I've encountered some Meta posts on the sites I am active or used to be active that complain about moderators' deleting comments without notifying the OP. Some OPs even complain that their comments are legitimate and should not have been deleted. Some raised the issue of moderators' abuse of power.

Most of the answers posted to the questions read:

Comments are ephemeral and they should not be treated as important as questions and answers.

OK. I got it. I would like to suggest the followings:

  1. Comments with no upvote should be auto-deleted after six months from their posting.

  2. Comments with less than three upvotes should be auto-deleted after longer-than six months but less than one year.

  3. Comments with five upvotes or more should be auto-deleted after longer than one year, but less than two years.

However, moderators should not delete any comment unless they are flagged as offensive/rude/spam.

The periods suggested above are just based on my personal opinion. But I think this will help some sites, especially old ones with heavy traffic, clean up obsolete comments. Also, this feature can help users understand better why comments are ephemeral. They will not complain about it if they know the comments are actually and systematically ephemeral.

Your thoughts, please?

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    Very much related: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/140703/… – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask Dec 14 '16 at 16:10
  • @ShadowWizard Indeed. Let's see how it is received after 4 years. – Rathony Dec 14 '16 at 16:11
  • "how it is received after 4 year time" - Probably around 10-20 downvotes, maybe with few upvotes as well. Or in short, not so well. That said, great many people tried to "fight" comments and find ways to reduce the noise they make, including SE staff. So you're not alone in this "fight". :-) – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask Dec 14 '16 at 16:14
  • @ShadowWizard I don't know. I have enough rep to weather downvotes. 22 vs 24 for the old question doesn't look too bad. BTW, I didn't propose to add an option to make them permanent. I don't like that idea. – Rathony Dec 14 '16 at 16:15
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    Auto-deletion of comments based on votes will break a lot of one-sided conversations. So no. I'm against this. If you want to delete comments, you need to figure out how to identify entire conversations and delete them together. – Mysticial Dec 14 '16 at 16:21
  • @Mysticial Comments are not for conversations. That's for sure. If you downvoted my question, you did it for the wrong reason based on your misunderstanding. – Rathony Dec 14 '16 at 16:22
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    Rathony, you know I love you, but -1. SE talks through both sides of its mouth on this issue. On the one hand "this site is for Q&A period. Comments are ephemeral". On the other, "We're a community, we have a culture," etc. You know what a community is? You know what creates a culture? People talking to each other. My mother used to tell me that "Your father makes all our friends, but I keep them". Well, Q&A is what attracts people to SE; community is what keeps them. – Dan Bron Dec 14 '16 at 16:22
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    And on low-traffic tags, comments that point out why an answer is incorrect may not get the necessary upvotes to avoid auto-deletion. IMO, that's a terrible side-effect. – Mysticial Dec 14 '16 at 16:23
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    @Rathony I didn't downvote you before, but since you're whining about downvotes, I will now. -1 – Mysticial Dec 14 '16 at 16:23
  • @DanBron Sorry, I don't understand your comment. What does my proposal have to do with what a community is? I asked this question based on your Meta question. I think this can help reduce the number of disputes about comments. – Rathony Dec 14 '16 at 16:24
  • @Mysticial Thanks. Do you understand what "if" means? – Rathony Dec 14 '16 at 16:25
  • @Rathony A community is people talking to each other. To inhibit people talking to each other, to devalue people's words, is to inhibit and damage community. Your proposal, to expire comments, cuts at the heart of the community. It will make people more upset, not less. It will start more disputes about comments, not fewer. It will discourage people from participating, because there will be no lasting sense of community. I think the question which prompted my Meta.ELU post is poorer, sadder, for losing the comments. I do not want to make that the default situation. – Dan Bron Dec 14 '16 at 16:29
  • @DanBron When did I say we should inhibit people talking to each other? They have 6 months. Sometimes I review 6-year old questions and answers and I see so many comments that are obsolete or too chatty. – Rathony Dec 14 '16 at 16:30
  • I am telling you that the knowledge that comments will automatically disappear will inhibit people talking to each other. It's not a question, it's an assertion. – Dan Bron Dec 14 '16 at 16:31
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    I am telling you, in the baldest of terms, that guidance is bullshit and everyone knows it. The tooltip on downvoting Qs is "This post lacks research effort; it is unclear". Is that the only reason people downvote Qs? No, of course not. People downvote Qs because they embed a false premise, because they're argumentative, because they talk about subjects people don't like. The rules as written are not commandments etched in stone, handed down from the mount. There is the rules and the reality. The reality is comments are useful. – Dan Bron Dec 14 '16 at 16:41

Some comments should stick around long-term. Others shouldn't. But one thing that's clear to me, from participating and moderating on a variety of sites, is that comment voting is a terrible basis for deciding.

Humor gets votes. Snark gets votes. That doesn't mean it should live for years.

On the other hand, links to related questions are generally of lasting value but would get auto-deleted. That reduces the utility of the site.

And consider chat migrations. The "this conversation was moved to chat" comment, with a link, often doesn't get votes, so the link and thus access to the transcript would be lost under this proposal. Moving comment threads to chat is often a concession to people who really want to have a discussion (not what comments are for), so moving their comments and then turning around and taking the room away seems like it will cause more complaints.

Also, as pointed out in a comment (!) by Mysticial, auto-deleting comments based on votes will create one-sided conversations that now make no sense. When a moderator cleans up a conversation in comments, on the other hand, the whole thing gets handled the same way.

A comment should live exactly as long as it is still useful. A pointer to a related question, a request for clarification that still hasn't been answered, a link to the chat room where the discussion continued -- those shouldn't be auto-deleted. Arguments, time-sensitive info, snark that's borderline-rude, proto-answers, personal opinions on the subject of the question -- these are all things that the community (via flag) or moderators (via normal activity) should feel free to delete.

You should assume that comments are ephemeral; if you want something to stick around, put it in a post. But this does not in any way obligate the community to make every single comment ephemeral.

If moderators could pin comments to prevent deletion, auto-deletion under some circumstances could help. Without the ability to override, auto-deletion will throw out useful stuff. And in no case should moderators' hands be tied; if I see 30 comments' worth of opinions and arguments in the first two hours of a post's life, you can bet I'm going to do something about that.

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  • Thanks for the answer. One thing I should point out is votes on posts are as much terrible. One thing for sure is there are no comments that should last forever. If they are meaningful and helpful, the OPs should edit their posts reflecting the comments. Otherwise, all of those comments get obsolete. You can take a look around and read 6-year old questions posted on old sites. I don't see much value from them. – Rathony Dec 14 '16 at 16:29
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    One important point that especially applies to answers is that we don't know if the comment is still useful or not. If someone pointed out something important, like their reason for downvoting, and the post's owner ignored it or never updated their answer to address it, then we shouldn't just go around auto-deleting those comments. Those are useful to others until the post owner actually does something about it, not after some arbitrary amount of time. – animuson Dec 14 '16 at 16:50

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