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Comments are useful. Many, many posts need some small amount of meta discussion, and comments fulfill this need.

Comments are also noisy and distracting. Occasionally, someone will post an insightful and informative comment that complements the post its attached to... But more often, they're tangential, quickly irrelevant and in the way: stale comments show up first, making newer comments less visible.

The guidance here for a long time has been that comments are transient, "temporary Post-It notes". And yet, some do hang around for months or years because cleaning them up is a tedious, unrewarding job.

So let's fix that.

I propose that all comments older than 7 days be hidden by default unless the comment has been up-voted in the past 30 days. Hidden comments should be indicated by a note below the post ("add / show 3 more comments") and made visible to anyone who cares to click it.

This doesn't destroy anything, but it would get it out of the way of most readers - and hopefully encourage folks to edit it into the actual answers as a result.

Note: I previously suggested this here. Other similar ideas have been floated in the past. However, I'm not suggesting that comments be automatically deleted, and they should be hidden based purely on the age / activity of the comment itself, not of the post to which they're attached.

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I must admit, I was against this whole "temporary comments" concept when I first saw such suggestions but over time and with your insightful explanation, I changed my opinion. Kudos for just hiding and not deleting! –  Shadow Wizard May 30 '13 at 7:29
If this is implemented, please make it so that direct links to comments automatically unhide the target comment. –  Awesome Poodles May 30 '13 at 10:49
Direct links to comments already work that way, @awesome - they expand ALL comments on a post. –  Shog9 May 30 '13 at 12:56
Is this likely to be implemented soon? –  Toby Allen Aug 3 '13 at 7:41

3 Answers 3

up vote 20 down vote

The one important case where I want to have a comment always visible is when it points out some significant flaw in the answer, and the author of the answer disagrees or doesn't care enough to correct the flaw. Those comments should not be hidden as they provide some important information and incorporating them into the answer is not really possible against the authors will.

It might make sense to leave significantly (>1, maybe 3+ or so) upvoted comments always visible, to address this case. Of course this also means that joke comments will be often visible too, but I don't see any way to distinguish between "upvoted because useful" and "upvoted because funny".

But in general I agree with this idea, flagging doesn't scale to solve this problem and deleting indiscriminately causes too much collateral damage. Hiding comments achieves the signal to noise goal, and doesn't destroy information.

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Good point, I'll go with letting moderator "stick" a comment making it always visible plus adding new comment flag reason "this comment should be permanent" to notify moderators of such comments. This way it won't be automatic and joke comments won't stick around. –  Shadow Wizard May 30 '13 at 8:10
I really don't want this, because then it reverts back to manually having to indicate that the comment should be "stickied". This is a ridiculous amount of work for moderators over something that really has no value. If the comment is meaningful, then other people will see it and vote it up. If people aren't seeing it, it means that other answers are more highly upvoted and it's not an issue anyways because the other answers are vastly superior and push the erroneous post to the bottom of the page. –  casperOne May 30 '13 at 12:18
@ShaWizDowArd Anything that isn't automatic is just too much additional work and complexity. And there is still flagging for cases with an excessive number of joke or otherwise distracting comments. –  Mad Scientist May 30 '13 at 12:21
I'm fine with doing this as long as it's based on a vote threshold. 3 might be a bit low, but I expect we'll tweak all of these numbers (7,30) based on observed behavior. –  Shog9 May 30 '13 at 12:56
The problem with hard-wiring vote thresholds is that any number that makes sense for the big three is practically unattainable for small betas, and anything that works on small betas will flood bigger sites. A moderator should always have the option to pin a comment, overriding the automatic (unattainable) threshold. I've seen the "wrong answer, correcting comment, answerer who refuses to address" pattern too often to want to let those comments disappear from casual view. –  Monica Cellio May 30 '13 at 14:27
@Yannis, I already up-voted that, but this is a little different: if somebody else made the argument, I (as a mod) want to be able to promote that comment rather than having to write one myself saying "see what that other guy said (but you'll have to click through)". –  Monica Cellio May 30 '13 at 21:58
This is silly. If you make a comment that is that important or someone else thinks it is, simply edit the comment into the question or answer. That is what the editing privilege is for. Old comments get in the way they need to be hidden. –  Toby Allen Aug 3 '13 at 7:39

I like the idea of hiding older inactive comments by default and I think Mad Scientist nailed an important caveat, showing comments with a significant number of up-votes.

In addition I would like to see a "This comment will self destruct" option, so that when users leave comments that they know in advance will be transient, they have the option to explicitly make them temporary and self deleting.

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I know that similar things have been suggested before: here, here, and here.

If the goal is to clean up the noise, why not give users another tool to do it voluntarily?

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hmm... this might be possible to do from a userscript. It would be unreliable, however, because said user's browser would have to store the deletion note for the entire time, and then actually come back to SO. –  Jan Dvorak Aug 3 '13 at 8:19

As an example of why this feature needs to implemented, I give you

Why shouldn't I use mysql_* functions in PHP?

This is an old useful question / answer that can be linked to from lots of other questions where people ask mysql_* questions, or from the wider internet.

Instead of seeing the first very comprehensive and intelligent answer they see a whole load of snarky irrelevant and unhelpful comments. These comments serve no purpose to anyone at this stage.


I would add to Shog9 proposal above the following.

On questions older than 6 months with 10+ upvotes, all comments on the question (not necessarily answers) should be hidden.

Can we please hide them?

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