Apparently, some moderators feel that they have a duty to delete long comment threads, no matter what. That once the thread is automatically flagged for being unusually active, it is an indisputable order to delete the comments.

The moderator in question even said the following in defense of his actions:

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

What... the... heck?

If there is "a good amount of relevant information", then that should not be deleted outright. Especially not with a mere 9 minutes warning given, which gave the participants of the discussion no chance whatsoever to incorporate this "relevant information" into an answer.

the meta thread discussing the deletion, and the answer given by the moderator in question

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4 Answers

I personally think that long comment threads should be moved to and continue in chat, which is designed to handle more informal discussions like these. Moderators do not currently have a way to migrate comments to chat easily, but that feature has been requested.

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This is an answer to meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/118996, no to this thread (Note: the topic of this thread was temporarily changed to be about comment threads instead of mod behavior.) –  Mooing Duck Jan 13 '12 at 22:58
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Comments can arise in any number of ways, and I feel that any attempt to formalize what a comment "should be" would be a needless restriction on the unbounded creative potential of the community.

Of course there are comments that don't contribute to the subject matter and that won't be missed, and removing them improves the overall quality of the post and the question as a whole. But that should really be the guiding principle: How can the content on the page be improved, and how can visitors (as well as the productive community) be served better?

I can't speak for other languages, but in a language as complex as C++, hardly anyone can claim to know everything. Many an answer has been written in the best faith, but was significantly improved upon later thanks to a comment. I might claim in earnest that a great part of my understanding of C++ originated in comments.

But the author of the post may not always stick around or be interested in "maintaining" an answer. And why should she? We certainly don't want to load any permanent commitment on any intelligent would-be poster who chances upon our site. If an answer is valuable by itself, then it should be allowed to stand, without the demand for anyone to "continue working" on it -- we're a question-answer site, not an encyclopaedia. But when valuable information is added in a comment, that too should be allowed to stand, no matter the volume of the comments.

[As @Sehe suggests, it is an option to have some other member of the community perform editorial work on a post, perhaps incorporating comments into the main post. However, this requires someone who is both competent at the subject, diligent enough to actually improve the post without harming or distorting it, and who would actually spend the time on going back to older posts to see if they need working on — in practice this seems to happen very rarely, not surprisingly.]

The visual style of Stack Overflow already does an excellent job at keeping the visual noise coming from comments at a minimum. So if an answer is complete and good, any visitor is entirely welcome to read only the answer itself and move on. If she wants to know more and see other people's take on the matter, the comments are available on demand.

In short, I do not see the necessity for policing all but the crudest and most egregiously unproductive comments. Otherwise, if a comment doesn't mean anything to you, that's fine - just walk on by, and maybe it'll be useful for someone else.

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+1 for some nuanced points and the gist of 'if it's not useful to you, ignore it'. However, I'd like to disagree on the need to 'maintain' answer. It's ok, though, if someone else picks up the slack (which I sometimes do, and it has happened to some of my own answers.) And a big +++1 for 'a great part of my understanding of C++ originated in comment threads'. Absolutely, and I always suggest to mutually delete discussion after incorporating it in my answers. –  sehe Jan 13 '12 at 22:42
    
@sehe: I think the post says authors have no obligation to maintain an answer, though the community may maintain if it values the answer. –  Mooing Duck Jan 13 '12 at 22:53
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It's entirely OK for someone else to edit an older answer if the original author is no longer interested in it, and that's a good point. In practice I haven't really seen this happen a lot (or at all), though, and it would certainly require someone who's sufficiently capable to do this in a way that improves the quality of the post and isn't actually harming it. There are many subtleties in the field, and an error in paraphrasing would be worse than just leaving the comment in place. But indeed, this is one solution. –  Kerrek SB Jan 13 '12 at 22:56
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@MooingDuck: Nah, I'm pretty sure it's my answer to this thread. –  Kerrek SB Jan 13 '12 at 23:03
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+1. Very thoughtful, and many excellent points! –  ruakh Jan 14 '12 at 1:27
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+1 - this is an incredibly well thought out, nuanced, intelligent post. –  Adam Rackis Jan 14 '12 at 17:04
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First of all, I'm not a Stack Overflow user, I'm an Ask Ubuntu user - as such, the culture there is different.

Anyway, here is the tl;dr: Edit edit edit flag edit.

First of all, there is the problem of comments in general - I agree that for long threads, it should (and are generally on Ask Ubuntu) be moved to chat - however, if comments are second-class citizens, chat is a third class that is ignored.

However, that will be ignored for this, and it doesn't solve the problem of long comment threads.

As I go through cleanup on Ask Ubuntu, I will often come across lengthy comment threads - and when that happens, I do one of a few things:

  • If there is something worth adding to the question, edit the important stuff into the question, then flag ALL THE COMMENTS for purging with fire from Mordor.

  • Flag all the comments as too chatty, if there is nothing of value/they are more than ~3 months old.

  • If there is an answer in them, make a community wiki answer and also flesh the "commanswer" out into a real answer.

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"Flag all the comments as too chatty" - FYI, I've had good results with just flagging the question / answer with a custom description that the comments were out of hand or too chatty (instead of submitting a bunch of flags). +1 from me though, these are good guidelines. –  jadarnel27 Jan 18 '12 at 21:38
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@jadarnel27 cl.ly/DTId - I just do that for one comment and say "Oi, too chatty for all of 'em" –  jrg Jan 18 '12 at 22:10
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I think relying on the existence of comments is a mistake. They're de-emphasized exactly because of their unimportance. Putting important information in them that you don't otherwise have access to isn't a good idea.

I can't comment on the actions of the mod here, but I don't think it's a mod's job to watch a thread and wait for you to retrieve your information before removing the clutter. I also don't expect a mod to be able to evaluate the importance of a particular comment in every possible topic on the site, or if they could, to carry out such an evaluation.

Comments aren't meant for long back-and-forth discussions either -- it prevents people from getting useful information out of them. Perhaps the conversation was better suited to chat.

The original version of your post here also strikes me as needlessly aggressive, and a little entitled — I don't think you should expect SE to host comment threads on your behalf if they don't meet the community guidelines.

For what it's worth, I will offer bounties on the suggestion Chris links to until it's addressed (assuming it is not by the time his expires).

Regarding the below comments: My opinion is formulated under the assumption that SE's community guidelines regarding commenting (that they should not devolve into discussions, in particular) are beneficial to the site, which I strongly believe they are. Whether comments should be accorded more importance or allowed to grow unchecked is a very different discussion. Mods (should) enforce the rules as they are, and so that is the appropriate frame of reference for evaluating a mod's behavior.

I'll also note that several of the comments were edited after I responded to them, and not in a good way. What can you do.

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You're begging the question. Your answer assumes comments can be wiped at any time. OP is taking issue with the fact that comments should not be wiped so cavalierly. –  Adam Rackis Jan 13 '12 at 22:15
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@AdamRackis I disagree. I think wiping comments like that follows directly from the (designed) unimportance of comments and the community guidelines around them. If the OP is taking issue with the fact that comments are unimportant, that is a much larger can of worms. –  Matthew Read Jan 13 '12 at 22:18
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This is a false dichotomy. Comments can continue to be designed to be unimportant, while at the same time moderators can behave more circumspectly on the few occasions when valuable information creeps into a comment chain. –  Adam Rackis Jan 13 '12 at 22:20
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I believe the OP took issue with the fact that the comments were deleted before the information was moved to the answer, with not enough time (after the warning) to do so. –  Mooing Duck Jan 13 '12 at 22:21
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Relying on the existence of comments may be a mistake, but we don't live in a perfect world. As long as the comments exist, and as long as the contain relevant information that is not contained in any of the answers, then that is the reality that we, the community and the moderators have to deal with. And the way to deal with it is not by closing your eyes and deleting them. –  jalf Jan 13 '12 at 22:27
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I think @jalf is right. I think your position, and that of SO, are overly narrow and ignore the reality in which we live. Theory here is contradicting reality, and it's time to update the former. –  Adam Rackis Jan 13 '12 at 22:29
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@Matthew: The question is: Are they really problematic if on-topic and useful? –  Xeo Jan 13 '12 at 22:33
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@MatthewRead: I could, but it would be wrong. Because producing relevant and useful information is what this site is about, and sometimes, that is not possible without some discussion back and forth first. Can you elaborate on what these "negative effects" are? It also sets up a false dichotomy where the only options are "allow comments to spiral out of control unchecked", or "nuke the whole thing from orbit". It completely ignores option (3): move the comments to a more suitable location, (4) edit the info into an answer yourself, or (5) give the users time to do that themselves –  jalf Jan 13 '12 at 22:35
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@Matthew - you're making arguments based on very questionable premises. Bad and off topic questions have no value. The mod in question actually admitted that these comments did have value. If the system says that valuable content should be deleted, then the system needs adjusting. Having the mods auto-export the thread to chat would be one simple way of solving this. –  Adam Rackis Jan 13 '12 at 22:36
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Btw, entitled? Yes, I guess I do feel entitled. I feel entitled to contribute my knowledge on StackOverflow. And if the moderators get in my way when I am doing that, then I think the moderators are doing it wrong. Because I don't think SO should be a mere playground for the Meta Police, for people who want to be part of a popular "thing", for people who want to be part of the "rule-makers", for people who want to "follow the rules". It was once a site for people asking questions, and for people answering those questions. If there is no longer room for that, then I am out. –  jalf Jan 13 '12 at 22:46
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@jalf The rules about comments are anything but arbitrary. The rules in general are designed to enable constructive participation. Just because comments can contain important info doesn't mean that encouraging it is the best way for the site to promote important information. –  Matthew Read Jan 13 '12 at 22:50
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@MatthewRead: here we have a situation where the rules prevented constructive participation. If the rule is there to "enable" constructive participation, then should constructive participation not take precedence over the rule, if the rule suddenly prevents the same? And no one said anyting about "encouraging" comments. We are talking about what to do when the important information is already in the comments. You seem to be discussing a completely different issue. –  jalf Jan 13 '12 at 23:17
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@jalf The rules about comments do not prevent the use of chat. Enforcing those rules serves to discourage the abuse of comments, which serves to encourage the appropriate use of features, which serves to further enable the asking and answering of questions and the sharing of information. Collateral damage in the form of a few comments being removed is unavoidable and worth it, IMO. –  Matthew Read Jan 13 '12 at 23:24
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@Matthew - you're displaying a disturbing dedication to rules. We're engineers—we're supposed to be smarter than that. If the rule isn't working right, then we need to tweak it. Blindly following rules might be appropriate if we were working on an assembly line with dangerous equipment. But we're not. Let's focus on optimizing the rules, not just blindly following them. –  Adam Rackis Jan 14 '12 at 0:03
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My premise was never "Rules are rules", it was always "I think this rule works". –  Matthew Read Jan 17 '12 at 18:40
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