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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:

Picture of a question with a bunch of comments and the answers pushed off the page

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.

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    Sometimes comments give you more information than an actual answer... – Suvitruf Aug 24 '18 at 10:00
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    @Suvitruf then maybe the knowledge that it won't be casually visible in a comment will encourage someone to put it in an answer where it belongs? – Monica Cellio Aug 24 '18 at 13:52
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    Sometimes comments give you misinformation or incomplete information and there is no way for the community to easily correct them. If it’s useful, it should be added to the question as a clarification, posted as or incorporated into an answer, or left as a comment on an answer if it’s unable to stand as an answer on its own. @Suvitruf – ColleenV Aug 24 '18 at 14:41
  • Possible duplicate of Automatically hide old comments – gnat Aug 25 '18 at 8:04
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    @gnat: Shog's suggestion is at pains to clarify that it's based on comment age, while this post is similarly plain that it's about post age. Following linked questions suggests meta.stackexchange.com/questions/142077/…, but as the score there is lower I've voted to reverse the dupe to here. – Nathan Tuggy Aug 25 '18 at 8:43
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    @NathanTuggy agree, the difference you explained looks sufficient to consider it not a duplicate (retracted my vote) – gnat Aug 25 '18 at 10:46
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Collapsing both question and answer comments either always or a few hours/days later would emphasize the (lost) idea that comments are temporary and subject to deletion (or moving to chat).

It would remove the soapbox from which noise and approximately (in my experience) > 50% helpful, well meaning, and 'Thanks, great question/answer' comments gain their audience. Reducing the view 'to the world' and emphasizing that 'it better count' to whomever this is directed at would make people think: should I comment and how to make it truly worthy.

Highly upvoted could collapse slower and a pile-on without upvotes could collapse faster.

Collapsing them all to anyone whom is not the OP (question asker), answerer, or @'ed would give the webpage the intended appearance (after the Flags kick in, and votes are accumulated) - "Best Questions" and "Best Answers" (rise to the top) - other users not involved with the comments would have to click to see them.

That goes a bit further than your suggestion, for the same reasoning, and not as far as: Automatic comment deletion based on time on the main sites .

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    +1 for "Highly upvoted could collapse slower and a pile-on without upvotes could collapse faster." But the speed (no. of hours to collapse) might need to reflect the level of site activity, so that we're not disadvantaging those sites with lower traffic. – Chappo Aug 25 '18 at 7:46
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    The thing that gives me pause about collapsing comments on answers is occasionally I'll see a "this is dangerous, don't do this!" comment with a few dozen upvotes on an answer with a hundred upvotes. Once an answer has been established for a while, it's hard to change its score even if guidance in the field changes. And editing in the warning is sometimes considered changing author intent, which can lead to rejected edits. It's absolutely not common, but when it does, its immensely helpful to know. Especially with security-related topics. – Troyen Aug 25 '18 at 8:45
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    @Troyen - A sign was especially created for you specifically to address your needs. --- If you need a Flag to place animated caution tape and play a special tune then you need to make a feature request - burying your idea in a comment goes against the principles you purport to uphold and defeats the voting system that is in place. – Rob Aug 25 '18 at 13:18

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