Twitter recently announced that usernames and urls will not count towards the 140 character limit per tweet. This sounds eerily similar to my proposal so I had to bump this. This idea was good for Twitter, why isn't it good for Stack Exchange?


Problem Description:

We are currently afforded 600 characters to submit as a comment, which is quite a lot if you think about it as far as comments go. I do not know if this limit is a technical restriction or a decision to force users to make their points understandable in as few words as possible, or both.

Within comments, some choose to use markup tools, some don't. Those that do are met with a unique problem in that the markup characters themselves, along with any URLs they cite as references, count against the comment character limit. As far as URLs go, I certainly do feel that we should be encouraging users to cite references, whenever possible, to validate the point they are trying to make; however, if the process of citing your sources takes away from how many characters you can use to make your point, then we have a fundamental problem as this can inhibit users from clearly describing their point.

The following suggestions are to help users get the most out of the 600 characters without feeling limited when using the markup tools and would hopefully help reduce the number of consecutive comments that some feel circumvent the character limit rules that are currently in place.

I understand that we may not be able to implement all of these suggestions, or any of them for that matter; however, I wanted to at least document my thoughts on the subject matter to help improve the quality of the site, if not now, hopefully at some point in the future. Cheers.

Current Implementation:

Any character you enter in a comment counts towards the allowed amount of characters for a comment.

Proposed Future Implementations:

(not in any particular order)

Proposition 1:

If a user is uses markup in their comment, let's not count the markup tool characters when tallying the character count. The rule here should be that we only count the number of characters that are rendered, not the amount of raw characters used to create the comment. This way, the amount of characters allowed for every person is the same. If someone chooses to use markup in their comment, why should that count against them, especially when citing references (see proposition #2).

Proposition 2:

When a user adds a URL to a comment, do not deduct the number of characters in the URL from the tallied amount of characters allowed for the comment. If they happen to use the []() markup tool, then deduct the number of characters between the brackets from the comment character limit. This would be similar to Proposition 1 in that only what is rendered to the display counts against the character limit.

One caveat to this proposition is that we could instruct users to use short URLs, like those that are created for the 'share' features; however, I still feel that any URL included in the comment for citing purposes should not count against the user.

Benefit: This will provide many more characters to the user to provide a succinct comment, especially when they cite resources or references to support their statements.

Let's take a look at some Stack Overflow URLs that could be used in a comment. As you can see below, many of them are quite long and would have used up a high percentage of the comment character limit. I've calculated just how much of the character limit the URL would have consumed if a user added them to a comment. FYI, these URLs were randomly grabbed earlier today from the top questions list.

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/21766169/how-do-i-echo-a-link-field-in-mysql-to-another-field-in-php - 103 characters - 17% of limit

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/21766147/modal-box-needs-to-be-stuck-to-the-right-side-of-the-screen - 103 characters - 17% of limit

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/21766083/how-do-you-toggle-the-active-nav-link-in-bootstrap-a-navbar-without-writing-addi - 124 characters - 21% of limit

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/21766187/post-request-converted-to-get-when-behind-proxy - 91 characters - 15% of limit

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/21766186/mysql-error-operand-should-contain-1-column-during-prepare-statement - 112 characters - 19% of limit

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/21766182/replacing-out-of-bounds-complex-values-in-a-pandas-dataframe - 104 characters - 17% of limit

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/21766178/blank-terminal-in-aptana-studio-3 - 77 characters - 13% of limit

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/21766177/hide-index-php-from-url-and-get-parameters - 86 characters - 14% of limit

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/21766176/django-display-template-paths-as-overlay - 84 characters - 14% of limit

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/21766173/matplotlib-pylab-import-error-dynamic-lookup - 88 characters - 15% of limit

Proposition 3:

Let's not count the number of characters in a username that is specified using the @ notification tool when subtracting from the character limit.

Benefit: Granted we're talking a few percentage points savings in character limits here, but every little bit helps when you have a limited number of characters to start with.

Here are some statistics regarding display names that I think may be useful for this conversation.

Note: Spaces were removed from display names just like they are when used in comments for these calculations.

Minimum length of display names: 2 - negligible effect
Maximum length of display names: 36 - 6% of limit
Average length of display names: 9 - 2% of limit

Counts of the lengths of Display Names:

Display name lengths, number of occurrences, and percentage of character limit used for this length

I wrote queries to gather this data. You can find these queries here:

  1. Minimum, Maximum and Average Length of Display Names with spaces removed
  2. Number of occurrences of display names lengths
  • Thank you @LowerClassOverflowian for your honesty and objectivity. Increasing the limit would be nice, but I doubt that request would be accepted either. My suggestions simply equalize one comment versus another in terms of how many characters every person is afforded, regardless of the use of markup. Those that use markup shouldn't be afforded fewer characters to illustrate their point. That is my primary concern here. In addition, by fixing the character limit issues, it may in some cases reduce the number of comments people need, thereby not needing to go to a chat room. Cheers.
    – Anil
    Feb 14, 2014 at 5:19
  • Considering all of SE sites use the same comments and technology, it's a good effort but not enough. With this amount of effort I'd better vote to just increase the limit from 600 to 1000 and it would be very straight. Many people place their comments in 2 (1+0.5) - it's my personal notice. So to change the system technically increasing the space in servers - not only you, but some other people should make another efforts in discussion here from different angles.
    – Xsi
    Feb 14, 2014 at 7:22
  • You couldn't completely exclude markdown from the limits because imagine how much you'd have to store if a user posted 600 single character links (60,000+ chars). You'd still have to enforce some hard limit, say 600 + up to 400 of markdown. Not that this invalidates your request in any way, just pointing it out.
    – OGHaza
    Feb 14, 2014 at 15:47
  • @OGHaza, Good point, but if a user did do as you illustrated, the comment flagging system is there to alert moderators as to the abuse and appropriate action could be taken. I would hope that the number of these types of incidences would be infrequent because if a user gets flagged too much, it would do more harm to them than good.
    – Anil
    Feb 14, 2014 at 15:54
  • @OGHaza, I forgot to mention that I do agree that there should be some hard limit though to avoid egregious abuse, say 2000 or 3000 characters. That is for the developers to decide.
    – Anil
    Feb 14, 2014 at 16:10
  • 1
    Re #2: reduced limits for links might be bad if someone decides to throw around a bunch of spam comments, or uses the fact that anything between the brackets doesn't count towards the limit to post abusively long comments. Your point about flagging is well made, but best to take the work off of mods when abuse is easily stymied automatically. However, a new bit of magic link syntax, such as [q:12345] or [a:98765] (where the number is the post ID) to direct a user to a specific, in-site question or answer might be useful. Feb 14, 2014 at 16:41
  • @EsotericScreenName, your idea to link to posts via an ID is very good. It would just need to refined to allow a commenter the ability to choose what text to show as the link. You should suggest that as a new post or add it as an answer to this one as an alternate suggestion to my idea. Cheers.
    – Anil
    Feb 18, 2014 at 4:08
  • This may be unimportant... but you do know that the SE links don't need the title text to work, right? http://stackoverflow.com/questions/21766186/ is the same as http://stackoverflow.com/questions/21766186/mysql-error-operand-should-contain-1-column- and cuts the length in half.
    – Catija StaffMod
    May 24, 2016 at 18:04


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