Popular questions tend to attract a ton of comments.


Questions on this site tend to attract more comments than on other sites because:

  • the topics are circumstance-specific and require lots of clarification from the OP.
  • Many people want to offer subjective opinions.

At a certain point, long comment threads get moved to chat. I'm not sure exactly what the criterion is, but it mostly seems related to there being a lot of comments.

The thing is, if you look at the comments on the example thread, you will see that it is not an extended discussion. Almost all the comments are directly responding to the OP with feedback or requests for clarification, and few are responding to other comments.

Moving these threads to chat makes it difficult to get feedback from the OP about specific circumstances.

Could we either:

  • Move only discussion-like comments to chat, and leave comments addressed to the OP that have not yet been addressed?

  • Wait a week or so before moving comments to chat, so that the OP has a chance to respond to them?

  • 13
    If it is taking an asker a week to respond to comments, you have much bigger problems than comments being moved.
    – Shog9
    Jul 20, 2016 at 17:03
  • 7
    @Shog9 Disagree. I realize that many people use SE sites to get others to give them quick answers 'now' and no research required (give me teh codez or other site specific), others use SE as a way to get more heads to think more in depth about a problem that they are not alone in facing. SE, as I understand it, is meant to, as at least one of its main goals, to create a resource for the future. That requires time to consider, among other things.
    – CWilson
    Jul 31, 2016 at 1:22
  • 1
    Enough time to consider, @cwilson? That's enough time to cross the Atlantic on the QE2! If you're planning on leaving the country for a while, maybe you could just hold onto your questions until you've got reliable Internet again, just in case these sorts of discussions arise...
    – Shog9
    Jul 31, 2016 at 3:07
  • I generally figure that if someone's going to post a question and then wait a week before responding to requests for clarification, then the question has easily been unclear for long enough that I should downvote it. As a side-effect of this, if I've posted such a request, then come back and a moderator has removed my request (without the asker responding) then the question by site/mod/softwre policy will never be clarified, so I usually downvote or in extreme cases close-vote. Aug 1, 2016 at 12:12
  • @Shog9 I don't think that leaving the country is related to this question, any answers, or any comments (thus far). I also didn't know what the QE2 was, but it looks like it is an old ocean liner that is dry docked in Dubai, and hasn't moved for 8 years now. I am missing the relevance, but I want to assume that a comment by someone with an stackexchange.com email address who visits the various sites far more often than a standard user would have direct relevance, instead of just assuming it is an off topic comment clouded by someone whose outlier activity has clouded their judgement. Help?
    – CWilson
    Aug 1, 2016 at 15:00
  • @SteveJessop Established user experience and tendencies are very relevant here. Thank you. I stand by my 'time to consider' comment, and though it may be wrong, I don't think your comment contradicts that. Perhaps the discussion should move toward discussion of the time frame. It appears that at least two users say that 1 week is too long, and at least two users say that 1 day (see answer below, all are 'yesterday' time stamps) is too short. Is there value in a middle ground? Is it possible with the current moderator tools?
    – CWilson
    Aug 1, 2016 at 15:04
  • The relevance is the absurdity, @CWilson. I do not believe for a second that there is a topic here so thorny, so deep, that it requires a solid week for the author to respond to requests for clarification. Nor am I particularly convinced that most of the askers here do any more research than the folks asking for code elsewhere.
    – Shog9
    Aug 1, 2016 at 15:04
  • @Shog9 You raise a good point: are any questions on WorkplaceSE ever worthy of real research, or are anecdotes from random faceless internet usernames all that should/could ever be expected? That is a question for another time, perhaps. In the meantime, my comment was perhaps off topic here, because I read the answer ("as intended by Stack Exchange") to be relevant SE wide, and not merely to WorkplaceSE. That said, your initial comment fell just over an hour prior to the SE wide answer, and almost certainly was not intended to be SE wide. I should not have pointed my disagreement @ you. Sorry.
    – CWilson
    Aug 1, 2016 at 15:17
  • All that said, I still maintain that those who are facing real problems in the workplace may in fact not be able to get back to the question within 24 hours, and that those who know how to navigate workplace problems successfully by experience should be so busy by definition that 24 hours is not always practical. One possible solution is restrict or move comments that are off topic or just noise. Another is to increase the time until comments are moved. I believe that the OP did a good job offering those ideas, and that @enderland answered well the former. What about the latter?
    – CWilson
    Aug 1, 2016 at 15:34
  • 1
    Easiest way to handle the latter is just to close the question until the asker returns, @CWilson. Then you don't end up with a pile of misguided answers to contend with after clarification is made.
    – Shog9
    Aug 1, 2016 at 21:30
  • Interesting idea. We could also close it until the appropriate answerer returns as well. That way we don't end up with a pile of misguided comments burying and causing deletion of the comment that said answerer requires. Not an idea I had ever really considered. I had never thought of closing questions as a way to improve on moderators' abilities, though in retrospect it seems quite obvious. Very interesting implications, to say the least.
    – CWilson
    Aug 2, 2016 at 2:01
  • 1
    @Shog9 responding to comments and clarifications can easily take some days when people are in different time zones. I often have an influx of comments on my posts from american people that come during times when I'm asleep and only answer on the next day. So if there is someone who has a comment, and maybe another comment, it can easily take three days to work that out. Chat is really terrible for that. I agree it shouldn't take a week, but at least 48-7h seems reasonable.
    – Polygnome
    Aug 2, 2016 at 17:47
  • 4
    These comments seem to be discussion-like. They should be moved to chat.
    – Kik
    Aug 3, 2016 at 13:30
  • @Kik the joys of making meta sites a discussion board for a non-discussion board.... XD
    – enderland
    Aug 4, 2016 at 23:10
  • @Shog9 Not everyone visits the site every hour, people may visit the site only on the weekend, or perhaps once every 2 or 3 days, because they actually have a life outside this site as well. I don't seem to recall it mentioned anywhere on the help pages that people who cannot visit the site every hour are not allowed to post questions here, nor that questions will be closed if you do not respond to comments within a specified time. If you want the site to be run that way, then make it official in the help pages.
    – Masked Man
    Apr 22, 2018 at 14:35

1 Answer 1


One of the primary reasons we as moderators move comments to chat is that finding the relevant comments is impossibly difficult in a long comment thread of mostly off topic ones. Unfortunately a byproduct of humans doing this is good, relevant comments sometimes get deleted. I did just undelete yours here.

As you have correctly identified, it's difficult to work with comments being used as intended by Stack Exchange (asking for information / suggesting improvements) when there are dozens of them that are not.

It's also... hard to effectively do this as moderators. We have conflicting priorities:

  • Keeping comments clear/relevant
  • Impartiality
  • Not spending 5+ minutes for every comment thread, of which there are many

In this particular case:

enter image description here enter image description here

Move only discussion-like comments to chat, and leave comments addressed to the OP that have not yet been addressed?

The way the interface works for SE is "move all comments on question to chat" or not. Generally as moderators we do this, delete all the comments, and then undelete whatever ones should remain. FYI - this can be quite time consuming to sort the wheat from the chaff for remotely long comment threads.

The workflow is quirky and not really customizable.

Normally the way moderators even notice situations like this is either is an automatic system flag when comment threads reach... well into the double digits or based on a manual flag from someone.

Wait a week or so before moving comments to chat, so that the OP has a chance to respond to them?

Comment threads, especially on questions hitting the "Hot Network Questions" (the sidebar link on the right) end up long. And very not-the-right-purpose.

I don't disagree the system is difficult now, but I'm not sure letting comment threads go well into the 20s, 30s, or 50+ range would help, either.

  • 3
    Thank you, this is a very informative explanation. I still think something could be better, but you've convinced me that it's not so obvious how to do it.
    – Owen
    Jul 20, 2016 at 18:21
  • 1
    In other words, not bad moderators, but bad tools. Jul 20, 2016 at 19:23
  • 1
    @RichardU the tooling is part of it, but the reality is reading 20+ comments and finding the 1 or 2 that are relevant and well intentioned is... hard, too.
    – enderland
    Jul 20, 2016 at 19:29
  • 5
    I did those deletions in two steps, BTW. The first several were subsumed by an edit and were thus obsolete (thanks to the flagger who pointed that out), so I deleted them. Then I looked at the rest and it was still too long and I didn't see further requests to the OP, only discussion and advice and opinions about the wrongness of it all. General guidance would call for purging those, but I moved them to chat instead. (I missed the patent comment.) Jul 20, 2016 at 20:05
  • I feel like just makeing a Chat link for These Situation and block the comments on the question. Since every HNQ I have seen has People just chatting. I dont know if this is possible. something else might be to get a high reputation requirement of 500 or 1000 rep protection that mods can put up Jul 21, 2016 at 8:30
  • Maybe '@' mentions could be used as a guide for which comments are directed at OP and which at other comments. System could even automatically move long '@' chains to chat..
    – Owen
    Jul 21, 2016 at 14:14
  • @Owen you cannot do an @originalposter though (on any post -- if you try to do (at)enderland here it will not work either)...
    – enderland
    Jul 21, 2016 at 14:29
  • 3
    Yeah I have to say that nothing of value was lost in that comment thread, apart from perhaps the patent comment, though even that is ultimately only relevant to the OP's specific problem and shouldn't affect answers. (@enderland does seem to work by the way. I think it only removes it if you've got a one-on-one comment thread going or the author hasn't participated in the comments yet)
    – Lilienthal Mod
    Jul 21, 2016 at 14:32
  • Huh... something-something about the way things may have used to be, something-something. In other words, didn't know that :-)
    – enderland
    Jul 21, 2016 at 15:47
  • @enderland If there are two people, @ doesn't do much. If there are more than 2 people, it does. It's (suprisingly) as simple as that! (I think.)
    – wizzwizz4
    Jul 22, 2016 at 18:06
  • I like to read comments. Sometimes even if they're off-topic. Sometimes I see several comments, then one saying this discussion has been taken to chat link. I can happily click through that link and continue reading those comments. What bothers me to no end, is when (as I repeatedly encountered on academia.se) I click that link in an old thread and get sent to the main chat page of the .SE site with no hope of finding the original comments. As an aside, I wish there was not a possibility to delete comments, except maybe those flagged as offensive, etc.
    – LLlAMnYP
    Jul 30, 2016 at 7:26
  • 1
    @LLlAMnYP It's not about liking it. In SE's site you have Questions, Answers and Comments, each of them aim for a defined purpose. The prupose of the comments is to ask for/give clarification to an existing Question/Answer or eventually arguments for/against another comment. Once the clarification has been integrated in the post, they don't need to live anymore and sould be deleted. The goal of SE sites is to have a "clean" repository of knowledge where the knowledge holds in answers, not comments.
    – Walfrat
    Aug 3, 2016 at 13:00
  • 1
    @Walfrat Quite frankly, I don't care what the goal of SE in general is. The individual sub-communities often develop their own, slightly unique culture which in some areas deviates from the goals and intents of SE. IMO answers are to comments, what a wiki entry about, say, some interesting town is to anecdotal evidence and personal accounts of people who live there. The latter may not be structured enough or backed up with references enough to be included in the encyclopedic entry, but it will give insights one would never get from wiki...
    – LLlAMnYP
    Aug 3, 2016 at 13:39
  • 1
    ...and at risk of sounding vain, I'll use my two comments here as an example: are they worth being upgraded to answers? Hell no. Should it be somehow incorporated into the above answer? I don't see how. But doesn't my above comparison still contribute something? I believe it does. And in the comment thread shown in the screenshots above there are people disseminating snippets of knowledge, which maybe aren't directly relevant to the specific QA, but, y'know, knowledge is power and all that jazz :-)
    – LLlAMnYP
    Aug 3, 2016 at 13:48
  • 1
    @LLlAMnYP What i meant by general goal is what is common to all SE sites. The community changes, allow more discussion in comments as in Workplace, but Question are still Question, Answer are Answers, and Comments are Comment. So a good Question/Answer on stack overflow must be edited to include valuable content from comments that get cleaned afterhand to avoid any confusion for the next people. Comments is per nature more subjective than. SE aim for objective content. Sometimes interesting coms are dropped, but i'm sure very most of them aren't necessary anymore or weren't from the beginning.
    – Walfrat
    Aug 3, 2016 at 14:01

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