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Since this community is still relatively small compared to, for example, StackOverflow, and since there are, fortunately, lots of commited users, it is relatively common to see comments and answers that:

  • Mention other answers by author's name in an answer's body;
  • Consider non-readily-accessible knowledge of the author's previous answers, skills, location, etc. (for example, knowing from an answer from X weeks ago that an OP is building a bike of certain type);
  • (sort of) Overextend a comment thread in a person-to-person way that might look a bit chatty.

I don't think anyone of these things to be "bad", since they might even increase the sense of community and, in a way, help to infer useful information from a wider context.

But, mostly, Q&A communities are Question-Centric (which is a Good Thing), and not User-Centric at a personal level. For example, the weight of an entry should/could be judged by reputation only, and not because of a "figure-of-authority" bias. And for future references to the same question, these info might not contribute to understanding for users not aware of them. (not that it is a current big issue, or that it happens all the time, but I think it is worth discussing).

So the question is: should this "personalization" of users, in this community, be considered harmful? Could it potentially create some unwanted side-effect considering the higher-level principles and rules of StackExchange?

  • Are there specific cases where this may have been a problem, or is this strictly a pre-emptive concern? – Neil Fein Apr 24 '12 at 18:35
  • Mostly pre-emptive. I've had some experience with what I described, which were mostly productive I think, but if it is appropriate or not sice I don't want to unadvertedly break any rule. – heltonbiker Apr 24 '12 at 18:54
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Questions should stand on their own.

Answers should be useful answers to the actual question without needing to know other information from elsewhere.

If there's relevant details in other places and it's not readily accessible, edit it into the question or into the answer as appropriate.

I don't see anything wrong with referring to another answer on the same question with the author's name. Bonus points for actually linking to the answer.

Chatty comment threads should move to chat and have the useful information edited into the question or answer.

Basically, you want somebody searching Google with a similar question to get the question page and get a useful answer to their question and for that to be as easy as possible. The best answers should be near the top of the page (accepted and/or most upvotes). All the necessary details should be in the question and answer(s) right there on that page without having to click through to other pages unless they want to double-check a reference. They shouldn't need to read through comments to get important parts of the answer; the answers should stand on their own.

  • It seems you captured what I was thinking of: the risk of, say, "spoiling" the post in some way so that it becomes less useful/attractive to outcoming searchers. – heltonbiker Apr 24 '12 at 18:57
  • I didn't really address "tone". I think a personal tone is fine, as long as it's friendly, helpful and direct. – freiheit Apr 25 '12 at 23:13
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I think personal references in a question or answer are fine, as long as the reference stands on its own and doesn't depend on community knowledge. We want good, stand-alone content, and a personal touch adds a nice sense of personality to that. It might also get people coming in from Google to explore the site more. We might have a problem if this approaches the level of personality one sees in an online forum, but getting a sense of someone's personality in their writing is not a problem if the writing is on target. It often is an indicator of good writing.

If your question presupposes knowledge from another question, it's usually the work of a sentence of two to summarize the relevant points. If the OP doesn't do that, the information can be edited in.

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I think that in a community where you have a consistent body of users avoiding using previous knowledge of other users in questions and answers is impossible.

I think that if you have personal knowledge that you are using to answer a question, then you should spell it out for the benefit of those evaluating your answer, and to ensure that the OP knows what and why you answered the way you did.

But I don't think it's something which you could stop if you wanted to.

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