to be very helpful indeed. My defensiveness became something that I was also able to look at and question.

It's just logical that there are more anonymous questions because there are more people using the site. I understand the mods starting to become a little concerned about the volume and questioning what can be done to steer people in the direction of saving anonymous questions for things that are really quite sensitive, and I agree with perhaps adding another field on the page querying why the question should be anonymous.
posted by h00py at 8:31 AM on June 4, 2010


Mods can see a queue of who has asked what, and if they can't see, instantly, that TomMelee has asked 7546 questions in lifetime, 476 this year, 21 anonymous, then ask Plutor to fix that up.

We can't, by design. Certainly no one else can; that's not an indictment of Plutor's skills or enthusiasm, it's a hard fact of the inbuilt anonymity of the anonymous system itself.

Changing that design is a possibility but not one we're eager to pursue. It's possible there's some half-measure there (e.g. variations on a one-way-hash that a couple folks have talked about upthread) that would make it a little easier to do metrics without fundamentally changing the anonymity issue, but even that is doing a bunch of engineering for what we mostly see as a human problem, not a technical one.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:34 AM on June 4, 2010


Drop it.

stupid iPad


I don't have either an iPhone or an iPad, but I'm going to start posting little "damn this iPhone and its auto-correct feature" comments from time to time so people here will think I do.
posted by not that girl at 8:53 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is a Plutor like a pb?
posted by misterbrandt at 8:54 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think I'll go sit on the couch and read the economist in print, on paper, instead and munch on something, like grapes, 'cept I'm feeling too lazy to step out and get some

oh wait, is that tmi? or just taking the mickey out of the bucket?
posted by infini at 8:58 AM on June 4, 2010


I don't have either an iPhone or an iPad, but I'm going to start posting little "damn this iPhone and its auto-correct feature" comments from time to time so people here will think I do.

Man and you wouldn't believe the crappiness of the wifi signal on my space yacht.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:59 AM on June 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Did you include enough information about your problem including your location, other AskMes you may have read, or things you may have already Googled?"

Oh god yes, Location, Location, Location. At least country if not state/province/whatever in that country.

jessamyn writes "As I said, this is not a huge problem but it seemed like before saying 'okay we can only approve this many per day or people can only ask this many per year [something currently impossible since we don't track who has asked a question at all in the database] we'd bring it up first."

Every time someone submits an anonymous question increment a field in the database; when they attempt to ask a new anonymous question if the number of days they've been a member divided by the number of questions they've asked is lower than a thresshold number then reject the question. No link between askers and questions yet still limits it. If you want to avoid giving long time members a bit of a free ride than subtract the implementation date from their joined date.

Jaltcoh writes "There's a behavior you want to reduce but not prohibit. Why isn't the obvious solution imposing a small fee?"

A small fee is quite a bit more onerous for some people than for others.
posted by Mitheral at 9:16 AM on June 4, 2010


I haven't read through this entire thread, so I may be duplicating other people's suggestions. Anyway, here's my two cents.

Create an explicit policy for using sockpuppets for pseudonymous AskMe's: Once a sockpuppet is used for an AskMe question, it can can only be used on AskMe, to post questions, respond to questions on their own thread, and maybe to respond other questions where their answer draws on experience they'd rather not have people connect with their regular account. Users who violate these restrictions will have their sockpuppets disabled, and the mods will not be happy with them.

An explanation of this policy should appear on the Anonymous AskMe form, as well as the FAQ, to encourage people to consider using a sockpuppet for this purpose, and to let them know what the pros and cons of using it are.

There would stiil be reasons for for using an anonymous AskMe - problems with Paypal, or the person's question is urgent - but hopefully we could get users to use it a lot less.
posted by nangar at 9:24 AM on June 4, 2010


that a sock puppet is encouraged for non-urgent questions, I would have definitely done it.

I don't think this is really what people are talking about- the sock puppet suggestion is for serial users of anonymous questions.

Really, if you are going to ask several anonymous questions over a year and use a sock puppet to do so, there's going to be more of a degree of "community" in the sense that there's a relationship between questions on that account- certainly more so than if one asks a number of anonymous questions. I mean, there are plenty of AskMe users that show up only occasionally and give out little information about themselves, and no one complains that they detract from the utility/community of AskMe. I'm not seeing how a sock puppet is any different. There's the potential for abuse and gaming the site, I guess, but you can do that with "regular" and anonymous interactions here anyway, if that's what you've set out to do.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:26 AM on June 4, 2010


A small fee is quite a bit more onerous for some people than for others.

Yeah, that's a problem for anything that costs money. It costs money to run Metafilter, and they charge people to use it. People also pay money to use Metafilter in lots of other ways -- by buying computers and internet access, etc. Services and goods are offered in exchange for money to members of the public who value them, and the richer members of the public will have an easier time affording them. These are just basic facts of life and aren't going to change based on whether Metafilter does or doesn't implement this feature. (However, as I said, I'm totally fine with cortex's rationale for not implementing it.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:30 AM on June 4, 2010


Oh, and I think the small fee for a three week account thingie is way more messy and creates a potential for more messing around than a sockpuppet does. It seems like people might be more willing to do idiotic stuff the last few days of their temporary account, since it's going away anyway. If you feel squicky about sockspuppets, I think there's even more potential for three week users to cause problems.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:31 AM on June 4, 2010


Durn Bronzefist writes "There’s no reason why you need to know more than the confines of the question as asked."

I think having our handles attached to questions prevents some abuses (like the I've got my girlfriends blind sister pregnant), people are less likely to play the site for lulz and it is more obvious when some is or is just clueless (ie: our Wednesday night regular)

Shepherd writes "5. Followed by a feeling of relief that I can ask a more interesting, and more fun question, using my regular account that I'd been holding off on doing because that would have locked me out of the anonymous ask for a week. "

FYI: you are supposed to exercise self restraint when in possession of a sockpuppet and limit your self to a single question per week regardless of which account posts it. While the technical limit is on accounts; the policy limit is on users.
posted by Mitheral at 9:32 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


This thread has prompted me to go ahead and buy that sockpuppet I've always wanted. I've only asked a couple of anon questions over my 8 years here, and I've been very grateful for the feature. It would be useful sometimes, though, to be able to respond in-thread, so [*inserts fist into footwear*] SOCKPUPPET!

The main problem that I see is that this account will only be asking the embarrassing questions and you people are going to think the person behind it is really fucked up. On the other hand, my main identity is going to start looking much more mentally healthy simply because of all the stupid questions it doesn't ask.

Win/win, I guess.

This doesn't solve a community problem in any sense, though. How can this identity be a part of the community when you don't know who it is? The real me has met a lot of you and calls some of you 'friend.' This me is my dark side. It's still anonymous, even if it has a handle attached. It's not a part of the community, explicitly because it doesn't want the community to know who it is. So again, it doesn't solve a community problem, if there ever were a community problem to begin with.

Also, can't the mods figure out who I am quite easily by looking at my sign-up info? I've used a different email address, but the name on the credit card is still there. Is this sockpuppet less anonymous than Anonymous would be?
posted by Seahorse, rode hard and put away wet at 9:34 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, can't the mods figure out who I am quite easily by looking at my sign-up info?

In my opinion, that's the biggest issue. Since you have to use Paypal, now your anonymous sockpuppet is not anonymous at all. It's even tied to your real name.
posted by smackfu at 9:40 AM on June 4, 2010


Also, can't the mods figure out who I am quite easily by looking at my sign-up info? I've used a different email address, but the name on the credit card is still there. Is this sockpuppet less anonymous than Anonymous would be?

It is less anonymous than traditional anony stuff would be, in that sense; unless there are mitigating circumstances (generally speaking, the user taking really really thorough measures to dissociate the two accounts at signup time and in ongoing usage), we're probably going to be able to make a connection if we go looking.

And whether that's an acceptable concession to mod-side visibility is sort of a per-user question, though I'd say it falls into the same bucket as the existing anony process in that if we really need to go looking we'll do the groundwork and figure it out, and in any case it's not bulletproof anonymity from us (or from radical hypotheticals like a subpoena situation) though it's explicitly anonymous to your fellow users.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:41 AM on June 4, 2010


> To that end we've talked a little today about putting a more stern "hey, are you positive you need to ask this anonymously?" sort of disclaimer on that anony submission page.

Excellent idea. I agree that making people pay is not good, but making them think is worthwhile.
posted by languagehat at 9:44 AM on June 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


FYI: you are supposed to exercise self restraint when in possession of a sockpuppet and limit your self to a single question per week regardless of which account posts it. While the technical limit is on accounts; the policy limit is on users.

Damn straight. It was more that I can now ask the question, wait a week, and ask the Anon question. I'm not planning on doubling-down every week or anything.
posted by Shepherd at 9:45 AM on June 4, 2010


smackfu writes "In my opinion, that's the biggest issue. Since you have to use Paypal, now your anonymous sockpuppet is not anonymous at all. It's even tied to your real name."

Jessamyn are you still accepting stamps in lieu of paypal payment for accounts?
posted by Mitheral at 9:46 AM on June 4, 2010


desuetude: "Are people even reading jessamyn and cortex's replies in this thread"

From what I've read, people haven't even read jessamyn's original post, which seems to say to me:
  • AskMe is a great resource, we like that you like it!
  • anonymous askmes are a great resource, too!
  • which are starting to get used too frequently
  • here are some guidlines, think about them when asking for anonymity
  • dealing with a lot of anon askmes is the death of 1000 cuts to a mods time for various reasons
  • we want you, our beloved users, to be aware of these things before we consider changes to approval.
And although there was a call for general questions & comments at the end, I think it's really weird that people seem to have gravitated to this "What we need is a strict system of rationing that will dole out anonymity on the following criteria..." line of thinking right away.
posted by boo_radley at 9:47 AM on June 4, 2010


Are people even reading jessamyn and cortex's replies in this thread

Why start now?!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:55 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


just clueless (ie: our Wednesday night regular)

I thought sixcolors posted on Tuesday nights. It was like clockwork, though.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:00 AM on June 4, 2010


Okay, so now I've got that sockpuppet that I've always wanted (but was concerned was against the rules).

And now I know that it is okay to use for mostly-anonymous questions from time to time. Is this also okay to use for those times when I would otherwise contact a mod to have information shared anonymously in a thread? Or is that not really ok? Is there a How To Sockpuppet For Dummies somewhere?
posted by this *is* my happy face at 10:06 AM on June 4, 2010


also when you're too shy to show your face in the public domain, virtual or real
posted by infini at 10:07 AM on June 4, 2010


What if there was an express designation on sockpuppet accounts to indicate that they are, in fact, sockpuppets? Like a prefix on the sockpuppet username or italics for the username or something like that? For example, a sockpuppet username could appear as "posted by The Anonysock 1138" Or the sockpuppet usernames could appear as a different color or something.

Rather than just buying a new MeFi account with a new username to use as a sockpuppet, there could be a separate "buy a sockpuppet account" option. That way, sockpuppets woudln't bloat the user database and artificially inflate the number of actual users, and when someone posted a sockpuppet/anon question, it would be clear that the question is a regular MeFi member asking a question anonymously.

And it would discourage people from using sockpuppets in regular MeFi participation, because it would be clear to all that a comment is made by a sockpuppet and not a "real" username. At the very least, it would make it easier for moderators to spot flagrant sockpuppetry in comments.
posted by The World Famous at 10:10 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


you're one sick world, famous though you may call yourself
posted by infini at 10:12 AM on June 4, 2010


Once a month is abuse of anonymous askme? I am always puzzled about stuff like this and stuff like if you ask once a week, that's abusing askme, it's okay to have a sockpuppet...there is definitely a set of unwritten rules that aren't intuitive even to "power users". I have come nowhere near once a month usage but I can see how someone would think that is perfectly fine.

We can't know the boundaries if you don't communicate them to us clearly! And we want to know the boundaries so we can be cool, non-abusive-to-the-site, and otherwise kick-ass.


" I think it's reasonably apparent that a significant proportion of anonyme's - dare I even generalise that perhaps the more problematic ones - are coming from a fairly small cohort of users (small within context of the site, that is)."

WE DO NOT KNOW THIS. Unless you are privy to some knowledge that no one has (even the mods).
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:13 AM on June 4, 2010


I didn't read all the thread so sorry if someone else mentioned this...

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Get rid of anonymous questions.

Actually, I think the opposite: just make all questions anonymous. Have AskMe not list the asker's name. Then, the mods don't have to deal with it at all. If the OP wants to out him or herself, they can do so in the thread--otherwise they can keep mum and anonymous.

Of course, I'm one of those people who doesn't feel the asker's identity is relevant to the Q and that being anonymous doesn't scare away the "community". Without double checking, I'd bet that the anonymous Q's have just as much response (if not more) than any other Q.
posted by dobbs at 10:13 AM on June 4, 2010


Sorry, forgot to italicize my second sentence there, which was a quote.
posted by dobbs at 10:13 AM on June 4, 2010


Rather than just buying a new MeFi account with a new username to use as a sockpuppet, there could be a separate "buy a sockpuppet account" option. That way, sockpuppets woudln't bloat the user database and artificially inflate the number of actual users, and when someone posted a sockpuppet/anon question, it would be clear that the question is a regular MeFi member asking a question anonymously.

This is the best idea ever. I want this so much. I don't like the idea of sockpuppets running around and think the fewer, the better, but if I knew they were sockpuppets it would be cool with me and I think solve all of the problems with sockpuppetry.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:14 AM on June 4, 2010


I think it's really weird that people seem to have gravitated to this "What we need is a strict system of rationing that will dole out anonymity on the following criteria..." line of thinking right away.

Well, jessamyn's original post boils down to "please use Anonymous less". And I think posters just doubt that is going to happen, and moved on to step 2, "make them use it less".
posted by smackfu at 10:17 AM on June 4, 2010


I am not a fan of anonymous questions.
  1. I often feel like they are performance art.
  2. I don't feel like I am helping a real person or entering into any kind of quid pro quo.
  3. I hate when essential information is left out.
  4. They don't seem to have closure.
I could go on, but I also realize they have their place.

I don't answer questions to make sure I get answers, but I will say sometimes my motivation to answer is the byline of the question.

As far as addressing the original issue, I promise not to ask any anonymous questions for at least a month!

Seriously, I kind of like the idea of a limit to once a year, but aside from the fact that it would require a tracking change, I can imagine a few situations where restricting this ability might inhibit people from asking questions related to an ongoing concern.

I just looked at the anonymous form and it seems the verbiage is pretty clear that it should be seldom used. If people are ignoring that I am thinking they will ignore requests to modify their posting habits.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:26 AM on June 4, 2010


I think a limit is fine, but once a year? Really? Life is so unpredictable that sometimes something can happen where you might need to ask a question anonymously. I like the idea of a limit rather than charging or being able to buy your way into more questions. I've posted roughly one a year, but still think that's too draconian.

However, once a month seems like a much more sensible limit to me. It takes into consideration that one wont know what life will be like six months from now.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:26 AM on June 4, 2010


As someone who has not [yet] asked an anony question, I'm very surprised that the mods cannot contact the asker and let them know their question was rejected , especially if the rejection is because of reasons like missing info, problematic phrasing, too dang long, unclear on why it needs to be anonymous [sic] that can be corrected by the asker relatively easily.

jessamyn, I understand that the constraints askmefi is bringing to the mods, but perhaps a form letter, or a checklist, as miko mentioned in her 2nd paragraph and darling bri in the her 2nd last paragraph that mentions why it was rejected.

Responses that require a significant explanation could receive a 'this requires a very signification explanation' note in the reformatted form and state the rejected asker could email the mods if they wish.
posted by fizzix at 10:26 AM on June 4, 2010


Jessamyn are you still accepting stamps in lieu of paypal payment for accounts?

Yes. Unused US postage.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:27 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


And now I know that it is okay to use for mostly-anonymous questions from time to time. Is this also okay to use for those times when I would otherwise contact a mod to have information shared anonymously in a thread? Or is that not really ok?

That's okay. Some folks have a sockpuppet account that they use more for this than for asking—they want to be able to e.g. frankly discuss lifestyle stuff that they don't want openly associated with their main account for one reason or another. As long as you're not doing anything weird or abusive with it (like trolling or putting on a show or performance art, faux-arguing with or astroturf boosting your own comments under multiple accounts), it's basically okay to do in moderate amounts.

Is there a How To Sockpuppet For Dummies somewhere?

There isn't, really, but insofar as we're talking about updating the FAQ that might be a good thing to add: a really solid, concise discussion of acceptable vs. unacceptable use of alternate accounts along the lines of stuff we've been talking about here. I believe we address some of these things in bits and pieces in the FAQ currently, but it could definitely be improved on this issue.

Part of the reason the documentation is not super solid is that many of these things are edge-case issues that haven't come up a whole ton in any given month or year—they aren't questions that have necessarily been all that frequently asked, as it were, and so we've only slowly developed firmer policies on such stuff over time. I think we're at a point where it really makes sense to put that into a clearer fixed form on the FAQ now.

Once a month is abuse of anonymous askme? I am always puzzled about stuff like this and stuff like if you ask once a week, that's abusing askme, it's okay to have a sockpuppet...there is definitely a set of unwritten rules that aren't intuitive even to "power users". I have come nowhere near once a month usage but I can see how someone would think that is perfectly fine.

It's abuse in the mild, no-fault "we didn't expect you to use it that way and don't want you to keep doing so" sense, not in any sort of malicious way. We've had to ask a few people to cut it out when it became clear that they were using it a ton—it's hard for us to even notice that (we have to pick up on it indirectly first, have a reason to go looking, and then put the pieces together), so it stands to reason there are other folks doing this that we haven't quite noticed and who just don't know it's a problem either.

So that's part of why we're having this discussion. It sounds like making it clear on the anony posting page that, among other things, this should really be a once-in-a-while thing rather than a several-times-a-year thing is important. It's no one's fault for not knowing that ahead of time; we're trying to figure the best way to communicate this clearly now, since it seems like not just a random fluke but a recurring thing.

> I think it's reasonably apparent that a significant proportion of anonyme's - dare I even generalise that perhaps the more problematic ones - are coming from a fairly small cohort of users (small within context of the site, that is).

WE DO NOT KNOW THIS.


I agree, we do not know this. It's not unreasonable reckoning, though; smoke is sort of restating my earlier comment here:

In context, the folks who would have a good reason to have an privacy-firewall alternate account are only a fraction of a fraction of the userbase: people who not only use the anonymous askme feature at all (which is, I'd estimate, a small portion of the active askme-using userbase though the question of how to determine that figure for sure is a sticky one in its own right) but use it regularly enough that they ought to consider the sock option instead for the reasons we've talked about above.

...


If anony patterns resemble basically every other user behavior pattern on the site, and I don't think there's a clear reason to think they wouldn't, we're probably looking at a typical power law or 80/20 situation: a relatively small proportion of the active userbase being responsible for a very large chunk of the activity, with the balance taken up by a whole lot of low-frequency users. Think long tail.


Absent a thorough analysis of the data, which would be hard to do given our setup, we don't know for sure what the distribution is like. Reasoning from every other indicator of site behavior we have, however, it's a really good bet that that's about how it looks.

Rather than just buying a new MeFi account with a new username to use as a sockpuppet, there could be a separate "buy a sockpuppet account" option. That way, sockpuppets woudln't bloat the user database and artificially inflate the number of actual users, and when someone posted a sockpuppet/anon question, it would be clear that the question is a regular MeFi member asking a question anonymously.

Sockpuppets would still eat up account numbers, because they'd still be accounts. Unless we engineered in some weird para-account structure, which I guarantee you we are not going to do because it's swatting a fly with a buick. Aside from that, userids are not a scare resource or anything we use as a raw metric, at all, so trying to conserve them is not a concern.

The idea of an explicit "I need a sock" function for account creation is sort of interesting, basically as a riff on the existing Gift Account functionality, but it shares with a lot of otherwise interesting ideas in here the problem (not necessarily a showstopper, but a significant consideration) that it'd involve engineering something new and making our processes more complex for the sake of a problem we're not all that worried about. Folks right now can effectively make an Official Sockpuppet for themselves by signing up with the same paypal or email address, or letting us know directly that their accounts are related.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:35 AM on June 4, 2010


Quick clarification on my response to the WE DON'T KNOW THIS thing—I'm addressing the likely raw distribution of anony submissions across the active userbase, I have no specific comment on or suspicions about smoke's reference to whether heavy users are also more responsible for the more problematic individual questions themselves. I missed that bit and wasn't trying to speak to it.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:42 AM on June 4, 2010


As others have suggested, it seems like there are two distinct issues here:

a) Moderator burden: setting up and dealing with Anon posts takes lots of time
b) Community-Fail: Anon postings don't carry the resonance and history and nuance of postings by named and known commenters; some individuals post repetitively on the same topic; some discussions by an Anon OP get unnecessarily combative or mean-spirited because the recipient of sharp advice is effectively skulking in shadow; some Anon postings seem throwaway and casual and chatty.

Of the two, a) seems much more of a problem than b).

Personally, I like the fact that there's an anonymous Ask Me function, and that people use it; I like the idea that someone with whom I might find myself jousting ridiculously on the blue I'm actually elsewhere helping out on some meaningful personal issue... Without Ever Knowing It. And I like the fact that hey, should I ever have occasion to use anonymous posting... well, there it is, ready and waiting.

In dealing with a), it seems like there might be two general routes:
1. Reduce the number of raw Anon submissions.
2. Reduce the mod supervision of Anon postings.

For a1], you can...
*set up automatic shadow accounts; a given MeFi user, something_ostentatiously_ironic, is also automatically given an Anon account, Anon289388, who has a grand total of six or twelve allotted Anon postings per year
---the problem with this would be a kind of moral hazard; by pre-establishing Anon accounts, one probably would encourage a greater number of Anon postings...

*actually, reducing the number of wanna-be Anon postings seems messy . Maybe it's better just to deal with...

a2]
*Perhaps set up a separate, hands-off, unmoderated AskMe section strictly for Anon postings. The danger, of course, is that it devolves into a crapzone.

*Alternatively, set up an AnonZone... but have the posts subject to upvote/downvote ala Reddit. Really bad posts can be either voted off the island or deprecated down the page.

Anyway, again, while Moderator Burden seems like a real problem to me, Community-Fail does not.
posted by darth_tedious at 10:42 AM on June 4, 2010


I think a limit is fine, but once a year? Really? Life is so unpredictable that sometimes something can happen where you might need to ask a question anonymously.

Special permission from the mods could be sought in such a rare situation.

The thing is, a ton of anonymous questions currently are just ridiculous questions. While there is a legitimate case to be made that anonymity is valuable when asking, for example, whether one should cheat on one's spouse, the question itself just drags the site down, in my opinion. And that's a question that gets asked again and again in different ponderous forms. There are lots of anonymous AskMe questions that merit no more than an eyeroll and a "seriously, you had to ask thousands of internet strangers this question?" Questions that are basically venting or airing dirty laundry to the chorus just junk up the site and I think they should be considered to be similar to chatfilter in their utility.

That said, Jessamyn is a way better AskMe mod than I can ever imagine being, and her judgment (as well as that of the other mods) is pretty astoundingly good. So it often surprises me to see the sorts of anonymous questions that pass muster.
posted by The World Famous at 10:42 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


The main issues caused by anonymous questions are because the questioner can't respond. Wouldn't it make more sense to address that directly rather than try to discourage people using the feature?

I suppose there is also the mod issue of approving every one, but I'm still not clear on why that is required since the barrier for rejection seems to be very, very high.
posted by smackfu at 10:47 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think a limit is fine, but once a year? Really? Life is so unpredictable that sometimes something can happen where you might need to ask a question anonymously.

We haven't really been actively considering implementing an enforced limit—there's structural/policy roadblocks to that that we've discussed upthread a bit—but as a guideline I think once a year is a pretty good target. If you have a weird year and you end up needing to ask two or three, that's understandable; and most folks won't ask any on a given year. So, that balances out; we encourage people to be sparing about it and don't make a big deal about someone occasionally using it a bit more often than the guideline suggests.

Really, that would be our ideal outcome here. And I am hopeful that between making some clearer documentation on this stuff available and making some effort to draw attention to these guidelines and that documentation in the anony submission process, we can actually pull that off pretty well. It's possible it won't work and we'll have to reconsider how to approach the situation if we see no check on the growth of the use of the feature, but until we get there we don't have a lot of incentive to dig too much into the details of how we'd accomplish it.

So these suggestions about alternate engineering approaches to the situation are fine as brainstorming and appreciated as such, but that's a big part of why we're not raring to embrace them or start working out the implementation details at this point. Definitely gives us something to think about in the mean time, but that's as far as we're likely to take any of it for the moment.

So it often surprises me to see the sorts of anonymous questions that pass muster.

Sifting through the queue is a delicate art. Be glad that Jessamyn does almost all of it normally; when I step in if she's just plain not available for a few days, I invariably make a weird call or two it feels like. There's got to be half a dozen comments in anony thread metatalk callouts over the years where I'm basically saying "uh, yeah, I thought that'd work but, oof, I probably should have bounced it off Jess in retrospect".
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:53 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seriously, if I were a mod it would be a trainwreck. You guys do an amazing job, so please don't take my comment as criticism.
posted by The World Famous at 10:56 AM on June 4, 2010


it sounds like its an art, one done by intuitive touch and feel for the energy flow of the green, which Jessamyn seems to have a finger on...
posted by infini at 10:58 AM on June 4, 2010


I think a limit is fine, but once a year? Really? Life is so unpredictable that sometimes something can happen where you might need to ask a question anonymously.

I have asked two in almost eight years. I guess I should be grateful to have a fairly uneventful life (or at least what events there are do not require anonymity to discuss). Knock wood.
posted by amro at 11:08 AM on June 4, 2010


Yeah, no, I didn't take it that way at all TWF. Consider my comment agreement especially re: Jessamyn's sense of the anony queue.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:17 AM on June 4, 2010


"...I probably should have bounced it off Jess in retrospect"

She's rubber and you're glue?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:26 AM on June 4, 2010


Special permission from the mods could be sought in such a rare situation.

Which would defeat the anonymous nature of the situation.
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:27 AM on June 4, 2010


I really think that asking users to justify why a question needs to be anonymous would solve a lot of the problem. It doesn't even need to be a free form field. You could have a series of check boxes:

[x] Medical problems I don't want people knowing about
[x] Relationship/Fidelity issues
[x] Mental Health question
[x] Work Can't Know
[x] Mentions potentially illegal activities not otherwise prohibited by AskMe in general
[x] Potential legal consequences

This would cause people to slow down and really examine whether the question needs to be anonymous. For instance, these two questions from yesterday about helping a friend seem like things that should have been asked under a normal handle.

Don't charge money, but do make people really justify the need for a question to be anonymous.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:28 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't those two friend questions just fall under the checkbox of:

[x] Need advice on something I'm supposed to be keeping secret
posted by smackfu at 11:31 AM on June 4, 2010


[x] Need advice on something I'm supposed to be keeping secret

Sockpuppet territory.
posted by The World Famous at 11:32 AM on June 4, 2010


Aren't all anonymous questions in sockpuppet territory?
posted by smackfu at 11:37 AM on June 4, 2010


Aren't all anonymous questions in sockpuppet territory?

I don't think so.
posted by The World Famous at 11:37 AM on June 4, 2010


There are two kinds of anonymity at stake here:

Anonymous = anonymous to the database, therefore functionally anonymous from even the moderators unless they make some educated guesses and do some detective work.

Anonymous = not associated with one's known identity as part of this community.

Questions are asked anonymously here for one or the other or both of these reasons. Most of the solutions seem to violate one or the other of them.
posted by desuetude at 11:40 AM on June 4, 2010


My new sock puppet will absolutely not be used for asshattery, I swear.

(Seriously - I've posted a couple of anonymous questions for things that were not life-threatening but simply personally embarrassing. I'm grateful that the resource exists, and if I can pitch in an extra $5 and save jessamyn a few mod minutes besides, I'll happily use a sock puppet instead. Besides, not being able to respond in-thread or award best answer is a real downside to AnonyAskMe.)
posted by fundamillinery at 11:44 AM on June 4, 2010


I don't think remaining anonymous to the mods is much of an issue. I can think of a tiny handful of circumstances in which that would be desirable and they all involve shielding the site from subpoenas. If you're worried about the mods knowing you've got a thingie on your weiner it is time to get a sockpuppet.
posted by Justinian at 11:51 AM on June 4, 2010


Sockpuppets aren't any more anonymous though, unless you pay with stamps.
posted by smackfu at 11:56 AM on June 4, 2010


The mods could consciously choose to figure out who is asking the sockpuppetted question if they had access to the paypal records, yes. But the mods can already figure out more or less who is asking a question if they really want to.

Is it really all that important to make sure cortex can't go all stalkerish and figure out that you're having a bad breakup or have a crush on your coworker? Really?
posted by Justinian at 12:11 PM on June 4, 2010


whatever

pass me the beans already, I think they're way overdone
posted by infini at 12:16 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


So what's the deal? Anon is in or out?
posted by Mister_A at 12:16 PM on June 4, 2010


well, I vote for in... all I hear the mods asking is to cool it down a bit that's all, it's an uneccesary cost that's not worth it for the bottomline
posted by infini at 12:19 PM on June 4, 2010


I don't think remaining anonymous to the mods is much of an issue. I can think of a tiny handful of circumstances in which that would be desirable and they all involve shielding the site from subpoenas. If you're worried about the mods knowing you've got a thingie on your weiner it is time to get a sockpuppet.

A sockpuppet is less anonymous if your concern is database-anonymity unless you go to a whole lot of trouble.

It's not remotely a concern to me that I remain anonymous to the moderators on the back end. If I had invented this feature with brilliantly 20/20 hindsight, I would have done obscured-identify sort of thingy (I'm not a technical person) instead of this neato little loophole where members can have their identify in limbo for the purpose of a question.

But this is the way it exists, and I don't think it's fair to say "eh, it's not important to me, so ax it." That this type of anonymity would be relevant only in a subpoena situtation is notwithstanding, some people are (to my mind a bit weirdly) touchy on this issue. But I'm weird about other issues.
posted by desuetude at 12:24 PM on June 4, 2010


You could have a series of check boxes:

[x] Medical problems I don't want people knowing about
[x] Relationship/Fidelity issues
[x] Mental Health question
[x] Work Can't Know
[x] Mentions potentially illegal activities not otherwise prohibited by AskMe in general
[x] Potential legal consequences


Clever idea, but I think it's both too narrow and too broad. Too narrow because it's hard to come up with a comprehensive list of good reasons for a question to be anonymous. Too broad because creating this list as a built-in part of the site could inadvertently encourage people to freely ask questions anonymously as long as they fall into one of those categories.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:24 PM on June 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, the checklist would only show up once you're already on the anonymous submission page, but I do take your point. But I do think people should have to justify why they want anonymity.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:33 PM on June 4, 2010


Well, the checklist would only show up once you're already on the anonymous submission page, but I do take your point.

But once people post anonymously in the first place, they'll remember it and it can influence people in the future. Also, once the text appears there, you can't stop people from quoting it in MeTa or the Wiki or even in the anonymous questions themselves. You'd get people arguing over the checklist: "Wait a minute, why is this anonymous?" "It's a 'mental health question.'" "How is it a 'mental health question'?" "Well I think the OP is dealing with problems that could affect his/her mental health." "Oh, I don't think the problems are that bad..." etc. Once you establish a new set of guidelines with new terms of art, they can take on a life of their own. (Just look at the way people still invoke "best of the web" to make arguments about why something should or shouldn't be posted to the blue, just because that text was part of the site years ago.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:47 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Kwine: "Is the increase substantially from that large subset of users who only use AskMetafilter?"

I don't think that's fair to judge on based on someone's profile. While it's true that when I started out here I used AskMe 99% of the time, over the years I've started to read the Blue a lot more. I just don't comment very much because it's rare that I feel I have anything to contribute to the thread, I just enjoy reading the comments. Looking at my profile you would think I only use AskMe, but I do use the Blue.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:09 PM on June 4, 2010


some of us are blue
some of us are green
can't we all just try
to be aquamarine
posted by infini at 1:36 PM on June 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Sockpuppets aren't any more anonymous though, unless you pay with stamps.

And even then we have your postmark and the email address you gave me when you sent the stamps [I prefer a fiver or some paper money from your country]. But yeah we want people to ask more or less anonymously even from cortex and mathowie and I. I know a lot of people here and this stuff isn't really my business and even though I post follow-ups for people, I pretty much forget who they are 99% of the time [and maybe half of that one per cent is them making jokes with ME about it] and that's how it should be. The one time [i think?] I've asked an AnonyMe question here, I pretty much had to be okay with mathowie and cortex knowing it was me which was fine but I know I would feel better, so I presume most people would, to not have any obvious link at all, so we'd like to keep database-anonymous as well as more-or-less mod anonymous.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:20 PM on June 4, 2010


Do you folks periodically delete the breadcrumbs in server logs and timestamps by which one can figure out who asked an anonymous question?
posted by grouse at 2:29 PM on June 4, 2010


IMNSHO, this kind of question is exactly the sort of thing you should be rejecting as anonymous if you're trying to reduce the fraction of questions asked anonymously. So I would start by stopping these sorts of questions. It's not even particularly embarrassing.
posted by Justinian at 2:30 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


The weird thing is that they anonymized everything in the question, besides asking it anonymously. Plan Ba? DrugX?
posted by smackfu at 2:32 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Do you folks periodically delete the breadcrumbs in server logs and timestamps by which one can figure out who asked an anonymous question?

No, and we don't plan to.

this kind of question is exactly the sort of thing you should be rejecting as anonymous

Yeah in a future where we're tightening up on AnonyMe questions [i.e. not yet] that one probably wouldn't have been okay. But for now, it's answerable and like the budget questions people ask, some people seem to be good at and enjoy answering them.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:34 PM on June 4, 2010


IMNSHO, this kind of question is exactly the sort of thing you should be rejecting as anonymous

YES.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:34 PM on June 4, 2010


cortex: "Changing that design is a possibility but not one we're eager to pursue. It's possible there's some half-measure there (e.g. variations on a one-way-hash that a couple folks have talked about upthread) that would make it a little easier to do metrics without fundamentally changing the anonymity issue, but even that is doing a bunch of engineering for what we mostly see as a human problem, not a technical one."

There's a big technical aspect to the problem, though. You guys are technically barred (or at least hindered) from tracking anonymous activity, which makes it hard to identify abusive users or generally problematic patterns of use, while anonymous askers are technically barred from participating in their own threads, which engenders a lot of confusion and disconnection in the ensuing discussion. The current solutions to these problems -- mucking through the emails/activity logs for tracking, and having to act as intermediaries for follow-ups and heavily monitor more contentious threads -- all increase the moderation workload.

So streamline the way anonymous askers are tracked in the database, and allow them to respond anonymously. Addressing these technical flaws would demand a significant up-front effort in terms of coding, but would make managing anonymous questions much easier from that point on. And frankly the half-measures sound like messy stopgaps that muddle the way the site is supposed to work. Charging a fee is a problem, hard limits are a problem (especially if most of the misuse/overuse is coming from relatively few users). Sockpuppets feel like more trouble than they're worth in terms establishing policy and explaining their acceptable use to users. I'd feel a lot better if improvement was accomplished by retooling the anonymous system itself, which has felt pretty slapdash from the start. It wouldn't cut down on the total volume of questions, but it would make each question less of a hassle to deal with, add value to AskMe, and make it easier to address troublemakers without putting blanket restrictions on everybody.
posted by Rhaomi at 3:24 PM on June 4, 2010


My revised idea, that nobody will ever read down here to see, but I might as well get it out of my head.

So, anyone can post anonymously. Let's say you get one anonymous thread per [whatever timeframe the mods want to do], and if you want more, you have to mail them just like you do for all anonymous questions now -- allowing someone with a genuine need to get around the limit, but won't work for frivolous stuff, and meanwhile it takes one anonymous question per [whatever timeframe] per person off the mods' plate (which should be a big reduction, unless it's really just a few people abusing...but then, the mods would have just told them to knock it off, right?)

When you post anonymously, you're asked to enter a passphrase (that isn't stored on the db.) That passphrase plus your email or some other non-public string in your account comprise the private/public key pair to one-way encrypt your username into something new -- and that gets used as the username for your anonymous post, in the db and to the outside world. Later, if you post again, you either use the same passphrase (thus providing a posting history for this just-in-time sockpuppet, which is better for the community as a whole) or you don't (and we're no worse off than before.) The key difference is, now even the mods don't know which person posted what, so now they have more protection against subpoenas and whatnot.
posted by davejay at 3:24 PM on June 4, 2010


This is a very long thread and I tried to look for my answer -- found the first part but maybe not the second. The first part being a good disclaimer about anonymous questions that the anon user has to maybe click through before posting. This talks about the purpose and maybe also suggests that they consider carefully whether their question is truly anonymous and that they won't be able to come back and make clarifying comments in their question, etc.

The second part is this: lie. This is the most low-tech way to go around it, I think. The lie could be: "You only get 1 anonymous question per six month period -- are you sure about this one?" or "We are limiting anonymous questions and yours may not get approved if it isn't clear why it needs to be anonymous -- are you sure you want to submit this?" I think with the first lie, the threat of scarcity would be enough to make people think carefully. With the second, it tells them that they simply may not be able to ask that question due to discretion of mods even if you're being pretty liberal about posting.

Behavior modification through persuasion is my vote.
posted by amanda at 3:28 PM on June 4, 2010


We're thinking like one or two a year, but again we know that sometimes shit comes up so we don't wan to make a hard limit. -jessamyn

Just want to note this here: if things eventually end up heading toward a hard limit, I think it's a bad idea to make it one/yr.

For somebody like me, a limit of one would mean I would never feel like I could use it, in case something bigger came up later. But if there were a hard limit of two/yr, it would be more in keeping with how I view it now. That is, I would feel like I could use one for a question that I think is important and pressing and which I would not ask under my normal name here, but where no lives are actually on the line.

(I've asked one anonymous question in 4 years, and had another retroactively anonymized - thanks jessamyn - because I realized it would uniquely identify my account here.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:47 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


davejay: "Let's say you get one anonymous thread per [whatever timeframe the mods want to do], and if you want more, you have to mail them just like you do for all anonymous questions now -- allowing someone with a genuine need to get around the limit"

A further refinement, since this is the least cumbersome idea I think I've seen.

Let us say the askme system is modified so that a user gets one anon per period.
This usage is tracked by a boolean flag. We'll call this hasAnoned for reference. Its default state is 0, representing that the user hasn't asked a question. When a user submits an anon question, it gets flipped to 1.

If that user goes back to the anon submission page, it'll tell him "sorry, you've asked anonymously too recently. If you really have a pressing urge, contact us."

When the user does contact the mods, all they have to do is set the flag to 0, and the user is able to ask anon again. This separates out the need to have mods know what your paypal is, who you are, what your question really is, etc. Every few months (or whatever), a script runs that resets all user's flags to 0.

This way, people can ask anonymously on an semi-regular basis without hindrance, but provide a means to permit users multiple submissions in an audited way, without auditing the submissions themselves.
posted by boo_radley at 3:48 PM on June 4, 2010


I've never seen the AnonyMe question form, and I've just asked a question so can't go and have a look, but having said that:

Why not break down the submission form into various elements - structure it with multiple submission boxes/dropdowns so that the person has to provide information. Next to these boxes, have explanatory notes.

e.g.:
What has/will happen to you?
Focus on events and what happened. Facts, not emotions at this point

How did this make you feel?
What has your response to this been?

How old are you?

Where are you located?

Are there any third parties involved? If so, how?

What are you hoping the result will be?

Why does this need to be anonymous?

Summarise the issue in one sentence.

---

This is submitted. The asker gets a random URL, which has the above info as a holding page. No user-specific (ID etc.) info should be on that page.

The page states that this shows the review process of their question.

The mods in their backend get notice of the page, and can see big tick marks or crosses next to each section. Tick mark means the info given is fine, cross means no.

There's also a comment box at the bottom.

Mods update, person can see updates on the page.

If no, that person can see why not and try again.

If yes, the page contains a link to the newly-formed and approved AnonyMe.

Random page expires after X amount of time, regardless of the status of the question. This is also stated on the page.

----

The form should a) make sure people put in enough info (I couldn't think of good enough questions, maybe brighter minds can) and b) help mods easily indicate to the person concerned what's wrong.
posted by djgh at 3:50 PM on June 4, 2010


And yeah the money thing is a non-starter.

This makes me happy. I was trying to work out what it is about sockpuppets which rub me the wrong way and actually, it's the money. Same goes for calls to pay for parts of the site, I don't like it.

The reason being that any time you introduce a charge you are directly discriminating against those of us who live in different countries. Particularly those of us living in places with a weaker currency but even without that, I have to pay credit card fees and currency conversion transaction fees to pay for something based in a different country and it actually adds up. Five dollars American via paypal comes out as at least half as much again in NZ$, which is actually more money than I have to spare right now (I'm also poor these days). Smaller payments of one or two dollars feel even worse because the fee is a much larger proportion of the overall amount even though the total is smaller, it's frustrating if nothing else.

And while Jaltcoh clearly isn't bothered about discriminating against people, I am. Why should someone be able to have extra questions because they live in a certain country or earn a certain amount of money? Discrimination sucks and isn't how metafilter usually works. Plus like cortex said it's discriminating for the wrong reasons, it's not going to get better questions. And I think better questions is the real solution here however that is made to happen.
posted by shelleycat at 4:05 PM on June 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Why should someone be able to have extra questions because they live in a certain country or earn a certain amount of money?

People in countries without Paypal can send me five of whatever their local currency is, even if it's pesos, fwiw.

We have this discussion in libraries all the time, whether it's at all reasonable to charge for what some people see are "core services." To some people, this is totally okay. To some people, it's less okay. Many places are okay charging for things that fall outside of the core services [i.e. you can charge for items at a booksale, but not for circulating DVDs or something, and where does printing fit in?]. And while yes we don't see charging people as a good thing to do for a lot of reasons, I do want to restate that we don't see the AnonyMe feature as central. We think it's a good idea. We think it's an excellent complement to the AskMe site generally, but we don't want people to feel that it's something that they deserve in the same way that access to asking a question a week is sort of one of the things you get for being a member. It sounds weird when I say it because it sounds like a threat "we could take this away at any time!" which is not at all what I mean. We do not plan to do that. But if you joined MeFi for the sole purpose of asking a lot of anonymous questions, you're not using the site as intended, is all.

So, that said, we're not planning to change this in any real way except, for now, trying to maybe dial-back the number of questions we approve and beefing up the AnonyMe as page, the FAQ and maybe adding a longer explanation on the wiki. If that works out okay then as far as I'm concerned, we're done and the system works as it is.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:20 PM on June 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


People in countries without Paypal can send me five of whatever their local currency is, even if it's pesos, fwiw.

That is very cool and I like that idea (our five dollar notes are pretty). But international postage + buying an envelope is almost as much as the transaction fees, heh.

I agree about it not being a core feature too btw and like the approach you guys are taking on this. But I do have a history of bringing up when things will impact on international users differentialy than local ones because I think it's important to the overall community (and kind of feel like someone should be doing it), and paying for stuff is one of those things that do this.
posted by shelleycat at 4:26 PM on June 4, 2010


Annals of The Histories of the Meta Filters.
Excerpt from Book 10, Chapter 5.

"And then, verily, following close on the discussion of the virtues of anonymity, the promised land was flooded with hand-puppets, each user wearing a thin layer of cotton individually on each finger, arguing loudly with themselves on all sides of every discussion, be they Israeli or Palestinian. In time, it became impossible to know who stood behind which names, or which names were shared amongst many, so far had the morals surrounding sock-puppetry slackened.

Following this happening, it was decided that all users would henceforth be condensed into one user, whom is known to all as Anonymous.

Shortly after this, the usage of the IMG tag was restored unto the peoples of the Meta Filters, and they began anonymously to post all manner vile images involving kittens, hamburgers, two girls and a cup. Efforts were made to seal off this new behavior in a new subsite, colored white and labelled simply 'b,' but the terrible havoc ran over and infiltrated all parts of that site, and wound its way into other sites all across the inter tubes.

But that is a story for a later time."
posted by kaibutsu at 5:53 PM on June 4, 2010


I'm totally for ditching Anonymous, except in genuinely extraordinary circumstances as defined by mods. As Jessamyn put it so well, the community utility of Anon questions is generally low to negative.

Perhaps request for AnonAskMes should be accompanied by an explanation of why a sockpuppet is not appropriate.
posted by unSane at 6:27 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


What if instead of creating truly anonymous questions, those questions are instead "masked" - they get associated with the asker "under the hood" of metafilter, but to the outside world they simply look anonymous.

So if I ask a question masked, when I visit the thread I am obligated to post the comment masked, so that solves the problem of relying on the mods for out-of-band communication and takes away the need for throwaway email addresses. It also would allow questioners to then see those posts in their own activity view on the site, allowing them to comment and respond and make good use of the question.

I say keep it like this until the question closes, once the question closes, it can turn into a truly anonymous question, and it will no longer have any association with the questioner.
posted by artlung at 6:31 PM on June 4, 2010


And I want to add, this also allows the mods to use their existing tools to view the activity on the site and respond appropriately.
posted by artlung at 6:33 PM on June 4, 2010


e.g.:
What has/will happen to you?
Focus on events and what happened. Facts, not emotions at this point

How did this make you feel?
What has your response to this been?

How old are you?

Where are you located?

Are there any third parties involved? If so, how?

What are you hoping the result will be?

Why does this need to be anonymous?

Summarise the issue in one sentence.


You've got a little boy. He shows you his butterfly collection plus the killing jar.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:36 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think Anonymous has a really great upside. Some of the best questions on here have been asked that way. A lot of them have general utility, in the "wow I never knew anyone else did that too" or "I've always wondered but never would have asked" categories. And even if they didn't have general utility, often they are a way for someone in a really rough spot to get some help or advice or just to hear that they're not alone. The anonymous question from the new mom saying "I really don't feel right, I think I don't love my baby", which led to real help and recognition of PPD, is a perfect example.

I think a lot of the relationship ones are dumb and overdramatized, but sex/drugs/bodies and a few other areas are sources of some of the most interesting and most useful stuff here. I went looking for some, couldn't find a few of the older ones I was thinking of but here's a more or less random sample of the kind of useful ones I mean.

First time sex, I bled and it hurts, what do we do?
Inexperienced with sex, is it normal to have to use your hands to find the right spot? - includes the phrase "a little manual recalculation of the entry vectors"
Will he know I'm a virgin just from how it feels to him?
How do I do Kegels and how do they feel to a man?
I lost a lot of weight and now I'm more self-conscious about my sagging breasts; will it be ok with a new partner?
Tips for quitting pot
I have smoked pot, should I admit it on my government job application?
Where can a transvestite vacation?
My thighs rub together and get sore, does this happen to anyone else and what can I do?
I eat bits of my skin, is this ok?
I want to try nude modeling, what steps do I take?
My mother kept me in isolation as a child, did this happen to anyone else?
I'm pregnant but the test results have come back looking bad, tell me about second-trimester abortions
I've failed the bar exam 3 times, what do I do?
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:22 PM on June 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


OK, I will out myself as someone who has been censured for using anonymous questions too much. I actually can't post them anymore. This is as of a year or more ago.

I can say I used anonymous questions to address sensitive topics that I did not want associated with my username (and public identity) and didn't feel I could discuss with close friends for one reason or another. Until it was removed I didn't realize that I was asking too many, or that asking many anonymous questions was even a bad thing as I never thought that our "community identities" were supposed to include our sex lives/mental health issues/relationship problems/etc.

It was pretty embarrassing when it happened, as I realized that mods knew which anonymous questions were mine and I had previously read in Meta that wasn't the case. After all, they were anonymous because I didn't want anyone to know they were mine! It also felt kind of a "Pay $5 or give up your privacy" thing and I felt pretty indignant about that at the time.

I am a cheap bastard (and until this particular thread I wasn't entirely sure it was OK for me to have a sockpuppet) so I simply stopped posting any questions that I would prefer to remain anonymous. There were many times when these questions popped up and I thought "Damn I wish I could post this anonymously!"

BUT . . . As the time without access to AnonyMe went on, I realized that in 99.9% of the situations where I wanted the input of the community I was able to resolve the situation on my own or the situation resolved itself without the world ending. All of those burning anonymous questions would have opened the floor to discussion with more people, but I can't say in most situations it would have really affected the outcome tremendously. Actually, there is only one job-related situation where it's clear it would have been a big help in creating a better resolution, but the time limit on that issue is pretty much gone now so whatever.

I think access to some kind of anonymizing feature for AskMetafilter is a nice thing for a community to have--I don't know how airing one's personal business all over the Internet builds community. If you have a username you use publicly and you are facing the choice between asking a question about whether to divorce under that username and not asking it at all, I'm guessing you're going to go with the "not asking." But from my own experience, I can also say that there is a huge difference between the private questions you want to ask and the private questions you need to ask. Having a $5 fee might also give one pause on how pressing and important that question really is. The aspiring divorcee might decide it's worth it. The guy who is trying to ask about anal in lieu of reading Dan Savage may not.
posted by schroedinger at 9:43 PM on June 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm all for making the anonymous questions a profit center for Metafilter, with an added value being an anonymous, disposable sockpuppet account that can be used to reply to questions in the thread, with nothing displayed to the typical MeFite relating to the poster's identity. Just "posted by Anonymous."

This might reduce the number of questions, or increase them, depending on the cost per post, which could certainly be adjusted and analyzed statistically.

I think it's a worthy experiment at least. It could certainly be abandoned if it seemed to skeeze things up, but the $5 sign-up fee has demonstrated the efficiency of using a small donation to filter out run-of-the-mill trolls and spammers, and maybe that applies here too.
posted by aydeejones at 12:37 AM on June 5, 2010


People are getting more paranoid about privacy. Which is reasonable, with everyone trying datamine the hell out of the internet these days.
posted by delmoi at 4:18 AM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Big Bro's Bigger Data
posted by infini at 5:03 AM on June 5, 2010


- They're mod intensive. We approve every one. Many wind up in MeTa. They sometimes require follow-up. People email to ask why they're not approved. None of this is a big problem, but each is a little problem.

This is the only real reason. Its an ok reason.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:25 AM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


If it would make it easier to have the poster known to the moderators, but 'masked' from the public, then I'd back that idea.

You have to have a certain level of confidence in the mods anyway, as they could find out if they wanted. Illegal questions are banned anyway.

If people hang around on this site they'll know that the mods are level headed and not going to out someone based on their prejudices or whatever...and the point of this is saying that it's a resource for people who hang around here rather than any random that signs up, right?
posted by Not Supplied at 7:11 AM on June 5, 2010


I'm against making anon questions a "profit center". That's discriminatory and classist for many reasons.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:59 AM on June 5, 2010


"masked from the public" is also a little weird because there's always the unmasking possibility [hello amazon!] and we'd love to avoid that. I like that I can show people the admin interface and there's no identifying info on the main pages, you have to dig in to even see who was flagging something. I think I's be constantly edgy if we only masked the identities of anonyme askers.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:30 AM on June 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm against making anon questions a "profit center". That's discriminatory and classist for many reasons.

The mods have already said they're not planning on charging for anonymous questions so it is a little moot. But it is only "discriminatory and classist" in the same way that Metafilter as a whole is discriminatory and classist. Metafilter already discriminates against people who cannot or will not pay $5 to sign up. "Discrimination" in and of itself is not a bad thing, it's just that the term has all sorts of negative baggage because of the association with racist discrimination.
posted by Justinian at 11:16 AM on June 5, 2010


No, Justinian.First of all, I was responding directly to delmoi, so don't take it out of context. Second, I've read the entire thread so I know what the mod responses have been. Thirdly, it has nothing to do with racial discrimination. There are many types of negative discrimination occurring in the world that have no association with or do not stem from racism. There were also various levels of signups for MeFi, and as stated in the thread, different currencies are sometimes treated with leniency. That's the kind of attitude that inspires "community", not actively preaching for the door to shut/anon questions to end or the other stuff you've been so vehemently advocating. The point isn't moot since people are discussing it. This is an open discussion after all.
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:22 PM on June 5, 2010


I didn't say that this has anything to do with racial discrimination; I said that the blanket term "discrimination" has a bad odor to it because of the word's baggage. So my point was actually exactly the opposite of what you make it out to be. Secondly, how, exactly, am I taking your quote out of context? Given that the thread is right here with all the context that implies. Thirdly, "various levels" of signups? I think that's overstating the case rather significantly. Some people signed up for Metafilter while there were open signups. Signups were close off and on for quite a while. Finally, signups have been opened up to anyone who wishes to pay $5. That is in no way "various levels" of signups, it was simply a policy change instituted to maintain the quality of community that Matt wished to maintain through the use of... wait for it... discrimination on the basis of willingness to pay $5.

That is the attitude that has created Metafilter. That even a small barrier to entry results in a higher and better level of discourse than allowing anyone who wants to to comment and post. To pretend that Metafilter isn't inherently based on the idea that one can promote community through barriers to entry is simply contrafactual.

So I think it's both obvious and trivial that one could promote a better level of anonymous question through restricting access either in terms of time limits or micropayments. There are, of course, certain downsides. Jessamyn et al have said they don't want to do that. Which is fine. But it is absolutely in line with Metafilter's ethos to limit access to non-core features through barriers to entry given that Metafilter limits access to core features through barriers to entry.
posted by Justinian at 1:23 PM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


dobbs: "Actually, I think the opposite: just make all questions anonymous."

This is a bad idea. There's a good number of people in my Contact Activity whose AskMe questions I want to have highlighted for me because ... they're interesting. While the Human Relations category may be the most popular on AskMe, I first started using it for all sorts of non-human drama stuff that I was curious about. I care particularly what some other users on the site are curious about, too.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 1:46 PM on June 5, 2010


I have asked what seems like an embarrassingly huge number of Anons - about twelve, I think. They have related variously to relationships, health, sex, mental health, two to work. Two, possibly three, were for other people, which I stated in the question. I outed myself on one of my own questions after the fact (this one, having realised that the person whom I was trying to protect from identifying herself was no longer using the internet). I know that the mods are able to identify who asks Anons (I think there was a recent description by Jessamyn which explained that usernames for the queue of Anons are immediately visible to mods, though not at that point linked with inidividual Anons). When I posted my last one I was very concerned that I might already have hit a limit and be asked not to post them in future, but it was an issue that I felt I really needed the community's response on and it felt like a risk worth taking.

So, I guess, from a perspective of possibly a high frequency user of the feature, it seems to me that -

- when I was a fairly new user and hadn't got my head round the community, in retrospect there are a couple of questions that I either now wouldn't ask or wouldn't feel the need to make anon. What about requiring a minimum length of time signed up to the site before posting an Anon?
- the responses to my questions were honest in a way that they might not have been had I not been anonymous; this has been helpful and memorable.
- I would have been happy to pay extra to ask Anons and, had I realised that it was less work for the mods if I used a sockpuppet, I'd have done that.
- I have tended to follow up on questions via a mod when I have something to add about the responses I've had. I've assumed that this is helpful to the community, but if it's preferable that users don't do this, or do it only when they have something definitely factual to add about what action they've taken, that would have been helpful to know.
- what about a limit to Anon questions for individual users of once every six months?
- it might be useful to have something in the guidance recommending against using Anons for other people, and suggesting that one buys an account for a friend who has a question instead.
- I'm sure it would have put me off asking more questions if it had said in my profile (either visible to all or only to me) "You have asked xx Anon questions".
- what about pointing out in the guidance that most people never ask Anons (if this is true), or rarely more than one? That might put off serial askers.
- I have contacted some of the people who responded to my Anon questions directly by MeMail to thank them, for what, if anything, this contributes to a feeling of community.

Also, as a reader of Anon questions, I find their anonymity frustrating of course, because you never know enough of / the end of / the context of the story, but in a way helpful because it reminds me that any questions I read are to some extent anon - there's not necessarily any difference between a question posted by someone with no posting history and little in their profile, and an Anon question. You can't know the full story even if it's a question asked openly by a member with a long history.

Ramblings really, but as I've thought about it quite a bit (and guiltily) I thought it worth giving my perspective.
posted by paduasoy at 2:24 PM on June 5, 2010


If the option was available, I would definately buy an account that was somehow "designated" as a sockpuppet. I'd do it for anony questions; I'd also use it on the rest of the site if I wanted to answer questions I don't want employers to find. (If it worked on the whole site instead of just the question it was made for.)
posted by NoraReed at 3:01 PM on June 5, 2010


jessamyn: "masked from the public" is also a little weird because there's always the unmasking possibility [hello amazon!] and we'd love to avoid that. I like that I can show people the admin interface and there's no identifying info on the main pages, you have to dig in to even see who was flagging something. I think I's be constantly edgy if we only masked the identities of anonyme askers.

Well, what if the default admin interface shared the masking, perhaps adding javascript that masked them even there? From a UI perspective: add a checkbox for "allow super double secret show" and only show identities of anon users in activity onmouseover or something. Basically allowing a similar kind of anonymity as is allowed in a confessional. The priest may know your voice, but the benefits of anonymity are there. Add in a codified mechanism to sever the database relationships when the question closes, or maybe allow the user to "cut the cord" then that data has to disappear.

The handling of backups and such becomes a bit more critical (see Amazon), but I expect that already is a sensitive topic. If data ever gets dumped for developers (haven't there been visualizations and such) obviously this would need to be handled sensitively.

Without detailed knowledge of your backend it's hard to comment, but real-world moderation problems interest me. Anonymity, in my mind, is an objective good on AskMe, and simply asking people not to use it so much I don't think scales. I do think adding more draconian "are you REALLY REALLY SURE you want to make this anonymous? making things anonymous places an extra burden on the moderators and we are sorry to report that excess usage of anon may cause us to formalize limits on anonymous usage, so please, be considerate."
posted by artlung at 3:05 PM on June 5, 2010


To combine the sockpuppet idea more directly with anonymous questions, how about charging $5 for each anonymous question? Hell, that'd be $15 cheaper than in town.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:08 PM on June 5, 2010


I respect and admire every member who's asked a super intense question or given super personal answers under their full-time name. Those people are bold and awesome.

I am not one of those people.

I think I asked an anonymous question once or twice, but then I just got myself a sock puppet, and I use it every now and then. Not just when I want to ask a question, but when I want to answer other people's questions, and I don't want my answer to be shared with any yahoo who can click on my metafilter profile page and see my flickr account, etsy shop, and other personal sites. I like being a member of metafilter in a holistic fashion, but I'm not at a point where I can share everything with everyone. My sock puppet lets me help people who I might not have helped with my everyday vanilla Metafilter account, and it lets me ride bareback on white horses even during my woman's time of the month. Ask your doctor if a sock puppet might be right for you.
posted by redsparkler at 10:42 PM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've asked two anonymous questions on Metafilter, which were about 7 months apart (I am pretty sure I signed up in order to ask the first one, since I lurked here for years before I ever got an account) and also means that anonymous questions have been 28% of my total question asking, so I'd say I probably used the feature too much.

I really would have had no problem with Metafilter in general knowing who asked the second question (and I am pretty sure it would be easy for someone who was suitably motivated to figure out which both questions were) but the problem for me is that my mother reads Metafilter, and after I signed up it so happened that she discovered my username, and she mentioned some comments I'd made a while back.

Given I once made a comment about how I like to give head, my mother knowing my username made me pretty paranoid about what I was posting under this name, so when I had another vaguely sensitive question I used the anonymous feature where I wouldn't otherwise have done so.

I'm pretty sure it's not cool to sign up with a new username just because your mother knows your current one, but boy do I wish it was.
posted by lwb at 2:29 AM on June 6, 2010


I'd say that's a very good reason to get a sockpuppet. parents shouldn't be able to invade your privacy at will.
posted by infini at 2:56 AM on June 6, 2010


I answer the question, not the user. I've not used the anonymous question feature but I'm glad it's there.
posted by irisclara at 8:51 AM on June 6, 2010


artlung writes "Well, what if the default admin interface shared the masking, perhaps adding javascript that masked them even there? From a UI perspective: add a checkbox for 'allow super double secret show' and only show identities of anon users in activity onmouseover or something."

The best way to keep this information secret is exactly as they are doing now: don't collect it in the first place.
posted by Mitheral at 11:46 AM on June 6, 2010


The best way to keep this information secret is exactly as they are doing now: don't collect it in the first place.

Well, yes, but we are all in here to discuss solving some problems the mods have with the way they are doing it now.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:08 PM on June 6, 2010


I'm pretty sure it's not cool to sign up with a new username just because your mother knows your current one, but boy do I wish it was.

I'm not a mod here but I don't see the problem. Users leave their old accounts and sign up for new ones reasonably often (I can think of five examples straight away without trying too hard). It's covered under the brand new day policy, the mods won't out you as the person from the old account if you don't want them to. I think the main problem would be if you try to run two different accounts side by side, like they're two different people, but quietly leaving one for a new one seems to be fine.

Of course now if you stop posting your mother will be suspicious and be wondering what the new account name is...
posted by shelleycat at 2:52 PM on June 6, 2010


I'm pretty sure it's not cool to sign up with a new username just because your mother knows your current one, but boy do I wish it was.

shelleycat pretty much has it. It is indeed cool to sign up with a new username just because [insert basically any reason here]; that by itself and as a one-off event is pretty much your business, if you feel the need to do that you can.

The main things that are not cool are:

- using multiple accounts concurrently as distinct active personas (classic "sockpuppetry", basically: arguing or agreeing with yourself, playing a "character" as anything other than a really clearcut one-off fake-account joke)
- using multiple accounts indiscriminately as active accounts (posting and commenting under more than one account basically for the hell of it rather than specifically using one of the accounts only for reasonably privacy/partitioning reasons)
- dodging posting limits by using spare accounts to make extra posts are ask extra questions
- aggressive serial account switching (not just going from Old Account to New Account as a "time for a new username" thing but doing so again and again)

So, yeah, if you want to retire an old account in favor of a new one in order to hide from your mom, or if you want to create a second account to use specifically for e.g. answering mom-shouldn't-know-I'm-saying-this stuff, that's okay. So long as you're doing that stuff in good faith, not using the account stuff as an excuse to fuck with people or be a jerk or route around site guidelines and posting limits, it's probably not going to be an issue.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:47 PM on June 6, 2010


playing a "character" as anything other than a really clearcut one-off fake-account joke

I've always thought that a large number of these "characters" were cortex, which, if true, would go towards explaining this particular exception.
posted by grouse at 3:58 PM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not so sure about anon frequency or yes/no decisions, but one thing that has frustrated me is a trend involving a kind of stupid lack of information in anon posts. They read to me like the question was written to be posted under their account before switching it to anon. So they leave out how much they make now, that thing that happened with their uncle when they were a kid, or some other kind of useless and pointless vagueness that points to useful information and better answers. I think to myself, "Come on, you're anonymous."

I know that the questions themselves can be difficult or complicated and the anon posts are borne of that, but it seems like sometimes a question could be kicked back to the poster for more detail and reduce the need to use their throwaway email within the first five answers (pony not intended).
posted by rhizome at 4:48 PM on June 6, 2010


I want to make sure I understand where the line is: "specifically using one of the accounts only for reasonably privacy/partitioning reasons" is OK? I've always wanted to just create an account for all my embarrassing or personally-identifying or otherwise secret-revealing questions rather than use the anonymizer, but I was under the impression that creating such a question-asking account was frowned upon.
posted by prefpara at 7:30 PM on June 6, 2010


Nope, it's okay to do that. Don't try to dodge the 7-day limit (which is intended to be per-person, not per-account) and don't do anything else weird with it and that's totally fine.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:37 PM on June 6, 2010


Well, now that the guidelines have been clarified at the bottom of a 350 comment Meta thread, I'm sure everyone will be aware of them now.

Maybe you can just throw that whole answer in the FAQ?
posted by smackfu at 5:59 AM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


We'll link to this thread in the FAQ, change the explanation some to be more clear and change the posting page for the AnonyMe page at some point in the near future.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:37 AM on June 7, 2010


... after a short nap...
posted by infini at 8:30 AM on June 7, 2010


"I am guessing the rise in anonymous questions has to do with people realizing more and more how easy it is to find someone online if you're determined."

Definitely some of this...as someone who was "found out" on the internet saying some pretty stupid stuff fairly early in my web life, and as someone who uses the same username everywhere, I definitely think twice (at least) before posting anything especially private.

I've posted anon once, IIRC, and actually outed myself later -- it was a job interview question at a time when no one at work knew I was job-hunting. I've considered it on some other concerns, but actually found that articulating the question enough to post anon helped me figure out the answer. (What would AskMe say? turns out to be a damn handy way to figure out personal problems.)

I think some some improved wording on the anon post page would be an excellent first step. Being all scientific: try it for a month, see if the topics change and/or the volume goes down.

On the issue of throwaway emails, I actually wrote to an anon's email recently on a topic where I felt I couldn't post a response under this username, but thought I had something helpful to say to the OP.

Thanks for bringing this up and letting the community muse on the issue.
posted by epersonae at 9:57 AM on June 7, 2010


tl;dr

Why was this allowed as an anonymous post? What possible reason could the op have requiring anonymity and why did the mods approve it?
posted by alms at 12:40 PM on June 7, 2010


What possible reason could the op have requiring anonymity and why did the mods approve it?

If someone in my family died and I wanted to ask a question about it, I'd probably ask anonymously so that I didn't have a bazillion people saying "sorry for your loss"

We basically presume good faith about these things. We haven't changed the FAQ. We haven't changed the AskMe posting page. AnonyMe questions have dropped off significantly so someone asking question that they feel needs to be anonymous is okay since there aren't eleven other questions clamoring for approval.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:49 PM on June 7, 2010


jessamyn writes "If someone in my family died and I wanted to ask a question about it, I'd probably ask anonymously so that I didn't have a bazillion people saying 'sorry for your loss'"

Especially if you hated the person and were glad to see them go; that can be awkward.
posted by Mitheral at 1:13 PM on June 7, 2010


I like the notion here and also suggested further up by someone else: not simply rewording the Anonymous screen but making it a multi-screen form with some boxes to tick ("Tick here to indicate you understand the T&C" and "Are you still convinced this needs to be anonymous? Tick Yes/No").

I have (I think) only used the anonymous option a few times, but as I looked at some example questions I thought to myself "If I had asked that, I would have done it anonymously. It would even be worth $2-3 dollars to do it. But I wouldn't go through the trouble of logging into Paypal." A barrier of clicking, scrolling, and box-ticking stops me doing a lot of stuff.

Alternately/additionally: Would it be possible (say, on the preview screen) to pitch the idea of buying a sock puppet account ("Have you considered buying a sock-puppet account for this question? It's only $5, and it means you can answer in the thread and there's no waiting for your question to be posted! If yes, see T&C, if not click here to be totally anonymous.") and letting accounts purchased through the anony-preview come without the 1-week-wait? Nudge away from anonymous questions by adding just a little extra hassle, nudge towards the preferred pseudonyms with a little honest up-selling?
posted by K.P. at 3:23 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't get the deal with the anon. Let people ask as many as they want. I don't see any annoying. I see it as shy, embarassed, or for safety. Who cares? They know the rules coming in that anon's can't have a back and forth, added info discussion. One chance and that's it. If they want to come out, let them--killing their anon status.

If it's a matter of taking up your time to play back and forth, I get it. But let people have a safety zone when asking their question.

And a commenting out for search engines is a good idea too.
posted by stormpooper at 12:13 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've tried to read as much of this thread as I can, but I've got limited internet, battery power, and time, so please forgive me if it's already been said.

I am personally really opposed to any solution that commodifies anonymous questions in any way, such as putting a time limit or fee on their use. I'm also opposed to any solution that builds social hierarchy into the use of anonymous questions, such as allowing mods (who balance their site participation as users, like everybody else, with their elevated roles as site administrators, unlike everybody else) to see/know who posts what anonymously. Part of what makes anonymous questions work, from a social perspective is that they're minimally 'marked'. They play at the same level as everything else, and are treated and respected as such. This is always going to come as some cost. But it sounds like those costs are escalating and that adjustment is needed. Implementing a new system, commodifying the use of anonymous Q's (with economic dis/incentives, points, time manipulation, etc.), or creating new 'useless' or 'one-time' users would have some serious unintended social effects and downsides that I would not like to see.

I actually wouldn't be surprised if this very MetaTalk discussion doesn't at least partially solve the front-end problem. We are a community, filled with a group of self-aware intelligent people, socially invested in keeping the norms and behaviors of the site and its users in check.

The best solution to this problem - or at least the best start - is to have an honest and open discussion. It sure beats some rule or system add on that steers behavior. Although it does sound like some extra rails are needed too, simply because a lot of technology and people are involved as the site grows.

Thank you mods, for letting us know what's going on, letting us all discuss it, learn about your needs and problems as the site grows and changes, and allowing us to be an active part of the solution.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:24 AM on June 12, 2010




Could you just say a little more? I can sit here and guess what you're thinking but that's not really helpful to us.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:32 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just saying WHAT?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:32 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


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