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I provided one of two answers to a question of a new user. A day later, the user had written a "Thanks!" comment to both answers, and accepted the other answer.

From there, I ended up in a meta-conversation about using stackoverflow with the new user. This may have been useful for the user, but it also created a lengthy thread of off-topic comments. Once I was sure that the new user had read the thread, I decided that the comments are obsolete and flagged the post to have the entire comment thread deleted.

Do you think that this was the right thing to do? Or what would you have done differently? Keep in mind that the new user still had less than 15 reputation.


In case this is of interest, this was the gist of the comment tread:

  • OP: "Thanks!"
  • Me: "If you like an answer, vote it up and/or accept it." (My mistake: I could have known that the user is not allowed to upvote.)
  • OP: "Sorry, not allowed to upvote. Already accepted the answer that was given 11 hours before yours." (I know a fast answer may be the best one for the OP, but I still replied with...)
  • Me: "You know you may change the accepted answer?"
  • Someone else: "Haha, I will upvote your answer."
  • OP: "Have more reputation now, upvoted both answers."
share|improve this question
    
Seems reasonable to me. –  Al E. Sep 5 '12 at 14:05
    
There is heated discussion already and looks like moderators don't like comments that are not 100% related to the post itself, so following their lead I'd say: you should not guide new users as this is considered noise. We should trust them to learn it all by themselves. (grunt) –  Shadow Wizard Sep 5 '12 at 14:08
3  
@ShaWizDowArd To be fair a) I'm currently the single moderator that is presenting this view, there are fourteen others who have not chimed in and b) the system does prod people to participate in using the features of the system. It's noise because the message is already being delivered via other means which don't pollute the content itself (which is much better, IMO). I think the proper thing to do is ask to have these prods increased in frequency or visibility by the system to the user, not to have users litter questions with comments; we're just creating more work for ourselves. –  casperOne Sep 5 '12 at 14:48
2  
@casperOne what about educating the long time users to delete their comments after a while? For example after posting comment explaining about accepting delete it if they actually accepted the answer, or after one day anyway. More work to the users, less work for the moderators - I will gladly start doing it. Done - deleted several such comments from the recent months. –  Shadow Wizard Sep 5 '12 at 15:29
1  
@ShaWizDowArd I'm only against that because it's not behavior that can be enforced widely (except through moderation) or that users will engage in for the most part. Honestly, there are too many comments from too many users. –  casperOne Sep 5 '12 at 15:31
1  
It sounds like this particular user already had a fair idea of how the system works. –  Robert Harvey Sep 5 '12 at 20:43
    
maybe there should be more 'noise' for new users by the system, to remind then along theri first steps, how everythink works. I like these boxes "you don't have enough rep ...", but there could also be some reminders to think about accepting/upvoting/etc. like a build in tutorial, until you've done those things or earned enough rep or the FAQ-badge ^^ –  Jook Sep 6 '12 at 14:32

3 Answers 3

up vote 0 down vote accepted

Leaving comments specifically for guiding a new user can be a good thing, because the addressee as well as future new users can learn from it.

However it is important that the comment really helps the addressee. So don't try to teach people about what they already know (e.g. check if they have accepted answers before), or what is not useful for them (like instructions about voting if they have less than 15 reputation).

Also ask yourself: What does the new user need to know about SO to make SO work? IMHO, knowing how to give basic feedback is enough. So in most cases (at least from now on), I only tell new users about accepting answers, and that they can edit their question in case they are getting the wrong answers. They don't need to know that they can change an accepted answer, or even how the voting works – SO will work great anyways.

Note that all this is only about guiding meta-comments. I obviously also comment to ask for clarification if needed, and edit questions to show the new users how to make questions more readable.


I originally had my comment templates posted here, but they got deleted during a clean-up. I still think they could be useful to others, so I'm posting them again here.

Next steps after asking a question

  • Situation: There are multiple good answers, none is accepted

    ${user} - Welcome to Stack Overflow! There are people who have tried to answer your question. If this helped you, you can tell the community so by accepting the answer that was most useful for you. Otherwise, you may need to clarify your question by editing it.

    Copy & paste template: Welcome to Stack Overflow! There are people who have tried to answer your question. If this helped you, you can tell the community so by [accepting](http://meta.stackexchange.com/a/5235/191131) the answer that was most useful for you. Otherwise, you may need to clarify your question by editing it.

  • Situation: I believe I have answered the question, the OP has not reacted, but I think she has probably seen the answer:

    ${user} - Welcome to Stack Overflow! I have tried to answer your question. If this helped you, you can tell me and the community so by accepting the answer. Otherwise, you could also wait for more answers and/or clarify your question by editing it.

    Copy & paste template: Welcome to Stack Overflow! I have tried to answer your question. If this helped you, you can tell me and the community so by [accepting](http://meta.stackexchange.com/a/5235/191131) the answer. Otherwise, you could also wait for more answers and/or clarify your question by editing it.

  • Situation: The OP has responded with "Thanks" to one or multiple answers, but none is accepted

    ${user} - Welcome to Stack Overflow! Your comments indicate that the answers helped you. Instead of writing this in a comment, you should accept the answer which was most useful to you. Also note that you can always delete your own comments.

    Copy & paste template: Welcome to Stack Overflow! Your comments indicate that the answers helped you. Instead of writing this in a comment, you should [accept](http://meta.stackexchange.com/a/5235/191131) the answer which was most useful to you. Also note that you can always delete your own [comments](http://meta.stackexchange.com/a/19757/191131).

share|improve this answer

You should refrain from posting "meta-comments", i.e. comments about using the site. These comments are noise and may distract from other, more valuable comments which help improving or understanding the post itself.

Also posting these comments only temporarily (i.e. with the intent to remove them later) doesn't work because meta-comments often spawn a conversation thread. You don't have the permission to delete the entire thread, causing extra work for the moderators to clean them up.

Instead, the system should guide new users to take appropriate actions. See this question to for what the system currently already does, and feel free to propose improvements as questions here on meta.

UPDATE: While the system may be able to give better guidance than it does today (e.g. proposed here), humans will always be even better at it. Therefore I proposed a new feature that would allow experienced users to tell new users about the features of the site, without having to leave off-topic meta-comments.

share|improve this answer
3  
Leaving guiding comments to users to help them understand how to use the system is something that is discussed in Theory of Moderation, and is one of the tools we have at our disposal for guiding new users. This shouldn't be marked as noise if it helps people understand the rules of the site. –  jmort253 Sep 9 '12 at 18:54
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jmort253, having read the detailed explanation of your argument, I am now convinced that a moderate use of guiding comments is good :-) –  oberlies Sep 12 '12 at 8:13

In similar circumstances, I post this comment (and then don't get drawn into discussions about it, and I live with the fact that users will sometimes accept someone else's answer despite mine being better):

Welcome to Stack Overflow. Please note that the preferred way of saying 'thanks'
around here is by up-voting good questions and helpful answers (once you have enough
reputation to do so), and by accepting the most helpful answer to any question you ask
(which also gives you a small boost to your reputation). Please see the
[FAQ](http://stackoverflow.com/faq) and especially
[How do I ask questions here?](http://stackoverflow.com/faq#howtoask)

I suspect that I could drop the URL after [FAQ], but I have a trivial shell script that echoes that text which I then copy'n'paste into the comment box.

I did recently get accused of using this too quickly, about 10 minutes after the question was posted. However, the person asking had 6 (or so) other questions asked over a period of 7 months (or so), which I pointed out; I was granted a "Fair enough; I didn't check that" response.

If the circumstances warrant, I tune the message — most frequently for 'you are expected to put some effort in before you ask a question'. But the standard Welcome message above is what I use most often.

share|improve this answer
    
[faq], on it's own points to the faq, and [ask], to How to Ask; though I don't use that as much because the capitalisation annoys me. –  ben is uǝq backwards Sep 9 '12 at 22:10
    
You are right: Changing an accepted answer is a too advanced topic - I should not have commented about this. –  oberlies Sep 12 '12 at 10:01

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