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Recently we seem to be facing a larger than usual epidemic of users posting comments that are essentially short answers, or semi-answers.

These comments add nothing to the posts and I feel we should be doing something about them, mainly because comments are supposed to be used 'For adding value to the post'.

On top of this it has been agreed upon before, inclusive of mods, that comments are not supposed to be considered as permanent additions to these posts, which furthers the uselessness of giving answers as comments.

Examples of this behavior can be found:

Is it reasonable to turn down an onsite interview due to length?

In particular:

You can say yes or no, completly your choice. But the company that does the best job checking the skills of those they hire are the least likely to hire this guy. outsourced my job 1: articles.latimes.com/2013/jan/17/business/… 2: edition.cnn.com/2013/01/17/business/us-outsource-job-china 3: abcnews.go.com/Business/

What are the benefits of having a prospective employee spend the entire day in an interview?

In Particular:

I think it's typically in larger organizations where the bureaucracy dictates that many people have to give the 'OK' to hire. (In other words, it takes all day because a user has to be interviewed by many people)

&

I don't want to make a whole answer out of this -- but lunch! You get to eat lunch with the candidate where they are (hopefully) more relaxed and less in "interview mode."

I could go on for a while but this seems like enough to get my point across.

What should we be doing about this?

Flagging to be removed? Ignoring? Upvoting?

Personally i am in favor of flagging for removal.

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    I don't think it's a problem. I sometimes do this if I don't want to write out a longer answer - its a problem if people chat back and forth constantly on comments. – enderland Apr 26 '13 at 13:58
  • @enderland ill admit ive done it too. But ive been thinking recently, should we be. its adding lots of clutter and isnt really helping anyone as we end up with streams of answer comments that blot out the comments that are trying to add value or clarify point – Rhys Apr 26 '13 at 14:00
  • Related: meta.workplace.stackexchange.com/q/72/869 – yoozer8 Apr 26 '13 at 14:36
  • Also related: meta.stackexchange.com/q/54718/167443 – yoozer8 Apr 26 '13 at 14:39
  • @Jim thankyou, that first one is most definately supportive of how i view comments. It details how they should be used. Now im just interested in the communities opinion on what to do when they are misused – Rhys Apr 26 '13 at 14:41
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    @enderland IMHO hits the nail on the head. Comments are also unique in that they can't be downvoted to smithereens (like this comment). Forcing people to only post answers significantly subtracts from the flexibility of StackExchange. – Deer Hunter Apr 27 '13 at 16:15
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We want answers to be well-developed, so encouraging people to post these comments as answers, without expanding them, would not serve us well. It would just set a bad example for what kinds of answers we're looking for.

So, given a case where the person isn't willing to put in the effort to make a proper answer, the question becomes: is a comment better than nothing, or worse? I find myself leaving these kinds of comments sometimes for low-value questions, where the question might not survive but I can at least throw a quick hint to the OP to help him solve his problem. This doesn't seem wrong to me, but we collectively need to keep it from getting out of hand -- suggestions are fine, but conversations should go to chat.

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    Honestly, i would say worse than nothing. Comments aren't for answers. This isnt supposed to be a forum about sharing ideas, its Question, and Answer. If you don't have a full answer, don't answer, if your comment isn't meeting the terms for comments (value adding or clarity seeking) then it shouldn't be a comment. Or am i being too overzealous? – Rhys Apr 26 '13 at 15:39
  • I agree completely with this answer. – enderland Apr 26 '13 at 17:39
  • I'll add to SpikyBlue's comment here. Comments that are correct answers, without backing, sometimes make it difficult to then post the same answer, with backing. – pdr Apr 26 '13 at 19:58
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    @pdr they do? When I see a comment like that and am inclined to answer along those lines, I just give a hat-tip to the commenter and proceed to a full answer. If the commenter wanted to answer he could have, so it's not like I'm "stealing" it from him. (Occasionally I'll see a comment promising more info later, e.g. when the commenter gets home that night, and in those cases I think people should wait. But other than that, if comments help others provide answers, go for it!) – Monica Cellio Apr 26 '13 at 20:02
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    Particularly when a comment has a half-dozen upvotes, I guess it does feel a bit like stealing or cheating or something. I know it makes me think twice, even if I know I'm being irrational. More importantly, when I've been tempted to answer in a short comment, I tend to think "Really? Do I think I'm the only person with something important to say?" There are enough people around here that I trust to give the same answer I would that I leave it to them and upvote them later. Or, if no one does, I'll add my answer later. – pdr Apr 26 '13 at 20:49
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    As to questions that are liable to be closed, I don't think we should answer those at all, in comment or answer. I used to, but then I realised it only encourages people to come here (or rather programmers, at that time) with bad questions, just to get a response before they know it will be closed. – pdr Apr 26 '13 at 20:51
  • @pdr i agree, thats why i think we should discourage using comments for answers, were getting lots of low quality and ive noticed lots of people answer them, but in comments, and its encouraging low quality to continue – Rhys Apr 27 '13 at 11:37
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The problem with suggesting people post their comments as answers, in addition to all of Monica Cellio's points, is that there are just so many comments that attempt to provide a hit and run answer. There are lots of them!

Encouraging all of these people to post answers might backfire, and we may get hit with a lot of low quality content. I'd prefer to just simply see them flagged for comment cleanup and removed.

I've tried to be good about removing comments when they build up, in the interests of keeping the site on-topic and avoiding extended discussion and debate on the Q&A portion of the site. I'll continue working on remove the comments that don't seek to improve the post or seek clarification.

However, I can include a blurb about using answers to answer the question fully as per the guidelines in the FAQ, but as far as approaching individual comments, we should only do this if the person said something awesome and definitely has room to expand on it beyond the length of a comment.

UPDATE:

One way people can help with comment cleanup is to look at comments that contain useful information, and edit them into the question or answer. Or, as Jim suggests, post your own answer and maybe briefly mention the person who posted the comment. Afterwards, flag the comments as obsolete. This has no negative effect on the person who posted the comment; it's just part of the normal operations of comment-handling.

When I go through a long thread of comments, I try to weight each comment individually and preserve useful information. This is especially effective if the comment was posted by the answerer or asker, as this teaches them to update their post with clarifying information instead of leaving it in the comments where it's less likely to be seen. Additionally, the questions in the comments seeking clarification can also be flagged as obsolete, once the issue with the post has been addressed via editing.

With that said, some comments are okay. They can serve as signposts to other users and teach those new to The Workplace, and those just browsing, what the rules are. It's when the comments head into the double-digits that they become less useful.

  • I agree with this. Comments aren't answers, this isnt a forum, comments have a specific purpose and their misuse encourages people to think that low quality is fine. – Rhys Apr 27 '13 at 11:36
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The first step in this situation should be to reply to the comment, suggesting it be posted as an answer. Allow the user who wrote the comment some time to write up and post an answer (maybe it's a comment because they didn't have time to write a whole answer, or the system decided it was trivial and automatically converted it to a comment).

If there is no response and it seems the user isn't going to write an answer, feel free to go ahead and write up your own answer. If the user does eventually get around to writing up an answer, you can take yours down.

Lastly the comment should be removed (once the user has had a chance to see the response about posting as an answer). Simply flag it for mod attention and we will take care of it.

  • What of the situation where the posted comment is an attempted 'answer' but alone wouldnt make an answer any different to the comment? – Rhys Apr 26 '13 at 15:32
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    That would fall under didn't have time to write a whole answer or the system decided it was trivial and automatically converted it to a comment. It would have to be beefed up to answer quality to be posted as an answer. Assuming that doesn't happen, part 3 still applies (deletion). – yoozer8 Apr 26 '13 at 15:35
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    If one sees useful non-offensive comments deleted, one feels less inclined to contribute. I can only hope SE is still outside the Great Cyber Wall... – Deer Hunter Apr 27 '13 at 16:19
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    @DeerHunter - We generally only intervene when the system alerts us to trouble. When the number of comments goes beyond a certain threshold, the post is automatically flagged for moderator attention for a comment cleanup. One way to avoid perceived useful comments from getting flagged or deleted is to direct people to The Workplace Chat after 4 or 5 comments. One could even leave a link to the transcript itself in the comments, after the fact, if the conversation in chat is worth preserving. I use the shorthand link [chat] (bracket-chat-bracket) to quickly drop a chat link. – jmort253 Apr 27 '13 at 16:23
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I didn't realize there would be disagreement on this. Also am sad people missed the irony of this comment previously...


In seriousness, I really do not think this is a problem. The problem is not people posting answers as comments (if you can fight that without perpetuating this problem let me know) but rather people discussing the question via comments or making opinion judgements, etc.

If this site were to ONLY have high-quality answers with lots of comment "answers" I think that would be more than desirable. People can still vote on (or even expand) comments which aren't really comprehensive where appropriate.

Lastly, I would much rather people who want to contribute here but who are not willing/wanting to put the time into comprehensive answers to simply put comments than create answers which get down-voted and which drives them away.

  • Agreed, I didn't know it was a problem and think encouraging converting a comment to an answer should be enough. – user8365 May 7 '13 at 19:39

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