I've seen a lot of lengthy comments sections being moved en masse to chat. The reason I discovered this site and began relying on it and eventually joined it was because of a comment by tchrist on the Q Pronunciation of 'aunt' in the US.

I must second @JohnLawler’s plea: please please please use standard notation. IPA is not that hard, at least for English phonemic purposes. I believe the five American pronunciations of the word aunt are /eɪnt/, /ænt/, /ant/, /ɒnt/, and /ɔnt/. See, those aren’t that hard, are they? And now we all know what everyone is talking about.

This has been indispensable in explaining concept of the "two" pronunciations of "aunt" to people when it comes up.

Often the comments provide clarification that is never recorded in the question or answer, or they provide counter-evidence as to why the answers are not complete or possibly incorrect entirely. Many times they address side issues that do not directly answer the question, and thus, cannot be offered as answers. Trying to pack all that additional information into the question, likewise, can lead to confusion.

Moving the entire thread to chat loses this nuance that is essential to the usefulness of the site.

If there is chit-chat, off-topic commenting, or extended conversation happening, those individual comments need to be removed independently of the often vital comments with useful information.

Can a guideline be established?

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    The information from the comment appears to have been edited into the question. Since the information there is redundant, I don't think it's a good example of a comment that should be preserved. If there is information in a comment that is too valuable to lose, it should be incorporated into an answer or post as appropriate. It is generally acceptable to copy a comment with attribution and make it a community wiki if you feel strongly it should be preserved as an answer. A votes on a community wiki don't cause rep gain or loss for the poster. – ColleenV Jul 9 at 14:16
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    @ColleenV Understood. This is not what is happening though. It appears several people are just cleaning house and the entire thread of comments is moved to chat. – GArthurBrown Jul 9 at 14:18
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    You can still access the information in chat. If you notice it, you can still copy it out and preserve it. ELU does traditionally discuss more in comments than some other sites, and a little of that can keep people engaged, but too much of it can be harmful. See this answer to Answers in comments for some ways leaving too much information in comments can hurt the site. – ColleenV Jul 9 at 14:36
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    @ColleenV Chat isn't going to come up in Google attached to the Q. Comments are. – GArthurBrown Jul 9 at 14:38
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    So? Comments aren't properly ranked. The entire purpose of a Stack Exchange site is to be a reference of questions with community vetted answers, not a way for people to get search results from Google. – ColleenV Jul 9 at 14:41
  • @ColleenV And yet, I wouldn't be on the site if I had to rely on the ranking of answers. This tidbit was more valuable than the accepted answer with 17 upvotes, which fails to distinguish between the different pronunciations accurately. This is in large part due to voters either being ignorant of the variations in American English, or having the Cot/Caught Merger and not being able to distinguish "ahnt" from "awnt", or having or being ignorant of Canadian Raising and not knowing the two pronunciations of the bug ant. – GArthurBrown Jul 9 at 14:46
  • There are 14 comments in that comment section. If that Q was current, all that would be moved to chat and forgotten. – GArthurBrown Jul 9 at 14:48
  • See english.meta.stackexchange.com/q/9655/80039 and the many related posts by people upset over comments being removed. This comment may also be a good jumping-off point: english.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/9655/… I'm trying to be helpful, because you're new, but this particular discussion is one I've had too many of times and am not going to get sucked into again. The comment system on Stack Exchange is broken and needs to be redesigned, but it's not going to be, so mods have to make do with the tools they have. – ColleenV Jul 9 at 14:59
  • @ColleenV Did you mean to link to the same thing twice? And thanks for letting me know how long this problem has been unresolved. Its about time we fixed it, eh? – GArthurBrown Jul 9 at 15:05
  • Those links are different. One is to a particular comment full of other links. – ColleenV Jul 9 at 15:07
  • @jsw29 It is disheartening to hear it is just "the way it is." – GArthurBrown Jul 9 at 16:05
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    Your contributions have been interesting, but you have not been here long enough to 'get' what is happening here in site culture. . There has been an ongoing disagreement between at least 2 camps for as long as I have been here....do we answer closable Qs in comment, or post a real answer? Are we here to help the new user, or to prepare an archival post? What is our actual purpose? Other sites I participate on have differing ideas on how to deal with these concerns...I think we have been quite tolerant in the past about comments, but chit-chat only contributes to bloat... – Cascabel Jul 9 at 22:51
  • @Cascabel I'm not sure how helpful it is to point out that there are many more people who might be in "my camp" on the issue. All it indicates is continued dysfunction to me. Is it surprising that people continue to point out an ongoing problem? – GArthurBrown Jul 9 at 22:53
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    @GArthurBrown You are not saying anything that we haven't been discussing for years...we are all aware of the situation. Propose solutions...or run for mod. – Cascabel Jul 9 at 23:03
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    @Cascabel I'll seriously consider it. There are a number of institutional incentives that are holding back progress on these issues. The focus should not be on what makes mods' jobs easier, but on what is best for the site. – GArthurBrown Jul 9 at 23:08

Stack Exchange is not a discussion forum

You're probably expecting lasting discussions here because of how common discussion sites are on the internet. What you may not realize is that we are supposed to be something quite different from that! There are many other places on the internet that provide suitable forums for discussions, but Stack Exchange is not one of them. If you make it one of those, you'll break what it is good for, what it was founded for.

No matter how much they might wish to do so, site users, including volunteer moderators, are no more able to change the key corporate policy that discussion goes only in chat, not in ever-growing comments to a question or answer, than we are able to change the policy that meta matters do not belong on the main site.

Stack Exchange was created to solve a particular problem: the way discussion forums hide "meaningful nuance" in comment threads, and this makes it impossible to find actual answers to actual questions. All else follows from that.

Therefore it is not possible to turn our question-and-answer site into one that's a conversation forum, because doing so would violate the very reason that SE exists since it runs counter to those founding principles.

  • Would you not agree that meaningful nuance you have moved to chat is now pretty much impossible to find? – GArthurBrown Jul 10 at 17:16
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    @GArthurBrown Yes, I would not agree. Please read this. – tchrist Jul 10 at 17:20
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    Arguing that some comments deserve to be permanent, as they supplement in important ways what appears in the answers, does not amount to arguing that Stack Exchange should be turned into a discussion forum. When somebody posts a comment explaining why an answer is wrong, this greatly increases the overall informativeness of the page; casually removing such a comment is a disservice to the future visitors that the site aspires to serve. Preserving such comments is compatible with removing lengthy back-and-forth discussions, and thus preventing the site from becoming a discussion forum. – jsw29 Jul 10 at 20:39
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    @jsw29 - if anybody cares to explain in a comment why an answer is wrong, they should probably care to post a correct answer and not just leave important information in a comment which can be deleted anytime by the poster. Anyway, truly valuable comments are so rare no policy change should be recommended to preserve them. A wiki answer would just suffice to preserve them. – Gio Jul 11 at 5:19
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    @Gio "if anybody cares to explain in a comment why an answer is wrong, they should probably care to post a correct answer" Not at all. An answer can be demonstrably wrong, and yet the question may have no answer. Q "What is the rule for when to use the definite article with media?" Someone may post an answer that says "the" is not used with visual media. This is obviously false, and should not be allowed to stand unchallenged. But that does not mean the challenger has a rule that can be applied in the place of the other. – GArthurBrown Jul 13 at 20:12
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    @GArthurBrown - yes but still the example you are making can and should just be posted as an answer and not be left in random comments. ELU is a Q&A site, not a comment site. If a question has no real answer, that should be posted in the answer box. – Gio Jul 13 at 21:04
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    @Gio But again, I can know the answer you are giving is incorrect without knowing there is no actual answer. – GArthurBrown Jul 13 at 21:08
  • @GArthurBrown - answers can be wrong, incorrect or incomplete. That’s part of the game. Same for comments which have a much lower ranking. – Gio Jul 13 at 21:09
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    @Gio I'm not sure how that's a response. You can't post an answer if you don't know the answer. But you can give evidence, in the form of a comment, as to why an answer is not credible. – GArthurBrown Jul 13 at 21:11
  • @GArthurBrow- wrong answers are generally downvoted and a comment may explain why they are wrong. Those comments are generally not removed. But comments are not meant to replace answers. – Gio Jul 13 at 21:14
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    @Gio I don't think anyone is saying comments should replace answers. The entire reason I'm posting here is that these comments ARE being moved to chat. – GArthurBrown Jul 13 at 21:23
  • @GArthurBrown - not all comments are moved to chat. There are a lot, probably too many, comments still standing on the main site. Generally long threads of comments are moved. In my experience here, 99,9999% of comments are just chatty, unhelpful, often unrelated stuff. – Gio Jul 13 at 21:25
  • @GArthurBrown . Not a good reason preserve tons of unuseful comments. – Gio Jul 13 at 21:28
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    @Gio, you say that 'a comment may explain why [the answers] are wrong [and] those comments are generally not removed'. These answers are usually not removed, but they are removed when they happen to be in proximity of the comments that are chatty and unhelpful. This question is about that particular practice of sweeping away (what you agree to be) wortwhile comments together with (what the OP agrees to be) the comments that don't need to be kept. – jsw29 Jul 14 at 15:26

As has already been pointed out above, objections to such moving of comments to chat (or their outright deletion or blocking of further commenting) keep appearing regularly on this meta-site. The standard response has been that the moderators are overworked and cannot spend the time to separate the 'chit-chat, off-topic commenting, or extended conversation' (which the OP agrees should be removed) from the more worthwhile comments, so when they see too much of chit-chat etc. under a post they delete or remove everything. This response makes the practice understandable (the moderators are indeed overworked), but it doesn't really alleviate the sense of frustration that many participants feel about it.

Underlying the conflicts about deleting comments and moving them to chat is a more fundamental disagreement about the role of comments on this site. In the original design of the Stack Exchange, the comments were meant to be analogous to Post-It notes, i.e. temporary. The idea was presumably that, when one thinks that a question or an answer needs clarification/correction/expansion, one would post a comment to that effect and the original poster would then either modify the post accordingly or briefly explain why a modification is not necessary; after that is done, the comment would be of no further significance. Some contributors to this site stick with that original conception of the role of comments, and therefore argue that nobody has any ground to complain about any deletion or removal of comments, because they have never been intended for anything permanent anyway.

While the comments still sometimes perform this role that they were originally intended for, they have over time evolved into something different. As the OP points out many of the comments that appear on this site deserve to be permanent, and it does often happen that what appears in the comments is more illuminating, insightful, and helpful to future visitors than what appears in the answers on the same page. Telling people that whenever they have something important to say on a topic they must post it as an answer doesn't work, because one often has an argument as to why somebody's answer is incorrect or incomplete, without having an alternative answer.

If there is ever going to be a resolution of the problem that the OP brings up, it will depend on whether the original 'Post-it' conception of the comments continues to be insisted on, or it is accepted that it has been overtaken by how the site has developed.

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    If comments are going to be promoted to content worth keeping, the system design needs updating. – ColleenV Jul 10 at 16:19
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    @ColleenV Can you elaborate on that? – GArthurBrown Jul 10 at 17:17
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    Everything about comments is designed around them not being “top shelf” content, from the fact they aren’t included in the site search (shouldn’t we have an is:comment option?) to the tools moderators are given to deal with them (all comments get moved to chat, so a mod has to undelete the ones worth keeping one-by-one). Comments can only be upvoted, and have no reputation effects, which is partly why some people favor them over writing an answer. There are no mechanisms in place to encourage people to write quality comments, and the edit window is short so they’re full of typos. There’s more… – ColleenV Jul 11 at 11:08
  • But I’m out of characters. – ColleenV Jul 11 at 11:08
  • Oh and I forgot to ping @GArthurBrown. That takes up characters I needed for my comment, and you can’t ping more than one person. Also comments aren’t threaded so it’s hard to know which comment is a reply to the original post, or to another comment. – ColleenV Jul 11 at 11:25
  • @ColleenV Exactly...some comments are worth preserving, like an example in an Encyclopedia...there must be a better solution. – Cascabel Jul 11 at 21:52
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    @Cascabel I doubt the system will be redesigned. The design makes sense if you’re going to tack comments underneath a post. Creating a chat room or discussion page for every question by default so that the community can collaborate on answers and replacing certain comment types with post notices is what I would do if I ruled Stack Exchange. Leaving extensive comments for readers to wade through shifts the effort of providing a complete and credible answer from the author/community to the reader. The discussion can be preserved for context, but shouldn’t replace incorporating it into a post. – ColleenV Jul 12 at 12:55
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    Indeed, the best outcome of commenting is that the content of the comments is incorporated into the answer (and the design of the site is geared towards that outcome), but that doesn't happen very often on this site, and there is no way of making it happen. When it doesn't happen, isn't it better that the comment stay, even if that is only the second-best outcome? Let me also repeat that, so far as I can see, nobody on this page is arguing for preservation of extensive comments, but only against sweeping worthwhile comments away together with those that ought to be removed. – jsw29 Jul 12 at 16:24
  • Perhaps converting good comments into Wiki posts would be the best solution... – Cascabel Jul 12 at 16:25
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    @Cascabel, that may work in some cases, but not generally. Very often the comment is a criticism/elaboration/clarification of a specific answer and not something that can stand alone as an alternative answer. Also, when there are many answers on a page, it is more helpful to a visitor to see the criticism/elaboration/clarification immediately below the answer that it is related to. – jsw29 Jul 12 at 16:30
  • @jsw29 Erm...I said 'good comments', such as those from JLawler. – Cascabel Jul 12 at 16:48
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    I disagree that the better outcome is that a comment lingers without sanction. It is only the fact that people have been allowed to abuse the system for so long that we’re in this situation. If people saw that important information was likely to disappear, they would be more inclined to get off their butt and preserve it in the appropriate place, or petition to get the comment system modernized. Keeping some comments as “important” just keeps us in this eternal “Why did you delete that comment?” hell. – ColleenV Jul 12 at 18:14
  • I realize that I’m a bit sensitive having been a former mod and having deleted literally thousands of comments. Most users don’t really see the weight all these comments put on a site. Here’s the tip of the iceberg. I’ve said elsewhere that every comment on SE could be deleted tomorrow and I wouldn’t be that upset. They seem more valuable than they are because the costs are hard to measure. For every gem, there are tens of thousands of dead weight comments that derail posts, ignite user feuds, spout popular but wrong info, etc. – ColleenV Jul 12 at 18:37
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    @ColleenV, may I respectfully ask why don't you, in accordance with the argument you are making, post all your comments to this question as an answer? In any event, you seem to be arguing for deletion of all comments, which is far more radical than the current moderating practice. The current practice is that the comments are allowed to stay indefinitely, unless there are too many of them under the same post. This question is about deleting the comments that otherwise would have remained just because they happen to be in proximity of other comments that offend the norms of the site. – jsw29 Jul 13 at 15:01
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    My comments aren’t an answer. They are my opinion about factors surrounding the issue. None of them explain why comments are getting moved to chat or why some of them shouldn’t be. Basically we’re sitting in a monkey house arguing about which pile of poop is more fragrant than another. I’m just pointing out that it all stinks. – ColleenV Jul 13 at 15:59

Who gets to decide which comments get to stay and which comments go?

There are no reliable mechanisms for the community to rank comments. They can’t be downvoted. They can only be flagged to be removed, not to be “pinned”. It is not feasible to ask a few volunteer moderators to singlehandedly curate hundreds of thousands of comments and preserve the “valuable” ones with no real consensus from the community, especially when the tools available to them for moderating comments are not designed for that task.

If the community finds comments that are too valuable to risk losing, the only sanctioned way to handle that is to capture that information in an answer or question on the main site or meta.

  • I find this to contradict your opinion on how valuable ranking is to deciding what questions (and answers) should be left open or closed. – GArthurBrown Jul 13 at 19:59
  • @GArthurBrown Why? comments can’t be properly ranked, There’s no downvoting, there’s no reputation requirement for upvoting them, there’s no review queue for comments people flag as “no longer needed” so you can’t vote that they are actually needed. There are no guidelines for what constitutes a valuable comment that should be preserved.Why do you think a community that can’t agree on what questions should remain open is somehow all on the same page about valuable comments? – ColleenV Jul 13 at 20:02
  • And on my other meta post, you argue that upvotes on questions are not useful for deciding what should stay on the site. I'd say, pick a lane. – GArthurBrown Jul 13 at 20:04
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    @GArthurBrown I don’t see those two things as contradictory. Whether a question is within the scope of the site has little to do with whether or not it deserves an upvote. There is guidance that explains what an on-topic question is, and there is none for what constitutes a “comment that should be preserved”. If I wrote this answer as a comment, you couldn’t downvote it, and I could ask some friends to drop by and upvote it, and it would look “valuable” to the community. – ColleenV Jul 13 at 20:07
  • I realize I’m not communicating my point well, but I don’t know how else to explain it. There are all these systems that try to wrangle all of this very individual and erratic feedback into some sort of community consensus. Some are easy to see and understand, like voting on posts. Some have a more indirect effect on things, like reputation requirements, and association bonuses, and others are completely arcane like the Community user bumping certain posts to increase visibility. – ColleenV Jul 13 at 20:17
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    Part of the solution is being able to communicate what is seen as a problem to others. Then they are able to take that into consideration when making a judgment call based, in part, on that consideration. Answers that can be boiled down to "the mod's job is hard, don't make it harder" and "it's a longstanding problem, so why do you think it can be resolved?" are not helpful. – GArthurBrown Jul 13 at 20:30
  • @GArthurBrown I have said neither of those things. What I said is that a lot of people insisting that we should ignore all of the existing guidelines about comments don’t understand the costs and the consequences. I also said some persistent discussion about posts is important to building a community even if the current system supports it poorly. I’m not going to apologize for recognizing that the current reality sucks. It’s not helpful to pretend that we could all just agree to keep comments around and that would solve the problem. – ColleenV Jul 14 at 13:19
  • Just as an experiment, I made a patently false assertion in one of my comments. If it were in an answer it would have been called out, downvoted, or corrected. Yet here it sits buried in the comments completely unchallenged because after a certain point, a lot of visitors stop reading comments if they aren’t involved in the discussion. – ColleenV Jul 14 at 13:23
  • Indeed, 'it is not feasible to ask a few volunteer moderators to singlehandedly curate hundreds of thousands of comments and preserve the “valuable” ones', and that explains the current practice. But acknowledging that this is so is compatible with also acknowledging that it is regrettable that this practice results in the disappearance of comments that would have been helpful to the visitors. Arguing that the practice is an understandable consequence of the moderators' being overworked is something very different from arguing that it is a good practice. – jsw29 Jul 14 at 15:41
  • @jsw29 I wasn’t arguing that mods are overworked. I was pointing out that you want to have them unilaterally decide which comments are valuable. Mods should not be curating content without input from the community, and an upvote on a comment does not provide that. There’s a simple answer to overworked mods; elect more. – ColleenV Jul 14 at 15:43
  • @jsw29 And to be clear, the system could be changed so that the community could provide that feedback on which comments should stay and which should go. I think the situation should be resolved in a way that doesn’t try to prevent us from discussing posts. Half the problem would be solved by moving the discussion off the Q&A page and giving it its own space. – ColleenV Jul 14 at 16:03

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