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We all know the drill. Comments are temporary and intended to clarify stuff to make the posts better.

We know they are an absolute nightmare to cleanup, but it's also really hard to figure out how to handle them.

It would be nice if we had a way to mitigate the harm from comments by protecting users who misuse them from their own baser instincts. Arguing on the internet is the world's oldest profession!(this may not be correct) Even great users who provide great content and make great comments run the risk of getting caught up in an epic back-and-forth that makes every mod cry when they wake up to 20 flags in the queue and click on the question to see show 36 more comments.

Obligatory xckd

I believe there are two things that cause this lapse in judgment from otherwise productive members:

  1. @replies make it really easy to participate in a back and forth because you get that nice red notification every time another salvo is ready to be launched from your end
  2. People who engage in a long comment back-and-forth only get a nice "Let's move this to chat" message that they can readily ignore and doesn't make them think twice about posting the next message ("The other guy can move this to chat, I definitely want to show he's wrong to people who don't click through")

So let's fix that. For users who have a certain amount of non-self-deleted comments over a certain time span (say >20% of comments deleted by others over a 30 day span, with a minimum of 10 comments, numbers can be fudged), they automatically get the following rate limits:

  1. Disable @replies after a certain amount of back-and-forth (stop notifying the users bickering)
  2. When that "Let's move this to chat" message pops up, prevent the users from adding any more comments until they've cleaned up their existing mess

In addition, give mods a way to selectively rate limit and/or comment ban chatty users who let their baser instincts get the best of them

Disable @replies

If people don't know there's a response, they are much less likely to continue the silliness. If they're at all like me, they will get distracted by a shiny thing in the corner, and without that red notification, they will totally forget that someone thought that GOTO statements are okay. And that's good.

So after a certain amount of back-and-forth, just prevent notifications on the same post from comments.

"Let's move this to chat"

When the conversation continues despite the lack of red notifications, and the chat message pops up to serve as a reminder that this is less than ideal behavior, prevent the people involved from making any other comments unless they clean up their existing comments. Want to move to chat? Great. Want to keep commenting? Delete your own nonsense so that someone else doesn't need to.

Give mods better tools

Right now, mods have limited options for dealing with well-intentioned community members who get wrapped up and dive off the deep end:

  1. Delete the comments on the post and leave a friendly comment saying something like:

    Comments removed. Comments are to seek clarification; they are not for long arguments. And let's keep it civil, everybody.

  2. Send a message to the user in particular reminding them of what comments are for
  3. Suspend the user
  4. Sacrifice a live goat to Shog9 and perform the ritual

The first one is great, but easily ignored. The second does not seem to have the desired effect on all users. And the third is sacrificing otherwise good content and comments because they have impulse control issues when it comes to bickering with people.

Instead, give us a tool to either limit comments, or suspend users from commenting at all. Suspension from comments is self-explanatory, but the rate limiting would be more like:

  1. One comment per question (no bickering in question comments, you can add another if you delete your first comment to allow for iterative clarifications)
  2. Three comments on their own posts (so they can clarify to multiple members, but can't argue for an extended time)
  3. No comments on other people's answers

These are a lot of very different ideas that are all saying, "Good people make bad decisions, and comments enable them to do it more easily." Give us a way to protect good users from their worse judgment. The internet will be a better place for it.

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    +1 because this is a problem needing fixing. I'm not sure these measures are perfect, but the delayed enforcement of post-problem cleanup and the subtle hint to take it to chat are too little incentive to keep this from being a regular recurring problem. I especially support the hard limit on comments per user when they have been back and forthing with a single other user. – Caleb Jun 12 '14 at 9:35
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    @Chenmunka That would need to be per post or possibly per question, in that case; otherwise, what if someone is active on lots of questions? You'd run out of any reasonable daily allotment quickly. – a CVn Jun 12 '14 at 10:58
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    @Chennmuka, the goal isn't just to impose rate restrictions (which are going to eliminate some good comments and clarifications too), but to target the specific harmful comments that make the content worse. Sure, your solution is easier, but it will also remove some signal with the noise. We should optimize for signal, even if it's harder. – jmac Jun 12 '14 at 12:15
  • Related (about moving to chat): meta.stackexchange.com/q/93444/162102, meta.stackexchange.com/q/100967/162102. – Monica Cellio Jun 12 '14 at 14:02
  • -1 for preventive justice. Either ban the user, or let her speak freely. – Deer Hunter Jun 12 '14 at 17:14
  • Related: Can we get a comments only lock? – yannis Jun 12 '14 at 18:05
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    @Deer, care to elaborate a bit? What is the issue with restricting users? We already do it with question, answer, or review bans. Why wouldn't we restrict their ability to post comments selectively as well? – jmac Jun 13 '14 at 0:00
  • @jmac - the user has to prove herself an absolute nuisance to be denied the right to comment. In such a case, a ban from SE is indicated. – Deer Hunter Jun 13 '14 at 4:54
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    +1, I support this feature request very much, especially given a certain recent post here, which I will not link to, as it certainly does not need more attention at the moment. I like that it's selective, a blind temporary comment ban would only frustrate the user more, and the goal is to cool down not to frustrate. – Jason C Mar 23 '15 at 14:38
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    I would love to see the ability for mods to implement comment bans for controllable windows. On one of the sites I moderate, we have a real issue with answers in comments and no real way to enforce the purpose of comments without constant nagging through comments or the moderator tools. – John Cavan May 9 '15 at 20:01
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I like the idea of enhancing mod tools. Definitely think the comment ban should be considered for egregious offenders. Perhaps similar to the anti-recidivism system.

The proposal for rate limiting comments has some merit in my opinion. However, I don't think there should be a limit on their own questions.

How many goats must be slain in Shog9's name?! Is this really a problem? Strikethroughs always throw me off, just like marquee and blink.

Not so much the other two.

Don't force users to move to chat or delete comments

Preventing new comments and forcing either deletion or the users into chat wont really stop this. If anything, it will just accelerate the problem where two people will then go and have some heated crazy discussion in chat. This even happened to a mod candidate and it negatively affected his candidacy.

Don't disable pings

Disabling pings doesn't really solve a problem in my opinion. It will still show up in the ajax'd "x new comments" link, and if these people are really that involved, they probably check there too. It will just be a minor, if any, delay to them. What it potentially will do though, is negatively affect actual discussion on posts with many people interacting. I do not think accidentally removing those pings just to cover the situation of people arguing is worth it.

  • Thanks for the response Travis. Can you point to some examples where the author of a post legitimately required more than 3 comments to respond to clarification comments that didn't merit an edit instead? – jmac Jun 12 '14 at 23:58
  • Yup, this one I was just looking at, literally a few seconds ago: stackoverflow.com/questions/24194465/… . There are plenty more though, I see this all the time. – Travis J Jun 12 '14 at 23:59
  • I totally didn't realize that when I revised my post, I left out a critical thing about rate limiting. I will edit my original post. – jmac Jun 13 '14 at 2:01
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What if, like many other privileges, all users had a limited number of comments per day? And the canned comments in the review queue didn't count toward your total?

I'm thinking of close votes -- our users have 25 per day (although we're talking about bumping it up to 40 like the other busy sites do).

Having a limited number of comments will auto rate-limit chattiness and encourage users to make edits instead of posting a comment with additional information or instruction.

Excluding the canned comments in the review queue will encourage users to stick to boilerplate messaging. That means we'll focus on refining the overall message rather than having a bunch of custom workarounds.

I could see this solution having a good or bad return, but sounds like it would be worth a try. And because it would apply to all users (maybe excluding mods), it wouldn't come across as a punishment.

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    I suspect 25 comments per day is not enough for some frequent contributors, and would cause some frequent contributors to hit the cap -- I don't know how often, but at least some of the time. Thus, I worry that the cure might be worse than the disease: the unintended side effects might be more severe than the problem it's trying to solve. I suspect this suggestion needs data and analysis before we can know whether it'd be a net positive. I do realize that kind of data analysis isn't exactly super-easy to put together. – D.W. Aug 18 '16 at 0:10
  • @D.W. I wonder if we could cross reference the average number of comments per day with number of suspensions/warnings. Or edit badges. Or something. – Kit Z. Fox Aug 18 '16 at 0:14
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    25 seems a little low for avid users. I wonder if we could do something like is already done with the flags - if you have some positive metrics, you can earn an increase to your comment cap. Maybe if a percentage your comments are up-voted to a certain level, you get 10 more or something. Or we have a limit per question, not per day. (not sure that's technically feasible). – ColleenV Oct 5 '16 at 22:26
  • @ColleenV I like the idea of tying the number of comments to something that indicates that generally the comments are being used correctly. – Kit Z. Fox Oct 6 '16 at 15:27
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    After a recent clean-up, I think increasing the limit based on up-votes on the comment would be a bad idea. Maybe members should start with a generous number of comments and we limit them if they abuse the privilege. We could do something similar to the "too many closed questions" block where after a moderator has had to delete a certain number of your comments in a certain period of time, your ability to comment is blocked or rate limited. – ColleenV Mar 30 '17 at 14:07

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