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Without rehashing How long is an "Extended discussion" or Should Moderators be able to use their privileges to benefit their own posts, I am polling the community to establish a norm on this community for dealing with comments on questions and answers.

How do comments work?

The comment privilege states:

What are comments?

Comments are temporary "Post-It" notes left on a question or answer. They can be upvoted (but not downvoted) and flagged, but do not generate reputation. There's no revision history, and when they are deleted they're gone for good.

When should I comment? You should submit a comment if you want to:

  • Request clarification from the author;
  • Leave constructive criticism that guides the author in improving the post;
  • Add 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).

When shouldn't I comment?

Comments are not recommended for any of the following:

  • Suggesting corrections that don't fundamentally change the meaning of the post; instead, make or suggest an edit;

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

  • Compliments which do not add new information ("+1, great answer!"); instead, upvote it and pay it forward;

  • Criticisms which do not add anything constructive ("-1, see previous comments you scallywag!"); instead, downvote (and provide or upvote a better answer if appropriate);

  • Secondary discussion or debating a controversial point; please use chat instead;

  • Discussion of community behavior or site policies; please use meta instead.

Further information is provided at a Stack Meta level (i.e. for all Stack Exchange sites) in How do comments work?

Relevantly:

Comments are often used to ask for clarification on, suggest corrections to, and provide meta-information about posts.

Comments are disposable: unlike posts, there's no public revision history, and they can be deleted without warning by their authors, by moderators, and in response to flags.

Who can delete comments?

A user may delete one of their own comments at any time by clicking on the "Delete" button that appears to the right of the comment's timestamp when the comment is moused over.

Comments that are flagged by multiple users are deleted automatically. The number of flags needed is usually based on the comment's score. It currently takes "3 + (Score / 3)" flags (rounded up) to delete a comment. Comments containing certain keywords can be deleted with a single flag.

Moderators can delete any comment, or purge all comments from a post. They also have the ability to move all of a post's comments to chat.

When should comments be deleted?

Comments are temporary "Post-It" notes left on a question or answer. You should not expect them to be around forever. Once a clarification has been made, an edit added to the post to include new information, or the issue in the comment is otherwise resolved, it is subject to deletion. In reality, many obsolete or chatty comments remain untouched due to the high volume of comments posted, but this does not mean that they can't or shouldn't be deleted in the future.

My view

Comments should be deleted once they have served their purpose

The stated Stack Exchange intention for comments is to:

  • Request clarification from the author;
  • Leave constructive criticism that guides the author in improving the post;
  • Add 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).

The first two of these are related in that they are a call to action for the OP to edit address the comment ideally by either by editing their post in response or considering the comment and deciding their post is fine without editing (possibly leaving a comment in reply) or, less ideally, by never bothering to do this. In any event, once the OP has done (or not done) something about it the comment has served its purpose and should be deleted, as should any too-and-fro comments that it prompted.

Meta comments (such as a link to a related but not duplicate question) serve an ongoing purpose and should be left in perpetuity although, given that comments can be deleted at any time (and I don't know if they survive the deletion of the user) it may be better if this type of thing could be incorporated into the OP. I have seen this done and done it my self, crediting the poster of the the comment.

Of course, we also get comments that fall into the "When shouldn't I comment?" category. Users should be encouraged to do the action suggested instead and the comments should be deleted. Where they are of the "Secondary discussion or debating a controversial point" type they should be moved to chat as well.

As a practical matter, because users can only delete their own comments, comments for deletion need to be flagged for a mod. There is a canned "No longer needed" flag and requests to move to chat should use the "Something else" flag with a "move to chat" comment.

In addition, mods can decide that comments are no longer required by either 'cruising past' a question or by actively seeking out old comments through search tools.

However ...

If this community wants to treat comments differently than the Stack Exchange norm I am totally OK with that so:

How to deal with comments?

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Law.SE guidelines layout rules we all can agree to

Law.SE works because we have all agreed to a set of rules when we started using the site these rules are layed out for all of us to follow, and they work quite well.

These rules tell us that comments are used to:

  • Clarify an answers/questions
  • Leave constructive criticism
  • Improve on the question/answer

(as laid out in the post above)

Where we run into trouble is when these rules aren't followed.

What good is a Clarification if it disappears; What good is constructive criticism if it's never seen; What good is making suggestion to a question if it's never added.

comments have a life-span, they come, and they go, but they should never be taken before their time because what good were they in the first place.

Sometimes comments need to live longer than others because their usefulness can outlive the popularity of the post. I can recall a great number of posts that had become clear to me after reading the conversation in the comments.

For Example

An answer quotes the plain language of a statute, but a comment states that the application of the statute doesn't follow the actual wording and provides case law to back it up, if that comment is removed after a couple of days and you go back and read the answer you'll side with the OP.

The site does have too many useless comments

The site has way too many useless comments, probably because nobody likes the chatroom setup and how disconnected it is from the site (Just check how many times the SideBar has been frozen), but why start cleanup with debatable comments, there's plenty of "Yeah man that's happened to me too" out there that can be removed.

Comment cleanup doesn't start with strong-arming borderline conversation, it starts with slowly raising the standards by cleaning up comments that without debate break our rules.

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I asked about this on SO several years ago, and humorously, much of the interesting discussion happened in the comments before being deleted.

My view is that there can be interesting material there that helps people to understand why the answer is what it is, or at least why the edits are what they are. So when comments serve an educational purpose, or when they clarify the answer in a way that the answer does not implement, they should definitely stay.

If people request clarification, which is then provided in a way that replicates the comment, that's probably deletable.

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IMO, one valid use of comments is to set forth a challenge to an answer, especially when the answer is wrong in some fashion. Perhaps the commentator should write the comment as a separate answer: though there is also the practice of answer-demotion where a short answer is reduced to a comment (which perhaps we should prohibit). Simply erasing the counterexample is not a good move. OTOH, purported counter-considerations are very often completely or largely irrelevant. Leaving a comment undeleted where there is no corresponding change in the answer or question is in a way informative: it could mean "I reject your claim as lacking merit, without discussion", but without the harsh language. It could also mean "I didn't see this comment". Unfortunately, it might also mean "Yes, that is correct", without there being an explicit acceptance of the point.

In general, having comments hang on forever is not a fundamental problem (feel free to explain why they are). There are two fundamental problems with comments. First is that they tend to devolve into boring forum-like conversations between 2 parties. Second, they can get really long. This class of comments should be deleted (well, the content should be put into an answer or the question, and if not, after a reasonable period, they should disappear).

The auto-jurisdiction question is also not useful (the one where the comment is "Jurisdiction?"). For example, any lease-related question requires country, state / province / department and maybe municipality information to give a really definitive statutory answer. Most people asking do not know this and do not know what "Jurisdiction?" means. Sometimes there really is no possible answer without specifying the jurisdiction. Often, you can go a fair distance just based on "average legal systems". Or, make a more useful comment like "The law differs even in Brazil between the various states, so we need to know where this is happening".

The discussion would benefit from a clearer statement of why comments are an intrinsic problem.

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The new comment-removal fetish is pointless and should be reversed.

Although there are plenty of exceptions, there is an abundance of comments that add useful information to the answer and further the broader purposes of Law.SE.

We've all read that comments don't have to be retained forever, but no one involved in perpetuating the changed approach to comments has explained how the site is improved by concealing on-point comments.

Until they can do that, the new moderator(s) involved in this practice should find some other way to use their new powers that would provide an articulable benefit to the community.

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We are not an outlier

Thanks for the thoughtful feedback. In response, I've queried my assumptions and had a look at the data.

This is a chart showing our comments per post compared to some other sites in the SE network. The data has been normalised so its comparable1.

enter image description here

Politics is the only real outlier - understandably given their topic.

Solution

Continue as we are.

Very long comment threads (16+) can be safely moved to chat because chat rooms with 15+ post from at least 2 people (and who's going to post 15 unanswered comments?) are permanent so none of the discussion is lost. It cleans up the interface and those who are interested in the cut-and-thrust of legal debate can follow the link.

Thanks again for the input.

1 For example, we have a total of 18,327 comments while Stack Overflow has 24,643,504. They also have 1 post with 157 comments - this one.

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  • look you say "leave well enough alone" then why are you still doing it? – User37849012643 Oct 10 '19 at 4:52
  • why did you make this post if you weren't going to listen to feedback? – User37849012643 Nov 16 '19 at 7:33
  • I did listen, I have considered and I have modified my behaviour – Dale M Nov 16 '19 at 20:24
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We have no reason to act differently than the generic Stack Exchange policy anticipates.

We've been slacking in enforcing this partly because our active user base is small and partly because we had lower moderator availability than we needed prior to this month (a combination of growth in workload and a stagnation of mod activity).

That's not a reason to keep allowing low standards, especially when we can do something about it.

  • Comments that suggest a change which is incorporated to the post are redundant and potentially misleading, and should be deleted. This includes comments that add a linked question - the link remains on the question after the comment goes away.

  • Comments that lead into discussion related to, but not about, the post should be moved to chat.

  • Comments that are not and were not ever either of those things should not have been made in the first place and should be deleted.

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