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Planned

Tumblr-ish Asks

I originally thought about this as an alternative option for DMs but didn't want to derail the DM request!


For folks who haven't used Tumblr, an ask is a direct message that can be sent by another user to a blog's inbox. They can also be submitted anonymously, if the blog owner allows it. The recipient can then either send a private reply (if the sender is not anonymous) or publish the ask and their reply to their blog. 


This power has been used for both good and evil. They're a fantastic way to send creative prompts or take specific questions about something you're teaching, and they're also a great way to wake up to an inbox full of anonymous harassment that you can only address by posting the comments publicly. I do think they're valuable enough when used in good faith, as long as there's an option to turn them off. 


One of the biggest benefits to being able to answer asks either publicly or privately is that it's much more of a one-off thing than starting a private real-time conversation with someone. I don't have any strong feelings either way about DMs on Cohost, but it's very easy for folks with poor boundaries to interpret private chatting as a gesture of trust or intimacy. I tend to spontaneously become a best friend candidate to people with high expectations simply by agreeing to one-on-one conversations with total strangers, so I avoid doing that. You can go back and forth with asks if people keep sending them in response to your posts, but it's not an open channel. 


Some suggested features I'd like to see over Tumblr's system:

  • An option to answer anonymous asks privately. I'm not sure why this was a thing, although it may have been technical (I think if you block the sender of an anonymous ask it blocks their main Tumblr account, so maybe they're closely connected enough that a direct reply would reveal the sender). I used to manage a game studio blog on Tumblr and people would often send in anonymous asks like, "here's a deeply personal anecdote about why these queer characters mean so much to me, can you please reassure me that they're not going to be killed off?" and I would have to decide whether to ignore it or broadcast it to the entire fandom in Official Staff Statement Voice.
  • An option for the sender to disallow public replies. This is actually kind of a peace of mind thing for the recipient, too, since there's no ambiguity about how the person wants you to respond--or a risk that you'll accidentally post a public response if they asked you not to. 
  • It's been a minute since I sent one but IIRC you couldn't format asks at all (no line breaks, etc.) and they couldn't be much longer than a tweet. Those limitations seemed pretty arbitrary and made straightforward communication harder, since if someone had to send multiple asks for length the recipient needed to wrangle them into a single post. 


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additional feature concept suggestion: ask box topics. ask boxes strongly resemble ticketing systems, and a thing i like about ticketing systems is that you can be explicit about what kind of topics are solicited (e.g. ‘feature requests’ and ‘bugs’ :p). maybe you don’t want random asks about anything all the time, so you can just list the topics you’re ok being sent messages about. i could also see things like having a separate inbox for art commissions being useful, especially if you can turn that inbox off.


with explicit topics, inboxes could also have mandatory anonymity in addition to optional anonymity. “i sent an anonymous ask and explicitly ticked the anon checkbox” reveals more information than if it were “i sent an anonymous ask because that was the only appropriate inbox for that topic,” and if you are sending/soliciting anon asks, you are probably specifically trying not to reveal unnecessary information.


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Another great benefit of this feature is that is would make character askblogs viable again, which have greatly fallen out of popularity after the tumblr exodus. I've seen a few twitter accounts try to recreate them with curiouscat, but I haven't found much of them to the extent of the old tumblr days.


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I feel like the most cohostish way to implement anon asks would be to only allow them to be sent by logged-in users... if you received abuse in your inbox, you could flag it, and staff could take action without you needing to know who it was.


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Just made this suggestion in the DMs feature request before I saw this, so I'll definitely second it here. This would be particularly valuable if staff are hesitant to implement a full IM system, as some ability to send information privately feels essential for a social media site. I don't necessarily need a chat feature, but I shouldn't have to publicly link to an outside account for someone to contact me privately. Anyone who doesn't want to receive any private messages should be able to just turn this feature off.


Regarding your final bullet point, Tumblr now allows non-anonymous asks to use formatting, and the maximum length has been increased significantly. 


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Osteophage on Pillowfort recently posted something worth considering re: asks. Essentially, one of the big social vulnerabilities of the Tumblr ask system is that people can be baited with controversial questions (that they don't realize are controversial questions - so simply saying "don't answer trap asks" isn't enough), which then gets a lot of people angry at them no matter how they respond. This is only made worse in a system that allows for reblogs and reblog-comments, as people can then reblog the answer, and reblog the answer with their own answers, and so on, causing the post to spread like wildfire. With this in mind, I'd actually strongly push for a topic system like cat suggested, combined with how Imzy did anonymous stuff. Instead of being sent asks through a general inbox that you answer in a new post, you would make a new post with your topic of choice and enable anonymous commenting on said post. This has two benefits: first, it reduces opportunities for people to send bait questions. Second, even if someone does send a bait question, because it's confined to a comment on a post rather than being an entirely new and rebloggable post, its spread would be limited.

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(If anyone wants to read the post I mentioned about social vulnerabilities in an ask system, btw, here it is: https://www.pillowfort.social/posts/2977780 )
Also, with the system I proposed, I would suggest implementing anonymity similarly to how Imzy implemented it - only logged-in users would be able to post, and anonymous posts would still remember which user was behind them so that the page owner can block them. (This opens up the opportunity to figure out who was behind an anon comment by blocking them and seeing who shows up on your blocklist/who disappears from your view, though.) Imzy also assigned randomly generated pseudonyms for anon commenters that would persist within the context of a single anon topic - this helped keep context in the case of several anons having a conversation amongst themselves, though you might be able to get around it here by hopping between different pages.

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I think anonymous comments could be neat, but I don't see it fulfilling most of the purposes of an ask system. It doesn't allow users to send information in private, for starters. It also doesn't allow the recipient to pick and choose what's shared publicly. I also think that being able to share asks is good and fun, and I'd generally prefer for fun, interactive features not to be blocked because someone could theoretically use it in bad faith. (Someone could also bait you into answering a trick question by replying to your post, after all.)


I think the potential downside of "someone might send you some sort of trick question" is fairly limited, and could be further mitigated by allowing users to turn off shares of posts after they are published. (Which I think already exists? Can't check at the moment.) Additionally, allowing users to choose whether to receive anonymous asks, or asks at all, would mitigate the attack space for bad actors.


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Agreeing with Caro above.


There are some very heavy topics people might appreciate asking me about anonymously, and I'd like to be able to have an ask box for this. But those kinds of topics also attract a lot of anon hate, so I have never run an anon ask box anywhere.


It would be great if Cohost could let me run an ask box I could configure to work as follows:


- You must be logged in to send an ask

- If you send me abuse, I can block you from asks, without having to report you and get staff involved, so I can be heavy-handed in blocking

- At no times I have any way to know your identity, even if I choose to block you


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I am not sure what the draw is of having literally any asks be anonymous, let alone private. I say this as a tumblr veteran who has seen swathes of anonymous asks used to dogpile and abuse people (in various and creatively nasty ways) in their inbox. you can block anonymous askers in tumblr too (and iirc if you report them it blocks their IP too)! it doesn't at all stop this abuse if they've got a mob of various people crusading with them. hell, even the concept of an askbox where the things sent are initially private can and does generate abuse, regardless of it being anonymous or not. I follow someone on tumblr who literally sent their friend, off-anon, the entirety of the bee movie script in their askbox. innocuous yet incredibly annoying! I'm sure I'm sounding paranoid but this is *super* not "theoretical" on tumblr, which is the closest analogue to cohost. we can't just rely on cohost Good Vibes if the infrastructure of the site just makes the same abuse-generating mistakes that tumblr did. If you want to have the means to directly start a conversation with someone on cohost instead of having to reply to them in the comments of their existing post (especially since @ mentions don't actually ping them), I think a character and formatting-limited (ie no css crimes or the entirety of the bee movie script) askbox where sending asks 1. requires an activated account 2. is *not* anonymous 3. is *automatically* visible on an ask-receiver's profile page (like how instagram tag mentions for a user are on a tab that cannot be hidden on that user's profile) (an alternate framing that might make this easier to swallow: think of it as writing on a friend's FB wall) 4. is rate-limited (such as 1 ask to a specific user per 24 hrs) makes the most sense to me. my interpretation of cohost is a website structured around meaningful and intentional conversation with and between other users. I simply cannot see how the ability to hide behind anonymity or privateness engenders this. Sure, a shy or private person could gain the confidence to spark a conversation that contains sensitive information if they're anonymous and/or private, but I don't think that mild benefit is worth granting this same ability to malicious people. point 3, the public askbox, might be a hard sell, I know. you can't send any information you are not comfortable with ~the unknown total of~ that user's followers seeing and attaching to your identity on cohost. Still, that risk was already on tumblr if a user turned anon asks off and published all non-anon asks they received. I think it's a *good* thing to have to slow down and think thrice before sending an ask here, before sending confidential info (that perhaps should not be on the public internet?? net safety??) or, ykno, death threats. And more positively, I think it could be cool for everyone to see what questions are bouncing around and waiting to be answered. some other possible features to be packaged with this suggestion: - users able to limit who can send asks (ex: everyone; anyone who's had an account for more than a week; only your followers; only mutuals; no one) - users able to delete specific asks, or mass delete asks from the tab - askers able to delete and/or edit their own asks (with a marker it was deleted and/or edit history) - users able to limit how many total asks they receive per time period Possible abuses I thought of: - followers not liking the ask that was sent and dogpiling on the asker - askers getting impatient or entitled that their ask hasn't been answered yet, or being upset that it was deleted

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I don’t have tumblr experience with this so I can’t make any kind of general judgement, but I’d personally not enable asks in a system where asks are visible publicity, whether that be anonymous comments or some kind of separate profile tab. At that point I’d find preferable to just have an ad-hoc ask system based on @-mentions sending notifications (already a feature request). Then you could see someone mentioned you in a post, perhaps with a question, and then simply share that post with your answer. (…kinda exactly like twitter)

But that’s a hypothetical on top of a hypothetical. I’d certainly still like to see an ask system with private inboxes (maybe multiple inboxes :3).  I’m willing to believe in good faith and that it isn’t inherently abuse-generating! and, well, if it really sucks that much, it can always be removed again…


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I think my assumption is not that we are relying on Cohost Good Vibes here, but rather that people who are being abusive on this site are considerably more likely to just be banned than they are on Tumblr, a site where people are unlikely to see any consequences even if they're sending death threats and advocating for genocidal ideologies. This becomes more of an issue as the site scales, but IMO if we reach a point where there aren't enough resources to action someone for harassment, the issue is not "users can send anonymous asks." This is actually a place where if enough people were using it to send death threats, I can 100% imagine a feature being shut down and modified or scrapped rather than allowing it to continue. Here is the draw for me: let's say I run a page where people can send me prompts for kink art or scenarios. This is inviting them to describe their personal fantasies and how they would like them to be fulfilled. My experience is that most asks for something like that will be sent anonymously. That is a kind of play space; if I enable anonymous asks and say, "feel free to send these to me," I'm opening a door for people to do that free of scrutiny and without committing their name to a vulnerable idea they might have submitted out of curiosity. This was useful on Tumblr, whether it was NSFW interaction or the most embarrassingly sappy OTP scenario or asking someone to give their opinion on a fan theory without looking silly if they got told it was implausible. Interestingly enough, this is probably the same thing that enables pure anonymity to lead to low-stakes askbox harassment on Tumblr. But again, it was not the availability of anonymous asks that made Tumblr a hotbed of mass harassment. It was a lack of meaningful enforcement leading to an environment where--similar to Twitter, where there actually are no purely anonymous contact options--the actual norms for acceptable behavior were determined by the userbase, who decided the only way to enforce them reliably is to harass people who break them into abandoning their accounts.

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I definitely like the idea of this, whether anonymous asking is allowed or not.

I'm happy to see this has a "planned" status!! It's one of my favorite aspects of tumblr that I miss so much!


  • I like Cat's idea about explicit topics or having separate open inboxes. As well as setting mandatory or optional anonymity.
  • I also really like bazelgeuse-apologist idea of having posts with comments that can be private, with randomly generated pseudonyms for anon comments that persist within a single post. But I feel like this is it's own really cool feature, and separate from Asks. But being able to toggle "anon comments" on a post would be awesome!
  • I completely agree with Aria Salvatrice's configuration points: Logged.in only, can block asks senders, senders remain anonymous even if blocked.
  • Aster's suggestion to being able to limit who sends asks would be awesome too: everyone, 1 week old pages, followers only, people you follow only.

  • From experience, either you should be able to send ONLY text when anon, or there is a lot of options over who can send stuff like images and links: like mutuals only. Harassments with pictures is very dangerous.
  • Asks shouldn't be automatically visible/public. I'd rather have control over that feature and decide which asks I showcase and which I don't. For automatically visible messages I think posts with anon comments works better, at least it's a lot more contained and specific.
  • Asks need to have a character limit, but it should be generous, maybe around 2000-3000 characters and an obvious warning when you've reached the limit, so there's no "bee movie script" spam.


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