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Please note that this privilege is geared towards smaller sites. It would not work on SO ;-)

I recently saw Encourage field veterans to participate on SE more by imbuing them with an initial honorary rep starting point? , and it got me thinking.

What are the privileges really required by a field veteran, or any new participant at that, to be able to contribute well in terms of posting? I could only think of one--commenting.

Voting is fine, but one can do without it (and you earn the upvote priv pretty early). The new user restrictions go away fast. Meta participation, flagging, chat, aren't that necessary either.

The only tool that is really helpful to new users is commenting. Commenting lets them get clarification from question authors, and answer posts better. I have seen the rep requirements for this privilege being discussed many times on MSO, and I sometimes find myself agreeing, though not with the particular case. When it's SO, it's easy to get 50 rep. There are enough answerable questions lying around.

On smaller sites, not that easy. There are sometimes very few visible answerable questions on the front page. Also, it really isn't made clear that you need to earn rep to be able to comment. What I visualize is this: User sees post. Users feels like answering. User needs clarification. User has no clue how to get it. User posts it as answer. Moderator converts to comment (I have been doing this quite often on Chem).

The only argument for the comment rep requirement is to prevent spam and forum-y nonsense. But has it ever been tested out on a smaller site? There is no evidence, currently, supporting that this will indeed happen to a problematic degree on smaller sites.

What I suggest is:

  • Allow moderators to adjust the rep requirement for commenting to suit their community size. If it creates any problems, they can always increase it. Only registered users should get the benefit of the loosened rep requirements (unregistered users--the possibility of spamming is just too much)
  • Possibly add a simple page to /tools or /admin that lets one see the recent comments made by users with <50 rep. This will help gauge how well it it working.
  • Possibly let moderators give users explicit commenting privs, similar to how it works in chat. This partially solves the "field veterans" issue. If the comment threshhold is greater than one, mods can grant the priv to new users who use the answer box for legitimate comments.

Maybe this might not be good as a full-fledged feature, but it might be nice to use it as an experiment--see how reducing the rep requirements (maybe even to 1) affects smaller sites.

Meta, what say?

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The more I think about this, the more it reminds me of the bear tax. We have to keep paying it, because look, no bears! –  Aaron Bertrand Jul 9 '13 at 1:30

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Clarification needed is a bad question "smell"

If you want to micromanage your budding community like this, focus on getting questions into a state where they can be answered without needing further clarification!

A site full of unanswered, unclear questions is a problem in and of itself, and expanding the ability to comment does little to aid in this.

Comments are a terrible end-goal for a Q&A site

Worse, this strategy sends the wrong message to both askers and answerers, implying that the onus is on those providing information to draw out sufficient detail to answer, and perhaps even discouraging the sort of comprehensive answers that can serve as guides to folks who don't understand the problems they face well enough to know what specific details to look for... A site full of extremely specific, localized questions clogged with troubleshooting back-and-forth in the comments isn't necessarily something to aim for either!

Where everyone waves at you as you walk down the street, and Aunt Bee always has a pie cooling in the window as you pass by on the way to Floyd's for a shave and the latest gossip

Finally, there's already a perfectly good work-around for this: any new user can post an answer, regardless of reputation. If that happens to be nothing more than a request for clarification on an unanswered question, moderators have the option to convert them into comments. This isn't something to encourage mind you, but if it happens once or twice while a new user is figuring out how the site works, well... No harm done.

The big advantage of being part of a "small town" site is that you can afford to relax a bit when it comes to this stuff, take the time to talk to new users and give them an introduction rather than reflex-deleting their slightly out-of-place posts and then suspending them for 10 years. So... make the most of it!

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This....makes sense. The last part sounds like a hack, but it doesn't happen that often so that's OK. Either way, I haven't had much of a problem with this since I posted the question; it seems like the community is (usually) posting good comments and making edits. (Much more than I remember, anyway) –  Manishearth Jul 8 '13 at 21:36
It'd be a hack to do it on a larger site, sure - but we'd be insane to want this on a larger site. There's an argument to be made for trying to work more of this guidance into the system itself on larger sites, but that's at best a pale imitation of the sort of personal attention that is not only possible but essential on smaller sites. –  Shog9 Jul 8 '13 at 21:39
My goal for allowing comments for lower rep users who have also demonstrated the ability to post a constructive comment (e.g. an answer that was converted to a comment also converts the user into a commenter before they hit 50 rep, at the discretion of the moderator of course) is not to have a permanent record of the back-and-forth and sussing out of details. It's more about enabling a new user to ask questions on an existing post without having to resort to less natural tactics like posting an answer that asks a question. –  Aaron Bertrand Jul 8 '13 at 22:39
We have plenty of users with way more than 50 rep that post a lot more comments than they should, and I doubt many of those are clarification requests. (And I only say that to demonstrate that earning rep is not necessarily in line with the ability to be a good judge of when to post a comment.) Comments are already a lot of noise in many cases, and I think the rep requirement thwarts the right type of comments (temporary ones from well-meaning information seekers) more than it thwarts the wrong type of comments (noise or clarification comments that quickly become obsolete). –  Aaron Bertrand Jul 8 '13 at 22:44
@Aaron: y'all average maybe 3 "not answers" a day on DBA; building a complicated parallel moderation system for 3 answers a day doesn't really seem worth it. If you want to help these folks, talk to them. Anyway, by volume low-rep users post a lot more comments - which just makes sense, since there are more of them. High-rep users post a lot more comments each, but... There are a lot fewer of them. Ignoring the per-user volume of comments, it's simply a lot easier to deal with large volumes of users if the damage they can do is limited. –  Shog9 Jul 8 '13 at 23:01
Yeah my interest is not about moderation overhead or management, and not even about volume, more like making new users feel a little more welcome and not using convoluted and unintuitive workarounds to post a legitimate comment (regardless of permanence). Again I think the potential for misuse on our little site is a far cry from the much more potent result it would have on SO, and I think we can afford to have some more lenience in this area. –  Aaron Bertrand Jul 9 '13 at 0:10
I'd be happy with a drop in the rep requirement on our site in lieu of a more complicated moderation system, I just think that - were it feasible - it would be a good check + balance. But honestly I prefer the removal of the limitation altogether. –  Aaron Bertrand Jul 9 '13 at 0:13
@Aaron: If you want folks to feel welcome, then greet them and help them accomplish their goals. The potential for abuse is high everywhere - as utterly insane as it would be on SO simply due to its scale, a site like DBAs wouldn't exactly be in a great position either: imagine every question is a blog post, with anonymous commenting enabled and effectively no moderation tools. –  Shog9 Jul 9 '13 at 0:15
I wasn't necessarily advocating a free-for-all on questions or anonymous commenting (this is why I asked earlier today about the difference between a registered and unregistered account). I also feel like an idea that has been batted around hasn't gotten enough attention: a queue of some kind showing recent comments by low rep users. That way people who want to encourage good comments and discourage bad ones, on their own site, can proactively moderate them. –  Aaron Bertrand Jul 9 '13 at 0:27
And I get that I can talk to every new user and guide them etc. It just seems the "solution" in this case is to tell them to get 50 rep, and until they have it, post comments as answers and we'll convert them. It just seems weird to me. –  Aaron Bertrand Jul 9 '13 at 0:36
@Aaron: you have, it appears, a couple of blogs... Do you moderate the comments on them yourself? If so, you know the sorts of cruft they tend to attract - and they probably do have some sort of spam filtering or other such automated moderation system. Comments don't. They've always been very light-weight, and as a result we've avoided having to build the sorts of "heavy" moderation systems that are needed for, say, questions and answers. –  Shog9 Jul 9 '13 at 0:38
And this is what it boils down to: even if we wanted to encourage more comments from new users (which... I really, really do not) doing so would require a significant investment in tooling... And frankly, it would be better invested in the tooling for questions and answers, since those are by and large far more valuable and perpetually in need of better tooling. New users can always comment on their own posts - you can engage them in a conversation in that venue, if you so desire... Just as we're doing right now. If that doesn't suffice, perhaps a Q&A site isn't what they really need. –  Shog9 Jul 9 '13 at 0:40
Okay, you win (again). The current system is perfect. shrug –  Aaron Bertrand Jul 9 '13 at 0:44
Probably worth noting at this point that a "comment review queue" isn't a bad idea, and kinda exists in the form of the "most commented" list in the 10k tools and related flags generated for 10K+ users and moderators. Reworking this at some point to give better visibility to various comment "triggers" could provide some benefit. That said, throwing every low-rep comment in there - even now - probably isn't practical; there are a lot of them, even on a site the size of DBA. –  Shog9 Jul 9 '13 at 0:53

If this is going to be implemented, it should apply to all of the new user restrictions applicable to users with less than 50 reputation. One of the jobs of a moderator on a new site is helping to promote that site, getting an expert on the site and participating is something that should be as easy as possible, especially if the expert has a finite amount of time to give.

Presumably, if a moderator elects to remove these restrictions, she is in direct contact with the user, if not actively assisting them when it comes to using the site and understanding the conventions of its community. It's also assumed that both the moderator and the expert are not tragically spaced out clods. I don't see the need to allow moderators to tweak the default thresholds, or for an additional review queue. If you, as a moderator, lift these restrictions - you become responsible for the user's actions until they acquire 50 rep.

To be clear, I'm speaking only of the < 50 reputation restrictions. Answers posted in an extremely rapid succession by any user is cause to raise an eyebrow. This feature would (as you indicated) mostly just grant access to the comment feature immediately, and not slow someone down when their first few posts contain several citations.

The use case I'm looking at is a pro-tem moderator that is successful in getting a renowned expert to spend a few hours answering questions on their site. Think in the context of someone convincing Noam Chomsky to spend an hour answering questions on Politics SE. I can see how the most basic of the new user restrictions would get in the way more than help. This very unlikely scenario also speaks to the use case of this feature - it should be reserved for only exceptional cases.

It seems like it's worth trying, provided that it doesn't result in yet another discussion about why we can't have nice things.

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"provided that it doesn't result in yet another discussion about why we can't have nice things" This is the real reason why we can't have nice things. –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Dec 7 '12 at 4:23
Why should we restrict it to special cases? Let's say a 1 rep user posts a comment asking for clarification in the form of an answer. It's obvious the guy wants to help, I see no harm in converting to comment and granting the priv. For the reduced rep requirements part, it's not really a new review queue. It's just a list of the recent such comments posted, on a small site that would take less than a minute to go through (even if the requirement was set at 1). –  Manishearth Dec 7 '12 at 11:13
@Manishearth I think that's getting a little too far into short circuiting system restrictions. It's not difficult to earn enough reputation to leave a comment. A site in public beta should have at least a hundred questions one could conceivably answer without clarification. I think you're seeing not having the ability to comment as somehow having training wheels off, when in fact it's actually the reverse. However, I like the idea of being able to do it in exceptional cases where the restrictions would be an unnecessary hindrance to a proven expert that agreed to help. –  Tim Post Dec 7 '12 at 11:44
But Tim, regarding your comment (and not your answer) what about users who want to comment for other reasons than seeking clarification in order to help answer? Such as pointing out an issue in an answer (and lacking the confidence or knowledge to use the editing tools to suggest an edit)? Should they really go answer 5 questions and wait for an upvote on each before pointing out the problem? I truly like the idea of letting a moderator manually flip a switch to turn on the comment privilege for a user who has demonstrated that ability; they can be more useful than the general consensus shows. –  Aaron Bertrand Jul 8 '13 at 22:49

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