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This answer of mine: http://stackoverflow.com/a/8845623/103167 used to have a lot of relevant comments from multiple users.

Now they're gone, and not even a note from a diamond mod saying they were deleted.

Any explanation would be nice.

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Some mods dislike long comment chains :( –  Oded Jan 13 '12 at 20:12
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The SO position on comments often times doesn't mesh with reality. –  Adam Rackis Jan 13 '12 at 20:21
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Long comment chains are bad (clutter if not useful, better off incorporated into an answer and thereby more visible if useful), but an explanation should ideally be left when one is cleaned up. –  Matthew Read Jan 13 '12 at 20:22
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@MatthewRead: Shouldn't that be "an explanation should be left prior to cleanup, to give a chance to summarize or incorporate the comments". –  Ben Voigt Jan 13 '12 at 20:28
    
Not if they're obviously useless, but as for useful ones ... not sure. Part of me thinks that the users should be doing it already and not need prodding. It's hard to track as well -- there's no way to easily mark a question for needing cleanup after the incorporation occurs. On the flip side, I sometimes incorporate comments myself when doing cleanup. –  Matthew Read Jan 13 '12 at 20:34
    
@AdamRackis Consider posting a rebuttal. This won't be the last time this issue comes up relative to the C++ tag. –  Robert Harvey Jan 13 '12 at 20:52
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@Robert - I'm not sure I have a rebuttal (I upvoted you, not down). The team is right for not wanting long comment chains, and for expecting good comment material to be moved inside the answer. But I also understand why a lot of people wouldn't feel like creating a digest of the discussion. It's an imperfect system and I'm not sure I have a way to make it better. –  Adam Rackis Jan 13 '12 at 20:58
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@Robert - then again, excessive comments don't really cause any harm, do they? I mean, future users have to actually click a button to expand them. Maybe we should just leave them be (unless they're offensive). I'm too ambivalent about it to right up an answer stating my case. I'm not smart enough to be a C++ dev, and the comments in the C# and JavaScript tags don't usually get out of hand, so it really doesn't affect me first hand –  Adam Rackis Jan 13 '12 at 21:02
    
This is the comment thread in question, for future reference. (I can give them in text form too if necessary.) –  mmyers Jan 13 '12 at 22:08
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Many thanks @mmyers. –  Ben Voigt Jan 13 '12 at 22:22
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6 Answers

up vote -12 down vote accepted

I deleted it. It triggered the "More than 20 comments in three days" flag by Community.

I scanned it, and while there was a good amount of relevant information, the comments section is not the place to put relevant information.

I even gave fair warning that the comment thread was going to be cleaned at 2012-01-13 19:12:12:

Take it to chat, I'm wiping the comments in five minutes.

If there was something really important, then someone should have commented @ me and indicated what was useful/not and users should have pruned the comment list.

Instead, the one comment that came a few minutes after was:

@Ben: Lack of sleep, I thought we were talking about ++.

No indication was given from anyone that this was important.

I deleted them all on 2012-01-13 19:21:31 (over nine minutes later).

That said, comments are not the place to place important, relevant information. If the comment thread is that long, it's a huge red flag possibly indicating some of the following:

  • It has turned into a prolonged discussion, in which case, it should be taken to chat (or not at all if the participants don't have enough rep, the comments are not the place to have prolonged discussions if a user can't access chat).
  • The focus has shifted away from the question and answer. The question and/or answer at this point should be updated with the relevant details (assuming that you don't invalidate either in the process) and the people making the comments should clean up after themselves in the comment section (i.e. deleting them).

Remember, the focus on the Stack Exchange network is the question and answer, not the comments.

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Nine minutes is an unacceptable time limit. I went to lunch, never saw your ultimatum. –  Ben Voigt Jan 13 '12 at 21:05
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@BenVoigt I apologize if this is harsh, but your lunch time will always come second to my moderation of the site. The comment stream was active and the window I gave was appropriate considering the activity on the stream. What's interesting is that I posted my comment two minutes after yours, and your comment was three minutes after Fred's. –  casperOne Jan 13 '12 at 21:09
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I could understand your rush, and disregard for my schedule, if this was something essential to the well-being of the site, like getting rid of spam links or obscene remarks. But the harm caused by an on-topic comment chain is very small. If 24 hours go by and no one has cleaned up, then you can delete. If during those 24 hours you lose track of it and the chatty comments stay, that's no big deal. It's a better outcome than premature deletion. –  Ben Voigt Jan 13 '12 at 21:27
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@BenVoigt Again, I apologize, but your assessment of what is essential and not essential to the well-being of the site is incorrect at best. Also, your views on what an appropriate window is are your views. Think of it like this, most, if not everything that moderators do is to be borne from the flag queue. If the developers of Stack Exchange shared your opinion that comment chains of this length were not detrimental to the site, then they wouldn't put have Community place the flag in the queue. But that's not what they chose to do. –  casperOne Jan 13 '12 at 21:33
    
@BenVoigt I recommend that you issue another post on meta regarding the comment flag showing up in the moderator queue (or offer a bounty on an existing post if it captures your position). Moderators would be remiss to not address a flag where they see it. –  casperOne Jan 13 '12 at 21:35
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@casperOne: that begs the question of what the purpose of this moderation is. Why is the site better off with the information from those comments being deleted? Why is the site better off with a nine-minute warning before the deletion? "my moderation of the site" is not, and will never be, valid rationale for anything. Were the comments off-topic? Was there no relevant information in them? When you delete something, then the burden of proof is on you to justify that the comments contain nothing useful. It is not acceptable to give the users who 9 minutes to prove the opposite –  jalf Jan 13 '12 at 21:39
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@casperOne: Then I'll most likely be adding a meta feature-request for a "flag for follow-up in n hours" moderator ability. That way you address the "long comment chain" immediately, with a comment and a flag for followup. And the next day it comes back to the attention of some mod, who can verify that it's been cleanup up by the users, or else clean it up with a nuke. In the meantime it isn't on your queue. Does that seem reasonable to you? –  Ben Voigt Jan 13 '12 at 21:39
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@casperOne: I recommend otherwise. You seem to be unable to tell the difference between "address a flag", and "nuke stuff from orbit". As was mentioned in the other answers, it is an automated flag, intended to get a moderator to assess the situation. It is not an order to delete all comments. So please, learn some more ways to "address" those flags. And sure, we should probably post a separate issue discussing that flag, but that does not validate your actions, and it is not an excuse for dodging out of this issue. –  jalf Jan 13 '12 at 21:41
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You still haven't offered a rationale for why it is essential for the wellbeing of the site that comment threads are deleted with a 9-minute warning. You talk about "the health of the site", but have not explained how deletion of those comments makes the site healthier. And I am critical of the actual point. The actual point is that you were trigger-happy, deleted valuable information from the site, and refuse to explain why this was a good thing –  jalf Jan 13 '12 at 21:42
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@jalf If you truly think that a meta post about comment cleanup is not the proper solution, and think that I am the problem (as you seem to indicate), then I recommend that you post that in meta, and cite a) your concerns over my ability to be a moderate on such matters and b) the recommended action that should be taken. A meta post is the place to voice what either of us are saying, not the comments. –  casperOne Jan 13 '12 at 21:45
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And one more point. Please consider that the the system, and thereby the developers and the owners of the site, generated a flag. If they felt that the situation warranted an automatic deletion, they would have implemented automatic deletion. They did not. They implemented a mechanism for drawing the attention of a moderator. And this is because they do not intend for knee-jerk deletion, but for a human being to look at the situation and decide whether the site is better off with or without those comments, and if when and how they should be deleted. –  jalf Jan 13 '12 at 21:46
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This is a lot of comments in one hour, with relevant information. Maybe the comment chain should be deleted ASAP. –  Mooing Duck Jan 13 '12 at 22:04
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It triggered the "More than 20 comments in three days" flag is not a valid reason. Why do you think long comment threads are being flagged? If you can't see that it is obviously to spot ranting/flaming or arguments going on, that indeed says a lot over your ability to moderate. Indeed, the valuable information should go in the posts, not the comments. But 'the C++ tag' is exceptionally good at self-organizing that as I've seen time and time again. –  sehe Jan 13 '12 at 22:13
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Oops, looks like my comment triggered the "More than 20 comments posted" flag. brb, purging –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Jan 15 '12 at 17:20
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@casperOne: let's try this again. Did you feel that the comment thread was "pointless bickering"? (Your admission that it contained "a good amount of relevant information seems to indicate otherwise, but I'd like a clear answer). Now, given your answer to this question, can you explain how it follows the guidance posted by Jeff below, which seems to depend on (1) whether it was "pointless bickering, and (2) whether, even if it was, there was something of "genuine utility" in the comments. Can you answer those two questions, please? –  jalf Jan 17 '12 at 19:55
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We fully support our elected moderators, but realize that all moderators (including and especially myself) are only human and sometimes we make the wrong call -- or we may not even agree amongst ourselves what the "correct" course of action even is. Moderation often requires making tough calls that won't make everyone happy no matter what you choose to do.

We all have the same goal -- to make Stack Overflow the best possible resource it can be, and to keep the noise low and the signal high. We're all on the same team here.

In general, the correct guidance for comment removal is what Robert Harvey already said:

I only delete [whole] comment threads [..] if they have devolved into pointless bickering

However, if there is something of genuine utility in the comments alongside the bickering, then it's less clear what to do. I can recommend:

  • posting a comment warning the commenters that the comments, while somewhat constructive, have devolved and are at risk of removal.

  • surgically removing just the bickering comments, if possible, and leave the others that are of genuine utility.

Bear in mind too that sometimes it takes a while to get your feet as a new moderator; I've certainly had many email exchanges from 2009 to now as new moderators were learning the ropes and figuring out the best course of action. We're not perfect, but the important part is that we discuss this rationally here on meta, so that our moderators -- and our community -- can continue to improve.

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Oh agreed. We the community have to reach some sort of consensus on how comment threads should be cleaned up, before we can ask the moderators to do things that way. But there seems a pretty strong consensus right now that 9 minutes warning before deleting on-topic comments is much too little, and moderators need some additional tools, whether that be "move to chat" or "follow-up reminder flag some hours later after the users have seen the warning and had a chance to save what they want", to help deal with these situations. –  Ben Voigt Jan 15 '12 at 7:34
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One thing that needs to be considered is: would they do again in a second tomorrow? And given that the accepted answer comes across as 100% justified (in fact, the community is even 'blamed' for 'allowing' the action to take place), it looks so, which is disturbing. –  Grant Thomas Jan 15 '12 at 13:04
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@Mr.Disappointment: Keep in mind that the accepted answer answers the question that was asked, which was "Can I have an explanation for what happened?" If you're looking for policy/guidance, the vast majority of the moderators agree with (and follow) the guidance in this answer. –  Robert Harvey Jan 15 '12 at 16:49
    
@RobertHarvey I know, and I think so too, I simply meant to highlight the contrast in this case, and that there doesn't seem to be any acknowledgement of 'lesson learned', or even that there was any mistake made (indeed, it seems the opposite). So, supporting moderators is great, but moderators should support (and humble themselves to) said guidance. –  Grant Thomas Jan 15 '12 at 16:53
    
You mean by the moderator in question? You'd have to ask him about that, but suffice it to say he's open to constructive criticism. –  Robert Harvey Jan 15 '12 at 16:57
    
Well, it's more about reflecting similar stances. –  Grant Thomas Jan 15 '12 at 17:07
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@RobertHarvey: That is indeed exactly why I accepted that answer: it explains what happened. But yes, I'm disturbed by the fact that multiple moderators have said "it was an active discussion, you had your chance" as if the fact that I'd recently left a comment ensured that I was going to still be around. –  Ben Voigt Jan 15 '12 at 23:14
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Is there such a thing as non-pointless bickering? –  Rosinante Jan 16 '12 at 3:07
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@RobertHarvey: sadly, the comments under his answer do not show much of this openness. Perhaps another moderator can discuss the issue with him? Because it didn't seem like we could –  jalf Jan 17 '12 at 19:52
    
@jalf: Those discussions have already taken place. –  Robert Harvey Jan 17 '12 at 20:17
    
@RobertHarvey: Ok. Thank you. I wasn't aware of that. :) –  jalf Jan 17 '12 at 20:18
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I wasn't going to post anything, but Xeo's comment:

@Robert: Well... if mods are already allowed to simply nuke the comments, why not preserve them and just remove the noise?

made me change my mind. There's already a link for the users to move the comments into chat. So may I propose that, instead of deleting the comments in toto, the mods first move the conversion into chat, and then delete the comment chain? After deleting the comments, the mods could post a single comment with a link to the chat room to which the comments had just been moved.

That would make everyone happy. Mods could clean up the comment chain, and users could continue their conversation without interruption.

EDIT

There's nothing new under the sun

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Thanks @Robert - I hope they implement this feature. That'd likely make a lot of people happy, and also reduce the work mods have to do. –  Adam Rackis Jan 13 '12 at 21:24
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I only delete comment threads in the C++ tag if they have devolved into pointless bickering. However....

The C++ tag is notorious for very lengthy comment chains. Normally I leave these alone, but sometimes these discussions get unnecessarily drawn out over pedantic details. The purpose of comments is to clarify the post, not necessarily to have lengthy discussions about language standards.

While there might be some valuable information in these comment chains, the information that arises in the resulting discussion should be incorporated into the actual post, as the discussion that arises in the comments is, honestly, only of interest to the people having the discussion.

Few future visitors to the post have the patience to sift through a lengthy trail of comments to find whatever nuggets of gold might be there.

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And how are they supposed to get incorporated if a diamond mod has deleted them? Which doesn't even address the issue of why a comment chain shouldn't focus of standard language pedantry, in those cases where a question was asked about standard language pedantry (that's the case here). –  Ben Voigt Jan 13 '12 at 20:36
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I'll grant you that the mod who deleted the comments probably didn't allow sufficient time for the comments to be incorporated (his comment said 5 minutes). However, I believe that most, if not all of the comment chain gets drawn into the chat window when the "Would you like to move this conversation to chat" link is clicked. –  Robert Harvey Jan 13 '12 at 20:38
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There is no comment saying 5 minutes. –  Ben Voigt Jan 13 '12 at 20:40
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It would be way more useful if, instead of simply deleting them, they would be moved to the chat, with the diamond mod leaving a link in a comment. –  Xeo Jan 13 '12 at 20:41
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@BenVoigt 5 minutes is a pretty tight window, but it was an active discussion when the "5 minutes" warning was posted. Your last comment was 2 minutes before, and FredOverflow's last comment came 2 minutes later. The comments weren't deleted until 7 minutes after that. There was an opportunity to get those comments into chat. –  Bill the Lizard Jan 13 '12 at 20:51
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@BenVoigt Yes, Fred's last comment was "Ben: Lack of sleep, I thought we were talking about ++." (...if that makes any sense to you several hours later and stripped of all context.) –  Bill the Lizard Jan 13 '12 at 20:54
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@RobertHarvey: If it's the community's responsibility to save comments, then it's also our responsibility to decide when to clean up long comment chains. Keep your grubby mitts off! –  Ben Voigt Jan 13 '12 at 20:55
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@Robert: No, we favor giving you a more useful power. :P Compare "Comments nuked, nobody knows anything, hell confused" with "Comments moved, commentators see chatlink, all lived happily ever after" –  Xeo Jan 13 '12 at 21:05
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Here is the feature request previously posted for this. Show your support: meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/93444/… –  Robert Harvey Jan 13 '12 at 21:07
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@Xeo: That doesn't work reliably for me. The "Move to Chat" thingy doesn't appear until a certain number of comments between two specific people occur. –  Robert Harvey Jan 13 '12 at 21:09
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But why is that different? If non consensus can be reached about whether or not an answer is correct, discussion is necessary. I simply fail to see who benefits by this "blindly delete discussion" policy. Yes, it gives moderators a kick and allows them to feel all powerful and mighty for 5 seconds. But for those who were actually trying to use the discussion to improve answers, it's a kick in the balls. For anyone reading the answer later, and wanting to understand whether or not it is correct, you made the answer useless unless someone stepped up and incorporated the comments into an answer –  jalf Jan 13 '12 at 21:19
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It is an absurdly short-sighted and harmful policy. If comments make the place look untidy, then you need to pester the SE folks to add some better features for handling such discussion. But until the do that, please think twice before deleting information that may be useful to people reading the answer –  jalf Jan 13 '12 at 21:20
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@RobertHarvey: ad hominem? Where? I am not saying that you delete comments just to get a power kick out of it. I'm saying that this is the only possible advantage I can see. Everyone else loses when it is done. Frankly, and I'm sorry if I sound unreasonably pissed off, I'm just about fed up with SO preventing me from writing high quality information. I get punished for editing my answers more than a couple of times (they get CW'ed), comments are nigh-useless due to all the arbitrary timers and timeouts on them, and a gang of moderators are going around deleting constructive discussion –  jalf Jan 13 '12 at 21:23
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@jalf: That it happens more often on the C++ tag is not an argument in favor of deletion in and of itself. That the C++ community finds these long comment chains acceptable is most likely at odds with the overall community gestalt, however. –  Robert Harvey Jan 13 '12 at 21:31
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@RobertHarvey: Ironically, the C++ users make better use of chat than most other tags. We have C# and Java programmers show up in our chat room asking off-topic technical questions because the appropriate chat room was empty. –  Ben Voigt Jan 13 '12 at 21:46
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I think they weren't deleted solely for the reason given by Robert.

There were two flags on the comment flags, one being an offensive (earlier dismissed by me, as it was confusing as hell) and one being too many comments. The offensive flag referenced a chat transcript, which really didn't help matters much. Mods don't really have the time to sort through tons of BS to sort out a flag. I spent a couple minutes trying to puzzle it out and gave up. I figured if there really was something offensive in there it would get flagged again.

The second flag was a "too many comments" flag automatically set by the system.

What I would suspect (I can't speak for the mod who did the dirty deed) that the two flags in combination led to the judgement that the whole bunch should go down the tubes.

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True enough, but I've been wanting to say what I said in my post for a long time, and this question gave me an excuse to do so. –  Robert Harvey Jan 13 '12 at 20:55
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@RobertHarvey: Hell, we all know C++ devs are cranky bast..er, folks. Nothing like a good argument about L-values to distract you from tracing pointer arithmetic bugs. –  Won't Jan 13 '12 at 20:57
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@Won't: That comment is outdated. I mean, who in their right mind is mucking around with pointer arithmetic when writing modern C++ code, aside from the occasional hackers and library implementors (or when actually writing C and pretending to write C++)? –  Xeo Jan 13 '12 at 21:27
    
@Xeo: I vaguely recall the question that Won't is referring to. Why, indeed. –  Robert Harvey Jan 13 '12 at 21:29
    
@Xeo: Iterator usage and pointer arithmetic are interchangeable. But that IS off-topic. –  Ben Voigt Jan 13 '12 at 21:30
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It should be noted that this wouldn't have been a problem if moderators and users had the ability to migrate comments to chat. It's not like this has been asked for on several separate occasions or anything.

Maybe someone should look into giving us the ability to clean up comment threads on our own.

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Specific issues referenced in this question aside, I agree that the ability to migrate to chat would be useful. –  Andrew's a Unitato Jan 15 '12 at 23:17
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