Canned comments may not be as useful as we have thought.

Why people post canned comments

  1. If the author of the problematic post is of malicious intentions, posting a canned comment is effortless, hence does not matter if the comment is not read.
  2. If the post is a mistake of the author or because the author is new and hence not familiar with the site, a comment appears to be more welcoming and friendly.

Why this won't work

  1. In this case, the comment will not be read anyway.
  2. In this case, a canned comment does not generally make a user feel terribly welcomed. It is cold and may do more harm than good.

So what?

I suggest that we reduce our use of canned comments, and either leave no comment at all, or write an actual and welcoming comment, instead of a machine generated, cold and lifeless one.

But I don't want to spend time and still want to be friendly!

Then leave no comment. A canned one would not fulfill this goal, and generally makes one appear to be less friendly.

But why?

Leaving a canned comment indicates that you have read the post, yet won't bother writing an actual comment. This doesn't really sound terribly better than being neutral (leave no comment and hence no indication), right?

As being criticized in the comments, the first revision of this post lacks evidence to back up the claim. So here is what I found:

  • A script that posts auto comments
  • A query on SEDE shows that there are 1523 identical canned comments, of the single form 'whilst this may theoretically answer the question...' posted on SO.
  • Some discussions about canned comments on meta.SO
  • Discussions here and here suggests a overall negative experience about canned comments.
  • And this source
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    Do you have any evidence to suggest any of what you say is true? You're making bold claims based on seemingly nothing. – animuson May 15 at 3:11
  • @animuson, Wikipedia's done studies of canned comments, and yes, the effects are pretty much what the anonymous poster describes -- users react much better to personalized ones. – Mark May 15 at 3:19
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    @Mark They're not claiming that personalized commenting is better than canned commenting. They're claiming no commenting is better than canned commenting. – animuson May 15 at 3:23
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    Yay! In parallel, let's campaign for an end to compiler error messages: they are often misleading and always unfriendly. Returning a result != 0 should be the only output so as to avoid upsetting anyone. – Martin James May 15 at 4:47
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    As long as poor posts with the same problems are posted the same comments are appropriate. Also "effortless" is frequently more effort than posts exhibit. Moreover it's not efforless to give a canned comment, because one must decide on the most helpful few of the many that apply. – philipxy May 15 at 4:48
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    I would be immensely helped if you give an example of an actual and welcoming comment. – rene May 15 at 7:14
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    Your last link is broken, it's the usual story with links to google books alas. – Tantalus' touch. May 15 at 7:44

As the author and prolific user of one of the user scripts that leaves canned comments (though this one deliberately prefixes the comment with "Hi user12986714"), let me tell you this: in roughly 10% of the cases I use it, the author of the question posts a comment apologizing for posting their question in the wrong place. In another ~20%, the author deletes their own question (which was my main reason of leaving the comment) and perhaps then realizes they can't post a comment anymore.

Even after leaving thousands of these comments, I still haven't seen an instance where somebody reacted badly on such a comment. I did see cases where I was a little late, the question had already some downvotes and the author complained about them. In the majority of instances, nothing happens (except that the community closes and deletes the question); have we chased away the author or are we so fast that they only return to their computer afterwards and can't reply anymore? If we don't leave a comment, there's only the close notice which, incidentally, is also a canned expression.

I'm not sure if you realize, but especially new users don't know they're canned comments; that only starts to become obvious once you hang around a little while, when you usually don't make the mistakes anymore that invite said comments. I remember when I first got one on Stack Overflow for posting a link-only answer; my reaction (which I didn't put in a comment) was: "Oh, that's a rule I'm not familiar with? Why would that be the case?" leading to spending a bit of time in the Help Center and my discovery of Meta.

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    Exactly. I leave such comments because they at least provide a basic reference point as to why their question is being downvoted and marked "off-topic". There was once a case where a user posted about their "perfectly on-topic" question being heavily downvoted and marked as off-topic for no apparent reason on a consumer complaints website, never noticing that they posted their question on Meta. – Sonic the Stay-Home Hedgehog May 15 at 7:10

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