99

I made a quick change to Area 51 recently, and it had a profound effect on how people used that site, so let's discuss.

Background:

The basic building blocks of every SE site are the QUESTION and the ANSWER. They are clearly portrayed as such, so if anyone puts "something else" in that space, it's such an obvious UI gaff, folks have no problem spotting it and fixing it — we have nearly 100% compliance.

Comments are something else. We have a section inviting folks to simply "add comment" (definition: respond? gossip? talk?), and yet we yell at them if they do it wrong. Then we spend an inordinate amount of time (and resources) cleaning them up (with barely a dent, I should add).

Comments actually have two primary use cases — to ask for clarification or to suggest improvements to a post. If you disagree with that characterization, maybe suggest something more succinct below.

So looking at Area 51 for a moment (our site-creation process), users are asked to post "example questions" (with comments) to help define the proposed site. Unfortunately I also flag dozens-to-hundreds of posts daily simply to remove misplaced answers and other minutia from comments which simply don't belong there. It's very time consuming, and largely ineffective.

But it never stops.

Only recently, I changed the comment prompt in Area 51 from "add comment" to "suggest improvements" (the primary use case for example questions), and that number dropped to essentially… ZERO!

Feature Request

  • Change "add comment" under the question to "ask for clarification" (or suggest something better)
  • Change "add comment" under the answer to "suggest improvements"

This isn't an exact match for all possible use cases for comments, but it's enough to give a user pause when they're about to post something that is (as it turns out) wildly outside what we generally consider valid comments. These cover the PRIMARY use cases for comments. You may disagree, but I welcome wording improvements. We just have to be a bit wary of making this too wordy (or obscure), and end up trading one misuse for another.

Before you respond:

The current UI is a trap. It lures in unsuspecting users to do one thing while those who live in meta enforce something else. That's the rub — there's a real-world understanding of what it means to "comment", and then there's Stack Exchange.

Unfortunately we can't let comments become a free-form chatting forum in the current implementation, so my suggestion is to at least provide better signage about what the feature is meant to be used for in the current implementation.

You can't change ingrained user behaviors with larger FAQs and more meta posts. You have to get it right in the UI. A prompt change will not cure every problem folks encounter with comments, but this simple "fix" largely amounts to a copy change — and now it's been field tested and shown to be extremely effective.

Let's do this!

  • 28
    After this just got status-declined yesterday... I admit this post confuses me a bit. Not because of what you've said, strictly because just yesterday a similar request was officially declined. Any explanation for this disconnect? Is it strictly because this is another "feature-request" and wasn't discussed internally before being posted? – Kendra Aug 2 '17 at 18:45
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    @Kendra I hadn't seen that. SE employees don't always huddle up nor work in lock step. I often work as an individual member of the community trying to improve these services like anyone else. – Robert Cartaino Aug 2 '17 at 18:49
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    This feature request might encourage people to be nicer as well. Compare "-1, not enough sources" to "this answer could be improved if you cited a few reputable sources." – user160606 Aug 2 '17 at 18:52
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    Yes, please! I saw this on Area 51 recently and assumed it was a test before broader deployment, and then that other request got declined and I was confused. – Monica Cellio Aug 2 '17 at 18:53
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    I think that it's worth noting that the declined FR didn't have the weight of actual testing behind it. Seeing the dramatic results on A51 is an argument in favor of this change. – Catija Aug 2 '17 at 19:02
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    I declined that proposal because we opted not to do that specific thing in favor of changing guidance, @kendra. That doesn't preclude other changes to address the root problem though; this would be interesting to test. – Shog9 Aug 2 '17 at 19:03
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    There's... A plausible theory that by the time folks see that placeholder they've already begun mentally composing whatever it is they want to say and aren't receptive to further guidance, @marcellothearcane – Shog9 Aug 2 '17 at 19:36
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    @marcellothearcane Yes, read the "background:" section again. The whole premise of this is that there's a marked difference between a bit of UI guidance or documentation, and how you label the basic structure of the site. – Robert Cartaino Aug 2 '17 at 19:48
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    @ThomasOwens The thing that struck me the most about the change on A51 is that it really reframed how I thought about the comments section. I thought more about my comments before posting them because I really wanted to be sure that they "suggested improvements". I think that on A51 comments on sample questions is slightly different as the main thing you're trying to avoid is the influx of answer comments... which exist to a lesser extent on main sites... but there is a broader collection of comments on the main network. – Catija Aug 2 '17 at 20:32
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    @Shog9 The Workplace volunteers for testing. – Monica Cellio Aug 3 '17 at 0:21
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    RPG.se wants this immediately! – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Aug 3 '17 at 12:04
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    @Magisch So, you are saying that we shouldn't try to fix the usage of comments? There are moderators who have to spend a lot of time cleaning up comments because people don't use them correctly. I'm pretty sure they would appreciate anything that might make this problem less work. – Catija Aug 3 '17 at 13:08
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    Comments need fixing. – Catija Aug 3 '17 at 13:14
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    @Magisch This feature request aside, I actually believe our implementation of 'comments' is completely contrary to how people interact in the real world ("share, but not too much; solve this problem, but without empathy or discussion) — it's why this system is so contentious and frustrating. I've actually designed a brilliantly simple, true "commentary system" which raises engagement without stepping on the Q&A (the reason we regulate comments so heavily)— No internal interest to date. I may post the design someday, but I've just about given up evangelizing it. Folks are focused elsewhere. – Robert Cartaino Aug 3 '17 at 14:23
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    @Magisch Because the current comment UI is a trap. It lures in unsuspecting users to do one thing while those who live in meta are asked to enforce something else. That's the rub — there's a real-world understanding of what it means to "comment", and then there's Stack Exchange. Unfortunately, we can't let comments become a free-form chatting forum in the current implementation, so my suggestion is to at least provide better signage about what the feature is meant to be used for in the current implementation. – Robert Cartaino Aug 3 '17 at 14:36
36

Good idea. I have two suggestions.

  1. The text to add comments should read "suggest improvements" for both answers and questions.

Requesting clarification on a question is a subset of comments that suggest improvements on questions. A different but still appropriate use of comments on questions would be something like "This question is somewhat opinion-based. However, I think if you asked about y instead of x, it would be more answerable." So I think the "suggest improvements" wording is appropriate for questions as well as answers.

I like the "suggest improvements" label because it encourages comments to be nice. There's a world of difference between "you need to consider y" and "have you thought about y? It's an interesting counterexample to the points you've raised here, and it might be worth discussing." Phrasing things as suggestions makes them sound nicer, even though there isn't any difference in the information contained. (I personally struggle with writing comments that are polite suggestions, so maybe the new UI might help. At the very least it will make me spend some time thinking about my comments.)

Gilles argues that this change would encourage people to leave comments instead of editing posts. What this argument misses is the fact that the people who leave comments instead of editing posts are already doing so. I doubt that this feature request would convince someone about to make an edit to leave a comment; I am convinced that this feature request would cut down on excessive comments, arguments in comments, etc. If you want to encourage more people to edit content, that would require a serious culture change in how people see edits, not a change to the commenting UI.

  1. The OP of the question/answer should see a "respond to suggestions" button.

A different use of comments that hasn't been considered in this feature request is that comments are used by the OP to respond to requests for clarification/suggestions for improvement. If someone comments on one of my posts with a suggestion, once I improve my post I'll respond with a simple "fixed" message. Or if I decide that the suggested improvement won't actually improve the post, I'll respond with a comment explaining why.

These are useful uses of comments. But most of the time, the only person who should be leaving these comments is the OP. And 99% of the time, the OP won't be suggesting improvements to their own posts in comments. In fact, I would probably argue that responding to suggestions is the only thing OPs should be using comments for. So let's use a "respond to suggestions" button instead. This make implementation a little bit more complicated, but the data suggests that this would be worth it.

Once someone leaves a suggestion and the OP responds, the interface makes it clear that the conversation should be over. Which is how things should work.


It's important to recognize that the UI text is not an absolute statement on the nature of comments. Comments still work the way they've always worked; a new UI does not force anyone to change their behavior. What it does do is suggest changes to behavior. If the situation warrants it, there is nothing stopping people from ignoring the suggestion.

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    I kind of like this premise; possibly making the call-to-action a bit more context aware. It might need tweaks to assure we're not steering users wrong, but the added complexity may be negligible. – Robert Cartaino Aug 2 '17 at 20:59
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    Are all comments suggestions? – Travis J Aug 2 '17 at 21:20
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    @TravisJ "You're wrong. Do x, no y." is an example of a comment that many people leave. It's worded as an order, not a suggestion. – user160606 Aug 2 '17 at 21:25
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    I think Travis's comment sort of proves a point. Asking a question doesn't necessarily count as a "suggestion"... – Catija Aug 2 '17 at 21:33
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    Tongue-in-cheek: So if I want to say that answer is wrong, but I don't have a suggestion to improve it, do I suggest that the answerer delete the answer to rectify the "wrongness" of it? – Mysticial Aug 2 '17 at 21:33
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    @Mysticial there must be some reason why you think it's wrong. Maybe it's wrong because it gets a critical detail wrong. So try leaving the following comment. "You answer says x, but [highly reputable source z] says y. It would improve your answer if you took a look at z and explained why you disagree." It might be that it isn't possible to disagree without being wrong. But you've worded your complaint as a suggestion, and as a result it sounds a lot more polite. – user160606 Aug 2 '17 at 21:38
  • @Catija requests for clarification are suggestions for how to improve content. They essentially say "this content would be improved if it could answer this question." – user160606 Aug 2 '17 at 21:40
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    @Catija some questions are performatives, which are inherently requests for improvement. – Monica Cellio Aug 3 '17 at 0:26
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    I just realized something... the OP can certainly respond to comments but it may even be better to remind them to edit rather than comment if they are answering a request for details. – Catija Aug 3 '17 at 0:37
  • @Catija Ohh, good point. No idea what the best phrasing is to counter that. I do think that the text should be different for the OP than for everyone else. – user160606 Aug 3 '17 at 0:38
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    @Catija But when editing, they should still reply to the user who requested clarification to let them know it was provided. It's a disposable comment, but often necessary - within narrow technical topics, that user may be the only potential answerer the question will ever get. – user315433 Aug 3 '17 at 18:31
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    @Michelle that may depend on the site... and how recently the comment was left. On SO, where it's easy to miss things in the recent tab, perhaps, but on most other sites, it's obvious to anyone paying attention that the question has been updated. – Catija Aug 3 '17 at 19:13
4

For main sites - yeah, this mostly feels like a good idea.

I'd suggest a few small tweaks. For a question that one asks themselves - "Ask for clarification" makes no sense. It might as such make a little more sense to rename "provide clarification" there instead. In a sense, if we're going to tailor these for context - we need to go far enough that it makes sense.

In some cases, I've found that I've actually been asked (or have asked for) clarifications in an answer.

For metas though, I suspect the status quo feels like it makes more sense. Metas are strange and comments actually are used primarily as comments.

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    I don't agree that it should appear as "provide clarification". Clarification should almost always (but not always always) be given via an edit and not another comment. I also do agree that there have been plenty of times where I've been able to write an answer that covers 75%, 80%, even 90% of the question but needed clarification on a few points and have used the answer to suggest things that need to be examined or understood to make a final choice on solution, so that does need to be considered as well. – Thomas Owens Aug 3 '17 at 12:55
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    Yeah, but ask for clarification on your own question feels.. silly... Its the most consistent compromise I could think of. Even now though its implicit you roll in any meaningful information into your post.... – Journeyman Geek Aug 3 '17 at 13:10
  • I'd put forth that there's rarely any reason to comment on your own question in the first place, except as a reply to someone else. – David Z Oct 18 '17 at 22:03
  • Yup but that's exactly what we're talking about here - a good half of the comments here are me responding to comments and attempting to provide clarification. – Journeyman Geek Oct 18 '17 at 23:04
2

I have a serious issue with this suggestion, and that's that it will discourage one of the primary use cases for comments at present: meta discussion. Now, you might think that meta discussion should happen on the per-site meta, and that is somewhat true, but it also happens via comments and we want it to happen via comments and, in fact, some network-wide policies invoke this use case. Consider the following:

Hi and welcome to Foo SE! We're a bit different from your typical forum; you may want to visit the [help] and take the two-minute [tour] to learn a bit more about our idiosyncracies. (specific guidance on issues in this post if any). (complement about common newbie problems averted in this post if any). Good luck, and I hope to see you around!

This sort of comment is ubiquitous across all the stacks I frequent, and certainly seems like an important part of increasing new-user retention with no cost to site quality; other users seeing the comment get the useful information that this is someone's first post here, which may explain/reveal/highlight various non-content-based problems with a post, as well as the information that this user has been greeted and directed to the appropriate new-user resources, and thus no further action on that count is needed. It saves everyone a lot of time, and generally makes stuff better.

Ok, so maybe you're willing to lose a little new-user friendliness in the hopes that it's a net positive overall, since the 'comment' name is pretty misleading. Let's consider this next case:

I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because Bar.

This sort of comment is, in-fact, auto-generated by the system when a user casts a custom close vote. This is not a request for clarification, not a suggestion for improvement, this is an explanation as part of meta discussion. This communicates "Bar is not allowed here" to the user. If it's controversial, someone else may say "Actually, Bar is allowed here" and then it goes to meta for a proper discussion. But that sort of basic "This is what you're doing wrong. This is the process/etiquette issue you are running into here" comment is helpful and appropriate and would be occluded in the new phrasing.

Next:

meta [here](foo.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/314159/is-bar-on-topic-or-not)

This directs people who want to argue for or against topicality to the appropriate place for that. Several other sorts of meta links can occasionally be appropriate, for example on discussing why we want to leave a really terrible answer or something like that (although ofttimes we just get a mod comment explaining a why on that instead).

Next:

Comments are not for extended discussion, this conversation has been moved to [chat](chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/11/a-comment-discussion-got-moved-here).

Mods often leave comments explaining site violations when a group of users are guilty of something. Like, if a whole bunch of answerers keep doing the same not-okay thing and getting their answer deleted, and they aren't all new, then a mod comment linking to [GS/BS] or [Be Nice] or [Back It Up!] may be appropriate. Public comments are one of the ways diamond mods communicate with the communities they govern and while I would hope all the diamond mods would be well-versed enough not to be majorly affected by a parlance change, I think users may respond to such comments less well (since it's less clear what's going on) or may rapidly learn to ignore your 'suggestion' text (since it quickly becomes clear that that's not actually intended to be a rule about what comments are for, since the leadership violates said rule willy nilly). This is, of course, bad.

And the last major meta-discussion use case is:

[Related](link): This question as relates to a previous version of FooBar.

Which provides context for users.

So basically, I like the idea, but it needs to be phrased to allow this stuff too. Not sure of any good word for that.

  • I disagree with this being a serious issue, because I think (as do many others) that meta-discussion generally does not belong in comments. In fact that's kind of the point of this change. As far as your examples, yes it's sometimes useful to be able to leave those kinds of comments, but as far as I can tell nothing about Robert's suggestion is going to stop people from doing so anyway. It's just a wording change in the UI, whose purpose is to help train new users what they should generally be using comments for. Experienced people who are leaving other kinds of comments know when to do so. – David Z Oct 18 '17 at 22:02
  • @DavidZ The experienced people of tomorrow are the new users of today, and changing the UI will change their behavior. If we accept these other kinds of comments as important we should make space for them in the UI or they will stop being accepted as important. – Please stop being evil Oct 18 '17 at 23:06
  • Yes, exactly. We are trying to change their behavior. I don't think these kinds of comments are particularly important anyway. I'm not saying they should never be posted, either; as I mentioned, sometimes they are useful. But in the grand scheme of things they are not important. What is important is having the ability to improve question and answer posts. – David Z Oct 18 '17 at 23:11
  • By the way, I would file the custom close reason comments under "suggesting improvements" because, when done properly, they should identify the reason the post is off topic, giving the poster some guidance as to how to improve it. Similarly for linking to related resources; those links can then be incorporated into the post. – David Z Oct 18 '17 at 23:14
  • @DavidZ No, reasons for closure should not help improve a question. Not all questions are good fits for SE and finagling to try and get an answer here when it truly doesn't fit isn't good behavior. It's true that close reasons sometimes help the asker refine the question, but that isn't the metric by which their quality is judged nor should it be. And I seriously question the idea that these reasons aren't important. Each individual one of these behaviors on its own would be seriously problematic for site health if culled, doing away with all of them would drastically hamper communication. – Please stop being evil Oct 19 '17 at 0:31
  • Changing behavior in such a way will erode the trust between community and elected moderators (because the reasons for decisions be made will not be clear), lead to repetitive comment-discussions (because absent the ability to use meta for its intended purpose, discussion that should and would otherwise happen in meta will half-happen whilst being periodically deleted in comments), the very problem this scheme is designed to solve, make site esoterica even more inaccessible (since constructive corrective discourse cannot be had), and increase mod workload (since the community is hamstrung) – Please stop being evil Oct 19 '17 at 0:36
  • But no one else is suggesting we actually change those behaviors (the goal of this proposal is clearly to cut down on new-user comment misuse, not change existing policy) so that's hardly a major concern. My point is only that we want the new words to not accidentally leave no space for these things, not that we shouldn't actively harm our ability to productively operate, since I don't think anyone is suggesting that. – Please stop being evil Oct 19 '17 at 0:38
1

While there may be room for some wording improvement, neither of your proposals match what comments are intended for.

ask for clarification

Comments on a question can be used to ask for a clarification, but they can also be used for other things, including replying to notify a commenter that the question has been updated, providing advice to improve a question (which is much broader than asking for clarifications), etc.

suggest improvements

This one is worse because the primary means to suggest an improvement to an answer is to (suggest an) edit. Comments on answers are to request clarifications. We already have far too many people who comment on an answer to point out mistakes when they should be editing it instead. Comments are to request clarifications, to inquire about a potential mistake, or to point out a problem which is too major to fix with an edit.

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    I disagree about answers... I would never edit an answer to change what it says... that is incorrect. If someone writes something in an answer that is wrong or only half correct, I write a comment to suggest that they consider updating their answer. I think "suggest improvements " is quite accurate in how a comment on an answer is used. – Catija Aug 2 '17 at 19:10
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    @Catija sigh No, editing is encouraged. This is one of the fundamental features of Stack Exchange. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Aug 2 '17 at 19:11
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    So should I edit your answer to say the exact opposite of what you're saying? – Catija Aug 2 '17 at 19:12
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    @Catija No. You should start by reading my answer. And refrain from strawman arguments. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Aug 2 '17 at 19:12
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    Just to point out, sometimes the commentor can't suggest an edit. If I see a typo in your code that is less than 6 characters and it's a major problem that breaks the whole answer, but is in a niche tag with fewer high-rep users that could just edit... What do I do? Not leave a comment and let the answer be wrong, or suggest an improvement to the answer. – Kendra Aug 2 '17 at 19:15
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    We're not talking about "your post has several spelling errors, please fix them"... We're saying "you've forgotten this point, please consider addressing it." See this comment I recently made on M&TV. Telling them something like this is an "improvement". – Catija Aug 2 '17 at 19:15
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    @Kendra Unfortunately, in that case, you have to comment. It falls under the more general umbrella of problems that you can't fix with an edit. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Aug 2 '17 at 19:20
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    For beginners' questions, comments are often used to say 'hey! take the tour and do xyz' (on english.SE) - that's not 'asking for clarification' – marcellothearcane Aug 2 '17 at 19:30
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    This is one of the oldest arguments on the network, @Catija; personally, I welcome corrections of inaccuracies in my answers (certainly moreso than stylistic changes to grammar); others feel very differently. Ultimately, individual authors are the arbiters of which edits are appropriate. – Shog9 Aug 2 '17 at 19:50
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    @Shog9 so in the case of my comment on M&TV, you would have just edited the answer rather than commenting? I know that the level of editing people are comfortable is a contentious issue... but I feel that, at least on the sites I've spent time on, the users prefer not to make integral changes to a post and often don't react well to people being heavy-handed with their edits. Heck, one of the edit rejection reasons is something along the lines of "goes against the author's intentions". – Catija Aug 2 '17 at 19:54
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    I don't see any particular problem with making an edit like that, @Catija. Critically, it builds the argument that the author was trying to make rather than changing it, rendering the result functionally identical but slightly more resistant to criticism. I'm certainly not averse to making far more extensive edits for the benefit of an author. I would comment only if pressed for time, or especially if I wasn't sure of the accuracy of my own corrections. – Shog9 Aug 2 '17 at 19:59
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    @ThomasOwens There are norms around editing. You wish they were different, but that would fundamentally change the nature of Stack Exchange. If you don't want people to edit your posts, put them on your blog. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Aug 2 '17 at 20:03
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    @ThomasOwens Because some edits are good, others are bad, and a computer can't tell the difference. Deciding about edits isn't even a privilege of the editor at the technical level: any user with edit privileges can do it. People who edit your post aren't “putting words into your mouth” — that's again a strawman exaggeration. All edits are attributed. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Aug 2 '17 at 20:10
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    @ThomasOwens It looks like Stack Exchange might not be the right platform for publishing your professional portfolio, then. – user315433 Aug 2 '17 at 20:22
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    FWIW: probably the driving force behind the recent change to allow authors to override reviewers' decision on suggested edits was the complaints about helpful technical corrections being rejected. – Shog9 Aug 3 '17 at 0:59
-3

The proposal is based on a faulty premise

Yes, there's a general problem with misuse/overuse of comments. However, the suggested solution excludes legitimate and necessary uses of comments.

Comments actually have two primary use cases

That is the premise of this proposal and it is sort of technically true, but not in a way that supports the suggested solution. The existence of those two primary use cases does not mean that those are the only intended or appropriate use cases. As Thomas Owens' answer points out, that interpretation directly contradicts the guidance on the help/privileges/comment page, and excludes the intended purpose of adding relevant but minor or transient information to a post.

Excluded appropriate content and its impact

Restricting comments as suggested would encourage non-answers and low quality answers. Particularly on the computer-related sites, there is a variety of information that is appropriate to post, but not as an answer. A few examples:

  • helpful links, especially if they do not contain an actual or complete answer
  • diagnostic suggestions (unless the proposal here is to artificially shoehorn them into a request for clarification or suggested improvement with wording like "have you tried..." or "your question would be better if you include the result of XYZ test")
  • speculative solutions that, if successful, would be only a lucky guess (You could argue that this should be posted as an answer. If it was, it might not qualify for deletion as "not an answer", but we explicitly discourage the posting of such low quality answers. If it turns out to be the solution, it can be expanded into a proper answer. Excluding them from comments would move the cleanup effort from comments to answers.)
  • speculative edits, such as expansion of an answer that goes beyond the original author's scope but doesn't qualify as a stand-alone answer. The author could choose to add it, in which case the comment could subsequently be deleted.
  • information by the post author that is useful but tangential or provides clarification needed by only a very limited audience, and would make the post excessively long or would be distracting if included.

Let me point out that some of the discussion I see about things that shouldn't be in comments ignores the definition of a comment as holding transient information. The argument goes that something suggested or raised in a comment should be acted upon and then the comment deleted. That is used as justification for the content not being in a comment at all. But that is precisely a contemplated use for transient information. Until the information in the comment is acted on, that is exactly where it should be.

The hole comments fill

This list is by no means comprehensive. We have standards and guidance for what makes a good question and a good answer. There is other stuff that is appropriate and important to post here in relation to questions and answers.

The current option is comments, which by default, tend to assume the definition of "anything that doesn't qualify as question or answer content". As such, a lot of stuff is posted in comments that shouldn't be posted at all, and yes, we could use a solution for that problem.

But I think overly restricting comments, especially contrary to our published definitions of their appropriate use, will do more harm than good, degrading question and answer quality by moving content there that is inappropriate or ill-suited for those posts.

Focusing for a moment just on content that is appropriate for posting (i.e., ignoring the chit chat, gossip, and similar stuff that doesn't belong at all), the vast majority of what I see in comments is in the best place for it.

Questions and answers are the site content and the focus should be on making those the highest possible quality. Comments exist to support the questions and answers. If there's going to be stuff posted that doesn't qualify as desirable question or answer content, and it inevitably will be, it's preferable that it be posted in comments rather than in questions and answers. Comment cleanup is much simpler than than the question and answer cleanup process.

Processes that are contrary to users' instincts

We also need to recognize that the Stack Exchange doesn't exist in a vacuum. The vast majority of posters are conditioned by their experience everywhere else. To the extent possible, the site structure should seem natural and easily understandable to users. We see inappropriate posting because that's what seems natural to a lot of users. I'm not saying we should turn SE into a forum or change our standards. Rather that the best compliance and the least cleanup will result from, where practical, doing things in a way that is consistent with what seems natural to users rather than contrary to their instincts.

If you look at the comment threads on other answers and at other Meta questions, there are also major differences of opinion on many things SE -- the appropriate nature of edits, whether certain content should be in a comment or an answer, etc. The SE philosophy is to purposely leave most such things loosely defined and subject to community culture. It provides the flexibility for users to work in a way that feels natural and comfortable within a general framework, rather than a rigid, one-size-fits-all collection of rules.

That approach fosters participation and contribution. Many people have strongly held opinions on how these things should work, but the issues will never be resolved, nor should they be; they aren't governed by singular rules that operate to the exclusion of all others. SE is successful because it accommodates this range of approaches and ideas, they aren't a problem to solve. That's why there's vanilla and chocolate ice cream.

Half-serious alternative

Along those lines, I'll toss in a half-serious alternative that illustrates how to mitigate the problem in a way that is consistent with people's instincts: add a different type of comment. Reserve "regular" comments for content that is appropriate to be on the site (as defined on the help/privileges/comment page). Create a new type of post that is explicitly identified as a temporary, disposable post. Those would be automatically discarded after a short period (say 24 hours) unless the author of the post it is attached to (perhaps and/or a high-rep user), accepts it for conversion to a normal comment.

We might even allow users with <20 rep to post those as a harmless alternative to their posting non-answers just because they have the "need to post". Users >20 rep could use those for content that only needs to be temporary, including jokes, chit chat, etc., that they need to get out of their system. Of course inappropriate content would be subject to immediate deletion. We could even have filters to automatically delete ones that contain inappropriate language. It would cut way down on the cleanup required for both comments and answers.

  • 2
    Re Half-serious alternative: We already have a type of post that is explicitly defined as as a temporary, disposable post, so I'm not sure why we need two. I think that abuse of comments doesn't justify canonising that abuse as the new official redefinition of comments without a much stronger direct argument for that canonisation than simply assuming it's a given as this section does. – SevenSidedDie Aug 9 '17 at 17:45
  • @SevenSidedDie, I agree there's misuse and abuse, also that comments should be considered transient in that they are subject to removal. However, there are some legit comments (minor or "transient" info), that could/should remain long-term(ish) and not be incorporated into the post. Also, clearly temporary info requires manual cleanup. Differentiating those two classes would allow automated cleanup of comments and minimize non-answers. But the suggestion was really to illustrate a solution style consistent with how most members think rather than fighting human nature. – fixer1234 Aug 9 '17 at 20:13
-4

I like the general idea, but I don't think it's quite there.

The help/privileges/comment page gives three reasons to leave a comment: request clarification, leave constructive criticism, or add relevant but minor or transient information to a post. I believe that all three of these are valid for both questions and answers.

Some specific examples:

  • I write an answer that points out flaws with another user's answer. It may not be possible to point out the problems in a comment, but you do want to (1) ping the author to let them know and (2) let users know that there are some problems and that another post does address concerns.
  • I leave a link to a related question or answer. This could be on the same site or a different site. Leaving a link in a comment also has it appear on the "Linked" section of the sidebar. Perhaps there's also some UX changes to be made here - making "Related" and "Linked" questions more visible, being able to manually "Link" questions without leaving a link in a post or comment.

Also, I'd like to point out that he Help Center explicitly says that comments should not be used to suggest corrections that don't fundamentally change the answer. The proposed change would be in direct contradiction on questions.

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    "Also, I'd like to point out that he Help Center explicitly says that comments should not be used to suggest corrections that don't fundamentally change the answer. The proposed change would be in direct contradiction on questions." I'm not quite sure if I understand the point your making here. Could you clarify? – user160606 Aug 2 '17 at 18:57
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    But of course, the functionality of comments wouldn't change, so if it was necessary, people could easily ignore the UI text and use comments as they are used now. The UI text essentially serves as a deterrent, and judging by the data Robert's collected, it's quite an effective one. – user160606 Aug 2 '17 at 18:59
  • @Hamlet I just want to make sure we don't discourage good, constructive comments. I've learned a lot from related material linked to in comments. – Thomas Owens Aug 2 '17 at 19:02
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    If information in comments improves your understanding of an answer, it really should be edited into the actual answer, where it's visible and not hidden away in the less prominent comments. How it should work is: comment: "this is a good answer. Here's a relevant link that supports your points. Including the link would improve the answer". Then the link would get edited in, and the comment would be deleted. It's simple. – user160606 Aug 2 '17 at 19:04
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    @Hamlet Actually, no. The way it should work is: edit the answer to add the relevant link. No comment involved. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Aug 2 '17 at 19:07
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    @Gilles No. I believe that adding that link would fundamentally change the answer. I tend to reject edits that add significant content. It's one thing to fix a link that goes to an error page. It's another to add links and references to material that may not have gone into producing the answer in the first place. – Thomas Owens Aug 2 '17 at 19:37
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    @ThomasOwens Uh? What part of “add related resources or hyperlinks” don't you understand? – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Aug 2 '17 at 19:39
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    @Gilles I disagree with that. And if someone edits one of my posts to put words or references into my mouth, I will roll back that change. – Thomas Owens Aug 2 '17 at 19:42
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    If someone adds in a reference or link that supports the rest of one of my posts and improves it - that is absolutely the correct behaviour we should encourage! It means the answer is better for all visitors who read it in future which is what we are aiming at here. – Ro-Reinstate Monic-Alsop Aug 3 '17 at 12:20
  • @Rory I disagree with someone editing that link into my post. The preferred behavior should be to leave it as a comment so the author, if desired, can choose how to incorporate it. We should not encourage people to put words into other people's mouths. – Thomas Owens Aug 3 '17 at 12:24
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    I don't understand why you would decline someone improving your answer. If you want to give the best answer to the reader it's a win; if you want rep, it's probably going to benefit you. There is just no downside. If their edit is wrong, then reject of course. – Ro-Reinstate Monic-Alsop Aug 3 '17 at 13:27
  • @RoryAlsop Perhaps flat-out decline is wrong. If someone makes drastic edits to one of my posts that is not community wiki, I will either (1) reject or (2) reject and edit to reflect my own words and thoughts. It would be much easier for me if people only left comments if they think that additional material should be included. – Thomas Owens Aug 3 '17 at 13:28
-5

I neither agree nor disagree with this idea

Suggest improvements is a good word to stay away from the Thanks, Works for me . I have the same problem too, Oh man you're a life saver comments.

But it will become confusing for people when

A similar question is asked previously but not exact duplicate. So it can't be closed. We want to redirect the OP to that question . in such case, people comment

A similar question is asked previously. you can refer to this solution [link to solution]

It is neither an improvement suggestion nor a clarification request.

So the word Suggest improvement become confusing in that case.

A suggestion

At present, if the number of comments under a post is too large, then only it will show Comments are not for extended discussion. and an option to move to chat.

Show that always for an answer so that if OP need some clarification, they can start a chat thread.

enter image description here

the only problem with this is it will affect <20 rep users.

but to comment, people need 50 rep(not for own post) So it won't make a big problem

  • Except for the fact the anyone can comment on their posts. So a 1 rep user anywhere can "discuss in chat" by clicking that on their post – ItamarG3 Aug 3 '17 at 8:28
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    did you read this to comment, people need 50 rep(not for own post) – Optimus Prime Aug 3 '17 at 8:29
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    again, a 1 rep user can comment on their own question. Go ahead. Create a puppet, answer to some question with the puppet and try to comment on that answer with the puppet. You'll find it works. – ItamarG3 Aug 3 '17 at 8:31
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    I suggest you read that again. to comment, people need 50 rep. but they won't need 50 to comment on their own post @ItamarG3 – Optimus Prime Aug 3 '17 at 8:33
  • you missed the point. That's exactly it: people with 1 rep can't go into chat. (unless they have 19 rep on other sites, but that's a different case) So you're suggesting a loophole for this. I'm all for letting new users into dedicated chats on their posts. Trying to make new user experience on Computer Science Educators better... That'd be a nice feature. – ItamarG3 Aug 3 '17 at 8:37
  • I already know what you're saying and I clearly mentioned it in the last to lines. the only problem with this is it will affect <20 rep users. but to comment, people need 50 rep(not for own post) So it won't make a big problem @ItamarG3 and I am not talking about CSE here – Optimus Prime Aug 3 '17 at 8:38
  • I saw that line. I even read it. But the point is that this might break the chat system by letting in many users who are < 20 rep... – ItamarG3 Aug 3 '17 at 8:40
  • this might break the chat system can you explain how? – Optimus Prime Aug 3 '17 at 8:41
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    Let us continue this discussion in chat. – ItamarG3 Aug 3 '17 at 8:41
-6

Comments at Area 51 are decidedly less structured than at the larger exchanges, such as Stack Overflow.

At Stack Overflow, the main plague goes in waves, often remedied by a single flag removal rule (such as when accept rate comments used to be a thing). Right now, there is still the common approach of using "what have you tried?". Is this not "requesting clarification"?

I don't think that this would be much of an improvement at Stack Overflow, or at the larger exchanges. It could cause severe problems with users who review as well, as their comments are not in the form of requesting clarification or suggesting improvement, but in the form of critiquing and informing the user of some type of issue.

Since those review comments, and this is just one issue to highlight, would no longer be requesting improvements, would they then be subject to flagging as no longer needed? That would constitute a massive addition to the flag queue, directly impacting the area you are seeking to remedy.

I would suggest focusing on a different aspect of comments, or perhaps going more in depth with what actual problem comments face on larger exchanges. It is good that Area 51 worked out well, but that is a different scenario.

  • 2
    "...as their comments are not in the form of requesting clarification or suggesting improvement, but in the form of critiquing and informing the user of some type of issue." How is critiquing and informing the user of an issue not suggesting an improvement? This statement feels completely incorrect to me. – Kendra Aug 2 '17 at 19:12
  • @Kendra - "We are not Customer Support I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because we are not customer support for your favorite company." stackoverflow.com/questions/45363359/… – Travis J Aug 2 '17 at 19:18
  • @Kendra - "This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. If you earn sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post." – Travis J Aug 2 '17 at 19:19
  • @Kendra - "Answering off-topic / bad question Please don't post answers on obviously off topic / bad questions! See: Should one advise on off topic questions?" – Travis J Aug 2 '17 at 19:19
  • 1
    I would say that is suggesting improvement, even if the improvement is basically impossible: "Fix this post to be inline with our rules and guidelines, specifically that we are not customer support for companies. Read the linked post to see what we mean." – Kendra Aug 2 '17 at 19:19
  • @Kendra - That is your personal interpretation, however, there have been many a post on meta and by upset users refuting your claim that the set of my examples (or the broader hand typed ones that less refined users post), and your trivial pivot are in fact the same thing. – Travis J Aug 2 '17 at 19:23
  • Same for your other two examples. First example, "This answer is not an answer. If it is meant to be an answer, it doesn't look like one, so edit it. If it isn't, it should be removed." The second one is more of a suggestion of improvement to one's behavior, and I would argue more on the side of flagging it. That said, I haven't seen that one come out of a review. (Admittedly, I do not have access to that queue yet.) – Kendra Aug 2 '17 at 19:24
  • This is why I don't think this change is helpful. To note, I like such comments when they are appropriately formed. These are all good things to have, but changing the comment outlook to not include them and placing them subject to flagging will be problematic. – Travis J Aug 2 '17 at 19:25
  • That users don't read the suggestion as just that, doesn't mean it's not. And that they complain on Meta or disagree with the suggestion doesn't mean that 1) they don't interpret it as a suggestion and 2) it isn't a suggestion. – Kendra Aug 2 '17 at 19:25
  • We shall have to agree to disagree. You are adamant that these are not suggestions, I am adamant that they are. If we haven't swayed each other yet, I am not sure we will. – Kendra Aug 2 '17 at 19:26
  • @Kendra - Suggestions? Perhaps in a broad sense, but not of post improvement. Here is another: "Welcome to Stack Overflow! It sounds like you may need to learn how to use a debugger to step through your code. With a good debugger, you can execute your program line by line and see where it is deviating from what you expect. This is an essential tool if you are going to do any programming. Further reading: How to debug small programs" stackoverflow.com/questions/45469895/… – Travis J Aug 2 '17 at 20:02
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    Travis, I think what you are missing — or perhaps we simply disagree — is that this does not stop users from abusing comments. It's an improvement for the vast majority of incoming users who simply don't realize they are "misusing" comments in the first place. – Robert Cartaino Aug 2 '17 at 20:36
  • I don't think that any of the examples here are of abuse, but that under a changed usage of comments they could be subject to flagging. My interpretation from this is that this would be a change to the way that comments are used. Perhaps this is what I am missing or where we disagree. Is this, or is this not, a change to the use of comments? – Travis J Aug 2 '17 at 20:42
-14

Suggesting an improvement of an answer creates a perfect environment for help vampires.

While suggesting an improvement may be good in theory, in action it will play into Chameleon Questions. If the user edits their main question once properly answered to increase its scope, there is now the guidance to suggest an improvement from the answerer.

Overall, this scenario can be legitimate when an actual clarification took place in the question which highlighted the issue, but often it is simply the author attempting to get more out of their question by editing in more and more code sections to get more and more donation of work.

And of course it's not the end. Now maybe the error is gone, but it's not doing what it's supposed to. If you're anything like me, your patience is now starting to wear thin. It's lousy code and you didn't volunteer to help him rewrite his whole app. And of course, the question still only has 12 views, and nobody has upvoted either the question or your answer, including the person you're helping, so this is turning out to be a genuinely thankless task in all respects. Welcome to "Family Tech Support", Web 2.0 Edition. -Aarobot

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    I've never seen chameleons discouraged by anything. Totally open to suggestions that might make a real difference there, but this feels like a boogieman concern. – Shog9 Aug 2 '17 at 19:51
  • My point was that this would serve to encourage them. If nothing discourages them then they definitely are not in need of encouragement. Perhaps it is only an edge case, however when you suggest fundamentally changing a central piece of the way the site works it has a widespread result. – Travis J Aug 2 '17 at 19:56
  • @Shog9 It could work the other way. If it encourages help vampires to turn the question into a chameleon, you just ignore them or apply some sort of exponential back-off in responses to get them really frustrated and hopefully they'll give up. Otherwise, they'll just keep spamming the front page with new questions until they're banned as I they're probably doing right now. – Mysticial Aug 2 '17 at 21:53

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