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I left a six-line comment on the main site suggesting that a user slightly modify her or his question-posting behaviour. As a response, the user asked me to open a meta thread to discuss non-mathematical issues, without addressing my concerns. I hadn't actually intended to discuss; I was hoping that simply making the suggestion would make the user aware of the problem I saw and hopefully motivate her or him to follow the suggestion. I said as much in a response and asked whether I should take the response to imply that the user doesn't intend to follow my suggestion; I didn't get a reply to that (yet), which seems to imply an answer in the affirmative.

I'm wondering how to respond to such a situation. On the one hand, the user is quite right that the main-site comments shouldn't be used for extended meta discussions. On the other hand, it seems rather likely, given previous discussions, that the result of bringing this up on meta would simply result in others agreeing with my suggestion, and I don't want to waste everyone's time doing that; or, more to the point, I don't want to let the user's refusal to engage with my suggestion force me to waste everyone's time. But again on the other hand, I can't just tell the user that I'm right and there's nothing to discuss because everyone agrees with me, since the behaviour isn't exactly the same as was previously discussed and my prediction that others will agree with my suggestion is merely an extrapolation from the previous discussions.

I'd welcome any suggestions on how to deal with this situation while attaining all three objectives of not clogging the main site with meta discussions, not wasting everyone's time with an unnecessary meta thread, and getting the user to modify her or his behaviour (or else being persuaded that there's no need for that).

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    $\begingroup$ Unfortunately, I think that some kind of discussion of moderator responses to this particular user's behavior is now in order. For a long time I was able to write off the behavior as merely eccentric/unusual. But in the last 48 hours the user has flooded the main page with on the order of 30 questions, some of which are very elementary compared to other questions this user has asked or answered. I commented on one of them asking what the user had tried, and the response that I got is that he has already solved the question but doesn't want to post his answer. I am now annoyed... $\endgroup$ – Pete L. Clark Jul 25 '12 at 13:28
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    $\begingroup$ I think that this is a complex and somewhat strange situation: so far as I know, the user in question has not broken any of the rules of the site and tends to lean on that. However any community has the unwritten rule "If you want to stay active in the community, you must conform to the community's social norms and expectations, at least to a degree which is acceptable to the majority of the community members." I think the user is by now in rather clear violation of this unwritten rule. $\endgroup$ – Pete L. Clark Jul 25 '12 at 13:32
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    $\begingroup$ The thread that Willie Wong recently opened up on question limits should be helpful for this issue. I support his suggestion. $\endgroup$ – Pete L. Clark Jul 25 '12 at 13:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Pete: I think it would be good to adopt the Where's the rule that says I have to wear pants?-rule from MO. I think the user in question is violating this rule quite consistently. $\endgroup$ – Michael Greinecker Jul 25 '12 at 14:22
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    $\begingroup$ I strongly agree with Michael, and I think that the user is clearly beyond the point of remarking that "one should wear pants". I should add that repeating the mantra "Please open a meta thread" can be very annoying. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 25 '12 at 15:12
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    $\begingroup$ Whether I wear pants or not while I answer questions is nobody's business. It's not as if it makes any difference in what other users (or even the servers) see. $\endgroup$ – Henning Makholm Jul 25 '12 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Henning: You are aware that the pants is a metaphor for conventional behavior which is within the limits of reason, right? No one cares if you use the site fully nude, but if you insist on doing that - doing that outdoors with your cellphone may become a problem. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 25 '12 at 15:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Pete, that's the crux of the problem, I believe. He can't accept or process the notion of an "unwritten rule", which is what people who are not him have been gnashing their teeth over the last few weeks. $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Jul 25 '12 at 16:50
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Immediate reactions:

  1. Comments such as yours on the main site are fine.

  2. Extended discussions with back-and-forth exchange of arguments about how best to use the site should happen on the meta site.

  3. However, it is completely routine and unremarkable to make a suggestion (to be taken or not taken) without meaning to start such a discussion.

  4. If someone actively wants to participate in a meta discussion about the topic, it is the responsibility of that particular someone to open an appropriate meta thread to hold it in. Just telling someone else "you should open a meta thread because I want to present an argument against your suggestion" is rather rudely passive-agressive.

  5. Given the identity of the user you interacted with (and for those following along at home: Yes, it was MK), the rude response your suggestion was met with probably surprises no frequent Meta reader. He is well known for not taking suggestions from anybody and not caring at all about following community norms -- except for a few choice brush-offs such as "you should open a meta thread" which he has seen established users use once or twice and now parrots at every conceivable occasion, apparently pretending to believe that he is thereby only following the norm. However, the fact that the only arguable norms he's pretending to follow are those regarding how to tell people off, makes it hard to believe that he's not just trolling.

In summary: Shrug, give up that particular proposal as a lost cause, and keep up the good work.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for the summary. That dude's beyond reach with polite nudging at this point, if I'm reading him correctly. Approaches that work on more considerate people won't fly with this guy. $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Jul 25 '12 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ I couldn't agree more. Well said. $\endgroup$ – davidlowryduda Jul 26 '12 at 6:01

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