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My Pro-forma comments script has now gained quite a following (and it - allegedly - just got bust by upgrading to jQuery 1.7.1). This is a personal request to the team to consider adopting it.

Not that I don't wish to keep on maintaining it, but the next step (allowing users to define one global set of comments to be used across all their sites*) is pretty awkward for me to implement "from the outside", but would be comparatively trivial for the team (I believe).

Goes off to fix script...

* Note: I have a beta half-version of this; it requires two separate userscripts, and allows you to push/pull between "local" (site-specific) and "global" storage. And even if I get the global sharing 'properly' working, it would still only be for a given machine.

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I have a feeling that having this available by default will encourage more comment spam. If this gets adopted, it might be reasonable to have it be a reputation-based privilege. –  hammar Jan 5 '12 at 6:47
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@hammar, I'm not sure that I agree with your premise, but your proposed solution seems acceptable. (The only dubious/toxic 'auto-comment' request that I've seen so far has been about accept rates.) –  Benjol Jan 5 '12 at 8:29
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-1 Not because I don't think that it isn't a neat idea, but because I fear for the sanity of Stack Exchange. As hammar said, this might encourage comment spam. Additionally your example-comments are nearly all (except #3) flagging reasons. There's no need to add a comment for that, just flag it. And yes, I'm aware those are only examples, but those are the worst examples I can think of. –  Time Traveling Bobby Jan 5 '12 at 8:50
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@Bobby, well originally (as the name implies) these were Review comments, so my usage of them generally is associated with flagging: I just feel that commenting as well helps to educate the users and not scare them away permanently. –  Benjol Jan 5 '12 at 8:53
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@Bobby Feedback of actions (or the potential for action to be taken on a post) is kind of the point of this thing (particularly from a moderator's point of view). People prefer positive input, rather than just visiting a site for the first time and having their input unwittingly purged the next - not all SE sites are like SO in nature, where users are ten-a-penny. –  Grant Thomas Jan 5 '12 at 8:56
    
This is unlikely to happen, given Jeff's stance on comments. I think he would remove them entirely if he could, it's unlikely they would add a feature that makes it easier to post more comments. I still upvoted though because I love the tool. –  JNK Jan 5 '12 at 13:06
    
No way! We posted this seven ours from each other? Should the pro-forma comments script be integrated into SO? feel free to integrate stuff / arguments from there in here if you want –  Pëkka Jan 5 '12 at 13:45
    
@TheP.G.RepMiningCo. Wow! I have to admit I didn't even bother checking to see if someone had already asked. I'm much honoured. Sorry it was your version which got closed. Have an upvote as consolation :) –  Benjol Jan 5 '12 at 13:50
    
@Bobby there are many, many comments that are not flagging reasons - most prominently, frequently reoccurring comments about an OP's code. –  Pëkka Jan 5 '12 at 17:38
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I've even started thinking about pro-forma answers. I'm experimentally using one (that I customize to the OP's needs) for every new instance of the "why is my PHP mySQL query not working" classic (example). Trying to get these closed as dupes is utterly pointless, and a good pro-forma answer that highlights the weaknesses of the code (error checking, SQL injection) is still better than just pointing out where the OP forgot a semicolon or a quote. –  Pëkka Jan 8 '12 at 17:38
    
Benjol FYI: meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/137390 –  Pëkka Jun 23 '12 at 10:58
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4 Answers

I agree, it's time for this.

Fears of comment spam can be mitigated by limiting the tool to 2k+ users. Also, it's not like comment spam wasn't possible before.

And to those fearing that this tool would encourage hasty, incorrect comments: The same thing already happens every day - just with much more cryptic messages like "escape your input" or "use xyz library" that more often than not, leave the OP baffled and none the wiser.

This functionality does not add anything dangerous that you can't do already. It just helps automate a terribly, terribly dreary task and this is needed! Let's face it: We have 4,000 new questions a day, and not enough users, time, nor the inclination to deal with every one on an individual basis. That includes comments about frequent mistakes in posts. Either we use an automated tool to deal with the most common patterns (like in PHP, the eternal "you are not escaping your mySQL data. Use prepared statements or escape your input using ....."), or many mistakes will simply go uncommented.

Possible advantages to having this integrated in SO proper include:

  • Centralized storage of comment templates would take away the need to rebuild your templates list on every client you use.

  • The possibility to have a list of community-curated comment templates, leading to overall higher quality - creating a good comment template (with a polite greeting, an explanation of the issue, and some helpful links) isn't completely trivial. (This would complement the existing functionality of having your own comment templates, not replace it.)

  • The collection of usage data and the possibility to do queries like "how often did users insert the xyz pro-forma comment?" can be helpful for future UI decisions, or for fine-tuning the FAQ.

  • The team has a way to track how the solution works, and what kinds of comments are being emitted this way.

It goes without saying that the comment rate limiting mechanism would be completely unaffected by this.

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It doesn't have to be 2K. The bar could be set lower. I think low-rep users could benefit from a list of well-worded, canned comments. –  Robert Harvey Jan 5 '12 at 18:14
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Your second bullet is great because sharing well crafted comments between everyone can be hard, we have a meta topic on AU for this for that reason. In hindsight "what kind of comment templates would we use" would have been a great way of focusing efforts and scope when a site is in beta. –  Jorge Castro Jan 5 '12 at 18:43
    
@Jorge, that's actually how the script was born! meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/74194/… –  Benjol Jan 6 '12 at 5:35
    
Hey, Pekka, have you seen this? :) –  Benjol Aug 9 '12 at 4:48
    
@Benjol wow, no way! –  Pëkka Aug 9 '12 at 7:09
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First off: this script is a fantastic tool. You've done an excellent job with it, to the point where we often recommend its use to new moderators.

That said, I'm becoming increasingly pessimistic toward the notion that handing folks a set of canned comments and expecting them to be used responsibly can work. At some point, it stops being a polite helping hand, and starts being enumerated badness with which to beat people over the head - or used for purposes completely contrary to the original intent. All too often, any attempt to actually help a new user understand the problems specific to their question or answer is abandoned, the canned reason becoming, in the words of ol' Pop Demand, the least they can do.

I think the best example of "canned comments" on Stack Exchange are found in the close reasons: a finite set of explanations for why certain questions must be either fixed or deleted, usable only in one context, and only with the participation of several users. A similar system can be found in the rejection reasons for suggested edits. I would like to expand that into more areas of Stack Overflow, but only when:

  • There are a small, fixed number of possible comments.
  • There is a specific, easy to identify context for those comments.
  • The comments can be written to provide specific, constructive advice.

Again, I greatly appreciate the time and effort you've put into writing this script, and will continue to recommend it to people I know can be trusted to use it properly - but I don't think it has a place as a general-purpose feature of Stack Exchange.


Update: I'm marking this status-completed. Even though the actual implementation deviates significantly from what was requested, I think the spirit of the request is honored - a set of canned comments, for use on answers in the low-quality review queue, is now built into all Stack Exchange sites.

the low-quality review comments

The exact comments offered are based on context:

  • The reputation of the author
  • Whether or not the author of the answer is also the author of the question

We may well expand this in the future, to other queues and other contexts.

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I would not be opposed to making it an official moderator feature, with preset useful and constructive comments. That being said, it's just as easy to use the script (and allows greater flexibility for those that know how to tinker with it). –  Tim Post Jun 23 '12 at 9:54
    
A fixed number of possible comments sounds great. Maybe even selected by mods or the team - they arguably have the greatest experience judging what is constructive and what isn't. The comments would have to be tag-based, though. You have different issues in different tags that come up, most egregiously with PHP and SQL injection - although I'm starting to think that's a hopeless fight, I don't know how so many people come up with so crappy code. Related: meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/136609/… the comments –  Pëkka Jun 23 '12 at 10:17
    
Shog - a different idea: meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/137390/… –  Pëkka Jun 23 '12 at 10:57
    
@Shog9, I only discovered your update now! While researching this problem. –  Benjol Apr 16 at 9:40
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Currently, the script is installed and used by janitors, flaggers, editors, and moderators who like to keep the place clean. It's easy enough to find if you want it, and I haven't noticed it being abused by comment-spammers.

Making it a rep-based privilege would take it away from some of these users (who work on sites where they don't have 2k rep) and give it to others. Notably, it would remove it from the users who commit to and work to bootstrap SE 2.0 betas, which have many of the same problems and need the pro-forma comments. Any rep requirements should be based on global reputation, not per-site reputation.

I think that this feature should be opt-in, similar to the tag filters. It could be placed at a URL like

http://stackexchange.com/pro-forma-comments

where logged-in users could opt into the comment script, adjust their templates, and share the templates.

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So you favor keeping it as an installable script, but increasing its visibility by putting it in a canonical location? –  Robert Harvey Jan 5 '12 at 18:13
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@RobertHarvey - I'm interested in increasing its functionality by placing it on the network. With a home on the SE servers, my comment lists could be linked to my account and shared with other users, rather than being stored in a userscript's HTML5 storage on a per-site, per-computer basis. These lists are currently something of a nightmare to synchronize, and, as Benjol has noted, synchronization is difficult for a userscript but easy for Stack Exchange. –  Kevin Vermeer Jan 5 '12 at 18:17
    
Kevin, yes, the per-site I can almost cope with, but the per-computer is a bummer, and there's not much I can do about that, other than setting up my own server, or adding an option to download from dropbox or something... –  Benjol Jan 6 '12 at 5:37
    
@Benjol - What's the barrier to setting up your own server? Is it a skill issue (I respect your ability to create userscripts, but I understand that to be significantly different from administrating a server) or a cost issue (which should be pretty insignificant, given the large number of people who use the script and the low traffic and storage requirements)? –  Kevin Vermeer Jan 6 '12 at 14:23
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@KevinVermeer, to be honest, mostly wanting to avoid the administrative gumph associated. And the clean/easy option (for me) would be for SE to adopt it, if not I guess I might start looking in that direction. –  Benjol Jan 6 '12 at 14:56
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How about if it wasn't a rep privilege, but a review count unlocked thing? –  Flexo Jun 19 '12 at 12:13
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I'm cautious about this. If we deploy it too widely too quickly there's a good chance it'll end up acting as a de-facto implementation for signatures and the like. On the other hand, I think there is some merit to making it easier for high rep users to provide well-known, consistent, and carefully worded guidance to new users.

Therefore I suggest they deploy it only for diamond mods first, with a pre-determined list of comments (perhaps per stack exchange site). After a few weeks of mods tweaking wording, then deploy the feature to 10K users (users with enough rep to see the tools links).

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Only 10ks? I feel I've been here long enough to not abuse it, but I'm still a good way from that. –  John Jan 5 '12 at 17:38
    
@BobCratchit I seems to "make sense" there to me -- that it would show at the same time as "tools" link at the top. –  Joel Coehoorn Jan 5 '12 at 18:01
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Would a pre-determined list of comments be a set of defaults, adjustable by the users, or a fixed list set by Stack Exchange, Inc? Also, I'm a diamond mod, and I think I know when to use a scripted comment, But I don't have 10k on any sites yet. I've backed up Benjol's scripts, just in case the official feature is unavailable to me! Finally, I think that your fears of abuse are over-hyped: It would be pretty simple to place an automatic flag if users were entering too many comments with this tool. –  Kevin Vermeer Jan 5 '12 at 18:10
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@KevinVermeer Good point about auto-flagging. as long as that is included with the feature, I think we have a winner here. –  Joel Coehoorn Jan 5 '12 at 18:39
    
Hehe, with those rules I wouldn't have access either - though admittedly, since I started writing the script, I've actually been reviewing less :) –  Benjol Jan 6 '12 at 5:38
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