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I appreciate everyone who is trying to find me a suitable work around or explain to me the dangers of deleting too many of my comments, but you’re missing my point. The simplest way to “fix” my concern is to officially revoke this “comments are temporary” stuff and make the documentation match reality.

I don’t really need to delete more than 20 comments a day. It’s not good for the network for comments to be either super important content I can’t be trusted to curate myself or content that can be deleted according to what a mod thinks is best depending on completely arbitrary factors.

For reference, the documentation I read when I earned the ‘comment anywhere’ privilege says:

What are comments?

Comments are temporary "Post-It" notes left on a question or answer.

(snip)

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).

And yet, I am prevented from deleting more than 20 a day, even if they are multiple years old and fall squarely into the “transient” category.

I understand why I can’t delete all my answers and questions on a whim, but it is absolutely ridiculous to have moderators saying “comments are ephemeral and we will delete whichever ones we deem appropriate. The help center clearly states this.” and then simultaneously insist that me deleting my own “temporary post-it notes” is potentially vandalism or depriving the network of valuable content so there needs to be a mechanism to prevent me from removing too many of them.

The comment system is broken. I understand that the company is within their right to preserve that content, because I licensed it to them. That’s not what this is about. It’s about comments only being temporary content when someone else wants them removed, and not being temporary when I want them removed. I only have so many flags a day, and I’m sure the moderators don’t want me to use all of them trying to clean up my old outlasted-their-usefulness comments.

And no, I don’t want to request all of my comments be purged. A lot of them are “relevant but minor…additions to a post” like this one or links to related questions. If someone wants to purge them, I don’t really care, but I’m not going to delete comments that are OK to keep around according to the documentation to make a point of how little I care. My goal is to clean things up, not to be destructive.

I should be allowed to clean up my ancient comments at will, or they aren’t really what they’re documented to be and the help center guidance should be corrected.

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  • 3
    It's specifically upvoted comments, on 20 different old posts, though the error message could be improved
    – bobble
    Jul 22, 2021 at 14:08
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    @bobble Thanks for the clarification. Upvotes have no relevance to whether a comment is transient and that those are even factored in to this algorithm is just more evidence that the comment system needs reworked. If I leave a comment “Please edit to include the source of the text” and someone else was going to ask the same thing, so upvoted my comment that doesn’t mean it should stay after the question has been updated.
    – ColleenV
    Jul 22, 2021 at 14:12
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    Shog9's comment here is interesting: "Realistically, this almost never happens. ...The only reason we even have a check for this is one time someone had to undelete a whole lot of comments and hated it."
    – bobble
    Jul 22, 2021 at 14:15
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    @bobble If comments are ephemeral, why would anyone have to undelete a whole bunch of them? Either they’re real content that deserves to be as well supported as answers and questions or they’re not. Yes I am on a crusade to open the box and force this “comments are ephemeral but they’re also super valuable and important” cat to be either alive or dead.
    – ColleenV
    Jul 22, 2021 at 14:19
  • 1
    Did you actually hit the limit? Jul 22, 2021 at 14:20
  • @P.Mort.-forgotClayShirky_q Yes. I have been complaining about the broken comment system and decided to look through old comments from when I first started commenting on SE. I know a lot more about the system now than I did then and started cleaning up.
    – ColleenV
    Jul 22, 2021 at 14:23
  • Workaround: Keep a list of URLs to comments to be deleted (in its most primitive form, in a text file) and have some automated means of opening a number of URLs (say 20 selected lines in the text file - in Geany I can use Ctrl + 1 on selected lines, where "Send Selection" is invoked for the first item, that in turn starts a Perl script that will open the URLs in the default browser/profile (Firefox), one every 3 seconds). Jul 22, 2021 at 14:26
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    @P.Mort.-forgotClayShirky_q I am not going to make cleaning up my comments a part time job. I shouldn’t have to.
    – ColleenV
    Jul 22, 2021 at 14:28
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    All content deletion is rate limited to avoid abuse. Even content intended or personally seen as transient getting lost wholesale can be harmful if it was seen as useful to other people.
    – TylerH
    Jul 22, 2021 at 15:49
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    @TylerH Then the system should support comments as if they are content that is more valuable that a post-it and provide the tools to curate them properly and appropriate transparency for edits and deletions.
    – ColleenV
    Jul 22, 2021 at 15:53
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    @ColleenV The system provides adequate support for comments already. It's natural that a user who makes uncommonly high use of the feature for years who suddenly gets a penchant for removing them would encounter friction when trying to remove them at a much faster rate than creating them in the first place. Stack Exchange sites are designed to gather and retain information, not remove it.
    – TylerH
    Jul 22, 2021 at 16:08
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    @ColleenV You can also always request reinstatement as a moderator and have unfettered access to deleting your own comments on ELL, at least, where the vast majority of them are. It would take you 2 days to delete your comments on most of the sites you have linked accounts on, and 8 days for EL&U. The Workplace, and Meta would take about a month, if they're all truly not needed... I think that's a very reasonable rate for removing nearly a decade's worth of comments, personally.
    – TylerH
    Jul 22, 2021 at 16:14
  • @TylerH Lol, do you realize that by suggesting I should just go take on the responsibilities of being a mod again so I can delete my comments you’re simultaneously confirming you have no idea what I’m talking about, supporting someone abusing their mod privileges to bypass content controls the “unwashed masses” have to abide by, and making my point for me about how broken the comment system is?
    – ColleenV
    Jul 22, 2021 at 16:41

2 Answers 2

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I only have so many flags a day, and I’m sure the moderators don’t want me to use all of them trying to clean up my old outlasted-their-usefulness comments.

Comments are temporary, yes. But there's more to deleting them than meets the eye. For example, deleting comments might mean there are replies to those comments that are left hanging. Replies that you can't delete on your own. Replies that would need flagging then. Ideally this is done by you, if you're truly just cleaning up. In that case, you only have so many flags, and shouldn't be able to delete more than you have flags, so 'unlimited' is out entirely.

Just like moderators wouldn't like seeing you use all your flags trying to clean up your old comments, it's also a good idea to not flood the queue with a 100 comment flags each day. It might well drown out other stuff that could've done with our attention a bit quicker. So, as a moderator I don't mind you being limited to cleaning up on 20 posts a day: It means as a moderator I can probably keep up with you and the potential replies you flagged as well, and you're not likely to start drowning out stuff that needs attention too.

Now, you can say that you are careful. You're not on a rage-quit deleting spree, you're carefully picking out outdated comments, and to avoid flooding the flag queue with comment flags on other comments that used to be replies to yours, you limit yourself a bit on deleting and flagging, or don't delete those at all. Great, you're an exemplary user! But that's a pretty high, idealistic standard to hold all users to.

I wouldn't trust all users to do that at all, and I specifically don't want rage-quitting users being allowed to delete comments that are not outdated yet, or delete stuff in such a way that it leaves more mess than there was in the first place.

So, even though it may rarely happen: I'd rather the system prevents users from creating messes that may go unnoticed for a long time before being cleaned up, than a system that allows unlimited cleaning up and creating such messes. Any user could flag your old, outdated comments if they stumble across them. Only you can create chaos by being allowed unlimited deletion of your own.

Yes I am on a crusade to open the box and force this “comments are ephemeral but they’re also super valuable and important” cat to be either alive or dead.

I don't think the cat will ever be totally alive or dead, because live cats can die. That's the whole point with comments too: They only die once they served their purpose.

Comments are not 'ephemeral', which the dictionary tells me means 'lasting for a very short time'. Comments are meant to be temporary, which the dictionary defines as 'lasting only for a limited period of time'.

That period of time in the case of comments is limited by a comment's transition from being valuable/important to no longer needed. If a comment asking for clarification is never answered, or the clarification given is never edited into the post itself; this comment will never have reached that point where it transitions from 'useful' to 'no longer needed', and the limited period of time isn't up yet.

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  • @ColleenV well, let us continue this discussion in chat. It's getting long and it's easier to reply there.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Jul 22, 2021 at 16:51
  • I feel obligated to point out how easy it is for you as a mod to clean up a long conversation that was detracting from a post, and how a normal user that wants to do the same must petition a moderator, wait while more comments pile up, then hope that the mod agrees the discussion should be moved and that the other commenters don’t cause a stink about it. That said, I’ve never had a mod reject my request to move discussion to chat, but sometimes I wonder whether how much I know about how SE works gives me a different experience. For example, I know this comment can’t easily be moved to chat.
    – ColleenV
    Jul 22, 2021 at 18:38
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    @ColleenV I actually used the prompt for moving to chat, the ones that regular users get too :P Only after doing that, I realized that meant I could also purge all comments immediately instead of waiting for a flag. But again... as a normal user, raising flags is what you have to do for getting spam deleted, questions closed, not-an-answer answers deleted.... While I agree I hate the waiting too, that goes for any site where I'm a new user, and again isn't just a comment specific problem.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Jul 22, 2021 at 18:43
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    The purging of the comments was more what I was referring to than the chat room. I’ve seen long threads derail a post, so if an author could push the entire discussion into a chat room AND purge it from under the post, I think that would be a positive step forward. Comments have a more personal impact, like how you’re probably getting tired of getting all these pings from me.
    – ColleenV
    Jul 22, 2021 at 18:46
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One way this can make sense is equating the rate-limits to reputation as a form of trust.

Another way would be like the daily flag limits where the more successful flags you raise the more you get. In this case, the overall number of comments and self-deleted comments could raise your daily limit. (Assuming a user who made 10k comments and self-deleted 5k knows what they're doing and can be trusted to have higher limits for his personal Spring Cleanup.)

And yet, I am prevented from deleting more than 20 a day

For precision,

The Complete Rate-Limiting Guide

Comments

  • Deleting (treated like voting)

    • No limit per second (previous one-comment-per-5-second limit removed)
    • Can only delete own upvoted comments under 20 posts per day (multiple comments under same post are treated as one) You have already deleted your own comments from 20 posts today; further deletes are blocked
      • Despite what the message says, you can still delete an unlimited number of non-upvoted comments per day, even if you've hit the above rate limit.
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    Yes, a lot in the system could benefit from being more dynamic (though it does increase the internal complexity (mostly). But that is not the users' concern). Meta can probably handle the slight increase in external complexity and the inevitable "I did X and expected Y to happen. But Z happened.". The principle of least astonishment could be applied to the design to minimise it. Jul 22, 2021 at 14:56

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