13

Over time, I've noticed an increasing practice among moderators of the smaller sites (i.e. not in the Trilogy) to move extended comment chains to chat, just because they're too long.

Is this a good idea?

In the past, I've taken the position on many occasions that I believe that comments serve two purposes only: clarification, and asking for clarification. I take this position because as a mod I want the freedom to purge a comment trail that is clearly running off the rails without having to argue with anyone about politeness definitions.

But that's not the same thing as two pedantic C++ language lawyers debating the finer points of "undefined behavior." I give wide latitude to such discussions, as long as the participants don't start throwing spears, because I believe they are instructive.

The SE software even has accommodations for this. Long comment chains are automatically collapsed, so as not to disrupt the Q&A format of the post. And moving a comment chain to chat is not even a move, really; to do an actual move, you have to perform the conversion, and then delete all of the copied comments from the post.

Here is a recent example:

Is the use of the term "bugged" to refer to software bugs in English a worldwide or regional use?

and it's accompanying chat room.

What I find amusing is that the OP's detailed POV about the term, where he floats a theory about why everyone thinks that "bugged" is not a thing (that conversation took place in the comments, and is now safely sequestered in the chat room) gets to stay prominently featured in his question, at the very top of the post.

Now you could argue that the chat room is a better environment to have these discussions anyway, and you'd be right. I could argue that if we're going to do that, then why not just automatically convert long discussions to chat rooms?

The problem is not so much where the comments reside. I don't understand why mods are taking it on themselves to fix something that isn't hurting the site (at least in my opinion). In addition, every time I see this happen, the participants in the conversation immediately lose interest in it. The only comment that was posted in that room after all the comments were moved is most likely this one:

It wouldn't surprise me if the folks using "bugged" to refer to a certain software quality are the same folks who refer to their programs as "codes" and who believe textspeak is the pinnacle of modern English.

Which nobody will ever see. :)

Some mods are really aggressive about this. I discussed this with a mod on Physics, and he told me that they routinely move discussions when they think they might run off the rails.

9
  • 2
    Related, possible dupe... old-ish. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/119011/…
    – Catija
    May 19, 2016 at 16:13
  • 6
    I'm not sure why you're surprised... the alert text literally reads: "Please avoid extended discussions in comments. Would you like to automatically move this discussion to chat?" It's specifically discouraged by the system itself... so, really, the mods are doing what they're supposed to do.
    – Catija
    May 19, 2016 at 16:22
  • 4
    @Catija: I'll be clearer. I believe that mods should be working on things that are actively harmful to the site, like spam and other abuses, not routine housekeeping like moving comments to chat. Especially if a flag has not been raised (not saying that was the case here).
    – user102937
    May 19, 2016 at 16:25
  • So is this a feature-request for converting long chains to chat rooms? I'm not sure what it is you want to discuss.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    May 19, 2016 at 16:30
  • 2
    So, why don't you try talking directly to the mods on ELU about it and what their policy is and why they opted to shunt everything to chat? For all you know, they're only doing this because they get flags on it. ELU is a very popular site and answers there, particularly, can attract long comment chains of arguments that (often) aren't really constructive... Perhaps the Mods feel it necessary to keep the site "clean" by removing comments to chat.
    – Catija
    May 19, 2016 at 16:30
  • 1
    @KitZ.Fox: I guess I'm saying that, if it's really about the length, then this could be automated, and you wouldn't have to involve a mod at all.
    – user102937
    May 19, 2016 at 16:44
  • @Robert You'll need to find a different example then since flags were raised on that comment chain, and you should tread carefully with your implication that our mods are not working on things that are actively harmful to our site.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    May 19, 2016 at 16:44
  • 3
    @KitZ.Fox: No implication intended. It's simply my interpretation of the severity of the problem. Frankly, whether a flag was raised or not doesn't make much difference to me. I see flags more as "there's something bad happening here that needs to be fixed," so you'll forgive me if (at least for the purposes of this post) I take the position that maybe there isn't something here that needs to be fixed.
    – user102937
    May 19, 2016 at 16:46
  • @RobertHarvey about your suggestion to auto-move threads: how would you handle the case where 25 comments are a four-way discussion but, interspersed, there are 3 requests to the author for clarification? You want those requests to stick around even if everything else moves. When I move comments to chat (which is almost always in response to flags), I scan for things that should remain as comments. May 20, 2016 at 3:16

3 Answers 3

7

As far as I can tell moving comments to chat is "just" about discussion. It may be interesting and useful but it distracts readers from questions and answers when presented within the "main UI".

Since you mention collapsing comments chains, I've seen many times how this works and honestly this looks like a heavily compromised approach.

In lucky few cases it works all right and comments upvotes manage to pop up worthy key points but mostly what gets visible looks like random messy bits and doesn't even trigger curiosity to expand the whole chain. Allowing downvotes to comments could probably somewhat help in that... or maybe not - and there is a risk that it could become cure worse than decease, by further diluting the Stack Exchange brand of question and answer sites.

And there's that thing about collapsed comments chains that nothing can fix - it's when you expand them. It is actually the moment when it becomes apparent how bad they fit into UI. Watching and following 30... 40... 100 comments exploded in the middle of Q&A UI is a pain in the neck. These small fonts, that plain text where normal chat would have neat oneboxes, this absence of references to replied-to messages, these useless timestamps. These warnings that pop up when you want to add your comment, "move to chat?"

And other answers around, and sidebar that eats screen estate and distracts you from reading the discussion. And broken flow - when you are done with reading comments and want to get back to questions and answers and you're like have to start it all over again as if you landed on a different page than what you started reading a while ago.


To me moving to chat makes a good solution for above issues. You get to a different page than Q&A, it is much better equipped to host a discussion and there's no brain-damaging collapse-expand stuff, everything is just so much more convenient. I recently started reading and posting to such chat rooms and I really like it so much more than commenting. Comments UI (unlike that of chat) is simply bad fit for discussions and I don't think this will ever change.

The main problem with comments moved to chat as I see it that this is a relatively recent feature and people are still learning how to use it right. That immediate loss of the interest you mention, it's one of the symptoms. People still have to learn that move is not to shut down the discussion but to give it a more appropriate media. And system is still to be tweaked to help them see that.

Take for example these canned messages "comments archived", "comments are not for extended discussion, the conversation has moved to chat" - while formally correct, these read like "we moved this shit away. Nothing to see there, move along". When I want to vote them up to tell that chat room is useful, what signal do I send to readers? That I agree with removal of comments or that I want people to follow this link?

  • System probably needs a way to "promote" worthy chat rooms and help readers see them. "Here is an important discussion related to this post, follow this link to find it".

But how this could be done?

It looks tempting to pass this weight to moderators and tell them to tweak these messages when needed. But if you think of it, this won't scale because there is no way for moderators to be able to study all the chat rooms and tell which are worthy of being promoted like that and which are not.

Another seemingly easy solution (that unfortunately won't work) is to make that chat room promotion dependent on upvotes to the comments announcing the move. The problem with this is of course that system can't really tell whether upvote means that chat room is worth visiting or support the idea to move useless chatter away, "Nothing to see there, move along". And this is hardly a minor problem - for example, about 90% of my upvotes to such announcements are exactly to support moving of useless shit away.


Summing up, it seems to be a move in the right direction to "export" comments discussions to chat but this feature is not yet mature and system needs some changes to get it right. And of course people need to get used to it and learn how to leverage it (the latter seems unfortunately too hard with the way how it is currently implemented, "Nothing to see there, move along").

2
  • Chat is garbage. This answer is 6 years old and chat is still garbage. "Moved to chat" is the StackExchange equivalent of "stop talking". I'd say the concept needs to be re-examined but I don't think it was ever really examined in the first place.
    – JamieB
    Oct 10, 2022 at 14:40
3

My position: yes, it is - or rather, it can be (depending on site) - a good idea to aggressively delete comment chains.

Given that these are Q&A sites, and the focus should be questions and answers, comments can be actively harmful. I've seen instances of people believing that comments were answers, or attaching more importance to comments on the question than to actual answers because the question comments appear higher on the page. I've seen people post answers as comments in order to avoid exposing themselves to downvotes, or to try to make their own response more prominent than that expressed in the answers. I've also seen many arguments break out in comment discussions. Of course, that's not really a problem with comments themselves, it's a problem with the attitudes of the people posting them, but still, the back-and-forth format of comments makes it easier for arguments to develop. (None of these issues are helped by comment collapsing.)

You have a good point that discussions between C++ language lawyers on the fine points of "undefined behavior", or the equivalent in another field, are instructive. If they are instructive enough to be a useful part of an answer to the original question, then they can (and should) be edited into that question. But otherwise, they don't really need to be on the site - or at least, they don't need to stay. Back-and-forth discussions are exactly the sort of content visitors to SE sites shouldn't have to sift through to get to their answers; this is the whole reason Stack Overflow was invented in the first place.

5
  • 5
    Agree in principle, though it is the back and forth discussion itself that I find instructive, not our (sometimes obsessive) need to have it in question and answer form. Writing answers that satisfy our requirements for answers can be difficult, especially if we just want to share a bit of information. And I do dispute the notion that we have to handle problems like arguments before they happen.
    – user102937
    May 19, 2016 at 17:39
  • (that wasn't my downvote, btw.)
    – user102937
    May 19, 2016 at 17:41
  • 1
    No worries, I don't care whose downvote it was. Anyway, my thought is, if we're going to host discussions, what is the point of the Stack Exchange system at all? Why not just run a forum? There are already many platforms that do a very good job of hosting discussions.
    – David Z
    May 19, 2016 at 17:52
  • 3
    That's a slippery-slope logical fallacy. You can have both. Were that not the case, we would never bothered to have gone to the trouble to make chat rooms in the first place.
    – user102937
    May 19, 2016 at 17:53
  • I just happened to come back to this now, but I suppose you're right about that being a slippery-slope argument. Nevertheless, I do believe that every bit of back-and-forth discussion we allow is harmful to the site's core purpose of questions and answers. So, yes we can have both Q&A and discussion, but I think having both is inferior to having only questions and answers (except temporarily, or on meta sites).
    – David Z
    Jul 26, 2018 at 17:34
2

Sometimes it's about an attractive nuisance. On one of my chattier sites, it's not just that posts get lots of comments, and it's not just that the snarky ones are the ones that are "above the fold" because people vote on snark, and it's not just that four people are having a conversation involving 15+ comments and completely burying those two comments asking the OP for clarification. It's also that these kinds of threads invite more people to join in (especially if there's upvoted snark to draw them in), people start arguing with each other, the tone starts to degrade, and it all feeds on itself. (And now those requests for clarification are two of 50+ comments and doomed to not be seen.) And remember, none of this is threaded the way chat is, so we see a fair bit of cross-talk due to confusion about who's responding to whom.

Sometimes threads like this get purged, but when there are people trying to have a productive discussion (in and around the other stuff), moving it to chat instead of just nuking it is friendlier.

You must log in to answer this question.