Have you ever seen a comment under that made no sense? Maybe the comment mentioned something about the question that wasn't there any more (maybe a typo was edited out of the question), or a comment reading "this question is extremely unclear" when the question is perfectly clear.

These are cases where a comment pointed out a problem with a questions, and the question was fixed. Do those comments have any reason at all to exist any longer?

In the past, I've been quite against the idea of deleting comments at all. It seems like it's important to show new users how the site works: Leave a comment about a problem, the problem will get fixed. It shows new users how the system works, it's clear, and it's transparent.

However, I recently came across this Q&A thread over on Meta Stack Overflow: Should moderators delete “make correction… done” comments? The currently-most-upvoted answer says, in effect, that such comments should be removed, and that most users probably would be okay with that. The next most popular answer says that we should be extremely careful, since comment deletion is, to paraphrase, completely untransparent.

What that means is that if a mod or high-rep user deletes a comment, we don't see that there's a deleted comment unless we click on the moderator menu and dig for it. So, if I go and delete a comment like "Should be pedal not peddle" after fixing the typo, it'll be more or less gone for good. If the original user didn't like that, I do have the ability to copy-paste the text and send it that user but I don't have the power to restore the comment.

I'm going to suggest that we try this out on a trial basis, being very conservative about this. How about this:

  • If you see a comment mentioning an obvious typo, flag it for a mod and we'll delete it, but only if it's an incredibly obvious, simple case of comment clutter.
  • If there's any kind of discussion going on, we'll leave things alone. If the two users involved in a discussion want it deleted, should we agree to do that?

In all cases, I'd be more comfortable with this if the request came from the original comment author.

Like the title says, who's bothered by a long comment thread and would want it pruned? Who thinks it's a horrible idea and we shouldn't do it?

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  • I'd like to also say that, since this has nothing to do with the main content of the site, I'm not comfortable doing any of this without a clear consensus that people want this. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Jul 11 '11 at 17:59
  • Here's a good example. If this question were substantially edited and reopened, should we delete the debate in the comments about closing the question? – Goodbye Stack Exchange Jul 12 '11 at 4:34
  • where did moz 'mozbike' go? I didn't think you could delete yourself here and I don't like it how someone can go, taking their answers with them. How do we get him back??? – ʍǝɥʇɐɯ Jul 23 '11 at 18:19

If the comment is a straight and simple correction with no other content, such as:

Did you forget to mention foo? -- Helpful commenter
Indeed I did, adding it now -- Post owner

Obviously the intended audience, the post owner, already saw it because they replied to it. I don't see any value in that comment pair remaining around provided the original post got updated. So I would encourage flagging such comments as obsolete and moderators removing them.

However, if the comment contains other information, like

You might also mention foo. I have used foo before with great results when I needed to bar my baz. -- Helpful commenter

Then it can probably stay, since it isn't merely a correction.

In a more general sense, If all you need to mention in a comment is some kind of correction, I would encourage corrections to be made directly as edits or suggested edits rather than leaving a comment. This is faster and more direct for everyone involved.

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I suggest you delete historical comments and dialogs which detract from the answer or are unhelpful.

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  • Do you have examples? (Or do you just agree with Jeff's answer?) I'm uneasy about doing this, and am looking for specific guidance here. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Jul 13 '11 at 0:30
  • I have no complaints. – ChrisW Jul 13 '11 at 4:00
  • @Neil - I reviewed the historical first 70 questions on the site and found no comments that I didn't enjoy. To look for examples, a hint may be to review comments which include '@', because these comments are addressing a user instead of the original post and are discussion. – ChrisW Jul 13 '11 at 13:36
  • You can also review the comment history of specific users. – ChrisW Jul 13 '11 at 13:43
  • Unfortunately, the @replies are being stripped from comments in specific cases, so they may not continue to be a reliable indicator of this sort of thing. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Jul 13 '11 at 14:01
  • According to this answer there's only one case (addressing @postowner isn't necessary because the OP always receives notification of new comments). – ChrisW Jul 13 '11 at 14:31

For the record, I delete my own comments, answers and questions when I have got it wrong, which never happens, does it!!! Well, actually it does all the time, but I would prefer to just delete my own rubbish rather than make some weak effort to 'defend' it.

I sort of expect others to tidy up their comments so a mini-conversation that is no longer needed is not one-sided, barking at the wall nonsense.

Anyway, some tidying up of comment threads where one side has deleted their comments is something that needs looking into.

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  • I agree, a one-sided conversation looks pretty silly. For now, maybe we can try pinging someone in with an @reply in chat if you want to delete a conversation that's outdated, but I personally would tread very lightly with this. I'd be uncomfortable deleting comments that aren't mine. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Jul 20 '11 at 4:58

If there's going to be some cleanup, the specific guidelines in Neil's original question look reasonable to me.

The comment clutter doesn't bother me one bit (especially since only the first few comments are displayed if there are a lot of them) so I do wonder if mods' time would be better spent elsewhere. (To be clear, nothing specifically springs to mind here--except maybe a nice bike ride?)

I'm not opposed to the concept, just don't particularly see the need.

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The only time I've been severely offended by a mod on an SE site, was when I had an answer deleted because someone from another country decided it was too US centric an answer and got a couple other local people to flag it. He deleted the comment without a word to me.

(As it turned out, he was within the rules, and he'd converted it to a comment, but I didn't see that or, really, care.)

.SE sites build because of the community feeling, and while comments like those described serve little useful purpose once the request for change is fulfilled, they do remind us all that this is our place. That what we do matters here, and we belong.

This, along with the transparency issues, make me think that deleted "non-useful" comments, even with the best intentions, isn't a road I want to go down.

Being a site moderator is difficult job. You have to stay neutral, make your decisions in the light of what's best for the site, keep a very light hand on the reins while simultaneously holding hard to the rules, and knowing that no matter what you do, someone is likely to be unhappy.

Why add complexity to that job by asking them to clean up after all the "fix it" comments.

Perhaps we should request that rather than comment on things like that, the users simply edit the correction into the answer. And for those not having the rep to do so, we should add an expectation that that kind of housekeeping is expected of the member themselves, and will only be taken on the moderators part if a 30 day(?) time limit is past. This will help maintain the community feel, and the sense of participation in the content creation.

Just my 2 cents.

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  • 4
    Definitely a good idea to favor editing over commenting for corrections! – Jeff Atwood Jul 12 '11 at 16:25

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