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I was just curious about the reasoning behind this?

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4 Answers

up vote 24 down vote accepted

The real problem is that, second class citizens that they are, comments do not have a history.

SE lets you edit pretty much everything else at any time because there's edit accountability: At any given moment, we know who changed what, when, and why. This isn't the case with comments — this is why comments can no longer be edited after the standard grace period.

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I don't believe that allowing a comment to be deleted and simply added again with edits months later solves the problem you speak about. Nor am I convinced that it's even a problem. –  Chris Lively Aug 28 '13 at 20:46
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That said, 5 minutes is really not enough time to flesh out certain concepts. After all, we're talking about explaining code which is not easy to do, even for fluent English speakers who can type 70 WPM! Also as any professional writer knows, it's really important to reread what you wrote, make sure it makes sense, clarify anything vague, etc. You can't always do this well in 5 minutes. –  PJ Brunet Sep 3 '13 at 9:44
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If you're allowed to edit a comment for much longer than 5 minutes, it becomes possible to perform an edit on the comment that makes it out of context (no longer makes sense) with the rest of the comments.

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Shouldn't people know better than doing that? –  Oystein Feb 8 '11 at 18:38
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You have a lot of faith in people. :) Seriously, almost everything is rate-limited in StackOverflow to prevent various abuses of the system. –  Robert Harvey Feb 8 '11 at 18:43
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Well, I've never been a mod, so my faith is still intact... :) –  Oystein Feb 8 '11 at 18:56
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If you don't allow editing of comments, then it becomes possible for the comment to become out of context (because the question/answer it belongs to was edited or another comment was removed). Worse yet, if you made a mistake in your comment, and realize it after 5 minutes, you usually can't fix it. Sure, if it's the last comment, I'll just copy it, delete it, and make a new one with the correction. But, that seems like an unnecessary hurdle to put in place. –  Nate May 1 '13 at 22:27
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@Nate: Obsolete, out of context comments happen all the time. But comments are transitory anyway. –  Robert Harvey May 1 '13 at 23:10
    
But what should be more important is the value a properly edited comment could add, potentially helping many people. Sometimes five minutes is not enough, even after three cups of coffee. Revise, revise, revise. Can't we all just chill out, take a deep breath and consider what's really important? ;-) –  PJ Brunet Sep 3 '13 at 9:53
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As others have noted, comments are ephemeral second class citizens with no revision history. That's a really complicated way to say that they are meant to be temporary aids to posts rather than primary content. If the content of a comment is so important that it needs editing for improvement over a long period of time, perhaps it needs to be written up to be a full post. If the context has changed and a comment needs to be tweaked to reflect the new situation, remove the old comment and write a new one. (You can even copy/paste the old one before deleting if you want to start with that.)

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If comments are only meant to be temporary, then they should just disappear entirely. They don't. They stay around. As such, not being able to edit them increases the chance of them being, or becoming, misinformation. Combined with the other bad feature that comments can be voted up, but not down, further increases the chances of getting bad information from comments. Your justification boils down to "comments are second class citizens because comments are second class citizens". In the end, people don't process information that way. They read it all (posts and comments). –  Nate May 1 '13 at 22:32
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This isn't an answer so much as a nag -- I have a little issue with this 5 minute rules. I accidentally hit save on my comment right after I started one. No big deal, edit. Typing, typing, typing, no warning from the site. Save, and wham, edit not allowed. Aw, come on!

If you're really going to enforce this, either

  1. give a warning while editing the comment (like a doomsday counter) so that the user is informed, or
  2. just give a grace period - like you can't start an edit after 5 minutes have passed, but you can save the edit for 15 minutes from the original post.
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You could just delete and repost. –  Joe Z. Jun 20 '13 at 18:14
    
@Joe damn, too late now :-( –  PJ Brunet Sep 3 '13 at 9:39
    
Thanks Joe Z., that's a good point. I have done that now and it's a good solution. –  Abacus Jan 30 at 20:28
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