To preempt the predictable, I have been here nearly half a decade. I have read all the guides, thanks. I know what they say about comments so don't start quoting them at me.

My issue is that, backed by guidelines that need changing, ELU is becoming over-moderated - particularly with regards to discussions. Every time anything approaching a discussion gets underway, a mod pops up and kills all the the fun, with the result that ELU is becoming - I am going to say it - boring. We come in, answer a question or two. Finish. Don't discuss anything because that is not allowed. Go elsewhere, look at G+ or something. Given that high-rep users are becoming conspicuous by their absence I suspect that I am not alone in this.

So - a simple question: should discussion be allowed? What is the justification for a 'discussion is baaaaaaad' dogma? I suggest that allowing discussion would build community engagement for users and be interesting reading for others.

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    Over moderated -- ya think? For entertainment purposes read "A Theory of Moderation" here: blog.stackoverflow.com/2009/05/a-theory-of-moderation I laughed myself sick because I thought the site had been hacked and someone had posted a parody that rose to the level of performance art. Be sure you read to the end so you don't miss the boffo finish: The ideal moderator does as little as possible.... Judiciously limiting your use of moderator powers to selectively prune and guide the community -- now that's the true art of moderation.
    – deadrat
    Sep 25, 2016 at 2:24
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    I don't want to sound flippant, because I empathize, but it seems like you want an SE site to be something other than it is. A little bit of discussion is important to building a sense of community, but the main focus of the site has to be asking and answering questions, not discussion. What communities I've been involved with have done in the past when there is a desire to go outside the purpose of the site we met on, is to agree on an unofficial hang-out (like a sub-reddit) that is focused more on discussion. SE chat is OK, but has limitations that a discussion forum doesn't.
    – ColleenV
    Sep 26, 2016 at 20:44
  • @ColleenV - That is pretty much it. Language is not a field that has many definitive answers. In some areas it doesn't even provide definitive labels! The only way to address this is to allow discussion so the other possible views can be explored. The 'answer-and-that-is-it' model might work for other fields, but IMO not for language. On chat, the biggest problem with that is that it doesn't link to the question. Random chat in an un-official hangout is not even close to what I am suggesting. Linked discussion pages like Wikipedia's is closer - I find those more informative than the articles. Sep 27, 2016 at 4:29
  • @ColleenV I haven't been on this site long, but I consider comments an essential part of the process of working out differences and informing answers -- and for engaging and building the community. I'm not advocating for unlimited discussion, but on a number of occasions I've felt that more discussion would have been beneficial, not only for the users involved, but for all users. Oct 1, 2016 at 22:44

2 Answers 2


ELU hates discussion because Stack Exchange hates it. This has been the stated case for at least five years, as there was a question in 2011 Why must we "avoid discussions in comments"? and there is current evidence in the moderator messages available.

Stack Exchange sites, of which ELU is one, are Q & A sites. They are not discussion fora. There is a question, and you are welcome to answer. If you agree or disagree with an answer, you can vote on it; you can also provide your own, better, answer. Comments are there for eliciting clarification. Comments are not provided for discussion. Occasionally, a comment might be made pointing out a fundamental flaw in an answer (instead of, or in addition to, a downvote); or adding something worthwhile which doesn't merit an answer of its own. On a question, a comment might be used to provide helpful advice on an off-topic question (so the asker doesn't go away entirely empty-handed), or even to point out a basic error in the premise of the question, or maybe to offer additional corroboration. But comments are not for discussion.

If you want to discuss within the Stack Exchange environment, use Chat. With 20 rep, you can use the main ELU chat room; with 100 rep you can create your own room(s); there are other privileges too. Chat offers one-boxing of posts so it's easy to link discussion to a particular example.

Image of one-boxed answer

Once the discussion has crystallised into a position, head back to the question and write an answer (or edit the question, depending on what the discussion was based on). Discussing things in comments isn't helpful when what is required on a Q & A site is a succinct question and succinct answers: it shouldn't be necessary to trawl through a discussion to come up with a position.

The system flags excessive comments on a post to draw moderators' attention to something going wrong, and it does that because Stack Exchange is not a discussion forum and comments have a specific purpose. Moderators are expected to do something with the developing situation, and the system offers the opportunity to move comments to a chatroom. Generally, a large number of comments indicates a discussion, so the comments are moved. Sometimes it's not a discussion but rather an argument, in which case different actions may be called for. But long comment chains indicate something is going wrong within the Stack Exchange Q & A model, and they will be dealt with.

As mentioned above, part of the armoury provided to moderators is the moderator message. We have boilerplate templates for a number of reasonably foreseeable situations, and excessive discussion in comments is one of them. You may not have seen it; it looks like this:

We've noticed that you have a pattern of engaging in lengthy discussions in comments, frequently consisting of responses involving multiple, back-to-back posts. Comments are intended as brief messages to provide feedback, add minor information, ask for clarification, or discuss the content of the post. Lengthy clarifications should be edited into the post itself or posted separately as a new question or answer, and extended discussions should be taken to chat. Extensive comment threads tend to be a distraction for other readers. These lengthy discussions are often hard to follow, and can easily hide critical information.

Preferring to argue with other users in comments over revising your questions and answers to address their concerns is a red flag to moderators, indicating you may not fully understand the purpose of Stack Exchange: our goal is to provide readers with expert questions and answers, not host discussion or debate. If you desire conversation, stop into the site's chat room.

The second paragraph there may need tweaking, depending on whether it's sent to the writer of a post or someone who comments on it, but it is a network policy that discussion within comments is discouraged.

Changing a network policy is not actually within the competence of ELU users (including ELU moderators): if you wish to change network policy, you are welcome to ask the question again on MSE, or to provide a dissenting answer to the question linked above — which will also bump that question — for the proposal to be voted on. Make sure you have a fully worked-out proposal and justification before posting.

I would point out now that even if this answer is downvoted to indicate disagreement, policy on this site will not change unless network policy changes (when votes here may be taken into account), simply because it cannot change: the system itself follows the network policy, its processing mandates how discussion is dealt with, and moderators are bound to follow network policy. Meta.StackExchange is the place to initiate changes to network policy.

For discussion, please use Chat: that's what it's provided for.

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    I agree with you, chat is where these discussions ought to be taking place, however, chat is awkward, old fashioned and hard to follow. Why not create a new tag 'discussion' on the main site where questions can be answered but in a more casual way to the "over-moderated" standard question. Perhaps creating/participating in discussion questions could be a privilege, to limit the transformation into a normal forum. This would allow for the StackExchange voting system to self-regulate the chats while keeping them interesting and enjoyable for contributors. Sep 25, 2016 at 12:55
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    @BladorthinTheGrey That's a change to network policy and system design. By all means propose it on MSE.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Sep 25, 2016 at 13:04
  • Will do. It will, in all likelihood go nowhere, but it's worth a stab! Sep 25, 2016 at 13:05
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    I don't think chat would be hard to follow if a post's discussion is contained in its own, dedicated room (which is what happens when comments are moved to chat), and they are threaded properly by using the reply functionality (which isn't implemented in comments and can't be retrospectively inserted when comments are moved). If discussion started in a chat room, it would be far easier to follow.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Sep 25, 2016 at 13:08
  • Yes, perhaps that is a fault between the chair and the keyboard. Nevertheless, the lack of any proper voting system or even smooth interface does make chat slightly redundant. Sep 25, 2016 at 13:11
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    Turns out that a similar question had already been asked and it was a resounding no. Sep 25, 2016 at 14:40
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    I see "discussions are not helpful" being repeated dogmatically. I have not seen anyone say why discussions are not helpful. In cases that are not black-and-white (which is practically all of them...) discussion is a help, not the hinderance ELU says it is. After all, the person asking the question is by definition not an expert of the topic. Faced with two conflicting answers, how are they supposed to decide which one to accept without any accompanying discussion? Sep 25, 2016 at 14:50
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    @BladorthinTheGrey ~ the big problem with chat is that it is not public. There may be great discussions going on right now on topics that interest me - but the how would I know? This also means that other parties do not get to participate, and people looking round the site for information are deprived of useful input. They are a lousy 'solution'. As you say, a discussion area would be a better solution but I doubt it will happen - that would mean admitting that discussion is not bad... ;) Sep 25, 2016 at 14:54
  • @Roaring Fish, do you agree with my suggestion then? As I see it, there are two versions that could be suggested: 1) A new tag that would allow people to discuss things and let the correct or most agreed with answer rise to the top. 2) A shadow site, much like chat or meta. Users with an arbitrary amount of reputation can create a discussion post, except it would have some form of structuring, almost like a meta site in that people can vote for the best points and they are ordered slightly as such. It could be made easy to create a discussion post from a main site question. What do you think? Sep 25, 2016 at 15:07
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    @BladorthinTheGrey 'chat is awkward, old fashioned and hard to follow.' ??? And the comments aren't moreso? Chat is identical to comments except for: 1) you can thread them (you know what is responding to what) 2) it's not attached to the question. So all the problems of comments but a few aids. Are you sure those are the right descriptors? Or what tech changes would you suggest as a better method of discussion?
    – Mitch
    Sep 25, 2016 at 15:37
  • @BladorthinTheGrey OK comments are asynchronous, chat is more asynchronous (you're expected to respond pretty soon, within minutes to keep the discussion going) which could be good or bad depending. But, really, you prefer comments over chat because why?
    – Mitch
    Sep 25, 2016 at 15:39
  • @Mitch, fair enough, comments have the same problem, but they're not designed for more in-depth discussion or conversation, chat is. It doesn't matter if comments are asynchronous, since they are only there as a source of extra reference or for pointing things out. On the other hand, chat needs to be easy to use and to follow since it is (at the moment) the place for extended conversations. Sep 25, 2016 at 15:42
  • @BladorthinTheGrey I'm not sure, but I think you are then agreeing that chat is a better place for discussion. Not necessarily good, just better. I think chat is a good place for discussion as long as people are directed and not distracted.
    – Mitch
    Sep 25, 2016 at 15:47
  • Broadly, I agree with you, chat is definitely a better place for discussion than comments, but there are very few rooms and they are not properly archived. What I think is better, is if there were a way of making people, every time they mention a new topic in chat, create a new room in which their discussion could be contained and then archived, leaving behind a conversation on a topic which would be tagged and available for people to find online, building extra reference material around a question. This would not replace a question, it would simply provide extra context material. Sep 25, 2016 at 15:59
  • I have summarised this all into a question to see what others think of this suggestion. Sep 25, 2016 at 16:57

"Discussion is bad" (in the context of answering questions online, not in all contexts) is one of the founding principles of Stack Exchange, from what I understand. It's not restricted to ELU. I don't think you'll make much headway trying to change this viewpoint.

Here's a Meta SE post about why discussion in comments is considered a bad thing:

I agree that discussion in comments is sometimes helpful. It mainly causes problems when there are a large number of off-topic comments.

Other relevant Meta SE posts about discussion in general:

Relevant blog post by Robert Cartaino:

The argument against discussion is that it interferes with the main goal of the site, to create useful and easily accessible content. Discussion is "noise" that makes it harder for visitors to find the answers to their questions.

Having fun is not a primary goal of this site. It's true that it's a problem if people contribute less. But it's not clear that that's happening. In any case, there are alternative methods to encourage participation. Stack Exchange has traditionally incentivized participation by using "gamification" techniques, such as points and privileges.

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    Your links appear to be about questions that elicit "subjective" answers that collectively become free-form discussions instead of providing definitive "results". I think that RF is referring to comments.
    – deadrat
    Sep 25, 2016 at 2:11
  • @deadrat: thanks for pointing that out! I think the arguments against discussion in comments are basically the same as for answers, but in miniature. I will try to find some posts that specifically address comments, though.
    – herisson
    Sep 25, 2016 at 2:15
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    What you'll have to defend is the assertion that commentary is such deleterious noise that it interferes with people seeking answers. I think that's gonna be tough to do.
    – deadrat
    Sep 25, 2016 at 2:20
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    I am not refering to questions that are clearly asking for opinions. I am refering to comments discussing the (many) topics that don't have clear, cut and dried answers, or where an answer is wrong. I really don't see how that stops people finding an answer. In fact, surely it helps them to find a good answer. Sep 25, 2016 at 2:29
  • @RoaringFish: yeah, my answer as I originally wrote it doesn't really address your question. Sorry about that; I misread the question. I feel like I know what you mean in general, but do you have any specific examples?
    – herisson
    Sep 25, 2016 at 2:40
  • @suməlic ~ maybe I should have made that clearer in the OP, but to be honest the notion of discussion by a sequence of answers never occurred to me. I don't really have specific examples - this has been brewing for a long time - and if I did I am not sure I would share them, but the trigger was a conversation about code as rhetoric being abruptly deleted. Sep 25, 2016 at 9:07
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    @RoaringFish I don't think it was deleted; it was transferred to chat, here, I think: chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/45852/2016/9/24
    – deadrat
    Sep 25, 2016 at 9:50

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