I just discovered the new comment edit feature. That's good, it will help with those inevitable typos that creep in.

However, I noticed there is some noise on meta regarding the five minute window and the edit flag. I offer the following observations:

  • The pencil icon that indicates a comment has been edited is almost useless. How was it edited? Was there a missing comma, a misspelled word, or a complete change in meaning? (Yes, I understand comments are "lightweight and not versioned", but that's the point.)
  • The five minute window is pretty arbitrary. A lot can happen on a new, active question in five minutes.

I propose the following modifications to the comment edit feature:

  • Get rid of the pencil icon. Nobody can possibly care whether a comment has been edited if you can't compare it to what was there before.
  • Allow a comment edit only if there are both:
    • no comment upvotes, and
    • no later comments on the same post (comment thread)

This would make editing a comment simply a convenience in the case where you just made a typo and want to try to fix it. It would work exactly the same as if you deleted the old comment and added a new one (which is always possible, at any time after the annoying 30 second rate limiting wait). In fact, such a feature could be implemented by doing an add-delete operation, generating a new comment ID in the comment table (they're free, you don't have to reuse them), with no database schema changes at all.

If you've just made a totally awesome comment and have already received an upvote within the 1.7 seconds it takes to notice that typo, tough cookies. If it's so important to correct it, delete the comment, sacrificing that upvote, and add a new one. People vote on the actual text of comments, even if they have typos.

Similarly, if you've added a comment and somebody has already "replied" to that comment by adding a new one, then you've lost your right to edit it. This solves the "Obama" problem mentioned in that other post. (Yes, there's sort of a race condition if user A edits a comment while user B is typing the next comment, but the comment display is completely refreshed when user B submits the comment so they'll see the incongruity. Also, exactly the same thing can already happen if user A deletes and then adds a new comment while user B is typing, regardless of the new edit feature.)

LiveJournal implemented almost exactly the same sort of overengineered reply editing feature a couple of years ago and broke a bunch of things in the process (which they never fixed). Stack Overflow is better than that.

  • We have an Obama problem? :] Commented Dec 29, 2009 at 13:30
  • 2
    @John Smithers: apparently it has to do with race (conditions)
    – Kip
    Commented Dec 29, 2009 at 18:15

3 Answers 3


The rules you propose are considerably more complicated than what we already have.

I am unclear what, if any, problem adding this additional complexity would solve?

Editable comments for a brief window after posting (with visible has-been-edited indicator) is a well established convention on Digg and in Skype, among other places. Why deviate? Why make up yet another weird one-off implementation?

  • You have to factor in the time period. The current "edited" pencil icon is complicated forever, because it will continue to show up long after the post has ceased to be active. My proposal has two rules instead of one, but they can be considered together as "If somebody else has voted on or possibly responded to your comment, then you can't edit it." Commented Dec 29, 2009 at 20:15
  • Oh, and "why deviate?" Stack Overflow is all about doing Q&A in a better and more sensible way. Skype conversations are ephemeral; Digg is nearly so. SO is a permanent archive. If we wanted to do things the same way as everybody else, just add voting features to phpBB and call it done. Commented Dec 29, 2009 at 20:17
  • well, the "revisions" link on posts that have been edited also appears forever, just like the pencil .. so I'm not sure I see your point. Commented Dec 30, 2009 at 1:07

For me, the editing option is only useful if later comments have been posted. So I think "Allow a comment edit only if [..] no later comments on the same post" would not need editing at all. In such case, just copying and deleting the old comment, and reposting the fixed version would do just fine?

(The pencil for me only indicates that a comment might have been changed a lot. That, for me, also is only needed if later comments have been posted before the edit was done.)

  • That makes sense.. the pencil icon only really makes sense if there are comments underneath.. it is still good as a general indicator Commented Dec 29, 2009 at 14:11

Here's an idea I had, although I'm not sure about it myself: When someone edits their comments, reset the editing deadline for all posts that came after that one to 5 minutes. That would solve the Obama problem (or at least make it less of a problem).

Two reasons against this, though: I don't think we have proven yet that the Obama problem actually exists, and this would be just another new rule to keep track of.

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