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I have a very old private messaging system that either needs to be redone or removed. It currently accounts for about 20% of the activity on the site.

We already have a system in place for @mentioning users in status updates that works very much like Twitter. We also allow users to add a URL to their profile.

Should I remove the private messaging system? Are the @mentions and the URL sufficient? Or is it worth the time to rebuild it to maintain this functionality?

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Do you know what the 20% of activity is? If it's 10 users using if for spam, then it's clearly not as important as if most users are messaging each other. –  JohnGB Dec 26 '12 at 7:49
    
Yes, I accounted for that and only included active, contributing users. This is also based on unique user ids. –  Hawkee Dec 26 '12 at 13:51
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2 Answers

There are two different issues at hand here. The first is whether you a private message system is needed, and the second is whether you can reasonably remove one that already exists.

Depending on the site, private messaging can be a huge administration nightmare. People sending spam, privacy concerns if you can read the spam to know when to remove it, etc. My experience is that on a discussion like forum, it isn't essential and simplifies a lot of things for users. StackExchange is the best example of this. If I want to be contacted, people can do it through twitter or linkedIn. If I don't, I just don't give that information out.

Given that you already have private messaging, you should really be investigating this with your users. None of us can say for sure how big an impact it will be removing as big a chunk of functionality as that.

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Yes, that was the first place I posted this. I just wanted to get some outside opinions as well. Thank you. –  Hawkee Dec 24 '12 at 13:35
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It currently accounts for about 20% of the activity on the site.

The fact that 20% of the activity on your site is private messaging indicates that your users consider private messaging to be of high value. So, you should be hesitant to remove it. Even if private messaging is not directly of benefit to your community, it still provides increased stickiness as users will return to your site to read and send private messages.

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+1 Just what I thought. –  Kris Dec 24 '12 at 13:15
    
I think the real issue is whether or not they're willing to compromise the privacy of the messages in exchange for a public message. –  Hawkee Dec 24 '12 at 14:32
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You're asking to replace an existing feature, which users use, with a new feature that isn't as good. You've presented excellent engineering reasons why this is a good idea, but have not offered any compelling UX reason to do so. I think this change will hurt your users, but the cost-benefit may still say you should make that change. Still, I think that 20% figure is suspect. I would ask instead this question: What number of users have visited the site site in the last 60 days? How many of them have used each feature? It's useful to know how many users a change impacts (and how much). –  Brian Dec 24 '12 at 15:02
    
Thank you Brian, this is a good way to look at it. I just did this calculation and 20-25% of the active users over the past 3 months have used this feature. Maybe this is reason enough to continue to offer this functionality. –  Hawkee Dec 24 '12 at 15:24
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