14

The conversation often continues in the Comments and important information is held in the comments. I'd like to have threaded comments there.

  • 18
    If they were so packed with goodness, they should be rolled out into answers. Otherwise, they're noise. – random Nov 26 '09 at 11:33
  • 3
    The problem with threaded comments is that the left margin will overflow in flame wars :) – xmm0 Nov 26 '09 at 11:43
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    Re: Mehrdad: I think flame wars happen in any comment stream, and the community policing needs to manage that whether there are threaded or single stream comments. Re: random: I agree that comments sometimes contain great information that need to be refactored into the answer. My request for threaded comments is to make that process easier. – Stewart Robinson Nov 26 '09 at 12:03
  • 5
    @Steward: SO has already managed it by positioning itself as a Q&A site rather than a discussion site by discouraging random discussion in FAQ. – xmm0 Nov 26 '09 at 15:57
  • 1
    See my Greasemonkey script here: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/43055/… – balpha Mar 21 '10 at 14:24
  • You certainly need discussion sin meta.stackoverflow because isn't this site all about discussion problems and enhancements to SO? – user131750 Apr 18 '10 at 17:40
  • Hmm, I want to bring this into discussion again. I still think threaded comments would be helpful. – bobobobo Aug 25 '12 at 15:35
  • @bobobobo we already have ways to get threaded comments. There is chat, and a threaded comments script on Stackapps. – Robert Harvey Aug 25 '12 at 18:05
  • 1
    @RobertHarvey I mean as a default.. REDDIT STYLE!! (Yes, I said the unspeakable). – bobobobo Aug 25 '12 at 18:13
  • @balpha dead link, mind reposting your referenced script to stackapps and linking again? – user1306322 Nov 10 at 10:13
  • @RobertHarvey can you link some of those userscripts from stackapps here? maybe as an answer so it won't get lost in comments – user1306322 Nov 10 at 10:13
  • 1
    @user1306322 see here: stackapps.com/questions/2050/… – rene Nov 10 at 10:39
  • 1
    @random, If they were so packed with goodness, they should be rolled out into answers. Otherwise, they're noise. – random Nov 26 '09 at 11:33 Please explain why. The charter of a conversation and the charter of an answer are distinct. I find the current charter of an SE "comment" to be broken. – tgm1024 Nov 10 at 22:41
  • 3
    And keep in mind everyone, the "comment section getting too big" complaint (which I don't buy) is solved by collapsable threading. In fact, it need not even be collapsed once you can quickly discern where the sub "conversations" are. This never ending lament from many of you guys that stuff should be moved to chat is silly. – tgm1024 Nov 10 at 22:44
23

Jeff really hates threaded comments. Personally I like them - when represented in a useful way, with easy ways to mute/highlight appropriate subthreads, but I doubt that we'll ever see them on SO.

Having said that I like them, I'm not even sure they'd be appropriate for SO anyway, which is more designed for Q&A than discussion. Sometimes I wish there were some way of leaving the questions/answers as they are, but launching a new discussion (with threading) where suitable. Can't see it happening in the near future though.

  • 7
    Just open Wave! – Ladybug Killer Nov 26 '09 at 11:58
  • 3
    I didn't know of Jeff's hatrid of threaded comments. have you noticed that when people merge information from comments into the answer the comments then read very strangely unless you have been following the conversation over time. There should be a way to mark a comment as integrated back into the answer. Oops new feature request. I'm off to lunch – Stewart Robinson Nov 26 '09 at 12:05
  • 1
    Stew: "Can we have threaded comments?" Jeff: I hate, I hate!! – bobobobo Dec 18 '10 at 18:31
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    @bobobobo: You are late to the party, aren't you? ;) – Ladybug Killer Aug 27 '12 at 9:54
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    @LadybugKiller, I'm not. – tgm1024 Nov 10 at 22:45
19
+25

Threaded comments only appear to be more coherent at a superficial first glance.

What actually happens is that the discussion forks and that the same things are being discussed at different places or that you fail to notice important arguments because you are focused on a different thread. This is what I observe on Reddit, where coming to a consensus or forming an opinion on a matter is often impossible because everyone gets lost in the multithreaded, unchronological confusion.

The tangle of threads becomes even more incoherent when people don't reply in the appropriate thread but at the bottom of the discussion, as often happens on Facebook.

But the most inportant argument against threaded comments is that on this site all comments (should) focus on the question or answer they are attached to, and because of this unifying singe focus they should all remain part of a single discourse. Threaded comments would be like groups of people wandering off and discussing things among themselves instead of partaking in a shared decision process. Threaded comments would be like having each answer to a question on their own webpage so they no longer refer to each other.

tl;dr

diagram illustrating the diverging tendency of threaded comments as opposed to the unifying focus of chronological comments


In a comment to this answer, @bobobobo claims that "[t]hreading removes the need to make visual jumps upward across 10-15 posts to see what a new comment is in response to". That claim is utterly false.

Below is a screenshot of a threaded discussion on Reddit. The arrow connects the first comment to the opening post (at the arrow head) with the tenth direct reply to that comment (at the tail of the arrow). In a non-threaded, chronological view, a reader would indeed have to jump upward across nine other comments from the tenth reply to the comment it is a response to.

But in the threaded view, this need to jump is not reduced. On the contrary, it is increased, because in the meantime no less than 200 comments have been posted in reply to the first nine replies, making it necessary to jump upward across 200+ comments from the tenth reply to the comment is was a reply to.

This example shows that both in a chronological and a threaded view are there potentially equally many comments to jump. The major difference lies in the focus of the answering options. In threaded comments, there is an option to reply to each individual comment, which narrows the focus of the poster to that comment and reinforces the impulse to create ever sub-branching comment threads. In chronological comments, with a single textarea below the comment thread, the focus is on the opening post and the whole discussion.

screenshot of a threaded discussion on Reddit

reinforces

  • Not threading the comments doesn't necessarily stop offtopic branching! You have to use modding to do that (which happens already) Threading removes the need to make visual jumps upward across 10-15 posts to see what a new comment is in response to – bobobobo Nov 11 at 0:35
  • @bobobobo See my edit. – I am not the way you speak Nov 11 at 19:58
  • 2
    Can't you collapse the other threads? – bobobobo Nov 11 at 20:10
  • 1
    @bobobobo Of course you can, but that doesn't reduce the demand character of the option to reply to every comment in between (which is the main argument of my answer). And collapsing everything between a comment and one of its replies doesn't make processing everything that you have now hidden any easier (which, I believe, was your argument). – I am not the way you speak Nov 11 at 20:17
  • What is a "demand character"? – bobobobo Nov 11 at 21:49
  • 1
    +1 for the silly screenshot. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Nov 11 at 22:39
  • 1
    I feel like comparing randos on reddit and facebook to users who visit and post on meta is unfair. It's kind of the same as comparing users who have never visited meta to those who have spent enough time on meta. I get the knee-jerk reaction to change, but there are solutions to the problem visualized in your screenshot - even on reddit you can hit that [−] clicky text and collapse the thread, and there are also addons/userscripts which show you the floating preview of the posts from way way up the page to which the reply down below refers to, so you don't even have to scroll/click anything. – user1306322 Nov 12 at 9:26
  • I also don't believe the argument that "most [meta] users wouldn't read other threads". I have a level of trust in an average meta user that they will. – user1306322 Nov 12 at 9:27
  • if you have Reddit Enhancement Suite installed you can hover cursor over parent comment action link and the relevant discussion preview should appear. I believe this should be possible to implement on SE via userscripts if need be. – user1306322 Nov 12 at 9:39
  • 1
    @bobobobo In psychology, the term demand character denotes qualities of a stimulus that make certain behaviors of a person more likely than others. For example, road markings visually guide drivers along their respective lanes, making it more likely that drivers steer along those lanes instead of into the oncoming traffic. This "visual guidance" is the demand characteristic of the road markings. The markings "demand" from the driver to drive along the lane, so to speak. Demand characteristics are important in advertising psychology and UI design (a road being a user interface). – I am not the way you speak Nov 12 at 17:43
17

Threaded comments and threaded answers would be great - for another site.

On this site, it would just encourage discussion, which is discouraged.

  • 1
    @bobobobo mind popping into meta chat and discussing this in some more detail? – user1306322 Nov 10 at 10:17
5

As Jon seems to address, threaded comments are great for following discussion. Jeff has said before that he explicitly wants to avoid discussion on SO, so if threaded comments help discussion, it would seem that adding threaded comments would, in a sense, be giving a blessing of sorts to discussions on SO. It's nice in theory, but it goes against the current mission of the site.

I do like the idea of a discussion area, though. Often times, I have a question or discussion topic that I would very much like to bring in front of this particular community, but it's not necessarily programming related. Sometimes you want to ask your "work peers" questions not necessarily related to your "work."

4

I wouldn't mind threaded comments that much, but I can make an argument against them:

It is too much of an investment in a distraction.

Discussions in comments shouldn't really happen: There's meta, and there's chat. The good comments directly relate to the question, not to other comments. So it's reasonable not to motivate even more use of comments for discussions than we already have, by making it more convenient.

(To be fair, one could argue meta sites are somewhat different than regular ones and the rule doesn't apply to them - but we're not talking about a meta-site-only feature, right?)

  • 1
    but we're not talking about a meta-site-only feature, right? - this wasn't clear to me from this question asked 10 years ago, so I'm not sure I made the right move by bountying it and not asking a new, more specific question. Personally, I think threaded comments for the Meta.SE make the most sense, a bit less for other metas, and not as much for main sites. Something tells me on main sites it would result in a major headache, but on metas it'd be fine. – user1306322 Nov 12 at 7:03
4

Threaded comments would be useful.

Compare these 2 views of the same discussion

unthreaded

(Visual jumping highlighted in red)

unthreaded

threaded

(Where the [-] indicates a collapsible region)

threaded

depth limit

It is reasonable to object to threaded comments because you don't want a tree that is too deep

long thread

If you limit it to one level deep, that would give some more flexibility while still keeping the conversation organized.

3

I truly wonder why discussion is so discouraged herein. Some answers can be very difficult to get at and discussion about the answer could help a really good answer to emerge instead of having an endless list of partial answers or a hard to follow comment stream that needs to be completely followed through to get at the real juice.

On the other hand, I realize that many questions in the Stack Exchange sites are simple enough and warrant that a single right answer can do it.

A certain form of argumentative questions can be supported through the wiki mode. Perhaps having threaded comments only in the community wiki mode would be of great help in getting these hard questions to emerge. Since there are no reputation points involved in community wiki mode, editing them also solves the difficult task of assigning proper reputation points though there are some solutions to this.

It is true that arguments can be difficult to manage and often degenerate. That said, the community participating in the Stack Exchange sites is thus far very disciplined in this regards and seldom stray off topic. Yes, sure you can find plenty of examples where things just went wrong, but overall it is the exception.

Stack Exchange sites have gone a long way since their inception and are quickly becoming THE reference in many subjects. But it still lacks a certain depth, discouraging discussion certainly helped with the discipline, but it also gave the community a glass ceiling, shackles of sorts, that prevents more difficult answers to emerge on some questions.

In short, encouraging argumentation and discussion at large would most likely not be a good idea. But allowing some question to generate discussion and providing a specific UI enhancements to support discussion would benefit the whole community. Perhaps Community Wiki is the way, but perhaps a new mode of providing answers would be required to support argumentation in a constructive way.

  • 1
    Because Q&A sites aren't about the discussion. The idea is that relevant content belongs in an answer, or on some occasions on meta; the comments are mostly scaffolding for arriving at a good answer. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Nov 11 at 22:41

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