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I've seen so many should-be-a-comment "edits" or "answers" in the review queues by new users, and it's pretty obvious that to them this was the only way to somehow interact with a question due to their lack of allowance to leave a comment. And sometimes (just sometimes) this comment would contribute something useful. So it's a shame to waste reviewers' time to first figure out that a suggested "edit" / "answer" should actually be a comment and then not exactly having tools to turn the former into an actual comment.

If the new user would instead have had the possibility to clearly indicate that they wanted to leave a comment which would then be put into a simple "comments (by low-rep users)" review queue, where reviewers could maybe even leave one of the (more specific) automated comments à la "You should ask this as a new question" (where new question might even not only link to the "ask question" site but put the users comment into the title or body). And until approval the comment would by default by hidden by a "on hold" line that only higher-rep users, say >500, could toggle to view (and vote to approve directly in place).

This is typical practice in many blogs' comments, and I think since we're community reviewing anyway this might be improve the hijacking situation.

edit Note that by design those automated comments would not need to trigger a notification to the post's OP but only to the commenter. Whether the un-reviewed comment should already trigger a notification to the OP or not is a different question. I propose not, since the obvious once-in-a-while spam comment would be easier detected by a reviewer who is currently concentrating on specifically determining the validity of a comment. edit2 As noted in the comments these auto-replies should not clutter the original post - once a comment has been determined "Actually I want to ask a new question" they (and the reply) won't show up below the post except for the original commenter who will also be notified if they registered.


In summary:

  • Low-rep user posts a comment -> Below the post there will be a "1 comment under review" link and that comment will be added to the comment-review queue (see images below). No notification will be triggered for the OP, since the high likelihood of an unjustified comment was the reason for comments originally not being post-able by just anyone
  • If a reviewer approves the comment, it will show up like any usual comment and now a notification to the OP (and @replied-to users) will be sent
  • If a reviewer rejects the comment (with an optional reason as reply), it won't be shown below the original post as "under review" anymore. It, together with the reply, will be visible to the original commenter who will be notified, but no one else will be bothered by it
  • edit3 As per Arjan's suggestion: The commenter will not be able to post further comments until their comment is either reviewed or self-deleted. As Tim Post suggested, a negative review/flag should refute that user's ability to comment any more (or reduce a very low contingent of unreviewed comments allowed)

Review queue mockup

Comments under review below post mockup

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Presusably such replys would go through the notification system rather than being attached to the question –  Richard Tingle Jul 2 '13 at 7:25
    
@RichardTingle good point. TobiasKienzler time to clean up our discussion ;) –  Mołot Jul 2 '13 at 7:26
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@RichardTingle I'd rather say below the post there'd be a 3 comment(s) under review without having them in the notification queue, and they could be reviewed by either clicking on that line or by using a new comment queue in the sites reviews. Or should they only be in the review queue and not visible below a post at all until approval? –  Tobias Kienzler Jul 2 '13 at 7:28
    
people should take more time and make sure we can understand their questions, specially those 1st timers => and not spam the comments explaining what he meant - its just dumb –  user221081 Jul 2 '13 at 9:16
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@mehow This is not about 1st timers posting bad questions but about a 1st timer who'd e.g. like to answer a question but notices that a detail is missing, or who finds a caveat in an existing answer –  Tobias Kienzler Jul 2 '13 at 9:19
    
@RichardTingle I edited in how to potentially treat this: 1) No notification to OP and @-replied to users until a comment is approved 2) if it's rejected, only the commenter will see their comment and the reply both below the post and in their inbox. Does this cover your concerns? –  Tobias Kienzler Jul 2 '13 at 9:36
    
@TobiasKienzler Perfect, +1 (technically I +1d earlier) –  Richard Tingle Jul 2 '13 at 9:45
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It really is frustrating for a new user to see everybody else commenting and not being able to do the same. By having a review system, we also "train" them as to the appropriate use for comments and hopefully end up with better overall comments in the future by implementing this. –  lnafziger Jul 18 '13 at 15:04
    
example: stackoverflow.com/questions/17849812/… –  Tobias Kienzler Jul 25 '13 at 7:10
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Just put the pending, unreviewed comments right in the comment list, visible only to reviewers with sufficient rep to approve them, and put the approve / flag buttons right there. Simple. –  Adam Rackis Jul 25 '13 at 17:57
    
@AdamRackis Exactly, that's what I proposed (in addition to a sitewide queue) –  Tobias Kienzler Jul 26 '13 at 6:32
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What kind of detail are you looking for, @Tobias? There are a host of practical issues with this idea that've been pointed out in previous incarnations of it, but I think Caleb nails the major philosophical issue here - which would be a show-stopper even if we cared to devote the (considerable) resources required to implement it properly. –  Shog9 Jul 28 '13 at 20:54
    
We could add this as a 1k privelege and bump "view vote counts" down to 500 - IMO vote counts should be much lower anyway –  Doorknob Jul 28 '13 at 23:51
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@hims056 Thanks, I actually fooled myself there as well :-D –  Tobias Kienzler Jul 29 '13 at 7:21
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If implemented, then please limit to 1 comment per user in the review queue. –  Arjan Aug 5 '13 at 6:00

7 Answers 7

up vote 21 down vote accepted
+400

I agree that we're only partially solving the problem that comments were designed to solve by locking them up at 50 rep, or any level, because those who can't use them will continue to exhibit the behavior that they're designed to stop.

I don't want to put additional needless asks on people that spend a lot of time in review; indicating if a string that is often too short to be an answer is good or not good is just a waste of people's time. That would be turning /review into more of an unpaid Mechanical Turk than anything, I know this because I've spent years looking at comments left by new users that managed to earn 50 rep.

What I propose is simplifying it. Let anyone with a registered account leave a comment until n comments left by them have been flagged and deleted. If that happens, back to waiting for 50 rep they go. I know this is a little complicated, but enabling this softens one of the first sharp edges folks hit when deciding to engage.

Anything else I fear is going to require a hard look at our comment system and the tools available to moderate them (which, quite frankly, stink). I really think we should be looking at ways to reduce the amount of work comments create. While your idea would work, I feel very awkward about the ask involved with putting them through /review.

As for n - it would need to be quite low, as in 2 or maybe 3. Most people that would get access to this would end up being blocked until 50 rep anyway, and we need to be good with that. What this opens for is that occasional pearl that wants to engage and knows how to do so effectively.

If this sort of thing is too complex to introduce, then we really should find something similar that isn't - I don't want to put additional load on our machine or human resources to deal with comments as a matter of principle - they're just not that important in the grand scheme of things.

Update

This remains a problem that we want to solve, but the solution I've come up with and those in comments just have too many potential pitfalls. The biggest problem is comment moderation tools aren't that great, and opening them up earlier, or lifting the rep barrier altogether just opens up the door to too much potential abuse.

What we should be looking at is why we can't take any of the rather good suggestions here and go with them, which comes back to the fact that we don't deal with comments as well as we should.

We're going to aim to fix that, as a whole, which should solve the issue of those needing them not being able to use them altogether.

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This is appealing, but... It still leans pretty heavily on the community having to babysit new user comments - and unless this is combined with some pretty hefty rate-limiting, there's still a window for abuse big enough to drive a truck through. But why not turn it around? New users get 2 comments, with one additional comment for each up-voted comment. Run out, and you're done (maybe you can go back and delete your old ones or something to raise it; donno.) Make this plainly evident from the start... "As a new user, you're limited to 2 comments on other people's posts - make 'em count!" –  Shog9 Aug 5 '13 at 4:01
    
@Shog9 It relies on something the community is already doing, which is flagging noise in comments for removal. The exception I'm trying to solve here is along the lines of "Real expert spots an inaccuracy in an otherwise great answer and wants to point it out" which is arguably the very small minority of comments that we'd get. We can of course limit it to 5 a day or something. Carrot sticking these is just way more complexity than this problem really needs. –  Tim Post Aug 5 '13 at 4:53
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Given the tiny signal-to-noise ratio I've seen, could probably limit it to 1 a day - by IP - and lose nothing of value whatsoever. –  Shog9 Aug 5 '13 at 4:55
    
Excellent alternative! (Though as @Shog9 said, it would require thoroughly watching new users' comments, so a review queue might still be helpful) –  Tobias Kienzler Aug 5 '13 at 6:24
    
And what about the spam? –  slhck Aug 5 '13 at 7:02
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The lack of proper review utilities for comments make me less than enthusiastic about this. The big scheme of things, the privilege limit is as much to stop stupid comments from legitimate users as it is to stop people from stuffing anything they want anywhere they want, especially spam. Users clean up noise indeed but they only clean what they can see. I'm rather against the review queue idea, but until we have some proper means to watch this then I don't think this is really safe. –  Grace Note Aug 5 '13 at 16:38
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Agree with @Grace here. Spammers already know how to game our system—they manage to post question and answer pairs, or post innocent looking answers, only to edit in the sneaky promotion later. We still don't catch them all, even though all of these actions are subject to review. Allowing comments to be posted everywhere without anyone looking would generate so much noise I'm not willing to look after, to be honest. That'd be a total deal breaker for me. –  slhck Aug 5 '13 at 17:01
    
@slhck Spam in a comment is, in my opinion, less obtrusive than in an "answer", since it is very likely to end up in a "show more comments" link anyway. And as I suggested, those low-rep comments won't show up by default until approved. Especially not if it contained a link... –  Tobias Kienzler Aug 6 '13 at 15:07
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@Tobias – Tim notes that he does not see a way to put these under review. It'd be a terrible queue to work through. And for what good? A handful of good comments opposed to "please halp!" or "same problem here!" posts? Also, are you saying that less obtrusive spam is better than none? Or that spam is better when it's buried under a "show more…" link? You realize that they also don't have to contain a link? Plenty of promotional crap we get does not even include links. –  slhck Aug 6 '13 at 19:31
    
Re your update, maybe the comment system should be entirely overhauled: Instead of treating comments so different, treat them like posts, but one layer deeper in the hierarchy. Questions are layer 1 posts, answers layer 2 posts associated to a post, and comments would become layer 3 posts associated to a question/answer, with all the usual flagging, up- and downvoting, sort-by-vote option, new-user-review-queue etc. This would also make turning a comment into an answer (or new question, or comments evolving into a separate Q+A) easier –  Tobias Kienzler Aug 19 '13 at 7:08

Everyone else seems down on this but I think this a great suggestion.

Putting comments beyond a karma wall seems like a low barrier to entry when you've had an account for a while, but for newcomers I think it is imposing and unfriendly. There is a reason the StackExchange people bootstrap new accounts for other sites at 101, because being under a 100 sucks, I think a lot of us veterans forget that.

Now I get that is suppose to kind of suck, because less than 100 means the system has close to zero confidence in you, but I think comment moderation is a good solution to that.

Since posting my rejected suggestion, Lower the amount of reputation needed to comment, back in 2009, I've continued to see newcomers misuse answers because they don't have access to comment. Sometime this posted information is valuable, and granted, a lot of times it's not. Regardless, the comment system remains unintuitive and hostile to new users.

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I fully agree. As a new user with not the deepest knowledge in programming and therefor a quite self-restraint question/answer attitude (better ask/say nothing before asking/saying nonsense...) the possibilty to interact with the community appear quite limited. Actually it took me several hours until I dared to ask the first question. On the other hand I think the restrictions resp. limitations ensures at least a bit of quality inside posts/comments and engage users to participate in the platform. At least, this is one reason why game mechanics are utulized in non-gaming contexts. –  Don Dio Jul 25 '13 at 16:36
    
Thanks for the bounty Tobias. I think my answer is just preaching to the choir, but I'm glad that this is at least discussed periodically even though I think our opinions are in the minority. –  James McMahon Jul 25 '13 at 17:38
    
You're welcome, "because being under a 100 sucks, I think a lot of us veterans forget that." - Maybe we should, every once in a while, attempt to use SE while logged out. Of course there's the "problem" that we hopefully understood how SE rolls, so maybe asking someone else to first-time use it and report on their experience might be a more reliable experiment... –  Tobias Kienzler Jul 31 '13 at 11:38
    
I don't see why it's that big of a problem to be patient for new folks. If they have improvements, nowadays they can suggest an edit. If they want more information to have their problem solved, they have to prove to be able to work with the system. Comparing your old feature request with this one, I'd rather have the amount of required reputation lowered, than creating a new review burden or even having robo-reviewers going to accept comments that just say "I have this problem too". Blocking comments might yield some duplicate questions being posted, but at least those can be voted on. –  Arjan Aug 5 '13 at 5:59
    
Arjan and Tim Post suggested an interesting alternative of limiting the amount of unreviewed comments allowed, Tim suggesting not requiring rep at all but having a very low contingent of comments. Sounds pretty feasible that way –  Tobias Kienzler Aug 5 '13 at 6:33

On the surface, this is a perfectly rational idea.

However I think the drawbacks of this approach would outweigh the benefits. Comments have always been intended to be second class citizens. This is one of the larger educational hurdles we have to overcome with new users. By completely removing the function until they figure out how to use the question/answer functions at least once successfully, I think we start off on the right foot showing them what is important. By opening up the comment system to new users, I think the net result would be an increased focus on "discussion" and an overall drop in the signal to noise ratio.

Even if some of the comments are productive, the raw majority of new user comments I see are not good constructive additions to the system. If the percentage is already not in our favor with some minimal barriers in place to educate users on the proper time and place for different functions, opening the system up to a broader use is bound to further lower this percentage.

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Yet there is currently no way for an expert to clarify some details on the one question they'd know a great answer to while so far no one else managed to solve it, other than posting an answer "assuming you mean ..." and if the assumptions turns out wrong they wasted their time. StackExchange should make the internet a better place for everyone and not just established users. Though I'd agree that 94% or all garbage is posted by drive-by folks. But I'd go as far and claim that this measure would significantly decrease the amount of invalid first-time posts and hijack-edits. –  Tobias Kienzler Jul 2 '13 at 9:51
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But you're right about new users not exactly understanding the differences between our comment system and a forum, so we could add a "I understand that comments are intended for clarification only and not for chatting or new questions" checkbox for new user comments before they can post them –  Tobias Kienzler Jul 2 '13 at 9:53
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@TobiasKienzler: True, and I have seen cases where a true subject expert shows up with no rep and wants a clarification. However true experts almost always manage to earn themselves a little bit of rep quite easily if they don't have it already and for the few cases where they do post not-an-answer I would rather flag/mod convert those answers to comments (and manually handle the 5%) than have to man-handle the 95% that are likely to be junk. Even crowd sourcing the approval process only means people are going to let a lot lower quality comments through than we might otherwise see. –  Caleb Jul 2 '13 at 9:54
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@TobiasKienzler I think it's been proposed before that the comment system on questions be totally re-labeled to "request for clarifications" and everything not fitting that label get nuked. If not, it should be proposed! Maybe a three class comment system "Link to related question/meta discussion/etc", "request for clarification", "other" where other would be a dead end that informed people that's not what the comment system was for. Maybe we could stop our high rep users from posting half answers and comments that way too :) In any case that would be for a separate meta post, not this one. –  Caleb Jul 2 '13 at 9:57
    
I'd totally support that request! Maybe the suggested comment clearance should require a 2-out-of-3 approval or similar, or even a decreased reviewer weight should an approved comment be justly flagged for deletion later on –  Tobias Kienzler Jul 2 '13 at 9:59
    
Concerning the low-rep expert, if they have just been asked by a colleague to reply to that one question they've been thinking about all week long, the expert probably might not see any point in spending their time gathering some "childish XP as if this was a MMORPG" just in order to be allowed to help someone... It may be an edge case, but I stand by my point that the other review queues might become less crap-filled in exchange –  Tobias Kienzler Jul 2 '13 at 10:07
    
I can't find any such request, you should totally propose that re-labelling. I notice especially at math.SE that many high-rep users are too "humble" to post a short concise hint most likely already solving the problem as anything but a comment... –  Tobias Kienzler Jul 2 '13 at 10:43
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New user comments are often lower in value, but, on the flip side, high-rep users sometimes post one-line yet accurate answers in comments which thwart and put off other users from producing better/concise answers in the house-style Q&A format. –  nickhar Jul 5 '13 at 1:37
    
@nickhar Indeed that's another problem I notice especially at math.SE. Maybe we should feature-request a flag comment as "is an answer" option... –  Tobias Kienzler Jul 5 '13 at 6:42
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"the net result would be an increased focus on 'discussion' and an overall drop in the signal to noise ratio" there's no question, that is exactly what would happen. Very bad idea. –  Jeff Atwood Jul 6 '13 at 6:17
    
@JeffAtwood "there's no question, that is exactly what would happen" - can I borrow you time machine or is this just your personal prediction? You've been talking a lot about broken windows, and while unnecessary comments are noise, not-answers are severely broken windows IMHO. (Concerning SNR, I wonder if there's an analogue of a Lock-in amplifier...) –  Tobias Kienzler Jul 24 '13 at 14:41
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You've answered your own question, @Tobias: most not-answers are also pretty lousy comments. Beyond that, you don't need to look very hard to find ample evidence of what happens when commenting is made easily accessible on the 'Net - and I'm not even talking about YouTube-style trash, just go hang out on Reddit or HN for a while. –  Shog9 Jul 28 '13 at 21:01
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@Shog - true, but wouldn't forcing new users' comments to be reviewed be the best of both worlds? Having the pending comments be grayed out and visible only to veteran users, capable of approving or rejecting them. A sufficient number of rejections could disable the poster from making them at all until the normal rep threshold is reached—or you could really get creative and raise the threshold for users who take advantage of this to post crap. –  Adam Rackis Jul 28 '13 at 23:20
    
It's only the best of both worlds if the goal is to encourage as many (community-approved) comments as possible, @Adam. I can easily imagine a system that would allow for this, starting out with comments being visible only to trusted users and very easy to delete, with them gaining more "trust" as the user proved themselves capable of using them properly. Indeed, similar systems do exist. They're not trivial to build or operate, but it's plausible to think that we could do it... If our goal was lots of comments. –  Shog9 Jul 28 '13 at 23:59
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@Shog - I just wish there would be official recognition that new users may need to constructively post comments sometimes. Jeff just arrogantly waved the problem aside by saying, essentially, "meh, they can earn rep on other questions that don't need clarification." The best of both worlds is letting these new users participate, while also not flooding the site with noise. –  Adam Rackis Jul 29 '13 at 14:22

I'm seeing another possible problem with this proposal, has anyone considered the potential for a huge backlog in this proposed comment review?

I'm guessing that if we opened up commenting to new users and dumped all of those comments into a review queue, the queue would fill up fast, really fast, faster than reviewers would likely be able to keep up with.

If the backlog grew well into the thousands, and I wouldn't be surprised if it did, it would take quite a while for a comment to reach its intended destination and with comments being transient in nature, I doubt that many of the comments would still be relevant days or weeks later.

Also, if we see the same sort of robo-review problems we're already seeing in the other queues, this queue would just make for more low hanging fruit.

Currently we have approximately 1,642,000 users with less than 50 rep. If each one of them posted one comment that went into a review queue we would have a massive problem.

Sorry, I'm with Caleb on this one, this seems like a bad idea. The signal to noise ratio would be shot.

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Thank you for bringing this up. If comments from new users are forced to wait something like a day before they're approved, the entire commenting system falls to pieces. –  Linuxios Jul 28 '13 at 20:05
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You could have some badges to incentivize people approving the comments @Linuxios :-). In all seriousness though, were this to be implemented why does it need a site-wide queue at all? A comment is only viewable from another post and so if there's no one else looking at the post the fact that the comment hasn't been reviewed is immaterial. To get round the OP not getting notified you could let the OP of each post approve (not disapprove) of comments so that they could see what others are asking. –  ben is uǝq backwards Jul 28 '13 at 20:32
    
@benisuǝqbackwards: and we all saw what that got us in the normal review queues. Audits, robot reviewers, and something like half the questions on meta. It was helpful, sure, but I'm not sure we want to do that again. Yes, the OP could, but the likelihood that the op doesn't know the rules that they are enforcing is high. –  Linuxios Jul 28 '13 at 21:23
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I wasn't being serious in the first sentence @Linuxios... –  ben is uǝq backwards Jul 28 '13 at 21:24
    
Now this is a concern I understand, though it wouldn't be the first queue with an ever-increasing backlog (see here...) - that's why I suggested the <n> comment(s) under review message below the respective post. Though your point about the transient nature of comments suggests notifications should be triggered as @ben suggests, which then again could upset many users due to probably too often abused noob-comments –  Tobias Kienzler Jul 29 '13 at 7:01
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Probably most of those 1,642,000 users are inactive. –  Keith Thompson Aug 12 '13 at 20:53
    
@KeithThompson if even only one quarter of the low rep users are currently active that's 410,500 users who could be dropping comments into a queue. –  apaul34208 Aug 12 '13 at 23:29
    
@apaul34208: It may be substantially less than a quarter. It shouldn't be hard to figure out how many of those users have posted anything, or have even visited the site, in, say, the last month. I suspect the number would still be intractably large, but it would be good to have numbers. –  Keith Thompson Aug 12 '13 at 23:39
    
@KeithThompson I think "intractably large" is all the information that's really needed here. Considering that the active low rep user pool is likely well over 100k and those users are likely to comment with some frequency, the chances of having a review queue with at least a few 100k comments waiting to be reviewed seems very likely. –  apaul34208 Aug 12 '13 at 23:47

Comment Everywhere only takes 5 good answers or 2 good, accepted answers. I started my Stack Exchange adventure at 06:44 and by the 11:27 I had no problems with commenting. So, if a real expert or someone with a grip of the topic indeed needs clarifications, he can simply ask few hours on SE later. No need to "gather XP", really, just answer few good questions and maybe remember about that one unclear tomorrow.

Adding a whole new review queue to save what should be a minor problem for people we want answers from seems not so good idea to me. Maybe we just need more friendly messages, like "why can't I comment here?" link in comment area, with message "Sorry, to prevent noise only people with some reputation can post comments. Come back to this question later. We'll be grateful to see your answers under questions that does not require clarifications!"

Of course allowing comments, or at least lowering the rep requirement, on beta sites might be a good idea. Many rules are relaxed at beta stage and this one should be among them.

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It's not always easy to get 50 rep on other sites. Especially beta sites. –  Manishearth Jul 4 '13 at 7:34
    
@Manishearth So maybe that rule should be relaxed just on beta sites, then? Some other ones are. –  Mołot Jul 4 '13 at 7:35
    
@Manishearth To be fair, on beta sites the rep requirements are lowered (at least they used to be, or did that change?). Anyway, I agree it's not that easy, especially on niche sites –  Tobias Kienzler Jul 4 '13 at 7:35
    
@TobiasKienzler if it's really a problem on niche sites (betas are treated differently anyway), is it really a good idea to change system everywhere? –  Mołot Jul 4 '13 at 7:38
    
@TobiasKienzler Commenting is still at 50. –  Manishearth Jul 4 '13 at 7:39
    
@Mołot: No, not niche sites. Many non-betas too. –  Manishearth Jul 4 '13 at 7:40
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Not a perfect example, but it's on SO: stackoverflow.com/questions/17438303/… –  Tobias Kienzler Jul 4 '13 at 7:41
    
@TobiasKienzler this should really be an answer anyway. –  Mołot Jul 4 '13 at 7:43
    
@Manishearth none listed in my profile has this problem. It might help the discussion to roughly know what % of SE users are actually on the problematic sites. –  Mołot Jul 4 '13 at 7:45
    
Yes, but the problem is that that question is closed so said user couldn't answer, yet his comment does sound useful. His only option was an invalid edit, and with no malevolent intention –  Tobias Kienzler Jul 4 '13 at 7:48
    
@TobiasKienzler the problem is that he wanted to use comment system for something it was never meant to be used for. That's the very reason low-rep users cannot comment. If it's a bug, then it's a bug in putting on hold system in this case, not in comment block. –  Mołot Jul 4 '13 at 7:50
    
As I said, it's not a perfect example, just the most recent one I encountered. There have also been requests for clarification posted as late/low quality answers –  Tobias Kienzler Jul 4 '13 at 8:00
    
@TobiasKienzler I don't claim problem does not exist. I'm just afraid this solution will be something like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Like in your very example it will encourage what this site tries to discourage. –  Mołot Jul 4 '13 at 8:12
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@TobiasKienzler "Primum non nocere" - not to make this site worse until we can figure out how to safely make it better. –  Mołot Jul 4 '13 at 8:22
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Partially agreed, it is important to understand the potential catches and decide which is worse. I argue my suggestion improves the situation, you disagree, but ultimately the only way to verify this would be testing it on one SE site... We've done the theory, now we need the experiment –  Tobias Kienzler Jul 4 '13 at 9:11

Honestly, comments are the single most abused feature of Stack Exchange. However, they are also a very important part of stack exchange. We need to find a better way to train users in general to use comments.

What problems are there with comments right now?

  1. There are many new users who ask questions, which need to be converted to a comment. They have no way to do anything better.
  2. As bad comments are seen, they get flagged. The only flag queue for comments in existence is completely managed by moderators! How much of a work load is this? It's hard to say, but I can tell you that the first user I looked at, and a frequent flagger, has 25% of his flags being comments. If this same ratio holds true, then an effective flag review queue could make moderators lives much simpler.
  3. Only moderators have the power to delete comments, edit them, or convert an answer to a comment.

A few things which could be incorporated to improve the comment process.

  1. Give high reputation users the ability to manage comments. I'll leave it to SE to decide what reputation and what abilities, but something should be included. For the most part, these abilities should require more than one person to perform (Edit might be the exception)
  2. Have a non-moderator review queue for comments.
  3. Limit the number of comments a person can make per day. Maybe 1 comment per 100 reputation (Rounded up). This will ease users in to comments, making their early ones count for more worth.
  4. Maybe the ability to specify a lifetime of a comment? Some details would need to be worked, but still...
  5. Meta restrictions should be much lower than the main site restrictions. Comments are much easier to work with in meta.

There are also some excellent ideas in other answers to this question.

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"They have no way to do anything better" -- how often do you see new people apologize for that, to indicate they indeed wanted to do better? I don't know for sure, but I'm afraid that those who ignore the "Your Answer" popup now, will keep treating SE sites as a forum, even if they could comment. –  Arjan Aug 12 '13 at 19:01
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It's hard to say really. I have seen at least a few cases where in the answer, they said they wish they could post as a comment. Granted, it's rare, but it has happened. –  PearsonArtPhoto Aug 12 '13 at 19:09

I know it's kind of a bump but I wanted to throw in my opinion. First of all I'll try to make it as close as I can as an answer but it's borderline between a comment and an answer.

Well I'm one of those users some of you are talking about, a user who have posted some comments as an answer, apologizing and hoping to do better. And to be honest it didn't work. It worked once, but twice my posts, wile adding to the discussion, were removed because they were comments. Last time I was granted with a "It's not because you apologize and explain that it's right to do the wrong thing". Wow, kind of harsh for a nice person who's simply trying to enhance what was done (in this case enhance the security of a OOP idiom). What I read a lot, and what seems to be the initial purpose from what I've read here, is spam control.

The issue is that posting an answer requires absolutely no rep whatsoever, sure it will be reviewed and removed if useless but only after a couple of hours usually. And keep in mind that if a guy REALLY wanted to spam, he'd be getting a whole lot more visibility by spamming the answer in my opinion, not for long but he would. The thing is, the StackExchange sites have gained so much popularity that many people know how it works, and that's why you see no answer spam.

The limitation is right, but it should be on answering not on commenting. Now how to solve the commenting issue? Well just add a "report as spam" button, and after, let's say, 10 reports or 15 or 20, that's up to debate, the comment is hidden and subject to review, or if you don't want additional review, which is quite understandable, simply removed. After too many "spam" comments, you could decide to ban or not a user based on what he has done.

Here are my 2 cents, I hope that this can be changed and that this will change because I love StackExchange but I've been discouraged by that last comment I referenced higher.

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