As we all know, bobince's Cthulhu answer is one of the most linked answers on SO. While I agree that answer is fun, I don't think it is a very good one to help out people looking to parse HTML. That said, there are other answers and comments on that thread that might get a new user on the right track, but I wonder if anyone is even going to read those.

I'd rather see a link to an answer which explains why regex shouldn't be used (in most cases) to parse HTML. Parsing HTML using regex is usually a Bad Idea ™, but I don't think it's helpful to just leave a comment to this answer without any explanation as to why. Now don't get me wrong -- the answer is a classic piece of art. I love it. But it's not helpful for the OP.

I recently flagged a comment here, which had the following text:

They ... just ... never ... stop. Tony The Pony .. He Comes .... stackoverflow.com/a/1732454/

The question was asking for help with parsing a number of links from webpages. Now I don't feel this comment was helpful (I know it is a very old comment -- I'm just using it a an example). The OP might even have wondered "Oh, who is this Tony guy?".

My question is two-fold:

  • Why was my flag declined? Similar comment flags have been marked as "helpful" many times before. Was this declined only because it was made by someone who is (now) a moderator? Or is it dependent on the moderator who is checking the flag? (see here)
  • Should I flag similar comments in future? To be clear, I'm talking about comments with no useful text other than just a link to this answer.
  • When I link to that answer I also always provide better options and context.. I do think linking to it is helpful as it illustrates how strongly experienced developers feel about using trying to use regex to parse HTML tags. Feb 27 '14 at 13:14
  • As for a declined flag: if someone else also flagged the comment but as 'offensive' or 'spam', the moderator would have to decline all flags (there is no 'partial' option). Thus there is also the possibility that your flag was declined not because a moderator didn't want to mark it as helpful but because other flags of a more severe nature had to be dismissed. Feb 27 '14 at 13:15

I'm not the mod who did the deed, but I can come up with a few reasons your flag might've been declined. The most prominent is that the comment is, indeed, that it is ages old from 2010, only a few months after the original answer came up. It's both digging up ancient stuff that doesn't bother most people and that it might be considered part of the rich cultural history embodied by that answer. The answer itself was born from rage about the frequency at which we got questions about regex parsing HTML, so it sorta extends to the continued incidence that happened after it.

That's not to say it was appropriate or even a useful comment to keep. But for the reasons of the situation, much like the occasional good snipe or jab is preserved, one might consider a handful of these to be appreciable and not-a-whole-lot-of-harm in modern day. I don't imagine every moderator will agree that this is the case but there will be varying levels of lenience from them when judging something as low-impact as comments are considered.

Should you flag these? I'd still say yes on a general sense. Especially any new comments that happen in more recent times. The bobince answer is a great answer not just because it is a memetic masterpiece that the world appreciates, but also because the very first three sentences are:

You can't parse [X]HTML with regex. Because HTML can't be parsed by regex. Regex is not a tool that can be used to correctly parse HTML.

There's the whole winding thing at the end that everyone loves, but in the end, bobince still did right because he stuck to the point right at the start. Deeper meaning into the reasons it can't correctly parse HTML are a bit buried but the heart is that the tool is incompetent for the job.

Comments, therefor, I would suggest should take the same courtesy in actually telling people that it isn't a good idea. If they lack it, and all they do is point at the bobince answer with some cutesy references to its content, then it's something that should be purged.

Whether or not one should respect the ancient comments... that's a toss up. I can understand wanting to make the whole site clean but purging it all and leaving the site bereft of any reference as if no one reacted to the existence of that answer... that puts an awkward taste in my mouth. One might say, though, that a custom flag reason would probably get more mileage when dealing with the old stuffs than a generic flag reason would.

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