Hovering over a comment or a chat message should reveal a summary of parent/children replies

If we’re going to have threaded comments, or at least the ability to reply to comments and chat messages, then both would benefit from being able to preview the entire linked “thread” without having to scroll and follow highlighted comments/messages with your eyes.

Here’s an example taken from a Reddit thread, which is the functionality available through an addon Reddit Enhancement Suite:

If you hover over the “parent” comment action link, a flat thread of parent comments leading to the root comment will appear, where you can read the chronological discussion, child reply on top, parent message on the bottom.

The example in the animation above is primitive because the whole discussion is on one screen, but when discussions grow long and replies can appear far down several screens below, it helps with having to scroll around, like in this example:


I would like to reduce comments, not enhance them.

They were widely abused on SE, and a major source of noise. Comments should be thought of as the scaffolding or construction lines to build something, which can then be deleted once the building is complete.

Too often people answered in comments. Some sites were good at policing this, but unfortunately most not.

One of the things that I liked about SE was the lack of chit-chat. There was chat, but that was nicely segregated, so easy to ignore.

One of the things you find when you become known as an expert is that too many people think you should be their private unpaid consultant. This is one thing SE handled well. There was no private messaging, and you can’t @ someone unless they were already part of that question or comment chain.

Maybe all comments should auto-delete in a few days?

I think it varies a lot.

  • A comment that points out spelling/grammar/etc. that gets edited in - delete.
  • A comment that asks questions of OP that get answered and edited in - delete.
  • A comment that asks questions of OP that get answered but are not edited in - keep, as the information is potentially important - i.e., even if the question gets a good answer based on that information, if the information (comment) is deleted, someone later may wonder how the answer made assumptions about the question that are non-obvious.
  • A comment that asks questions of OP that do not get answered - keep.
  • Chit-chat that is friendly and reasonable - keep. Personally, I find that enjoyable to read (and yes, sometimes add it myself, and get annoyed when it gets deleted…)
  • Chit-chat that is unfriendly - delete. The only exception is if the question is controversial/on-hold/etc. and the comments are relevant (e.g., not hateful but pointing serious problems with the question) should be kept unless/until the issues are dealt with (by closing or editing of the question)
  • Comments that are spam, hate, etc. - delete immediately. (And consider action against the user if there is a pattern of problems)
  • Comments of the “Thank you”, etc. that have no “information” - keep or delete - really not a “problem” to keep IMHO.

Definitely not! Perhaps an automated review process or something. But, for better or worse, sometimes comments have important information - especially for a not-yet-well-answered question.


If the “answer” is not edited into the original question, then it’s really no answer at all.

Unfortunately, this is a common abuse of comments on SE. A vague question is asked. Someone asks for clarification. The OP “answers” in a comment. Now we have important information to the question hidden in a comment.

Comments should never be content. Someone answering a question should not need to wade thru a lengthy chain of comments, most probably drivel, to fully understand the question.

I’ve sometimes thought that maybe the OP of a question should be unable to comment directly on that question. That would force all replies to comments to be added to the question. If the comment isn’t about something pertinent to the question, then it shouldn’t be there in the first place.

Comments were widely abused on SE. Let’s not let that happen here.

I agree, that is a big problem. The solution is for someone - which does not need to be the OP and often the OP is new and simply does not understand the process - to edit the comments into the question. I do that often and I see others do it too. The catch is that on SE only moderators (anyone very high rep? I’m not 100% sure, but on DIY I have all privileges I can get except Site Analytics, and I can’t do anything to anyone else’s comments) can delete comments. So often the content will get edited into the Question but until either OP or a Moderator deletes the comment, it just sits around cluttering things up.

Actually, an easy solution without allowing “anyone with moderate rep edit comments” would be:

  • a “moderate rep (or whatever)” privilege to “move comment to question”. It would move the content to the end of the question, maybe with a “Moved from comments:” phrase in front of it for clarity and delete the comment. It would open up an edit page for the user to edit on the spot (but if they canceled at that point, the move/delete would still have been done) so they can edit to make it read better.

There would be a small risk of the user editing the comment out of the question - i.e., using it as a back-door delete button - but if only allowed for experienced usrs at least a few steps up from newbie, I don’t think that would be a problem.

It would take a load off the moderators. And if a notification with explanation is sent to the OP, it would educate them about the process while explaining what changed so they aren’t surprised.


I think another important kind of comment that should often be kept around is comments on answers that either dispute or clarify something in the answer they’re under. Sometimes an otherwise good answer has some detail that’s wrong, and that often gets pointed out in comments. Ideally that would get edited into the question, but sometimes the answer’s OP never comes back, or they don’t understand or agree with the comment, in which case it’s still useful to keep around so that readers of the answer understand that there’s part of it that’s controversial.

This is especially common for old answers that were highly upvoted because they were true at the time they were written, but the situation has changed in the years since (new SW version, etc), and so now they’re no longer a good solution – but the newer correct answers get buried, and will never catch up to the upvotes of the old ones. And most people sensibly will see that the outdated answer is accepted and highly upvoted, so they won’t bother to read the rest of the page and see that it’s disputed by newer answers that have hardly any upvotes yet.


Good point. I’m starting to think that there is not just one type of comment in the database. When a comment is written the user must select the appropriate radio button for the type. Some possible types:

  1. Critique or disagreement. These stick around. When the question gets edited, the commenter gets notified and thereby gets the opportunity to delete the comment if the issue has been addressed.

  2. Request for clarification. Handled same as #1 except that the comment auto-deletes after some time. 1 week? 2 weeks? Depending on site traffic? Depending on when OP of the post visited the site? The comment is also deleted when replied to by the OP.

  3. Response to a previous comment. These are deleted with the parent comment, but act special on writing. If you are the author of the post (question or answer) the comment is under, then your response automatically gets added to the bottom of your post. If you are someone else, then your text becomes a new comment, linked to the responded-to comment.

This means each comment has a little “reply” button.

Note also that there are only a few rigid categories of comments, and that chit-chat isn’t one of them. If you want to have a kaffeeklatsch, go elsewhere. The space below posts needs to be kept clean.

I like the idea of threaded comments but perhaps not on the main Q&A page. Comments overall easily go havoc and add noise by drifting off-topic. Especially so on meta. There must be a way to give feedback to the poster, but it could be less visible.

Like for example Wikipedia, which has a “talk” tab where you can discuss the topic while keeping the article completely free from noise.

Anything “meta” related to that particular post could also be dumped to such a tab. The SE system where meta discussions about a particular post reside at some wildly different location was never a good one. People could have a long discussion about a post without the poster knowing it, unless someone stepped up and made an @user comment nudging the user to participate.

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This should be solved by the small number of rigid comment types.

We talked about comments being permitted but with low visibility. Whether that visibility is due to collapsing, a separate in-page tab, a talk page, or something else is TBD.

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Response to a previous comment. These are deleted with the parent comment, but act special on writing. If you are the author of the post (question or answer) the comment is under, then your response automatically gets added to the bottom of your post.

I don’t think auto-addition is a good idea. An answer to a comment is not necessarily a good addition of the post. It just as often is asking to clarify the comment (I think I already wrote it earlier, comment writers are not necessarily better than question/answer writers), or to disagree with it. Also, if I edit my post in response to a comment, I usually leave a comment telling the poster that I changed it (so the commenter is notified and can check that my change addresses the concerns); that also would not make a good addition to the post (however, this type of comment could be avoided if there was a way to mark an edit to be a direct response to a certain comment, notifying the author of the comment).

Actually thinking further about it, maybe there should also be a formal way for the author of a comment to specify if an edit addresses the concern. If yes, I would not delete the comment, but move it and all replies from the post to the specific edit that addressed the concern, because it contains valuable information about why the post was edited; it is just irrelevant to the readers of the edited post who don’t care about the edit history. With “move to the edit” I mean that the comments would appear in the edit history, below the edit that addressed it,