What should be done about answers posted as comments?

This got me thinking. I agree with the addition of an “Answer in Comments” flag, but I disagree with deleting the comment and the user losing something as a direct result of the flag.

If enough people cast this flag on a comment, then we know this comment is being considered as an answer. So why not just convert the comment to an answer? This then opens up the “comment”/“answer” to community voting, where it should be able to sort itself out if it is a rather poor answer.

One downside that I see here is that when the comment is converted to an answer, it may receive upvotes which would then kind of make it seem like posting the answer as a comment was okay to do. Maybe posts converted this way could remove any rep-gain from upvotes, or maybe they could be half the points or something similar so that it incentivize posting as an answer directly.

Edit: Hilarious this got moved to it’s own topic, because when I was writing up my original post I almost posted it as it’s own topic initially but decided not to :laughing:


I can get behind this as long as there is some downside for the original commenter. There has to be a cost to abusing the system. Maybe the cost of having written a comment-quality answer is part of it, and I like your idea of not being able to earn rep (or equivalent) from such an answer.

Also, what to do when the question is closed? I think in that case the comment should just be deleted, and maybe the commenter looses some rep or equivalent. Circumventing the answer ban on closed questions is unfortunately a common abuse of comments on SE. One reason it is so prevalent is because there is no cost in doing it. We need to create some cost, else we’ll have the same problem.

The “downside for the original commenter” is possibly garnering downvotes from the community instead of a direct rep-loss. The consequences could potentially go beyond a small rep penalty (such as the answer getting like 10 downvotes or whatever). And if no downvotes are received, but instead the answer gets upvotes, the downside is that the original commenter will not receive any rep for their answer (Maybe this could be expanded on somehow, but I don’t think we want to majorly punish someone for contributing something people found useful, even if they did it the wrong way).

If the question is closed, we could fall back on a comment deletion and small rep loss if the comment is flagged as “Answer in Comments”

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IMHO, if you have a “Convert Comment to Answer” function and the Answer is successful (net positive votes), that will actually encourage future direct Answers - i.e., I don’t think most people doing this (e.g., myself) are actually thinking “I shouldn’t do an Answer, I’m going to Comment and abuse the system because I can!” I think (and I suspect others) “I’m not sure this is good enough to be an answer, so I’ll make it a comment instead.” If I do that and it gets turned into an Upvoted Answer and I get credit for it then I will be much more likely next time to think “You know, last time I made it just a comment but it turned out to be a good answer, so I’ll try making an actual Answer this time”. Let the process encourage the desired actions - don’t make it crazily complex (which the people who Answer in a Comment will likely not “get” anyway).


I think this would encourage people to post their answers as comments more, because they may still think “I’m not sure this is good enough to be an answer, so I’ll make it a comment instead and someone else can decide if it’s good enough and I may still get rewarded for it”.

As I said previously, I don’t think users should be necessarily punished if their comment becomes and answer which gets upvotes, but I don’t think they should be rewarded exactly the same either, because it gives them the signal that doing that action that way is okay.

Now, if a comment was converted to an answer that gets upvotes but the upvotes are only worth half of what they normally would be, then that is an incentive to post the answer directly.

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Just spitballing here:
Turn it into an answer which won’t give the user any rep?


We’re overthinking this. If a comment is valuable, it should be in an answer. If the author of the comment declines to do so, somebody else can write a proper answer based on the comment, which is now obsolete. (The odds that a comment could be a complete, good answer in, what, 400 characters?, are very low).

“Answer in comment” is a social problem, not a technical one. I oppose developing complex rules for auto-converting one to the other, and I especially oppose automatic penalties to users who “did the wrong thing” in good faith. People can disagree on whether a contribution merits an answer, after all.

And since this thread was originally about close votes: same there. Members of a community rarely agree 100% on whether something should be closed and, thus, whether a particular vote is “frivolous”. Communities need to set their own rules. Users who actually cause problems through repeated rule violations can be dealt with individually.


(a) I disagree regarding the reaction - I think that the “frequent” users - and anyone who gets to the level of actually putting useful information in a Comment is already way beyond the “post once” users - who are not troublemakers - and posting something that amounts to a useful answer is anything but a troublemaker - will generally react well.

There could even be an automated reminder: “On 12/20/2019 your Comment “lorem ipsum” was turned into an Answer. You received a net +3 vote in the past 2 days! Congratulations! In the future, please consider posting directly as an Answer as this is more useful for the community.”

(b) All this talk (here and elsewhere) about 1/2 rep and gain a few points and lose a few points and “cost a few points” etc. doesn’t work if we have (as seems to be currently planned) a very limited use of “reputation” - not an absolute (or not visible anyway) score, just certain combinations of things that result in certain very broad privileges. That has a lot of advantages but also some disadvantages (arguably) - in particular it doesn’t give any real meaning to “costs you to do this” or “no credit for this” etc.


This was exactly the idea I posted above :grin:

This is exactly why I propsed what I proposed. Converting the comment to an answer would allow the community to vote on the usefulness of the answer which would then incentivize not posting an answer as a comment, because that’s not a way to protect yourself from downvotes anymore, and would not be an automated penalty either.


True, but experience has also shown that the normal social mechanism don’t fix this problem. Answers in comments is rampant on SE.

But they wouldn’t be, and that’s not what they are doing now. It wouldn’t be in good faith if the rules were clearly spelled out that comments should not be used to answer the question. I’ve seen users of SE flat out state that they answer in comments because they don’t want to get downvoted for being wrong. There are also cases where comments are used to circumvent the closing of a question.

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On some sites. Not everywhere.

As for good faith and rules, that assumes that rules are clear-cut and everybody agrees on where the line is. That’s not the case. And the remedy for a comment that shouldn’t have been posted as a comment is straightforward: it gets deleted. If somebody is having a consistent problem with this, mods can intervene. If that’s not happening on the sites where you’re seeing the problem, then you have an issue with moderation on those sites – or other people there disagree with you.


With deleting peoples comments, you also have the problem of those people whose comments were deleted posting on a Meta site complaining about it, which takes even more time to deal with.

I can’t see people realistically complaining in the same fashion that their comment was converted to an answer (though I could be wrong about this, people are pretty unpredictable sometimes). And converting the comment to answer has the added benefit of the community voting on it’s usefulness instead of just the people flagging.

Automatically deleting the comment after some threshold of flags could result in removing useful content (even if it’s not in the right place), but moving the comment to an answer avoids that.

You also say that

I disagree that this should be the norm, if someone posts a comment that is useful as an answer, why should someone else now have to take the time to put that into an answer when we could just convert the comment? Another benefit here is that contributors will be held more to what they are posting in comments.

Also, converting a comment to an answer should not be difficult at all code-wise.


Or, the most likely answer is that it’s just too much janitorial work for the mods. I have noticed a few sites that do seem to clean up comments well. I think The Workplace was one of them, and there were maybe another one or two. However, this doesn’t happen on most sites.

So think of this as a way of automating part of that moderation process. I can see maybe not outright punishing people for doing it on open questions, but they certainly shouldn’t be rewarded for it. Not allowing any rep (or whatever equivalent) gain from the resulting question makes sense.

As for answering in a comment on a closed question, there is clearly a deliberate violation. The comment should be deleted, and there has to be some negative consequence to the commenter.

That’s why comments are deleted automatically if flagged by some users on Stack Exchange. We should consider this too.

Sorry, that wasn’t clear to me.

Seems like a win-win solution though.

  • The knowledge is preserved
  • It can now also be DOWNvoted (SE style comments only get higher and higher over time)
  • There’s no real “punishment” (can’t expect to get rep for an answer if you didn’t post an answer)
  • The incentive to write a “real” answer instead of a comment is there (get rep)

What I really like about it is the psychological mechanism at work there.
For every good answer you write in a comment, there’s more reputation you could have had. Basically, the more good answers in comments somebody writes, the more it will “sting” them that they don’t write real answers.

@cellio is correct that this is a technical solution to a social problem, but hey, a lot of gamification falls under that umbrella. And if it’s that easy to implement, I see no reason to not test it out - especially since the given (current SE) methods have already been proven to not work in a lot of cases.


Because, as the author of the text, I should have some control over how my contribution is represented and attributed. Maybe I care about my answer quality and eschew throw-away quickies, but I still have a lead that the OP can follow like a link to a useful resource. I should not have a throw-away or link-only answer imposed on me and my (actual, not points) reputation. I get to decide that. And if you disagree, you can take that quickie I offered in a comment and build your answer based on it, with your name under it. Or you can encourage me to.

Again, if it fits in the length limit of a comment, it’s probably not a very good answer, so somebody is going to have to do some work there. If the result is a good answer, the person who did the work gets the credit. If the result is a crappy answer submitted as an answer, the author gets the blame. If the result is a crappy answer submitted as a comment and then repurposed with the original attribution, you risk making the author look bad.

This has to be left for humans to decide. Not software. We want people to come and contribute their expertise; the least we can do is respect their judgement about what goes out prominently over their names and what does not. And especially if their small offerings in comments are going to be converted and then downvoted for not being complete answers! Talk about making people look bad…


I wouldn’t consider a comment which is just a link as an “answer in comment”.

This is why answering in the comments on SE is frowned upon, and exactly why I’ve made this suggestion, it is disincentivizing posting answers in comments.

The user already posted the comment, this comment is already attributed to their name. In fact, at least on SE, the name seems more prominent in a comment (IMO, because it’s literally right next to the text) - I don’t understand your point here.

Doesn’t SE automatically convert some answers to comments and that still carries the attribution?

I also assume there will be some way to disassociate with any one of your given questions/answers, or they could even possibly delete the answer itself when converted. This would still be a downside for the person who commented an answer because it requires more work from them to delete it after converted, and would be counted as a deleted post.

The only thing this does is allow the community to vote more effectively on the content of what the user posted in their comment (A lot of people on SE say you shouldn’t answer in comments because the community can’t vote on it), doesn’t automatically remove possible useful content that was posted as a comment, and makes people more responsible for exactly what they are posting.

People should be responsible for the way they are using the software and they should be forced as much as possible to use it the correct way with the least amount of user intervention possible (in my opinion).

I suppose I can see where you are coming from given your reasoning, I guess I just don’t agree; but that’s okay! We can respectfully disagree. In the end, I just want a solution that works and doesn’t require a lot of redundant work for anyone.

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Right. Don’t answer in a comment.

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Yes, the problem isn’t that it’s attributed. The problem is that what is being attributed has changed. Everybody understands that comments are lesser things, not as significant as answers.

Changing someone else’s comment into an answer is kind of like taking something a person wrote for a small personal blog and publishing it as a letter to the editor in the New York Times. Yes those are that person’s words, but the context is different and does not necessarily reflect well on the author.

About length: if you agree (as you seem to) with my assertion that an “answer” the length of a comment is very unlikely to be a good answer, then why do you see answering in comments as a problem? They’re not really answers, or at least not decent ones, in the first place. If you want to disincentivize that, delete them. If you want to encourage people to post answers instead, a few cases of somebody taking someone else’s good comment and reaping the glory for turning it into an answer should provide the needed feedback. If the real problem is just that people are chattering in comments instead of posting answers, address that instead.

We’ve been talking about a different model for comments in Codidact anyway, making them less visible. That supposed answer in a comment might not even be seen at all by the vast majority of readers. Or it’ll be buried in a 37-comment discussion. At that point the problem isn’t the comment but the comments – or it’s not a problem.

Sure, somebody could get an admin to perform a heavyweight operation or the author could notice and do extra work to clean up the mess someone else made by converting his comment to an answer. Neither of these seems like a good path toward building collaborative communities.

Yes, respectful disagreement is fine and expected. I want a solution that works too, and I want it to be driven by humans because humans are better equipped to evaluate what works than code is. And because the costs of getting your approach wrong are, IMO, much much higher than the costs of getting mine wrong.


And the author didn’t, and then – with the proposal currently being discussed – somebody else came along and put that answer in his mouth. That’s not ok.