Being able to discuss answers is as important as the answers themselves. Comments should allow everything that an answer does, so I can post error cases, alternative code, etc. for an answer, which generally don't make sense to post as a separate answer. (That can lead to answer sniping, reposting someone else's answer with minor changes; I don't want to do that, either.) Don't make me squish responses into a single paragraph. Comments currently make detailed discussion of answers difficult.

Give me the full editor; let me post code, multiple paragraphs, with no arbitrary length limit, just like the initial answer. Discussion of an answer should not be second-class compared to the answer itself.


6 Answers 6


Comments are designed to be second class.

Each answer is supposed to stand on its own and voted on by the community. It's not supposed to become a long diatribe to add alternative code or different points of view by a bunch of users. That type of protracted discussion is avoided, by design.

Comments are supposed to be a bit Twitter-like; a light-weight way to add a few hundred characters as an annotation to the answer. Comments provide just enough functionality to point out issues or add any sort of mini "meta discussion" you want to have about the answer.

If you have significant content to contribute, add another answer so it can be voted on independently. If you feel that your corrections or clarifications don't warrant another answer, edit the original answer. That is the basis of how Stack Overflow works.

  • 5
    Extremly well-phrased and 100% to the point.
    – balpha StaffMod
    Commented Sep 5, 2009 at 19:50
  • "Twitter-like" is a very elegant explanation for why this is such a terrible design. Commented Sep 5, 2009 at 20:21
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    @Glenn Maynard: That's a cheap shot. Actually, the concept blogging vs. micro-blogging is very similar to answering vs. commenting (note that "vs." binds stronger then "similar" in this case).
    – balpha StaffMod
    Commented Sep 5, 2009 at 20:42

Um...no thanks.

I agree that comments now form an important part of the site, but heavy, highly capable comments would need a lightweight meta-comment mechanism, and that way lies madness. You may recall that the difficulty of using answers to address comments to the original question and other answers was one impetus for the comment mechanism in the first case.

Powerful comments would make comment threads too tedious to read (that happens even now), and too confusing to scan efficiently (as things stand it is easy to see where one ends and the next begins and they are still visually compact). The existing vote mechanism keeps downward pressure on the "Me too!"s and makes it easy to find well regarded thoughts among the dross.

Instead you should choose the most appropriate of:

  • Write an answer of your own (certainly this is not always reasonable, but as others have said it goes to the main point of the site)
  • Make do with the comment facility we have (and practice being clear and terse can only improve technical writing skills, a plus for anyone in this business)
  • Take it off-line (if both parties are willing)
  • No, it wouldn't. You comment on a comment by leaving a comment. None of your "insteads" even warrant a response; it seems like you didn't even read my post. Commented Sep 5, 2009 at 19:36
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    @Glenn: It never ceases to amaze me how people can assume that their logic is so compelling that the only way someone can disagree is that they must not have read your arguments in the first place. Commented Sep 5, 2009 at 19:53
  • My post explained very clearly why posting a new answer is very often the wrong thing to do; his first "instead" showed that he either didn't read that or chose to pretend he didn't. There are plenty of other reasons--posting a test case that shows why a particular answer is wrong as a new answer is absurd. His other two "insteads" were only there to pad his post; the second says "well, you can always just keep awkwardly working around the problem", and the third goes against the entire concept of a collaborative site. Commented Sep 5, 2009 at 20:24
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    @Glenn: Your post explained why you feel posting a new answer is the wrong thing to do; however, the sites' primary missions remain the same, and are centered around an answer model. The entire concept of these sites is that the answers speak for themselves, and compete with each other. If you have something that significant, then yes, it justifies an answer and an opportunity to earn you reputation. If it's just significant enough that it doesn't, then it justifies you editing the answer you would be commenting on.
    – John Rudy
    Commented Sep 5, 2009 at 21:09

I agree with the others here. The moderators have also been given the ability to delete all comments on a particular question or answer quickly, and when comments start to outweigh the value of a question or answer we often delete them with a note stating this.

To summarize the sections below:

  • Comments is a useful moderator tool
  • Comments are disposable
  • Comments can be invalidated

The comments is there to provide awareness of shortcomings of an answer when it does not constitute someone posting a complete new answer. I have to admit it has become a useful moderator tool on the main sites since it helps us quickly identify problems or areas we need to address.

It is also less likely that we will delete an answer rather then a comment. I would suggest you spend a little bit more time on the site and you will soon see why comments have such a limited scope. There was a stage where comments weren't allowed at all.

The OP of the question or answer can edit these at any time, which can quickly invalidate comments, forcing them to be removed. So you may add something significant in a comment, and the OP decides to delete it later, or change the whole answer to be more effective. This has happened in the past.

"Twitter-like" is a very elegant explanation for why this is such a terrible design.

To answer this comment. What you consider a terrible design has taken more then a few months to tweak and work at to get right. SO was not slapped together overnight, and Jeff and the team works extremely hard to implement useful features. I would further suggest that you spend some time going through the past feature request, and you will see how much work has actually gone into the commenting system.


After having submitted a comment over on stackoverflow -- with all spacing/formatting mangled into a single plain text paragraph -- I searched meta for info on how to format comments, and discovered this question on the topic, with not much else available on the subject.

But, amazingly, this excellent question has been voted down five times! And, being newly registered here, do not have enough rep to counter this and vote it up. To me:

  • either, there is severe reader immaturity -- but the whole concept here is to help users as they are anyway, so by definition users are perfect as is
  • or, the model for these sites does not work well in the situation where an extremely valid question happens to be unpopular with some, or requires explanation why the site design choices prohibit accepting such a proposal.

No thank you. We only have to look at Reddit or SlashDot to see how that would work. I've given up on both for anything other than sentinels of things I may be interested in looking at. Your idea is fine in theory, but comments are never actually used in the way you describe in practice. Elevating comments to first-class citizen ship will only lead to long, off-topic ramblings.


As a new user, I too have navigated here to find if I can at least enter a new line character in a comment. I recently had a person who responded to a post but they were not quite on the money. The lack of comment formatting made it difficult to communicate with the person. I understand reading this post there are other factors to consider but I also believe that simply responding to a post should not be cumbersome. Steve

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