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I know you want comments to be transient, temporary repositories of brief requests for clarification that should disappear when the parent post is edited to address the commenter's concerns... but, sorry, that simply isn't what happens in reality.

In reality, comments contain threads of text that may be valuable for any of the following reasons:

  • they add information to the post in a tangential fashion
  • they display hilarity and/or wit, brightening my day
  • they have lots of upvotes and this has happened because they deserved them
  • they were written by people who spent time doing so to add value to the parent post, possibly in the form of a little note or a pleasant remark

Comment threads that devolve into shameless name-calling should quite rightly be moderated away into oblivion, but I am not so sure about the marginally off-topic or ever-so-slightly-narky remarks that are more than slightly amusing, serving to lighten ones mood, but are then removed anyway … and take the comment thread's context with them!

Now, moderators can still see deleted comments, suggesting that these comments still exist in some reasonably convenient form in Stack Exchange's computer memory databanks.

Could 30k+ users be allowed to see deleted comments, please?

Let 874 of your finest programmer and developer friends indulge in a little illicit comment fun.
Go on, you know you want to...

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I like the idea of being able to see deleted comments. But I'm not sure about the 30k threshold. If anything, I'd lump it along with the rest of the 10k stuff. –  Mysticial May 28 '13 at 20:33
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Or even give 15k users something extra, other than protecting @Mysticial. –  ben is uǝq backwards May 28 '13 at 20:36
2  
Why does this need to be tied to rep? Everyone should be able to see comments deleted by moderators if they want to. –  Pubby May 28 '13 at 20:36
    
@ben: You could give a free spelling check for comments to all 13k users –  Lightness Races in Orbit May 28 '13 at 20:36
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Why not 50k+? It isn't that hard. –  hjpotter92 May 28 '13 at 20:37
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i think it's an excellent idea. but I wanna have something that only 210k+ users can do. else, what should I do all the rest of my SO lurking. –  Johannes Schaub - litb May 28 '13 at 20:37
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@return: Jon Skeet can already see them. He is Jon Skeet. It is the comments that cannot see Jon Skeet –  Lightness Races in Orbit May 28 '13 at 20:39
    
This could be the ultimate privilege. 1 Million rep users get to see the deleted comments. –  ʞunɥdɐpɐɥd May 28 '13 at 20:40
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Nope. 1M users should be able to see who upvoted/downvoted them. –  hjpotter92 May 28 '13 at 21:07
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Could we at least be able to see our own deleted comments? That would be nice. –  Richard J. Ross III May 28 '13 at 21:17
    
I want to see this original thread! –  Lightness Races in Orbit Jun 24 '13 at 22:27

4 Answers 4

The primary reason I delete comments is due to rude and abusive behavior. I'm not sure that I want everyone above a certain privilege level to see comments like that. Not only do those comments clutter up the post, they could also stir up trouble in the future.

I've known good users who lost their temper and said things they've regretted in comments (I know I have), and deletion of these comments made it so that a record of this wouldn't follow them permanently. Moderators can still look back to see if there's a pattern of behavior that needs to be addressed, but your average person doesn't need to see this. If these comments were still exposed to privileged users, I worry that temporary errors in judgment could lead to retaliation against a user for a long time afterward.

Looking back at comments that have been removed over the last couple of days, I see some obscene tirades, a number of language or platform flame wars, plenty of insults directed at various users, many things rendered obsolete by question and answer edits, and few comments of any lasting value. For the problems that exposing these comments would create, I don't see a lot that we would gain.

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5  
Who doesn't love a good flame war? Bring some corn kernels and you have free popcorn! –  Richard J. Ross III May 28 '13 at 21:17
    
But this is the same with questions and answers. –  Lightness Races in Orbit May 28 '13 at 23:35
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@LightnessRacesinOrbit No, it's not. Questions and answers can be edited. If you say something you later regret in them, you always have the option of removing it. True, it won't be completely removed, however there will be a revision history that will clearly show that you removed whatever it was you regretted saying. That's a luxury you don't have with comments. –  Yannis May 29 '13 at 0:03
    
@Yannis: True. Then you have follow-up comments which provide precisely the same. –  Lightness Races in Orbit May 29 '13 at 10:04
    
@LightnessRacesinOrbit ...and that's how you end up with a noisy comment thread that's not really useful to anyone... –  Yannis May 29 '13 at 19:58
    
@Yannis: I've seen few instances of this. Far more often I've seen entertaining or useful comment threads nuked by a moderator for being too "chatty" or, worse, individual comments removed, totally breaking the flow of the conversation. Conversations happen in comments - fact! –  Lightness Races in Orbit May 29 '13 at 21:56
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@LightnessRacesinOrbit you don't see the noisy useless and/or offensive comment threads because we remove them so quickly. Having all deleted content show up all the time can actually be kind of distracting. Far more spammy/pointless/rude comments (and spam answers, too) get removed than you likely realize. Which means the system works. –  nhinkle May 30 '13 at 6:39
    
@nhinkle: True, I have no data for that. But most comment activity takes place on new questions, and I'm usually present for that initial activity. It's not like I'm just popping onto the site for an hour or so every month and viewing historical things. –  Lightness Races in Orbit May 30 '13 at 13:01
    
@LightnessRacesinOrbit - I think you're overestimating the number of times that comments with any redeeming value at all are removed. Yes, we've had comment threads with useful content removed because of an out-of-control argument, and we've made mistakes in removing comments, but those incidents are relatively rare. Looking back at the nearly 800 comments I've deleted over the last month, maybe 5% of those weren't insults or pure noise. The remainder were generally made obsolete by edits, broken links, etc. I see very little worth saving in any of this, and a lot of trash. –  Brad Larson May 30 '13 at 15:03
    
@BradLarson: It doesn't happen all the time; I guess I'd just feel more "comfortable" somehow knowing that my heartfelt comments aren't at risk of just vanishing off the face of the earth at any moment, since it can happen. What is "worthy" to one person is not necessarily of the same value to someone else –  Lightness Races in Orbit May 30 '13 at 15:05
    
I could only support this for moderators, really. –  Jeff Atwood Jun 2 '13 at 10:14

I'm voting down on the grounds of prior expectation.

Comments that were posted and self-deleted may have been deleted for reasons of privacy. For example, if a user shares an email address in the comments and quickly deletes it, it is reasonable to presume that it was only seen by those present at the time (as well as moderators and operators). Or, a user may have had second thoughts about something he wrote or shared, for whatever reason.

I do not think such things need to be made visible to all "Trusted User" class members.

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I'm not sure we need to take people abusing comments as private messages into account. The comments system was never meant to be used that way. –  hammar May 28 '13 at 21:57
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You bring up a good point. Moderators have deleted many comments that included personal or compromising information which should not be made available to the public. We operated under the assumption that these would never be publicly visible, so devs weren't called in to scrub all records of these from the database. If this was now shown to all users above a certain threshold, we'd be forced to somehow go back and clean all of that up for good. Since we can't search comments, particularly deleted ones, that would be nearly impossible for us to do. –  Brad Larson May 29 '13 at 15:58
    
@hammar I see your point, but this example came to mind because I "abused" comments this way a few times myself when I was a new member. The lack of a private message system tempts one to do so. I do not wish to encourage such practice but I do wish to honor a reasonable expectation of privacy. Brad expressed this better than I could. –  Mr.Wizard May 30 '13 at 1:58

Just to build upon the good answers already given by Brad and Mr. Wizard, here is another take on it (excuse any mixing of metaphors).

While initially the request has a feel good flavour to it, it doesn't stand up to in depth scrutiny.

they add information to the post in a tangential fashion

These won't (shouldn't) be deleted. If they do add value to the question/answer then they should be edited in to that question/answer.

they display hilarity and/or wit, brightening my day

So do Dilbert and Cyanide and Happiness

they have lots of upvotes and this has happened because they deserved them

This in itself is no indication of their technical merit or necessity

they were written by people who spent time doing so to add value to the parent post, possibly in the form of a little note or a pleasant remark

They may have spent a whole 3.5 milliseconds churning out that comment. Or it may have taken them 5 minutes of deep philosophical thought. Either way it doesn't matter.

Comments are second class citizens on the site, they are not supposed to be an immutable historical commentary or record of fact.

Sure they still exist once deleted, but this is to enable moderators to research specific issues and/or to preserve context around issues. They are not kept so that they can be undeleted like questions and answers can be.

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Your bold conclusion is all well and good, but it totally side-steps the entire purpose of this feature request, which is to change that stance. "Let's stop treating comments as second-class citizens" "No, because we treat comments as second-class citizens" –  Lightness Races in Orbit May 29 '13 at 10:05
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@LightnessRacesinOrbit It has always been the intention of the site to treat comments like that. The value is in the questions/answers, not the comments; to give access to deleted comments simply because there may be something funny in them or because you want to observe a flame war deviates from that intention. You have failed to give us (SO) a compelling reason to change that policy. –  slugster May 29 '13 at 12:32
    
The compelling reason is that the reality has not matched up with the intention, no matter how much you wish it to be so. Also please avoid shouting at me with bold! –  Lightness Races in Orbit May 29 '13 at 12:33

You had me on all of your points, up until the very end. The point of Stack Exchange can't be just for mindless social fun, so if that's the motivation for wanting to see deleted comments, then I'd have to disagree with that reason. No one other than moderators and Stack Exchange employees need to see deleted comments.

In fact, moderators don't see deleted comments as a way to pass the time; instead, the ability to view deleted comments is a tool used to add context to situations that may or may not involve some form of moderator action. Moderators can't make objective decisions without knowing the full details of what has occurred. This ability is on a need-to-know basis, and that's really how it should continue to be.

With that said, I agree that comments shouldn't all be considered transient. On some of the more subjective sites, a few comments here and there -- in the form of a brief discussion -- actually help clarify great answers by giving an alternate interpretation. Or perhaps the brief discussion following a thought-provoking clarifying question can help convince us that the answer being discussed is the best one. This isn't exactly how comments were intended to be used, but on some sites, they add value, as long as the discussion doesn't turn into argument, debate, or extended discussion.

I've actually been trying to think of a feature request that makes comments become part of the answer, without actually editing them into the answer, drowning out any important points. Showing deleted comments isn't what I had in mind -- they're deleted for a reason -- but Stack Exchange would definitely benefit by rethinking how comments work on some sites, adding them as part of the answer, but without actually adding them to the answer...

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1  
I look forward to seeing what you propose. –  Mr.Wizard May 30 '13 at 7:24
    
Sometimes they're deleted for a bad reason, and then they are invisible to everybody, breaking the thread and completely wasting the time of everybody who gave it freely to compose them; there's little more offensive than that. –  Lightness Races in Orbit May 30 '13 at 12:59
    
Lightness, do you see this on meta? Or are you talking about other SE sites? –  jmort253 May 30 '13 at 14:30

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