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Summary

Force comments to chat if the author already posted n comments or is replying to such a comment. This should considerably reduce moderation load of long comment threads.

Proposal

Automatically force comments to chat in the following cases:

  • Somebody who is not the post’s author and who has already posted n comments on the post makes another comment. This shall include any deleted comments, except self-deleted comments or comments that were flagged obsolete and deleted (presuming a separate obsolete flag). Exclude any comments made from review or by diamond moderators.

  • Somebody posts a comment that @-pings a user to whom the above criteria apply (has already posted n comments on this post; not the post’s author). This includes if the new comment’s author is the post’s author.

With forcing to chat, I mean:

  • Instead of the intended comment, leave a comment by the Community user indicating that the discussion has been moved to chat. If the new comment contains an @-ping, let the community user use it.

  • Do not tell the user that their comments would be moved to chat.

  • Copy all existing, undeleted comments to chat (except those by Community).

  • Move the new comment to chat. If it’s heuristically part of a multi-part comment, move the other parts as well.

  • Make the new chatroom the target for all further comments moved from the post (be it by the proposed mechanism or moderators).

  • Do not block comments that do not match the above criteria.

Rationale

One of the reasons why we move comments to chat is to make room for (existing or future) relevant comments that would otherwise get buried under irrelevant ones or long discussions that hardly anybody is willing to read. Separating the wheat from the chaff here is very tedious for moderators and one of the major sources of disputes when moving to chat. Therefore it would be helpful to partially automatise this: Moderators waste time on this, are inevitably slightly biased, and are perceived as strongly biased by some users.

Now, the above certainly doesn’t completely automatise everything, but it should apply to quite a lot of cases and have a low number of false positives, i.e., relevant comments forced to chat. If a user has something relevant to comment, they will almost certainly do it in their first few comments. Later comments are very likely to be:

  • part of a back and forth (a.k.a. discussion) that has a good chance of continuing for quite some time,
  • answers in comments, be it as comments on a question or opposing another answer.

Intensive back-and-forths often start with relevant comments and slowly degrade in quality over time, which makes it difficult to draw the line of the last comment that is not moved to chat. Since every party in the discussion want to be the one to have this last word, this is also a source of disputes. Therefore having an automated decision here is particularly valuable to moderation.

Tuning the Criteria

I would suggest n = 3 for most sites for now (on metas, it should probably be higher). One might consider adding a criterion of a minimum number of comments on the post.

With some data crunching, it should be easy to find a good value for the parameters: Just look at all cases where moderators moved comments to chat, deleting most, but leaving at least one standing (or undeleted shortly afterwards). Then determine how many of these comments would have been caught by the proposed criteria depending on the parameters.

Potential Issues

  • All of this is written mostly based on my experience from moderating a comment-heavy site (Academia). It may not translate well to some sites, though I don’t see why. Anyway, I am aware that long comment discussions are hardly an issue on many sites.

  • “Doesn’t this kill even more discussions?” – Please see my answer here. Briefly: I am not sure whether killing discussions by moving to chat is a “bug”. Moreover, it may even be that moving discussions to chat earlier is beneficial to their continuation.

  • It may be possible for users to exploit the mechanisms to intentionally get the last word in a discussion, by intentionally not pinging their opponent. However, this is already possible to some extent today: If you do not ping your opponent, there is a considerable chance that they never look at the comment thread in question again and thus do not respond.

  • 3
    One of the primary issues I have with this is: chat rooms with less than 15 messages get deleted after a few days. On the technical sites, comments often contain useful information which I wouldn't want to lose. Apart from that, I think it's a good idea. If they do implement this I'd prefer if such chat rooms are never deleted (freezing might still be fine). – Blue Feb 6 at 18:53
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    comments should never be moved to chat. If they're that unnecessary, they should instead be deleted. More often than not, moving comments to chat ends the discussion rather than allowing it to occur in a more appropriate location. – Kevin B Feb 6 at 19:24
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    What if you were part of a conversation that was moved, but now you have a question for the poster? – TheWanderer Feb 6 at 19:46
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    I'm not convinced either that forcing future comments to chat is a good idea, or that automatically activating move-to-chat functionality is. Combining both at once is a recipe for considerable frustration when the heuristics misfire, as they inevitably will. Start, if you must, by implementing force-to-chat by direct moderator action, work out all the bugs and corner cases and rough spots and best practices, then work from there if it's still a good idea. – Nathan Tuggy Feb 6 at 21:59
  • Also, this relies on a crude heuristic model to substitute for moderator expert judgement in chat-move decisions, in order to take pressure off them for their decisions. That's the wrong direction to go. Crude heuristics should be used to catch easy, obvious, clear-cut cases, not difficult and nuanced cases. Designing an error-prone automation, then nudging users to blame the machine for the (now increased) error rate, is disingenuous at best. And mod peace should not come at the price of deliberately accepting an increase in user annoyance and frustration. – Nathan Tuggy Feb 6 at 22:11
  • @TheWanderer: In my experience, this hardly ever happens. If somebody has a question for the poster, they will ask it in their first one or two comments. Even if it happens, since all comments are copied to chat, you can still ping the post’s author in chat. – Wrzlprmft Feb 7 at 6:53
  • forcing future comments to chat – I did not suggest that (at least in general). I also tried to explicitly clarify this. — Designing an error-prone automation, then nudging users to blame the machine for the (now increased) error rate, is disingenuous at best. – I do not consider the proposed automation error-prone. I actually focused on the only case I can think of where an automatism can decide this. Also, users are more satisfied with automated decisions when they are of the same quality as human ones (there are even studies about it, IIRC). – Wrzlprmft Feb 7 at 7:03
  • @Wrzlprmft: "With some data crunching, it should be easy to find a good value for the parameters" is a tell-tale sign that there's an error-prone heuristic in there, especially when there's only either one or two small integer parameters. There are only so many possibilities (specifically, less than two dozen) that all the number-crunching in the world can tune. So if a site has different types of questions that would actually benefit from slightly different thresholds? Errors. If a comment thread's actual content suggests more or less aggressive moving? Errors. Etc. – Nathan Tuggy Feb 7 at 8:36
  • @Wrzlprmft: Thanks for somewhat clarifying the intended selectiveness of the chat lock, btw. – Nathan Tuggy Feb 7 at 8:37
  • @NathanTuggy: "With some data crunching, it should be easy to find a good value for the parameters" is a tell-tale sign that there's an error-prone heuristic in there – while I generally agree with your skepticism on heuristics, I do not think that the problems you describe apply here. I strongly suspect that the number of comments affected by the criterion will drop to almost zero very clearly for sufficiently high n (if not, my suggestion is indeed bad). As it’s no problem if n is slightly too high, you could even increase it a bit to make false positives even less likely. – Wrzlprmft Feb 7 at 9:03
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I moderate on The Workplace, which is also comment-heavy. We deleted 2700 comments in the last month. Comment explosions are a problem.

But I don't think automatically moving things to chat, and without warning, is the solution. This lets two chatty commenters essentially hijack comments for everybody else. Instead, let's consider limiting the number of comments you can post on a thread, at least when there are a lot of comments or they're coming at high velocity.

If Bob and Alice are going head-to-head in an argument, with a mean time between comments of 37 seconds, I want to stop them. If Cathy is writing a small essay in five comments and counting, I want to interrupt that. If Dan is responding to everybody else with "good comment!", I want to shut that down.

I don't know what the parameters of this should be, but instead of moving to chat I'd like to explore the "no more comments for you here" option, along with an easy way for the user to take it to chat.

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    I think you may have misunderstood what I am supposing somewhere: This lets two chatty commenters essentially hijack comments for everybody else – What I am suggesting, tries to exactly avoid this. The two chatty ones will be moved to chat, while the rest can continue. — instead of moving to chat I'd like to explore the "no more comments for you here" option, along with an easy way for the user to take it to chat. – That’s more or less what I am suggesting with the difference that the “easy way” is replaced with just doing it automatically. – Wrzlprmft Feb 7 at 6:49
  • @Wrzlprmft how do you decide whom to include, though? Two users arguing is easy. Three or four users arguing amongst themselves might still not be hard. But what about when somebody's left several comments, some of which directly address the post and others of which are part of (possibly-different) discussions? I don't think SE can detect threads, so if you pull out a subset of the comments, it might not be the right subset. I see this sometimes with the user-driven "let's take this to chat", but since they can only copy and not delete comments, they don't break things for others. – Monica Cellio Feb 7 at 16:08
  • I don’t suggest to automatically delete any existing comments; they would just be copied. Avoiding to lock one participant out of the discussion is exactly the reason why I would also move any replies to users who cannot posts comments anymore. But yes, this somewhat breaks down if you have more than two users in a discussion. – Wrzlprmft Feb 7 at 20:39
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Counterproposal:

  • If doing this, don't automatically do this for all sites, make this something that can be requested by the communities of sites dealing with long but useful comment thread issues.
  • Make n configurable per site.

Rationale:

It seems this may work really well on Academia, but from an Interpersonal Skills moderator perspective, this seems like an idea that doesn't make me all too happy.

We delete a lot of comments. Having those comments moved to chat automatically means there won't be any oversight and little to no moderation of the kinds of comments that are most problematic on IPS:

  • Comments that aren't comments but bad (not backed up) answers.
  • Comments that don't even attempt to answer the question, but instead discuss e.g. the validity of the issue raised in the question.
  • Comments on answers that are all about opinion instead of expertise.

All these comments bypass what comments are for: requesting clarification or suggesting improvements. The first type of comment also routinely bypasses any attempts at answer quality that IPS can take, the second type of comment is often the kind that's annoying or even hurtful for a person that's asking to see because people are entirely ignoring their situation in favour of arguing their own position.

Right now, such comments are deleted as 'no longer needed' on IPS. This hopefully works a little bit like a deterrent: don't waste your effort discussing or answering in comments here, it'll be deleted. You can't flag chat messages as no longer needed. This means that deterrent of having your effort deleted will be gone, and the community won't be able to moderate these threads as effectively as they've been doing.

I'd like to think of chat as a helpful tool to improve site health, not as a sink where the unwanted stuff on main/meta gets automatically moved. I'm afraid IPS almost never has long comment threads that are useful enough to warrant movement to chat.

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