A fairly common experience I have goes something like this:

  • Auto-flag is raised due to comment volume.
  • I visit the post and start reading the 32 comments currently there. (More arrive while I'm doing this.)
  • I find a bunch of comments that are an argument between two users, a bunch of other comments that are chatty and tangential, a couple comments that are now obsolete... and comments #12, 19, and 28 are requests for clarification that still seem to be relevant. I keep track of those mentally.
  • I get to the end, purge or move to chat, and then go back to hunt for those three comments that still matter. If anything interrupts me, I risk losing track of some of them.

So, moderating long comment threads ends up being a two-pass operation. The alternative would be to delete comments individually as I read them, but when I do that I end up doing a lot of backtracking. The first comment in that long argument doesn't necessarily set off warning bells, and I won't know that a comment is obsolete until I get to that later one that says "thanks, updated".

Is there a better way to approach this using the tools we have? Or, is some improvement to the tools possible? Maybe something like the ability to temporarily mark comments plus a "purge all unmarked" ones, but the details of that are a little tricky, both UI and the definition of "temporary".

  • 2
    First, I think it's better to wait a bit, not intervene while users are still posting comments. Even if chatty, it's not a nice experience to suddenly see all the comments gone, and it will discourage the users from commenting in general, even for good cause. Second, when you come back later and no new comments are added while you read, you can mark for yourself the comments worth keeping, delete all comments, then undelete those you marked before. Makes sense? :) Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 14:42
  • @ShadowWizard when you talk about marking, you mean a hypothetical future interface, right? Or do you have some way of marking comments while you read? Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 14:46
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    If comments from diverse sources about a variety of things are coming in, I agree it's better to wait. If those two users are getting heated and just won't take it to chat, that's a reason to intervene earlier rather than later. Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 14:46
  • Personally I'd middle click them, thus keeping a tab for each comment worth preserving, then I can easily see them later and find them in the list of deleted comments. But you can also copy to some text editor, etc. Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 14:47
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    Valid point about "getting heated", I thought you meant the ordinary comments threads, without heat. Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 14:48
  • I don't know when I start reading whether I'm dealing with just plain comment volume or heated arguments, unfortunately. Hmm, some indicator up front that there are lots of comments from only a few people might help, but I don't know how that should work. "37 comments, 22 of them from 2 users"? Or maybe just a different auto-flag if any one user comments on a post more than N times? Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 14:52
  • When heated, someone will usually flag at least one of the comments, as offensive. So maybe some clear indication for that, near the comment itself? Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 14:54
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    Mods can see deleted comments now, right? You could nuke the lot and un-nuke the ones you want to keep? That might be a better workflow. Maybe drop a note first saying you're in the middle of comment cleanup, and everybody needs to slow down a sec.
    – user1228
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 15:11
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    @Won't That is the sub-optimal workflow already described in the last bullet. (Whether purging all and remembering which to undelete or remembering which not to delete and deleting all the rest, the operation is equivalent work; and still two-pass and vulnerable to interruptions.) Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 15:55
  • @SevenSidedDie Nope. You purge it all, then go through them one by one, undeleting them as needed. At worst, you might have to backtrack to recover a thread that becomes relevant. Better than the opposite.
    – user1228
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 16:08
  • @Won't It's still the same, because of the backtracking problem described in the question. As described, the problem is that you have to read the whole thread of comments before being sure you know the set to keep and the set to delete. Whether you start with all deleted and toggle some undeleted or all undeleted and toggle some deleted it's the same: incrementing through them is still necessary to gain the knowledge to make the final sets, and then you have to go back to implement the sets. Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 16:12
  • @SevenSidedDie he's saying to purge with prejudice -- purge first, then read and see if there was anything that should've stayed. Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 16:18
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    @MonicaCellio I know, but changing the order of operations doesn't change that it's still a two-pass operation, right? I recognise the problem you describe, and I've tried both ways and neither is better for the problem described in the question (apart from the side effect of cooling off the thread faster). (Actually, purging first makes it a three-pass operation, but the initial purge is so low-effort that it doesn't really count.) Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 16:20
  • Well, at least @MonicaCellio knows what I'm talking about...
    – user1228
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 16:21
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    @SevenSidedDie Won't's proposed workflow is: see 37 comments, say "that can't be good", hit the "purge" button, then show deleted comments, read, and undelete anything that seems to warrant it as you go. There might still be backtracking, but you don't read everything before nuking. (Won't, how would you feel about writing an answer? Perhaps ironically, this thread is getting a little long.) Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 16:23


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