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Proposed changes to Mi.Yodeya comments deletion conventions:

  • A generally more liberal approach to comments. Deleting only those that are truly egregious, and taking the time to delete them one-by-one instead of en masse. Deleting comments need not be a blood sport.
  • Particularly, refraining from deleting comments that may contain independently relevant information.
  • Or at least--as suggested here--being makpid to move such comments into Chat upon deleting them.

If this articulation of a proposed comment policy is not thorough enough, or is otherwise not amenable to the community, I would point readers towards these (de facto new StackExchange?) guidelines, which I think would be very appropriate for Mi.Yodeya. Please note in particular the following:

When should moderators delete comments? Same advice as for flaggers: when they offer nothing of value to either the author of the post or to future readers.

Moderators should generally process comment flags without dithering: if it doesn't immediately appear to be useful, remove it; if it might be, leave it.

And:

When should moderators move comments to chat? This option is only available when a large number of comments are generated on a post in a short period of time (on most sites, that means > 20 comments within 3 days). Therefore, your goal is to identify constructive discussions involving two or more people that are still ongoing and are not directly relevant to the post.

How quickly to consign productive contributions to oblivion--whether or not these contributions may uphold aesthetic ideals of the site--should be, I think, a matter of more sensitivity than it is currently.


1. I have argued--in forums such as Chat--that the zealous deletion of "extraneous" comments by mods does not seem to be appreciated by the general community. I would like to provide a little more evidence for this claim. Although, importantly, only a small proportion of site users actually use Meta to express their views, the views expressed by ordinary users* about this topic on Meta (and Chat) point predominantly in a single direction. (*By "ordinary" users I mean those who have no assumed position of leadership on this site, whether by virtue of explicit duties, very long tenure, role in creating the site, or similar.) Let's start with Chat. After a few minutes of sifting through archives, I was able to find these lay viewpoints on overdeletion of comments in addition to my own: - Fred: http://chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/468?m=26018020#26018020 - MoriDoweedh: http://chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/468/2013/10/15 - Yishai: http://chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/message/18866371#18866371 All these indicate at least some skepticism about, or displeasure with, overeager deletion of comments. I could not, by contrast, find any examples in Chat of "ordinary" users promoting or praising the pro-comments-deletion policy. (If such examples exist, please point them out. I only tried a few searches.) Then I looked at Meta. - Here, Yishai indeed promotes the other side (pro-deletion), but to a very circumscribed extent, and one with which I largely agree. To the extent it exists, his pro-deletion stance seems to rely very much on the SE rules, a point which I will address further below. More cases--incidental or spelled-out--against overdeletion of comments: - DanF here. (Although to be completely fair, he takes the opposite side here.) - Aaron here. - NBZ here. - Loewian does a good job of staying neutral, but pay close attention to exactly what he is calling attention to and how (here). - Discussion indicating a need for the "throw it all into an answer" approach that has been deemed impermissible today: By Matt, here. Other than those included in the list above, I did not encounter any lay opinions in support of vigorous comment deletion. Please let me know if I missed any. My goal in posting these comments by lay users is not to suggest that their opinions are dispositive, nor that we should always search sitewide for discussion by non-moderators as a way of resolving issues. It is simply to provide support for a claim I have made in the past regarding this issue, and which has been disputed--not as much for its relevance or for its significance as for its veracity: that lay users here would generally prefer less zealous deletion of comments. I do think there is an issue when those attempting to optimize a site for an audience receive disproportionately little input from that audience: hence, my focus on bringing non-mod voices to the fore.

  1. As for the oft-cited "Rules of StackExchange," and how my suggestions square with these: I learned that SE sites actually (and quasi-officially) have a fair amount of flexibility on how they choose to deal with comments. For example, SE Community Advocate Jon Ericson said this in chat:

Some sites (SO in particular) regard comments as ephemeral. I have a very highly upvoted meta post that suggests removing most comments after a certain number of days. That feature request was stalled out too because other sites see comments as important parts of the Q&A. (MathOverflow stands out here.)

There is also a quite two-sided discussion of the issue here.

MonicaCellio correctly points out that the text on the Privilege page for comments ("Comments are temporary 'Post-It' notes left on a question or answer," etc.) is the same on every StackExchange site. However, it is obvious that this policy is officially ignored by a number of SE sites, is disputed as nonstandard on others, and is superseded by newer and more comprehensive "official" advice still elsewhere.

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Thank you for bringing your concern to meta.

I believe your post is based on some pretty fundamental misunderstandings, so before I respond to your request, I'm going to address those. They are in three categories:

  • misunderstandings of SE policies
  • misunderstandings of current moderation activities
  • misunderstandings of other users' comments

Misunderstandings of SE policies

Since you cite A guide to moderating comments, let's take a closer look at it. The answer about deleting comments builds on the one about flagging comments. Here's part of what it says about when to flag (emphasis mine):

too chatty comments might be polite, friendly, even informative - but they have nothing whatsoever to do with the post! Whether tangential discussions or simply two friends chewing the fat, these are pretty benign - right up until they're being shoved in the face of every reader two years later. Again, don't worry too much about these if you don't see them by default.

Merely being informative does not warrant retention according to this policy, which is consistent with the Help Center page on comments. Mi Yodeya is not a discussion forum.

You also say that "it is obvious that this policy is...disputed as nonstandard on others", linking to this Meta.SE post from 2011. Take a closer look at that post; what is "disputed" is an older wording of the help. The well-received answer there contains...the current guidelines.

You also cite a comment (!) on RPG while missing the top-voted answer there, and a 6-year-old post on math.SE that has long since been superseded.

The only other site you cite as a precedent -- and, because of what I'm about to say, I haven't bothered to investigate your links -- is Math Overflow. Math Overflow has a unique history on Stack Exchange and, by mutual consent, does not follow many SE policies. For example, they have recently been discussing requiring people to use their real names, a policy that would never pass muster on any other site.

In conclusion, the Stack Exchange guidance for comments is not appreciably different than what is in the Help Center on every site, including ours.

Misunderstandings of current moderation activities

You wrote that moderators should take:

A generally more liberal approach to comments. Deleting only those that are truly egregious, and taking the time to delete them one-by-one instead of en masse. Deleting comments need not be a blood sport.

(You included a link there, but I do not understand what you mean to convey with it.)

Moderators on this site do consider comments individually. On larger sites sometimes mods purge whole threads without reading them, but that's not what we do here. Sometimes the easiest implementation is to purge and then selectively undelete, if only a handful out of a large batch are worth keeping, so it is possible that you might very briefly see worthwhile comments be purged with a thread -- but a refresh a couple minutes later would look different.

We strive to not delete comments that contain information that would help to improve the post, unless they already have helped the post and are now obsolete. But yes, we do sometimes delete comments that might be useful for something else, to somebody, maybe, but that aren't about the post.

You have said that you feel that a lot of comments are incorrectly deleted (that's why you brought this here). I don't think we do. It's hard to discuss those different perspectives without looking at examples. Naturally, it's harder for you to do so after comments have been deleted (you can't review them), but I don't know how to move beyond "yes you do" / "no we don't" without examples.

Maybe some insight into where comment deletions come from will help you. I haven't consulted the other moderators, but when I review comments for deletion it's for one of two reasons:

  1. Something was flagged. In other words, somebody else felt there was something that needed to be looked at here, or a high velocity of comments caused an automatic flag.

  2. In the course of using the site, which for me revolves around the front page, I come across problems in comments and handle them. Recently I have taken to flagging something in that case (even though my flag will be immediately handled) to leave an audit trail, just in case Stack Exchange wants to review my actions. I believe the other moderators have started to do this too.

I don't go hunting for comments to look at. I don't see the vast majority of comments on this site. Comments just aren't that important; I spend my time reading questions and answers, and if there are attached comments at the time I look at them. Judging from the high levels of posting, editing, and reviewing done by the other moderators, I strongly suspect that this is true for them too.

Finally, when comments are moved to chat (which we actually do fairly often), a link is included in a new comment on the post from which they were moved. That's an automatic process. You seem to feel that it's hard to find and perhaps you're under the impression that it's a manual step that we might forget to do, but that's not correct.

Misunderstandings of other users' comments

You cite messages from other users who you think agree with you, but I'm having trouble seeing why you think that:

  • Fred asked for clarification of the policy.

  • MoriDoweedh wanted to discuss in comments something that belonged in chat. All involved users were already in chat at the time and were able to continue.

  • Yishai (chat) asked about one particular comment and a moderator responded by undeleting it.

  • Yishai (meta) supports the SE policy.

  • DanF 1 asks about comments on deleted posts. Those comments weren't deleted as comments; they were carried along with the post.

  • DanF 2: the community supports the answer with the current policy (though it predates the move-to-chat option).

  • Aaron asks about bias, not comment deletions in general.

  • NBZ asked about the deletion of a single comment. A moderator explained why and offered to nonetheless undelete it. The top-voted answer supports the policy.

  • Loewian: I do not understand why you think that supports generous retention policies.

  • Matt asks about answers, and the answers address his question pretty well.

It appears to me that you believe the lurkers support you in email (sic), but if so they're going to need to speak up. A stronger case is needed in order to overturn what is (a) SE-wide policy and (b) long-standing policy on this site. At the very least, the community would need to demonstrate clear support for a change through voting.

And finally, a response to your request

You would like moderators to leave in place all comments except "those that are truly egregious", on the grounds that they might be useful to somebody. Or, at least, you would like them all to be moved to chat before being deleted.

On the first, leaving comments in place: the people who run Stack Exchange have been doing this way longer than we moderators have, and they've garnered experience from 150 sites. They have a lot of experience and data on which to base their guidelines, and in working with them I have found the members of the Community team (the folks who guide and supervise moderators) to be thoughtful, helpful, and pretty clued-in. Sure, sometimes they mess up, or something that works on one site doesn't work on another, but they give us a pretty good foundation. Absent a reason to make a change, we should do what has been shown to work.

On moving to chat: as a kindness, I will try to move even more comment threads to chat if it looks like there's something interesting (but that doesn't belong on main) that people are discussing. This is not a promise that every comment will be preserved in this way; I will still use my judgement, and other moderators will have to speak for themselves. Comments that are rude or hostile will still be deleted; the be nice policy applies everywhere on Stack Exchange, including chat. And comments that I notice are obsolete probably won't survive because, well, who needs notes that don't even apply any more? Comments that violate site policy don't have some nebulous "right" to exist just because somebody likes them, but if a productive conversation is happening I'll try to relocate it.

One caveat on that: once comments have been moved to chat we can't add comments to chat, so if the discussion continues in comments after the earlier ones have been relocated, we're just going to delete those. When there's a chat room, use it. Of course, comments that are valid comments under the policy -- seeking clarification, etc -- should continue to be left as comments, not buried in a chat room.

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The Stack Exchange model of structured Q&A is not a problem; it is why any of us are here, rather than one one of the many fine fora on the Internet for open-ended discussion of Judaism.

An important aspect of this model is that the only content that we genuinely maintain is the structured Q&A content. That way, we can focus our efforts on making that content as accurate, accessible, and high-quality as we can, and we can ensure that people who get to Mi Yodeya via search, browse the site, or post their own questions here can find the answers that they're looking for, where they'd expect to find them.

Consequently, we are not in the business, on the main site, of maintaining archives of discussions. As explained in msh210's answer to a previous post on this topic, the commenting system exists for specific purposes, all serving the main content:

  • Requesting or suggesting improvements to posts
  • Pointing out related material
  • Suggesting leads for possible answers

By design, the comment system is not built for more open-ended discussion or for maintaining archives. It does not provide for any notion of threaded conversations; even the ability to cause other users to be notified of replies to their comments is significantly limited. It also doesn't provide for ongoing editing and maintenance by the community, and it doesn't let comment authors see comments which have been deleted.

For open-ended conversation, even including extended discussion about improving particular posts, we have a chat system that does archive content indefinitely, does provide for threaded conversation, and is in other ways optimized for that purpose.

Therefore, I think that any comments that aren't part of the mission described above (and again, in more detail, in msh210's answer) should continue to be deleted.

In many cases, a post will attract an extended conversation in comments that includes or borders on potential improvement of the post or potential answers. In those cases, I think that moderators should err on the side of moving the whole conversation to Chat and letting participants continue there. If the moderators, in doing that, see particular comments that are not part of the big conversation thread and that qualify under the mission described above, they should undelete them in their original location on the post. However, if they don't do this, the comments will remain in the chat room, which will be linked from a comment on the post (at least, as long as the improvements/answers it's discussing have not yet been addressed), and participants will be able to see them there and, if they see fit, petition for their undeletion as comments.

It's quite possible that what I've just described is the same as or very similar to the current practice by the moderators.

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    Thanks for the great answer. One potential issue, I think, is the third acceptable purpose for comments you have listed: "Suggesting leads for possible answers." I think a lot of comments that end up being deleted are aiming to do precisely that. But if the comments are deleted before such answers can materialize, then that's a problem. Would you consider recommending more conservative deletion (than now) of comments that might fall under this banner? – SAH Dec 9 '15 at 11:13
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    @SAH, my last two paragraphs apply to those. – Isaac Moses Dec 9 '15 at 12:11
  • Thank you for your suggestions; I really think they would go a long way toward making the improvements I am after. I would like to know, tangentially, how to find the chats into which comments have been moved? I never seem to see these links, if they exist, and would wonder if there were a way to make them more prominent. – SAH Dec 9 '15 at 12:29
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    @SAH when comments are moved to chat a comment linking to that chat is automatically generated on the post they were moved from. That is the canonical place to find that link. – Monica Cellio Dec 9 '15 at 14:08
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    @SAH Here is an example of such a link judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/65463/… – Double AA Dec 9 '15 at 22:46
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    Pending any new answers with radically different scores, I hereby consider this discussion resolved in favor of the upvoted answers and against the downvoted post. Thank you everyone for your participation. – Double AA Dec 10 '15 at 18:03
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This is not going to be a super well researched answer, but it will point out some trends or some situations that I see arise.

There are many times I want to answer the question asked, in a way that might help the OP, or be the answer that the OP is looking for, but I fear to do so for fear of downvotes. One of these situations was the situation that SAH brought up in which i left my answers in the comments section because i was afraid that other users (or more specifically mods) might downvote my answer into oblivion or post negative comments that start a non useful debate that often devolves in a way that doesn't help anything, and then raises a debate of if the comments that are deleted were done with bias. And even in posting my answer to the comments, it turned into a back and forth conversation that didn't need to be there and took away from the answer i was trying to provide. But i think this situation represents a gray area that Mi Yodeya has that might not exist in other SE websites. Which is that we have a lot of gray area in terms of answers. There are many questions that can only be answered by historical or anecdotal information (such as Monica's question on when the Te'amim were written down), and often answering things from these perspectives gets you a lot of downvotes or negative comments. So one can find himself stuck in the situation of "if i answer, i know people who don't like my sources will downvote, but if i comment then it'll get deleted..." or "if i answer i know there will be a fight in the comments section with someone in a higher position than me and i really don't want to engage in that....i just want to help answer this person's question..." So sometimes i (and i imagine other users) just don't put anything at all, because it seems like a damned if you do damned if you don't system.

i would like to see less comments deleted because sometimes as a user i feel like the only safe place to put information is in the comments. But i think this raises the question of what kind of answer does Mi Yodeya allow? And which is more important, answering the questioners question, or providing an answer that the rest of the online community agrees with hashgafically? Because if it's the latter, then the only safe space is comments, which then run the risk of being deleted.

  • No one has downvoted your post to that question of Monica's judaism.stackexchange.com/a/66045/759 fwiw. – Double AA Dec 10 '15 at 19:28
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    IAE, if you have questions about the scope of the site, or if your potential answer is in scope, please bring them to [meta]. All questions and answers should be in scope for the site. Nothing to do with Hashkafa. If it's in scope please post it as an answer. If it's not, probably not worth putting it in a comment, though you could try if it's very relevant. Problem solved! Recall we don't claim to be a site that host every possible answer; only those in our scope. If you have answers that are out of scope you should find another place to put them. – Double AA Dec 10 '15 at 19:32
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    Since you seem particularly worried about downvotes in the context of other people's hashkafa, consider my (unofficial) guidelines for downvoting here. – Double AA Dec 10 '15 at 19:38
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    I think the solution to the quandary you discuss in this post is threefold: 1. Post the best answer you can. 2. If that is sourceless or otherwise lacking, briefly mention in the answer or a comment on it why it's lacking (e.g., because sources don't exist; this may help prevent downvotes). 3. Don't care so much about downvotes. See also meta.judaism.stackexchange.com/q/2154 and meta.judaism.stackexchange.com/q/1444#tab-top – msh210 Dec 10 '15 at 19:47
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    "higher position than me" What position is "higher" and in what way is that "higher"-ness relevant to the argument? Would you be ok posting if the only person who disagreed was "lower" than you? Why? – Double AA Dec 10 '15 at 19:48
  • @msh210 The answers i'm speaking of aren't sourceless, but some people don't agree with the sources – Aaron Dec 10 '15 at 20:25
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    @Aaron People are generally pretty good about not downvoting valid sources they personally disagree with. See my linked-to answer above. – Double AA Dec 10 '15 at 20:34
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    This post proposes that to combat an issue of people not knowing where to put answers, we should allow for more comments to remain. I disagree with this proposal, preferring that we direct such users to the answer box. Hence -1 (-1 means "I disagree with this proposal"). Thank you for sharing your proposal here. – Double AA Dec 10 '15 at 20:37

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