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Every once in a while I see users (mostly new ones, no offense to them) comment asking for clarification on answers or questions from users that are no longer active on Super User. They haven't "been seen" — according to their profile — for years.

While answering and expanding on old questions is awesome, and I encourage it while helping new users in reviews, it would be helpful for users to see that their comment directed towards a particular user might be in vain.

Of course, another user could come along and help them out, but if one specifically asks a particular user something, it may be a waste of breath if they are otherwise gone.

Related:

I've also noticed on certain questions that the username is greyed out - I'm assuming this means the profile is deleted. Does this happen after a certain amount of inactivity, or do accounts exist for all eternity unless deleted?

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Regarding your related question, the engine automatically deletes abandoned accounts.

When is it safe to declare an account abandoned? We came up with these two rules of thumb. If..

  • the user has not visited the site in six months AND
  • the user has not done anything of significance, ever

.. their accounts are effectively abandoned. With that in mind:

  • if the user has not visited the site in six months AND

  • the user has not done anything of significance, ever .. their accounts are effectively abandoned.

We delete cookie-based unregistered accounts when:

  • The user has not visited Stack Overflow in six months AND
  • The user has less than 50 reputation, and no visible (not-deleted) posts

We delete OpenID registered accounts when:

  • The user has not visited Stack Overflow in six months AND
  • The user has only 1 reputation, no visible posts, and no other accounts on the network

Why this shouldn't be added

Every once in a while a user comes up with a way to make something important more clear to new users (because, let's face it, the new users are the ones that are causing all the chaos)!

As you've already pointed out, the information we're talking about is available through the users profile. So what we're talking about here would essentially mean putting the information next user info container shown next to each post or adding some sort of notification before, during and/or after the user writes the comment.

The first option is off the table right away, because we don't want to clutter the user info box with an information like that. It's simply not important enough and the user probably wouldn't understand it either, unless it's a full sentence.

The second option is also bad, because, believe it or not, new users aren't really in the habit of reading. They prefer writing!

New users already get a notification when writing their first answer which should tell them about how to properly answer a question (because, very often, they aren't actually answering anything). New users love to skip that notification, because, hey, this is a forum and they know how to use a forum!

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So we would add a notification that's only relevant to a very small fraction of the users that visit the site, because:

  1. they have to have 50 reputation to comment

  2. but they still haven't figured out how to check if someone doesn't use the site any more

  3. and they have to care about that information enough to have an impact on their desire to post the comment

I would claim that this is a very small group of people. If something is only relevant to a very small group of people, we don't need it cluttering up the website.

Why this won't be added

Sadly, I really have no say at all when it comes to what feature will be added to the site and your suggestion is as good as mine. So my personal opinion, as stated above, has really no relevance when it comes to the decision if we'll get this implemented.

However, I am fairly certain that we won't see this feature implemented regardless.

"The team" is already focused on improving the site in various to make it easier for new users to get a grip on things. We see this in the new closing system and/or the new help center. Changes that only impact a small amount of users have such low priority that they're probably not worth the effort.

  • That's what I figured, considering I've seen profiles of people that haven't been seen for quite a while. What are your thoughts on the suggestion? – Moses Oct 14 '13 at 17:08
  • @Moses: My initial reaction to it was "We don't need to change anything" and "Even if we would have to change something, it wouldn't be changed". But I don't have the time right now to explain why, so I didn't put it in my answer. Will try later. – Der Hochstapler Oct 14 '13 at 17:11
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    actually, user accounts do get deleted automatically. /cc @Moses – Sathyajith Bhat Oct 15 '13 at 6:33
  • @Moses: ...and now I expanded it – Der Hochstapler Oct 15 '13 at 19:52
  • Thanks for your input guys! – Moses Oct 15 '13 at 20:07

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