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Occasionally users who are new to the site post questions without quite grasping that this isn't a traditional threaded message board. I've seen numerous occasions where these users try to respond to answers by posting another answer (in fact three times on this question).

It is understandable, but adds clutter. As a possible solution to this I propose a way to flag these types of answers, perhaps as "should be a comment".

To be nicer to the new users, it probably shouldn't penalize or scold them, but maybe it could either (a) move the answer into a comment on the main question; or (b) put some kind of a notification on their profile that tells them it has been removed and asks them nicely to repost it as a comment on one of the answers or the original question.

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I think part of the problem with that question was that it went Community Wiki and the OP couldn't edit it (or at least thought he couldn't edit it. –  ChrisF Mar 2 '10 at 16:36
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Related feature request: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/35175/… –  Jon Seigel Mar 2 '10 at 16:40

7 Answers 7

up vote 8 down vote accepted

There is a moderator function to convert an answer into a comment now, so flag for that.

(and we will be improving the mod flag dialog shortly)

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I think there is a real need for this. Since reaching 10k tools on SO, I've noticed that many times these types of "answers" are flagged as spam. If the answer gets 6 of those flags, the user will take a 100-rep penalty, which isn't very fair to the user who wasn't intentionally doing anything wrong. (Especially since this type of answer isn't even what the spam flag is intended for.)

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As you need 1 Rep to answer and 50 rep to comment (Meta is different), answering is the only option a newbie has even if they wanted to leave only a comment.

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... unless it's an answer on their own question the want to comment on. –  balpha Mar 2 '10 at 17:42
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That's exactly the problem. If we give a newbie a workaround that clutters the answers up, then why bother stopping them from commenting at all? –  JohnFx Aug 22 '10 at 16:39

It's not a widespread problem; that is to say that there isn't really anything wrong with the software or the community moderation that misleads users to make these rare, occasional gaffes.

In general, I would prefer to see these types of minor corrections made through the "normal" means (comments, voting, teach by example, etc) rather than adding yet another function/link/menu to the system. Moderators can handle the occasional "human exception."

There are probably 100's to 1000's of these little behaviors where somebody doesn't quite do something correctly. If you add a function or a faq entry to explicitly handle every eventuality that can occur, this place would quickly become an unholy mess.

I vote to leave it the way it is. If it's that bad, flag a moderator. Otherwise, leave a comment describing the "problem" for the benefit/education of those that follow.

I prefer to leave the human element intact.

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I guess flagging is unnecessarily negative (says Mr Negative). –  Tom Hawtin - tackline Mar 3 '10 at 1:54

It's a problem sometimes, but way too small to justify creating a flagging function for. Just leave a comment, snarky if it's obviously a non-answer fishing for reputation, nice if it's a newbie who doesn't know better.

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I see quite a lot of these, for instance: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/79954/visual-studio-opens-default-browser-instead-of-ie/3711996#3711996.

I used to add a comment to each of these, like:

@Loth: please read the FAQ. This is not a discussion forum, so an "answer" like yours is not appropriate.

Unfortunately, I've gotten tired of fighting against the tide, and now only leave such a comment perhaps 1/5 of the time.

I also flag these for moderator attention, with "not an answer" as the text. However, I still find these all over the place, sometimes from months previous. This suggests that either the "non-answer" wasn't seen by anyone who flagged it, or that the moderators aren't deleting all those that get flagged.

I would favor something more drastic. At a certain rep-level, I suggest that non-moderators be able to delete an answer. Maybe this should be a 20k or 30k privilege. The benefit would be that the problem would be corrected quickly, and with little effort on the part of the 20k user. This would certainly make it more likely that I, for one, would continue to address these issues in the future.

Whatever mechanism is used, it should, of course, be something for which the 20k user could be held accountable.

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Perhaps rather than "delete" the answer, maybe vote to "close" it. –  Anthony K Nov 25 '10 at 5:27

I think this is not needed. While it may be disturbing, the poster should be able to post a comment saying: "This is a comment not an answer, post it as such"

Related post:

Comments for comments, answers for answers, is it that hard??

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I see your point, but my concern is that most of the people unfamiliar enough with the site to use it this way are going to be the occasional user that could care less about cleaning up after themselves. Several times I've had the urge to clean up questions like this, but even for high rep users there isn't a clean way to do this other than flagging the answers or down-voting them. Maybe if there was a vote to close on answers? –  JohnFx Mar 22 '10 at 19:00

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