In Let's hold language in comments to the same standard as posts, the SE team talked about how comments can influence the overall perception of the site:
To casual visitors, question comments are more visible than answers. We know from talking to people who don't contribute that one reason is because they see discouraging comments on the site. In sum, leaving a negative comment on a bad question:
- encourages the OP to ask again and
- discourages anonymous users from asking a question.
If someone lands on a question, all they see at first is the question itself and a whole bunch of comments on the question. For any question with more than a handful of comments, all of the answers are hidden below the fold:
This example isn't negative, but it is largely irrelevant to the solutions.
Question comments often are:
- Asking clarification questions
- Making side jokes or tangential banter
- Disparaging comments or arguments
- Offering pseudo-solutions via a link to some external site
- Partial answers posted as comments
- Moderation-related comments (e.g. from Review or regarding closure)
While comments on an answer are generally informative (especially the "don't do this!" variety), comments on a question are usually directed at the question author or are only useful to the immediate audience (e.g. "possible duplicate"). Once the question has been around for a while, most of these comments lose their value. It's unlikely you'll get traction from a duplicate/review comment a year later, you'll probably need to flag for that.
So why don't we restore some emphasis to the answers?
Once a question is 30 days old (or other number picked from a hat), collapse the comments on the question post by default. This will bring answers back to the visible section of the page, so our random visitors from the internet hop right into the Q&A. People still interested in the question's comments can click the "show comments" link. Answer comments would not be hidden.
Something similar was proposed almost five years ago in an attempt to trim down the visibility of less-critical comments, and in light of the recent changes to the site, I think it might be worth revisiting.
At the time, there were some concerns about burying useful signal with such a broad change, but I think the situation is a little different now, especially when scoped down to question comments:
- Requests for clarification or details
- Requests for additional code, and the response explaining why the OP can't share it (which prevents others from asking the same thing).
Somebody visiting months or years after the question was posted won't be able to help here. Anecdotally, most of the C# questions I land on from Google are over five years old, so the answerers either got what they wanted or are never going to.
- Comments that add color, like the pros and cons of a proposed solution
- Comments that explain why an answer that sounds good won't actually work
- Feedback that the suggested solution didn't work (conveying to others that it looks good, but isn't actually effective
These are usually found on answers and wouldn't be affected by this proposal.
You actually need to start here and get more information before asking this question
This one may have some relevance, but I think in this situation the question would now just be closed as "too broad".
However, I would add on two more that do give me a little concern:
- Answers posted as comments would become less visible.
Personally I agree with the crowd that wants to discourage answers in comments because you can't downvote or edit them when necessary, but I concede that does nothing about the decade of comment-answers already on the site.
- Some discussion might be pertinent to future visitors.
I've seen the "X/Y" arguments go either way, but links to documentation or other resources could be useful.
Overall, I think this change could result in a net benefit by sweeping obsolete or unnecessary discussion under the rug. Once posted, many questions get hundreds or thousands of views over their lifetime, often long after the post was created. For these future viewers, we can keep the focus of the page on the Q&A and not on the criticisms of the question or question author (which are already reflected in the question score and answers/lack of answers), nor the discussions that aren't relevant to the anonymous internet reader.