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The current modus operandi to clean up comment threads that are extremely chatty, obsolete, or consist of pointless discussion is to flag them for moderator attention.

This works; however, it would of course be way cooler if the community could clean up comment threads on its own. No suggestion to that end has proven viable so far, though.

Here's one more:

  • Add a new comment flag, "obsolete in the long run." placement and wording are open to discussion:

    enter image description here

    There would have to be a rep threshold for those kinds of flags. This threshold would have to be determined separately.

  • Once two users have cast such a flag, the comment will get a small star:

    enter image description here

  • When I hover over the star, I will see when the comment is scheduled to expire.

    enter image description here

  • Maybe when one flag has been cast and one more user's flag would be necessary to mark the comment, half a star could be shown to signal to other users that the comment is "waiting" for a second flag.

  • The comment will be removed 60 days after the last flag was cast.

Possible advantages:

  • Comments get cleaned up, but not while the discussion is still ongoing. Friendly "thanks, that worked for me!" comments can stick around for a while, and reach the addressee. "Social" conversations can exist for a while, but those of us who think that's noise can rest assured they will be gone in two months, when they no longer matter.

  • Two dedicated users can clean up an entire comment thread without need for a mod.

  • The task of cleaning up comments would be in the hands of users who are familiar with the question's tags and can better identify obsolete comments than mods can.

  • The upcoming deletion of a comment is visible to anyone familiar with the system, and 60 days is ample time to see and, if necessary, save a comment marked this way. A "unflag" feature might be an option - or, more simply, if you see important information in a comment with a star, just re-post that comment.

Possible disadvantages:

  • Two angry/troll users can collaborate and remove content from the site. This might be a problem, although I am inclined to think it's more of a theoretical nature. The current "flag as offensive" voting threshold (I think it's three votes?) already almost allows this, and I'm under the impression rampages are usually the work of a lone gunman.

Despite my long list of related suggestions, I don't think comment noise is a huge problem on Stack Overflow. (I really don't, and this will be my last feature request in this direction. :) The way things currently work (alert a mod and ask them to clean up) seems viable. Also, threads with more than 5 comments will get auto-collapsed by default, and only upvoted comments will be displayed. So, "we don't need community-run comment cleanup" is a valid answer here.

But it still would be cool to have a community-driven comment cleanup process IMO, and it might also reduce mod workload, which is always a good thing.

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My comments are appreciated I see... but a nice idea. –  Bart Aug 2 '12 at 11:48
    
@Bart hahaha! Comment selection was entirely random, based on the meta page I visited most recently. Really. :) –  Pëkka Aug 2 '12 at 11:49
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If the flag is going to be implemented, I would like to see a threshold for when a comment can be flagged like that: For example, the comment should not be flagged for that reason after 2 seconds it has been posted. –  kiamlaluno Aug 2 '12 at 11:55
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I appreciate the ideas raiseed by the "temporary comments" ideas, but I think the current suggestions add too much unnecessary complexity to a system that's supposed to be pretty bare bones and straight forward –  Ben Brocka Aug 2 '12 at 11:59
    
I like this, but why shouldn't it just be the default? –  Flexo Aug 2 '12 at 12:02
    
@Ben fair enough, a valid viewpoint. Although I think this one is relatively simple to grasp, and doesn't change fundamentally how the system works. And you can use the site without having to know/understand the feature –  Pëkka Aug 2 '12 at 12:02
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7  
I tend to prefer Shog9's offhand suggestion of hiding older, unvoted comments after a while; just collapsing them behind a click, no deleting process, no squabble over what's only okay if you flag it for 60 day deletion, you don't have to be a 10k user to see old comments... –  Ben Brocka Aug 2 '12 at 12:18
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How about comments fade to white progressively? –  user7116 Aug 2 '12 at 13:33
    
@Pekka - Has joel decided to hire you yet? –  JonH Aug 2 '12 at 13:57
    
@kiamlaluno Why couldn't posts be immediately flagged for deletion after 60 days? I would gladly use this feature on myself to post my appreciation to someone who answered my question immediately upon posting. The person answering could see I'm grateful and I don't have to worry about having added a comment without any content relevant to the question and answer because it will be gone soon enough. –  Paul Jun 12 '13 at 13:48
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Related: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/184122/… –  Monica Cellio Jun 12 '13 at 14:37
    
I've seen (and written) plenty of comments that should go away "tomorrow", but how often do we have ones that we want to keep for two months but then delete? –  Monica Cellio Jun 12 '13 at 14:41
    
@Monica the exact duration can be discussed. Maybe a week would suffice as well. –  Pëkka Jun 12 '13 at 17:17
    
@notPekka If this is implemented, why not 2-3 custom durations? (Maybe that would be overkill?) –  John Bensin Sep 20 '13 at 21:46

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