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I'm not convinced that chat is currently working as an alternative to long discussions held in comments.

One problem with chat is that there's a widespread perception that chat systems are intended for conversations with all participants online at the same time. Even in the chat FAQ, it is not clarified that chat messages intended for a particular person (addressed using the @ syntax) appear in that persons inbox. Further, it appears that there are some significant practical issues - according to the FAQ if the person you want to discuss something with has never used chat before, or never used the chat room most appropriate to the discussion, that message won't appear in their inbox, so at the very least you'd need a comment telling them to go the the chat room.

Another possible issue is more psychological. A very common use of comments is to inform the author of a question/answer of an error, or suggest an improvement. This isn't "seeking clarification", but it seems to be normal practice. However, once publicly "accused" of making a mistake, it's only natural that people will want to defend themselves in the same public place.

So - can chat really work for this? Does it work as well as it needs to already? Or does it just need a FAQ update, or some other marketing to improve awareness? Or is some alternative method for handling comments needed?

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Before judging chat, I suggest you try it out. At least read the faq. Your 2nd paragraph is entirely incorrect. –  Rebecca Chernoff May 28 '11 at 19:54
    
I read the FAQ - "interactive" seems to suggest that everyone needs to be online at the same time, as does the use of the name "chat". If it's just misleading terms putting people off, well, maybe the misleading terms need changing. –  Steve314 May 28 '11 at 20:04
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Read the rest of the FAQ. Or ya know, join at least once. Because you would immediately see that you're able to read what was said before you joined. So it is pretty evident you haven't ever clicked to join even for a second. How do you feel able to proclaim it won't work if you've never used it? –  Rebecca Chernoff May 28 '11 at 20:10
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Whoever said that comments are only for seeking clarification? stackoverflow.com/privileges/comment –  Rebecca Chernoff May 28 '11 at 20:11
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I've seen plenty of cases of moderators making this claim. The only one I can easily find ATM, however, is programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/78593/… - maybe I'm on the wrong meta site. –  Steve314 May 28 '11 at 20:22
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Your question is framed oddly: what the question literally says and the outcome you seem to be in favor of are opposite things. If I vote for this question, which viewpoint am I voting for? –  Rick Sladkey May 28 '11 at 20:29
    
@Rick - I don't know what I'm in favor of - this is a "discussion" question, not a feature request. My key point is that there seems to be a problem, and that the current frequently-suggested fix doesn't seem to be working. The "example" is just a brainstorming get-the-ball-rolling example. I guess if you vote on the question, you're voting that the question is/is not a good one, not for a particular answer. –  Steve314 May 28 '11 at 20:35
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@Steve314: When you leave an @ comment in chat, the person gets the message in their inbox with a link directly to it within the chat room. How much time have you actually spent in chat? I think you do have a point in the post you linked to however, the comment by Mark Trapp certainly suggests that "comments are only for seeking clarification". –  Wesley Murch May 28 '11 at 20:39
    
@Wesley - I think most people are unlikely to go into chat just to play with it and learn it. For one thing, chat about what? "Wow, chat, cool"? If the chat FAQ made the point you just made about @, however, maybe more people would take the plunge when they do have something specific to chat about. The current wording says nothing to contradict a real-time-only view, and implications of "only if they have been in the room at some point" suggest a practical issue anyway if your goal is to discuss some question/answer with someone who may never have used chat before. –  Steve314 May 28 '11 at 20:48
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How can you rail against something you've never tried beyond a cursory peek and yet seek to speak as though your premise isn't blind? –  random May 28 '11 at 20:58
    
@random - because I'm far from being the only person who gets caught up in comment discussions. In other words, if chat is the solution, I'm far from the only person who hasn't got that message. Maybe all that's needed is a FAQ update to sell it better, but clearly a lot of people aren't sold on it yet, and long comment discussions still happen. –  Steve314 May 28 '11 at 21:07
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@Steve314: In light of this new information on chat's features, maybe you should edit your post. –  Wesley Murch May 28 '11 at 21:10
    
@Rebecca On Programmers we made it into a policy that we will clean up lengthy discussions and would prefer to see them happen in chat. It's very common for us to see 20+ comments on a post that would instead be better made as an answer or degrade into a "you suck! no, you suck!" kind of subjective matches. See my answer for more details. –  Anna Lear May 28 '11 at 22:18
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We find chat works very well on ServerFault. The ability to read messages left for yourself (and for others) seems to work very well for us. Discussion is welcome (though we tend to favour a relaxed attitude to questions, tending to talk about questions more than answer them). I appreciate that chat isn't for everyone but you appear to have decided it doesn't work before you ever tried it. Your choice but "doesn't work for you" isn't the same as "doesn't work". –  RobM May 28 '11 at 22:19
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1 Answer

up vote 9 down vote accepted

As a moderator on Programmers, I'm going to chime in here with an explanation of the reasoning behind us cleaning up lengthy comment discussions.

It was originally brought up here on meta.programmers and has evolved into a policy of sorts. Most of it is, really, a judgement call on a case-by-case basis. Most discussions that occur in comments are benign. When they start to either veer off-topic or turn into a baseless insult match, we step in, clean things up, and direct people to chat. This happens most often when we get notified that a post gathered over 20 comments.

The most recent example of a heated discussion moving into chat can be found here. I set up a bookmarked conversation in chat and posted the link in comments on the answer. It's a lot friendlier than reading the original thread of 20+ comments, not all of which were polite or pleasant/informative to read.

The fact that questions and answers are first-class citizens whereas comments are not is a sign that the questions and answers should stand on their own as much as possible. If good, relevant information is uncovered during a discussion in the comments, it should be edited into the answer or the question that prompted that discussion.

We have modified our FAQ to explicitly make a note of this, since Programmers by its nature attracts more subjective and discussion-like posts. However, that subjective nature doesn't change the fact that we're still about answering practical problems in as good a way as possible. If someone has a different take on a question, they should be posting an answer of their own and making use of the voting system instead of sharing their experience and opinion in comments.

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That's a nice moving-into-chat example. One thought - maybe it should be easy to make a chat room for discussing a particular question - maybe even a particular answer - with an icon on the question indicating if any such room has been created yet. Reason 1 - to avoid interleaving with other chats that just happen to relate to the same language/whatever. Reason 2 - to make the chat option as obvious and easy to access as comments (but not as intrusive to the uninterested, of course). Of course if real problems are less common than I think... –  Steve314 May 28 '11 at 21:21
    
@Steve314 I think the odds of that feature coming through are pretty low. Stack Exchange is not a place for discussions. The chat supports them, but I don't see anything being done to make discussions more prominent. I also don't think it would be used all that much. Really, out of all the times we've said "please use chat", the example I linked to is the only time I've actually seen it happen (and I suspect it may be because I started the chat conversation). Was the discussion beneficial? Possibly. But either way I don't think the answer has suffered as a result of the comment clean-up. –  Anna Lear May 28 '11 at 22:06
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