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Generally speaking, I believe that the moderation on this site is fairly lenient on comments.

Strictly speaking, here is what comments are for:

Comments exist so that users can talk about questions and answers without posting new answers that do not actually answer their parent questions. Comments are often used to ask for clarification on, suggest corrections to and provide meta-information about posts.

Comments also come with this caveat:

Comments are disposable: unlike posts, there's no revision history, and they can be deleted without warning by their authors, by moderators, and in response to flags.

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.

In a recent meta question, a user asked why their flag on a comment was declined.

One of the answers posted, which I believe summarizes my rationale as the moderator who declined the flag, says:

This site has a lot chattier atmosphere than other StackExchange sites. We tend to let comments like that slide unless there are a bunch of them on a post. Most of the comments we delete as "not constructive" are insulting or argumentative, not merely chatty.

Another answer on that question expresses concern that we are too tolerant with comments:

. I know that our comments are chattier than other sites, and that's fine within reason; but I don't believe our comments should be this level of chattiness. If you agree then you should push the "vote up" button, not leave a comment. (and I think "my speculations precisely" means "I agree", not "I think this is a speculation", which is almost the opposite in feeling).

In general, we use comments for more of a discussion forum here, and I think that's something that in the long run will hurt us. The comment discussions end up containing a lot of information that doesn't make its way back into the answers in some cases, and that's where the problem really is: in the long run, the answers need to contain all of the useful information. However, beyond that, assuming we keep more-or-less the discussions-in-comments that we do now, the lone "+1 agree" comments and such should still be removed, because they do harm to the rest of the discussion.

The Stack Exchange platform isn't made to make comment discussions really work; it hides all but a few comments, and can feel sort of at random which, so it's hard to follow the whole discussion when it has many comments. They're fine while the discussion is in progress, for the discussers; you get reply notifications and such. But days afterwards, they're not very readable. As long as the important information from the comments gets imported to the answer that's not a big deal - but if it doesn't, then having a lot of little random comments is very unhelpful, and it doesn't always get imported.

Moderating comments a bit more would be a reasonable middle ground, I think. Don't use comments to show agreement; those should be deleted. Comments should be used for clarifications or asking questions about the question or answer. Nothing wrong with a (even a long) discussion in the comments, as long as the comments are useful. But also don't use comments to answer the question; encourage people who 'answer in comments' to convert the comment to an answer proactively, at least once they've clarified things sufficiently if that's why it's a comment.

Either way I think we should discuss this, and in general our attitude on comments, either here or in a new question, as a community. It's one of the things that differentiates us greatly from other Stack Exchange sites, and I think it's worth discussing whether the current approach or something different is appropriate.

I believe this raises some valid points, and some very reasonable concerns. So, I would like to open this to community discussion.

What should our policy regarding comments be?

Where should we draw the line on acceptable comments? What type of comments should we be flagging?

Note that according to the rules on comments above, any comment can be subject to deletion, even if it provides valid and useful information. The way some of the moderator tools works makes it problematic to save useful comments under certain situations (such as useful comments in a chain of problematic comments, particularly if the moderator is trying to use a mobile device). Therefore, this isn't about what comments we should keep. Only about how do we handle cleanup of comments that we shouldn't keep.

  • In the specific situation where a mod recognizes a useful comment in a chain of problematic ones, and is using a mobile device, I think the best decision would be to wait until the mod can get to a desktop or laptop before performing that particular cleanup operation. Of course, if the situation demands swift action (e.g. offensive content), that's one thing, but in most cases there's little to no harm in waiting an hour or three. The mod can leave a comment, reminding users of the appropriate policy, in an effort to subdue the conversation in the meantime. – Dan Henderson Oct 12 '15 at 19:45
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Now that a little time has passed, I'm going to propose my own answer.

TL;DR Version: Comments only become a problem when there are a high volume on a single question or answer, or where the content of the comment itself is of concern (rude/offensive, dangerous, etc.).

Flag those that strike you as a problem if you see them, but the odd "+1 good answer" comments here and there aren't a problem, deleting them without explanation as to why may be off-putting to new users, and it just isn't worth the time or trouble unless a large number of them start to accumulate in one place (at which point a moderator can purge them, while leaving a single comment explaining why they were purged so that the participants can learn and improve).

Long version:

What should our policy regarding comments be?

Currently, from the perspective of a moderator, I feel that our ongoing policy regarding comments has been:

If comments become problematic, they are removed.

Typically, "problematic" seems to most frequently fall into one of the following categories:

  1. Rude/offensive
  2. Discussion that directly relates to the content of the question/answer, but involves repeated back-and-forth from a couple of users
  3. Sidebar discussion that gets too "chatty"

Type #1 above is a no-brainer. Flag and destroy a.s.a.p. Types #2 and #3 usually trigger the auto-notification to take it to chat. If the participants don't, and it continues in comments, we (the moderators) usually step in and purge the comments and/or move them to chat.

Where should we draw the line on acceptable comments? What type of comments should we be flagging?

I think the list above covers most of it. Other types of comments that may need moderator attention include spam, overt self-promotion, or legal/safety concerns (although these issues more typically seem to come up in questions or answers, rather than comments).

The "+1" comments don't strike me as problematic in and by themselves. 10+ "+1" comments might be a problem, and would likely get flagged (a flag is automatically generated when too many comments are made on a question or answer in a short period of time), but 1 or 2 here and there don't hide important content (and, since all comments by definition are temporary, important content doesn't belong in the comments anyway).

Users need at least 50 reputation in order to comment on other people's posts, so I don't have much concern that new users will learn bad habits by commenting instead of voting. By the time most people get to 50 reputation, they've usually either posted a couple of decent questions/answers, and are starting to get a feel for the site, or they've posted one really good question/answer, and may not return at all.

I have far more concern for the high-reputation users, who have an established history of participation, who don't vote often, but that's another issue.

In order for us to succeed (graduate), we need more questions. One of the things we have struggled with is that a lot of our users (I hesitantly speculate "more than most other SE sites") come from Google or other search engines, rather than from one of the other SE network sites.

However, there's a lot of competition out there. I do feel (hopefully this is obvious!) that we also offer a lot more than the competition, in terms of quality of answers, format, etc., but most of the sources of interactive parenting advice resources out there seem to be in the more traditional forum format.

Parents who spend any amount of time on those other resources may have become very accustomed to a much more "chatty" atmosphere; such seems to be the norm on many parenting sites.

We see this in a lot of the "non answers" that get deleted, where new users post new answers that should instead be new questions, or comments (because they don't have the required reputation to comment where they want to). We even address that cultural expectation in our standard comment for when we delete these posts.

I'm a little concerned that new users making the transition from such "chatty" parenting forums would be a little put off if they come here, earn enough reputation to use the most intuitive and simple "chatty" feature (comments are simply more intuitive and accessible than our chat system, as excellent as our chat system may be), and then have their comments disappear.

In most cases where a moderator deletes comments, an explanation is posted by that moderator (usually in some variation of "comments aren't for discussion; take it to chat"). Deleting a "+1" comment, and adding a new one explaining why that comment was deleted would seem counter-productive. The result would be that for many, their comments would "mysteriously" disappear, without gaining any real guidance for what they did wrong.

The scope of what's allowed in comments has been discussed before, and I think that linked question has some good discussion on the topic (note that HedgeMage, who was a moderator at the time, and who was also the harshest on comments out of all the moderators here, posted a "+1 for particular point I agree with" on my answer there).

As long as step in when comment turns from "sporadic" to "discussion" (or, ideally, right before that point), I think we're okay.

  • Ok, admittedly, didn't read all of that, but the start led to what I believe you and the other mods have done -- if it's obvious, take action; if it may not be obvious to all, ask in chat and then take action to reflect the overall community view. That kind of leadership is protective, reflective, and subsequently respected. – Sylas Seabrook Oct 24 '14 at 4:46
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I am new to Parenting.se, but not to SE in general. I think this site is about average (in my limited experience) in the quality and quantity of comments (though much friendlier), and see no problem with them now. Sometimes people don't want to answer a question and are happy to add a tidbit to an already existing answer.

I am most active on English Language & Usage. Even on that relatively busy site, there is much more leeway on comments than what is being discussed here. Almost anything flies and I am sometimes very surprised by flags being declined (I'm not a big flager in that I only flag the worst of the comments; I have 851 helpful flags and 44 declined), so I tend to accept a lot.

I do wonder, though, about just what exactly the "SE model" is, because the reality is different from the stated goal. On SciFi, EL&U, ELL, Hermaneutics and most of the other sites I'm on, this chatter is common. There are only two sites I am on that are stricter on comments. To my thinking, it's not a problem. But I'm only one person, and relatively new.

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    The smarty pants in me must point out you missed a closing parenthesis. lmao. I always get so nervous to join the English Language & Usage in case I miss something. Good to know they're friendly! – Sylas Seabrook Oct 24 '14 at 4:43
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    @JeremyMiller - the regulars there know my frequent mistakes and laugh about them! #1: Misspelling it's for its. The list is too long. :-) It's a grizzled but good bunch. Everyone is welcome! – anongoodnurse Oct 24 '14 at 4:48
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    I guess sometimes we fear facing characteristics of ourselves in others... but it's nice to know when forging ahead we aren't facing the full depth of our fears, but a friendly group guiding us along a path they too have walked. – Sylas Seabrook Oct 24 '14 at 4:54
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I wanted to wait a few days, hoping to get some others involved in the discussion, and at least one has so far; but here's my thoughts.

My feeling on comments here is that, for the most part, they're fine. We have a more discursive environment than, say, StackOverflow, and that's also fine. Certainly Parenting is going to lead to more discussions.

However, I have two specific issues that I probably haven't very well explained in the past, which is why I would prefer (very slight) changes to move us slightly towards the StackExchange normal paradigm.


The first is that truly useless comments - "+1" - should always be removed when flagged. Not that they have to be flagged every time, but I would like to see them gone when asked. That's because even in the more chatty environment that is Parenting, they don't add anything: votes do exactly that. Instead, they clutter up questions some of the time, and the rest of the time are simply useless. I'd like to see them automatically removed, so people are trained not to post those.

Part of this is because the commenting system doesn't very well handle long comment chains (as it shouldn't), but mostly this is because Parenting is going to be an entrypoint to StackExchange for a lot of users (hopefully, if it's completely successful). If Beofett posts something like agreement, I don't have a problem with it - but mostly he won't, because he knows how to use the system.

What happens is, instead, new users who are used to forums post their agreement, often without even voting. Part of that is because the voting buttons are way up high, and a lot of users get to the bottom and want to post agreement but literally forget to vote. Others don't know about voting, don't know what those arrow buttons do, and think commenting is the right thing to do. In both of those cases, I'd like to see people encouraged to vote. Removing their comments, and if possible leaving a note to remember to vote instead of commenting +1 every so often (I don't think you can directly do this with a user easily, but if a few of those comments are posted every so often, they'll get seen), means people learn the SE experience. This is one of those things that could improve our voting totals, which are deficient much of the time (except when we get an influx from SE hot questions - which is sort of circular as we have to have more voting to get such an influx regularly).

If we police the +1 comments, removing them when we notice and have time, and remind our regular users not to post such comments, we'd have fewer from new posters, especially in the future.


Secondly, I'd like to see comments more frequently make their way into questions and answers. This is something that on some other sites I see moderators and 'elder' members of the site often encourage users to do (or just do directly) that helps improve question and answer quality.

Many of our discussions in comments do a good job of clarifying specific elements - like Dan's comment on my answer on the estranged father question yesterday, usefully pointed out where he didn't agree due in part to things that I perhaps didn't explain as well as I could have. As such, I edited the question to clarify, and hopefully improved the answer.

I'd like to see that happen more, and be more of a direct consequence of the commenting process here. I don't think we need a heavy hand here, but a little more focus on the questions and answers would be good. At the end of the day, I think they are the key elements of this site, after all.

How I'd encourage this is simple: when you see a comment that clarifies the question, say for example the comment on this question clarifying the infant's age, or the comment on this answer suggesting sign language, either edit it in yourself or add a comment suggesting it be edited in (if you're not comfortable editing someone's answer, or it's not straightforward how to do so, like in the answer I linked). That way the answer is complete.


Lastly, I'd love to see more happen in chat, and I wonder if we couldn't improve the production of chat if we encouraged commenters to go to chat earlier on in the process. I don't know that this is really feasible, but from time to time I've seen (or participated in) interesting chats in parenting.se chat - but most of the time it's pretty empty. This is more of a "maybe in the future when we're more popular" sort of idea, but who knows.


As to anongoodnurse's last paragraph, I largely agree here, and this is what drives my occasional attempts to tweak things. I think Parenting (and some of the other sites) would benefit some from a bit more tight adherence to the SE model, if we can figure out a way to do it without harming the community. There are lots of parenting forums out there, and the way we distinguish ourselves from them is in how the SE model works: you don't have to wade through a lot of comments or discussions to see the answer to the question. If we're able to more often encourage comments to be moved into answers or questions where appropriate, and more often keep comments to the useful, interesting comments, we'll be more effective as a site, and hopefully grow in userbase. We have a huge amount of views every day for a SE site, but our regular userbase is very low; whatever we can do to improve the retention rate is a good thing.

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    Please clarify what you mean by a "+1 comment". Note that the minimum character restriction makes "+1" an invalid comment. Does "+1 particularly for point x, as I think that is very important" qualify as one that should automatically be deleted? "+1 great answer. Also, you should consider idea y"? IMO, those types of comments form the VAST majority of our "+1" comments. Note that the new users actually can't comment until they reach 50 rep. – user420 Oct 13 '14 at 16:24
  • As a side note, we do encourage users to edit information into comments, and it happens... sometimes. I agree we should be seeing it more often, though. It seems only a handful of users are comfortable editing other people's posts. – user420 Oct 13 '14 at 16:25
  • I would tend to prefer to reduce all of the above +1s. I don't really see the value in pointing out the sub-part of the answer that's most interesting: either the whole answer is interesting (vote up), or part of it's right and part of it's wrong, in which case you should discuss the wrong. If only a sub-part is interesting, then really you should post that as a separate answer containing only the part that's important, don't you think? – Joe Oct 13 '14 at 16:27
  • The latter - "also you should consider y" - in particular often should be its own answer. That really doesn't belong in a comment at all, unless it's intending to clarify the answer further; and if it's doing so, it should be deleted after a few days when the answerer has had time to either incorporate it or not. The whole point of SE, to me, is that you do not have to read the comments. All of the useful information is in the answers, and comments are basically an extension of the chatroom. – Joe Oct 13 '14 at 16:29
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    You probably could guess that I disagree with you here. Of all the sires I visit on SE, none hold to the SE "model", so much so that I wonder why they claim it at all. Also, even on sites where I'm very comfortable, I rarely add things to people's answers except sources, links, etc.; I'm reluctant, even for the good of the "community", to add something alien to the original answer into it. I'd much rather suggest an improvement and let the poster do their incorporation. Chat will be a problem until there are enough users that visit it, sort of making it a catch-22. – anongoodnurse Oct 16 '14 at 11:02
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    Finally, I think your approach, while it truly does hold to the SE model, is perhaps too stringent, and might alienate rather than make new users feel welcome (maybe it's just phrasing I'm reacting to, like train users). We get new users almost every day at ELU breaking all the "rules". Yet we try to educate and are very concerned (you may well laugh, as I understand we have a bad rep over there) about being welcoming. Just my concerns and my 2 cents. – anongoodnurse Oct 16 '14 at 11:08
  • No idea about the ELU reputation, I have no problem the occasional time I venture over there :) I think perhaps I come across above as wanting to be very stringent, when what I really want is just slightly more stringent than we are now. In large part it is out of desire to change things a bit simply because I think it would be good for the site to see if something slightly different works: we've sort of stagnated for a while I think, and I'm not sure we're any closer to graduating now than we were when I joined. I might be wrong, but just my feeling. – Joe Oct 16 '14 at 14:37
  • I don't know that comments have anything to do with that, but who knows? I'm not saying to make this StackOverflow2 or anything like that. I agree completely with leaving comments for answers - but I want to see them incorporated more into answers if possible, or replied to as to why not (i'll do one or the other in a minute on my Princess answer, for example). I'm not saying whack people with sticks - just reminders, and cleaning up afterwards. Mostly I was surprised, as the original asker was of the source Q for this discussion, that a (in theory) reasonable flag was declined. – Joe Oct 16 '14 at 14:39
  • I do wonder, though, if we were able to move more of the details from comments into answers, whether it would improve the utility of the site. I don't like having to read through comments on answers to find the true content, and on top of that also having to wade through people just showing agreement and not really adding anything. I think that makes the site harder to use, especially for someone who doesn't know the players. – Joe Oct 16 '14 at 14:41
  • @Joe If you see relevant information in the comments, it is perfectly okay to edit that information into the answer or question. In fact, it is preferred. Particularly if the author of the answer/question has indicated that they agree with the additional information. You're right that we need more people to do that, but the easiest way to get that process improved is to start doing it yourself when you see it :) – user420 Oct 17 '14 at 12:35

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