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For many questions on Stack Overflow, I am glad to spend a few minutes giving the best answer I can think of at the moment, and sometimes my answer however naive, even seems to be useful to someone.

However, the time I have to spend with diversions such as Stack Overflow is finite. I just encountered someone who apparently had a lot of time, or a real passion for the subject at hand, or both, who was asking clarification after clarification in the comments, to the point of erasing his own previous comments for fear of running into a limit. I didn't know there was a limit to the number of comments, although I can see how he would know.

I understand it's possible to be passionate about a subject or to be a perfectionist. However I was so tired of the discussion that I finally deleted my answer just to get rid of the whole situation. I didn't want to appear not to care about his remarks, but I do not use Stack Overflow as a chat site.

The whole thing made me feel uncomfortable. How should I have handled it?

EDIT: I should have made it clearer that it was not the OP that was commenting on my answer, it was someone else, who had his own succinct answer to the same question, but for some reason preferred to make me edit mine than to enhance his own. I will reinstate my answer. Thanks.

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Perhaps this is one example of the behavior: stackoverflow.com/questions/2369467/… –  Adam Davis Mar 4 '10 at 19:30
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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

If it gets out of hand simply ignore him. As you said, your time is finite and the best way to learn something is by simply doing it yourself; let him research the subject on his own, guidance is enough most of the time. You answered, that's the most important thing; the knowledge gained by the community as a whole is important, not going into every little detail just to satisfy someone's curiosity.

Sometimes, the badgering in the comments can simply be another form of "do my work for me". If it's annoying, flag it as spam. That's what it is for you.

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I wouldn't delete an answer, that doesn't seem fair. Just don't answer, or say you're busy and can't continue this any further - that, and encourage the OP to ask another question, is what I usually do.

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What do you do when someone ask for clarification after clarification in the comments of an answer?

It depends. I come here to learn more than I come to enlighten. I usually see 5 situations:

  • Comments show a desire to learn more detail, but aren't attacking my answer
  • Comments are useful, correct, and on target
  • Comments are splitting hairs - correct, but useless or delves into a depth not needed for the question
  • Comments are incorrect
  • Comments are banter and more or less off topic

If the user just wants more detail, and aren't attacking my answer, I'll give them a link to more information if I feel the answer is sufficient for the audience the question is geared towards. If they continue to have questions, I'll refer them to another reference or two, and then eventually say, "Try it out! There's no better way to learn this material than throwing code at it."

If the comments are on target, then I'll address then by fixing my answer and adding a comment. If they continue to find problem after problem with my answer (and they are right, and it's not just splitting hairs) then I'll invite them to post a correct answer, and delete my own. I'll try to understand and learn from this person who obviously understand the issue better than I.

If they are splitting hairs, I'll concede the point, thank them for bringing it up, and explain that I simplified for the OP. I'll try to find a more in depth reference to link to "If you need more detail" and that usually quiets the hair splitter. I might answer them once or twice, but if it's obvious that they are going to go on and on, I'll ignore their later comments - they will never be satisfied.

If the comments are wrong, and they continue to argue the point, I'll make a provably strong case for my answer and invite them to disprove it using code, references, etc. Usually they will fail, and go away. I don't ignore these comments because they can leave users confused.

Playful banter or offtopic stuff - I may or may not play along, but on SO I don't go on for more than a comment or two. It's fun making connections with other users, but it's not a discussion site.

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There is a sixth kind of comment IMO: Related follow-up questions that posters (quite naturally and understandably from their point of view) would like you to answer as well. –  Pëkka Mar 4 '10 at 20:44
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