20

I just handled a flag on a comment by a user with exactly 1 reputation, which was left on a question belonging to a completely different user. The user who left this comment has never gained a single upvote. The only votes their posts have received so far have been downvotes and close votes (the poor sap). So, as far as I can tell, this user has never gained the privilege to post comments during the lifetime of their account. It doesn't appear as an answer to the question that was "converted to a comment by" a moderator either.

The comment simply says "I need some help" followed by a link to one of their questions, which leads me to believe that the user tried posting an answer, which was then deemed "Trivial answer converted to comment" by the system and submitted as a comment automatically — which would explain why it doesn't appear as a deleted answer to the question.

Given that moderators have a policy to never convert answers to comments regardless of how useful they are as long as the owner does not have the privilege to post comments, why does the system happily oblige?

6

It's a reasonably common pattern that folks new to the site will try to answer questions by... Posting links to other questions.

Now, certainly these could be good and useful answers... If they contained detailed information on how a previous answer related to the problem being described in the new question. But if the new answer is little more than a link, it's probably not doing that.

Which means the new answer will almost certainly get flagged and deleted.

Which means the new user will get answer-banned.

Which is not a great start.

Automatically converting very short (< 75 characters + URL) answers to comments avoids this path to pain.

Now, there was a BIG loophole in this conversion for years... You could post an answer, watch it get auto-converted, and then... Edit the comment to say whatever you wanted it to. We closed that loophole back in the fall of '16, while at the same time adding the ability for low-rep users to flag questions as duplicates (thus reducing the necessity for new users to use answers for that purpose which Gilles mentioned in his answer).

  • 1
    We already do that; a link by itself is just rejected. A short answer is just rejected. So folks keep adding text until it goes through... – Shog9 May 8 '18 at 3:41
  • "prevent it" is the trick. Folks will often retry many times if told "no", with variations on their input. There's even a click-through warning for new users. Needs something more like non-violent resistance. – Shog9 May 8 '18 at 3:49
  • Nice to see the loophole fixed, I guess. I still think this mechanism was poorly implemented overall - half the comments it produces aren't all that useful anyway, with some even arriving mangled as I mentioned previously. But that's a topic for another day... – BoltClock's a Unicorn May 8 '18 at 9:45
19

This shouldn't be happening. The conversion should happen only if the user has the privilege to comment, otherwise we should be rejecting the post for quality reasons.

I'm checking to see how much of this is oversight, how much of it might be regression, and what (precisely) we'd show them if we rejected it outright. But yes, this can't be what's intended.

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    This also makes me question the whole idea of converting them, since we discourage people from leaving trivial answers as comments yet we convert trivial answers to comments. That's a bit of mixed signal, there. – Tim Post Jun 13 '14 at 9:25
  • The idea is that an answer that contains little more than a link to another question should usually have been a vote to close as duplicate. Technically, “this question is a duplicate of that one” is a temporary note about the question. It might be better to convert it to a flag to close instead, but that also catches cases like this one where the message isn't “see answers there” but some other statement about the other question. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Jun 13 '14 at 13:20
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    I don't think this is a big loophole. AFAIK it has always been like that. I remember testing this ages ago, but there was no edit link available to then alter the comment so it didn't appear easy to abuse. – Martin Smith Jun 13 '14 at 13:24
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    It's not oversight or regression actually, last I heard it was just "Meh, who cares?" since the only posts that are converted automatically are ones that are probably just possible duplicate comments. – Tim Stone Jun 13 '14 at 13:29
  • Oh, my memory wasn't entire correct. balpha just wondered if the behaviour was appropriate, but I guess nothing changed anyway. – Tim Stone Jun 13 '14 at 13:46
  • Yeah I'm starting to think this "feature" should be scrapped entirely. 1-rep answer-as-comment and it doesn't even bother fixing the formatting. What's the point? stackoverflow.com/questions/24354751/… – BoltClock's a Unicorn Jun 23 '14 at 10:59
  • 3
    Still happening: stackoverflow.com/questions/25153795/… – BoltClock's a Unicorn Aug 6 '14 at 9:53
  • Happened here today stackoverflow.com/questions/26066997/… – j08691 Sep 26 '14 at 20:49
5

The idea is that an answer that contains little more than a link to another question (that's the definition of “trivial answer” here) should usually have been a vote to close as duplicate. Technically, “this question is a duplicate of that one” is a temporary note about the question.

It might be better to convert it to a flag to close instead, but that also catches cases like this one where the message isn't “see answers there” but some other statement about the other question. I have no idea what proportion of “trivial answers” convey the expected “this is a duplicate” message.

A user with less than 50 reputation cannot even flag as duplicate (because one needs commenting privileges to leave the automatic dupe-link comment), so leaving an answer is the only thing they can do. Is it worth preventing them from posting at all? Do we want them to entice them into copying the other question's answers instead?

By the way, note that while SO moderators might have a policy not to convert answers to comment when the poster doesn't have the privilege to post comments, this is not a general Stack Exchange policy. I, for one, have the opposite policy: I base my decision to convert to a comment solely on the content of the answer (e.g. does it seek a useful clarification of the question?) and its usefulness in context (e.g. not repeating what someone has already posted), I don't look at the would-be-commenter's reputation. I don't see the point: why judge an answer or a comment on the reputation of the user who posted it? We explicitly avoid doing that in other cases (noise, rudeness, etc.).

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    Yeah, I don't want to totally waste that kind of signal, because it tends to be a rather abundant source. We're just .. using it wrong. – Tim Post Jun 13 '14 at 14:32

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