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I remember back when I first started using the trilogy being extremely baffled by comments - I could see them in a few places, and people invited me to add them, but I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to add them. We see evidence of this confusion every day: users post answers that should be comments all the time. I understand the reasons why new users shouldn't be allowed to comment, and agree, but there needs to be some way for them to know comments exist.

I propose that on any post that has comments on it, the following (or similar) text be shown below the comments:

Comments will be enabled once you earn 50 reputation points. See the FAQ for more information.

Here is a mockup of what I envision:

comments proposal

This will help users understand that A) we have a commenting system, and B) why they can't access it yet, and C) how they can earn access to it, and will drastically reduce new user confusion. It might also prevent some users from posting answers as comments.

share|improve this question
Make the Add Comment link visible to all users, and display your suggested message when they click on the Add Comment link with less than 50 rep. – Robert Harvey Apr 16 '11 at 2:09
@Robert: This is certainly the best solution and even follows Joel's mantra of "don't hide options, make them available and inform users what they need to do to use them" – Mark Elliot Apr 16 '11 at 2:16
@RobertHarvey other mods pointed out when I discussed this with them that this would annoy users, along the same lines as the complaints we get from people when the up/down arrows are shown but give an error when clicked. That's why I suggested doing it this way. – nhinkle Apr 16 '11 at 2:16
It may be annoying, but it's the best way to teach new people how the system works, and it also keeps the user interface consistent. We expect StackOverflow to be self-describing and discoverable; the way you do that is not by hiding features, but by showing said features and providing explanatory notifications when those features are not available to the user, at the moment they are clicked on. – Robert Harvey Apr 16 '11 at 2:22
It's very important that we find ways to help new users help themselves. So far, we have done that by pointing users to the FAQ (and various other explanatory pages), and we should continue to do that. The only problem with that is People Don't Read. If you don't give it to them in bite-sized chunks at the moment they discover it, they typically ignore it. – Robert Harvey Apr 16 '11 at 2:25
This is reasonable. I would support doing it either way. My initial suggestion had been to do it as you are describing, with a message shown when clicking on the Add Comment link. I suggested this way as a means to reduce that frustration, but understand and agree with the reasons for doing it the way you recommend. – nhinkle Apr 16 '11 at 2:47
+1 for the free-hand oval – Peter Olson Apr 16 '11 at 3:53
up vote 7 down vote accepted

This will help users understand that A) we have a commenting system,

I'm pretty sure they understand we have a commenting system because they see comments. Those comments weren't left by magical faeries (except for random ♦) but other users, obviously.

Note that

  • per the /faq users with rep of 1 can always leave comments on their own questions, their own answers, and any answers to their questions.
  • comment boxes (on answers) are pre-expanded by default, on questions by new users

There's a very intentional reason we funnel users towards questions and answers instead of meta-commentary -- you have to earn the right to have a "discussion" in comments on other people's posts.

I'm philosophically opposed to having millions of bytes of "add comment" served to Google and other anonymous users -- it's just noise to them, and it is IMHO self-evidently obvious that there are comments. Additionally we want to suppress even the hint of the idea that new users can come here and immediately start engaging in witty repartee and time wasting meta-discussion in comments.

If you're a new user, stick to the questions and answers please, that's what we're all here for. The privilege to comment on random posts by other people will come in due time.

share|improve this answer
I still have yet to see a reasonable idea proffered to solve the "I can't seem to find a way to post a comment, so I guess I'll just post an answer instead" problem. Some users actually preface their answer with this text! – Robert Harvey Apr 16 '11 at 3:47
@robert that's what we want, an answer posted. One that can be properly upvoted or downvoted, and directly answers the question. And if it doesn't, well, that's going on your permanent, versioned record -- unlike a comment which is ephemeral, repless, and sometimes not not even indexed by Google since it won't be visible without a "click to see more". – Jeff Atwood Apr 16 '11 at 6:05
Jeff, I see your points here, but don't think that "let them post non-answers for the mods to clean up after" is the right solution. I still believe that the comments link should be shown - as I said, as a new user, my lack of ability to add comments baffled me, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. As it was said, people don't read, and that extends to the FAQ's explanation of how you get comments with rep. This would be an easy way to get that bit of information in front of people. – nhinkle Apr 16 '11 at 6:44
If you still don't think that would be useful, then at the very least the text in the box that appears when a new user posts an answer should have something added along the lines of "Answers are not meant to be used to say "thanks" or ask a clarifying question. [If user has <15 rep: Once you earn 15 reputation points, you can thank posters by voting their question up, and with 50 you can leave comments | else: You can thank posters by voting their question up, and once you reach 50 reputation points, you may leave comments for clarifying questions.]" – nhinkle Apr 16 '11 at 6:45
@nhinkle this is already covered -- read very closely here please. I mean read every word I wrote in all three answers please, and focus on "heuristics"… – Jeff Atwood Apr 16 '11 at 9:14
OK. I looked at the heuristics page, and checked myself in incognito mode, and agree that it looks like that covers this situation pretty well. Personally, I believe it would still be a better user experience if we told new users not to say "Thanks/me too!" before they even bother, but the heuristics in place do accomplish what I'm trying to get at here. – nhinkle Apr 16 '11 at 18:41
Jeff, I have a quick question for you. I thought of asking this as a new question but then I thought I will check with you here first. When a question is posted and there is not a single reply on that post, you can see something like this at the bottom of the thread. Know someone who can answer? Share a link to this question via email, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook. In such a case if this person(A New User) who has any doubts how would he/she ask questions since the comments are disabled for this person? – Siddharth Rout Nov 10 '13 at 8:18

Can users comment on questions (and corresponding answers) they have themselves asked? That would be a big help. Also they should be able to comment on their own answers, especially if someone else has left a comment (so they can reply to the comment). As long as these two conditions are met, I think most users would be fine. I understand why you would not want new users commenting on random posts, but on posts that they created, it seems really odd.

share|improve this answer
People who post questions can leave comments on all answers to their question – random Apr 16 '11 at 1:57
not only that but comment boxes are pre-expanded for new users on their own questions. – Jeff Atwood Apr 16 '11 at 3:22

I think it's bad business to not allow new users to comment on other people's answers. I have to win a popularity contest to gain an ability that I already have on any other forum. Gaining such popularity is unachievable for a Catholic who wants to post in the Skeptics topic in Stack Exchange, for example.

Makes me not want to come back.

share|improve this answer
It is not a "popularity contest" as much as it is a "Googling contest". Answers are not judged on the popularity of the poster, but rather on the technical merit of their content. Even on more subjective sites like Skeptics, there are clearly defined citation requirements, and fulfilling those is just a matter of thoroughly researching the issue before posting an answer. – Cody Gray Jul 29 '11 at 5:58
There's absolutely nothing preventing you as a Catholic, Muslim, or any other faith posting high-quality answers and getting upvotes. Now, arguing "this is true because my religion says" isn't going to get upvoted, but come on... Even Jesus didn't do that. And if you're honestly not willing to do that, then I'm not sure we want you to come back. 50 reputation is a completely trivial amount, and this is a desirable minimum bar. – Cody Gray Jul 29 '11 at 5:58
@CodyGray I agree with most of your points; do remember though that it takes 50 rep to comment, not 15 ;) – nhinkle Jul 29 '11 at 6:01
@nhinkle Right...fixed. Thanks – Cody Gray Jul 29 '11 at 6:01
Have you even tried to answer a question or ask a question? You've just joined today, have absolutely no activity, and you whine about not being able to comment. Just answer a few questions as Cody says, and you'll gain the ability to comment. If being a skeptic is too hard for you, just pick a site that you're good at, gain 200 rep on that one, and once you do that, all your associated accounts will get a +100 bonus. With this, you'll never again have to "earn" rep to comment on any other site. – Lorem Ipsum Jul 29 '11 at 6:06

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