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As a Stack Overflow user who wanders over to Workplace sometimes via the Hot Network Questions section, I'm not sure I understand the commenting norms here, and would like to present a case study.

I recently commented, twice, on the answer at https://workplace.stackexchange.com/a/119260/25356 to point out a misconception that in my view invalidates the entire logic of an answer. The question there is about encouraging coworkers to follow the nohello protocol in chat: that is, initiating a conversation with a question instead of saying "hi" and then typing the question. The purpose of this - spelled out by both the nohello website and the OP of the linked question - is to spare the recipient the need to wait and twiddle their thumbs while their interlocutor types out their question, depicted in the example chat on the website as a nearly 2-minute wait. In the words of the website,

It's as if you called someone on the phone and said "Hi!" and then put them on hold!

Based on their own characterization of what nohello is for, the answerer doesn't get this, and has given an answer premised on the belief that the "problem" being solved by nohello is - in their own words:

the 10 seconds of additional time required for the brief exchange of greeting

As such, their answer is to recommend that the OP follows what I guess they see as a compromise when interacting with a coworker who doesn't like nohello:

My advice is to adhere to your "nohello" policy with her when you initiate conversations with her, but to respect her own communication preferences when she's initiating the communication.

This makes sense when viewed with the answerer's stated misconception of what nohello is for. However, it's pointless and illogical in light of the actual purpose of nohello, as described by the blogger who came up with the protocol. I commented about this, with a comment like:

You've misunderstood nohello, and consequently your compromise - that the OP should initiate conversations using nohello style with their coworker who doesn't like it, but not request the same in return - makes no sense. The point of nohello, spelled out clearly at http://www.nohello.com/, is to spare the person being asked a question the need to wait several minutes between "hi" and the question. As such, there's no reason for the OP to use nohello when initiating a conversation with her colleague; doing so doesn't help the OP, and just violates her colleague's preferences for no reason.

(The wording above is probably inexact, since I can't view my deleted comments, but captures the spirit of what was written.)

This comment got flagged and deleted, so I reposted it, and now it's been deleted again.

Some observations about this comment:

  • The point it's making is probably non-obvious to a casual reader.
  • It's also about as objective as I can imagine any criticism on Workplace being. The answer is logically flawed due to being - explicitly - based upon an assumption about the purpose of nohello that contradicts the purpose spelled out by the OP and the nohello website.
  • Its content could not reasonably be put into an answer, because it isn't one; it's a criticism of faulty logic in one particular answer, but not in itself an answer to the question.
  • The comment doesn't in any way seek to improve the answer, nor can it be (non-disingenuously) framed as a suggestion for improvement. It's pointing out a mistake of reasoning that invalidates the entire thesis of the answer, and as such can't be fixed.

Over on Stack Overflow, where I'm more familiar with the commenting norms, I make comments like this all the time. Yes, it has sometimes been said that comments are ephemeral and that information of long-term value shouldn't be put in them in the first place, but on Stack Overflow that idea is consistently and explicitly ignored in practice, with mods openly saying that they will not delete comments the contain valuable information.

Thus, some questions is:

  • Why were my comments deleted in this case? Is this normal?
  • Is it the norm here that comments should not be used for criticism of posts? (Or at least that they shouldn't be used for criticisms not directly aimed at getting the answer improved?)
  • If it is, doesn't that effectively mean that there is no mechanism for pointing out flaws in the core thesis of a particular answer? Doesn't this community view that lack of a feedback mechanism as a problem?
  • Yes, mods are pretty trigger-happy when it comes to deleting comments (since people are also prone to having discussions in the comments here) and pointing out flaws in answers is frowned upon (to my dismay). Although I don't see any misunderstanding with an answer saying essentially "don't try to force her to conform to your preferences", except that it's a non-answer to some extent. – NotThatGuy Sep 18 '18 at 20:49
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    if we discard the pleasantries in life we lose a large part of the social 'oil' that stops us from getting too nasty to one another. – Kilisi Sep 20 '18 at 13:32
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First of all welcome to The Workplace :) and thanks for taking the time to write this post so we can discuss.

Why were my comments deleted in this case? Is this normal?

pedantic alert - It was deleted because some users flagged it and it got automatically erased :/ ... Nah, getting serious, I am also somehow familiar with SO, and in my experience comments are different here than over there. The reason is because of the completely different nature of the kinds of posts in each site.

You see, asking a question on SO is far more objective and technical than asking here. Over there, comments for suggestions or clarifications are really brief and to the point: What happens when you println()..., Using LibraryX is deprecated, use LibraryY instead because...

However, answer over here are a bit more subjective (let's recall that good subjective questions are ok), and perhaps broader than the ones on SO, as they can be seen through many lenses and even may be context-specific. This, I think, is what makes comments a bigger problem on TWP, as they can easily deviate from their purpose, add unnecessary noise to the post, and even derail an answer or question to oblivion (even if it were good).

Some months ago we even managed to get a custom post notice for controversial posts, as comments quickly turned nasty or unrelated on such posts, and people focused more on criticizing or insulting the OP instead of asking for clarifications.

So... as we have been having some issues with our comments recently (basically a wave of not nice comments, see here for some background), is that we have been more actively flagging and deleting comments that do not stick to what comments are for... so lately it's more common to see a comment get deleted.

Is it the norm here that comments should not be used for criticism of posts? (Or at least that they shouldn't be used for criticisms not directly aimed at getting the answer improved?)

In a way yes. Basically we are open to constructive criticism, or suggestion for improvements. However, comments that say "this is wrong", or "I disagree", or similar are discouraged. If you want, I suggest you check this answer of mine of a post where the topic of comments getting deleted is discussed.

We specially discourage answer-comments, as well as tangential or one-in-a-million scenarios or interpretation of posts... reading your comment, I'd say it's more of an answer than a suggestion for improvement.

You argue that given that it's "just" a criticism (discouraged) on an answer it can't be turned into an answer itself, although I am sure that with the proper edits and phrasing you can turn it into an answer that complements the POV of that answer you consider flawed. Notice the key word "complements"... such comment doesn't belong as a comment as it is too disruptive to the possibly-flawed answer, and thus would better fit an answer so users can consider both sides of the coin.

If it is, doesn't that effectively mean that there is no mechanism for pointing out flaws in the core thesis of a particular answer?

No. One can post comments in a way that seek to improve the question, or give suggestions in a polite and non-disruptive way. Such comments are OK and are not flag-worthy.

Also, one can post answers that complement or even take a different angle to the problem. This is better than debunking with a comment under an answer, as it gives the Community the chance to consider it, vote it, etc... Users can then judge by themselves by reading all the complementary answers.

In a few words: If an answer has a core flaw it's better if you post your own that corrects such flaw, downvote if worthy, and carry on. The poster will know by the votes and constructive feedback that they may be flawed and rephrase their post (or delete it).

Doesn't this community view that lack of a feedback mechanism as a problem?

This is a bit broad, and I alone can't speak for the Community. However, I fear that this is part of a bigger problem, and that is the Comments on the site.

Like I said, lately we've had an increase on the number of comments that are not nice, not constructive, or even comment-answers. Some I've seen are rude or insulting. This worried the Community and led us to think of ways to reduce the rudeness.

Also, this increase in flagging may be due to a recent experiment we ran here, with the hopes that it decreased the number of flag-worthy comments: Experiment concluded: a comment by any other name


Summing up:

  • I think that we can say that posts here are different in nature than in other sites (more subjective and contextual), and thus, comments are also different.

  • Recently there has been a rise in not-nice comments, which led us to actively seek solutions to it. In part, some of us suspect this may be due to HNQ and other sites that redirect traffic to TWP with users that are not familiar with the site and its uniqueness.

  • We are open to comments that suggest improvements, or provide constructive criticism to a point. We are not open to comments that are insulting, rude, tangential, or answer-comments. In all cases we must remember comments are ephemeral.

  • In TWP, if you see a post that is really flawed, it's best to politely point it out (refraining from pointing fingers or dropping absolute words), DV if applicable, or even post your own answer that corrects the flaw.

  • "One can post comments in a way that seek to improve the question, or give suggestions in a polite and non-disruptive way." - sure, but that's only reasonable if the flaw being discussed is a fixable one. In a case like this where the answer's entire line of reasoning of fundamentally flawed, no improvement is possible. "If an answer has a core flaw it's better if you post your own that corrects such flaw, downvote if worthy, and carry on" - but an answer that simply lacks the flaw doesn't highlight the flaw's existence to future readers, which is my objective when commenting about it. – Mark Amery Sep 18 '18 at 21:03
  • (Also, just because I can see that an existing answer is irreparably wrong doesn't mean that I know what the right answer is; as such, I may not be capable of posting a decent answer of my own, even if I'm willing to invest the time. This point probably comes up more often on Stack Overflow than here, but seems relevant here too.) – Mark Amery Sep 18 '18 at 21:05
  • @MarkAmery enhanced my answer and included some links... checking your comments now – DarkCygnus Sep 18 '18 at 21:10
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    @MarkAmery ok, regarding your first comment. If the post is really flawed it deserves to be DVted, or even flagged as low-quality. If it's that flawed I doubt it can be easily fixed, and if it were a simple suggestion for improvement will suffice.... regarding the second part of your first comment, again, if an answer is flawed there is no need in saying "Hey this is flawed"; post an answer that does not have the flaws instead and it will surely pass the other one in votes. DV the flawed post, as it is not useful, etc... – DarkCygnus Sep 18 '18 at 21:13
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    Another way is that, if you see such flaw, ask the OP if they have considered it... something like: "Interesting answer. Are you aware that ... may invalidate what you say on ...?" - This I think is acceptable, as it is polite (we are professionals right?), respectful (as it's not telling the OP "you are wrong"), exposes the flaw and does it in a constructive way, giving the OP chance to amend it... this also gives you some safety margin in case it was you the one that misunderstood the post... and not just assume you must be correct (which is again polite). – DarkCygnus Sep 18 '18 at 21:17
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    @MarkAmery and regarding your second comment I must repeat myself. If it's flawed and there is few things to do the it is downvote worthy, or low-quality. Yes, you may not know what the non-flawed answer is, but seems to me that in this case you had a pretty solid argument. True, in SO there may be cases where one does not know the correct answer but still know that the ones given are not good... but I am sure that in such scenario what should be done is DV and ask for clarification to the poster, or post an answer if you know it. – DarkCygnus Sep 18 '18 at 21:19
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Why were my comments deleted in this case? Is this normal?

Several moderators were involved in cleanup on that answer and I can't speak for them. It will likely be a combination of comments devolving into a discussion, the less-than-constructive attitude in several of the comments, and the overall failure to agree to disagree when it's clear that the post author doesn't agree with your comments.

At that point you should have let it go. Beofett made several excellent points in his comments that you should have considered. He's given a detailed explanation in his answer to this post. In the end its his answer and your ability to influence it ends where his right to stand by it begins.

Is it the norm here that comments should not be used for criticism of posts? (Or at least that they shouldn't be used for criticisms not directly aimed at getting the answer improved?)

Generally speaking yes. We have a complicated relationship with comments that are critical and don't fall into the "suggesting improvements" category. Pointing out things an answer failed to consider or explaining how some aspect of the question invalidates an answer is, in my personal view, a valid use of comments. Typically it accompanies a downvote and provides a rationale for said downvote.

That said, in previous threads many people have taken the view that the post author has the right to stand by his answer and disregard such comments. At that point some people feel that the comment should be removed as being purely critical and no longer constructive. I do not fully agree, but it's a large gray area. If someone nitpicks an answer with things that are not relevant or largely noise, I'd be tempted to delete them. If crucial flaws or potential game-changing aspects are mentioned in comments and the pos author chooses not to update their answer, as is their right, I would likely leave the comments up as pointing

But, if the comments devolve into bickering and both sides (or one side) insist on arguing that the answer is wrong, naive, useless, ... then those comments will very rapidly end up disappearing. Moderators as well as people who flag comments do not look favourably on that kind of comment noise. It very quickly reaches the point where the ongoing discussion negates any value that an initial point of criticism would have had in framing or qualifying the answer.

If it is, doesn't that effectively mean that there is no mechanism for pointing out flaws in the core thesis of a particular answer?

There is: do so constructively. You can point out a potential flaw or something the OP hasn't considered and leave it at that. If the OP responds and defends their answer, again, as is their right, accept that. You have nothing to gain by arguing and should agree to disagree.

If you can keep it civil, you can respond as long as you're doing so to try and improve the answer or your understanding of it. But if at any point you find yourself arguing, you should probably disengage. If you don't, comment deletions will probably do so for you before long.


As an aside, the currently-still-up comments between Beofett and DoritoStyle which concerned a point on the cost of disruptions is a fairly decent example of comments used to qualify an answer. The since-deleted follow-up comments were an example of when the discussion becomes unproductive but seem to have been self-deleted mostly, which I'll take as the users involved agreeing to disagree. But the comment points out something that readers can consider and Beofett provided a counter-argument. I personally feel this overall improves the answer by providing additional context, though I know some people will consider these comments to have become obsolete.

  • One quibble regarding "At that point you should have let it go.": I'd like to note that the comment this Meta question is about came prior to Beofett replying to me in the comments at all and was not part of an extended argument. I think this answer could easily be read as implying otherwise. (Yes, I did get drawn into a comment argument afterwards that could be fairly characterised as "bickering", but that's not what the Meta question is about.) – Mark Amery Sep 19 '18 at 12:33
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    @MarkAmery You're referring to comments in the plural, hence my reply. I can't speak to the moderator's thought process on the first deletion of what was actually your second comment on the answer, but I can hazard a guess that the wording ("failure to grasp the purpose" can be read as a slight) combined with using a second comment to seemingly begin an argument is the reason, presumably in an attempt to prevent the discussion that followed. – Lilienthal Sep 19 '18 at 13:00
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You keep stating that I don't understand the premise of nohello... based on a comment that was made as part of a comment discussion with another user.

Parts of that other comment discussion were moved to chat or deleted, leaving a couple of comments that have some seemingly relevant information, but which are missing context.

I point this out as an example of why comments are not generally well suited for discussion.

More relevant is the answer, which, to put simply, is "it isn't appropriate to insist your coworker adhere to your personal nohello policy, because they're entitled to place more personal value on the social interactions than you do."

To which, going by your comments, your objection is "but then nohello doesn't work!"

You have focused, seemingly exclusively, on a comment, to the point where you believe my advice of a compromise is intended to make both methods of communication "work", when my answer explicitly states that it isn't appropriate to try and force a coworker to adhere to nohello if they don't want to.

The comments that were there before you arrived have distracted from the actual, meaningful content, to the point where you are trying to "fix" a problem that doesn't actually exist (your belief that my entire answer is built on a fundamental misunderstanding of what nohello is supposed to accomplish, as opposed to my belief that a coworker shouldn't force that policy on an unwilling coworker, no matter how beneficial it may be to the OP).

These are pretty significant weaknesses of comments, and why this site, and many others, strongly discourage comments that don't relate to clarifying or improving questions or answers.

Saying "here's why your answer is wrong" isn't generally something that results in an improvement, unless worded very carefully.

Which brings us to another issue with your comments.

Your tone, from the start, was exceptionally combative and condescending. You accused me of completely failing to understand the purpose of nohello (ironically while drastocally misinterpreting my answer). You later claimed I was "making up things I couldn't possibly know", after I mistakenly assumed that you were so focused on the benefits of nohello because of personal support of the nohello concept.

I have been on SE for a long time, and I've been active in a number of SE sites. I have edited many of my answers in response to feedback from comments. A number of times I have completely rewritten answers after other users have pointed out mistakes in my reasoning. I've outright deleted a few.

But in each case, the comments that initiated these revisions were at least civil. The majority were respectful.

I found your comments to be neither. You were, as I said, combative, as well as condescending and (in my opinion) rude. I didn't find them constructive at all; yo seemed to be using comments strictly to complain about my answer.

That's not what comments are for. That's what downvotes are for. If you don't like my answer, downvote, or participate on the site enough until you earn downvote privileges. You're familiar enough with the platform to know how it's supposed to work. Alternately, suggest improvements. Tell me what I can change to make it better.

Don't just complain about an answer in comments while insulting the author.

Sometimes it isn't what you say, but how you say it. In this case, I feel you fell short on both.

  • I'll repeat, since I don't know what comments you've previously seen: I have at no point voiced a view on the advice that the OP not demand that their colleague initiate conversations with nohello. My objection is to your advice that the OP should initiate conversations with nohello with their colleague, regardless of the colleagues preferences, since that doesn't achieve anything (other than deliberately violating the colleagues preferences for the sake of balance). I've never commented on the "don't make demands about how your colleague communicates" part of the answer. – Mark Amery Sep 19 '18 at 9:14
  • (I figure that you still don't understand that this is my point, given that in this answer you list my "objection" as being to the surrounding commentary in the answer, when in fact the only objection I've made is to the actual direct advice about how the OP should behave, which to me seemed like it was the core of the answer.) – Mark Amery Sep 19 '18 at 9:18
  • As to the rest: "You're familiar enough with the platform to know how it's supposed to work" - I'm familiar with Stack Overflow, where using comments for criticism is entirely accepted and where a comment like the one this question is about would never be deleted. I'm not familiar with the rest of the network - hence the question. – Mark Amery Sep 19 '18 at 9:20
  • "Your tone, from the start, was exceptionally combative and condescending. You accused me of completely failing to understand the purpose of nohello" - While I'll certainly hear out any views you have on how I could've made the tone less combative and condescending, that you completely misunderstood the purpose of nohello seems to me like a pretty clearly true observation. You have multiple comments characterising its purpose that directly contradict the purpose stated in the OP and on the nohello website. Is your view that that it's unacceptably rude to point that out at all? – Mark Amery Sep 19 '18 at 9:29
  • You persist in maintaining the perspective that you're objectively right, and I'm objectively wrong, while missing or ignoring the vast bulk of my answer. My advice is that the OP shouldn't expect the coworker to initiate coversations with nohello, and that it is unreasonable to demand that each coworker memorize the individual preferences of everyone in the company, and tailor every communication style to that coworker. If the OP doesn't want to initiate nohello style communications, that's fine, but that's hardly the key takeaway of my answer. Yet that's what you're fixated on. – Beofett Sep 19 '18 at 12:25
  • As for my understanding of the purpose of nohello, you are mistaking my understanding of nohello vs my agreement with some of its fundamental precepts. I do not agree that eliminating greetings prior to asking a question will save minutes, as they claim. As I mentioned in a comment: just reply to "[contentless greeting]" with "hi, what can I help you with?", and then go back to work until they provide a question. Just because there's a nohello.com domain does not mean that they are automatically a source of unassailable truth. – Beofett Sep 19 '18 at 12:25
  • If you truly are interested in hearing out my views on how you could've improved your tone: instead of just defaulting to the assumption that you understand 100% of what was written, including the intent of the author, and that anything that doesn't sound right automatically means that the author just isn't as smart as you, and doesn't understand what they're talking about, try asking for clarification before launching into an explanation about how they don't know what they're talking about. Avoid using phrases like "you completely misunderstood", or "you're just making things up" – Beofett Sep 19 '18 at 12:25
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    As a side note, I believe the question under discussion is an AB problem. They want to minimize unnecessary distractions via IM. They believe that getting everyone to use a nohello policy when communicating with them is the right solution. I disagree, and believe that a more reasonable approach is to ask coworkers to use nohello, but for anyone who still does not, work on strategies to get them to provide the actual question as quickly as possible without hurting the relationship between them (i.e. respond with "hi, what can I help you with?" to get to the actual request sooner). – Beofett Sep 19 '18 at 12:29
  • Some brief replies. "but that's hardly the key takeaway of my answer" - fair enough; that wasn't my take. Maybe I fixated too much on the specifically actionable advice; I took "use nohello when initiating" to be the main point. "you are mistaking my understanding of nohello vs my agreement with some of its fundamental precepts" - again, you described in the comments, at least twice, at length, what you thought nohello was "about" in a way that explicitly contradicted the OP's stated objectives, and my claim that you didn't understand was based on explicitly citing those descriptions. – Mark Amery Sep 19 '18 at 12:46
  • "automatically means that the author just isn't as smart as you" - I didn't claim this, and I don't know why you assume I think it. I tend not to make sweeping judgements about people's intelligence from a single Stack Exchange post. – Mark Amery Sep 19 '18 at 12:47
  • "I believe the question under discussion is an AB problem... work on strategies to get them to provide the actual question as quickly as possible ... (i.e. respond with "hi, what can I help you with?" to get to the actual request sooner)" - I agree, and I think this is the most important point left unexplored in the existing answers. The OP and the author of nohello both seem to feel that after an exchange of greetings they are socially obligated to wait attentively for whatever substantive message is incoming. Reframing the entire problem as one of them being over-conscientious... [1/2] – Mark Amery Sep 19 '18 at 12:50
  • [2/2], and encouraging them to just stop feeling that obligation (and in particular to stop blaming people who say "hi" to them for making an imposition on them that those interlocutors likely don't intend to exist at all) solves the problem from a different angle. A response that should at least be seriously explored to "When you say hi, I have to [do thing that pointlessly harms myself], so please don't say hi" is "Uh, no, you don't have to; this problem can be solved by you not doing that.". Kittoes0124's answer is the only one that seems to get close to touching point this so far. – Mark Amery Sep 19 '18 at 12:53
  • again, you described in the comments, at least twice, at length, what you thought nohello was "about" in a way that explicitly contradicted the OP's stated objectives Again, no I did not. Again, you are mistaking my comments about the practicality of nohello for thinking "that's what it is about". – Beofett Sep 19 '18 at 13:24
  • You still have a comment up, which I've quoted in this question and in my very first comment addressing you, which literally says "The issue is the 10 seconds of additional time required for the brief exchange of greeting.". If there's any possible interpretation of that other than "[The problem which nohello is intended to address] is the 10 seconds of additional time required for the brief exchange of greeting", then I'm afraid I am still failing to see it after all these comments, and you still haven't suggested what it is. – Mark Amery Sep 19 '18 at 13:43
  • Similarly, if your reply saying "The additional time being saved here is avoiding replying to just "hi"" has an interpretation other than "The additional time [that the OP wants to save by having her colleague use nohello] is avoiding replying to just "hi"", then I can't see that either. These are pretty explicit comments, still visible to all, in which you fairly unambiguously say the thing that you're now repeatedly denying saying. If they have other interpretations that have gone over my head, I still don't see them. – Mark Amery Sep 19 '18 at 13:48
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Welcome, Mark. I'm not a mod nor was I involved in that thread, but here are my (general) thoughts:

You are correct that comments can often be viewed a little differently here than on other more technical SE sites.

As such I find there is a fine line between the following two comments:

  • "-1, this answer seems to misunderstand the point behind nohello (link)"
  • "Let me write you an essay about why I believe this answer is an inadequate response to the question as posted. First of all... (1 of 125)"

Generally, the former is preferred. (But even these types of comments aren't guaranteed to stick around.) Or even better, just upvote an earlier critical comment, if there is one. Or sometimes you can just let your downvote on the answer speak for itself.

Look, I am an extremely verbose commenter. I have entire chatrooms I have filled with days of argumentation on all kinds of topics, on this SE site and others. I do often make comments of the latter more verbose/argumentative style, but I also know that that the chatroom is really the best place for these kinds of discussions, and that it is highly likely that comments like this will eventually be moved to a chatroom, or deleted outright.

And when that inevitably happens, I am careful not to re-post, because I know someone has already looked at it and made a decision about it. :shrug:

  • The former type of comment will almost certainly get deleted too, based on my experience. – NotThatGuy Sep 18 '18 at 21:41
  • @NotThatGuy Perhaps. Some other SE sites actually encourage comments to (briefly) explain downvotes, which is the style I was trying to suggest there. But yes, they may not stick around either. – BradC Sep 18 '18 at 21:48

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