I post a fair number of answers in SO [tags] that are on the short end of the long tail, technologies that are not exactly out-dated but for which newer or competitive alternates exist.

Questions in these tags do get subjected to seemingly never-ending remarks from SO users that favor the shiny new version. Good examples are [vb.net], forever subjected to comments from [c#] users. [winforms] is a very frequent target for [wpf] users. [c++-cli] questions tend to fall into the [c++] shark tank. This question by JaredPar, also active in these tags, is relevant.

I personally find these kind of comments very distracting and very unhelpful. And not a little bit annoying, they de-value my expertise in the subject. So I routinely flag them as "not constructive".

Problem is, these flags often end up getting dismissed. There is very little consistency that I can see to whether that happens or not, I can only assume is affected by the particular moderator that handles the flag. There is certainly a problem with moderators having to make the call on a technical matter, but that rule is not being applied consistently as well. This is starting to become a problem, the number of dismissed flags I have are adding up fast and I assume that's going to get me on the bottom of the flag queue if this keeps up. If that didn't already happen, lately it has been taking many hours for one of my flags to get handled.

If I can't flag these kind of comments, what else can I do?

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    Why is mentioning a possibly better solution/technology/language for the problem at hand bad? Even if it may not help the person solve the imminent problem, it will help both the OP and the future readers by making them more aware of alternatives and newer methodologies. – asheeshr Aug 20 '13 at 16:47
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    The only hope for a constructive discussion about this is to pick out a couple of comments that you flagged as not constructive but were not deleted. – Robert Harvey Aug 20 '13 at 16:48
  • @AsheeshR: Many developers are allergic to old applications. And by old, I mean older than the milk that is in your refrigerator right now. – Robert Harvey Aug 20 '13 at 16:49
  • I definitely delete a good number of such flagged comments, and even have a couple users I watch who regularly make such non-constructive comments. There can be some grey area between perhaps inquiring why they can't use New_And_Shiney_X and being flat out unhelpfully insulting about it, but... ehhh! – Andrew Barber Aug 20 '13 at 16:51
  • AFAIK comment flags do not affect your flag weight. Declines might affect the number of comment flags you are given. – Robert Harvey Aug 20 '13 at 16:58
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    Generally I don't find "hey have you considered X instead" in a comment to be NC, provided it's sane and not abusive. – Flexo Aug 20 '13 at 16:59
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    @Flexo Maybe a single comment isn't abusive, but consider a case of asking a bunch of winforms questions and being hit with the "why aren't you on wpf yet" comment every time. The repetition would wear on anyone. – Shoe Aug 20 '13 at 17:29
  • @Jim: That's a good example of a clearly "not constructive" comment. – Robert Harvey Aug 20 '13 at 17:35
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    @Robert The comment might as well be "you should look into wpf, it's much better than winforms. In fact, this problem would be much easier. good luck", paste that onto one person's winform questions a bunch of times and watch him explode. The point is about repetition. – Shoe Aug 20 '13 at 17:39
  • @Jim: It's less clear that is a non-constructive comment. – Robert Harvey Aug 20 '13 at 17:40
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    @Robert - Jim's example is a very good one, it happens over and over again. Particularly from one user, Andrew knows him well. There's no stopping him. – Uphill Luge Aug 20 '13 at 17:46
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    @UphillLuge Is there a particular reason you rolled back the edits? You are referring to tags after all. Why otherwise have the brackets? – Bart Aug 20 '13 at 17:54
  • @Bart - I just find it butt-ugly, consistent line spacing matters to me. Just a personal preference. Feel free to improve the content, I like the way it looks just fine. – Uphill Luge Aug 20 '13 at 17:57
  • @UphillLuge, wow, just looked at the edit preview and you're right about the line spacing. I never realized that the tag styling broken line spacing, but once you notice it's there, it really is ugly. I see a feature request brewing... – Ben Lee Aug 20 '13 at 17:59
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    I'm very glad you brought this issue up. I've had similar concerns brewing in my mind for a couple of weeks now (probably from the same one or two users), but hadn't taken the time to formulate a proper question. You've expressed my thoughts better than I could have. Hopefully, if nothing else, this will get the moderators to start paying closer attention to these flags. – Cody Gray Aug 21 '13 at 9:25

My metric for deleting non-constructive comments is this:

Is this a distraction?

If it appears to be a distraction, I'll look over the whole thread and, more often than not, just nuke the entire conversation, or at least all of the comments pertaining to the unconstructive one. Recent changes to comment handling have made it easier to prune only the non-constructive comments, leaving behind only the ones asking for clarification.

As with all moderator issues, unless it is obvious, your flag has a greater chance of resulting in deletion if you explain (in a custom flag description) the legitimate reason why the comment needs to be deleted, rather than relying on one of the canned reasons.

  • Can you recommend a specific phrase? The message I want to convey is "this comment suggests throwing everything you have away and start from scratch, after spending several months learning the new tools. It is therefore not constructive". – Uphill Luge Aug 20 '13 at 17:42
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    "This person repeatedly posts snobbish remarks about users being behind the times in technology. Is there something we can do about that?" But I agree with Kate Gregory; good or bad, routine suggestions in comments are just that: suggestions. At least it's not in an answer, and the OP certainly doesn't have to follow their advice. Remember, it's not the moderator's job to assess the technical merit of anything that is posted. – Robert Harvey Aug 20 '13 at 17:44
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    I immediately used it, let's see how it turns out. – Uphill Luge Aug 20 '13 at 17:49
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    @UphillLuge: The appropriate floggings have been handed out. Thanks for reporting. – Robert Harvey Aug 20 '13 at 18:02

If I ask "How can I do X in Y 1.0" a comment pointing out that X is built in to Y 7.2 is constructive and helpful. It's not an answer to the question, but in the absence of a mention in the question of the impossibility of upgrading my Y to something nearer to current, it is a fine comment. It is absolutely not abusive on the face of it. [However "you moron, use something from this century, X has been in Y since version 7.2" is abusive because it calls you a name and tells you what to do.

A comment pointing out that X is built in to Z and if you would just switch to Z you'd be fine isn't abusive (again, if worded neutrally) but is useless. It's the "you should use jQuery" of all the other tags. You can flag it as non constructive.

Remember: no hitting below the belt. No wearing your belt around your neck.

  • The examples I quoted are far beyond "Y is built on X" cases. They are "throw everything you have away and spend the next 3+ months of your life learning Y" comments. Of course they don't use the word "moron", that would be too easy. – Uphill Luge Aug 20 '13 at 17:13
  • Telling you that what you want is in Z is not abusive. It's not constructive, and I'd get sick of it too but it's not abusive. – Kate Gregory Aug 20 '13 at 17:16
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    I don't flag them as abusive, just non-constructive. – Uphill Luge Aug 20 '13 at 17:17
  • I don't think a "X is built in to Z" comment is necessarily non-constructive/useless. Why do feel it's fine to assume they may be able to upgrade their tech stack, but not constructive to assume they may be able to change their technology stack? I think a question of that form is exactly as constructive as "X is built in to a later version of Y". And I think they are both constructive and non-offensive. – Ben Lee Aug 20 '13 at 17:43
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    And your analogy to jQuery comments isn't accurate. A more apt analogy would be, for example, a post about javascript promises and someone commenting "jQuery has promises". That very well may be constructive/useful (depending on context), and in any case is not at all the same as a mere "you should use jQuery", which is always non-constructive. – Ben Lee Aug 20 '13 at 17:44

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