Update: I was involved in some very useful discussion in comments under @tinkeringbell's answer. It helped clarify some of the arguments against automatic deletion. If there's interest in this discussion, I recommend reading those comments.

I'll also note that this is not a feature request. As per the tags, I'd meant it specifically as only a discussion. Had anything concrete come out of the discussion, I might have then posed a particular feature for implementation.

I propose that all comments on non-meta sites be automatically removed after a certain amount of time.

It's well known that comments are ephemeral, and that if you think something is worthwhile in terms of addressing a question, it should be provided as an actual answer. Only answers are permanent. As such, there should be no expectation that comments won't be removed at any given time.

Having comments automatically deleted would enforce this message and also aid in site cleanup.

This is something that is constantly being brought up—the Why was my comment deleted? question. The response to that is always the same:

  • It's not personal.
  • Your comment was removed because it was part other comments that weren't serving a purpose.
  • The comment was an answer in the form of a comment, not a comment that was helping to clarify the question.

Even for comments underneath answers, if the person leaving it objects to the answer or wants to enhance it, they can provide an alternate answer of their own (or, in the case of disagreement, simply downvote). If the person who provided the answer doesn't agree, the comment isn't going to make them change their mind if it remains for an extended period of time.

By making it explicitly clear that comments are ephemeral and not permanent, and then actually enforcing that automatically, it would help with the following:

  • The complaints of comments being deleted in the first place.
    If it's a stated fact that every comment will be deleted after a certain period of time, then complaints against those deleting them will be avoided. It becomes a function of the system, not of any particular moderator—whose deletions might or might not be consistent with those of other moderators.
  • The appearance of favouritism on the part of moderators.
    If everybody's comments are treated identically (over time), there can be no favouritism.
  • The maintenance burden on moderators.
    If comments are automatically deleted after a certain period of time, moderators don't need to worry about routine comment cleanup; they need only concern themselves with those particular comments of a uniquely negative nature that require immediate attention.
  • The inappropriate nature of some comments.
    If you know that your comment won't last long, it would force you to consider if you want to leave it at all, or if you should do something more appropriately permanent—such as leave an actual answer to a question.

A corollary to this is some kind of better notification that comments are ephemeral, perhaps by extending the add a comment text to add a X-day comment.

I am excluding the meta sites from this, since I know that comments in metas have a longer-lasting effect and purpose. However, even with the meta sites, it might make sense to include automatic deletion, albeit after a longer retention period.

I am also not mentioning a particular time period, because I'm not certain what would actually be appropriate. Some of the things that would be addressed by this would benefit from a shorter time period, while others would benefit from a longer time period.

The minimum period of time that comments are useful can vary depending on the frequency of the people checking questions and answers, as well as those engaged in a "comment discussion" that could lead to a worthwhile answer.

I don't think most people would say any comment serves a real purpose after a month, let alone a year. However, some serve no purpose at all at any time. So, some kind of sliding-scale-of-diminishing returns balance would need to be struck.

Is it reasonable to think that no comment serves a useful purpose—in terms of question or answer clarification—after 2 days? A week?


1 Answer 1


Automatically deleting comments on questions that are actually pointing out improvements, asking for clarifications only the asker can provide, linking to other questions or explaining why a question is/should be closed isn't a good idea in my opinion. Not every clarification always ends up edited into a post immediately, and not every closed question is automatically deleted. Leaving comments can be a clue for people with similar questions on how to write a better one. A good comment can be a very visible and valuable piece of information on how a site works to other people. All of these types of comments I just mentioned are also information that shouldn't be in an answer.

The same goes for such comments on answers: Extra information that should've been edited into a post but wasn't yet, links to other answers on closely related (but not duplicate) posts, comments requesting clarification of wrong/outdated information or (dangerous) problems an answer may have, I think they should all stay because they have value, and not be at risk of automatic deletion due to their age.

While comments that argue with an answer are bad (like you said, write a different answer), a comment that asks for clarification on the matter of X being a security risk or that suggests updating the answer to also take Y into account should remain. These comments are doing what comments are for, and they provide valuable information to other people reading the answer.

And since I don't think there's a system yet that's smart enough to distinguish between useful comments and ones that are just chatty, I'd err on the side of caution and say I don't want automatic deletion of all non-meta comments based on their age.

  • I agree in principle. But it seems also to be at odds with comments that don't actually add any value. Would you say that a comment that has existed for a year adds any value? Is there any argument that could be made for keeping comments longer than a year? What has really prompted this is a recent surge of questions being locked at English Language & Usage because of an aggressive attempt to remove any kind of comment that comes close to being an answer. Aug 27, 2020 at 13:09
  • @Jason Yes, I think good comments can be useful, even after a year. I also know you shouldn't be writing answers in comments, so I'm with the ELU mods on that one: if people on the site are abusing comments to write low quality/low effort answers, instead of good answers, locking comments on the post (possibly in the hopes of changing that part of site culture) is fine. Note that none of the comments I spoke about as being good and valuable after a year are of the type 'answer in comment'.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Aug 27, 2020 at 13:36
  • Can you give an example of a comment that is useful after a year and which would not be better served as an answer? Aug 27, 2020 at 15:51
  • @Jason interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/1804/… is probably an example of a comment that's useful as long as the question isn't deleted. It was a well-received question at the time, but as things changed (which they do from time to time on beta sites) and questions asking for things to say became off-topic, we closed that question and I left a comment. That way, other users can see why a well-received question was closed and should remain so, and that they shouldn't ask a similar question.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Aug 27, 2020 at 16:27
  • I'm trying to sort out in my head the thing that would be the most net-positive among all of these different issues. It seems there is a consensus that everything is fine just as it is, which is okay with me. (I have no issue at all with the negative score of this question, since it provides me the feedback I wanted—although I would have liked more actual discussion along with the basic voting.) Would automatic deletion after a period of time, but with the ability for moderators to protect a comment such as the one you mentioned be too complicated? Aug 27, 2020 at 16:38
  • 1
    @Jason it would reverse the problem: From people having to flag chatty comments for deletion to people having to flag all the useful comments for safekeeping, because moderator can't be everywhere at once. Deleting comments that are flagged isn't that much of a chore on most sites, having to protect them will be. Especially if, should e.g. the OP of that question come back after a year and decide to go for it, those comments will need to be unprotected and deleted. I do think the system as is, where chatty comments are flagged and deleted with a click of a button, is the most time-efficient.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Aug 27, 2020 at 16:41
  • Would it make sense to at least change add a comment to something like add a comment subject to deletion to convey their lack of guaranteed permanence? Aug 27, 2020 at 17:13
  • 1
    @Jason If the text is changed, there's been an experiment with renaming the 'comment' button to 'suggest improvement' on IPS and TWP: interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/a/2839/1599 and workplace.meta.stackexchange.com/q/5320/74461. Instead of focusing on making it clearer that the wrong kind of comment will be deleted, I like the idea of making it clearer what the right kind of comment looks like better :)
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Aug 27, 2020 at 17:16
  • 1
    That particular idea makes even more sense to me now that you've said it. Aug 27, 2020 at 17:18

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .