7

We have discussed what our policy should be towards answers without references here and here, and have discussed answers in comments here. There seems to be a general consensus that answers of any kind without support, whether in answers or comments, should be discouraged if not deleted.

However, as sites in beta have a tendency to fluctuating expectations due to (among other things) adding new users and losing others, I think this issue needs revisiting.

I know that there are some users who strongly disagree with any deletions, even of bad - and even harmful - answers. We do have poor quality answers with down votes which have been left as examples of what does not meet this site's standards for new users. Personally, I favor this because users might not make the same mistakes over and over again if they have examples of low-quality answers. But that is probably best addressed in a different post. My question refers specifically to comments.

A user recently made this observation:

Answers in comments are officially frowned upon in every exchange I follow, but actually quite common and tolerated in all of them. ...I think you'll be battling them daily if you take a hard line on it.

I agree; this has been my experience as well on every site I participate in. Some are very accepting of it - and condone it in meta - even though in theory such comments should be deleted. One option a user has is to flag such a comment for a moderator to evaluate, and this is then handled differently on every site. Another is to invite the commenter to post an answer, which is sometimes accepted or declined graciously, but other times met with great offense (e.g. "this is good enough because it's correct. I don't need references to tell me I'm right.")

My feeling is that there is no way to judge a a good or a poor answer in comments since one cannot down vote them or check the references, therefor they should be deleted. I also know from experience that many people post bad answers in comments (on every site), and a challenge to those "answers" often results in an unpleasant and disruptive comment war. An immediate deletion with explanation can reduce the number of comment wars over this issue.

My question is, should all answers in comments be deleted immediately?

6

I think this is a very important thing to discuss as comments can be as, if not more, dangerous than answers, especially if the claims they make are not backed up.

What I believe should be our policy on answers in the comments is we should always delete them. Comments are for:

  • Request[ing] clarification from the author;

  • Leav[ing] constructive criticism [to guide] the author in improving the post;

  • Add[ing] relevant but minor or transient information to a post (e.g. a link to a related question, or an alert to the author that the question has been updated).

They are not for several things, one of which includes is:

  • Answering a question or providing an alternate solution to an existing answer; instead, post an actual answer (or edit to expand an existing one);

This means that we should delete all comments in answers. It is actually an SE policy (though many sites don't follow it). As mentioned below in the comments by @anongoodnurse, answers in the comments are just "answers which cannot be down voted." We do not want this. Voting is how we determine what content is good or bad. That is why all answers in the comments should be deleted with a label left saying something like

<comments deleted> Please do not leave answers in the comments. Instead, it would be appreciated if you leave an actual answer (with references) below.

How can we do this?

If we decide to do this, it will put an extra burden on the moderators. It doesn't have to be only our job, though. As I talked about in We need more Community Moderation, we need you, the community to help make this happen. Flag comments that are answers, we will try to review them as soon as we can. If the claim is dangerous, be the one to step up and tell the commenter that. This will be something hard to enforce, but it is possible if we can get the community to help.

  • I don't think answers in comments should be treated any differently than answers, which can be voted on. This makes comments with references answers which cannot be down voted. Does that make sense? It's like giving advice with impunity... at least that's how I see it. – anongoodnurse Jul 11 '15 at 20:07
  • @anongoodnurse but if the whole problem is "you can't downvote a comment", then when a comment is bad, you can comment in the below that that comment is bad, and people can vote up your comment? Then Carey Gregory's answer will work – Ooker Sep 29 '15 at 5:47
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    @Ooker - the community and the mods have decided against it. That's not how comments work. – anongoodnurse Sep 29 '15 at 16:09
  • This is how I see it: The comment claiming something that it shouldn't (in other words - wrong information), can be always flagged for moderation with some short explanation what's wrong, so it can be easily removed by the mods after consideration, no-brainer. Removing some useful comments would just further annoy users when they effort is lost and it doesn't teach anybody anything. Short answers in comments are allowed in many SE sites, because sometimes answer is too short for a proper answer. it works fine on many sites (SO/SU/SF, etc.) where there are plenty of useful comments. – kenorb Sep 30 '15 at 18:25
  • @anongoodnurse How exactly community decided? I see the most voted answer saying 'Definitely not' (to remove the comments), 'Immediate deletion should be reserved for spam, inappropriate behavior, etc. '. So I believe community decided to not delete comments, unless they're inappropriate. Therefore mods should respect community votes and don't remove them anymore. – kenorb Sep 30 '15 at 18:28
  • @kenorb - "Immediate deletion should be reserved for spam, inappropriate behavior, etc." is someone's opinion about their own comments as answers, not the site guidelines. Comments are for clarification, suggested edits, etc. Not answers of any kind. Make a separate meta about it if you wish, though it's already been covered elsewhere. – anongoodnurse Sep 30 '15 at 19:30
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    @kenorb I open this: Does the policy change when there is a new top answer? – Ooker Oct 2 '15 at 19:17
4

Yes, answers in comments should be immediately deleted, as they are counter to the way the SE system is intended to work. They cannot be downvoted, as can a poor actual answer.

See these meta questions about comments and how the system is intended to work:

Why does commenting require reputation?

How do comments work?

Here is a relevant excerpt:

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 are intentionally short, having maximum length of 600 characters, and allow only limited markup. URLs in comments automatically become hyperlinks. Each user may post only one comment every 15 seconds.

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.

In theory this should be the way every stack exchange site should treat comments. However, this also relies heavily on the community to moderate, as it is not feasible to expect a small team of moderators to vet every single comment on every single question/answer.

2

Definitely not. Immediate deletion should be reserved for spam, inappropriate behavior, etc. Everything else is a judgement. I've seen more than one good answer get hoisted out of comments and made into a real answer days after being posted. I've done it myself. It would be a real shame to have had those comments summarily deleted.

I answer in comments only when all the following are true:

  • I find the question somewhat trivial or obvious; when, for example, pasting the title into google produces multiple correct answers as the first hits.
  • I think I can provide an answer that is unequivocally correct and won't be disputed. Not necessarily the best answer, but one that is correct and will meet the OP's needs if no one else provides a proper answer.
  • No one else has answered.

I could be wrong but I suspect many others follow similar criteria.

I think a reasonable policy would be to delete comment answers that are possibly dangerous, or grossly and patently wrong, but the authors of reasonable ones should be encouraged to post them as answers. A hostile response to such a reasonable request would be good enough in my view to delete the whole mess. I don't find avoiding comment wars a good justification for deleting answers just because they're posted in the wrong place, but it's a fine justification for terminating them.

-5

Instead of delete it, I think we can

Make it a community wiki answer.

There are two opinions in this issue. One is that answers in comments cannot be judged by the voting system - a bad answer cannot be shown as bad. The other is that sometimes it's the choice of the commenter, they don't have time and effort to make a good answer, but thinking that this is definitely a good one, and should spread it for the sake of the knowledge.

Community wiki answer is exactly born for that. In the Stack Overflow blog post, The Future of Community Wiki, there is a paragraph to explain the function of CW answer:

The intent of community wiki in answers is to help share the burden of solving a question. An incomplete "seed" answer is a stepping stone to a complete solution with help from others; an incomplete question is a hindrance and an obstacle to getting a solution as no one understands the inquiry. It is in answers that the goal of community wiki, for the community, by the community, shows its truest colors.

A CW answer is still an answer, therefore one can vote for it to rise or sink if required.

  • My first example on this. Any thought? – Ooker Sep 29 '15 at 20:02
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    Personally I don't think this solves anything, and is apt to be used (as you have done) to answer questions without sources, already a no-no here. – anongoodnurse Sep 30 '15 at 3:16
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    From the blog that you reference - "With suggested edits now in place, you could argue that the removal of reputation from voting is now the only function of community wiki. Unfortunately, this means it is often seen as a magic switch to allow questionable content." and "Most of the time, you should be asking yourself 'How can I improve this post so that community wiki isn't needed?' Community wiki is like a cheese knife: it is a specialized tool to be used sparingly." and "Community wiki is for that rare gem of a post that needs true community collaboration. That's when community wiki shines" – JohnP Sep 30 '15 at 3:32
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    @anongoodnurse you once said that references are desired, not required. As seen in the example, it is DVed and has a post notice. I think this is a good sign – Ooker Sep 30 '15 at 5:50
  • @JohnP the things you quote are only about the CW question. To answer specifically, 1) how can I improve a post, if it is a comment? I must make it an answer, not comment again because it will answer the question in comment. 2) hence, this is a collaboration between me and the commenter. The commenter gives a seed in knowledge, I place it in the suitable earth. Visitors, who feel that it will grow to a large tree, will water it, in their limitations. What's wrong with that? – Ooker Sep 30 '15 at 6:05
  • Plus, I don't come up this idea myself. User139 gave me this seed of idea, and Robert Cartano agreed with this after I discussed about this with him. Since he is a mod from the company, I think he is a better person for you to discuss, though I'd like to listen. – Ooker Sep 30 '15 at 6:07
  • @Ooker - I have asked for clarification. I don't think it was intended for a two line anecdote for others to research and support. I will let you know what I find out. – JohnP Sep 30 '15 at 14:40
  • @Ooker "Seeding" was a poor choice of words. The wiki principles of Stack Exchange make it desirable to edit an answer to improve and keep it relevant. But that's a far cry from posting throwaway, incomplete answers hoping others will fill in the blanks later. If a post isn't a complete effort to answer the question within the framework and quality conventions of the site, it should be flagged as "not an answer" and removed. Posting stubs with instructions to "put your answer here" will only discourage others from posting more complete solutions of their own. Sorry about the confusion – Robert Cartaino Sep 30 '15 at 16:21
  • @RobertCartaino sorry for writing your name wrong. Anyway, while I have no objection about your reply (I agree that a seed need to be healthy enough to grow), I have a little skeptic about the rightness of it. I agree that most of the comment answers are incomplete, but I don't think all of them are throwaway. So 1) why do incomplete answers discourage other people to write their owns? 2) Is there a test says that an incomplete wiki answer will never grow? 3) Sometimes I see a comment which is a prominent seed, but not enough to be an answer. Is it worth to save, for the sake of knowledge? – Ooker Sep 30 '15 at 17:11
  • @Ooker We've now come full circle, so let's recap. (1) Don't post answers in comments; it is not allowed. (2) If you see someone posting answers in comments, it is fair game post that information as a proper answer yourself, but (3) answer still have to conform with the quality standards of the site... so posting half-baked answers with missing information is not allowed to stand as a "answer" in the context of this site. – Robert Cartaino Sep 30 '15 at 18:03
  • @RobertCartaino I don't really understand your first sentence. And you don't really answer any question, just state what I've already known. I know, and I will follow it. I'm barely asking "what if?". Or are you saying that the loss of good knowledge will not be avoidable, if we want to make sure that there is no false knowledge? – Ooker Sep 30 '15 at 18:21

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