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Got around to talking about comment flags with Robert Cartaino this morning... We're working on rejiggering the flagging options to make it a bit more obvious when stuff should be flagged, with the end goal of making it possible to automate some of the current flag-handling. More on that later; one of the things that came up in this discussion was the perpetual confusion among new (and some old) users about what comments can actually be used for.

And it occurred to both of us that perhaps the name itself is misleading here.

add a comment

Comments are those things you find below blog posts and YouTube videos, where passers-by dump the contents of their minds. They can be useful, augmenting the article or video... But all too often, they're just a venue for sophomoric rants and trolling. Jeff argued that the real solution here is to make comments better by moderating them, but sadly this remains the exception rather than the rule...

Except here. We do moderate comments, ruthlessly! Which frequently leads to a fair bit of culture-shock from folks who are used to the meaning of "comment" everywhere else on The Internet.

So yeah. Before we make this even worse by beefing up our moderation systems, perhaps we should find a less misleading term for what we're letting folks do? One that isn't a synonym for unhelpful and unwanted chatter.

As usual, I don't have any clever ideas here... So I propose we do the obvious thing and describe what we actually want: critiques and requests for clarification for the post being commented on.

critique or request clarification

To be clear: I'm only proposing changing the terminology as it appears below posts, where the link is actually an action rather than just a name. Comments can remain as "comments" everywhere else.

Thoughts? Critiques? Post 'em as answers for the irony.

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    My only concern is the length of the text, but otherwise this is an excellent idea. (I've no idea how you can say this any more succinctly though). Excellent tootip, BTW. – ChrisF May 21 '15 at 21:11
  • First impression: It's a bit wordy (although I don't see any immediate way of fixing that), and it might confuse new users ("where's the comment button? I don't wanna be a critic!"). – Doorknob May 21 '15 at 21:12
  • @Doorknob, how about becoming a "metacritic"? – ChrisF May 21 '15 at 21:13
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    @Doorknob I am not sure we should worry about the confusion - after all, this is trying to prevent people leaving comment-y comments.I think this is a clear way to begin to show users that we do things a little differently than they might expect. – Ash May 21 '15 at 21:14
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    +1 great idea... – gnat May 21 '15 at 21:19
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    I fear that "critique" is too esoteric a term and that many will read it as an invitation to simply criticize the text or the author and not to point out issues with the idea(s) within the post. Unfortunately I don't have a better term to offer. – ale May 21 '15 at 21:37
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    @Shog9 "Critique" and "comment" are synonyms. What do you believe the difference between the two to be? – Jason C May 21 '15 at 21:44
  • Because this is The Internet and in that context they're really not, @JasonC. Except for ASCII wangs; those are always critiques on the 'Net. – Shog9 May 21 '15 at 21:57
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    @Shog9 No, ASCII wangs are comments. (Incidentally, did you just give us all authorization to post those as valid comments without consequence? Can I quote you on this?) – Jason C May 21 '15 at 22:06
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    Hey, if you're still considering changing the text, why don't you ask this on ELU? It seems to be a decent strategy. – Jason C Jun 3 '15 at 2:02
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    @Shog9 -- you didn't like "suggest improvement", which I see is being tried on Area 51? – Monica Cellio Aug 2 '17 at 2:53
  • @Shog9, why did this end up as status-declined? – Kyralessa Nov 21 '18 at 9:45
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As Al E., I think critique is too fancy a word for UI, and I don't like any of the alternatives either.

I think you should totally drop the renaming idea, and try jQuery.

Specifically, this neat animated slide-out, which all users <100 rep see:

comment

On top of the formatting help, put a clear message in bold:

Comments are strictly moderated. Use them to ask for clarification or critique the post. Chatty comments will be removed.

Optionally, bump the threshold for showing this message to, say, 111 or 125 points — so that association bonus holders also see it once in a while. Indeed, a noticeable source of noisy comments are SO users commenting on Hot Network Questions on sites where they have 101 rep.

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    I like this idea. Always forget about that slideout... – Shog9 May 22 '15 at 13:50
  • It'd be great if this slide-out were also shown to users who've had some (TBD) number of valid recent rude/not-constructive flags. High-rep users can have problems (and subsequent complaining on meta or, worse yet, comments on other people's posts) too, after all. – Monica Cellio Aug 2 '17 at 2:55
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Two suggestions:

  1. Change the link to just "request improvement" (or "request clarification"). While critiquing can be a valid use of comments too, it opens the door to what can become a debate in comments. If we just say "request improvement" then experienced users and people who'll click no matter what may both still leave critiques too (we didn't say not to), so you're not shutting it down. But let's emphasize the main thing that comments are for: to request improvements to the post.

  2. This suggestion comes from this Workplace meta post, where we have the comments problem in spades: next to this link, add another link called something like "discuss this post" — and that link goes to chat. Maybe that's how we make it easier to get a room. But do something to actively redirect the discussion people really seem to want to have, away from comments.

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    What if you have a comment or something to add to the answer that isn't really open to a discussion? For example, SO's 4th highest scored comment just adds some good clarification. Here is another good one that adds a useful note to an answer. Do you believe those should fit into the new wording? If they were forced into chat they would be cumbersome to access. – Jason C May 21 '15 at 22:26
  • @JasonC that's a fair point. Experienced users will know they can do that anyway (no matter what the link text says), so the question is whether this wording would deter new users with something valuable to add in a comment (but not an answer). Would "suggest improvement" be better? It takes away the "you can ask for info" hint, so that's the cost. I don't think we want a long phrase here, but my primary goal in #1 is to get "critique" out of there -- too much potential for that to go wrong. – Monica Cellio May 22 '15 at 2:10
  • "Suggest improvement" seems to have its own issues. I dunno, I don't really have any good alternate suggestions. – Jason C May 22 '15 at 2:59
  • @JasonC yeah, being informative while succinct here is hard. There isn't a perfect answer here, but maybe we can improve on what we have. If you come up with a wording that you think works better than either of these, I hope you'll put it in an answer. – Monica Cellio May 22 '15 at 3:02
  • @JasonC perhaps "request improvement", which dodges the "suggest" language but is broader than just 'request clarification". (Answer edited to add this possibility.) "Request improvement" also conveys that the outcome should be an action from the author. – Monica Cellio May 22 '15 at 15:46
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I like the intent, but this seems like it would have a really negative effect on usability, especially for new users.

We call it "commenting" everywhere else in the system, and "critique or request clarification" doesn't sound like anything I would associate with commenting. If we could come up with a synonym for "comment" that worked everywhere, I could maybe see changing it system-wide, but just changing it here seems like plain obfuscation. If we just want to make it harder to find, let's do that.

The one other place we do this, replacing "edit" with "improve this question", I think "improve this question" actually sounds more appealing than "edit". "Edit" sounds like work, "improve this question" sounds like I'm making the world better! Here "critique or request clarification" sounds a lot less appealing than "add a comment". It might actually drive people to click "Add an answer" when they want to comment, because that now sounds like the logical place to write up a quick reply.

On the plus side, this seems like it might be A/B testable. I suspect what we'll see is a significant loss of good comments as well as bad, and I'm not sure how many good comments we're willing to sacrifice for this.

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    Can you expand on the sorts of good comments likely lost to this change? None are springing immediately to mind. – Nathan Tuggy May 27 '15 at 7:26
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As you probably are aware, I have, ah, passionately wanted something like for some time. The "comment" definition here is so incongrous with the rest of the Internet.

We've discussed this on Workplace meta before and something like this would be great.

Some suggestions from there:

Instead, consider adding a link within the main UI, labeled something like "Discuss this Question/Answer in more detail" which leads the user directly to a Chat Room.

and, instead of "add comment":

suggest an improvement

annotate / Add Annotation


Main thought is meta sites. They definitely are more discussion friendly, through comments in a more traditional sense. They are also quite confusing to new users already due to how voting works there and the culture of commenting on meta is not likely to and shouldn't change..

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    I dunno about "annotate" (same thoughts as "analyze") but "suggest an improvement" seems nice. Is it maybe too close to the concept of "suggesting an edit", though (which has a very different mechanic)? – Jason C May 21 '15 at 22:48
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    Uhh... We're already using "improve" as a euphemism for suggesting an edit if you're not logged in, and as Jason notes "suggest" is used all over the place for edits if you are logged in. The last thing I want to do is encourage more edits in comments... – Shog9 May 21 '15 at 22:52
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I'm adding this as a separate answer since it's a completely different train of thought than my previous answer (which I've CW'd because posting two answers feels icky).

In thinking about this more, something about "request clarification" doesn't sit well with me. It's hard for me to put into words but:

  • "Critique" (and "add comment") is something that you do. If I clicked something labeled "critique" or "add comment" I would naturally expect to be presented with a free input. On the other hand, if I clicked something labeled "request clarification", it almost feels like I should expect the system to take some action on my behalf, e.g. to send the user a notification that says "Clarification has been requested on your post" without me having a say in it. Instead of it feeling like something I do it feels like something the system would do. This is hard to describe but it feels wrong.
  • To me, a "request" is something that I expect to be fulfilled. While this is subtle, I feel like if it were to say "request clarification" a user may be slightly more put off if they don't receive the clarification they requested, because it appears as if there is some sort of nonexistent clarification-oriented request/response system in place. I think it builds an expectation, even subconsciously, which increases the dissatisfaction if that expectation is not met.

One benefit of the current "add comment" is it gives the user zero expectation. It is entirely one-sided. You just... add a comment. Maybe it's ignored, maybe it isn't, but no result is implied.

If I had better suggestions I would offer them. I wish I did, but I don't, and the more I think about it, for lack of a better idea, the more I kind of like just "add comment" but with the improved tooltip for clarification of purpose. Since the point of this is to get the purpose of comments across, the tooltip at least presents the information in an accessible way. Also, don't forget the hint text in the comment form may be an opportunity for improvement as well.

Working some amount of "documentation" into the link text would be nice, and the rationale behind the proposal makes sense, but the current "add comment" still concisely sums up the basic action itself even if it doesn't quite communicate the purpose of the action or the relevant etiquette (sort of like how the "Ask Question" link doesn't read "Ask a Good, Clear Question After Doing Research", but we still accept it as good enough), and every suggested alternative (so far) seems to introduce some subtle down sides.

It's possible that I'm merely assuming the role of the fabled ultra-pedantic meta user getting this out of my system and that there's not much merit here. Still, the original proposal and most of the discussion here focuses on the information that is being presented and I think it's also important to consider what a user might expect to happen.

  • "Suggest a clarification"? – SevenSidedDie Dec 23 '16 at 23:19
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Part of the reason that youtube comments (and other similar type of comments) don't work very well is because they quickly become not only off topic but either vulgar or combative. Anyone who has used the internet has probably seen this.

Encouraging this would be counter productive, and offering the first word up as "critique" leaves that door wide open. While critiquing is supposed to mean offering a detailed analysis, many users and especially English as a second language users, are going to view this as "criticize", which is defined as "indicate the faults of (someone or something) in a disapproving way." As a result, using the word "critique" is undesirable.

The core of what was intended from critique is analysis. So use that word instead because that is really what makes good comments. A solid analysis at the bottom of the answer can help a post or cause any problematic aspects to come to light; it is not inherently "disapproving". This will open the door for constructive criticism without actually using the word.

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  • What's wrong with "analyze"? – Shog9 May 21 '15 at 21:58
  • @Shog9 - "Analyze or request clarification"? Nothing against that either – Travis J May 21 '15 at 21:59
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    For some reason that I can't put my finger on, "analyze"/"analysis" doesn't really seem to fit the tone of the site (it seems too... formal? academic?), but that could just be me not being used to seeing it. E.g. go to cooking.stackexchange.com and imagine that phrasing there in the context of how the site feels; the site design is supposed to invoke a vintage cookbook vibe, "add analysis" just feels... weird. – Jason C May 21 '15 at 22:12
  • @Shog9 The upshot of "analysis" over "analyze" is it avoids the wrath of the world outside of USA and Canada. – Jason C May 21 '15 at 22:19
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    Mexico, you mean? They'll get used to it. – Shog9 May 21 '15 at 22:28
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I feel mostly apathy towards this. It doesn't seem that... helpful, but it definitely doesn't seem like it can hurt. Changing the text of the link doesn't take anything away from anybody or block any actions, so... seems like a big old "whatever".

I don't know if "critique" is the right word though. "You suck" is still a critique. "Critique" and "comment" are synonyms, I'm not sure what you're expecting with one that you wouldn't expect with the other. It's hard to escape calling a comment a comment. I don't really have a better suggestion though, mostly because this seems like such a trivial change that it's hard to think about -- you could write "add a kerflopelblorp" and it still probably wouldn't make a big usability difference. I suppose you could ask on https://english.stackexchange.com/.

But all too often, they're just a venue for sophomoric rants and trolling.

I imagine folks will still type stuff in the box if they have something to say, then press submit. Sophomoric ranters and trolls probably aren't going to care what the link says. I can't imagine the thought process of "I'm angry! But this text says 'critiques and clarification requests', so nevermind."

It doesn't really seem like it will have much of an effect at all but I can't think of any compelling reason not to do it. The whole thing seems like a no-op. If there's an outlet for people to enter text and have it be displayed, it will be used to post whatever anybody wants to say, no matter what it's called.

Just don't forget to change the expansion text to "show 11 more critiques and clarification requests"...

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    I've no illusions that this will turn lousy commenters into good ones; as noted, this is sort of a side project that arose from plans we're developing to improve our aging comment moderation system; if there are any visible benefits to be had, that's where they'll be. The goal here is simply to reduce whatever honest confusion might be present; if you're clicking a link that says "request clarification" and entering "I like ponies!", you can't really claim ignorance when your comment is quietly removed... – Shog9 May 21 '15 at 21:55
  • @Shog9 That seems reasonable. Maybe the proposed change will help that, or maybe it won't, but I can't think of any negative consequences of trying it. Are there any potential downsides that you're concerned about? – Jason C May 21 '15 at 22:04
  • Not really. But then, I usually have a hard time championing an idea while being sufficiently critical of it. And if nothing else, proposing this here gives all the ultra-pedantic meta regulars a chance to get it all out of their system. – Shog9 May 21 '15 at 22:33
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    I like ponies!​ – Alexis King May 21 '15 at 22:34
  • @Shog9 +1​​​​​​​ – Jason C May 21 '15 at 22:40
  • I'd like to add a valid and definitely entirely true and not joke critique: YOU SUCK! – Nic Hartley May 22 '15 at 3:55
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    @QPaysTaxes I propose the counter-critique "no u" and request clarification. – Jason C May 22 '15 at 4:31
  • @JasonC I propose... Uh, something smart-sounding and totally relevant as a counter-counter-critique because I'm out of ideas. – Nic Hartley May 22 '15 at 4:34
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Everyone should know by now how to solve that problem, but whatever.

Moving on, if you don't want to be verbose-y, you can leave it at "request clarification" since it's a form of critique*.

* critique: systematic inquiry into the conditions and consequences of a concept or set of concepts, and an attempt to understand its limitations. (source: Wikipedia)

It comes with the plus that expansions can also be "clarifications" since they make more clear the post by adding more information, that can ultimately be included on the post.

So, it's plus by both sides: unclear/imprecise post can be asked for clarification; otherwise fine post can be further clarified by adding information.

Either way, old users will not be surprised and newer users will be more constructive in their first iteration with this tool.


About the "show X more comment" you can remove comment and leave it at "show X more". Since it's besides "request clarification", show more implies "show me previous/hidden clarification requests"

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Two observations:

  1. It looks like a cheesy move due to Parkinson's Law. Too minor to implement and adding unnecessary complexity to SE.

  2. It would make sense to test UX-related questions at UX.SE. It has been done before, but I would urge devs to go to UX.SE more often. Maybe this is also fodder for ELU.SE (synonyms/alternatives to comment).

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