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I'm pretty sure every site has had at least one Commentgate -- where a user posts on Meta to complain that their Very Important Comment was viciously deleted by a moderator who was drunk with power. The usual and customary response is to remind the community member that comments are second-class citizens, subject to removal at any time for basically any reason; comments are ephemeral and should be treated as such; &c.

When you look at UX though, comments are given almost equal weight to posts. In fact, their position below a post is the only thing that really implies their subservience.

I'd like to suggest two possibilities for making comments more noticeably unimportant.

  1. Make the font size of comments smaller. Comments are a little smaller already, but there's some wiggle room for shrinking them further. The difference on the Android app is striking. Speaking of which...

  2. Make the font look more casual. Makes the comments look more like notes and less like officially printed, professional, important stuffs. In other words, it makes them look more like a comment and less like something that should be enshrined forever.

Please forget about the example font. Imagine a casual, readable font instead, something you enjoy looking at that at the same time says "I might not hang around forever because I'm not as important as a real post."

  • "On mobile, comments are in a nice readable yet handwriting style font." What are you talking about? Is this only on some sites or something? – Alexander O'Mara Jun 1 '16 at 18:23
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    One UX thing to keep in mind: the smaller a font is, the more important it is for it to be in a non-fancy, readable face. – Monica Cellio Jun 1 '16 at 18:23
  • Yes, I'm trying to figure out how to screenshot, and also identify the font, which it occurs to me might be a phone font and not a SE font. – Kit Z. Fox Jun 1 '16 at 18:26
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    This looks like the result of your own system settings? Seeing as how everything, including your clock, seems to be defaulting to it. I have a nice, clean font for everything when I use the app. – Alexander O'Mara Jun 1 '16 at 19:23
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    @Alexander Yes, I mentioned that in the post. – Kit Z. Fox Jun 1 '16 at 19:24
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    Ah, overlooked that part of the update. – Alexander O'Mara Jun 1 '16 at 19:25
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    @KitZ.Fox, Why not make comments the same color as the background color? Indeed, why not make the user key in a captcha and wait an hour before the font-size 3 comments are shown to him with a font color the same as the background color? – Pacerier Feb 3 '18 at 17:33
9

I know that comments are second-class citizens, but a casual font like this one is not a good way to convey that.

Let me just be honest, I can't stand how that font looks. It is very distracting (to the point where it may actually harm readability) and it detracts from the professional attitude that many sites on the network attempt to have. In fact, this was one of the criticisms that was raised about the original Software Engineering SE theme, back when the site was still called Programmers.

And since many people forget to use back ticks when posting code in comments, I can see many ways this would end in disaster.

I think the same thing applies to almost any "scribbly" or casual font.

Making the font smaller than it already is on the full site view isn't a good idea either because this site doesn't officially support zoom. This means that things break when you zoom in and none of it will be fixed.

There is one thing that I think the mobile site does well. The screenshot shows visible boundaries between posts and their comments, while the same division on the main site is not very visible.

I think that adding a stronger line between the post and the comments would be beneficial. Currently, it's a little hard to see where the post ends and the comments begin if you are just looking quickly.

(Since I originally posted this, comments look a bit more visually distinct because they have the upvote/flag controls always shown. But not to people who don't have an account, so it's not a complete solution.)

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    If the font actively discourages you from posting or reading comments, I'd say 'mission accomplished'. – Kit Z. Fox Jun 2 '16 at 12:51
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    @KitZ.Fox That goes a little too far, though. We don't want people to write useless comments so people don't have to read them. But I still want to read all the useful and clarifying comment on the posts. – Christian Rau Jun 2 '16 at 15:22
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    @KitZ.Fox It wouldn't stop me from reading comments. I'd sooner hack the HTML/CSS than have to choose between that font and not reading comments. – Laurel Jun 2 '16 at 16:01
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    @KitZ.Fox, Mission accomplished is when there's no longer any comment box to post new comments and also all existing comments are wholesale deleted /sarcasm. The full irony is that you yourself are still posting comments as can be seen just above. – Pacerier Feb 17 '18 at 17:13
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Perhaps what is needed is timed deletion of comments, once seen by all pinged users.

Comments can hang around longer if posted by higher rep users, but they should last (say) at least 1 day after viewing. Here's an example (concept only):

Comment Box
@someuser This comment will self-destruct in 5 days.
Erase comment in |----------x-----| [5] days after viewing.

The parts in bold are part of the system (i.e. not typed by the user). The slider's min is 1 and max is rep-dependent.

Countdown begins once every pinged user has viewed the comment. If the above comment was made to a question, countdown begins after the OP and someuser have both viewed it.

Here are a couple of problems we can expect, with suggested solutions:

  • Easy: people will ask "how do I make my stuff stick around longer?" Answer: put it into an answer.

  • Hard: we'll get more not-an-answer answers. Possible solution: create a new moderation privilege - vote to convert answers to comments.

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    Some comments are useful. Deleting all of them after X amount of time is problematic. – Catija Jun 1 '16 at 23:56
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    @Catija Funny you should say that. I was just thinking that we should add something to allow voting for a comment to be made permanent. Maybe highly voted comments can hang around. – Lawrence Jun 1 '16 at 23:57
  • Also, you can only really ping a max of two people with a comment. One person with the at and one person (if it's different) who wrote the post. Just because a person is pinged in the comment doesn't mean it's not useful to anyone else. Voting to make comments permanent seems really convoluted considering that's the default now. – Catija Jun 1 '16 at 23:58
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    @Catija If more people should be pinged, perhaps that's a sign that the comment set should be moved to a chat room. With voting on comments, I'm referring to the usual up-votes. Yes, it's simply retaining current functionality for comments with many up-votes. What you're highlighting is that some comments are useful even if they don't qualify as answers. That's true, and admittedly, only clumsily handled by my suggestion. – Lawrence Jun 2 '16 at 0:09

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