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Today I joined the long list of contributors who came here wondering why their answers had been inexplicably posted as comments. I'm not going to bother arguing that this feature belongs on the scrap heap, but I'd like to at least suggest a few changes.

  1. Tell people about it: I would imagine the first reaction of most people caught out by this feature is to assume that it's the result of a bug. There is no mention of this behaviour in the "about" page or even on the help page, where you would at least expect a search for "answer posted as comment" to produce a screen full of helpful information (it doesn't). Don't wait for people to get caught out before offering explanations in /meta. That's just inconsiderate.

    If possible, I'd like to see a description of the heuristics that you use to decide when an answer needs to be zapped in this way. Then at least I'd know how to avoid this situation in future.

  2. Provide adequate feedback: Would it be possible to provide people with some sort of warning or notification while they are still editing their answers? If the system is about to do something strange and unexpected, then there needs to be a prominent warning presented to the user. Perhaps a warning icon in the submit button, or a modal dialog that appears when the form is submitted.

    (You already have a length indicator in the comment section, with a helpful message to the effect that answers containing fewer than 15 characters cannot be accepted. Well done there.)

  3. Don't mess up my links: In an answer, hyperlinks are included using this format

    [«anchor text»][1]

      [1]: «URL»

    Hyperlinks in comments, on the other hand, are formatted like this:

    [«anchor text»](«URL»)

    As I understand it, one of the criteria for selecting answers to transfer to the comments section is the presence of a single link plus a short amount of additional text. So why, after all this time, has nobody yet bothered to find a way of fixing the link formatting so that they are still rendered correctly in the comments section?

  4. Give people a chance to fix their submissions: If someone inadvertently submits an answer before completing it, surely it would be nicer to give them the opportunity to put things right before you mess up what they were doing? I would much rather see a message saying "Sorry, you can't submit that" instead of having to go fixing the mess you made of my answer in the comments section.

‡ It really does, though

  • Can you show an example where #3 broke? As a moderator, I have converted plenty of link-only answers to comments, and I don't recall ever seeing a case where the link did not work correctly. Also, regarding #4, it is highly unlikely that a moderator gets to a "not an answer" or "custom / link-only answer" flag before the poster has really finished with their answer. If they're not finished, and they're going to take 20 minutes to an hour to improve it, maybe they shouldn't have hit submit yet. – Aaron Bertrand Nov 19 '13 at 17:12
  • @AaronBertrand - this does happen when such answers are automatically converted to comments. – Oded Nov 19 '13 at 17:15
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    @AaronBertrand Here: stackoverflow.com/questions/20074015/… (obviously I've already edited it). 20 minutes to 1 hour? Where did these numbers come from? "They shouldn't have hit submit" — have you read anything at all about usability. Seriously? Oh look, I'm going back into rant mode now. I'm taking a time out. – squeamish ossifrage Nov 19 '13 at 17:16
  • 20 minutes came from here - I assume that these flags will be handled in lower priority than spam / offensive. And I'm just saying that if they left the answer in that state long enough for it to get converted, why did it sit in that state for that long? If they know better, and are "in the process" of improving it, what are they waiting for? – Aaron Bertrand Nov 19 '13 at 17:27
  • @Oded ah, that's different than what I was thinking - when someone has flagged an answer as link-only/NAA. The question should be clarified to explicitly state that it's only talking about automatic, system-generated conversions. – Aaron Bertrand Nov 19 '13 at 17:28
  • The 20 minute figure is based on offensive/spam flags. – Robert Harvey Nov 19 '13 at 17:28
  • I'm not too fussed that the auto-conversion occurs, but I agree that there's a usability issue, and that some JS widget could be used to say what's going to happen prior to submission. – halfer Nov 19 '13 at 22:04
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    @halfer I agree. Just a simple confirmation dialog would suffice (This answer looks like it belongs in the comment section. Is it OK to put it there instead? [Yes, post as comment] [No, continue editing]) – squeamish ossifrage Nov 19 '13 at 22:09
  • @squeamishossifrage: Except that you need 50 rep to make that a legitimate move. – Robert Harvey Nov 19 '13 at 22:48
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You already get a notification, one time only, in a prominently colored box. The notation says "trivial answer converted to comment." The remedy is to post a better answer, and delete the comment.

The heuristics look at the size of the answer, and whether it has a link in it. Basically, it's looking for links without adequate explanation. In your answer, summarize the information contained at the link you are posting, and you'll never have this problem again.

Further Reading
Are answers that just contain links elsewhere really "good answers"?

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    Then I probably missed it because I scrolled down to where I expected my answer to be and then reloaded because it wasn't there. Can nobody see that this is a really terrible way to implement a user interface? There are plenty of resources out there on usability. I wish the developers here could read them some day. – squeamish ossifrage Nov 19 '13 at 18:39
  • I will admit, I'm not wild about this particular feature in general. Hopefully, it only affects you once. I'd prefer that we just reject such answers as "low quality." – Robert Harvey Nov 19 '13 at 18:40

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