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I’ve spent the last week diving into StackOverflow, and one of the biggest annoyances I have is questions that remain open and “unanswered” forever because someone suggested the answer as a comment and just left it there.

This doesn’t help anyone. The person who left the comment doesn’t get credit and the people looking for questions to answer have a ton of noise in their feeds.

There needs to be a way for third-parties to change “comments” into “answers,” at the very least.

Take this question, for instance.

If Greg turns out to be right, it’s mostly likely going to stay open forever. And Greg’s not going to get credit even if some friendly editor does come along and rephrase his comments and post them to the community wiki.

I submit to you that any system that requires editors to rewrite other people’s answers entirely is not a good system. Also, I think it’s a fair bet that a lot of original posters aren’t going to go back and check for more answers to their questions once they’ve solved their problem, so even if an editor DOES make a community wiki answer, it’s unlikely it’ll ever be marked as being the “one true answer.”

Honestly, if the current system were working I don’t think I’d see questions going back years and years that have “no” answers but really are answered in the comments (and the original poster thanks them in the comments, and that’s that).

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    You can just answer yourself using the comment, post as community wiki for guilt free helping – Richard Tingle Jan 13 '14 at 11:14
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    If an answer is so short that it is in a comment, it probably should stay a comment. It should only become an answer if it is made more substantial. – Oded Jan 13 '14 at 11:15
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    I often comment with a hint if I don't have time to actually test something or to write full answer. And I often upvote answers that describe the very same solution, just in full. I would feel bad if someone promoted my hint comment to answer - it would either give me downvotes for not really useful answer, or upvotes for the work done by the one who edited it into shape. – Mołot Jan 13 '14 at 11:18
  • The fact remains that the usability of this site for people who are in the business of posting answers is close to abysmal. There’s no way to say, “Never show this question again,” so we’re stuck with trying to find questions without answers or without accepted answers, and seeing them same ones over and over. – Wil Shipley Jan 13 '14 at 12:33
  • Btw I note that you're a long term stack overflow users but a new meta user. So I should say that voting on meta is different. Votes can be of the normal form but can also simply be disagreeing with the idea. I personally [don’t like this system]( meta.stackexchange.com/a/182028/220332) and would be in favour of a change to separate voting for the idea but that is the current system. – Richard Tingle Jan 13 '14 at 12:35
  • I’m not sure I love the idea of losing my reputation just because I posted an idea people don’t want to see implemented. – Wil Shipley Jan 13 '14 at 12:40
  • @WilShipley Its just meta rep, it doesn't affect your main account – Richard Tingle Jan 13 '14 at 12:41
  • What happens when my meta goes negative? Anything bad? – Wil Shipley Jan 13 '14 at 12:42
  • One upvote will offset two and a half downvotes. Don't worry, it'll work out fine in the long run. Welcome to Meta; the suggestion (and many of the points you make in the comments about discoverability) is fair, but people disagree with the feature suggestion itself – Pekka supports GoFundMonica Jan 13 '14 at 12:56
  • @WilShipley Rep cannot go negative, it is pegged at one, and no (extreme situations aside) nothing bad will happen – Richard Tingle Jan 13 '14 at 13:18
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    Moderators currently have the inverse ability (convert answers to comments), so I could see adding the other half of this. However, while we get dozens of flags each day pointing out answers that could be comments, I've only seen a handful of flags total over the last year that asked us to convert comments to answers. Making this a capability for normal community members would require adding another layer of a voting system on comments, which might be difficult from an infrastructure and interface point of view, while not affecting many questions. A moderator-only tool could make sense. – Brad Larson Jan 13 '14 at 16:44
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In this case (where the original commenter is long gone/ignores suggestions to post as a full answer) the best thing to do is to post an answer yourself, using the comment as the basis for your answer. It would be usual to mark such an answer as community wiki if it is largely based on the comment rather than your own work.

Of course if the original commenter is still on stack exchange you can @reply them suggesting their comment would make a good answer.

Why I would be against comment conversion

The usual reason for posting a semi-answer as a comment is because the commenter was unsure of the answer and just making a suggestion or they felt the comment wasn't sufficiently detailed to be an answer. In both these cases a conversion to answer is non desirable (as improvement should be made) and unfair to the commenter, who made a conscious choice not to post an answer.

I can imagine a great many people being annoyed at being downvoted for a low quality answer that they never actually posted.

  • I’ve seen many many cases where the person posting makes it clear that the comment was the true answer—it’d be bizarre if people voted it down. And if feels like stealing to just copy someone’s answer and put my name on it. I simply won’t do that. – Wil Shipley Jan 13 '14 at 12:28
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    @Wil that's what community wiki is for; to say "this isnt really mine" – Richard Tingle Jan 13 '14 at 12:29
  • @WilShipley: many bad questions can be solved for the OP with a link-only answer to the documentation. That doesn't mean a comment giving an RTFM link is a good SO answer. – Wooble Jan 13 '14 at 12:32
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    @WilShipley And on Drupal Answers I actively encourage people who are able to write a proper answer based on my comment to do so without marking it CW. If they put actual effort, they deserve rep. If I write "you need this hook" and some other guy writes "as Mołot suggested, your code rewritten to use this hook should look like this:" then why shouldn't he have it posted as an answer in his name? – Mołot Jan 13 '14 at 12:33
  • Ok, I admit I don’t know what the community wiki is (I’ve seen it referenced a couple times), and since I’ve been here a week, I’m afraid I’m going to say I don’t think it’s a great solution since I haven’t found it organically and I’m not exactly a novice to BBSes. – Wil Shipley Jan 13 '14 at 12:36
  • I guess I don’t feel like answers need to be sophisticated. Sometimes just a few words is all an answer needs. If the original poster accepted it, why can’t we? Why can’t the o.p. mark a comment as having solved her problem? – Wil Shipley Jan 13 '14 at 12:37
  • @WilShipley It is a little hidden away (but we don't want people accidentally using it), but it is a tickbox when posting a new answer. Its tooltip explains its effects – Richard Tingle Jan 13 '14 at 12:38
  • None-the-less, I submit to you that if this site is predicated on earning reputation and badges, than workarounds that give the reputation and badges to people that didn’t write the solution aren’t true to the site. – Wil Shipley Jan 13 '14 at 12:41
  • @WilShipley "If the original poster accepted it, why can’t we?" - because Stack Exchange always claimed it aims to be a repository of knowledge, and not your regular support forum. If all what's needed is few words, author probably made a stupid mistake or failed to read the friendly manual, and both question and answer are hardly useful for anyone but OP. – Mołot Jan 13 '14 at 12:41
  • @Wil Community wiki answers give no reputation – Richard Tingle Jan 13 '14 at 12:43
  • Ok, that’s cool. But I maintain the person who solved the problem should have some way to get credit. Like, it’d be nice if we could teach people the pattern of of actually answering in ‘answers' instead of ‘comments,' so editors don’t have to do this work for them later. – Wil Shipley Jan 13 '14 at 12:45
  • @WilShipley O yes, leaving a comment along the lines of "would make a good answer?" is always a good idea, but community wiki leaves a good fallback – Richard Tingle Jan 13 '14 at 12:57

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