In longish lists of comments the list gets abridged and a "more comments" link shows up at the end, kind of like an ellipsis. Normally, one would expect that such a list would be trimmed at the end, but on English.SE (and possibly on other SE sites) the elisions can occur anywhere in the list.

For an ordinary, non-sequential list, that would not be a problem:

  • apple
  • orange
  • peach
  • pear
  • plum

could safely be abridged to

  • apple
  • orange
  • plum
  • [more]

But comment lists involve questions and answers. And it often happens that items appear in the abridged list which are answers to questions that have been hidden. This is confusing, to say the least. Consider:

@mike: Do you mean an avocado is a fruit? -ben
@ben: No, it is a vegetable. -mike
@mike: Really? Did you look it up in the dictionary? -ben
@ben: I looked it up on Wikipedia. -mike
@mike: I don't think Wikipedia is a dictionary. - ben
@ben: Trust me, it is a dictionary. -mike

If we remove comments from the middle we could wind up with something like

@mike: Do you mean an avocado is a fruit? -ben
@ben: Trust me, it is a dictionary. -mike
[more comments]

Is that what we want?

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    I couldn't agree more: this is an annoying problem. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jan 23 '11 at 21:25
  • @Jeff Atwood: Really? You red-tag this question? I guess the mugging I took on Meta SO wasn't enough, yeah? Hey, I'm just trying to help you improve your product. I'm a UI design engineer by trade, and I know when something is confusing and when it isn't. But, of course, no good deed goes unpunished. Well, I will wear my scarlet letters with pride. – Robusto Jan 23 '11 at 23:04
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    @robusto you want a truck, we want a car. These two things are not compatible. We explicitly suppress discussion for a reason. If you disagree with that, fine, go buy a truck and drive around in it.. :) – Jeff Atwood Jan 23 '11 at 23:20
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    @Jeff Atwood: Did you even read my question? I'm not asking for a truck. I like the car. I just wish the glove box would close right. – Robusto Jan 23 '11 at 23:23
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    @robusto indeed I did. Removing comments in the middle is ONE HUNDRED PERCENT BY DESIGN. Not sure how much more clear I can be. You might look at Twitter as an example: conversations aren't really the point. – Jeff Atwood Jan 24 '11 at 2:28
  • @Robusto: I see how you can disagree with @Jeff’s judgement/taste that this is the right choice, but it’s pretty clear that he’s thought about this issue and read your question and that it’s indeed by design. Aside from what he’s written about the comment system elsewhere, abridging at the beginning would be the simplest behaviour to give the software; the current behaviour (which by the way is not exactly “abridge in the middle”, but “show the highest-voted comments”) is quite clearly deliberate. – PLL Jan 24 '11 at 3:31
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    Ahh… I see that most of the points we’re making here (including Cerberus’ and my suggested alternatives) are already mentioned at meta.stackexchange.com/questions/24490/… . That was marked status-declined, with no explanation there that I can see; I’d be interested to hear why that was declined. (Its suggestions still seem to fit with Jeff’s philosophy of encouraging small clarifications rather than discussion, while just making things slightly more intuitive for users.) – PLL Jan 24 '11 at 4:00
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    @Jeff Atwood: Are you shouting because you think I don't understand the argument you're making? You can see from my response to my own question here that I do (it's pretty much the same one my mom used to make: "Because I said so, that's why.") And believe it or not, I accept that. Hey, it's your site, do what you want. What I don't understand are all the hostility and the insults and (in this case) talking down to that I've received from even asking this question in the first place. – Robusto Jan 24 '11 at 4:45
  • @PLL: I'd be interested to know that too; it seems most answers and comments didn't specifically address the position of the "expand" button. // On a side note, answering Robusto by "you asked why: it is by design" does not seem entirely fair: he asked "is that what we want?". I suppose it can get tiring, having to deal with criticism and proposals for change day after day. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jan 24 '11 at 5:35
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    The SE dev team wants to limit the role of discussions on the SE sites and have implemented a set of behaviors in the application to that end, including the comment-hiding behavior described in the original question. However, we can only assume that they chose this set of behaviors by deciding a priori what they should be rather than determining empirically what app behaviors have the desired effect on user behavior. If they had data proving that the implemented behavior was best, then they would just show us that and that would be the end of the discussion, right? – nohat Jan 24 '11 at 22:56
  • @nohat: Good point. – Robusto Jan 26 '11 at 18:17
  • Three months later, and this STILL annoys me every day. HNNNGGGG – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Apr 17 '11 at 3:47
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    @Cerberus: I hear ya. One OP commented on one of my responses with: "I'm trying to state the end of the relationship as a fact. I'm not trying to save it. Can you speak Japanese?" I replied to his comment with some Japanese. That got upticked, as did a few others, and now the first comment has me, apparently out of the blue, recommending a Japanese response. The system sucks. Atwood is wrong, and doesn't see that he's wrong, but it's his site so we don't get a vote. – Robusto Apr 17 '11 at 10:09
  • @Robusto: Exactly, that's how it works here. Most minor annoyances one gets used to with time, but I'm still annoyed. Notice the little tag I added to your question. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Apr 17 '11 at 13:10
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    @Cerberus: Well over a year later and it still annoys the living shit out of me. Perhaps we can conclude that this "feature" has fulfilled its purpose after all: to annoy people like you and me. – Robusto Feb 16 '13 at 1:54

Robusto has explained the problem. I propose that a clearly visible button "expand contracted comments" be put either right above the first comment or at the first place chronologically where truncation has taken its toll.

[Edit] I also propose that it be a bit more prominent, preferably in a different colour.

[Edit2] We should all try these beautiful Greasemonkey scripts, by one of our own moderators:

  • ... and we have a winner. – Robusto Jan 24 '11 at 0:55

Please see Meta StackOverflow for an answer to this question.

Short version: it is what it is and SE is fine with that.

  • I'm not sure whether to vote up or down on this answer, hehe. Am I right to assume that your opinion would be: "this is the way is supposed to be, but I think it should be changed"? In that case, I vote up. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jan 23 '11 at 21:27
  • @Cerberus: Thanks. If you really want to do some good, maybe upvoting the question would be a good thought. I got the bum's rush when I tried to ask this very legitimate question on Meta SO. I felt like Dennis Kucinic going on Sean Hannity's show ... – Robusto Jan 23 '11 at 23:00
  • I had already up-voted your question and relevant comments, and down-voted opposing answers. You were closed on SO meta and referred to a duplicate question, to which the answer "change it" was the winner—and yet nothing changed. In response to you, the mods merely said the idea was bad, disregarding this old, winning answer and the many votes it got. Nor did thy give any argument against your specific request of a different place for the "expand" button; only against comments in general. Well, I don't think we're going to get anywhere. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jan 24 '11 at 0:40
  • I did get the dubious honour of down-voting Pollyanna's opposing answer to minus one. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jan 24 '11 at 0:45

I agree that this is sometimes a problem, but all the obvious alternatives have problems too, and on the whole I’d agree with Jeff that this is the least worst option I’ve seen suggested.

Show all comments? Far too cluttering, and steals focus from actual answers; this is pretty clearly an option that Jeff (& co.) considered at the beginning and definitively rejected, for the sake of making SO/SE the system they are.

Abridge after the first, say, 6 comments? Then misleading comment #6

@pyramus: Actually, avocados are a kind of bean.  See for instance [authoritative source].

remains visible, while the rebuttal #7

@thisbe: Uh, you just made that up completely. That source describes them as a fruit.

remains hidden however many upvotes it gets. This is a problem that already happens sometimes if the rebuttal doesn’t get enough/any upvotes, and would be really horrible if there were no way to redress it with upvotes!

Put the expand button at the first point of abridgement? (Cerberus’ suggestion above) This has some different problems. Would there be buttons at every point of abridgement? (If so: horrible clutter/redundancy! If not, then your original problem can still occur at later such points.) Would there always be a button at the bottom? (If so: redundancy again! If not, it’s slightly confusing that it’ll be at a different place at the list each time.)

Subtly change the comment separator (eg from single to double line) at points of abridgement)? I just thought of this myself so can’t see any problems with it… except that perhaps it’s too subtle to really solve @Robusto’s problem much? Consider finding problems with this solution as an exercise for the reader :-)

  • 1
    Putting it at the first point of abridgement would not be my first choice, but it would certainly work better for me than the current layout. The crux is that we are now not warned that we are reading something incomplete until after reading it. I am still annoyed by that after a month on this website. I think solving this should be our first goal. What about putting the "expand" button right above the first comment? – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jan 24 '11 at 5:06
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    Actually, changing the separator to double lines seems like an excellent idea, if done together with an "expand" button on top—as you say, it would be a bit too subtle on its own. Perhaps two "expand" buttons, one on top and one at bottom, would not be too much clutter. I for one prefer clutter over confusion. And I am not even an Apple user. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jan 24 '11 at 5:17
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    "We are now not warned that we are reading something incomplete until after reading it" is an excellent point. – TRiG Jan 26 '11 at 13:23

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