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Substantive discussion is content which is about the subject matter of SO. It gives readers information that is independent of SO. If a change in SO would affect the relevance of a particular piece of content, then that content is not substantive.

Procedural discussion is about the relationship between content and SO itself. It teaches readers how to use SO. If a change in the world outside SO would affect the relevance of a piece of content, then that content is not procedural.

Similarly, substantive discussion on Meta is about SO, and procedural discussion on Meta is about Meta.

Examples of substantive content: code snippets, comments like "is that a typo?", and solutions to problems. Examples of procedural content: comments like "this is more appropriate for serverfault because you asked about load balancing in general instead of implementation in a specific language", "asking us to debug hundreds of lines of code isn't helpful for other readers", or "your answer is more of an advertisement than a recommendation based on what the asker actually asked."

When the two categories of content are combined, it looks messy. In active questions, it can be necessary to look through several comments to find procedural notes. It gets worse when someone replies to your procedural comment and there is substantive content in between your comment and the reply or when a comment on the original question and a comment on one of the answers relate to each other. Furthermore, when I'm reading a question that I didn't ask, I'm annoyed when I have to read procedural content that does nothing for the scope of knowledge that I intended to expand when I clicked on the question title.

I suggest a division between substantive and procedural content. Possible implementation: have a "normal mode" which is identical to the current interface, and a new mode that locks controls on the question itself, answers, and comments, and grays substantive content. In this mode, users can write procedural comments which appear in red and are hidden in "normal mode". They appear before all substantive comments on their respective questions/answers.

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So you want a meta module on each question? –  random Aug 6 '12 at 23:52
    
Basically, yes. I think it's messy to discuss specific questions in meta and the precedent seems to be that meta questions specific to SO questions are too localized unless they relate to a common theme. I also think per-question and per-answer comment threads are cleaner than a separate question, along with its own answers. –  Jordan Aug 6 '12 at 23:54

3 Answers 3

This sounds overly complex, minimally useful, and would be another thing that people would use incorrectly. It would create another class of activity that would have to be reviewed (or the distinction would break down and become pointless) and will likely exacerbate the perceived problem it is attempting to solve.

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No.

First, the only place that procedural content appears on SO is in comments, which can and should be (and are) cleaned up when they are no longer relevant (code has been added to question, answer has been expanded from bare link, question has been closed (then deleted)). Comments are already displayed as auxiliary content.

Second, this content is important. Every Meta post about question closure asks "Why was this closed? Where in the guidelines does it say this? Why didn't anyone comment and tell me why they voted to close?" (Including both of yours.)

Procedural content has a place in the main interface. It is certainly secondary, but it is extremely important for (especially new) users to be able to see guidance on using the site, out in the open.

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In fact any "procedural" comments that matter really ought to be visible to everyone all the time.

And that means that disputes over the propriety of such material also should be visible.

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