Here's what the "comment everywhere" privilege page currently states:

When should I comment?

Comments are intended to:

  • provide feedback on posts
  • add relevant, but minor, information to posts (if it's a major chunk of information, it should be an answer!)
  • ask for clarification or corrections
  • discuss the content of the post with other community members

I'm not sure when this page was last updated, but some of this no longer seems to be good or constructive advice. The "official" network policy is that any extended discussion should be conducted through chat. It's now even enforced through the comment UI, wherein posting too many comments in a short enough period will trigger the message:

Please avoid extended discussions in comments. Would you like to automatically move this discussion to chat?

We also have updated comment flags for comments that are "too chatty" or "not constructive".

So specifically I have a problem with the guidelines:

  • discuss the content of the post with other community members. I have to assume that this advice predates chat, because we are actively trying to discourage "discussion" comments.

  • provide feedback on posts. While this isn't always bad advice, we have a real problem with the proliferation of meaningless, chatty "+1" comments - and that was identified as a problem even before we had chat.

Would it be OK to revise this section of the privileges page with more modern advice? If so, what would be good to put in it?

Some good starting points (IMO) would be the Programmers FAQ ("Can I use comments to discuss the topic of a post?") as well as the chart on Gardening.SE.


5 Answers 5


Going by votes, the majority so far seem to agree that the guidelines could use improvement, but since the only other answer is expressing disagreement, I will go ahead and suggest an improved wording:

When should I comment?

You should submit a comment if you want to:

  • Request clarification from the author;
  • Suggest corrections or improvements;
  • Add relevant but minor information to a post (e.g. a related question).

When shouldn't I comment?

Comments are not recommended for any of the following:

  • Compliments or criticisms which do not add new information ("+1, great answer!"); pay it forward;
  • Secondary discussion or debating a controversial point; please use chat instead;
  • Discussion of community actions or site policies; please use meta instead.

Please remember that comments may be viewed by thousands of non-participants. Unconstructive or chatty comment threads are a distraction, and may be flagged by the community and/or removed or moved to chat at the discretion of a moderator.

I'd go right ahead and edit the wiki here on MSO, but I'd like to get some feedback first, and also I'm not sure how or if it's possible to create links to per-site chat or meta in the wiki.

  • 1
    +1, great answer... (oh, sh*t)
    – GUI Junkie
    Commented Sep 4, 2011 at 22:39
  • I still think that provide feedback on posts is OK. An example: an answerer offers two solutions, and the OP leaves a comment saying which version he used in the end, possibly with some rationale why he liked it better. (OK, you could subsume that under "add relevant but minor information", but I'd rather call it feedback.) Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 15:22
  • @Hendrik: I get that some types of feedback are OK, but the phrase "provide feedback" implies many kinds of feedback that aren't appropriate. In fact I'd wager that most types of "feedback" which don't fit under any of the other categories are probably just noise. "Hey buddy, next time use a spell check" - that's "feedback".
    – Aarobot
    Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 15:28
  • @Aarobot: Yeah, you're right that often "feedback" is just noise. As I also say in my answer, the problem is probably what people understand when they read "feedback". Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 15:32
  • @Hendrik: If the majority of people don't follow an instruction correctly, it usually indicates a problem with the instruction, not the people. "Feedback" is not the desired behaviour, as far as I can tell; the desired behaviour is a certain ill-defined subset of "feedback". That's what we need to clarify, IMO. I'm open to suggestions.
    – Aarobot
    Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 15:40
  • @Aarobot: I don't think the wording is that important. Do you really know people who actually read? :-) But seriously, I'll be happy with any version unless the consequence is that "good" feedback will be frowned upon or even deleted. Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 15:44
  • @Hendrik: Obviously the guidelines and policies are written for the benefit of people who do read - if we're talking about the ones who don't, then we might as well throw the whole wiki away. I estimate that at least 90% of good feedback falls into one of the three categories here; for the rest, much like any other "dos and don'ts" guideline, if something isn't in either list then it's neither encouraged nor frowned upon, it's gray-area "tread carefully" territory.
    – Aarobot
    Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 15:49
  • @Aarobot, you're right: I can also read your 1st point under "When shouldn't I comment" as "Compliments or criticisms which do add new information are quite OK". (I guess we should clear away this discussion soon?) Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 15:54
  • @Hendrik: More text is not better. That caveat is already covered by "adding minor but relevant information", is it not?
    – Aarobot
    Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 15:56
  • @Aarobot: I didn't mean to suggest more text. I was replying to your "if something isn't in either list then it's neither encouraged nor frowned upon", and saying that I like the wording of your 1st don't. Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 15:58
  • The links are easily handled via macros created for their respective privilege pages. I've made this edit with some additions; please review.
    – Shog9
    Commented Sep 10, 2011 at 18:00

Concerning provide feedback on posts I'd say: If your comment just says "+1, great answer", then this can't be counted as real feedback. After all, you already upvoted the answer.

In discuss the content of the post with other community members, one should put emphasis on the content of the post. Personally, I prefer such discussions on the post itself; I wouldn't move them to chat. The problem with many comment discussions is that they're not about the content of the post, or only tangentially so. Those discussions have a better place in chat indeed.

(I'm guilty of tangential comment discussions myself, but I try and clean up after myself.)

Conclusion: No, I don't think that this section of the privileges page has to be revised. But maybe a section about when not to comment would be in order.

  • I agree, and I think the guidelines, as currently written, are consistent with this viewpoint.
    – user102937
    Commented Sep 4, 2011 at 15:57

I've tried to work in the improvements suggested by Aarobot and Mark; please review and make additional corrections as necessary.

Once we're satisfied with the results, we'll push the changes out to the SE sites.

  • It doesn't look like the macros are working; the "chat" and "meta" are just words. Otherwise I like it.
    – Aarobot
    Commented Sep 10, 2011 at 18:57
  • They're links when viewed on the actual page, but not the revision list. There's some funny business with them though; I screwed up on the first revision and submitted them from the wrong edit page... Post-processing never kicked in!
    – Shog9
    Commented Sep 10, 2011 at 19:09
  • Looks good to me! Go forth and spread the good news.
    – user149432
    Commented Sep 11, 2011 at 21:54

We've found on Programmers that even the note we provided in the site FAQ isn't enough: we've had issues with people not understanding what "extended discussion" means and what avenues they have for answers that they think are bad.

While similar to Aarobot's proposed changes, for the sake of completeness, I've proposed the following to replace the current blurb we have in the FAQ on Programmers:

Can I use comments to discuss the topic of a post?

Comments are useful for getting clarifications, but extended discussions detract from the question and its answers.

  • If you'd like to discuss anything related to programming with other expert programmers, please use our chat room.
  • This site is collaborative: if a question or answer can be improved without changing the author's intent, please edit it or suggest an edit.
  • If you like a post, show your appreciation by voting it up.
  • If you disagree with an answer or a question remains unclear, feel free to down-vote it.
  • If you have a better answer to a question, please leave your own answer instead of writing a comment.
  • I've tried to combine this with Aarobot's suggestion. Please review.
    – Shog9
    Commented Sep 10, 2011 at 18:02

As a new user, I was looking for questions to answer. All the questions I wanted to answer needed more clarification before I could give the answer.

Your policy says comments are intended to ask for clarification or corrections.

Please do not leave answers that should be comments. Answers should attempt to answer the question.

Without having answered a question, I did not have the privilege to see how to comment. Without privilege to comment, I was unable to properly answer the questions. A mild chicken and egg dilemma, that placed a hurdle in my path that seems unnecessary.

  • 8
    Concentrate on questions you can answer without needed further clarification. Once you've answered a few and got some up-votes you'll be able to comment.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Commented Sep 7, 2011 at 15:28
  • 2
    I sympathize, but this really isn't the right forum to be discussing your issue. It's already been discussed at length in Lower the amount of reputation needed to comment and the official answer is - yes, that's exactly the point, and no, it's not a chicken-and-egg problem.
    – Aarobot
    Commented Sep 7, 2011 at 16:15

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