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(not a critical need, but still a cool feature idea)

Could we create a type of post that is in-between a comment and an answer? Something like a "companion post"?

Comments are great for having a conversation about the question - pointing out problems, asking for clarification, etc. But that conversation can easily overwhelm other comments that might provide valuable insight or even a partial answer.

I'm envisioning a comment with a button that would "expand" it into a full post, but that's just one idea. There are plenty of ways that this could be implemented.


Here are some situations where this would be useful:

  • Questions with a lot of "background" - instead of having a long question post, there could be a companion post with all the background details

  • Partial answers - even if a user doesn't know the right answer, they might be able to provide the "stepping stone" that another user needs to get the right answer

  • Multi-part comments - instead of posting multiple comments, or posting a long comment that most people won't read, someone could post a single comment that is formatted for simplicity and readability

  • 3
    Partial answers can already be posted as answers. – Sebastian Simon Jul 1 at 6:32
  • You're absolutely right. But in my experience, those partial answers tend to get a lot of downvotes. Smart users put "this is a partial answer" at the top, and that helps. But I think a more integrated solution would help. – LevenTech Jul 1 at 6:43
  • Personally, I wouldn't consider it a great loss of we didn't have comments at all. I understand why they exist—but I certainly don't think they need any more support than they have right now. If the only reason you want more detailed comments is so that you can provide an answer without allowing anybody to downvote you, then I'm afraid that's a poor reason. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Jul 1 at 6:57
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    Questions that won't fit in 30,000 characters seem (too) broad to me so that rules out your first bullet. I'm not sure I'm a fan of "provide any content at all costs" which seems to be your motivator for this request. I think the Q/A model works so good because it tries to focus on exactly that: a Question and the answers to it. Making comments or derivatives of it more prominent, easier, bigger, eye-catchy, feels more like what is done on forums. Let's stay away from that format. Communities can decide if they accept partial answers. We don't need a network wide feature for that. – rene Jul 1 at 6:58
  • Once someone posts an answer and that is upvoted you won't be able to delete the question. I'm saying this because no one in the Stack Exchange team will ever approve of this idea, it goes against the company's ethos about comments being "ephemeral" and being used solely for the purpose of asking clarifications. Watch the downvotes soar. (In a sense I have provided an answer to your question!) – Mari-Lou A Jul 1 at 6:59
  • @Mari-LouA You can have the post dissociated from your account; this will give you the rep back. – Sonic the Reinstate Monica-hog Jul 1 at 7:10
  • @sonic do you not agree that deleting is a quicker and less fussy solution? If the OP wants to stick by their guns, and weather through the storm, I shall support their decision but too many times I have seen users post a legitimate request only to see it being downvoted 10, 15 times and then plead that they be allowed to delete their post. Too many times, it's like watching a movie and knowing what the ending will be. – Mari-Lou A Jul 1 at 7:17
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    The correct approach is to breakdown the big question into smaller sub-questions and post each as a separate question so that each question is stand-alone and specific enough to get laser-focused answers. And generally, we never want to have long discussion on a Q&A thread; take it to somewhere else (e.g. chat room). Perhaps, see also when shouldn't I comment? – Meta Andrew T. Jul 1 at 7:18
  • Wow, I have so many thoughts. First is, why are so many people intent on making SE sites less helpful? – LevenTech Jul 1 at 9:18
  • @rene , 30k characters is still super long. maybe they shouldn't, but long questions exist. why wouldn't we want them to be easier to read? – LevenTech Jul 1 at 9:21
  • @LevenTech what makes questions not easy to read now? You can use 3 types of headings, whitespace, quotes, code formatting if needed? – rene Jul 1 at 9:36
  • @rene, easy answer: "length". anything that could shorten a question would make it easier to read – LevenTech Jul 1 at 9:40
  • I'm in absolute shock here - I don't understand why this is a struggle - aren't we trying to improve this site? isn't that what feature requests are for? – LevenTech Jul 1 at 9:41
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    Yes, FR are fine but we don't need to agree with them, right? – rene Jul 1 at 9:44
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    Just to let you know, I expanded my answer a bit. Maybe it will become clearer, why the community is opposed to your idea. – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Jul 1 at 17:32
11

I disagree with this .

Questions with a lot of "background"

The character limit for questions is already 30,000 characters, which is quite a lot. If your question is really that long, rather ask yourself

  1. Can you narrow the problem down? Is really all of that information necessary? -> Shorten it.
  2. Are you asking too many questions (perhaps just implicitly)? -> Split it up into several questions.

Partial answers

Whether to allow them or not is something each stack has to decide on their own. A technical solution is not necessary, since it already exists -> Answers. These partial answers can then also be downvoted, edited and flagged like normal answers.

Multi-part comments

There is no real necessity for them. I quote the Privileges page:

When should I comment?

You should submit a comment if you want to:

  • Request clarification from the author;

  • Leave constructive criticism that guides the author in improving the post;

  • Add relevant but minor or transient information to a post (e.g. a link to a related question, or an alert to the author that the question has been updated).

If this is still unsufficient for your causes, ask yourself

  • Are the comments actually necessary? Do they fulfill the intended purpose (intended by SE, not you)?
  • Would a chat room solve your problem?
  • Is it maybe already an answer (perhaps a partial answer, if that's allowed)?
  • Does a low-tech variant, like 1 larger comment split up in 3 smaller comments and prefaced with 1/3, 2/3 and 3/3, do it?

Now I will criticize the suggested companion post, the cross between a comment and an answer. Two main arguments - development and noise.

1) Development

This change would introduce a completely new concept to SE that doesn't really fit into its design (questions and answers (and comments)). The consequences are that a lot of thought and work has to go into it. Is it worth it?

  • Development: Programming, testing etc.
  • Interaction: How does it work with regards to voting, editing, flagging etc.? Can you search them (you can't search comments)?
  • Privileges: Who is allowed to write them and when (e. g. necessary reputation)?
  • Design: How do they look, where are they located (e. g. attached to a post, or like answers in the answer section)?
  • Abuse: How can it be abused, how to detect and counter it?
  • Teaching: Once they are introduced, we also have to be taught when and how to use them and what for. Documentation has to be written.

2) Noise

How I use SO: I google my problem and then find SO questions at the top.

  1. I check the title of the question (related?)
  2. I check the body of the question (still related?)
  3. I check the answers (are they helpful?)
  4. I mostly ignore comments, as they often are noise

But if it was implemented, a fourth element would be present

  1. I see and am confused by a companion post - what is it? It looks like an answer ("answer-style formatting"), but doesn't seem to be one. It might be an addendum to the question or some kind of partial answer, that doesn't solve my problem. But my method doesn't work, the deadline approaches and my boss is becoming increasingly impatient. And I'm just puzzled - why is there so much noise? Just show me the answers! Question + answer(s), that's what I want!

SE is founded on the idea that you can get high-quality answers to your questions. These are the cornerstones of SE, questions and answers. Noise should be reduced to a minimum. SE can't do without comments, but I quoted above what they are meant to be for. Let's not add another, confusing element that clutters up the page.

  • I respect your right you disagree with my feature request. But I also disagree with literally everything you said. On some sites, background is critical, partial answers are valuable, and multi-part comments are entirely appropriate. In fact, here comes one now... – LevenTech Jul 1 at 9:09
  • The comments may not be necessary, but they are valuable - and why isn't that enough? Aren't we trying to create a useful source of information? – LevenTech Jul 1 at 9:10
  • No, chat rooms do not "solve my problem". I'm trying to create better information for the public, and a chat room doesn't do that. – LevenTech Jul 1 at 9:11
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    "Aren't we trying to create a useful source of information?" Yes, by providing answers to questions. SE is a Q&A site, after all. – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Jul 1 at 9:13
  • Right. So shouldn't we encourage any behavior that would generate the right answers for questions? Comments absolutely serve that purpose - they help us clarify questions so that the answers are appropriate. – LevenTech Jul 1 at 9:16
  • That's their main purpose - by allowing users to ask clarifying questions to the post author, so they can edit their post accordingly. And they fulfill that purpose. That's why something like a companion post is not needed. – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Jul 1 at 9:20
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    Anne, I absolutely appreciate you taking the time to answer my question, but I'm in absolute shock - I don't understand why there's so much resistance to a possible improvement to our sites – LevenTech Jul 1 at 9:42
  • @LevenTech there is so much resistance because what you see as an improvement isn't valued as such by the rest of the community. Can happen. No big deal. – rene Jul 1 at 9:46
  • I 100% expected downvotes, because there are many things that are more important than this. I wasn't expecting so many people to reject it, like it would actually hurt the site. that blows my mind – LevenTech Jul 1 at 9:50
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    What you are proposing is not a small change, but a pretty drastic one - the introduction of a completely new type of post. As I wrote, this is a Q&A site - Questions and Answers. No comments. They were introduced reluctantly, when people abused answers to ask for clarification etc. They are 2nd class citizens, noise usually moderators have to clean up (more work for them), just created for the limited purpose I quoted in my post. That's why their UI is never improved. If you feel the (soft) 30k character limit is not enough, maybe suggest to set a higher limit. – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Jul 1 at 10:25
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    @LevenTech Please understand that downvotes here merely express that the work required to implement (develop) your suggested feature (and the work required on every site to amend help sections network wide), and the "signal-to-noise" ratio resulting from doing so, (and the confusion to users net-work wide in how to use it) yields a greater "loss" or negative impact, than it yields in the way of "pluses" or benefits. – Namaste Jul 1 at 14:23
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    Worth mentioning that people that can't comment still abuse the answer space to ask for clarification. @LevenTech If there's additional information that you feel is important, you can always edit an existing answer to add that additional information. No need to create an entirely new feature to support it. – fbueckert Jul 1 at 14:32
  • @AnneDaunted then you should post an answer that says exactly that ("too much work, not worth it"). I'd upvote and accept that answer. Downvotes say "this is stupid and has no value", which isn't true. – LevenTech Jul 5 at 10:18
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    @LevenTech Uh. Where does it say that's what downvotes mean? That's not their intention, and I'm pretty sure that's not at all how people use them. – fbueckert Jul 5 at 13:09

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