This is a post by proxy for Gerhard Paseman. Please see the relevant meta.MO discussion.

questions on math.stackexchange Posting policy and Interface issue

I thank the poster in advance for posting this on my behalf; somehow the meta "Ask Question" interface will not let me submit a question.

I have two questions:

  1. Will the policy on signatures be revised?

  2. Where is the delete button for an answer?

I include most of a short correspondence below. Following it is a short discussion.

Begin Correspondence

To: [email protected]

I am contributing answers to math.stackexchange.com. In order to justify the time spent on this, I add a signature to most of the contributions I make. This signature serves several purposes for me. Two of them are:

  • For the items I want to search, I can use the signature to help select those that are my contribution. The date I put helps me place the post in a proper context for me.
  • For the audience I want to reach, I want to encourage them to talk to me regarding system design.

The resources that the signature takes are small compared to the resources taken by the rest of the answer.

I read the no signature policy on the site, and decided that I would attempt to contribute anyway, especially since the site was in beta and with the hope that the policy would be modified.

Now the issue is being mentioned, and in particular, at least one of my contributions is being edited to remove the signature. I want a brief discussion before I take one of two actions:

  • rollback the edit to restore the signature
  • delete the answer to remove the signature and the contribution. (Question: where is the delete button for an answer anyway?)

If the signature policy is to be enforced, then I prefer to withdraw myself and my contributions from math.stackexchange. If the policy is modified to accommodate me, then I am willing to consider modifying the signature to give it a smaller footprint.

I would like a response from one of the moderators of the math.stackexchange site. If this policy is applied to all stackexchange sites, then I suggest it be modified to limit signatures to a small footprint.

I await your reply.

Gerhard Paseman, 2010.08.11

Hi Gerhard,

The network policy is, no signatures please, for the reasons defined in the /faq on every site -- https://math.stackexchange.com/faq

Can I use a signature or tagline?

Please don't use signatures or taglines in your posts. Every post you make is already "signed" with your standard user card, which links directly back to your user page. Your user page belongs to you — fill it with interesting information about your interests, links to cool stuff you've worked on, or whatever else you like!

You can and definitely should open this as a question on http://meta.math.stackexchange.com/ to see if the moderators agree. It is theoretically up to THAT community to decide what they want and don't want. But, if they allow an exception for you, they must allow an exception for everyone... and that to me is the crux of the issue.

I personally think it's a bad idea to allow exceptions on signatures, since the overall increase in noise is damaging to the community in a very "broken windows" way.

But as I said, it is not for me to decide.. this is something for you in the math community to hash out yourselves as "state's rights" override the "national rules" in general.


End Correspondence

Regarding the issue of signatures, I understand the point about having excess bytes that may be considered noise by others. If the bytes served no purpose to me, I would agree. And if the tag served the purposes that I wanted, I would use the tag instead. The tag does not serve the purposes I want, the signature does, and the demonstrated (to me) negative impact of the signature is zero. I suggest the signature policy be modified so that signatures of small footprint are allowed. Mine takes up less than 60 bytes; how many bytes/pixels does the tag take up? There is also the indexing issue, which the tag does not properly address.

Regarding the user interface, I ask for help: where is the delete button for a user to delete his own answer?

I am also disappointed that the answers were edited to remove my signature AFTER I invited discussion and before I received a reply regarding the discussion. I am willing to overlook this as unfortunate timing if a proper response to this question is made.

Finally, a request for the moderator. Depending on how the signature policy for math.stackexchange is upheld/modified, please either rollback all of the edits made to remove the signature, or else remove all of the answers/comments containing them. I would prefer they be rolled back now until a final ruling is made.

I am willing to give more arguments to justify the presence of signatures, as well as craft an appropriate policy for them. I am also willing (but not eager) to have my contributions to this forum removed. I want a good resolution to this issue for both me and the forming community.

Gerhard "Ask Me About System Design" Paseman, 2010.08.11

End of proxy message.

  • 8
    $\begingroup$ A relatively superficial but perhaps not completely irrelevant comment: the FAQ does not say that posting signatures is not allowed and will be subject to removal. It says "Please don't use signatures or taglines in your posts." In contrast, sometimes the imperative is used when it seems not to be intended, e.g. under the "Be nice" and "Be honest" headings. It says "Bring your sense of humor", but I have yet to see anyone take action because a user is being overly serious. $\endgroup$ Aug 12, 2010 at 0:23
  • 18
    $\begingroup$ Another relatively superficial comment: I have never been tempted to ask Gerhard Paseman about system design. :-) $\endgroup$ Aug 12, 2010 at 0:38
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ I can never find his e-mail address, but I've always wanted to ask him what he means by "system design". $\endgroup$
    – 97832123
    Aug 12, 2010 at 0:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Gerhard: You will have to register a full account to use the meta and to be able to delete your answers. If somehow the registration process creates two accounts under your name, let us know and we can merge them. Also, if you do wish to continue using your signature, please provide some contact information in your profile. Currently, the only way someone could 'ask you about system design' is to comment in response to one of your answers/comments, and that would clutter up the site. $\endgroup$
    – Larry Wang
    Aug 12, 2010 at 1:03
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Gerhard: Could you be more specific about what functionality you get from your signature? The system may have this feature locked away in some place that you have not yet found, or is not available unless you are a registered user. $\endgroup$
    – Larry Wang
    Aug 12, 2010 at 2:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Jeff: You accidentally put your own words in a quote box (which was quoting the FAQ). I fixed it. $\endgroup$
    – 97832123
    Aug 12, 2010 at 2:48
  • $\begingroup$ I have started an email conversation between Gerhard and the moderators+StackExchange about this issue. $\endgroup$
    – Larry Wang
    Aug 12, 2010 at 3:36

5 Answers 5


Although I find Gerhard's signature moderately annoying and think that it's a good policy to discourage signatures, I'll note that Gerhard's arrival at MO did not cause anyone else to start using a signature. So I think the "broken windows" affect might be a bit of a red herring here.

My feeling is that we should ban signatures with any spam characteristics (e.g. links) while simply discouraging signatures like Gerhard's while not explicitly banning them. E.g. moderators could ask people not to sign with the standard explanation of why it's annoying, but if they want to keep doing so that's up to them. This would be similar to the way MO discourages but allows posting under non-real names.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I agree with this completely. (Well, except for the very minor point that I don't think that MO has been nearly as gung ho in discouraging pseudonymous posting in recent months as when it started out. There was a good deal of support for pseudonyms on the meta site. I personally wish that everyone chose to at least answer questions with their real names, but they should not be required to do so.) $\endgroup$ Aug 12, 2010 at 4:21
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Noah: That is only one side of the 'broken windows' argument against having signatures. The other is to worry that each stackexchange site will develop its own code of conduct, making it difficult for users to participate in many sites without having to read a big long list of acceptable behaviors for each one. This is already a big issue for the stackexchange team, and I understand why they see this as a potential "broken window." $\endgroup$
    – Larry Wang
    Aug 12, 2010 at 4:30
  • $\begingroup$ Hrm, indeed that's a trickier issue. $\endgroup$ Aug 12, 2010 at 4:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Kaestur: Stackexchange was developed to build separate communities around different subjects. Uniformity was never a goal. Each SE2.0 site was not meant to be the "stackoverflow for X". That is the decision of the community. You seem to be missing this point over and over again. $\endgroup$
    – 97832123
    Aug 12, 2010 at 4:56
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Kaestur: This is hardly a major policy item. Small policy differences are to be expected $\endgroup$
    – Casebash
    Aug 12, 2010 at 10:41
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ I think that users who want to partecipate in multiple StackExchange sites need to know how to behave on each single site. The fact that these sites share the same underlying software does not mean that the communities behave the same way. I never heard someone claiming that the policy on a forum of political discussion should be the same as one about P2P simply because the two sites ues both PHPBB. $\endgroup$ Aug 12, 2010 at 11:07
  • $\begingroup$ It's fine if you think that way. I haven't made up my mind on this yet; my initial thoughts are documented in my own answer. I am merely clarifying the "broken windows" statement because it seemed like Noah had an incomplete view. $\endgroup$
    – Larry Wang
    Aug 12, 2010 at 13:13

While the signature is annoying, the thing that I find really rankles here is the combination of:

  • Refusing to register properly and hence not having access to features that have been explicitly designed to provide what you want
  • Insisting that instead the rules must be bent to accommodate your own hack to get something weakly approximating those features
  • Making threats to leave and take your ball with you if this doesn't happen

If "accommodat[ing] the quirks of working mathematicians" means pandering to the obtuse whims of any claimant to such a title, then frankly I think that goal might need reassessment.

  • $\begingroup$ I can understand someone asking their contributions to be withdrawn over an issue that appears grossly unfair, but for a minor issue like this is ridiculous. I wouldn't have an issue if he just said he'd just stop contributing $\endgroup$
    – Casebash
    Aug 12, 2010 at 12:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Casebash: I see no reason to believe that this issue arises from ill intent rather than misunderstanding of the stackexchange software. I have edited walkytalky's answer to make the tone sound less like a personal attack. $\endgroup$
    – Larry Wang
    Aug 12, 2010 at 14:54
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @97832123 Doubtless. But what exactly will M.SE be for when it's down to just the two of you? @Kaestur Your faith in human nature and editing prowess do you credit. But "flounce" is such a great word. $\endgroup$
    – walkytalky
    Aug 12, 2010 at 18:01
  • $\begingroup$ Why would it be down to the two of us, exactly? $\endgroup$
    – 97832123
    Aug 12, 2010 at 20:06

Just replying on the technical aspect.

For the items I want to search, I can use the signature to help select those that are my contribution. The date I put helps me place the post in a proper context for me.

Everyone has a list of answers in their user page e.g. https://math.stackexchange.com/users/297/g-paseman.

In case the whole context is needed, one can use the search feature. From the link, we know G. Paseman's user id is 297. Therefore, we could just search for user:297 to get all the posts. The timestamp of the post is also listed beside the user box.


I don't have any objections to your signature myself. I believe the rule was created to ward off spammers who might link to their own blogs/websites in every post they make. However, discussions with Isaac and the rest of the StackExchange team have presented to me other reasons I am still processing. As you point out, your signature is plain text and quite short, so I don't think this will be an issue. I would ask that you not put it in comments, though, since for me, at least, it makes them more difficult to read.

To address the indexing issue: Have you tried clicking on your own user profile? It keeps a record of every answer you have given, there's no need to rely on the lackluster StackExchange text search to do it for you. The system automatically tracks all changes made to questions and answers, including the user and the date/time.

As for your interface question, each post typically has a delete button immediately underneath and to the left. There is a restriction that you may not arbitrarily delete questions with upvoted answers, since those have created useful content for the site. This should not affect you, since you have posted only answers. Once you create a 'real' stackexchange account, you should be able to delete any non-accepted answers you wish to this way. They will still be editable, and you can even undelete them later if you so choose.

If worst comes to worst, a moderator does have power to delete all your contributions, but I would hate to have to do this; you have provided useful answers on this site and I hope you continue to do so.

  • $\begingroup$ Minor cmt: you cannot delete accepted answers. $\endgroup$ Aug 12, 2010 at 1:08
  • $\begingroup$ @ShreevatsaR: Good catch, he does have one of those. $\endgroup$
    – Larry Wang
    Aug 12, 2010 at 1:11
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You cannot delete answers unless you are registered as well. $\endgroup$
    – 97832123
    Aug 12, 2010 at 1:13
  • $\begingroup$ That explains a lot of things. $\endgroup$
    – Larry Wang
    Aug 12, 2010 at 1:15

Do we really want to have this user? Even though we might be able to agree to accommodate him now, we don't know what the future policy of this site might be. If it changes and he leaves after contributing more it doesn't just undo his contributions, but damages the site. Whenever anyone posts an answer, it discourages other people from posting answers saying the same thing. If we are going to lose this user (unfortunate as it is), we should lose him now.

EDIT: I agree with Kaestur that the policy should be made on its own merit. My point is simply that while it is tempting design policy to accommodate certain individuals, as @9783 seem to propose, this is not good policy. In this particular case, remember that the more an individual contributes, the more damage removing these contributions would do. If he had simply said that he would make no more contributions, then I would be fine with that. All that being said, I'd be fine with simply discouraging text signatures, and only banning those with links.

  • $\begingroup$ @Casebash: Yes, a final decision would definitely have to be accompanied by a clear line on what type of signature is or is not acceptable. The answer may indeed end up being none. $\endgroup$
    – Larry Wang
    Aug 12, 2010 at 1:45
  • 10
    $\begingroup$ It would be incredibly shortsighted not to accommodate the quirks of working mathematicians. $\endgroup$
    – 97832123
    Aug 12, 2010 at 1:50
  • $\begingroup$ @97832123: If he said he'd stop contributing if our policy changed, then that would be fine, but removing his contributions is another matter. Regardless, it is best to be honest that we don't know who will control this site in the future and so we cannot make promises $\endgroup$
    – Casebash
    Aug 12, 2010 at 2:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Casebash: If we come up with reasonable rules for signatures (which Gerhard's signature would inevitably be in compliance with), there is no reason to believe that those rules will be changed. $\endgroup$
    – 97832123
    Aug 12, 2010 at 2:50
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ The issue of removing content or not removing it should not be a factor here. Any policy decision should be made on its own merit, not as a result of perceived threats by a single user. $\endgroup$
    – Larry Wang
    Aug 12, 2010 at 3:35
  • $\begingroup$ @9783: Regardless, he might choose to leave over another issue $\endgroup$
    – Casebash
    Aug 12, 2010 at 12:14

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