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I came across this question and at the time there were no suggested answers. After reading Mark Hubbart's comment (at the time with four upvotes), which was the correct answer, and seeing that it had been over 30 minutes since his comment, I figured I would provide that answer in my own words, which I did. My answer is longer, and I think more rounded and more useful, but the core of the answer came from the comment. I have no idea if I'd have thought up the answer on my own--a definite maybe to that.

Now had I tried to be "honorable" or something, such as instead of answering, suggesting to the commenter that he make his comment an answer, I would only have accomplished giving away easy rep to some other user not as into gratuitous self-denial.

The commenter had merely to enter his comment into an answer box instead of a comment box! It was his choice! Whether he was too lazy or didn't think his answer worthwhile or some other reason is not my responsibility. Must I bend over backward to help him earn points that he so carelessly left lying around for another person to take? It just took a tiny bit of non-laziness on my part to get my text typed into the box that would reward me instead of the box that wouldn't.

If my perspective is incorrect and the community would rather see such answers-as-comments rewarded and supported, I will gladly accept that. In the meantime, I just want to shake off the tiny bit of guilt my overly-nice and overly-concerned-with-propriety self is feeling. :)

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I'm curious if anyone else has perspectives different from Asad's. –  ErikE Dec 7 '12 at 8:18
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You have nothing to feel bad about. –  Tim Post Dec 7 '12 at 8:52
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Personally I occasionally post something answer-like as a comment when I don't have the time (or desire) to post a full answer. I am perfectly fine with someone taking that and turning it into an answer (especially if they expand on the concept a little bit more than my answer does). I even mention that in my profile on SO. –  Joachim Sauer Dec 7 '12 at 9:16
    
Great question. With this in mind, I may do a bit of comments-into-answers myself. It drives me crazy to see so many "unanswered" questions lying around with the answer in the comments. –  Duncan Dec 7 '12 at 9:30
    
I am really curious about the downvotes. Could someone explain why? –  ErikE Dec 7 '12 at 18:42
    
@ErikE The downvotes flow pretty freely here on Meta. Someone could downvote just because they don't like the tone in which you asked or whatever, and I think that is part of the fun. Don't take it so seriously. –  Asad Dec 7 '12 at 21:26
    
@Asad "meta" "part of the fun" ;P –  Emrakul Jun 2 at 21:16
    
When faced with a similar situation, I typically post a comment suggesting that the previous commenter should post an answer. I might post an answer myself if they haven't done so after a reasonable time. (I'm not saying you need to do this, and one could certainly argue that your approach is better.) –  Keith Thompson Jun 2 at 21:32
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2 Answers

up vote 16 down vote accepted

You don't have anything to feel guilty about. If the person was interested in writing and maintaining an answer, they would have done so. If it was in fact the correct answer it's hardly likely that they would be the only one to think of it.

Doing what you did by expanding it into a proper answer is perfectly fine. The question came off the unanswered list, the answer exists in a much more articulated state to help future visitors and at the end of the day everyone wins.

If we were honestly concerned about this, moderators would have the ability to convert comments into answers. That's not going to happen. Comments are, in fact, ephemeral; useful nuggets they contain should be moved to a more permanent place.

Don't think too much of it. If you really want to alleviate this misplaced sense of guilt, add something like this to the bottom of your answer:

Additional credit goes to Mark Hubbart who first spotted this in comments.

Still, the bulk of the work was your own.

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Thank you for taking the time to chip in! –  ErikE Dec 7 '12 at 11:21
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You're over thinking this. A question has been asked, an answer has been provided, and if your only contribution is to move the correct answer to the appropriate channel, it is no less a valuable contribution.

As long as you elucidate the underlying concept thoroughly and properly format your post, you're doing the community a favor by posting this answer. It would also be nice if you mentioned the person who wrote the comment.

If, on the other hand, if it is clear to you that the commenter has revealed a partial solution in the process of clarifying something, and he/she means to post an answer, the gracious thing to do is to give them a bit of time to post it.

The bottom line here is this: if being "honorable" is preventing the question from getting answered, do us a favor and be "dishonorable". Getting the question answered is the first priority.

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Are there any rules as to whether this should be community-wiki or not? –  hexafraction Dec 7 '12 at 1:30
    
@ObsessiveSSOℲ That differs from answer to answer. Coming up with hard and fast rules for this would be nearly impossible, but the general rules of good taste apply in taking credit for what is yours and not taking credit for what isn't. If you feel you didn't add anything significant, and making it CW helps you sleep better, go for it. –  Asad Dec 7 '12 at 1:35
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@ObsessiveSSOℲ do not use CW for this, it's not a proper use anymore. You've done the work to elaborate on the comment, not the person who posted the comment. Community wiki is for those rare, rare posts where you have multiple people collaborating on a post, something that doesn't happen often on the sites (as its usually an indicator that there's something wrong with the question). –  casperOne Dec 7 '12 at 1:51
    
Your answer is very indirect. You've hinted that I did not do the community a favor (by not crediting) and that I was ungracious (by not waiting for the commenter to come back). Is that what you are trying to say? –  ErikE Dec 7 '12 at 3:46
    
@ErikE I've rephrased the part about giving credit. About the ungracious part: were you certain the commenter was about to post an answer? That's a pretty underhand thing to do. Note that this in no way diminishes the utility of your answer. –  Asad Dec 7 '12 at 8:02
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In this case, I saw no intent on the part of the commenter to post an answer. It looked like a drive-by comment and 30 minutes had elapsed. If I see someone truly investing time to quiz a questioner and extract more detail, then I may very well step aside. But that was not the case. Your revised answer is clearer to me. Thank you for the clarification. –  ErikE Dec 7 '12 at 8:15
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