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I'm a Stack Exchange user of a few years and was recently pointed at the Area 51 proposal for a Programming Language Design SE. So I tried to sign up to express my interest in supporting such a site. It did not go well:

  • The first thing I saw was the orange "Follow It!" button, which I clicked, and it asked me to enter my email address, so I did. This sent a verification email to me, so I clicked the link in that email to verify.

  • Consequently, it turned out that I had somehow created a new anonymous account. This was surprising to me since the email address I entered is the same one that my regular account is registered to.

  • I tried to follow the steps in this answer, but found it impossible to do so; logging out and in again at a different SE site did not prompt me to link any accounts together,

  • The new account wasn't "registered", so I was able to get rid of it by logging out. That said, the only way I was able to log out was by manually entering /users/logout into the address bar; there was no "logout" link in the navigation bar or on any page I could find, though I did have to squint pretty hard to check, because the navigation bar on Area 51 looks like this:

image

  • After logging out, I seemed to have two options from that navigation bar: "log in" (which simply took me to a page saying "user not found", which is strange since I hadn't even been given an opportunity to enter my account details) and "sign up"...

  • What the "sign up" link actually did was immediately create a new anonymous account again. Only this time, after entering my email address and verifying it, the anonymous account was "registered", so I couldn't abandon it by logging out (which, again, I could only do by manually entering /users/logout in the address bar). Logging out left me in the same state as before; "log in" led to the same error message, "sign up" logged me in as the blank new account without letting me choose to enter any account details. I'm not sure how it can even authenticate me as this new anonymous registered user, since I never chose a password for the new account which I didn't want to create anyway. The message below suggests that logging out would clear all of the local cookies, but that is apparently not true, because at this point even after logging out, the site still behaves differently in Incognito mode (which doesn't send whatever local credentials are evidently still there in my browser).

  • So now we get to the part where I succeed: I had to use Incognito mode (my browser is Google Chrome) to be able to sign into Area 51 as my real account. The way I did this was by clicking "log in", actually having the opportunity to enter my account details this time, and seeing the same "User not found" error message as before, except, despite that error message I was logged in. However, despite getting my account name and profile correct, the Area 51 site showed the wrong avatar and, more troublingly, the wrong email address:

  • That's the email address I used to create my account several years ago, but it's no longer an email address I have access to, and I switched my Stack Overflow account to a different email address quite some time ago and, as far as I know, removed all references to the old one. It looks like a verification email has been sent there, but there is no way for me to know. Furthermore, how does Stack Exchange still know about this email address? For reference, here is the view of my account details on Stack Overflow, which shows my correct avatar and email address. There is no indication that any other email address is associated with my account.

  • The icing on the cake is that the "edit" button on my Area 51 profile lets me change my email address, but when I enter the correct one, it tells me: "Oops! There was a problem updating your profile: Email is already registered". Amusing; yes, it's already registered to my account, the one I am apparently signed into Area 51 with.

All in all, this user experience has been terrible. Some of that seems to be a known issue as of at least three years ago, but there are several other problems here too. I'm concerned not only that it took this much effort to simply sign in with my SE account on Area 51, but also that it seems SE has kept an old email address linked to my account despite not showing that anywhere other than on Area 51, and giving me no way to change it.

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    We've known Area 51 is very broken for a very long time. It's ancient code that's barely been touched in just as long and as far as I know there are no plans to touch it. The only real reason Area 51 is still up right now is that it still works, kind of, to the extent that it could possibly be useful, and nobody can really decide on whether to scrap it and start over with something else or actually invest the monumental amount of time it would take to "fix" it.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Nov 18, 2022 at 6:15
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    That said, you did... somehow end up with another registered profile with your correct email, connected to a blank account with no valid credential on it. Never seen that one before, so kudos for really breaking things. I deleted that one so could you try changing your email again?
    – animuson StaffMod
    Nov 18, 2022 at 6:16
  • @animuson Thanks for your help - I can now log in without Incognito mode and I was able to change my email address.
    – kaya3
    Nov 18, 2022 at 6:21
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    Regarding the old email: it is stored in an obsolete Email field that we are working on removing in all places where it's used in the code so that we can eventually drop the field from the database altogether. It's not shown anywhere because it's barely used now and affects almost nothing (except for old broken code that hasn't been updated, like here). I cleared it off your account so it's really gone now.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Nov 18, 2022 at 6:24
  • I went through the same process, albeit without incognito. However, the format looks very strange compared to other SE sites, and it took a LOT to get working with. Nov 18, 2022 at 10:44
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    I had very similar problems and talked to many people who had to jump through major hoops. This is a real issue, and I'd suggest assigning it more priority
    – mousetail
    Nov 18, 2022 at 14:53
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    I have had to go though the same thing. My solution was logging out, then joining Area 51 though the SE hamburger icon from GCGG.
    – Seggan
    Nov 18, 2022 at 14:54

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