6

A couple of weeks ago, I asked if we should adjust a setting to more aggressively hide comments. The feedback we got was was useful and seemed to be in agreement that it was worth a try. So this afternoon, I changed the site setting to hide unupvoted comments on question pages with more than 2 answers.

I'd like your feedback. After a few days of getting used to comments, please let me know:

  • Did it get easier to read the questions and answers, make no difference, or make it harder?

  • Are valuable comments being hidden?

  • Have you changed your comment voting strategy?

  • Do you leave fewer comments? More? No difference?

  • Is there anything else I should know?

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    This looks great so far! How hard would it be to not auto-hide moderator messages? Such as here as an example? – enderland Aug 26 '14 at 22:44
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    @enderland: Well, it would take a developer, so several orders of magnitude harder than the setting. ;-) But why would you want that? The message is important to someone about to leave a comment, but noise to everyone else. I think it's perfect hidden there. – Jon Ericson Aug 26 '14 at 23:21
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    Just saw it in action on this question. 19 comments, all hidden. It is a glorious sight to behold. I hope no one upvotes any of those comments. – Matt Giltaji Aug 27 '14 at 0:35
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    Hi @JonEricson, moderator comments are oftentimes signposts/breadcrumbs we leave for the community, as outlined in Theory of Moderation. During the election, we discovered a number of high rep users on our site who aren't aware of how SE works, so it would be helpful for us to mark certain comments as more permanent. For instance, we're leaving comments on closed posts with links to the review queues so we encourage more close/reopen voting. The more people who see such messages, the better. Hope this helps clarify. – jmort253 Aug 27 '14 at 2:06
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    What happened with changing the term from comments to annotations? I still think that is the best way to get people thinking this is not a forum for discussion. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 27 '14 at 13:08
  • If this change is proven to be valueable, do you intend to propagate it to the entire network ? – Radu Murzea Sep 8 '14 at 7:33
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    @Radu Murzea: That's a possibility—especially for larger sites. Before that can happen, we need to gather data on what, if any impact hiding comment here has had. (Some of that data might very well be anecdotal.) For more on where I'd like to go, please see: Hide trivial comments. – Jon Ericson Sep 8 '14 at 14:56
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    No, you should not do this. Most of the times, I end up having to click to see the hidden comments. Otherwise, the conversation is hard to follow. – Masked Man Sep 10 '14 at 8:52
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    @Happy but you have to do that with long comment threads anyway, when the system auto-collapses them and shows only the highest-voted. – Monica Cellio Sep 10 '14 at 14:48
  • as an unintended side effect of this change, "Atwood's warning" is now displayed prematurely, as reported at MSE: Do we really need fewer than 3 answers? (which made the warning not only toothless as it always was, but also to a large extent senseless:) – gnat Jan 27 '15 at 13:18
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Unintended consequence?

Today I clicked on the "answer" button and was greeted with this:

screen shot

I had not expected the comment-collapse threshold to be tied to the ask-them-if-they-really-want-to-add-an-answer threshold. This warning looks a little peculiar on a question that only has two or three answers. It was, after all, designed for questions with ten+ answers.

If the two must be connected, then we might want to consider raising the threshold a little -- to 3 or 4, maybe.

  • 1
    Thanks for highlighting - we didn't intend that. We're checking out whether they're deliberately linked somewhere, or if a bit got switched by accident. – Jaydles Sep 12 '14 at 13:58
  • Thanks @Jaydles. When I saw it I wondered if there's a "very busy page" state for which we do both -- deter more answers and collapse comments -- and if we'd tapped into that in changing the comment limit. There are other question states that affect page behavior (protected, locked, closed, deleted), so it kind of makes sense. Now I'm curious: did I correctly guess the design? – Monica Cellio Sep 12 '14 at 14:12
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    @Jaydles did you ever find out if this was an accident (and, if so, if it's reversible)? – Monica Cellio Nov 18 '16 at 17:18
  • We are abusing the old Community Wiki conversion misfeature. On most sites, it kicks in at 15 answers, but I adjusted the number down to 2 here. The CW conversion no longer happens, but the comment hiding and this popup are side-effects that still occur. I could easily raise it to 3 or 4, which would be retroactive. Removing the popup altogether is also possible, but we'd need to think about it in the context of other sites where the level is more reasonable for the popup. Maybe a new meta question is in order? – Jon Ericson Nov 18 '16 at 17:46
  • Thanks @JonEricson. We don't want to lose the comment push-back, but maybe we should look at raising it. This calls for a separate discussion, thanks. – Monica Cellio Nov 18 '16 at 18:38
5

We've been tracking a bunch of variables since this experiment started and the only obvious change we've noticed is that more people are clicking on the "show X more comments" link:

Big increase in people needing to click something in order to read comments.

There was no particular difference in the number of comments left or number of votes cast on comments, though the data is fairly noisy:

Comment stats per day

I looked at some statistics for questions with more than 2 answers and the results are not worth showing. Little, if anything, changed.

Summary

Because more comments are hidden, people have to show comments roughly twice as often as they used to. But we have not found any particular changes in behavior that we can measure.

  • what about voting on answers? hiding comments => less scrolling to get to answers => one can expect some increase in voting on these – gnat Sep 16 '14 at 7:33
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    Interesting, thanks. Is it possible to break it down for account-holders versus casual visitors (e.g. Google)? If most of us are clicking but most Googlers aren't, that's different than if everybody's clicking. – Monica Cellio Sep 16 '14 at 13:07
  • @Monica Cellio: I updated the first graph to show by user type. Pretty much everyone is having to click an extra link to read more comments. – Jon Ericson Sep 16 '14 at 22:29
  • Thanks. I realize they would have to click a link; I was wondering if some of them weren't bothering to do so (as a class). Eyeballing it, it looks like we average about 2.5 times as many clicks for anonymous as registered; what's the ratio of anonymous to registered visits? That is, do anon users click at about the same rate as everybody else (so our goal of cutting out noise for the Google crowd isn't really working), or per capita do they click a lot less (but there are a lot more of them in total)? – Monica Cellio Sep 16 '14 at 22:35
  • So you've just implemented a feature that just annoys everybody without any particular win. Great job. – red-shield Sep 17 '18 at 13:03
  • @red-shield: Not sure about "just", but yes, the effect of the feature is to require more people to have to click an extra time. I'm willing to revisit this change if it is no longer deemed worth the cost by this community. – Jon Ericson Sep 17 '18 at 16:39
  • Oh, never mind. I created an extension for my browser that clicks that useless link for me and also removes the pointless New Contributor labels :-P You can keep them both. – red-shield Sep 21 '18 at 19:46
4

Are valuable comments being hidden?

Yes, some valuable comments are certainly being hidden.

If I understand the behavior once a question has 2 answers, all new comments are hidden until they gain at least one upvote.

Certainly some of those new comments are valuable, and being hidden makes them less likely to gain a vote and thus become visible.

  • 1
    a sure way "to gain a vote" if there's something really valuable in the comment, would be to make it an answer or an edit to some answer, wouldn't it? – gnat Sep 11 '14 at 12:07
  • well then, as long as there's nothing in the comment that could make it into a valuable (part of an) answer, I see no reason to worry. "This site is all about getting answers..." (tour) ...it's not about getting comments – gnat Sep 11 '14 at 12:15
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    The point is that some comments could make questions/answers more valuable. (that's what comments are for). But if they are immediately hidden, others may not see them, and hence may not upvote them, and thus the question/answer may not be improved. So it goes. – Joe Strazzere Sep 11 '14 at 12:21
  • I see, thanks. That sounds like a known Atwood's argument for introducing expanded comments, a reasonable concern worth keeping in mind – gnat Sep 11 '14 at 12:30
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    I think my biggest frustration is when people ask someone a clarification/question in a comment, it often gets upvoted. But the responses in comments often do not get upvoted (which causes what you've said here). – enderland Sep 12 '14 at 0:31
  • Hmmm. Maybe we need a meta post with some guidelines on when to upvote a comment, @enderland. – jmort253 Sep 12 '14 at 3:00
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    The comments with responses shouldn't be upvoted; they should be edited into the post and then the comments asking for those clarifications can be removed as obsolete. – Monica Cellio Sep 12 '14 at 3:03
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    @jmort253 that's STILL fighting symptoms rather than the root cause. The root cause is that SE uses comments different than the rest of the world. People upvote comments here exactly like people "like" or "+1" or otherwise upvote comments on other social media. SE being different causes this problem as well, a meta post about that is going to be largely ineffective as a result.. – enderland Sep 12 '14 at 13:18
3

I believe this change makes it much easier for visitors and casual readers to read the question and get right to the answers. Questions attract a lot of pseudo-answers and chit-chat in comments, and even the comments that are "what comments are for" are generally only helpful for the OP (because they're requests for clarification). For other comments that should be seen, like links to related questions, voting on the comment mitigates.

For regulars and readers who want to see everything, the full comments are one click away and don't even require a page reload (it's an inline change). That's low-cost. People who are about to add more comments to a collapsed, busy thread -- who must have at least 50 rep to do so, so we're not talking new accounts from Google here -- are automatically presented with the full batch of comments first. They might not read them, but they aren't going to add comment #17 without noticing. I haven't seen signs that people are leaving more poor comments than they used to because of the initial collapse.

I would slightly prefer it if this collapsing applied only to comments on the question but not on the answers. Comments that point out problems in answers are not mainly for the author, unlike requests for clarification on the question, so they should be seen without having to click for each answer. However, a single comment vote makes these visible, so this is not a big deal. Were you to raise the number of votes needed, though, that could be a problem.

I haven't seen a lot of "tactical voting", e.g. people voting up one side of an argument to get it above the fold. That's good.

  • Plenty of answers here get tons of comments, too. – enderland Sep 12 '14 at 0:28
  • @enderland if you mean answers at meta, abuse of comments here is most likely by design, just like multiple other ways how "canonical" Q&A model is abused at meta – gnat Sep 12 '14 at 21:09
3

I like this the majority of the time. It took a lot of getting used to initially but I'm liking it more and more.

Especially as a moderator, where many of the comments are basically opinions and discussion points rather than improvements/questions/suggestions.

However one thing that really irritates me as a moderator is when I post a comment which is a "mod message" and it's auto hidden. ESPECIALLY when it's a "comments deleted" comment, it would be nice if this wasn't automatically hidden.


However. I would never implement this across the board without a much more clear explanation and plan for "what is a comment on Stack Exchange?" because SE uses them differently than the rest of the internet.

The rest of the internet uses comments as "hey here's my thoughts!" but SE does not. As a result you are going to have to fight everyone to make people "get" this.

This is wasted effort in my opinion. Fighting symptoms rather than the cause is a big waste of everyone's time, especially moderators (who have to cleanup and delete all the "normal comments that don't fit on SE" comments).


I should add, becoming a moderator has had a much more significant effect on the overall number of comments I have left than this will...

  • 1
    This MSE request seems to be pretty controversial, but if we had the narrower case of allowing mods to pin comments left by mods, would that help? – Monica Cellio Sep 10 '14 at 14:51
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    @MonicaCellio a simple workaround would be for moderators to just cross-upvote comments of their peers. (FWIW I do just that, although as a regular user - I simply walk over comments tabs in moderators profiles and vote up what looks like a mod guidance - typically stuff in the bold font) – gnat Sep 10 '14 at 14:56
  • @gnat I generally do that when I see a "notice" comment from another mod (as opposed to a "just plain participation" comment). Walking over the comments tab never occurred to me. :-) – Monica Cellio Sep 10 '14 at 14:58
  • @MonicaCellio this occurred to me immediately after I learned how the change we discuss here impacts mod comments :) – gnat Sep 10 '14 at 15:00
  • @MonicaCellio ...or, to be precise, almost immediately. I cast first handful upvotes on collapsed mod comments that followed up my own too chatty flags. Then I thought, heck, these guys likely leave similar guiding comments elsewhere, and these comments remain invisible, too :) – gnat Sep 10 '14 at 15:09
  • @gnat I appreciate that, I know I often drop them in Water Cooler hoping for the same effect. – enderland Sep 10 '14 at 15:13
  • yeah at first I was thinking about you guys dropping comments to-be-upvoted to chat. But then I thought, this would better be "reserved" for comments you consider especially important. For more ordinary, routine notices cross-upvoting looks more appropriate - not to mention that this is more reliable than waiting for someone in chat to pay attention and catch the drift – gnat Sep 10 '14 at 15:16
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    To be honest, one of the pleasures of hiding comments for me is no longer seeing meta-comments warning users not to use comments inappropriately. Such warnings are often worse than the disease in my experience as a reader since they have even less to do with the post than the original comments. It's also hard to imagine what adding yet another moderator-only feature (in addition to post notices) would accomplish. As @gnat points out, anyone can surface useful, relevant, or important comments by voting. – Jon Ericson Sep 10 '14 at 16:02
  • @JonEricson you're an extremist! (not that I complain:) – gnat Sep 10 '14 at 16:06
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    @JonEricson try moderating here for a while on hot questions. I just cleaned up another batch of comments after another moderator had previously cleaned up a bunch but not put the notice. Hiding comments almost assuredly will not stop them from being created... – enderland Sep 10 '14 at 16:09
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    While I agree hiding comments won't discourage them from being left, they do limit the number of people who will read them. (It's still too early to look at the statistics, however.) But remember that the act of leaving a comment reveals existing comments automatically. Therefore, the person who intends to leave a comment will necessarily see moderator warnings too. (No guarantee that they will read them of course, but that's not a variable in this experiment. ;-) – Jon Ericson Sep 10 '14 at 16:29
1

Do you leave fewer comments? More? No difference?

No difference as far as leaving comments. If I feel a comment is warranted (in order to clarify the question or answer), I leave one as I always have. Some are getting hidden due to this new UI behavior, but I still provide the comments anyway.

One thing I am now doing is going back and deleting all my comments a day or two after leaving them. We've been told that lots of comments is a bad thing, so I'm trying to do my part in keeping the quantity of comments down.

  • 1
    Just a comment on this (ha), pretty much every comment of yours I read is the good type of comments. Pretty much all your comments I see are beneficial. – enderland Sep 12 '14 at 0:32
1

Interesting example where very, very clearly this doesn't stop people from commenting everywhere:

enter image description here

This problem is far more pervasive than "can we see comments or not."

That's just on the question itself, there are lots of other comments everywhere else.

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