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I've been on Stack Exchange sites for years, and just in the last week or so I've gotten four comments on answers I've posted that basically say "this answer doesn't add any value" or "this doesn't answer the question". I don't think I've ever gotten such comments on my answers before. I don't know if this is a new trend to make such comments, or if I just happened to have a run of bad posts. :-)

My point here isn't to defend my answers. Rather, my point is to ask, Is there any point in making such comments? (If they're down-voting me, I've accumulated plenty of rep, and in any case my paychecks are not tied to my Stack Exchange rep. And I'm way too arrogant for my feelings to be hurt. Originally I was intending to reference the relevant posts, but I'm not looking for re-assurance that my answers were good. I concede that at least one of them was of minimal value. Let's assume for the sake of argument that they weren't very good.)

In general, if someone down-votes me, I like to see a comment explaining the down-vote. If something I said is incorrect, I'd like to know what the correct facts are. If something I said is poorly worded, ambiguous, or misleading, than it would be helpful to anyone reading to have the point made more clearly. Etc.

But a comment that simply says, "this doesn't add value" or "this doesn't answer the question" or "this is more of a comment than an answer" ... One of the comments of this sort that I got recently had a rather lengthy paragraph about how answers shouldn't repeat information found in other answers, how the system asks you if you've read other answers before posting, and how answers that are similar to other answers or that don't address the question just waste the time of people visiting the site. All of which is true, and even assuming that my answer was worthless: Ok, so my answer is just a waste of space. But it seems to me that a long discussion about why that answer is a waste of space that does nothing to help readers understand the original subject, is itself a waste of space that does nothing to help readers understand the original subject.

On the other hand, I guess one could see value in such a post in that it might inform or remind the poster, and anyone else who is considering posting, that such answers are unwelcome.

On the other other hand though, I'm reluctant to say that any answer that gives accurate and at least arguably relevant information is worthless. I've had a few times where I've felt that someone else's answer made all the important points, but that it was unclear in some way, and so I've posted my own answer in which I say the same thing differently. In one of the cases where I got a "doesn't add anything", I had one small point that I wanted to add to other answers, and in order to introduce it coherently I had to repeat a point that others had made. Arguably my additional point wasn't worth it. Is it more of a waste of space to make a point that isn't important, or to point out that someone else has made a point that you think isn't important?

My feeling is: If you think a post repeats what others have said, so what? Maybe the second person said it in a different way, and this will help some to understand. If you think a post doesn't really answer the question, then unless it's totally irrelevant, like, say, someone asks about putting his grades from college on his resume and someone writes an "answer" about how to bake pudding, if the answer has anything to do with the question at all, I'd think it might be helpful to someone.

I only down-vote when I think an answer is wrong or misleading, and I add a comment saying why I think so.

Thoughts?

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    Some of my thoughts from before, which are very related - meta.workplace.stackexchange.com/q/1627/2322 – enderland Aug 10 '15 at 14:19
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    related (possibly a duplicate): FAQ proposal: Back It Up and Don't Repeat Others. As opposed to most other Stack Exchange sites, Workplace has explicit and fairly strongly maintained policy on repetitive answers. If memory serves, two or three other sites have similar enforcement – gnat Aug 10 '15 at 14:20
  • I think such comments could serve to educate folks in what is a good comment and what is not. Unfortunately, it often just seems to be a race to see who is first to push the "this doesn't add value" or "this doesn't answer the question" button. Far better would be for a comment to explain why or to offer an alternative way to answer. – Joe Strazzere Aug 11 '15 at 13:09
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Is there any point in making such comments?

Yes, there can be good reasons to leave such a comment, including (but not limited to):

  • You're flagging a post as "not an answer" and want to explicitly indicate your reasoning for those users who have the ability to follow-up on the flag.
  • You're participating in the Low Quality Posts review queue and want to leave a comment for other reviewers to see, explaining why you've chosen the Delete (or Recommend Deletion) action. Other reviewers who agree and take similar action can upvote that comment.
  • You think the post has no value but for some reason you're reluctant to flag or vote to delete it and you hope that leaving such a comment will inspire the author to revise or remove it of their own accord.

Ok, so my answer is just a waste of space. But it seems to me that a long discussion about why that answer is a waste of space that does nothing to help readers understand the original subject, is itself a waste of space that does nothing to help readers understand the original subject.

In the long run and from the perspective of readers, yes; it's all a big waste of space. Fortunately, if you find yourself in this situation, a solution is available to you. As the owner of an unaccepted answer, you have the ability to delete all of the comments associated with that answer by deleting the answer itself.

In the short term and from the perspective of a contributing user, comment discussions such as these can be valuable as a means for community self-governance.

If you think your answer has value nonetheless, just respond briefly and politely to the comment, explaining what value you see in your answer. This will be helpful for future voters, reviewers, moderators, etc.

If you think such a comment is completely frivolous, you can flag it as not constructive—but beware that the moderator who responds to your flag may share the perspective of the comment and choose to handle things differently than you would like. A better option may be to simply ignore it.

I've had a few times where I've felt that someone else's answer made all the important points, but that it was unclear in some way, and so I've posted my own answer in which I say the same thing differently. In one of the cases where I got a "doesn't add anything", I had one small point that I wanted to add to other answers, and in order to introduce it coherently I had to repeat a point that others had made.

That seems perfectly reasonable to me. I hope that if the ambiguity in another answer is minor, you consider revising a phrase in the existing answer or leaving a comment to suggest the clearer phrasing before writing up an entirely new answer. But if you think you can write an objectively better answer, even while making the same points and advising the same course of action, that's your call. You may have an uphill battle to argue your point, especially if yours is a late answer and/or the other already has a lot of votes.

I only down-vote when I think an answer is wrong or misleading, and I add a comment saying why I think so.

Okay. Your votes are your own to use how you like (short of abuse). You can have absolutely no expectation that other users will necessarily use their votes similarly, or even in a way that makes sense to you. Them's the breaks.

Personally, I rarely comment on my downvotes unless I think there is something the author can and will fix, or that readers need to know. Downvotes, as applied to content rather than content-producers, are one of our most valuable tools for influencing the quality of the site. Don't think of them as punishment, revenge or attacks—think of them as feedback from your readers and one of several metrics by which questions and answers can be sorted. Everything else is a side effect.

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    "absolutely no expectation" doesn't feel right. Typical reason for downvotes is because Tim lost his keys – gnat Aug 10 '15 at 15:55
  • "flag as not constructive" Sure. Personally I don't want to get into a fight with someone and then run crying to the moderators. That seems a little childish. When is such flagging good and valid? Different question, I think. – Jay Aug 10 '15 at 16:59
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    @Jay For what it's worth, neither comment flags nor comment deletions notify the comment author, so assuming you haven't already gotten into an argument, a flag isn't that likely to start one. Any time comments make a Q&A page less useful, they should be moved or nuked. The FAQ is clear: "Comments are disposable ... and they can be deleted without warning." – Air Aug 10 '15 at 17:04
  • +1 - This is exactly how I think such answers and the comments on them should be handled. – Lilienthal Aug 24 '15 at 10:52
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Keep in mind both your answers were pretty basic and to questions which were very old and not new (both were over 1 year old, and one was nearly 2 years old).

At that point I would consider, "is there any point in adding a answer to an existing question with established answers that has not had activity for over 1 year?"

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    Now see, I specifically said in the question that I do NOT want to debate whether my answers in these cases were good or bad as that's not the point. So your answer is non-responsive and adds no value! :-) – Jay Aug 10 '15 at 17:12
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    @Jay but it is the point. You aren't talking about these comments about "not adding value" being posted on answers which contribute to the site and are great answers. You are talking about them being applied to answers which they should be applied to because those comments are 100% applicable and relevant. As a moderator (and before that, high-rep user) here I want and hope everyone on this site will fight for quality answers, not quantity of answers. Discouraging noisy, "me too!" types of answers that basically copy content from other answers is a great way this can be accomplished. – enderland Aug 10 '15 at 17:24
  • downvoting police :) "We encourage people to downvote content they don't find useful..." – gnat Aug 10 '15 at 18:03
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    @enderland My comment above was intended to be a joke -- hence the emoticon -- but on the serious point: OF COURSE a comment that says "this post adds no value" would be inappropriate on a post that does add value. The point of my question was to ask whether there was value added by making such comments on posts that are admittedly of low quality. My implication was that they don't, that they just add noise on top of noise. Apparently you feel differently. – Jay Aug 10 '15 at 19:51
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    @Jay As the person who is primarily responsible for your comments and downvotes, both Air's and enderland's answers explain why I did so. An answer with no value is far worse than a comment with no value. Any new answer or edit will bring a question back to the top of the active questions list, distracting from new unanswered questions. If you had posted those answers on current questions, I probably wouldn't have cared, but resurrecting old questions with accepted answers is more harmful than helpful. I commented and downvoted so that you would hopefully avoid doing this again. – David K Aug 11 '15 at 15:15

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