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Comments (on main) are not for extended discussion.

What are comments?

Comments are temporary "Post-It" notes left on a question or answer. They can be upvoted (but not downvoted) and flagged, but do not generate reputation. There's no revision history, and when they are deleted they're gone for good.

When should I comment?

You should submit a comment if you want to:

  • Request clarification from the author;
  • Leave constructive criticism that guides the author in improving the post;
  • Add relevant but minor or transient information to a post (e.g. a link to a related question, or an alert to the author that the question has been updated).

When shouldn't I comment?

Comments are not recommended for any of the following:

  • Suggesting corrections that don't fundamentally change the meaning of the post; instead, make or suggest an edit;
  • Answering a question or providing an alternate solution to an existing answer; instead, post an actual answer (or edit to expand an existing one);
  • […]
  • Secondary discussion or debating a controversial point; please use chat instead;
  • Discussion of community behavior or site policies; please use meta instead.

Comments can be deleted with no notice, in a variety of ways, some of which are fully automatic. Deleting other people's comments does not require moderator privileges:

What happens when I flag a comment?

In addition to bringing the comment to the attention of the site moderators, a sufficient number of flags on a single comment will cause it to be deleted automatically. The number of flags required for deletion varies based on the number of votes on the comment, as well as the content of the comment itself.

The only ways to preserve comments are to lock the parent post, and to move the comments to chat – but chat will only preserve if there are enough comments:

Will these rooms exist forever?

Rooms will exist indefinitely, so long as there is at least one person actively talking in the room. A room is considered worth retaining if it has more than 15 messages by at least 2 users.

Rooms not worth retaining which are inactive for 7 days will be deleted. Rooms worth retaining which are inactive for 14 days will be frozen. Frozen rooms do not allow any new messages to be sent, and are not shown in the default room list to prevent cluttering the rooms interface.

And yet, people are having discussions in comments. Often, quite valuable discussions.

In the past 15 hours alone, I've seen:

  • Flags asking for comment-discussions to be moved.
  • Criticism of move-to-chat.
  • Flags alleging that move-to-chat is abuse of moderator privileges.
  • Flags alleging that criticism of move-to-chat is abuse of privileges.

This is not tenable. What should we do about it?

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  • Hey, listen! If there's a comment saying "So long, and thanks for all the fish!" on this question, please flag it as “It's no longer needed.” If there's no such comment, please post one. It's for science!
    – wizzwizz4 Mod
    Commented Feb 28 at 12:52
  • 1
    If Stack Exchange were serious about the policy that comments are ephemeral and for suggesting clarifications/corrections only, they’d make comments disappear automatically after 30 days. Or they’d make comments downvoteable and make them lose the poster max(0, ⟨downvotes⟩ − √⟨upvotes⟩) reputation to discourage spurious commenting. And they’d encourage starting discussions in chat from the beginning instead of having them moved afterwards. But this is a question about what we can do, so… Commented Feb 29 at 15:44
  • Science experiment concluded: it is still possible to delete other users' comments without notifying a moderator.
    – wizzwizz4 Mod
    Commented Mar 6 at 14:08
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    Every now and then, someone gets anxious about use of comments. Just leave them alone. Who of the membership (as distinct from moderatorship) is actually complaining?
    – dave
    Commented Mar 9 at 12:13
  • @dave Complainants are among the front page of the /users/ page (sorted by reputation), and they've been consistent (if infrequent) for many years. I generally treat flags as confidential, so I'm not going to name names.
    – wizzwizz4 Mod
    Commented Mar 9 at 18:06

6 Answers 6

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If the comment system, as currently presented to users, generates appropriate discussion in a generally usable fashion and provokes the sharing of useful context and information which wouldn't be suitable or appropriate to apply to the answer to which they are attached, and this provocation wouldn't happen if the comments weren't there, it's Stack Overflow that has to change. SO's axioms as you've listed them describe a system which doesn't work, at least in this/our case.

What should we do?

Devise new rules.

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    There's only so far we can devise new rules, as long as we remain part of the Stack Exchange network. Until the Staging Ground starts moving again, our chances of getting any system changes are approximately nil. That said, it doesn't hurt to plan for the possibility. What sort of rules do you think we could have?
    – wizzwizz4 Mod
    Commented Mar 4 at 13:24
  • I'm sorry, I have no idea. The current rules were devised over a long time by multiple people smarter than me I'm sure, so I can't give you a more expressive answer right now. :)
    – knol
    Commented Mar 4 at 13:30
  • The current rules are mostly a historical accident, devised by a small team with some feedback from Stack Overflow users. (Shog9 considered comments disposable by Stack Overflow's first year, though the community-maintained FAQ didn't match this until three years later.) The rules have been rationalised over a long time by a lot of people, but that's a different thing. ;-)
    – wizzwizz4 Mod
    Commented Mar 4 at 13:41
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    Yes. The persistent attempts to force members to obey arbitrary rules diametrically opposed to how the membership themselves choose to use the available facilities is, at the very least, tiresome.
    – dave
    Commented Mar 9 at 12:15
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    I note that Meta seems to regard discussions in comments as useful. And yet the self-evident fact that we in SE:RC regard discussions in comments as useful is something to be prevented. Hypocritical?
    – dave
    Commented Mar 9 at 12:31
  • @dave This question is an attempt to solicit new rules. If you have a proposal that would allow comment discussions to work properly despite the limitations of comments on this site, please share it, preferably in an answer. (It might be possible to work around system limitations by writing a script and running it on a moderator's account, but owing to the risks of a bug and lack of test environment, that's a last resort.)
    – wizzwizz4 Mod
    Commented Mar 9 at 18:15
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    I am under the impression that discussions in comments can simply exist until an actual action by a person to do otherwise (which may be just to say yes to 'move it to chat?'). Is this not the case? If it is, then the new rule is: just leave the discussion where it organically occurred. Why is a technical solution required?
    – dave
    Commented Mar 9 at 22:54
  • @dave A technical solution isn't required, but the design of the system limits what rules we can sensibly have. Currently, the system rewards people for deleting others' comments, and it's very hard to audit comment deletions. A policy saying "moderators will not move comments to chat, but the site's software will fulfil requests to delete them wholesale" isn't sensible.
    – wizzwizz4 Mod
    Commented Mar 10 at 21:53
  • I should probably say: in December, the CMs floated some ideas about Discussions-esque functionality, and a CM cleared "they're considering different functionality (though, obviously, only if it's worth the implementation effort)" as a framing. This is probably still the official position.
    – wizzwizz4 Mod
    Commented Mar 10 at 21:57
  • @wizzwizz4- Non-mods can delete others comments? I don't see any UI to do that. Am I insufficiently blessed?
    – dave
    Commented Mar 10 at 22:23
  • @dave Flag this comment as "It's no longer needed." The system will automatically handle the flag, deleting the comment.
    – wizzwizz4 Mod
    Commented Mar 12 at 13:50
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From Matt's answer:

sometimes the comments have some excellent information in that may not belong to an answer itself, but still provide interesting reading around it.

For that, a partial solution may be using footnotes in an answer as Raffzahn often does.

The biggest problem with moving comments to Chat is nobody uses Chat.

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Chat seems to be the place to send a comment thread to die. Move a discussion in comments to Chat and then there is silence.

If there is a disagreement about the validity of an answer Comments are about the only mechanism available on SE. What are accepted as the most popular answers are not always correct. In other SE areas information can become outdated or lose relevance and those types of errors are also an issue. Hopefully not issues for RE:SE.

Multiple answers can be submitted but discussions between participants can realistically only happen with Comments and that can trigger SE comments warnings before anything gets resolved. A move to Chat kills the noise but doesn't resolve the issues. Sometimes the right answer can never be proven or there are no references, so all that is left is personal opinion.

In the dim dark past I moderated on a forum for retrocomputers and trying to weed out what was off-topic is sometimes impossible. A discussion might start on topic, wonder off-topic and this off-topic text gets hidden, discussion comes back on-topic then later on drags back on-topic something buried in the earlier off-topic text. So text magically gets to appear out of thin air when it re-appears earlier in the moderated thread. That style of moderation you do not want to touch.

All I can suggest is the option of a disputed flag with options like:

  • Disputed information
  • Now irrelevant information
  • Outdated information
  • Incorrect information with an appropriate justification. Allow an unlimited number of comments to be posted against this text (as long as they are on-topic and not personal abuse, etc.). This would be independent of the current voting systems like Answer, Open, Close, etc. Make these threads vissible to everybody. In effect treat those discussions as a sandpit for further discussion comments related to any submitted answers.

A series of comments against an answer may be moved to Chat but any other comment threads are left with their answers and isolated from the comment thread that has been moved to chat. Instead a single discussion thread for a Questions dispute discussion is my $0.02 worth.

As far as flagging a comment thread for a move to Chat, I can plead guilty. Two people with a 180 degree interpretation that was just going on and on in comments against multiple answers to a question. I tried 'lets agree to disagree' but that went nowhere. Moving a comment thread to chat just killed the conversation. I always wonder if losing the audience killed that discussion.

I might still dispute the accuracy of an accepted answer. It doesn't matter what references I could find nobody is going to be interested in revisiting an old, 'settled' question. Updating references in an old, unpopular answer is not going to address the issue as it is still dismissed as just one persons opinion. Maybe a disputes thread is a solution.

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My 0.02 on this is that comments on this site function differently to how they function on other sites on the network. Most places comments are for providing feedback, getting clarification etc. and the idea is that an answer will be updated accordingly.

On this site however, a lot of our content is of historical interest, and sometimes the comments have some excellent information in that may not belong to an answer itself, but still provide interesting reading around it.

When I see the flags for too many comments I try and get a guage on the type of content in the thread, and only move them to chat if they're really going off on a tangent. TBH I think it'd be nice if we could disable the automatic flags for 20+ comments.

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  • Indeed - the comment kerfuffle seems to be about forcing SE:RC to be strictly Q+A format, but that is not how it is actually used. Procrustes would have made a good StackExchange moderator :-)
    – dave
    Commented Mar 12 at 14:38
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Comments seem to work as intended. Lots of tangential chatter that may or may not help clarify or answer the original conversation. I think posters understand that their comments are ephemeral and can be deleted or archived as soon as they leave scope. They are our stack.

Comments allow a conversation around a question in a way that an answer doesn't. Sometimes an answer emerges from the comments, and there seems to be an issue of etiquette around who then posts that answer.

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Today I revisited a two-year old question and couldn't see why I'd been so reluctant to answer the overt question being asked. So, I spent some time formulating a new response.

I subsequently discovered that the question had been refined and clarified in comments so that the answer being sought was not merely whether something was allowed by the grammar, but how it was allowed. Those comments, alas, had been "moved to chat", and therefore required me to go and find them, which I did not do since we all know the chat is not germane to understanding the question (that's why it gets moved, right?). I feel my time was wasted answering the wrong thing.

I suppose the proponents of 'comments are ephemeral' will say that the question itself should have been clarified. Maybe so, but since that had not been done, moving the comments was a premature act.

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  • It seems to be a matter of etiquette to use the comments to improve a question, or answer, but let the original poster make the edit. However, anyone can and should edit questions or answers to clarify them. Commented May 4 at 9:16

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