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Comments are just for requesting clarification and arguing with people, right? ;)

Yet lately I'm seeing this more and more often (no data available; sorry to pick you specifically, Barry):

What happens is that someone FGITWs a mini-answer as a comment on the question, diluting the value of the actual answers. Sometimes no answers appear at all, and the OP's question has been answered by a comment. So then what?

It breaks the whole Q&A model by turning questions into flat forum posts or chatroom messages. Stack Exchange was invented to get away from this messy model and instead create a system of Questions and Answers. Period.

  • I don't have time to write a full answer now
    Okay, write it later!
  • I will never have time to write a full answer
    Okay, well, don't then. Let someone else do it.
  • I'm not sure enough about my suggestion to write it as an answer
    Then posting it at all could be damaging to the OP. Watch other answers, learn a bit, then post an answer later if you feel you're surer about your idea.
  • I just want to give the OP a hint
    Invite him/her/it to a chatroom.
  • I don't want the rep from an answer
    Give it away in bounties to answers elsewhere that you feel are outstanding.
  • The question is off-topic so I don't want to post an answer and get berated
    If the question is off-topic then it is off-topic. It should not be answered at all. Writing an answer in comments both enables the naughty OP and creates a spasmic mess of anti-Q&A, surely the antithesis of Stack Exchange.

As of 2019, this behaviour is extremely widespread. I often see more answers-in-comments than answers in the actual answer section. Have we all forgotten why Stack Overflow was created? Have we forgotten the very purpose of a strict, peer-reviewed Q&A format? Are we all that desperate to "help", even on what we deem to be off-topic or trivial questions, that we are willing to sacrifice everything valuable about this site that set it apart from the others?

Fortunately, other network websites have started taking this seriously. Picking just two examples off the top of my head, Interpersonal and Workplace moderators routinely remove answers-in-comments and remind people to stop posting them. Even on SO we have "avoid answering in comments" under the "add a comment" tooltip, but this goes completely ignored and flags (last time I dared attempt one, anyway) are not only rejected but also discouraged.

I'd like us to start being firmer about this on Stack Overflow. Perhaps a special flagging reason for comments? Although I'm loathe to begin removing "useful content", this is not the correct place for them. At all!

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    if someone willingly chooses to forego rep that's their choice. I don't think flagging that is appropriate. – Mgetz Jan 22 '15 at 12:47
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    "Comments are just for requesting clarification and arguing with people, right? ;)" Quite questionable. Sometimes people are just not confident enough with their answer and "propose" them in the comment section first. – Columbo Jan 22 '15 at 12:49
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    @Doorknob: I don't see how a feature request can be a duplicate of an open-ended discussion. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 22 '15 at 12:52
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    meh I don't think we need another flag for this. People get tormented for answering questions that others feel are off-topic so they post a comment. I'd rather post a comment, then be harassed and berated for answering a question. – Taryn Jan 22 '15 at 12:53
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    @Abyx: That's absurd. "Not my business"? We are a community running a Q&A website and I am posting a feature proposal on a site dedicated to discussing ways to improve how that Q&A works. So how is that "not my business", again? I wish people would stop pretending that anything goes as long as someone was helped at the end of it. Might as well remove all off-topic close reasons, eh? – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 22 '15 at 12:59
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    @Columbo: Perhaps you could post an answer explaining why you think that? So that I can downvote it. :) – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 22 '15 at 12:59
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    @bluefeet: If you would be berated for answering a question, it's because the question is off-topic and should not be answered. Then doing so in comments is even worse: you're enabling the off-topic poster. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 22 '15 at 13:00
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit you're behaving like a meta police. – Abyx Jan 22 '15 at 13:02
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    @Mgetz: Meta is different from SO and you know it. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 22 '15 at 13:49
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    Since this is a feature-request for a specific feature, and not a discussion, it is not a dupe. – Lance Roberts Jan 22 '15 at 15:58
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    @ShadowWizard: That's my usual modus operandi, yeah. I was just wondering if we could somehow make it more official to discourage this, as it's seemingly happening more and more. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 22 '15 at 19:24
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    I see your point, but don't think it's so bad we need a new flag reason, or that we need to flag it to begin with. Comments are not making the question become forum thread. If someone who have same answer see it in a comment, he should post the answer on his own, maybe after asking the comment author same way I advised before. – Shadow Jan 22 '15 at 20:00
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    @Leeor: Sure, if offering you to "have a nice day", thanking you, and kindly offering you a guide to be a more constructive member of SE entails being "ticked off".... why are you stalking me? I did not use any flag. – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 30 '15 at 20:09
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    @Leeor: If you think saying "welcome", and "thanks" and "have a nice day" are condescending then we honestly have nothing left to talk about, except for me to say this: I completely agree that such a question doesn't merit a real answer, so do not give one. Giving one anyway and putting it in the wrong place doesn't make things better; it makes things worse. Have a nice day (and sorry if saying so offended you) – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 30 '15 at 21:04
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A "half-answer" like this can be quite valuable as a comment. It can provide a head start toward a full answer by someone else, especially in cases where the derivation and content of a complete answer would be non-trivial. Your list of objections seems to presuppose that there are other people waiting in the wings to answer the question, unassisted, but for non-trivial questions, this might not be true, and a complete answer may emerge only as a result of someone taking the hint in a comment and running with it.

Therefore, I think that such comments should be neither flagged nor deleted until their content is completely subsumed within an answer. At that point, I think it would be fair to flag the comment as "Obsolete" and for its author or the mods to delete it.

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    I see it mostly in cases where the answer is trivial. It's patent disregard for the Stack Exchange Q&A model and the reason that it was brought into being, and it's contributing to a decay of that model over time. For more complex questions I don't mind so much — it's common then for a bunch of people to work it through in comments and then someone posts a final answer with all that they've learnt, and that's cool. I'm not really talking about those cases. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 22 '15 at 16:56
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit, so are you suggesting that this flag be only available for questions for which we know, a priori that the answer is trivial? – Isaac Moses Jan 22 '15 at 19:17
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    No I'm just saying people need not use it when there's obviously an ongoing discussion where multiple people are piecing it all together. The example up there in the question ^ though is, I think, clearly not that! – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 22 '15 at 19:23
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit so what you mean, then, is a comment that entirely answers the question, not half-answers. Maybe you should ask for a flag for that, and a mod action that makes it into an answer. – Isaac Moses Jan 22 '15 at 19:28
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    Almost, but "because you cast away the const" is not a full answer and converting it into one directly would be bad. It needs fleshing out, but it's not "missing" anything. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 22 '15 at 19:31
  • I don't understand It needs fleshing out, but it's not "missing" anything. – Isaac Moses Jan 22 '15 at 19:33
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    Do you think those six words, with nothing else, are an acceptable answer? – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 22 '15 at 19:44
  • Do you think they're not missing anything? – Isaac Moses Jan 22 '15 at 19:46
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    I'm obviously not getting my point across well so I apologise. The six word comment hasn't left out any reasons that the OP's code was accepted by the compiler, so there's no discussion to be had and no new ideas to be injected. But it's not a complete answer: it does not have a thorough and useful explanation. So we can't just convert it to an answer. And there's no point waiting for other people to add to the comment. So why post it as a comment in the first place? Either flesh it out into a proper answer, or leave it and wait for someone (in this particular case, me) to do so. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 22 '15 at 20:00
  • I don't see a very clear distinction between "new ideas" and "thorough and useful explanation." Clearly, your answer added value on top of what was in the comment. Also clearly, the comment points in the right direction but doesn't get all the way there. Granted, given the complexity of this answer, this particular comment is not of great value, but I think it's hard to say that it's of so little value as to require flagging, and even harder to say that the class it's a member of should be considered, generally, to be eligible to be in the same boat. – Isaac Moses Jan 22 '15 at 20:15
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    I don't think you're following the entire intent of this proposal. It's a corrective measure, not a "punishment". And we already don't keep everything "of value" just because it has value, to someone, somewhere, no matter what it is: plenty of "valuable" questions are routinely removed for being off-topic, for example. I don't see this as being any different. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 22 '15 at 20:27

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