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Proposal

For Stack Overflow, I suggest the following modification:

  1. For the first X days of a post's existence, comments are displayed as they are now. X should be set based on the number of days an open question is likely to be active on the site.

  2. After X days, all comments associated with the post are hidden; you need to click a link at the bottom of each post to reveal comments. There are two exceptions:

    1. All comments on closed questions are displayed, unless the question was closed as a duplicate.

    2. All comments on posts with a negative score are displayed.


Comments supposed to be like sticky notes which tend to lose their stickiness over time and eventually fall into desk clutter. Months later, you gather them up and puzzle about what they were supposed to mean before dumping them in the trash. But comments have turned out to be more like red pen notes your teacher puts on your first draft or graffiti. (Sure there are good comments too. But I can see no way to tell the good from the bad. And no: comment voting does not help.)

If you really want to preserve some information, be sure to put it into the body of a post. People who care to do so can still open the comments and read all the funny jokes and whatnot, but the rest of us are free to ignore them. (Note that people with the power to delete comments should probably still see them by default. Sorry.)

The genesis of the idea may be found elsewhere, but the reasoning for preserving comments on "problem" posts is that they allow people who run across the posts later (usually via a search) to have a history of what went wrong. Comments on closed questions and truly bad posts have the potential for teaching how the system is supposed to work.

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Eh, I'd be fine with keeping some upvoted ones. I think a problem is just that the current system can leave 5 un-upvoted comments on the post if there aren't any comments with more votes –  Ben Brocka Aug 2 '12 at 21:44
1  
@Ben Brocka: I would agree, but I don't think comment voting does a very good job at sorting signal from noise. Maybe we could fix that instead... –  Jon Ericson Aug 2 '12 at 22:18

1 Answer 1

When I run across a post like that, I clean it up.

If you see a lot of "think you mean NOT instead of NOW don't you?" "yes, thanks, I'll edit" "good, it kind of makes a difference eh?" "sure does, thanks, fixed now" kind of chitchat you can flag them as obsolete - either one at a time or use an Other flag on the first one and explain all the comments are obsolete. If you see the same sort of thing but the OP doesn't know how to edit, you can do the edit yourself (or suggest it - be sure to explain in the edit comment that you are adding material from the comments since the OP doesn't appear to know how to) and then flag them all as obsolete.

I don't think code does a good job of detecting this, as witnessed by the number of exceptions you needed in your rule (and surely many more exceptions are actually needed), and even if it did, hiding these comments could make the question and answers appear to be mismatched and lead to downvotes for good answers. Humans are a lot better at this than code, and by cleaning it up you're making the internet better.

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I absolutely agree...on normal sites. SO is not normal since it has so many questions, answers, and comments. (But I would encourage you to consider what would happen if we had no comments at all. Would answers stand on their own?) –  Jon Ericson Mar 22 '13 at 20:17

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