In light of the number of meta posts complaining about deleted comments or closed questions, I think it's clear that the site itself is not communicating to new users exactly what comments are for or what is on-topic. One of the reasons I think this site feels very hostile to new users is because they do not understand the policies. The moderation actions are not expected and may feel random. If new users have different expectations, perhaps expectations from other stack exchange sites or other forums, then they are going to carry those expectations to this site.

In particular, the deletion of comments is a big issue. Users are not accustomed to having their comments deleted (seemingly randomly) by other people.

As such, one key approach is to better convey to the users what comments are for in the user experience (UX). Stack Exchange has always had a "comments are temporary" policy, but they have never been an issue to this extent.

I have been thinking about this issue particularly from the UX point of view and have thought of a couple of ideas that I have added in the answers.

Changing the "add a comment" to "suggest improvements" was a good idea, and perhaps we can look at some other changes too that communicate the site policies better with new users.

It also may be a good idea to ask over at the UX SE site if they have any suggestions about conveying to users our particular comment policies.

  • Great post! Actually, you might want to think about turning it into a format like this (just read the part about answer formats at the bottom) where people can add their own ideas as well, and we can vote on them separately (instead of on an entire question) :D Your call though.. – Tinkeringbell Apr 30 '18 at 16:32
  • To your point about raising the rep requirements to comment, we had a conversation in chat about doing that for protected questions a while back. This feature request was linked in that conversation and is a good read. – Rainbacon Apr 30 '18 at 16:33
  • @Tinkeringbell I'm on an Android device so reformatting is painful! I don't mind if someone else on a PC does it like that :) – user6818 Apr 30 '18 at 16:34
  • I could copy-paste the ideas into separate answers for you, but then it'll look they're my ideas! :-) – Tinkeringbell Apr 30 '18 at 16:40
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    @Tinkeringbell oh, it's just copy/pasting. I thought you meant with proper headers and stuff. Ok I'll do that but it may not be very pretty :) – user6818 Apr 30 '18 at 16:42
  • @Rainbacon interesting. It definitely may be worth revisiting two years later specifically for this site, given the recent issues. – user6818 Apr 30 '18 at 17:01
  • @Tinkeringbell thanks for the formatting help! – user6818 Apr 30 '18 at 17:14
  • You're welcome ;-) At least now it's clear they're all your ideas – Tinkeringbell Apr 30 '18 at 17:15

Ignore the association bonus when calculating reputation for the "Comment Everywhere" privilege.

So that new users with the bonus rep from other sites can't comment by default.

It's obvious that new users here are not getting what comments are for. New users need 50 rep, but users from other sites can comment immediately due to the rep bonus. By forcing them to have more rep, they have to participate more in order to get the privilege of commenting. This gives them the chance to understand comments before they write their own. Additionally, the number of comments in general is a massive issue, and reducing the number of people who can comment will definitely ease the load.

(For those below the threshold, A ux explanation stating that comments are treated differently here from other sites can be helpful explaining why and if they have an answer they can write one).

Additionally, it's a LOT easier to explain "you're under the rep limit" than "your comment was chatty and so it was deleted but the other one above yours was not deleted (even though it was chatty) because it wasn't flagged and humans run this place not robots"

This way, people will be forced to write an answer and it's also easier to deal with "not an answer" answers.

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    Alternately - ignore association bonus for commenting on protected questions. – Catija May 1 '18 at 4:10
  • I'd downvote this if you're suggesting this happen on all sites instead of just this one (or the subset of sites that tend to draw more chatty comments) - the rules for comments are the same on all sites, so there shouldn't be a need for this (in theory, at least). Or a sample of the comments this would apply to should be analysed to see whether the inconvenience or harm cause by this change is outweighed by the benefit. – NotThatGuy May 10 '18 at 11:13
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    @NotThatGuy Child meta requests don't generally affect the wider network without discussion on MSE. – Catija May 10 '18 at 12:14

Changing the wording in the comment box to be more definitive.

Currently it is

"...avoid answering questions in comments".

Changing it to something like

"...comments are temporary! Answers in comments and discussion in comments will subject them to be flagged and deleted.".

Including a yellow box with a warning above (I don't know if the SE engine supports this) (like the one to the right when you ask a new question) that states something similar ("Comments are temporary! ... ")

This also allows for easy explanation. "We did say comments would be deleted... see the yellow warning box".

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    I'm guessing that this or something like it will be part of the overhaul made if the "add a comment" > "suggest improvement" change is made permanent. – Catija Apr 30 '18 at 20:32
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    Comments can and are deleted without notification or given reason; it can be quite frustrating, but this can help especially newer users realise what others users do that they wouldn't normally expect on other sites. – user8671 May 4 '18 at 13:42

I doubt it's worth thinking about changing the site UI.

To convey policy I sometimes link to a 'faq' topic, for example, Why do I need 50 reputation to comment? What can I do instead?

Comments are second class citizens on the Stack Exchange network, not designed to hold information for all eternity. They may get cleaned up at any time. Generally, truly important information should be incorporated into an answer anyway (either by posting a new answer, if the information answers the question at least partially, or by editing an existing answer, if the information is a minor complement or clarification of that answer).

See also How do comments work?

Comments are temporary "Post-It" notes left on a question or answer. You should not expect them to be around forever: Once a clarification has been made, an edit added to the post to include new information, or the issue in the comment is otherwise resolved, it is subject to deletion. In reality, many obsolete or chatty comments remain untouched due to the high volume of comments posted, but this does not mean that they can't or shouldn't be deleted in the future.

I notice that IPS.SE doesn't have any topics of its own. I'd look for them to see whether there are any site-specific policies (as opposed to network-wide policies), e.g. about what's on-topic, or about what makes for a good or bad answer on this site.

  • I do think changing the site UI could be effective for this, but I really appreciate the explanations you've linked to, and the idea of perhaps adding IPS-specific FAQs on this. – cactus_pardner May 12 '18 at 18:23
  • Why is it not worth thinking about changing the ui? It seems like users are not getting the message currently. Surely the ui is at fault to some extent? – user6818 May 12 '18 at 19:43
  • @Stacey Because the community cannot implement any proposed change to the UI, I don't think it's worth any time to design or specify a change. I'm not confident that the SE developers would accept, and schedule for implementation, any design change which the community may propose to them. – ChrisW May 12 '18 at 19:50
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    @ChrisW... It does happen sometimes: interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/a/2839/1599 – Tinkeringbell May 12 '18 at 20:11

Make the flagging of comments more clear

I only found out about this a couple of weeks ago. I felt a lot better when I realized that I could participate in the comment cleanup process. My comment got deleted, but this other one didn't? Flag it!

The yellow box can also say "moderators are humans too! if you see other chatty comments, or answers in comments, help us out by flagging them using the flag icon on the left of the comment..."

Some other way of highlighting the flag icon (so that it's always there, but grey) would also be useful. I didn't even notice it was there!

  • Are you talking about encouraging people to participate in community moderation in general or just with respect to flagging comments? – sphennings Apr 30 '18 at 18:22
  • @sphennings I think it's a good idea to encourage community moderation in general, but perhaps start with the areas where the moderation needs the most help. At the moment comments are an issue, so that's the focus here. – user6818 Apr 30 '18 at 18:32

Abstract the moderator away from the policies

A couple of meta questions by users indicate that they feel singled out due to their own comments being deleted and not others. Example:

just above mine there was a similar message that was not an answer. It seems strange that my message was deleted (twice) in 5 minutes, and others are not. It seems to me there is a lot of inconsistencies


This inconsistency causes users to think that moderators are biased and don't like a particular viewpoint or user. If a machine deletes all the chatty comments, then everyone is treated the same. But a moderator deleting only mine (or so it seems!) makes a user feel singled out and targeted (even though they're not).

Naturally, moderators can't catch everything. However, this can be mitigated against to some extent by emphasizing the policies instead of the people that enforcement them.

Saying something was deleted by a moderator adds hostility towards the mods. "The mods are evil and they don't like me so they deleted all my comments but noone else's." An active statement like "I deleted your comment" indicates that there was a human who chose to delete their comment.

But if a comment was flagged and removed according to policy there is no target to blame. It abstracts the removal of comments away from the mods. It also adds to the awareness of flags (see suggestion about making flags more obvious). "Your comment was flagged and removed according to these policies" takes the blame away from the mod and puts it on the policies.

I haven't seen examples of this around the site, however if we are formally telling users that comments are subject to removal (in the notice boxes/popups suggested in other answers, in meta responses, etc) the choice of words can make a difference.

  • Can you explain where you see this? – Catija Apr 30 '18 at 17:33
  • I'm not sure I get this. – NVZ Apr 30 '18 at 17:38
  • @Catija nowhere in particular, it is more a suggestion for places where formal wording is yet to be decided. Perhaps I should rephrase. – user6818 Apr 30 '18 at 17:42
  • @Cashbee this is the limit with adding individual suggestions in answers. In another answer I suggest adding a yellow warning box indicating that comments are temporary, and also suggest revising the wording in places. This is in conjunction with those answers. – user6818 Apr 30 '18 at 17:57
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    @Catija for example, something like this: interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/a/2881/6818. Instead of saying "I deleted your comment", if mods choose the passive voice "your comment was removed because of the following policies" then it abstracts things further. Naturally things can be phrased however the answerer wants, and maybe there is a reason that the mod in question chose to answer like that, but in my view it adds too much focus on the moderation by one individual instead of the policies that individual was enforcing. – user6818 Apr 30 '18 at 18:07
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    We generally take the "blame" because people tend to want the word from the horse's mouth... if we phrase it passively, they usually respond "well, that's an explanation but unless you're the one who deleted it, it's not the answer I want". Saying "I did it, here's why" is both more expedient and somewhat expected of us as moderators. We are given phenomenal cosmic powers but must be willing to explain why we chose to take a particular action. – Catija Apr 30 '18 at 18:17
  • @Catija I'm curious to know if SE has a formal policy on this (taking the blame as moderators). I think one of the biggest complaints new users have is the seeming inconsistency in the deletion of comments. The answer I linked has a lot of hostility in the comments towards the mod. It's much easier to get angry when the answer is "I deleted your comment" vs "the system deleted your comment". If a mod deleted it then so be it, but taking the blame does make yourself a target (and the other mods too) so I suppose it comes with the territory. – user6818 Apr 30 '18 at 18:28
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    When it comes to comments, particularly highly-upvoted ones (which applies in that case), it's essentially impossible for "the system" to remove them... so blaming it on "the system" is somewhat ... of a lie? Heck, even getting three comment flags on the same chatty, not upvoted comment can be difficult, which is what's required for the system to clear it. As to taking the blame, it's part of accountability, which is expected of us. I don't know that it's specifically codified anywhere but it's made clear to us as part of the moderation onboarding process. – Catija Apr 30 '18 at 18:52
  • @Catija Perhaps I just don't know enough about the moderation policies around here. I don't want to drag on this conversation too much so I'll try be quick: My point wasn't really to lie, rather to ensure that the system is setup such that the majority of the time it can be blamed legitimately (which obviously is more difficult than I thought). So if you can say "the system deleted it" legitimately, that's much more preferential. – user6818 Apr 30 '18 at 19:08
  • I think I understand this idea--if, say, five flags on a non-upvoted comment would get it deleted but up-votes require moderator intervention, it would probably still be fair to say "the comment had five user flags, so it was deleted" even if a moderator made the deletion instead of it happening automatically. Is that about the idea? I suppose the problem would be if moderators ever don't delete comments that reach the flag threshold, so their judgment is going into the process, too. (And if they always do delete such comments, maybe the system needs an overhaul.) – 1006a May 1 '18 at 15:32
  • @1006a That's actually somewhat difficult to see (in the case of comments) we don't see who flagged comments for deletion and seeing the quantity of flags is somewhat obscure. – Catija May 2 '18 at 12:08
  • @Catija That's too bad (about the flags being hard to distinguish). I wasn't trying to push mods to change the way you word your responses, just trying to clarify what the specific idea here was; it sounds like it won't work under current conditions, because of how the system works. So maybe a modification to this proposal would be in order: something like make the comment flagging system more robust, so moderators don't have to get involved as often (or can be involved more superficially). – 1006a May 2 '18 at 15:31
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    @1006a I think that modifications to the commenting system are in the works and I (personally) hope that the moderator tooling for dealing with this will be part of it. – Catija May 2 '18 at 23:08

Tell the user when their comment was deleted

This is subject to the SE engine capabilities, but if a user goes back to a question/answer they commented on, perhaps a red notice is there where their comment was saying "your comment was flagged as being too chatty/an answer and was removed. Please see our policy on comments (link)". The fact that I couldn't see my deleted comments (unlike deleted questions/answers) was particularly frustrating because they just disappeared with no explanation and I didn't know why.

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    This may be confusing but by notifying users of this, it's likely to cause more problems. If people aren't aware their comments were removed, that's fine. More often than not, telling someone this causes them to complain. We have so many complaints already. This would vastly increase them. – Catija Apr 30 '18 at 17:24
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    I think that there's a good idea in here, but it needs some refinement. If a user doesn't know when a comment is deleted, they don't get a chance to learn how to improve; but I agree with Catija; simply giving them a notice in the inbox (as we currently do when someone mentions you in comments) is likely to create a great deal more complaints. I hope that we can eventually find a way to get the best of both worlds: let people know that a change was made so they can improve while not opening the floodgates to complaints. – Thunderforge Apr 30 '18 at 20:58

Make comments temporary, but predictable

Just let all comments live for only 48 hours. Auto delete afterwards. Else only delete what is offensive. When 2 users have more then 2 rounds of back-and-forth commenting, auto-move-to-chat.

The reason is: Currently the comment feature is just plain broken. There is no way to tell if a comment will live and how long. I´s like building a sand-castle in the kindergarten. The rules are not that clear either. Requesting clarification seems to be mostly ok. Suggesting improvement has to be phrased a certain way. Point out problems ... only when you are feeling lucky.

By having a clear expectation of the rules one can decide if it´s worth the effort of participating.

Some may prefer not to build sandcastles as long as the mean kid is around and tramples it all down randomly.

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    I think this would be detrimental to "good" comments, because there isn't a time limit for improving a question/answer. For instance someone might comment "I'm voting to close as too broad until you tell us what culture this is in".. and then OP comes back > 48 hrs later and sees a closed question with zero feedback. – Em C May 2 '18 at 13:08
  • @Em C: As of now, the OP may come back after 5 minutes and never know there are already several deleted comments. – user6109 May 2 '18 at 13:10
  • Also, a "move to chat" link shows up after a couple back and forths of the same users already, are you suggesting the system forces it every time instead? – Em C May 2 '18 at 13:10
  • @Em C: Yes, this way it would be fair at least. – user6109 May 2 '18 at 13:12
  • I could get on board with that part, I don't see a ton of downsides to moving more things to chat. Even if the back-and-forth was for clarification, it should end up edited in the post. And I've seen on some controversial posts having a chatroom has helped stop additional "this is wrong" type comments. – Em C May 2 '18 at 13:17
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    I think comments can only be moved to chat once. Doing it automatically after a short back and forth prevents it from happening again later on the same post. Most productive uses of the comments section don't turn into a protracted discussion and shouldn't need to be migrated to chat. – sphennings May 2 '18 at 13:33
  • @sphennings: The "comments have been moved to chat" as a great signalling value to future commentators. Especially when equipped that further discussion in those comments will get deleted. – user6109 May 2 '18 at 13:35
  • @Em C: Of course we could have another amount of time if it fits better, but if the op has, after 48 hours, not revised it seems to me he has either abandoned the his post or does´t want to react to the comment. Either way, it would be better for everyone to know the comment is temporary as to putt effort in trying to say something and then have it disappear randomly. – user6109 May 2 '18 at 13:39
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    I don't think this is a great idea: A comment requesting clarification or suggesting improvements is also a great way for new visitors to the site to see our expectations on answer quality. Removing them automatically after a certain amount of time is likely to make people think those answers are great, unless the answer itself also gets deleted? – Tinkeringbell May 2 '18 at 13:42
  • @Tinkeringbell: That does not work, as several past discussions have made it crystal-clear that any comment is to be viewed as only temporary and subject to deletion. So this would not change commenting, only make it more predictable. – user6109 May 2 '18 at 13:47
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    I think there's too much variation to place a deadline. Some people don't log on during weekends, for instance. Plus it might result in people reposting the same comments every (time period), whatever it is.. – Em C May 2 '18 at 13:47
  • @Em C: exactly what´s happening now, just less random ... – user6109 May 2 '18 at 13:48
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    I think a better solution to "users don't understand what comments are allowed here" is to educate them, not delete all comments indiscriminately.. I disagree that it is happening "randomly" now so that may be where our differences lie. – Em C May 2 '18 at 13:55

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