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If a question is not very popular and one wants to delete it, one may do so. But, after it gets a certain number of upvotes (or possibly some other criteria are met), the owner may no longer choose to delete it. I would guess that the rationale behind this is that if 5 people have upvoted it, then it stands a reasonable chance of being useful to someone in the future, and thus deserves to be protected.

However, sometimes I feel like I would like to remove particular questions from my history, despite their popularity. One might be quickly prone to dismiss this as only useful for cheaters trying to hide the fact that they asked for help on the internet. While this is a possibility, I would point out that most of those questions would not have received 5 or more upvotes, and could therefore be deleted anyway. Also those questions are frequently asked from guest accounts in the first place.

There are, however, legitimate reasons for wanting to dissociate a question from one's identity. I'll put myself on the line and give an example. Two of my top 5 upvoted questions, https://math.stackexchange.com/questions/85649/undergraduate-research-topics-in-analysis, and Compact = Closed + Bounded + (?), are soft, naive, frankly embarrasing to have on my profile. But, having 20 and 12 upvotes respectively, I cannot delete them. I understand that other people may have benefited from these questions, and so deletion is not the best option. But, if I could somehow anonymize the question, then I would not have to live with the embarrassment, and people could still benefit from the question.

Thus I propose the following rough outline of an "anonymize" feature.

  • At the bottom of a question or answer that one has written, there is an "anonymize" option.
  • Anonymizing a question will change the username to "anonymous" or "removed" or something of that nature
  • Anonymizing will remove all formal @references to the user in the question, changing them to @anonymous or @removed. There is not much we can do about misspellings or informal references, but this is better than nothing.
  • Upon anonymizing a question, all gained reputation/view count/link count related to the question are forfeighted
  • The question is removed from the user's profile and this of course implies that the user will no longer receive automatic notifications about the question if there is new activity.
  • Anonymization is permanent, one cannot reclaim an anonymized question or answer after forfeiting it (just as one cannot undelete a question or answer).
  • Possible requirements: users can only anonymize x many questions per day, users must have x reputation to anonymize

Please use this thread to discuss pros, cons, feasibility, and desirability of this feature in the MSE community. Constructive criticism and idea improvement are both welcome.

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The number of upvotes doesn't matter, what prevents a question from being deleted is the presence of at least one upvoted answer. Removing the question would also remove the answers and waste the effort those users put into answering.

The option to disassociate a post from your account exists already, just write a mail to team@stackexchange.com and request the disassociation of your posts. This process actually removes the user from the post, it will behave as if it was posted by a deleted user.

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  • $\begingroup$ Forgive me for not remembering what qualifies protecting a question from deletion, I have only tried to delete once or twice so far. You have missed the point of my question though. While emailing team@stackexchange.com works, it also takes time and requires extra human intervention. That would be like having to email team@stackexchange.com every time you want to delete a comment/question/answer. While it certainly gets the job done, the point is that it is much smoother and more userfriendly to have the process integrated into the stackexchange framework. $\endgroup$ – nullUser Aug 8 '13 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ It is a rather dangerous ability, and could be used to evade many restrictions and limits of the SE software. I'm pretty certain that SE won't make this ability available to regular users, they don't even give this ability to moderators. $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist Aug 8 '13 at 17:13
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    $\begingroup$ Ahh, I see, they would be worried about people posting unsavory material and then dissociating it to leave no trace? I would imagine dissociating would be just (maybe I shouldn't say "just") another column in the database. The original user would still be known in the database, hence users who post unsavory material and then try to anonymize are still reportable. But of course the database is not publicly viewable to users. Alternatively, the high reputation required would also be a reasonable way to stop this. Or are there other concerns? $\endgroup$ – nullUser Aug 8 '13 at 17:37
  • $\begingroup$ @nullUser Here is a concern of cost/benefit variety. SE has a small number of developers who have a backlog of projects at any given time. If this resource is going to be used to develop a new feature, that feature must be something of benefit to SE. What's the benefit to SE of increasing the number of abandoned posts on the network? Returning to your question: since Research Topics has no answers, you should be able to just delete it. $\endgroup$ – user90090 Aug 13 '13 at 23:32
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Using multiple accounts could be a partial solution, if it is possible to log in two or more users at once in different windows of the same browser session. With only one login allowed at a time, it would be inconvenient to always be logging in and out to answer questions under the different identities.

There are, however, legitimate reasons for wanting to dissociate a question from one's identity.

Here are examples where not having a some form of dissociation feature can cause problems.

CW mode is already used in part for dissociation (as a hack, because the feature does not exist). Cases include general site clean-up related to unanswered and duplicate questions, or avoiding reputation gains on trivial answers. Those CW postings are useful to the site but potentially accumulate negative value for the users who write them, due to unwanted notifications from actions on the posts, and reducing the level of "quality" visible from the user's Answers list. Quality aside, when it is not possible to post an answer and walk away, that discourages leaving the answer.

Inability to dissociate can also reduce the value of focused experts' Answer lists as a library, by intermixing random non-expert answers on other subjects. Imagine if the top algebraic geometry (or PDE, topology, logic, ...) answerer, in addition to writing masterpieces on that subject, added a large number of quick answers to basic mathematics questions, just to pass the time when checking the site for a few minutes. Other users who follow the expert's answers would have to start looking more carefully to separate the precious from the mundane.

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  • $\begingroup$ "only one login allowed at a time" is not a problem when all major browsers support private/incognito mode. E.g., in Chrome, one can right-click the question title; select "open in incognito window", post an answer as unregistered user (email is required, but anything like z@yx.tv will do) and delete the account with two more clicks: user profile->delete. $\endgroup$ – user90090 Aug 13 '13 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ Does that work for multiple registered users? If so one could have different usernames for different subjects of the answers, for example. $\endgroup$ – zyx Aug 13 '13 at 23:08
  • $\begingroup$ The process I described aims at the subject of this thread: disassociation of a post from the user. Each answer posted with this method would have its own (deleted) usernumber under it, as described here. If one wants to keep separate accounts for different kinds of posts, the easiest solution is to use multiple browsers (Chrome for number theory, Firefox for algebraic geometry, Internet Explorer for calculus homework...) A request for explicit support for multiple accounts was declined by SE. $\endgroup$ – user90090 Aug 13 '13 at 23:19
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, I meant multiple registered accounts kept for different types of posts. And thanks, that is useful information. Another application is that active users on meta could be well served by divorcing their main and meta user accounts. Currently there is "spillover". $\endgroup$ – zyx Aug 14 '13 at 0:49

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