I know this is a common feature on social networks and I am the last person who wants EL&U to resemble Facebook, perish the thought, but I believe a system where one user can communicate privately with another would be a useful tool.

Chat is not the same, and the interface is positively a mess. Personally, I can't make head nor tail of it and find, despite its name, to be contradictorily intimidating. Chat is public, anyone can join a conversation (invited or not), but if a trusted user has a query, would like some advice on formulating an answer or has a question that is "too localized," then why make it public?

"Why not? It might be of interest to others" someone might chime in. Not if it is too localized and furthermore, not every legitimate question on grammar, syntax, lexis etc... is intrinsically interesting. For instance, a question I posted recently was really bugging me, I spent ages trying to make it look more "challenging" and worthy of a response. Thankfully, I did get one, and I was very grateful but it was clear as questions go, it was a resounding flop. I'd delete the question, but I can't because there's an answer! How much easier it would have been with a PM.

Private messages would also help resolve discussions and disagreements. They might also cause a few new ones too! However, the majority of users on this website are mature adults, and I think we can be trusted.

There is also a final advantage I would like to mention. It would help avoid unfortunate incidents where an OP or a respondent misinterprets the intervention of some of EL&U's most respected experts. Such as illustrated by this comment by John Lawler. In my opinion, people's egos are fragile things and more often than not we are aware of our own shortcomings. It takes courage to admit publicly that a long-held belief (and many grammar rules learnt at school are the cause of such incomprehensions) is at best inaccurate or worst a complete and utter lie. Not everyone can admit to being wrong, and certainly it is unrealistic to expect people to change their opinions in a heart beat, even when faced with indisputable evidence. A PM sent by member gently pointing out an error or asking for clarification might be listened to more carefully.

EDIT: I've just realized that my last paragraph seems to uphold J.Lawyer's conviction. Not so. PMs would avoid users' interpretations of being singled out for criticism on this platform. I like having a wide choice of answers to choose from, sometimes the low-voted answers help me as much as the most popular ones.

  • Related: meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/3352/…
    – Kit Z. Fox Mod
    Commented Jun 16, 2013 at 10:33
  • 4
    +1, Mari Lou, I have always encouraged private messaging among members, but the only private messages I received have been the ones by moderators. Terrific!
    – user19148
    Commented Jun 16, 2013 at 12:40
  • 2
    Un vero peccato! @Carlo_R Oh, well. It will be interesting to see what the other members have to say. But, I was totally unaware that the management from on high, are dead set against it.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 16, 2013 at 12:46
  • +1 from another newbie. I'm surprised to see at least 3 downvotes on this question and no comments indicating why. I've always understood that, when downvoting, users are encouraged to leave a comment indicating why.
    – TrevorD
    Commented Jun 16, 2013 at 23:50
  • 4
    It just means that they disagree with this feature. (This time I limited my questions down to one!) If you follow the links KitFox provides you'll see that PMs have been requested since 2008. That's a long time. I've been on EL&U barely a month, we can't expect the "old-timers" to agree with us newbies!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 16, 2013 at 23:55
  • I agree with Mari-Lou that this would be useful in this SE, which is not a nice fit to the norm for SEs. In such a tricky personal area as one's language, or one's language learning, it's much better to answer some questions in private instead of in public. That's just one reason. The Powers That Be clearly are not specialists in language and usage outside technical circles, where there are facts that can be pointed at, or argued cogently about from agreed-upon scientific principles. This is not really the case here, and the Q:A:Vote Model really doesn't work. As has been pointed out before. Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 23:14

1 Answer 1


This isn't the first time such a feature has been requested, and it's not even the fourth time. This featured has been requested by various users for many years and has been consistently declined by the Powers That Be.

You can read the linked question for an explanation, but in essence, the StackExchange sites are for questions and answers, not for social networking. Private messaging would encourage the wrong sort of behavior; any content that's on these sites is (mostly) public for a reason.

Based on the discussion in the comments to this answer, I want to add that my experience in chat strongly suggests to me that PMs would be abused. Not by you certainly, and maybe not by most of our community, but you are a responsible user. This community for the most part is respectful and knowledgeable and mature.

And this feature would need to be implemented system-wide (hence the Meta.SO post), and I can guarantee that SO itself is full of PM-spammers just waiting to fill up our boxes with 'i ken haz codez?' And even were the system to default to "No Messages from Untrusted Users," the comments would then be spammed (further) with 'let me pm you for codez!!!1!', 'gimme ur pm!!', etc. And then (more) chaos would reign and all the little kittehs would be sad. You don't want that, do you?

  • I'm sorry if my request is a repeated one. I had tried looking in the depths of Meta before posting as it seemed to me a pretty obvious feature. Meta.stack overflow to me is a separate entity.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 16, 2013 at 10:49
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    Wow...since 2008, people have been asking for this. But @KitFox, aren't we adult enough to know how to use PMs? I read some optimal solutions to limit misuse.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 16, 2013 at 11:04
  • @mary I think some people might use them to bug people. Chat works well for little discussions, and PMs would also be an additional thing that would need moderation.
    – user10893
    Commented Jun 16, 2013 at 11:42
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    @simchona No, not necessarily. You would "choose" who you would like to interact with. It would need to be mutual thing. I'm an adult, I can make my own choices, and likewise everyone else. If for example you were notified that I would like to message you, you'd be free to either accept or refuse. If you didn't want hassle and shut my request down, I'd understand. Stop.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 16, 2013 at 12:01
  • 4
    @Mari-Lou: As I understand, the devs are refusing this not from fear that it would be specifically abused, but because it would change the character of the site. I don’t know if I agree with them in this specific case, but I think the general approach the *.se team take, of asking not just “Do people want this? Would it work?” but also “What long-term effects would it have on the health and character of the site/community?” is a good one, and is (so far) helping keep these sites useful, fun, and distinctive.
    – PLL
    Commented Jun 16, 2013 at 15:13
  • 2
    Meta.stackoverflow.com is the meta site for every site at SE, because most questions are general to the entire system not just specific to ELU (like your question here).
    – Mitch
    Commented Jun 16, 2013 at 19:32
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    "Aren't we adult enough to know how to use PMs?" 1- even adults are not adult enough! 2 - Sure we're adult enough, go ahead and use one. It's just not through SE. 3 - TPTB (The Powers That Be) had certain philosophies about SE (to not be like other places) that they used to inform small decisions. This was one of them. 4- Sometimes I want a private IM channel to someone, but frankly, a) if you don't want it to be public, you probably aren't saying something appropriate. b) you can always do it at some other site. Really, you know you can address your chat message to the person you want!
    – Mitch
    Commented Jun 16, 2013 at 19:36
  • 1
    a) if you don't want it to be public, you probably aren't saying something appropriate. A: No. I've used PMs in the past, I use emails for work, I can assure you my manager has never received anything of dubious character from me! tsk..
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 16, 2013 at 22:53
  • @Mitch b) you can always do it at some other site. A: No, I can't. The person or people I might want to communicate with are on EL&U and ELL. "Really, you know you can address your chat message to the person you want!" A: I don't like chat. I have used it once and frankly I'm too scared to go back! :) I'm not sure if that person has even seen my message. I don't see anything in my Stack Exchange inbox.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 16, 2013 at 22:57
  • @Mitch a) I disagree. There can be questions arising from an exchange here that then develop into points that may be inappropriate/off-topic for the particular question/answer; especially as we are specifically requested to keep comments relevant to the topic. b) I've looked at chat once. It seemed to be random people chatting randomly to whoever is active and I could make neither head nor tail of it. Anyway (I assume) chat requires the participants to be online simultaneously, which can be difficult even for people in the same time zone, let alone those in widely differing zones.
    – TrevorD
    Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 0:02
  • @TrevorD: a) ??. conversations, irrelevant or not, shouldn't be held in comments. They can be done in chat. Ask in chat, see what happens, maybe you'll get a conversation about it if anybody cares. b) Chat is mostly random people talking randomly -everywhere-, for people not in the conversation.as to simultaneity, it's better at the same time, but if you use '@Mitch' I'll get notified and we can have a back and forth asynchronously to all the other conversations. I don't think it's the best, I'm trying to tell you how to get something out of chat at SE, because otherwise ain't gonna happen.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 1:44
  • @trevor users can create chat rooms if they'd like to discuss something in particular, away from the main room. There are quite a few open now--ranging from "how much research is enough?" to discussions stemming from questions on the site
    – user10893
    Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 9:39
  • I did not read all the comments, so I might be repeating someone here, but I'd understand the reasons NOT to enable PMs. It would be nice if there was some middle ground so that frequent users could get all chatty and nice and make friends. I'd actually like that a lot. But, it is inevitable that opening that feature would cause certain people to get inundated with spam and "No one answered my question, can you help me?" messages. I have barely used chat, so I don't know if it is a acceptable outlet for the socialites in our midst.
    – TecBrat
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 16:13

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