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Recently, Jeff was inadvertently alerted to the fact that the rate limit on comments was a flat 30 seconds, and that users could button-mash their way to success. Apparently, this was not the original intent; the original intent was to reset the timer every click, so that you could potentially end up waiting multiple minutes before being able to post a comment, if you were unfortunate enough to mistime and be off by a few seconds.

Admittedly, this is likely more of an issue on Meta than it is on the other sites, as Meta tends to encourage far more discussion.

This change appears to have been implemented very quickly (quickly enough that Jeff was able to edit his comment to indicate that it was complete -- admittedly, he is God as far as the database is concerned, so he may not be constrained by the 5 minute window). From the outside looking in, there is coincidentally a new bug with rate limiting vote count fetches that seems to have popped up in the timeframe for this change.

I'm proposing that this change solves a problem which simply doesn't exist. While it's understood that comments are going to be second-class citizens, I think Jon B voiced the community's opinion quite effectively when he said:

@Jeff - that's really lousy. If I try to post as late as 29 seconds after my last post, you're not just punishing me, you're wasting my time

It's one thing to make us wait 30 seconds. I'm OK with that. It's quite another to make the counter reset like some warped game show from Hell, such that trying to post a comment if you're a fast typist (such as I am) becomes a Sisyphean task.

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The 5 minute window does not exist for Jeff. He has already edited comments which were older than one hour. –  Ladybug Killer Jan 13 '10 at 21:34
    
I was hoping that was the case, because a 5-minute fix would scare me immensely. It was still done quickly, by any measure. –  John Rudy Jan 13 '10 at 21:44
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You still should be scared, dead King. If I read the time stamps correctly, it does not take longer than 15 minutes. Probably only ten. –  Ladybug Killer Jan 13 '10 at 22:00
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Oy. 10 - 15 minutes to roll out a software patch to three of the most popular sites on the web (and SuperUser). That is scary, and I think intensifies the likelihood that there was more than coincidence with the new vote count fetch bug. –  John Rudy Jan 13 '10 at 22:11
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Well, he hasn't rolled it out to the other sites. At least I cannot reproduce the linked bug on SO. And meta has the highest build number right at the moment from all four sites of the trilogy. Nevertheless, for a developer who does not rely heavily on automated tests, it's much too fast. –  Ladybug Killer Jan 13 '10 at 22:26
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I guess I should be glad it's only Meta. For now. –  John Rudy Jan 13 '10 at 22:35
    
"and SuperUser" made me laugh. –  womble Jan 13 '10 at 22:48
    
I kid, I kid. :) I have love for SU. I just don't use it often. :) –  John Rudy Jan 14 '10 at 1:03
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diamond mods can edit any comment, but rest assured they are subject to all the standard timeouts and rate limiting of any standard 10k user (which are somewhat relaxed) –  Jeff Atwood Jan 14 '10 at 10:31
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5 Answers

up vote -11 down vote accepted

Ok, due to popular demand, the comment timeout is now set to 15 seconds, sliding.

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I do believe that will work. As you say, it should be pretty rare for a second comment to take under 15 seconds to compose, unless it's cut-and-paste or very trivial. Thank you! –  John Rudy Jan 24 '10 at 17:25
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It is an improvement, but why keep resetting the timer? It is much better to keep it at 30 seconds or even more, but not reset the timer.. I think this will frustrate users instead of educating them. –  Andreas Bonini Jan 24 '10 at 17:29
    
Why the timer reset? I disagree with the timer = quality argument, but even if I did agree, 30 or 45 seconds if you miscount is way too long. All it does is encourage you to lose your train of thought. It's impolite. –  jnm2 Jul 8 at 19:50
    
Just taking 15 seconds to tell you how I hate this stupid, obnoxious behavior. –  Gilles 9 hours ago
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Yeah, return to a flat 30 seconds wait and just disable the damn button during that period so button mashing cannot occur.

EDIT: Mea culpa, I hadn't read the original link.

EDIT 2: Why would disabling the button encourage videogame like behavior? If you wish, incresae the limit to 45 or 50 seconds but leave the button disabled. This exponential increase makes no sense at all

EDIT 3: I personally doubt that disabling the button (done right) would confuse much, but I'd need an usability test to prove it (just like the other side of the argument.)

EDIT 4: Jeff says

Is it so unreasonable to ask that people take 15 seconds to read, process, and think about what they're about to type before they post comment #2?

No, that is not unreasonable. What is unreasonable is that there is no way to know what the server will be doing and that you are effectively wasting people's time without giving a single warning or hint.

I guess nobody disagrees with the goal trying to motivate people to think about their comments and to preferably write only one comment. The disagreement is about the mechanism to achieve that goal.

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this is not an "exponential" increase. I've told you a million times to stop exaggerating!!! –  Jeff Atwood Jan 14 '10 at 10:35
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Well, any increase is insane if there is no a priori way to work out it exists. –  John the Seagull Jan 14 '10 at 13:23
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Others have suggested that disabling the button entirely (either not rendering it at all, or simply changing it so clicking does nothing) will be confusing to a lot of users and likely result in a lot more meta questions.

As I said in a comment on the previous post, instead of removing the button, why not add a tooltip which shows the number of seconds remaining? Currently the only way to check if the submit will work is to try, so why not tell me right when I need to know (when I move to click on the button)?

I agree with Mr. Rudy that the new behaviour is insane. It will likely result in the defenestration of a keyboard before the week is out.

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+1 for the first use of "defenestration" I've seen outside Prague. –  mmyers Jan 14 '10 at 16:24
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I hate it I hate it I hate it.

Because I'm one of the button pounders.

You know what? I'll get used to it, so will everyone else, and within days, all will be back to pure milk and honey flowing in meta land.

Everyone got used to random ordering of equal-vote answers, the accept rate, the removal of the pad-comments-to-15-using-spaces possibility, the vote-changing time window, and whatnot.

So, alright, it's probably not that bad.

But please please please please …

… change the wording on the box.

"You may only submit a comment every 30 seconds"

is clearly not reflecting the behavior well enough for new users, and old users who have seen this before won't know that anything has changed.

The meta crowd knows now. The rest of the world is going to keep pounding that button, and they'll be doing that until they realize they've been waiting for two minutes for those 30 seconds to be over. Which doesn't help the "spamming our servers" problem either. <span id="told-you-so" class="update">Really Long Comment Wait Time?</span>


Update: The wording in the box has been altered to display

Only 1 comment allowed per 25 seconds; timer reset.

I guess that should be clear enough.

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I don't think more words would be helpful here; the core message of "slow it down" seems sufficient. Also, it is somehow extra-hilarious to me that the more you push the button, the longer it takes. –  Jeff Atwood Jan 14 '10 at 7:50
    
And I can just imagine you going "Excellent..." à la Monty Burns :) Anyway, no need for more words, just different words. How about "You have 30 seconds left before you can comment again" [granted, it's one more word] and then wait for the bug reports that this countdown timer doens't seem to work... –  balpha Jan 14 '10 at 7:56
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By the way, saying that "we'll get used to it" is not a good argument to defend a bad idea. –  John the Seagull Jan 14 '10 at 16:27
    
Well, we (I don't exclude myself) tend to think those ideas are bad just because they are different. After having thought about this for half a day, I actually think the idea does make some sense. As long, and that is my point, as people know about it. –  balpha Jan 14 '10 at 17:14
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The idea is awful as implemented. I've been saying all along that the problem is not having a limit, the problem is not making the limit known a priori. That, coupled with the fact that a much better way to prevent spamming than linear increases is to disable the button, makes the idea bad IMO. This isn't related to change resistance. –  John the Seagull Jan 15 '10 at 0:44
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An edit in Jeff's answer: timer updated to 25 seconds, text changed to "only 1 comment allowed per {n} seconds; timer reset. –  Arjan Jan 17 '10 at 10:18
    
Thanks @Arjan, I've added that. –  balpha Jan 17 '10 at 11:55
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The intent is to encourage thinking before you speak -- that is, before you post multiple comments.

That's also why we have minimum character limits (currently 15) on comments.

  • Let's say you're a lightning fast 100 wpm typist. If my math is correct, that means you type 1.66 words per second.

  • Assuming a word is maybe 4 characters on average (factoring in the, a, an, etc) that means the minimum comment is roughly 5 words.

  • 5 words * 1.66 words per second = 3 seconds. For the mininum comment, a barely perceptible step up from "awesome, thanks a lot!"

It's important to note that this rate limiter only comes into effect when posting more than one comment. We do not want to encourage doing the minimum possible amount of work to post MULTIPLE comments.

A better, and hopefully more typical, comment would be something more of this length:

You still should be scared, dead King. If I read the time stamps correctly, it does not take longer than 15 minutes. Probably only ten.

That is 25 words. At 1.66 words per second for an AMAZINGLY SPEEDY 100 WPM typist that would take about 15 seconds to type. Go ahead, see how fast you can type the above. Seems about right for me.

Is it so unreasonable to ask that people take 15 seconds to read, process, and think about what they're about to type before they post comment #2?

I am open to reducing the multiple comment time limiter to 25 sliding seconds, but that's as far as I'll go.

edit: timer updated to 25 seconds, text changed to "only 1 comment allowed per {n} seconds; timer reset."

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I don't think anyone is opposed to the limit's existence or even the 30 second interval, but instead how the system enforces it. In particular, I think that resetting the comment timer increases user frustration with no actual benefit. –  Kyle Cronin Jan 14 '10 at 5:12
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the benefit is that people don't pound on the button, spamming our servers. Seems pretty clear to me. You can pound on the button as much as you like now -- as long as you're cool with perpetual time-out. –  Jeff Atwood Jan 14 '10 at 6:34
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Why not have the client JS handle the timeout? Granted, it's a programming site, so you'd have to handle it server-side as well, but at least it wouldn't spam the server. That, or you could disable the "Add Comment" button when the "You may only submit a comment every 30 seconds" message is up, forcing them to continually dismiss the message if they want to push their comment through. Both solutions, IMO, would be better than resetting the timer, especially since it's not apparent through the system messages that that's being done. –  Kyle Cronin Jan 14 '10 at 6:47
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Aditionally, one use case you are effectively punishing is when you have more than 600 characters to write. It has happened more than once to me. I write the complete comment, delete the trailing characters to paste them in the next comment, and then I have to wait, even more carefully now. –  John the Seagull Jan 14 '10 at 6:54
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Jeff, again: the problem isn't what belongs or doesn't belong where. The problem is the punishment (or 'encouragement' as you call it) you are inflicting on your users and the world at large. What you are saying is "if you are stupid enough to want to use the site in a way I don't approve of, you deserve your punishment and don't worry, I'll make sure you get it.". That is not how things should work. –  John the Seagull Jan 14 '10 at 7:36
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No, the punishment is the frustration that provokes not knowing what is going to happen, you expect to be able to comment only to find out you cannot, especially in the new exponential increase mode. Note that I'm not complaining about the fixed 30 seconds limit, that is already bad, but not awful as the exponential increase. –  John the Seagull Jan 14 '10 at 8:45
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Deleting a comment takes 0 seconds, yet it's treated as writing a new one. Why am I forced to wait 30 seconds? –  alex Jan 14 '10 at 10:12
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Let's see -- overwhelming community support? Check. [status-declined]? Check. I strongly encourage you to reconsider, Jeff. I know you won't, but you really ought to consider listening to the community here. The "new" policy is draconian. –  John Rudy Jan 14 '10 at 14:17
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hmmm... regardless of the rights and wrongs of the issue, the community has spoken. To quote from stackoverflow.com/about: 'We don't run Stack Overflow. You do'. –  CJM Jan 14 '10 at 15:35
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'We don't run Stack Overflow. You do. Except when we don't agree with you, of course' –  John the Seagull Jan 14 '10 at 16:14
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"5 words * 1.66 words per second = 8.3 seconds" - no, it's actually 8.3 words squared per second, whatever that's meant to mean. 5 words divided by 1.66 words per second = 3.1 seconds. xkcd.com/687 Anyway, you'd be amazed at how often this does hit me when I'm posting perfectly reasonable comments. This is particularly relevant when posting comments to multiple answers - often along the lines of, "No, that's wrong because of X - see my response to Y." I suggest that if you keep this server-side for the moment, you record the rejected comments. See if they're as bad as you expect. –  Jon Skeet Jan 17 '10 at 7:47
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That might work for recent questions - it wouldn't for old ones which aren't gaining much attention. Likewise I don't think it's much help when there are 10 answers, say 5 of which share the same flaw. (That's not terribly uncommon.) You've got to wait for other users to happen to see the single comment, and decide to mention it on the other answers. Additionally, it looks like I'm discriminating - choosing to criticise one answer and leave others. Maybe I should start keeping a log of comments where I'm being slowed down by the 30 second rule, and post examples... –  Jon Skeet Jan 17 '10 at 9:01
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Jeff - I'm curious as to your comment about spamming your servers - is comment-posting really causing that much load? Is it more load than the (no doubt endless) requests about changing it on Meta will cause? ;) –  Dominic Rodger Jan 17 '10 at 9:34
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I've just run into it now. I typed in this comment: "@unknown: In that case it would be Action instead of Func<string, int>." in this post: stackoverflow.com/questions/2082615/… - after just replying to a different comment. –  Jon Skeet Jan 17 '10 at 21:45
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This is absolutely horrid user experience. –  ceejayoz Jan 18 '10 at 16:44
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