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One of the reasons comments are so tempting is they are free. There's little risk of downvotes or upvotes, and folks often use them for things they're not meant for.

A few proposals I've heard have been about limiting comments per day or actually adding a reputation cost.

Been considering an alternate approach - we want folks to clean up after themselves, and prioritise what comments they want to keep - and having a finite number of comments, sitewide would encourage users to clean up after themselves.

There are a potentially few nice additions here. It's an invisible cost - and with a sufficiently high number, many users might not notice. When you run out of comments, either you think about it harder, or go back and delete old comments. You can also adjust it - with penalties on overall comment count for accepted negative flags or increases for say higher reputation.

It gives people the freedom to post transient comments as needed, and gives them an enticement to remove them once done.

And there's a certain poetry in restricting the total number of comments, over other means to deal with accepted R/A flags. It also leaves some room for tweaking, if we felt it was too restrictive.

One issue I forsee is folks may suddenly find they hit the limit, which would be bad, and probably require some assistance for them to clean up but with a high enough limit, it might be less of an issue.

On the other hand, it implicitly forces users to decide on the value of their past comments.

  • a new counter, or based on current total comments. cleaning up tens of thousands of comments to be able to start commenting again would be... problematic. – user400654 May 8 '18 at 6:18
  • I hope your proposal doesn't get downvoted and chased away like mine from last week @journey – πάντα ῥεῖ May 8 '18 at 6:19
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    Well, technically we actually already keep track of comment counts per user, and its something that's on the profile. And eh, Its a suggestion to alter a core feature. - so its certainly going to have a certain degree of skeptisism. And if someone has tens of thousands of comments... that might be the problem we are trying to solve. – Journeyman Geek May 8 '18 at 6:21
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    i mean.. it just seems like such a waste of time to hang around on a question to see if the op ever reads your comment, and then decide whether or not it should be removed. why bother, i feel like if i hit a cap where i couldn't post anymore without going through and deleting some, i just wouldn't comment anymore... and if i can't request clarification... that makes dealing with questions quite difficult... i'd probably just not. – user400654 May 8 '18 at 6:25
  • If it were more of a daily/weekly cap, that'd still give the feeling that comments are finite without adding something that anyone who spends a decent amount of time on the site needs to manage to be able to continue participating effectively. – user400654 May 8 '18 at 6:27
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    Using myself as an example, i have 22k comments on SO. that comes out to about an avg of 8 comments per day. is that too many? does this finite number change based on how long you've been a member? i just can't see a finite number being strict enough for the lower end to feel finite or loose enough on the high end to account for older accounts. – user400654 May 8 '18 at 6:35
  • Users who've just earned enough rep to comment would lose their privileges pretty quickly if we base it on rep. – Sonic the Reinstate Monica-hog May 8 '18 at 6:45
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    Sounds a bit bad ... some users make lots of comments and they're all constructive. Now with your scenario, helpful users are taking time out of their day that they could spend helping people deleting their own helpful comments on other's posts that would be really nice to keep around because of an arbitrary comment limit. – Magisch May 8 '18 at 7:01
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    I think it may make sense to pair this with Shog's idea. So, you get an allotment of comments, and if you exceed that, there is a cost. This still leaves the allotment and cost up in the air, as well as whether or not this is a good idea (I think it is). – Travis J May 8 '18 at 7:38
  • @KevinB - You said you asked for ~240 clarifications last month (8 per day), and yet only answered 3 questions. Isn't that a pretty low signal to noise ratio? What return on investment are you getting for all of these comments? – Travis J May 8 '18 at 7:39
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    Related/Duplicate? meta.stackexchange.com/questions/302311/… – Izzy May 8 '18 at 8:35
  • I don't want a reputation cost tho – Journeyman Geek May 8 '18 at 9:21
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    @TravisJ i’m not commenting for me to answer, i. commenting to get the question either improved, closed, or reopened. – user400654 May 8 '18 at 13:41
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    tl;dr: what is the problem you are trying to solve? I spent a while just now writing up an alternative proposal inspired by this suggestion, but when I got near the end I realized... I didn't know why I was doing it. This whole thing is based on the presupposition that a huge volume of comments is a problem, but I've never found that to be a big deal, just a little noisy. Is it more of an issue for moderators? Is there some other downside I'n not getting? – SOLO May 8 '18 at 16:01
  • @SOLO the big problem that I often notice is that tons of comments on the question obscure the actual answers... Particularly in the case of answers in comments, we want to quickly get users from question to the answers without the noise of comments. More comments = more noise. This means that users spend less time actually getting the answers they need and more time reading cruft. – Catija May 8 '18 at 18:16
7

I like the spirit of this request, but the actual substance is... problematic.

Right off the bat, there's no really good way for users to find their old comments at all, let alone the ones that are good candidates for deletion. Yes, there's a list in the profile ([USER'S_OWN_PROFILE_URL]/?tab=activity&sort=comments), but it's kinda hidden and the only sort order is reverse-chronological. A new interface could be built to support this, but now you're talking a lot more effort.

A deeper question is how many comments each user should have under this system. Users get the "comment everywhere" privilege at 50 rep on graduated sites; takes some work, but not very much. To use just about the most extreme possible example: is the average 50-rep user going to need the same number of comments as Jon Skeet, VonC, or Marc Gravell? I would argue no.

So if not a flat number of comments per person, then how would the number be determined? Anything more involved would significantly increase complexity and be difficult for people to understand (COUGH number of votes allotted per day COUGH). But for the sake of full understanding (if nothing else), let's keep working this through.

From the above example, it seems to me that, over a large number of posts, there's some stable-ish probability that a given post will be deserving of a comment. Then, one's number of comments should be related to the number of posts they encounter. How do we know how many posts a person has seen? The system probably keeps track of that, but it's not transparent to users. Could we use a proxy? Account age/days visited comes to mind, but I doubt there's a great correlation there. What about reputation, which we already use for a rough measure of activity? n comments per thousand rep? Possibly the best compromise out there, but still maybe an issue for people who get a lot of rep really quickly or accumulate it slowly for years-old posts without new participation.

Also, that whole discussion was for "comment everywhere" comments. How would this proposal interact with comments on one's own posts, which are always "free"?

5

Shog has most of the numbers to back this up in an untitled query on our local (intranet) version of SEDE that has access to the live DB, but I can tell you a couple of things off-hand:

  1. Very few people leave a lot of comments every day. The figure there is relative, in proportion to what others tend to do, site by site.
  2. Although few in numbers, they tend to leave comments in that pattern for vastly different reasons. Shog can elaborate on that a bit more.

I like the idea of there being more gates on comments, but at the same time, many complain that they are unnecessarily out of reach. Commenting is, after all, kinda seen as a basic function everyone can do pretty much everywhere else.

The intersection of these problems leads me to think we do need to limit comments and have them cost something, but that something doesn't necessarily have to be visible, or even perceived to be a commodity at all.

What if:

  • New users get (math calculating average # of comments folks post per day, minus new user factor value) number of comments per day to start, per site.

  • Every comment upvote lowers the factor value until it disappears, or they hit 50 rep, whichever comes first

  • Every flag increases the factor value, but never to the point where the user gets fewer than 1 comment per 24 hours, per site

... I kinda like where that's going until I challenge myself to explain it in a sentence (which I think we could do), but I don't want to roll it out until we stop calling comments comments and figure out the best way to describe them as how we want them to be treated, which is essentially edit suggestions that aren't quite fleshed out enough to be an actual edit.

So, if you stop calling them comments and clarify their purpose, you hopefully get less noise, and ideally stop making people feel like we're treating them like children by putting such a common feature out of reach. And at the same time, you'd have a system that scales easily to bolt-on training wheels for those that still don't seem to get the (unique) way we treat that text box appearing under paragraphs, which many brains will optimize as "a place to put comments" :)

But I'm just thinking out loud here, as we start to more seriously gear up to tackle it.

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    I like the idea of this but... the problem I repeatedly run into is the ambiguity in the "NLN" flag reason and I think that's where it becomes really hairy to weight them. NLN means both "this was never needed" and "this was useful but has served its purpose". Someone who falls into the latter group is good! We'd like to encourage them to self-delete but that's less important. The former type is, less useful. I think the simplicity of three flag reasons (R/A, NLN, Mod Attention) is good for usage, I think it's troublesome when we start trying to guess the intentions of the flags, though. – Catija May 8 '18 at 18:03
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    From 20,000 feet this sounds kind of like flag weight. What incentives and impediments emerged from that system, and would any of them apply to comments? – Monica Cellio May 8 '18 at 18:39
  • Would a non-upvoted automatically generated comment, automatically submitted during the review process, be part of this proposed calculation? – Ramhound May 8 '18 at 22:38
  • I took a couple of hours to write this cause I wanted to be able to say this in one line "You have a finite pool of flags, so you need to self-curate" It can even be a large number – Journeyman Geek May 9 '18 at 0:33
5

A limit on the total number of comments a user could have seems unbalanced. We want the Jon Skeets of the world to be able to comment freely, because we know they'll do so responsibly and the comment will be worthwhile. We want moderators and the regular custodians on sites to be able to leave as much guidance for new users as they need. On the other hand, we don't want somebody who's asked one question to be able to create comment explosions on that question, its answers, and (if he has 50 rep) anything else he happens to notice.

Instead of an overall limit, we should consider a daily limit, like we have with votes and flags. I saw a proposal from Shog recently that suggested limiting both the number of comments and the number of posts on which you can comment; that's worth exploring. (We might also consider limiting the number of comments you can leave on any single post, but that's more nuanced if the post author is one of the commenters.)

I don't have a specific proposal; I'm suggesting an approach: daily to hinder explosions, not total to hinder helpful, prolific users. A daily limit has a few elements: total number, number per post, number of posts, role of flags and upvotes. There's probably a lot of data that could inform the discussion, but the number of people with access to that data is very limited.

I'm a moderator on The Workplace, where we get lots of unproductive comments, including arguments among just a few users. Questions that hit Hot Network Questions, in particular, tend to have huge comment explosions -- but we also have some very chatty, sometimes nonconstructive, users, and no way to limit them short of suspensions (a very big hammer). If we had the ability to temporarily ban users from commenting (only), or to lock posts from comments without affecting edits/votes/answers, we could do that -- but those are both still cleanup, while rate-limiting would prevent many problems in the first place. Of course the devil is in the details; we need rate limits high enough to allow legitimate usage but low enough to impede problematic behaviors.

  • My gut reaction was to upvote this, but I have the same question for you as I did for the asker: why do you want to implement a limit in the first place? – SOLO May 8 '18 at 17:23
  • @SOLO I'm a moderator on The Workplace. We get lots of unproductive comments, including arguments among just a few users. Questions that hit Hot Network Questions, in particular, tend to have huge comment explosions -- but we also have some very chatty, sometimes nonconstructive, users, and no way to limit them short of suspensions (a very big hammer). – Monica Cellio May 8 '18 at 17:37
  • I get that, but I'm still unclear on why a "fix" is needed. Don't get me wrong, I can envision many theoretical problems (for example: moderators have to spend time refereeing fights, moderators have to spend time dealing with comment flags, users are wasting their time in comments instead of asking/answering, the UI gets noisy, new people get the wrong idea of how the sites work, etc.); my question is which problems exist in practice, and how bad they are. – SOLO May 8 '18 at 17:58
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    @SOLO I think Monica and I probably have two of the most chatty sites on the network to moderate and we're probably somewhat of outliers. To give an example of the problem, Interpersonal Skills has been on the network for less than a year and, to give you some scale... we've deleted over 17K comments in that time... and that excludes deletions by users through flagging. We also, apparently, have some users with over 80% of their comments deleted. Those users shouldn't have free reign to abuse comments on a frequent basis. We need a solution of some sort (preferably not outright suspending). – Catija May 8 '18 at 18:09
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    @SOLO to add to what Catija said, I spend the vast majority of my moderation time on Workplace dealing with comments, problems caused by comments, and meta complaints about {comments, objections to comment deletions, complaints that moderators don't delete enough/quickly enough}. Comments are supposed to be second-class citizens, but you wouldn't know it from our moderator dashboard. On other sites that I moderate, comments aren't as problematic and the kinds of thresholds Shog is talking about would rarely be hit, so no harm there. – Monica Cellio May 8 '18 at 18:33
  • Aha, that's the information I was looking for, thanks. As I said to Catija, I'll give it further thought. – SOLO May 8 '18 at 19:26
  • Monica and @Catija: further thought has been given. – SOLO May 9 '18 at 16:25
  • Two issues with suggesting a daily limit. A daily limit's already suggested so, no point in me posting it and it dosen't actually encourage self cleanups. – Journeyman Geek May 10 '18 at 2:22
3

Why is everybody commenting on this question instead of answering it?

Is it possibly because, ...

  • ... it doesn't cost anything?
  • ... you don't have to think much before blasting away with comments?
  • ... there is no penalty for bad comments? (How about a down vote for comments?)

Edit in response to comment

  • ... sometimes you don't feel like answering in full, but want to give the author some idea of how he/she could solve the problem?

The initial reason for comments is laid out in the comment input field itself:

Emphasis mine

Use comments to ask for clarification or add more information. Avoid answering questions in comments.

According to the above rule: Can I flag all your comment-answers underneath the question?

Answer

IMHO, if everybody where to uphold the simple rules laid out in the comments field itself or in the pop-up when commenting answers, then there wouldn't be a need to have a cost/penalty/threshold for comments.

  • Good comments stay
  • Bad comments get flagge and are removed
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    This answer is funny, and to a large extent true. Still, this is a meta site, so commenting here should be a bit more free. – SOLO May 8 '18 at 14:28
  • According to the rule for comments in answers which is laid out as follows Use comments to reply to other users or notify them of changes. If you are adding new information, edit your post instead of commenting. I allow myself to thank you for your response to my answer. I appreciate your argument that meta is slightly different. But I nevertheless find it funny that comments are sometimes thought of a as placeholders for future ideas. (This last sentence should be an edit to my answer). – John aka hot2use May 8 '18 at 14:33
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    You forgot... "It's MSE". – Catija May 8 '18 at 14:35
  • @Catija ..and that is where the discussion begins. One rule here, another rule there. Shouldn't we be upholding the simple rule for comments everywhere? – John aka hot2use May 8 '18 at 14:40
  • Technically, my comment added a suggestion for improvement. I know comments are hard. One of the sites I moderate has one of the biggest issues with comments on the network. I'm 100% aware of it and am really happy to see any suggestions for how to align how users use the comments section with how SE intends them to be used. – Catija May 8 '18 at 14:46
  • To answer your question, and to explain my first comment more, in general comments are allowed to be more conversational on a meta site. We moderate comments much more lazily on meta posts than on main site posts. You could flag them but I doubt that the team would remove them. – Catija May 8 '18 at 14:47

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