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I know there's this:

New users can't ask for clarifications except as answers

I wonder if this needs revisiting?

Probably one of the most flagged "Not an answer" answers I bump into are the ones where a new low rep user has used an answer to query the OP for more information.

A new user needs to earn rep from answers or by asking good questions to be able to reach the 50 rep threshold to enable comments. However, what are they to do if they see a question where they need to clarify some things with the OP before posting their answer?

I think it would be useful to change the rules slightly to allow new users to comment on questions and remove what I think can be an artificial roadbump in their site participation. We are a Q&A site and surely even new users should be able to ask an OP to clarify some aspect of their question as part of the problem solving process...to gain rep?

After all we allow unregistered 1 rep users to litter the site with spam, self promotion and other more serious crimes, so I can't see the harm in giving a helping hand to good faith low rep users to at least be able place their query in the right place.

Presently SO mods use their discretion to decide whether to convert a low rep user's "comment as answer" into a comment, however we're technically breaking the privilege rules and become comment-proxies for these users.

Perhaps this could be achieved for low rep users by:

  • requiring registration just like we do with questions now
  • increasing the comment throttler to at least 60s
  • disabling urls in these comments

We've already "boiled the sea" once to force registration if you want to ask a question (see the comments).

the alternative is forced registration for all users which is a "boil the sea" solution I am not fond of, to put it mildly.

Just to clarify, this would be just for adding comments to Questions, not answers.

Thoughts?

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If you guys open up commenting on posts for low-rep users, it should be rate limited to minimize the effect of spammers going on a rampage unnoticed. –  Jeff Mercado Jan 27 '12 at 1:36
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I've often thought this restriction just turns good comments into bad answers, and spam comments into spam answers. What spammer would be discouraged by needing to make their spam more prominent? :P –  Matthew Read Jan 27 '12 at 1:49
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Can we have the rate limiting go both ways? Inverse scale with reputation, so that I can finally be rid of that horrible 15 second self-resetting delay? –  sarnold Jan 27 '12 at 2:18
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@sarnold: I could've sworn that was only 5 seconds. –  animuson Jan 27 '12 at 3:43
    
If we're fixing rate limits, let high rep users up vote comments faster than 5 seconds. I get that all the time. –  bkaid Jan 27 '12 at 6:03
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@MatthewRead: There are several notification-systems in place to catch spam which is posted as answer. There are zero (afaik) for comments. –  Time Traveling Bobby Jan 27 '12 at 8:59
    
@Bobby That's circular reasoning -- the notifications are due to the fact that there are no rep requirements for answers, and 50-rep users post less spam. If the rep requirement for comments were remove it shouldn't be too difficult to put similar notifications in place for them. (Others talking about rate limits: I doubt that will change. It's to prevent the database from being hit constantly. Actions that don't affect the DB aren't limited.) –  Matthew Read Jan 27 '12 at 17:05
    
@animuson: it's five seconds for up-voting and flagging comments, fifteen seconds for posting comments. I hate them both. –  sarnold Jan 30 '12 at 0:25
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4 Answers 4

up vote 27 down vote accepted

Presently SO mods use their discretion to decide whether to convert a low rep user's "comment as answer" into a comment, however we're technically breaking the privilege rules and become comment-proxies for these users.

Moderators should never do this. The "convert to comment" function is for useful answers that add something tiny but meaningful to the question -- it is not intended as a proxy function for 1 rep users to pile more question marks on the question.

We are a Q&A site and surely even new users should be able to ask an OP to clarify some aspect of their question as part of the problem solving process...to gain rep?

You can't gain reputation from comments, so allowing users to leave comments on questions would not address this concern. It would, however, make it easy for 1 rep users to bug the heck out of registered users with lots of noisy question comments that show up in their global inbox...

A new user needs to earn rep from answers or by asking good questions to be able to reach the 50 rep threshold to enable comments. However, what are they to do if they see a question where they need to clarify some things with the OP before posting their answer?

Good answers generally cover contingencies in the question. If the question is so bad that nobody can answer it because it has too many unknowns, the question should simply be closed. This idea that no questions can possibly be answered without commenting first is a cop-out.

If the 1 rep user can't find a question they can answer without "needing" to leave a comment first -- on a site with literally millions of questions -- I humbly submit that they aren't trying very hard.

I am strongly opposed to allowing comments of any form until the user has earned the reputation to do so, by participating in questions and answers. As I said before:

We funnel users to the answer input box for a reason -- because the focus is on getting answers to questions, not meta-commentary. Commenting is a privilege that should be earned by providing useful answers. And 50 rep isn't much.

It's highly unlikely a random drive-by user will

  • understand our Q&A goals
  • understand our commenting system

So by the time they earn 50 rep, they should have learned roughly how things work, and be in a position to offer a useful comment and not a "+1 AWESOME ANSWER" sort of comment.

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Ok, fair enough. Can you clarify what you mean by "for useful answers that add something tiny but meaningful to the question", do you mean that in the context of 50+ rep users only? –  Kev Jan 27 '12 at 11:19
    
mostly, it absolutely cannot be piling more questions on the question. The answer must add some fragment of information to the question to be worthy of conversion to a comment instead of deletion. –  Jeff Atwood Jan 27 '12 at 17:29
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I agree with Jeff that many of these follow-on questions really wouldn't add much to the content already present. Let's look at a sampling of the non-answers I've flagged lately on Stack Overflow (10k only, since these are all deleted now):

None of these seem suitable to be even converted into comments. More often than not, the non-answers are asking if the problem has been solved (which adds nothing to the question) or asking a completely different question on a similar topic (which should be a standalone question).

The one case I found in the recent list that potentially could have been used to clarify the question was this one:

but that user already had the ability to leave comments, so they wouldn't be helped by this.

I'm afraid that by opening up comments to brand-new users, we'll see a rash of "thanks", "have you solved this?", and "help me, I'm trying to do this similar thing" comments. We don't have the tools to monitor incoming comments like we do answers (via the "answers by new users" or "late answers" review tools), so we wouldn't be able to notice if users start abusing this.

Overall, rarely do I see new users leaving quality non-answers that could have been comments. I don't think the potential gains here will offset the noise this might introduce.

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I don't agree. Users should just try to answer the question in a more generic way in that case and add to if it is was not enough detail for the user that asked the question.

After all it is not the fault of the user answering the question if the user asking it was not clear enough about what he needs or otherwise left out information.

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People keep bringing this up. The poor 1-rep user can't answer any questions unless commenting is turned on to allow asking clarification questions of the OP. It's nonsense! There are tens of thousands of users already on SO who did just that.

What's more, I believe strongly that a new user doesn't even know enough to properly ask for clarification. Is the question a dupe? Is the question in a high-traffic tag and likely to be answered (by someone more fluent in Awkward Question than the commenter) while the comment is being typed? Is the reason you can't answer the question that it's actually off topic (eg career development, language wars, etc) ? A new member of SO just won't know. Comments are for people who know a few things. And it really is a very low bar.

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