I understand reputation is an important aspect of Stack Exchange. However, on sites like onstartups and this site, sometimes you want to ask a question anonymously. You can always use a throwaway account, even have a second account dedicated to "sensitive topics." However, I think a good anonymous question should be rewarded with reputation.

Specifically I am proposing the following:

  • The feature should only apply to certain sites like workplace and onstartups.
  • A user with X reputation on the site (lets say 200) or X overall reputation on SE (lets say 2000) should be able to ask anonymous questions
  • There should be a reputation penalty, say 50 points.
  • As a user the question should count towards my reputation, badges, etc
  • One should be able to make a question un-anonymous at a later date and get half their reputation back. If I change jobs, the matter ceases to be confidential, etc I should be encouraged to "take ownership" of the question.
  • I should be able to make an existing question anonymous.
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This has been requested and mostly ignored on Meta Stack Overflow: meta.stackexchange.com/a/79391/166936 though I'll note our situation is pretty different from SO. It's not about the rep of the asker but sensitive topics. I have noticed several throw-away users and unregistereds named "anonymous"/"anon" asking questions –  Rarity Aug 16 '12 at 13:06
    
To lend some credence to the issue, we currently have 10 users named some variation of "anon" or "anonymous" who have asked questions. That's not counting the users who have created an unregistered account and just never changed the username from user12345 or used a name other than "anonymous". –  Rarity Aug 17 '12 at 21:10
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Simply being able to ask an anonymous question (without reaping any benefits), would be very helpful. To put it in perspective: getting a good answer to a question that I can't ask publicly is far more important to me than any badge or points that I might get! –  Marco Feb 12 '13 at 19:38
    
related feature request at MSO: Allow users to sever connections between accounts –  gnat Sep 20 '13 at 11:59
    
I think users should be able to post things anonymously, but without gaining any benefit from upvotes. The reason in my opinion why users shouldn't just create a new account, is if they have 200+ rep on another site (or on that site), they should be able to have the privileges that come with that rep (such as ability to post pictures, and write comments) which new accounts don't have. I don't think that up or down votes on an anonymous question should have an affect on the rep of the non-anonymous user though. –  Ephraim Mar 21 at 18:30
    
see also: Why separate Stack Exchange accounts? –  gnat Apr 18 at 10:54

3 Answers 3

A good anonymous question should be rewarded with reputation - to that account.

What you're asking is that you want a question that is not associated to an account, but that account gets to reap all the benefits from it. I'm not going to get into the programmatic and mechanical nightmares that would be required to set this up in the code, so let's instead look at the practicality and exercise.

Consider - every instance of reputation gain is visible on your profile page, past the first point and the 100 points of bonus for association. There is no means to which reputation can be attributed to the parent account without the existence of a secret account being found - indicating unattributed reputation gain will be obvious, while just hiding it will raise questions about "ghost reputation" that people can only answer with "Secret account" (as that will be the only answer).

This is actually enough data for anyone to track down the associated ghost account purely with publicly available tools. All they'd need to do is isolate days in which the largest ghost reputation was gained (which will generally correspond to the original asking), then map out viable points where it could have happened.

Downvotes you cast aren't shown, but this isn't reputation gain, and we are very public about the fact we hide downvotes to posts.


This is all a really long-winded way of saying if you want anonymity, and for questions to not be associated to your account and name, then they should be completely separate. Trying to get benefit for them means you have to own up to ownership of this anonymous account. Any means of a connection (reputation, badges, anything) is all public data that can be traced and essentially void the intention of anonymity.

Reputation is all about being recognized for contributions and claiming credit for it. This is counter to the very point of being anonymous and using an account that is not to be identified as your own, and so it would be a measured exercise of complexity that is far unwieldy compared the minor amount of benefit yielded to either involved party.

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I definitely agree rep/badges/etc from the anonymous questions are a problem. I think anonymity would be very useful for this site but it should be separate from the game mechanics entirely. –  Rarity Aug 17 '12 at 21:18
    
I too agree that there are issues, and would be fine with Rarity's suggestion (assuming it solves problems like notifications and logins when using separate accounts). However I'd suggest that for most users, they don't want full, bulletproof, untraceable anonymity, but just to not have their name appear on the question or the question to appear in their question list on their profile. –  NickC Aug 18 '12 at 5:31
    
(In other words, the concern is not about who posted that?, but rather, what did that person post? since many employers may be aware of their employee's accounts, or find them through Google.) –  NickC Aug 18 '12 at 5:45

An idea popped into my head; how about merging Unregistered accounts into a blatant "post anonymously" feature? This way we get "anonymous posting" via unregistered accounts, don't have a complex new system, and we get a little clarity on what unregistered accounts really are; throwaways. As the brilliant and esteemed Ben Brocka points out, the unregistered sign up form is a bit confusing.

What I'm thinking is you can at any point log out and ask/answer a question, and above the name/email/homepage form it says "post anonymously". When posting anonymously, you can't set a name (that's a hard sell, so it might require rethinking, but it really goes make it reasonably "anonymous"). After making an Anonymous account, you have an option to add an open ID, making it a real account, but if you don't care, you can just let the account rot; like most unregistered accounts seem to already.

So this doesn't require a huge refit of the account making/reputation system at all, it just makes a big mental model change of the Unregistered account option; which IMO is already needed.

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A workaround for this is to use existing feature of merge-accounts:

  1. create anonymous account
  2. ask the question using anonymous account
  3. when deemed appropriate, ask moderators to merge anonymous account into your "main" account.

That way one gets all the reputation, badges etc associated with the question when accounts get merged. A famous example question where this approach was used at Server Fault is:

Having real witness protection program would certainly be better than above funny procedure but so far, related feature request at MSO doesn't seem to have good chances to get implemented.

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I wouldn't want to encourage this workflow, it might be ok to do it once or twice, but moderators are not here to do stuff like that on a regular basis... –  Yannis Aug 17 '12 at 10:41
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@YannisRizos yup, having real "witness protection program" would certainly be better than this funny procedure –  gnat Aug 17 '12 at 10:57
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People should really just be mindful of what they're posting. It's possible to ask genuine questions without calling someone an "idiot", and by generalizing the problem enough to where it won't get back to anyone specific. Also... after the merge, don't your questions from the other account get updated with the name of the merged asker anyway? –  jmort253 Aug 18 '12 at 1:17
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@jmort253 I think the problem on Workplace is less often that a question targets someone, but more often than a question gives away that someone is looking for a job –  Rarity Aug 18 '12 at 1:18
    
@Rarity - I still think it's possible to generalize. Ahem.... I have this friend... she hates her job... –  jmort253 Aug 18 '12 at 1:19
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@jmort253 somehow, this friend workaround doesn't feel compelling. I agree that one can go just fine without calling people names but I don't feel like this or have-a-friend trick are sufficient to address the issue. Nor I think that generalizing is such a great "weapon" - quite often, question essence lies in concrete details –  gnat Aug 18 '12 at 1:23
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I have this friend who likes ponies...no, that just doesn't seem believable. –  Rarity Aug 18 '12 at 1:28
    
Do people really need to ask anonymous questions that often? Will they ask enough to where a few reputation points are worth Stack Exchange developers completely gutting or hacking the current system of computing reputation? I admit, there may come a time where I want to post an anonymous question, but I just don't see the lost reputation as a huge problem in comparison to the costs involved. –  jmort253 Aug 18 '12 at 1:35

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