16

Stack exchange is a Q&A site, unlike other message boards members may be familiar with. The Tour offers this simple statement of when to use comments:

Use comments to ask for more information or clarify a question or answer.

And from the help section -

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).

Perhaps more important, also from the same section -

Comments are not recommended for any of the following:

  • Suggesting corrections that don't fundamentally change the meaning of the post; instead, make or suggest an edit;
  • Answering a question or providing an alternate solution to an existing answer; instead, post an actual answer (or edit to expand an existing one);
  • Compliments which do not add new information ("+1, great answer!"); instead, up-vote it and pay it forward;
  • Criticisms which do not add anything constructive ("-1, see previous comments you scallywag!"); instead, down-vote (and provide or up-vote a better answer if appropriate);
  • Secondary discussion or debating a controversial point; please use chat instead;
  • Discussion of community behavior or site policies; please use meta instead.

We've been trying to push members to avoid offering "answers in comments" for multiple reasons -

  • No ability to edit
  • Cannot be voted down, when warranted
  • Does not offer rep to member
  • Lost when a mod needs to move full comment chain to chat.

The effort for the above has been in place for some time, as a mod I've used a macro to add this to such a comment -

Fill in member name - We are trying to enforce "too good to be a comment" - please consider deleting it, and write it as a full answer to the question. See the meta question Should answers be left in the comments? for more details.

This post is put up to share the above and to also try to move the bar on how we handle comments moving forward. In my opinion, if we use the tour reason for comments e.g. "Please add a country tag", once the question (or answer) addresses the request, the comments can easily be deleted and no one should object. And should a comment thread go off into a long discussion, no one should be surprised if it suddenly vanishes.

I've written this as a statement. The questions to members -

From your perspective, do you object to the above? Or do you feel the above is not the intent of the 'comment' definition on SE?

For longer term members - Does this feel like a shift in behavior or enforcing something we've really had in place for some time?

I am hopeful we can see member response here, and ultimately, after some editing, use this as the link to the objection "where did the comments just go?" when asked.

Note: This question was partially prompted by the recent How would I go about deleting my account? which really was a reaction to comments and the newbie badge.

Last, when I visited a mod-only chat room, the level of enforcement regarding comments was not really consistent. Each board tends to have its own personality. For what it's worth, my own view from the modding effort is that most behavior issues are contained within comments. Not all, but most. If you answer below, please be mindful of the distinction between the two issues ('answer in comment' vs 'general chatter') cited above. Addressing them has different reasons and results.

Edit - other stacks are addressing this same issue, if anyone wishes to see their Meta question on this topic

From Interpersonal - Please don't write answers in comments

From English Language and Usage - Is SE enforcing “no answers in comments”?

From Role-Playing Games - Why are site comments being deleted?

  • 3
    Frankly, if individual sites continue to insist on enforcing this ethos (increasingly, moderators at SE sites seem more willing than ever to legislate comments in this way), it needs to be better supported by the SE software. Otherwise, it will continue to be a protracted game of Whack-A-Mole. – Robert Harvey Sep 6 '18 at 21:40
  • @RobertHarvey - enforcement is another story. I am trying to take the pulse of members here as any change in moderation might be noticed and some might take offense. I'd really like to avoid that. But, there's a difference between many people saying "chat is important, why get strict?" vs "no need for chat, a Q&A can be great with well formulated questions and smart answers." I have no dog in this hunt. – JoeTaxpayer Sep 6 '18 at 23:12
12

I am absolutely in favor of trying to get rid of answers in comments. One of the first things I noticed when I started coming to money.se was that a lot of high rep users would leave answers as comments, and that struck me as odd. I also think your "too good to be a comment" plug is a good one.

I haven't been here as long as many, but I have done a lot of lurking. One of the things I have liked about money.se compared to a lot of other stacks is the atmosphere here. It seems like there isn't as much bickering happening here, and, in my limited view, moderation has been pretty chill. I like that. If someone has an interesting comment to leave, even if it isn't suggesting improvements, it is generally left alone, which is awesome. One really annoying thing is when comments are zealously moderated to the point when a useful, but not strictly on topic, comment is removed before anyone gets a chance to see it.

Obviously long conversations in comment sections are annoying and should be sent to chat, click-baity and controversial posts like the 17 year old who wants to buy an expensive car will need extra comment vigilance, and answer-in-comments need to be discouraged more emphatically. But what I'm saying is the general attitude (or at least appearance) of laissez-faire moderation is a strong point here. Don't change it.

  • Member for nearly 2 years, 285 visits. Your response is appreciated and valued. Thank-you! Glad to see you feel we are doing things pretty well, as a community. – JoeTaxpayer Sep 10 '18 at 9:08
8

I agree that the comment space is often abused, and the worst offense, in my opinion, is the answer-in-a-comment, for many reasons. I have tried a bunch of times leaving a reply for an answer-comment, explaining that answers should not be left in comments, but nearly every time I do, the offender gets defensive and argues, which just clutters the comment space even further. It is very rare that a user posts a drive-by answer-comment, gets called on it, and then turns it into an actual answer post. Why? Because they aren't interested in really answering the question in the first place. They just wanted to leave their snarky one-sentence answer (which they suspected would attract downvotes as an answer post) and they don't want to take the time to put any more effort into it.

The approach I'm currently favoring is this: Leave a comment:

@UserX: Please do not answer the question in the comments area.

and immediately delete the answer-comment. Once people realize that their drive-by answer comment doesn't last long, they will quit doing it. Only a mod has the power to delete the answer-comment, but other users can flag the answer comment for deletion.

I've seen this approach used by supermod Robert Cartaino more than once when he is modding sites during the early days of new sites. He'll leave a warning response comment for the offender and immediately delete the answer-comment. No discussion or debate. People learn early on that it is not acceptable to leave an answer in the comments.

  • 1
    The problem here is that while they may well quit doing it, they will also quit participating on that site. Answers & discussion in comments is the best part! – jamesqf Sep 8 '18 at 17:51
  • 1
    @jamesqf I’m not against comments in general, and I agree with the sentiments in BlackThorn’s answer. I enjoy some rebuttal and discussion in the comments. But posting an answer in a comment is harmful to the site, and generates unwanted discussion where it does not belong. It’s really not that hard to post your answer in the correct place, and as I said, anyone that refuses to do so isn’t really interested in answering questions on the site anyway. – Ben Miller Sep 8 '18 at 18:54
  • "unwanted discussion"? Unwanted by whom? I think it ought to be apparent that many, if not most, of the people who participate on these sites DO want the discussion exactly where it is. A few people just need to wake up and smell the coffee! – jamesqf Sep 9 '18 at 16:54
  • 1
    @jamesqf As I said, I am okay with some discussion. The problem, however, with an answer-in-a-comment is that you can’t leave a comment on a comment. So when someone posts an answer as a comment to the question and that answer-comment requires discussion, it generates a bunch of additional comments under the question that are not comments to the question; they are really comments to an answer that is in the wrong spot. – Ben Miller Sep 9 '18 at 21:24
  • 3
    Yes, that's called discussion, and I think is what many, if not most, users actually want. I mean, if they didn't want it, they wouldn't do it, no? Deleting such discussions just irritates people at best, and drives them away at worst. – jamesqf Sep 11 '18 at 4:51
  • 1
    @jamesqf The comments provide a place for a discussion about each post. There is a place for comments under the question post, and a place for comments about each answer. By posting an answer in the place reserved for discussion on the question, you have hijacked that discussion and started a new one. – Ben Miller Sep 13 '18 at 12:46
  • 1
    The problem is that what some of the (descriptive adjectives deleted) moderators see as answers really aren't anything of the sort. They're ideas which might lead to an answer (or not) but need discussion and/or research to see where they lead. But they get deleted anyway, short-circuiting the process. – jamesqf Sep 14 '18 at 16:40
5

I have seen this enforced for quite some time. I don't feel like the enforcement has been too strict. I get annoyed when two or more users have a lengthy discussion on one of my answers that isn't closely related. It'd be nice to have the ability to protect questions/answers from further comments.

  • We have a 'lock' ability. But it's this - "Posts should only be locked when something seriously bad is happening. A locked post cannot be changed in any way or voted on, and if the locked post is a question, no new answers can be added." So it will do what you want with no further comments, but also kill your ability to edit, or gain rep. Not ideal. – JoeTaxpayer Sep 7 '18 at 1:51
  • 3
    Yep, that's a little extreme, but locking the comments could be beneficial on a lot of hot network questions. It's unfortunate that can only be done by completely locking out the question. Even if it simply required a reputation level that excludes the association bonus instead of blocking all comments, I think that would be an improvement. – Nathan L Sep 7 '18 at 1:58
5

From your perspective, do you object to the above? Or do you feel the above is not the intent of the 'comment' definition on SE?

As a new member to PF&E, I don't object to your template. I particularly like the positive tone in the phrase "too good to be a comment". Such a comment from a mod is strong motivation to turn the comment into an answer.

As for the broader intent, I think that's consistent with the relevant Help pages:

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

Each SE community develops its own culture. Compared to EL&U, for example, there's a lower bar here in relation to external support for answers. This suits PF&M as there's really not a whole lot of definitive material beyond the basics, with much relying on observations based on personal experience (e.g. leveraged ETFs vs S&P500, or buying an expensive car at 18). Voting by the community is a sensible gauge of the worth of an answer.

This also reduces the 'penalty' fear for new members posting answers i.e. What if they don't like my answer? On the flip side, it could be pointed out that in the absence of comment down-votes, flags fill the role. And it sounds a lot more serious to get flagged than to get down-voted. Since the PF&M community is happy to keep answers that are sensible even if not particularly well-supported by external links and a half-century of personal experience as a banker, there isn't really much reason to pick the comment box rather than the answer box when one has an answer to contribute.

Nevertheless, answering in comments can be a personal choice - someone might feel that they're not answering the whole question, or they might be tentative about their answer. Deleting the comment outright is consistent with the intent for comments in the Help pages, but that can come across as a little harsh if the comment is genuinely helpful. A middle-ground used to good effect at EL&U is to create a wiki-answer - create a wiki answer (tick the "community wiki" checkbox below the answer box), quote and attribute the content of the comment, even link to the commenter's profile page, then delete the comment. Anyone who can create wikis (just 10 rep required) can participate in this, and then flag the comment for deletion. This keeps all the benefits of answer-box answers except rep movements through up- and down- votes but voting on comments doesn't influence rep anyway, so comment-to-wiki is all up-side and no down-side.

  • 3
    I'm not a fan of wiki answers, and I hope they don't become a thing here. Answers should be posted if you think they're good enough to get upvotes -and if not, don't post an answer or a comment. – Joe Sep 7 '18 at 15:39
  • 2
    One thing that doesn't seem to be considered is that "answers in comments" usually aren't meant to be definitive answers. (Except when the answer is completely trivial, as when asking if giving bank info to someone in Nigeria is a scam.) They're often pointers to get the OP and/or other people thinking in the direction of what might become a good answer. It seems highly unrealistic to always get good answers without a certain amount of discussion. – jamesqf Sep 8 '18 at 17:49
2

Perhaps you - the moderators - should just accept the reality that people use comments for discussion? If this no comment policy were actually to be strictly enforced, I expect 90% of the people that participate here would leave. (I have left a couple of sites for just that reason.)

First, not every question deserves a complete, well written and supported answer. Asking whether someone in Nigeria who asks for bank account info is running a scam, for instance. A simple comment seems sufficient.

Second, not every question can have an immediate answer. There needs to be space for suggestions and discussion, and comments are the best and most accessible place for this. You (the moderators) keep moving such discussions to /dev/null (AKA "chat"), where they can't be seen (at least without considerable effort) or a discussion effectively continued. That's no solution at all.

  • 3
    When deleting answers-in-comments, I usually first check if the point is already covered by an existing answer. If it is I delete immediately. If not I would generally leave it for a while at least. – Ganesh Sittampalam Sep 10 '18 at 10:23
  • 4
    If the question can be answered in one sentence, feel free to do so. But it should be posted as an answer, not a comment. What if you are wrong with your answer? You need to allow your answer to be moderated by the community. Even if it is a partial answer, post it as an answer. That way, other users can discuss it and expand on it. You say you like discussion in the comments, and I do, too! But putting answers in as a comment to the question clutters the discussion about the question. Post as an answer, and then people can discuss your answer as right or wrong. – Ben Miller Sep 10 '18 at 16:43
  • I’d be very sorry to see you leave for that reason. I agree that there are some questions such as the scam ones you cite, that don’t warrant a full answer, but I think the solution is to close those as duplicate, not answer in comments. I agree that not all questions have an immediate answer, and that’s the purpose of comments, to help the OP fill in the missing pieces so we can give a good answer. It’s not so much a ‘no comment’ policy, but just trying to not let comments go off on tangents. – JoeTaxpayer Apr 27 at 21:26
2

I like the test they've done on Workplace lately, where the 'add a comment' became 'suggest an improvement'. I think answers in comments should be deleted, always, and I think your comment is a fine reply (though frankly I'm not sure I love "too good to be a comment" - answers and comments are different, they're not different quality levels.)

My suggested comment:

Fill in member name - We ask that comments focus on improving the [question/answer] rather than discussing it or answering it. Please consider deleting it, and write it as a full answer to the question. See the meta question Should answers be left in the comments? for more details.

I'd actually prefer to go slightly further and actually delete it, and thus modify it to:

Fill in member name - We ask that comments focus on improving the [question/answer] rather than discussing it or answering it. Comments that do not fit this requirement are deleted, and we encourage you to post it as an answer if you are comfortable doing so. See the meta question Should answers be left in the comments? for more details.

  • The experiment at workplace has had issue where people had trouble making comments because it looked to them like the comment button was no longer available. They will have to update the text of various help guides to have consistent wording. – mhoran_psprep Sep 7 '18 at 17:09
  • I'm 100.0% okay with people having trouble making comments ;) And I was one of those people at first, but I figured it out; and certainly you're right that there is a need to update help docs. – Joe Sep 7 '18 at 17:13
1

I don't have enough experience with this particular SE to give a well-reasoned answer to this question; I can only explain my view about comments vs answers with respect to English Language and Usage SE.

There, we get a fair number of Qs which are so elementary and which furthermore show no research and very little thought; for these, my tactic is to briefly answer the Q in a comment (to be helpful to the confused OP struggling with English as a second or third language) and then downvote and VTC the question, explaining why, or sometimes vote to send it to English Language Learners. Perhaps you get very few questions of this sort.

For complicated questions, I find preliminary brainstorming in comments can lead to better answers than if everyone just jumped in and submitted an answer. I've called such comments "embryonic answers." Again, this might not be applicable to this site, because there is more likely to be an absolutely right answer, or an absolutely wrong answer here than in ELU, where there may be one answer for British English and another, quite different answer for US English and still other answers for local dialects and usages, plus the major split between prescriptivists and descriptivists.

In General: Absolute, unbreakable rules are often straitjackets and thus counterproductive.

  • 1
    Your answer is welcome and appreciated. And the examples offered of how/why each stack is unique. I do see how ELU can use comments in a productive way different than we might. I’ll take your last sentence to heart and try to avoid having that happen. – JoeTaxpayer Apr 27 at 19:37
0

I like the general ideas you are posting but I have to say some of them are kind of misguided in my view. The two big ones that stick out to me are:

"Suggesting corrections that don't fundamentally change the meaning of the post; instead, make or suggest an edit;"

You don't really get the ability to edit until you reach a certain reputation. Why penalize a newcomer when they don't really have the choice anyway? If it is someone that has a high rep doing this absolutely enforce it.

"Compliments which do not add new information ("+1, great answer!"); instead, up-vote it and pay it forward;"

Again same problem from what I see the people saying +1 are usually the ones that don't have the ability to up vote. Also I don't see the harm in saying why you think that an answer is good or bad in the comment. If it is constructive, it does show other people what is good or bad about a particular answer, instead of just showing a score.

A lot of these problems are structural issues with the website itself. Why not add the ability to down vote a comment? or make chats more user friendly and available? Instead of having chats down in the trenches where no one sees them, or cares to use them.

My suggestion would be a chat button right on the answer itself where you can debate the particulars of something controversial. It should be easy to see that people have been chatting on it in the first place. More people would be inclined to use it if it was right there in front of them, or you could tell the difference when people have been using it or not. Like highlighting the chat button green when it has been used, and grey when it is empty.

  • I appreciate your input. Note, I quoted from SE’s tour and help pages. The two ‘misguided’ lines you quoted and object to, aren’t my personal ideas, they are part of the help pages. I understand your desire, but the last two paragraphs in your answer go the wrong way. SE would not wish to make such changes, as it would promote the very thing the mods are looking to reduce. In theory, if chat were used properly, comments would get addressed via edit on question or answer and deleted. – JoeTaxpayer Sep 10 '18 at 2:03
  • 1
    I don't mean to make it personal. You mean it would promote people using the functions the way SE wants them to be used? If what SE is doing isn't working then SE is failing to change the thing that is contributing to the problem. They want to do nothing and complain about it. Theory does not equal practice. I can make any number of theories about how/why people should do something, in practice people will do whatever they want. Why not make the chat easier to use, so people would be more willing to use chat/comments the way SE intends it to be used? – user75979 Sep 10 '18 at 3:05
  • SE works well. The issue is human nature. Boards tend toward a 'personality'. At Money.SE, we've been lax in letting comments go on beyond its intent. SE's history started with Stack Overflow, where questions are about code, and answers are intended to be just that, answers. Less comment, little need for chat. There is no desire to make chat features easier. It's not that kind of site. (I did not take your comments personally, just trying to be clear) – JoeTaxpayer Sep 10 '18 at 9:03
  • 3
    Actually, suggesting an edit to a question or answer is available to every user, regardless of reputation level. And a user gets the ability to upvote a post (at 15 rep) before they get the ability to comment (at 50 rep). – Ben Miller Sep 10 '18 at 16:51

You must log in to answer this question.

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