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Secret Quonsar

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Secret Quonsar is MetaFilter's annual Secret Santa gift exchange, first suggested in 2007 by parmanparman here. Public suggested we rename it "secret quonsar", after quonsar, whose account had been disabled shortly beforehand. In 2010, a vote was held to determine the official name (name candidates included Secret Santa, Secret Schmoopy, and Secret quonsar), and Secret quonsar won the vote.

Since it began in 2007, the exchange has grown rapidly. Argyle set up the first exchange at Elfster, which hosted it for the first few years. In 2011, a combination of google services was pressed into play to handle the complexity of multiple swap groups and organizers. Over its history, the sign-up and shipping deadlines have moved earlier to provide more buffer space for shipping, and particularly, shipping internationally (the combination of travel times, increased cargo traffic, and 2 sets of customs, tend to slow the process considerably). Over the history of the swap, the spending guidelines (currently $10 to $20 USD) have also been refined.


Argyle was the first organizer, followed by IndigoRain, and julen. As the swap grew in size, teams of quonsar elves managed the swap, including various combinations of: julen, phunniemee, crunchland, arcticseal, and megami.

Second Chancers

Each year approximately 12-20 people volunteer to be second chance giftors, also known as the second chancers. These folks will step in to send a gift to a member of the swap who - for whatever reasons - did not get a gift. This is often in addition to the gifts they sent out as part of the swap.

You must have an account to participate, either as a primary participant OR second chancer.

There is also an occasional phenomenon where one user will be inspired by something another user posts to MetaTalk or MetaFilter and will want to send that person a gift independent of the swap. The sq organizers are usually happy to facilitate this.


It is up to each individual participant to determine how anonymous he or she wishes to be in the contest of the swap. When signing up, users can provide just a first initial instead of a first name. Last names - particularly if you are shipping internationally - should be provided. If you feel uncomfortable providing a name, you can provide a business name. By having a recipient that a post office or shipping service or Customs will not question, you improve your chances of a gift actually arriving.

The organizers are happy to anonymize any communication between giftor and giftee at any point in the process. In sending the gift to the person they drew they can provide as much or as little information about themselves to their drawn giftee. After the gift arrives, a giftor can choose to reveal if themselves (if not already revealed) if they wish. There are some folks who choose to retain as much anonymity as possible. Others are much more obvious.


The organizers are privy to all knowledge that the participant provides when signing up. Email addresses are not shared with anyone, including the people whose name the participant drew, and those who drew the participant's name. They are purely for the organizers to use to communicate with users.

The organizers will delete all information provided by participants, including emails, when the secret quonsar swap is over. Information will not be retained from year to year.

The only information preserved year-to-year are the email addresses provided specifically for the purposes of being notified when secret quonsar swap signups open each year.


The first Secret Quonsar, in 2007, had 73 participants.

The second Secret Quonsar, in 2008, more than doubled participation with 164 Mefites joining in.

2009 saw 252 participants joining in the fun.

In 2011, 315 people signed up, in 6 swap groups: International, USA only, UK only, Canada only, Europe, Asia & Australia. 54% of people who signed up went for International (send anywhere, receive from anywhere).

In 2012, 359 people signed up in 4 swap groups (International, USA Only, UK Only, Canada Only)

In 2013, there were 368 participants from 15 Countries and 6 Continents in 6 swap groups (International, US Only, UK Only, Canada Only, Europe Only, and Australia/New Zealand)

In 2014, 399 people signed up in 6 swap groups (International, Australia/New Zealand, Canada, US Only, UK Only, Europe). Participants hailed from 42 US States, 6 Canadian provinces, 2 Australian states, and two national capital districts. 1 person specified that he or she lived on Earth.

In 2015, 439 people signed up, representing 19 countries, 6 Canadian provinces, 42 US States (and the District of Columbia), and 4 Australian States (and the ACT!).

We did the swap in 2016, too, but julen forgot to save the statistics for the year.

Sign-up Information

Sign-ups generally open in November, although the opening date has moved earlier and earlier in the month over the history of secret quonsar. Although it will also be posted in Metatalk, many users choose to sign up for a once-yearly email notifying them that that signups are open. This secret quonsar sign-up notification form will never be used for any other purpose. Previous participation in secret quonsar does not automatically add your email to the list; each year, all secret quonsar information gathered as part of the swap is flushed from the system. Only this list of folks who signed up for the notification is retained from year-to-year.

Participants may only sign up once per swap/year regardless of the number of sockpuppets involved.

How it Works

For the exchange organizer:

The exchange is managed out of a gmail account, secretquonsarswap. There are documents associated with the account for managing the notification list of folks who want to know when signups are live, as well as a form that can be opened to the public to gather those signups. There are scripts available to mail out swap notifications and to mail out sign-up is live notifications.

When signups are open, the organizer should trigger the sign-up is live notifications to be sent out, and should post a new post in Metatalk (if a secret quonsar thread is not already open) announcing it. Signups should be open for at least a week. In the middle of the open period, the organizer should send a message to the moderators asking for the signups to be put on the sidebar.

During this period, requests may be made for additional swap groups in the Metatalk thread. In addition, if the organizer(s) recognize that some groups do not have enough participants to make up a swap group, they should either recruit new ones, or contact those folks who have signed up for underpopulated groups to make sure their needs will be met.

Signups close 1-2 days before the randomization/swap date to ensure all data is in order.

The organizers will send out automated signup confirmation messages within 12 hours of a signup. If no confirmation message has been received in 24 hours, that recipient should contact the organizers so that they can work out a reliable solution.

It is strongly recommended that organizers both share the documents with their personal google accounts and back up the spreadsheets that contain signups, swap information, second-chancer information, and other administrative tools. This will help insure uninterrupted troubleshooting and communication.

There are documents in Google Drive that provide an overview of how to run the swap. The previous year's organizers hold the passwords to the account until shortly before the prepwork for the next year's secret quonsar swap is done. This is done to give us the best change of transition if some subset of the organizers go missing.

For users

Users click the signup hyperlink provided by the exchange organizer (in MetaTalk, or via the opt-in signups are open email they recieve) to get to the signup page. This page will ask for MeFi handle, real name, address, swap region desired, and that the user provide some guidance to the person who draws their name. This guidance area is critical - it allows the individual to link to wishlists, provide hints, and note any special considerations. Are you diabetic? You don't want to get an assortment of candy from your Quonsar. Allergic to peanuts? No peanut butter fudge for you! Certain scents give you a migraine? Let your Secret Quonsar know!


Make sure you use an email address you check regularly and that you have added the gmail address to your whitelist. In 2013, gmail (among others) decided to mark many email messages sent from secretquonsarswap as SPAM.

After signing up, users will receive a confirmation of their signup information within 24 hours. Users should review the information to make sure names, addresses, and guidance is correct. Any corrections should be sent to the gmail account; the organizers will update the spreadsheets to make sure the proper information is sent to that person's secret quonsar.

Users will receive their swap email on American Thanksgiving, and have roughly 2 weeks to find and send a gift. If they need to ask further questions of their quonsee or update him or her about the gift status, the organizers are happy to anonymize that and be a conduit between the two parties.

Senders who know their gift will be arriving late should work with the organizers to ensure that the quonsee knows it will be arriving late and can act accordingly.

Recipients who haven't gotten a gift by Christmas (and have not heard from their quonsars arranging a different delivery timeframe) should contact the organizers who will try to figure out why the gift has not arrived.

What to Send?

For many people, finding the gift is suddenly intimidating. We recommend reading your quonsee's mefi contributions, seeing what other social networks and websites they post on, and taking account of any gifting guidance they may have provided. If you are still intimidated, it's OK. There have only been 4 known Terrible Gifts in the exchange, and they demonstrated a complete lack of reading comprehension, a complete lack of consideration and effort and thought, and massive quantities of unrestrained jerkitude. In other words, you have to work at getting and sending a terrible gift.

If you are still concerned, here's some guidelines:

  • Stay within the cost guidelines ($10-20).
  • Pay attention to the guidance given, particularly information about allergies and dislikes (in addition to the things they like).
  • Don't send anything illegal. No one likes it when a marmoset escapes from the Priority Mail box and wreaks havoc on your local post office. Also, having your Customs Service show up at your door because someone sent you something illegal to import into your country is a terrible quonsar gift.
  • Getting something from a wishlist is not taking the easy way out - it's a good way to get your quonsee something they want. It makes them happy.
  • Home-made is awesome. People have sent their art, their baked goods, their jams and jellies, their homemade banjos, their music, their knitted and crocheted goods, and more to happy quonsees (if it's going to take a while to finish, the organizers will help you keep the quonsee informed).
  • If you are given no guidance (i.e. it just says "go nuts") in your swap notification, than that means they are open to any gift, and if they are not appropriately thankful (which is the vast majority of folks), they should have given you better guidance.
  • You don't have to reveal your identity. It's awesome when people do and form new friendships/respect/lessening of frequent tangling on MeFi, but it is not required. We will keep your identity a secret unless you tell us to do otherwise. So you can send as good a gift as you can think of, and choose to not reveal your mefi handle unless they are over the moon about the gift (or not reveal it even then).

When the Gift Arrives

Hooray! Your present has arrived. It would be awesome if you thanked - or at least acknowledged - your sender. If you know who the sender is, an email or a MeMail is an excellent way to do this. If you don't know who your sender is, the organizers would be happy to pass on a message your quonsar. We also recommend posting in (one of) the MetaTalk Secret quonsar Thank You threads. If you do thank your quonsee privately, feel free to also let the organizers that your gift has arrived. It helps them keep track of the overall swap.


The secret quonsar swap is managed out of the gmail account, secretquonsarswap. Any questions or concerns should be directed to that address. The organizer(s) will anonymize your questions during the gift-finding part of the process, check to see if a gift has arrived, check to see if a gift has been sent, and step in if a gift has not been sent or has been lost.

See Also