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If you follow meta, you have seen considerable discussion lately regarding comment deletion. Usually comments are deleted because they are obsolete, off topic, impolite, or have turned into noise (long, extended discussions that detract from the actual post).

Normally, this deletion goes on quietly behind the scenes so that you, our community, do not get bogged down in the tedium of moderator actions. However, I thought I'd try to get some community consensus on this process.

The type of comments that we normally delete:

  1. "So true / +1 Excellent question!" / "I had never thought of this before." / [insert funny comment]

    Noise: These types of comments are pure noise. We usually let them stick around for a few days while the question develops, but there's little need to keep them around in the archives since they simply takes up real-estate on the screen.

  2. "Could you add a reference?" / "Don't forget Mark 97:32!" / "How does this address X?"

    Obsolete: These are comments that tend to go obsolete after a post has been edited. We know that these are obsolete because they're often followed up with "Good point. I added that to my post!"

  3. "Well, what about X?" / "If you believe that, you must believe X"

    Off topic: Discussions that take place in comments can sometimes add to and improve a post. However, most of the time, they tend to be off topic. Comments about slavery (for example) on a question about stealing are clearly off topic and tend to get removed.

  4. Extended discussions

    Non-Constructive: Comments are intended to be used to help improve a question or an answer. The way Stack Exchange is architected, comments are meant to be very temporary in nature. Because of this built-in architecture, they tend to be poor places for extended discussions. Therefore, the moderators (both voluntary and SE employees) tend to remove extended discussions after a certain point and direct people to the chat room (since chat is more permanent, more immediate, and intended for long discussions).

Our ideal is that these types of comments would be automatically cleaned up by their posters. However, we're all human and we tend to forget sometimes that something has been resolved or we tend to get carried away and forget to move to chat.

So our question is, how else can we help the community understand comment cleanup?

In addition, would you the community be willing to flag such comments left by others that are obsolete, chatty, or not constructive for us to clean up?

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    <removed obsolete comments> ;-) – Caleb Sep 21 '11 at 22:31
  • Related answer on Programmers.SE -- When should comments be deleted? – Caleb Sep 21 '11 at 22:52
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    One thing to consider: avoid deleting comments with a score of 5 or more, as there's a badge for them – dancek Sep 21 '11 at 23:49
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    @dancek: Once you receive a badge, it's permanent, even if the comment gets deleted. 5 up votes is not a good enough reason to keep an obsolete comment around, IMO. – Flimzy Sep 22 '11 at 0:00
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    I think the problem here is how quickly you are deleting the comments. Even +1's and random comments help build on the general information in the question, and assuming all good information will always be edited into the Q and As is folly. When modding myself, unless it's comment warring I don't delete comments until at least a month after, and then I am judicious in what should be left as potentially value add. – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Sep 25 '11 at 12:33
  • @mxyzplk I agree about value-added comments. However, if you look at the guidelines that I use (in the question), none of those would be considered value-added, in my opinion. Comments that offer problems with the post should not, in my opinion, ever be deleted unless it's fixed. (At which point, they fall into the second category above.) – Richard Sep 25 '11 at 19:39
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    Be that as it may, you are getting negative feedback on comment deletion here not because people are SE noobs, but because the comment deletion here is way more aggressive than any other SE I've seen. – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Sep 25 '11 at 21:53
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    @mxyzplk Since you're a mod, You might try looking here to see how we stack up. We may be more aggressive than some, but we're nothing compared to others. – Richard Sep 26 '11 at 13:30
  • Where do I find comments from mods who delete my posts. I must be missing how/where I will find justification for a deletion, from the mod. I have recently noticed at least one comment to a poster whose voice was detracting from an otherwise good answer. I commented on this with suggestive intent, which I believe was constructive; gone today. ??? – Abstraction is everything. Jan 20 '17 at 19:47
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It's no wonder users are taken aback when Stack Exchange works against their spirited debate and conversation. Before Christianity SE, "traditional" discussion forums taught us to jump into the fray of the witty and insightful discussions where you could bounce off off into ever-branching sub-conversations as easily as you could click and type.

The problem is that most online discourse reaches noise levels reminiscent of a group of friends at a spirited get-together. Stack Exchange specifically discourages that type of debate and on-going discussion. That is by design — but to understand why comments are so transient and expendable, you have to understand the core purpose of Stack Exchange's behavior.

Stack Exchange in a Nutshell

After someone asks a question, members of the community propose answers. Others vote on those answers. Very quickly, the best answers rise to the top. You don’t have to read through a lot of discussion to find the best answer. If an answer can be improved, users can edit the post.

Comments help facilitate that wiki-style editing by allowing us to ask for a bit of clarification or otherwise help improve that post. That's what comments are for. Period.

When users start adding important, useful, and interesting information in the commentary, you break down that structure of "one question, best answer." You have to comb through all the commentary for import addendums and corrections and partial answers and important bits of information spread throughout. That entirely defeats the purpose of having a Stack Exchange site on Christianity.

It's not enough to say that your comment is just harmless banter that isn't hurting anything. Users will imitate what they see, so when they see conversations posing as answers, they'll follow with their own… and the problem propagates.

There's nothing inherently wrong with communities that that want free, open-ended discussion and back-and-forth debate. If traditional forums are your choice, there are certainly enough of them out there.

But on Stack Exchange, routine cleanup of comments helps enforce the purpose of comments. Comments are there to discuss improvements to the post. When their purpose has been served, they are deleted. When comments drift into conversations, they should be deleted. It's all part of discouraging comments from becoming mini chat systems…

… and for users who have been around long enough to see how well this system works, it is a welcome change.

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From Robert's answer: Users will imitate what they see, so when they see conversations posing as answers, they'll follow with their own… and the problem propagates.

I couldn't agree more. So while I appreciate that "Normally, this deletion goes on quietly behind the scenes so that you, our community, do not get bogged down in the tedium of moderator actions" I'd rather see action being taken to remove noisy/obsolete/off-topic comments than to allow the problem to propagate and change Christianity.SE into something it's not intended to be. Hopefully the message will get across and it will become more of a background task eventually, but in the meantime delete away!

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I recently came to this site from RPG.SE. This site allows WAY more comment discussion than that one does, and is much kinder about comment cleanup. What I see as the results of this are:

  1. People are more relaxed

  2. New users are much more likely to visit the help center and much less likely to rage-implode after their question is closed and they decide the 'mods' must be against them.

  3. unhelpful/offensive comment discussions happen, and you have to learn to ignore them or flag them.

  4. helpful comment discussions can lead to an answer being improved.

That being said, I'd like to point out that #3 vastly outweighs the rest of the differences. The signal/noise ratio is important and there is a much higher noise-by-volume amount here due to the discussions. I think getting the community involved on policing unhelpful comments here would be a good idea. In order to do that, I recommend getting a series of meta posts going where you rehash out your comment philosophy and figure out how you want comments to work on your site. These need to be supremely well-writen posts, preferably by diamond moderators and other extremely high-rep members of the community. These posts should recieve at least 50 or so upvotes as a test of their worth. Then, whenever you delete a comment you can leave an enforcement comment (which is useful) saying something like "please don't argue in comments" or "arguing in comments will be punished-- in this world and the next. See this meta post for details". This encourages people to read the meta posts about comments and gets them excited and behind the 'new' comment use philosophy.

Addendum: You note in your post that "[insert funny comment]" is noise and should be deleted. I like funny comments. When they are well done, they help build a sense of community without taking away much of anything from posts. That said, their frequency should be limited. On RPG.SE how we deal with it is the mods don't actively remove them, and if it makes you laugh, that's good, but they get deleted as soon as someone decides to flag them as not constructive. This is, in practice, almost the same as 'leave them around for a few days', but I think it much better embodies the spirit of SE in involving the community rather than diamond moderators. It also allows particularly appropriate and expert humor to persist indefinitely-- of value even years later to someone looking up the question.

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