MVP Proposal: Requests for Clarifications and Feedback

Problem

We need some way to discuss posts. I think the most important contentful (as opposed to chat) discussion aspects are

  • Requests for Clarifications — when you don’t understand the post
  • Feedback — when you have an suggestion that would improve the post

Proposed Solution

There are two types of comments, each representing one of the above types.

These commands be added by any user with some experience (reputation?) and are displayed on a second page that is linked beneath the post. The amount of requests is shown on the post. OP will receive a notification for every new comment.

OP can mark them as complete, which will hide from the list.

Later up- and downvoting could be implemented, but IMHO this is not MVP.

What is your opinion? Is the problem correctly identified? Are there further contentful use cases? Do you have improvement ideas for the implementation?

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Note: Wiki page is https://github.com/codidact/docs/wiki/Functional-Requirements:-MVP.

Suggest @luap42 to move his proposals made at https://discordapp.com/channels/634104110131445811/637322644718616576/641020893245734944 to this topic - not as a list, that’s hard for the human mind to parse. Just make a note of what’s different (change/add).

Is this in MVP?

Yes. As soon as there is user content, people will want to agree, criticize, discuss, etc. If we don’t provide a way to do it, people will use the answer box, and that defeats the purpose of Q&A because we’ll have lots and lots of non-answers.

On the other hand, I don’t think anything other than the ability to post comments is MVP, including voting, hiding and notifications.

Refining the requirement

SE struggles with comments. They have a high cost in moderation (variable depending on the site culture).

A vocal minority keeps complaining when their comments get deleted. The rules say that comments are ephemeral, but people tend to think “but mine is oh so important”.

I propose to design comments in such a way that deletion is exceptional (basically only for rude/non-constructive) but visibility is low. In the SE model, that would roughly mean that each post automatically has a chat room (except without the bit where people can see that you’re in the chatroom), but selected chat messages are automatically visible. We don’t delete obsolete comments, we just downgrade their visibility.

For MVP, I propose to start with just a chat-like thing which does not notify the post author. Show only a link to the discussion page, or show the discussion in a small area with a scrollbar. Then later we’ll build visibility and notification mechanisms, based on experience using the system.

On distinguishing requests from feedback

I don’t understand the distinction. The difference between requests for clarifications and improvement suggestions is mostly a matter of phrasing — “can you explain this?” vs “I don’t understand this”. Unless you mean definite improvement suggestions “this should be that instead”, which should be edits, not comments.

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I think comments should be comments. Not chat. They can be used (and sometimes are in SE) in a chat-like way, but in the end they are “tied to the Q or A”, not a conversation in and of themselves. I also like the SE notification of comments (either on your question/answer or @ your name) - I find it helpful so I know when to bother to look back at an open question.
Voting on comments can wait as it doesn’t generate reputation and is therefore a popularity indicator (which I like, actually) but not a functional need.

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I prefer that comments stay attached to the post, though a separate “tab” or view would be fine. Post owners should be able to mute notifications; consider the case where two other users are having an extended discussion on your post and you don’t care. That happens fairly often on some sites. Sure, let 'em keep talking, out of the way, but let the poor post owner say “enough!” and stop getting the pings. (Not needed for MVP.)

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Some of my (related) messages on Discord (in:#proposals from: Marc.2377#8601 comment)

  1. Allow more than one user to be @mentioned in comments.

(5 supporters)

  1. Encourage OP to flag comments requesting clarification or suggesting improvements as “completed”. Such flags can be processed not only by moderators but also by the commenter. Perhaps, for this to be viable, the commenter must mark a checkbox when commenting, to indicate the comment is indeed a clarification or improvement request.

(no reactions)

When clicking the box to write a comment, a link will show to the right with the text “choose from a template…”. Clicking this link will bring up a modal with a list of comment templates, like “welcome, please see how to ask a good question and add an mvce (…)”, “this does not provide an answer to the question (…)”, etc.

I once heard of one guy at Stack Overflow who kept a collection of such comments on notepad.

(1 supporter)

Comments that have been moderated should be auditable by the community. As such, they should not be gone, ever.

If a mod ‘deletes’ a comment, there should be a way (say, a very small, very unobtrusive button or ‘x comments removed’ link) that will show what comments have been removed. They should not be answerable or anything, they should just be there for anyone who wants to check. (Perhaps as a privilege, linked to a certain amount of reputation).

When mods have to censor an offensive or spammy comment, the system must be implemented such as they can censor specific words or parts of the message, without hiding what it was about.

(1 supporter)

Of all these, the only one I would consider for MVP is the last one.

Apart from that, I advocate for implementing the comment system exactly as is from SE. I mean exactly. Down to the character limits (min-max).

Another suggestion I’d like to make (not MVP - for a future version) is: users should have their comment privilege revoked, even if temporarily, when a certain number of comments from them across a defined timespan are flagged and removed (usual reasons would be: offtopic; answering in comments; and of course, rude or offensive and spam).

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What does that mean? What difference do you make between these two?

Why not make notifications default off? Try it out and see if notifications are really necessary and under what circumstances (maybe only with an explicit @ mention?).

Why? On the contrary, I think we have a golden opportunity to do better.

Regarding comment templates: that sounds better on paper than in the real world. In the real world, this gets heavily abused by people who just post the template and don’t adapt it to the current scenario. I used to use a comment template script and gave it up because I ended up completely rewriting the template each time.

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On notifications being off by default: interesting idea worth exploring. There’s probably a recency aspect; if I get a comment on a year-old post I’m never going to see it without a notification, but I’m monitoring that question I asked three hours ago.

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On second thought, I kind of like this proposal. But it can be improved:

  1. When writing a comment, the user can be presented with an easy option to create a chat room instead. I believe this to be better than to have a chat room created automatically.

  2. Such chat rooms can/should be linked in such a way as to make it easy to see the discussion for all answers to one particular question from the same place.

  3. They would be easily accessible from under the post, with an icon that indicates that a chat room for that post already exists (and optionally, how many messages/users posted there).

  4. I dislike the concept of having comments being essentially “selected” chat messages (or chat messages being “downgraded” comments). IMO they should be separate ideas:

    • comments should be used to point errors, concerns or suggestions about a post;
    • chat should be used for… chatting.

    In other words: I’m more interested in having an easy way to create a chat room (and access it) for each post, than in unifying comments and chat in one concept.

A note: Having chat rooms for posts might increase overall site moderation efforts (or might not).

3 Likes

Considering my previous answer here, I think a discussion that can be accessed directly from the question page (without reloading), hidden under a ‘Discussion’ tab, might be a good idea. I still would like to have comments, though, and the discussion tab should at least be be opt-out for those who aren’t interested in that (much like you can use SO today and completely ignore chat or the Developer Story etc).

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Are you saying “chat” because you value a separate chat system, or because it’s what we’re used to from SE?

I’d like to explore the idea that discussion is just threaded text messages in a separate area, but that’s not necessarily a separate system. Instead of having a separate chat system that people have to learn (and qualify to use), can we just have something like a discussion tab or a talk page or something like that, where everything you already know about from using the site (comments, pinging people, markdown, etc) applies and if you have enough rep to type into this textbox at all, you’re good to go?

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Well, it doesn’t need to be a separate system, and certainly does not need to look like one. What I don’t approve is the idea of having comments and discussion as similar entities, when in my opinion they are not.

Probably, offering mods (and the community) an easy way to ‘move’ comments to discussion and vice-versa makes sense, as there might be users who will post discussion in the form of comments. Of course the system can be a bit smart and warn the user the next time they write a comment, or if the behavior persists there might be some restrictions to be implemented (in various forms).

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When writing a comment, the user can be presented with an easy option to create a chat room instead.

I don’t understand the distinction you make between “comment” and “chat room”. The “chat room” would be the “talk page” or “comment box”.

I dislike the concept of having comments being essentially “selected” chat messages (or chat messages being “downgraded” comments). IMO they should be separate ideas:

  • comments should be used to point errors, concerns or suggestions about a post;
  • chat should be used for… chatting .

This distinction is impractical. On Stack Exchange, comments are intended for this purpose, but it inevitably leads to discussion. I want a different system precisely to avoid this problem.

@cellio Here I use ”chat room“, “comment section”, “talk page” more or less indifferently. It should certainly not be a separate system in the sense of having different accounts. Whether it’s shown by default, whether it has the same styling, whether it’s stored on the same server and so on are details which don’t matter much at this point.

1 Like

Maybe the talk page, then…

While this is true, it is also the case that some comments are indeed very helpful addons to any post (question or answer) IMO. That’s why I don’t want the ability to comment under a post to be gone entirely. This is especially true for the site I use the most: Stack Overflow. In other words: yes, the comment system is abused, but that doesn’t mean that all comments are ‘discussion’ and should not have a place right under the post itself where it can be immediately seen.

In order to minimize comment system abuse, in addition to having the discussion page or ‘chat’, we’ll have moderation. It’s worked for SE so far - or at least it’s the impression I have. Not to mention our ideas to make the moderation more effective.

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To me - there’s a place for threaded discussions and comments. Threaded discussions should be ephemeral and possibly even removed after a certain amount of time. Threaded discussions would provide a neat way for new users to ask questions on the posts topic. But i would suggest that these actively get deleted after a certain amount of time.

Post comments should not be ephemeral. To me comments could also be notes. It can be useful to comment on a specific answer or on a question but also nice to add notes that exist outside of all answers. Im also wondering if this would work for things like code or additional elements to the question?

Regardless of the details, this idea that there is a place for ephemeral discussion, especially for new users and there is also a place for pointed, valuable comments that add to an answer or question over time.

As a side note, It would also be cool to deprecate answers in favour of a new answer. This would be if the question is still valid but the accepted answer has become out of date. This would be especially pertinent for related web technologies. (browser support, versioning etc)

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If someone already suggested this, great, but if not:

  • Dual-mode comments

    • Chronological
    • Threaded
    • Default setting in User Profile.
    • Option to change on the fly for that session with a button next to each batch of comments.
      This can give the best of both worlds. Similar to the way some email programs (e.g., Thunderbird) have an option to show messages chronological or threaded. Actually easier with email because the threading is based on header fields, but presumably we can reasonably figure out threading here programmatically based on username references, etc.
  • Instead of the wacky (i.e., I haven’t quite figured out the formula and end up always going to show all the comments) SE method of only showing some of the comments when there are a lot of comments, have an easy way to let the user (again, possibly a User Profile default but always change on the fly):

    • Show all comments
    • Show only new comments since the question was last viewed
    • (Possibly instead of “only new”): Show all new comments plus ‘n’ immediately chronologically previous comments for context.

Then individual users can easily set the system to the way they like it and anyone can easily see more comments or fewer comments in any particular situation as they prefer.

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I’m afraid that doesn’t align with the idea of having both comments and discussions, and with @mattjbrent’s observation that post comments should be not ephemeral, @manassehkatz. If post comments are relevant, they should not be conversations, and thus I see no reason for them to be threaded here - in principle. That is particularly true if we’re discussing a MVP, but isn’t restricted to it. I believe we’ll manage better without threaded post comments for an indefinite amount of time.

OTOH, when talking discussions, certainly - threaded conversation is better. And it can be optional as you suggest.

Just to clarify a bit on my personal opinion, as it probably doesn’t come through clearly in my long messages about it:

  • I like the SE comments on both questions and answers and find them useful for clarifying many things
  • I don’t like the SE management of comments - especially the way they tend to be taken away (whether to chat or outright deletion)
  • I don’t like the SE display of comments with respect to the hiding of some comments some of the time - never works well for me and if I am interested then I always want to see all and if I am not interested then I don’t care if I have to scroll past a longer batch. But chronological vs. threaded - personally I don’t care and will go with the consensus without complaint.
  • I am not a user of SE’s chat at all. I’ve tried it a couple of times and decided it just doesn’t work for me. Would it work better if designed differently? Maybe. I am open to considering that. But if it disappeared altogether then I wouldn’t miss it.
  • I find that some topic sites moderate comments more rigorously than others, which takes getting used to the “flavor” of each site. Jokes/funny comments/comments-not-specific-to-actually-clarifying-the-question (but with some tangential relation to the Q or A) are well accepted on some and not at all on others. I doubt that will change much as it is a moderation issue and not a technical issue.
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