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I'd like to run an experiment here where we left long comment threads around. (I mean we tend to do that, but sometimes they do get moved to chat where they die.) It's just the way this particular stack works. Not to unfairly generalize from me to all of you - but I don't think it's just me that's a garrulous old geezer contributing useful and relevant information in the form of comments. (Though maybe it is.) – davidbak 2023-09-20 17:50:51Z

@davidbak re comments - agree; there is often much value and certainly much of interest in the discussion. The Q, in this garrulous old geezer's opinion, is merely the prompt. – another-dave 2023-09-20 23:50:25Z

This is beginning to sound a bit familiar

Today (August 21, 2023), Stack Overflow is launching an experiment with a new subjective content type. Discussions is a space for threaded conversations where users engage in deeper dialogue and share perspectives on technical topics.

Here, we like having extended discussions inspired by questions and answers. (Well, you lot do: I just like reading them.) Comments aren't suitable for these discussions, for a variety of reasons; but chat is, in many respects, worse. One of the reasons comment discussions work so well is the inherent accessibility of comments: they're just there available for reading and writing.

While “Collectives” proper wouldn't be all that useful, this “Discussions” feature looks interesting. It's like a mini forum, with a post and then small, threaded replies. This might let us avoid using comments for extended discussion, while keeping all that valuable, valuable knowledge coming in (and, hopefully, better-preserved).

  • Do we want Discussions (or something similar) for Retrocomputing?
  • What should it look like?
  • How could it fail, and how could those failures be mitigated?
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  • 2
    Need to investigate Discussions. Will respond later.
    – davidbak
    Sep 22, 2023 at 7:45
  • It does look interesting. I keep asking for the ability to move comments to the main chat room, not to a new one every time but it hasn't happened yet. This might be our answer.
    – Chenmunka Mod
    Sep 22, 2023 at 13:58
  • @Chenmunka As an honourary RO of both rooms, you can move the messages between them, delete the original room, and fix up both links using mod powers. (Though someone remarked on the practice the second or third time I tried it, which I perceived as a telling-off but in retrospect probably wasn't, so I've stopped doing that.)
    – wizzwizz4 Mod
    Sep 22, 2023 at 18:59
  • I didn't realise that. But it sounds like a right faff. I'll look harder at Discussions over the weekend.
    – Chenmunka Mod
    Sep 22, 2023 at 20:03
  • I am sufficiently soured towards initiatives coming from corporate that I would not welcome it here. That’s all. Sep 22, 2023 at 20:54
  • @user3840170 This isn't an initiative coming from corporate: the most I've got from them is that it wouldn't immediately be shot down if I went to escalate it. Which part do you object to? Would you object to it as-is, or to this functionality in any form, or would you just object to any changes that at all involve the company?
    – wizzwizz4 Mod
    Sep 22, 2023 at 21:00
  • 1
    @wizzwizz4 I might be wrong, but the whole 'Collectives' thing does look to me as targeted at turning SE into a knowledge and communication product for companies. Thus the thriving force is corporate management gearing for profitable sales.
    – Raffzahn
    Sep 22, 2023 at 21:17
  • 2
    As a note, this isn't currently possible (we haven't built out any Discussions-type functionality outside of Collectives) - but it still may be a valuable conversation to have in terms of the possibility of Discussions existing more broadly outside Collectives.
    – V2Blast
    Sep 24, 2023 at 21:32

3 Answers 3

4

I might be wrong, but from that video and looking into the example sites, it does look to me like a glorified forum, only meandering around with no clear target but lots of opinion. It may be a better interface than the garden variety of forums, still nothing I would be inclined to spend time with.

More important might be the fact that those Discussions are implemented as a distinct, not integrated, feature. The same problem as with the existing Chat. If not more as it's based on the same premise as the main site: Putting up a question.

Having to decide if something is a question looking for answers or a Discussion calling for opinion might be already hard knowing the tool, impossible for most. Using the 'wrong' type will be common, degrading usability to either. Not to mention 'crossposting' of the same topic twice with slightly twisted wording.

Some (not me) still believe we need to work harder to acquire more questions, no matter how bad. Splitting this in two will not improve anything.

The idea of having two parallel columns might be doable in a close knit community or within a company setting (which SE might target for).


Regarding Chat

The main issue with chat is its non integration. A simple link about comments being moved does not bring any additional value or insight - and is almost never creating an urge to look. To do so it would need a way to tease about what is discussed there.

Bottom line: it's not working and I see no way for better integration.


Regarding the cited comments:

Yes, discussion does often include quite valuable additional information - but as often it's about some romantic memory (I'm quite guilty of that) or lingering away into pointless what-if-the-dog-hadn't-taken-a-nap style assumptions.

I do not see how the existing pearls can be better highlighted than already done by upvoting comments. Maybe adding some kind of 'qualified' vote? No idea.

Also, there's a huge difference between comments and a discussion: the former is present on questions AND answers and used differently for either:

  • Below a question it serves to improve it, request additional information and deliver small hints that may not qualify as answer (or when not enough time to do a full answer)

  • With answers they are used to add additional viewpoints, information and related stories - as well as ways to improve it.

A generic discussion can not replace, not even enhance it.


What I Could Imagine:

Nothing really.

At first I thought it might be a good idea to have a prominent link for starting a discussion right below any question and maybe a box with links to the last 2-3 entries, but then again, those may be exactly the content which otherwise would have made me ignoring it in the first place :(

Then again this question made me think about a possible use by being able to move such rather off topic questions over to a discussion format.

The idea would be that discussions would not be part of regular RC.SE usage as in no user may open a discussion, but qualified voting may turn a question into a discussion, which from that point on is free form.

Walter Mitty's answer shows perfectly how such an off question does attract interesting reply without getting really answered. Which I would think is what the whole idea of using discussions to preserve worthy information without polluting comments and answers is about.

Them being discussions instead of questions will clean the main Q&A section while still allowing to pursue the idea.

On the backside this may quite often collide with transferring the question to another site where it may be better suited.


Important Fact to Remember:

The Q&A format of SE is a very specific tool. Quite sharpened toward finding answers/solutions. It may not be great for other purposes, but it very well fits the one it has, and that's the very reason I'm here: Going for distinct knowledge in a solvable and concrete fashion.

There are countless discussion places for RC like topic, from classic style mailing list all the way to modern forum software. They all do support free form talks - RC.SE being none of them

13
  • “Maybe more important may be the fact that those Discussions are implemented as a distinct, not integrated, feature.” It might be possible to change this. Chat can't be integrated, for a variety of technical reasons, but as I understand Discussions uses the same database, and much of the same code. Do you know what “integrated” might look like? (Your answer's third section does put a bit of a damper on this idea, though: I can't really dispute your observations.)
    – wizzwizz4 Mod
    Sep 22, 2023 at 20:57
  • I may have the wrong impression, but the examples have a hard distinction between either. So it isn't exactly a technical issue but duplication without clear separation. In the end, difference between Discussion and Answer is policy. Over the years (which it is by now) I have often thought about improvements (much the same motivation as davidback and another-dave's comments imply), but I did usually see more downsides than ups. Maybe we should accept RC.SE being a format resting in a perfect optimum - or at least a local one, so deep that it would need radical changes to find a lower one.
    – Raffzahn
    Sep 22, 2023 at 21:12
  • I think I wasn't clear in my question. I wasn't thinking of using discussions as suggested, but using the software. For example, we could have “discussions” where the post is just a link to an answer, and comment-discussion that isn't strictly about improving the answer could take place there… somehow. (Haven't quite worked this out – but that's the sort of thing I'm talking about.)
    – wizzwizz4 Mod
    Sep 22, 2023 at 21:16
  • 1
    @wizzwizz4 Possible. Though, it seems at least like adding an ugly interface and additional steps. Both means asking for more dedication from our users. A requirement I do not believe in. Any improvement must make existing things less effort and deliver more benifit at the same involvement. Amazon hasn't become that giant it is by requiring many clicks to buy a book.
    – Raffzahn
    Sep 22, 2023 at 21:21
  • *sigh* That just leaves us waiting for comment improvements that'll probably never come, though.
    – wizzwizz4 Mod
    Sep 22, 2023 at 21:24
  • 1
    @wizzwizz4 Sorry, I wasn't planing to cause depressions. I firmly believe this is a great place. And yes, comment improvements would be a way to do this - like enabling threading (direct reply) and as a result to move only those threads that wandered too far away.
    – Raffzahn
    Sep 22, 2023 at 21:38
  • 2
    @wizzwizz4 Ok, here's a way it may be used: Turning off-topic questions into discussions.
    – Raffzahn
    Sep 23, 2023 at 11:54
  • Are there any off-topic questions that we'd actually want to discuss here, though?
    – wizzwizz4 Mod
    Sep 23, 2023 at 12:07
  • @wizzwizz4 I thought that's the whole point you had. If not, I do not really see what it's good for. The comments mentioned as reasoning to do this feature are exactly that: comments, not answers.
    – Raffzahn
    Sep 23, 2023 at 12:10
  • The first example I found (because it got flagged) is in fact closed as off-topic, so you were probably right. But see e.g. the comments on another question, where there's a whole tangent about the optical characteristics of CRT v.s. LCD displays, or all the “but what colour is beige?” on the beige question.
    – wizzwizz4 Mod
    Sep 23, 2023 at 17:43
  • I'd say the main difference between those is that the later are ral questions within the scope of RC.SE. They have real, well fitting answers. In contrast the first already starts out as off topic and even if it wouldn't (and as well not being closed for missing research), Answers would be quite speculative and argumentative with no clear topic at all (due being extreme wide) . As nice as some comments on the beige question are, most are not remarkable in any way - this includes answers (I would in fact love if that question could be protected).
    – Raffzahn
    Sep 23, 2023 at 18:45
  • You should be able to do the protection yourself, but I don't know what the UI looks like to a non-moderator.
    – wizzwizz4 Mod
    Sep 23, 2023 at 19:27
  • Yes, thank you, you're right. A link I never noticed :)) Sorry, but it seems Im lacking the curiosity, being satisfied as a user ... well, mostly.
    – Raffzahn
    Sep 23, 2023 at 19:43
3

Just on:

Comments aren't suitable for these discussions, for a variety of reasons; but chat is, in many respects, worse. One of the reasons comment discussions work so well is the inherent accessibility of comments: they're just there available for reading and writing.

I agree. I do understand the SE reasoning behind the moving of comments to chats: it's a Q&A site, not a discussion forum. However, once a long comment exchange has been moved to chat, it leaves a blank space and I've seen many time a new comment exchange starting up again. That often repeats the points made in the moved chat, making the move-to-chat unproductive for the point and somewhat frustrating to those who'd already argued on these repeated points.

There's a link to the chat posted after the move but that's usually of little interest to those wanting a visible comment exchange right below the actual question it's all about.

So I agree with the principles, the intentions, behind move-to-chat but I just don't think it does the job for the human activity of users as is. I wish I had a solution to propose but haven't. Disabling comments on an answer that's had a move-to-chat would be one way but I'd imagine that'd make the site a bit unfriendlier across the mass of users.

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  • 1
    Part of the problem is the apparent desire that every Stack Exchange site is to be hammered into the Stack Overflow mould, appropriate or not.
    – dave
    Oct 1, 2023 at 21:34
1

My answer: no. I'm probably not interested in a general discussion forum. And I'm not entirely clear about what would be on-topic in a Retrocomputing discussion forum. The 'idea about memory management' seems a little closer to general OS design than to Retrocomputing, unless we confined ourselves to citing examples of prior art. Why would it belong in 'our' forum?

Q+A comments tend to be 'more or less' on topic, at least within my parameters for that. Sure, many of us (guilty as charged) tend to add what I think Raffzahn described as romantic recollections, but those still do shed some sort of sideways light on the topic. So I'd prefer to stick with comments, albeit with less 'moved to chat' action.

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  • What makes moving comments to chat bad?
    – wizzwizz4 Mod
    Sep 24, 2023 at 20:59
  • 3
    @wizzwizz4 That they are no longer part of the Q or A they were attached to - which robseither of their added value. Unless only some, less than fitting, can be removed while keeping the informative, I'm all with Another-Dave on that.
    – Raffzahn
    Sep 24, 2023 at 22:40
  • @Raffzahn That's my understanding as well. The whole “they get deleted” is just a bug, but this is more fundamental.
    – wizzwizz4 Mod
    Sep 24, 2023 at 22:40
  • They're basically devoid of context once moved. And, in my experience, chat is just where comment threads go to die. (It would be interesting to know how much chat continues once moved).
    – dave
    Sep 24, 2023 at 23:49

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