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I keep seeing a small problem with comments on answers and questions on SO.

Firstly, there are two types of comments, the ones that stand as individual snippets, these are usually humerous or factual. It makes sense to display the highest rated comments first as they don't usual lose semantics when displayed on their own in relation to the question/answer.

The second type is a discussion based comment, or comment response. These flow like a traditional forum thread. You will often see the format of:

I think this is a silly answer! - User1 +0
@User1, you are wrong because... - User2 +9
@User1, I also think you are wrong - User3 +21
Actually I am right because... - User1 +45

These would be displayed in highest rated first order, with other comments hidden. They lose all their semantic meaning at a glance until the thread is expanded and they all shuffle about. So they might as well not be shown at all until they are put in the full context of the other comments.

This doesn't make much sense to me, and there must be a better way of displaying them when some are hidden. Perhaps on wiki answers they should be displayed chronologically always as those sorts of questions are more likely to produce discussion based comments? I don't know, just some ideas.

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Note that they are never shown in vote order, they are always shown in the order they are posted. It's just that low-voted comments are the first to be hidden if there is not enough space, even if they are not the most recent ones. Not sure if that is what you meant. – sth Aug 11 '10 at 11:54
Yes that is what I meant – Tom Aug 11 '10 at 12:28
up vote 0 down vote accepted

I think the current system is better than ordering by score, simply because the many comment case is rare, even with a dozen hidden they usually flow (chronologically) in some way.

Think of it another way, upvoting the good comments is the same as voting down the noise when it comes to which top comments get displayed initially in a long thread. The current method shows the comments without the "noise", not that I'm dismissing the other comments as useless, but the community has deemed them not-as-useful.

This doesn't really apply to the really high up-voted wiki questions with potentially 100+ comments on a post, but do we want to optimize for those few, rather than the majority of questions that usually do have some sort of chronological meaning to the comments?

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The displaying by highest order happens when the number of comments exceeds a certain limit. I agree it is confusing at first, but in my experience, highlighting high-rated comments is a good idea - it usually shows the "gist" of a discussion, the point(s) of view most people agree with.

This is slightly un-intuitive, but I find one gets used to it very quickly.

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