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An example of what I'm talking about is here: https://chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/113513/discussion-on-question-by-ellenoid-how-should-i-deal-with-coworkers-who-dont-wa

There were many comments, some with around 30 or 50 upvotes, on the question at hand. For a while, the comments were appropriate.

Then a question was raised in the comments, which received an answer...which then turned into an argument...and so on and so forth. At that point, all of the comments were moved into chat.

The concern I have with this approach is that one user - though their intentions and concerns might have been good - single-handedly turned the comments into an "extended discussion", whereas several different users preceding them had kept things perfectly on track.

Now those several different users, some with very valuable comments and with many, many upvotes, have had their contributions lost, just because of the divergence created by a lone individual. Now when somebody sees the question, they can't even get the information they would otherwise have had access to (without really treading far off the beaten path).

While the individual in this particular case may have good intentions (I did said a thing or two about it though, because I knew they were putting the group at risk of losing the comments), my concern is this...

SE is very quick to handle things this way, and all it takes is one individual to sabotage the group. While this person may have had good intentions, in other interactions going forward, all it takes is one deliberate troll to have a solid string of perfectly valid comments removed...which is the kind of thing that trolls want in the first place.

And even if it's not a deliberate troll - even if it's just one individual that keeps pushing an "extended discussion" within the comments - it's still just one user causing the whole group to be punished.

So what I recommend is, in many cases, only moving the comments to chat that started at the point of divergence. Anything above that point, where comments were not sidetracked, stays. Anything at the point of divergence into "extended discussion" and below gets moved. This way legitimate comments above stay, while the true problem is still cleaned up.


In Case this Comes up:

Yes, I understand a few individuals had to respond to the main user in question, in order to make this happen (my lone comment before the move was to rebuke/caution this user)...but that still means that random users are getting punished unfairly, and their valuable contributions, that were perfectly on track before this started, are getting lost to future readers.

While this time may be a casualty, I recommend tweaking our procedures moving forward, so that the discussion comments are still moved, but the non-discussion ones above are allowed to remain.


EDIT:

A recent answer made me decide to go ahead and add this: At least a couple of answers to this question earlier were describing comments as transient, and they really seemed to push the idea that comments were viewed, to put it bluntly, as basically nothing but worthless bloat after a very short length of time. While this did surprise me a little bit, it also makes me wonder:

If comments pretty much always have a super-short lifespan, then become worthless trash afterwards, then why are we not automatically deleting them? If they take up space, distract readers, and so on, without adding any value, why do we keep them? And why do we force moderators to spend any time worth mentioning on this, when it's far quicker and easier to just run a purge algorithm in the background?

This doesn't contradict the idea that comments are transient and always become valueless rather quickly, but it does seem to be striking a nail with a screwdriver, rather than with a hammer. And this is not the only reason that I really strongly feel that the rule about comments de jure and the moderation practices concerning them de facto are two very, very different things - they appear different for other reason(s) as well.

So while I understand what's being said, it doesn't seem to go along with how this or other Stack Exchange sites are actually governed or treated by the community. So I'd kind of like to hear more about this, before potentially accepting an answer.

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    As an aside, Chat always seems to be “the place good conversations go to die”. I wish there were a way to fix this, but I have no concrete ideas :-( Oct 1 '20 at 8:34
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    @JoeStevens - but of course Comments are not supposed to be for conversations. Thems the rules. Changing that rule would alleviate the "go to die" aspect, but that seems unlikely to happen. Oct 1 '20 at 11:07
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I have had my requests for clarification from the OP moved to chat because of this several times. It was initially frustrating when I first joined the community but I got used to it. Now, I figure at that point I have a few choices:

  • Ask the question again.
    This makes the most sense if my comment was fairly recent.

  • Answer the question anyway.
    If the point I was asking about was minor, it may be possible to answer and address it by saying, "If [x] is the case do this, if not do [y]".

  • Down vote and/or vote to close.
    If the point I was asking about was something significant, or I was trying to get the OP to make their question on-topic and it got ignored, it makes the most sense to vote accordingly and move on. A lot of people seem to disappear completely after asking their question while others will respond to answers but not follow-up questions.

If they take up space, distract readers, and so on, without adding any value, why do we keep them?

A potential problem in deleting them automatically is that people tend to answer comments in the comments themselves instead of editing posts. Automatic deletion risks deleting important information before it can get placed into a question (or answer) where it belongs. Comments aren't supposed to be important but important information sometimes ends up there anyway.

All that said, I think it would be good if moderators had the ability to easily and quickly mark a subset of comments to be moved to chat instead of it being all or nothing. I think that would be a good feature request for Meta Stack Exchange.

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Comments are not supposed to be permanent or even sorted into categories. If there is useful comments they can be incorporated into the answer, or another answer.

Anyone particularly interested can check the chat.

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For my part, I don't spend much time trying to determine the legitimacy of any comment.

Comments are for the sole purpose of improving the question or answer, period. I would even go so far as to say that comments are transient. If you want to have something permanent, edit the content of the important comment into the question or answer.

When I see a multiple comments that are either auto flagged or a series of comments that are flagged by users I typically just move them all to chat. It is far quicker for me to do this versus trying to determine the validity of this comment over that comment.

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    Yeah, I finally figured that out and have stopped arguing, and just flagging. Sep 29 '20 at 13:18
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    @Panzercrisis This is meta, and in Meta unless the comments are rude or some such thing they are typically left as is. FWIW
    – Neo
    Sep 29 '20 at 14:41
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Given the rules about comments, I don't really understand why all comments aren't automatically deleted by the system after a certain period of time (a month, a year, whatever).

We are told that comments are supposed to be the basis for improving a question or answer. That comments are transient. That comments are not for discussions.

Given all that, there's no such thing as an "appropriate" comment that is worth preserving - except for a short period of time. Once that time has expired, I think all comments should just be deleted.

If someone wanted to use a comment to improve a question or answer, that should have been done within the relevant time period. Old comments do no good and just contribute to "our comment problem".

At least IMHO...

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  • When looking at two of the previous answers to this question, I was kind of surprised by them describing comments the way they did, exactly for the reason you describe: It's not like the sites are auto-deleting these things. It's not a contradiction per se, but for that and similar reasons, it does feel like the rule de jure and the site moderation de facto are two wildly different things. Oct 1 '20 at 12:38
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I essentially agree with Neo but this was getting too wordy for a comment. :)

Our "move to chat" button is essentially a single-barrel break-action shotgun: it's one shot and done and it hits everything. That means that once we've moved comments to chat, future comments can't be moved and are simply deleted.

For this question, it also means that we have to manually undelete any comments that were worth keeping. This is a fair bit of effort as we'd need to go through the entire thread, which is typically quite long at this point, and judge what actually has value. I'm with Neo in that I tend not to spend too much time on this, simply because there's rarely much of value there.

Highly upvoted comments mean nothing. Usually it's a case of answering in the comments which should be nuked anyway. "Caveat" comments I do keep: often these are things like "be are of the legal framework" and "take care not to do X" when those kinds of comments aren't central to an answer to the question but are good to point out. Often these are also things that new people would comment anyway when they don't see it posted already so keeping the original comment up saves work as well.

What I usually do when purging comments is manually undeleting anything that's a question to the OP. Typically that's quick to do: I just scan for question marks. :) I'd say that 8 times out of 10 not a single question mark is spotted and I leave everything deleted.

I'll also point to my answer here. Sometimes we just forget to undelete useful comments. Or we might disagree with others on whether a particular comment is useful.

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    yeah, and I'd imagine it saves y'all the headaches of having to deal with "Why was MY comment moved to chat, but his stayed". Oct 5 '20 at 13:27
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    @Old_Lamplighter The people who complain about their comments disappearing tend to be more self-centred than that and not care that other comments were left up. :) Any complainers are normally just directed to the "what comments are for" page which is also explains why some comments might have been left up (= they seek clarification from the OP).
    – Lilienthal Mod
    Oct 5 '20 at 15:03
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Rebuking someone in the comments just starts a crapstorm, and calling someone a troll can earn you a suspensions, FYI. Personally, I consider them the bane of SE, but that might just be me.

Used properly, they can improve answers and questions. This comment led me to edit my answer for the better, and is an excellent example of comments used properly.

That said, they are transient, can and should be deleted after a fashion, and should be constructive or at least be positive. This isn't Reddit or Quora. We do get people coming in just to razz people and it is quite frankly, VERY annoying. If you've taken the time to think of and write a question or answer, only to be heckled in the comments, it can be frustrating to no end.

The moderators have enough time on their hands without having to go through the comments and pick and choose which ones to keep. If they do, they will inevitably be treated to criticism in Meta or chat, and make a thankless job even more aggravating.

IMO, the periodic cleanup of comments, and moving them to chat solves far more problems than they solve. If you want something to stick around, write your own answers or questions and don't rely on comments.

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    I deleted the comment to you on Neo's answer from a little bit ago, but I left multiple smiley faces, one of them upside down, to show that I was largely joking. The only serious part, where I was using a joke to gently suggest an idea about comments in general, wasn't targeted towards you. Sep 29 '20 at 15:35
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    @Panzercrisis I took it in the spirit it was intended, thank you. I'm a grumpy old curmudgeon and occasionally come across more harshly than I intend. Welcome, BTW. Sep 29 '20 at 16:35

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