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I see a lot of parenthetical "discussions" taking place in comments section of this site. That raises an interesting question — Comment-discussions are typically deleted as off-topic, but how can we redirect those energies to say "okay, that's interesting… just not here." Chat is really where these discussions belong.

Take a look at comments following these questions:

The comments about the questions veer off into a debates about moral relativism, Natural Law, and intelligent design. Nothing wrong with that but…

Comments were never meant to branch off into chatty, forum-style discussions. Comments are simply to ask for clarifications about the post. Yet, if someone mentions a tenet of philosophy in a post, it seems perfectly natural to want to discuss the underlying principles… even beyond the specific question being asked.

So what do we do when these discussions emerge? I'm looking for moderation policies or, perhaps, features added directly to the site.

I want to encourage the learning aspect of the site. I'd rather not have to blindly delete these comment threads just to make the point "stop frigging doing it…" but we have to find a way to redirect those energies in a way that does not break the underlying software behavior.

Suggestions welcome.

  • Is anyone else tired of all the energy that the SE team seems to be putting into chat? What happened to us being a Q&A site? I've never seen any other Q&A site with live chat. – Cody Gray Jul 12 '11 at 23:20
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    @Cody Gray: How exactly is this tiring to you? We have a reasonably large team working on your stuff, too. A few programmers where hired specifically to work on chat, and I think the design has done a brilliant job of keeping the chat rooms as a "third place." blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/04/… It really shouldn't infringe on your experience one bit. – Robert Cartaino Jul 12 '11 at 23:30
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    You're right--up until very recently, I was perfectly content ignoring the chat aspects of the site altogether. Recently, it seems to be bleeding over into the other aspects of the site, quite a bit in contradiction with Jeff's words at the end of the linked blog post. I think there is fundamentally something wrong with funneling discussions into chat rooms. Why not get people to ask questions about the things they're unclear on, instead? That contributes to the site at large, and is one of the things that differentiates SE from the dizzying array of other sites that exists. – Cody Gray Jul 12 '11 at 23:51
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    @Cody: you should... Post that in an answer... – Shog9 Jul 13 '11 at 6:28
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    You don't have all that much learning without discussions in a comment section. The discussions don't belong in chat, because any discussion needs a context, and the question given provides a context... chat doesn't. – Doug Spoonwood Sep 25 '11 at 23:11
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Well, it isn't easy to keep comments focused on the question or answer at hand. Regardless of what comments are designed for, they only sort of work for the kind of back-and-forth that seems required to clarify philosophical points. I don't know if these should be universal, but here are my personal guidelines (not always followed):

  1. Comments should be directed toward a specific idea mentioned in the original post.

    a. Comments about questions should be limited to clarifications or compliments only. If you have more to say, do it in an answer.

    b. Comments about answers can raise simple objections to a point made by the answer. If you have more to say, consider answering the question separately or perhaps asking an alternate question.

  2. When comments point out a valid critique of your post, they should be addressed in the post if possible.

    a. Valid critique of questions should be addressed by reworking the question, not in the comments.

    b. Valid critique of answers should be addressed by adding arguments or correcting mistakes in the answer itself.

  3. Invalid critiques of your post may be addressed in the post, but consider asking a separate question if applicable.

Most of the time comment threads spiral out of control because two or more parties begin to comment on other comments. That sort of thing will happen from time to time, but at some point the discussion is self-feeding. Diverting it to another question or answer seems to help limit the damage. Both parties can have their say and answers may co-exist.

Basically, StackExchange supports detailed explanations in posts, but not in the comments. Convincing others to move their helpful comments into their post or changing their post to respond is difficult and not really part of the culture yet. It takes discipline.

One advantage of my guidelines would be that more questions are asked and answered. It seems too much energy is being burned in the comments at the moment.

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Thanks for bringing this up.

All these interesting 20+ comment discussions should be moved to chat rooms. If I am recalling correctly there may even be some little utility that can transfer the entire content of a comment-discussion to a separate chat room. If that is the case that would be my suggested resolution on this -- transferring the content of the comment-discussions into rooms for the participants to continue the discussion there if they wish.

Now, as far as new features go, perhaps it might be possible to take measures to restrict comment intensity in general -- which could be implemented by a slightly longer throttle delay on individual comment contributions, louder/more annoying warnings about extended comment discussion, or possibly a hard limit on the number of comments an individual can contribute to a post.

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    I disagree about moving these to chat--that's the wrong direction. Often I think comments are placed initially in order to register a dissenting opinion. Moving to chat hides those comments from causal visitors and may make commentators feel less heard. I better solution is to elevate comments to the core Q&A portion of the site somehow. – Jon Ericson Jul 13 '11 at 16:39
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    I also disagree with any sorts of automated limiting of comments. The system can't tell the difference between a good, controlled interchange of comments and out-of-control comments. Only people can do that. – Jon Ericson Jul 13 '11 at 16:40
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Interesting question. Despite having been here for only a few days, I have already found myself engaged in discussions within conversations. It often happens that while discussing a certain knowledge issue, others arise. I personally find it difficult to believe that this wouldn't happen. Perhaps a sort of "Split Discussion Node" question could be implemented, through which readers could branch their discussions.

For example, a link could indicate that a certain question arisen from a discussion within a previous question is now being discussed in a separate environment, and has been moved to a new question. This way comments would remain on-topic and, at the same time, discussion would be promoted.

In the long term, this could form a potential "Tree of Concepts" indicating which questions could arise from other discussions. As I see it, it should not be too hard to implement but, again, my programming skills and experience are very limited!

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    Using Stack Exchange takes a bit of getting used to in that we don't actually promote discussions like traditional forums. We're here to build an archive of knowledge based on specific, answerable questions; not through discussion, but through questions answerable through specific expertise. That seems a bit contrary to your garden variety philosophical debates, but that's what we do. Here's a bit of background why we work that way: blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/09/good-subjective-bad-subjective and scobleizer.com/2009/11/02/… – Robert Cartaino Jul 20 '11 at 19:40
  • Dear @Robert Cartaino, I understand what you mean, but what if certain questions did not have a definite answer? I'd feel that subtracting discussion and dialogue from Philosophy deprives it of its very nature... – max0005 Jul 20 '11 at 19:44
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    That's why we provide a "third place" to give folks a place to get away from the work of creating Q&A: chat.philosophy.stackexchange.com. We specifically forgo extended discussions as part of our design (stackexchange.com/about). It's entirely possible that the subject of "philosophy" might not do well as a Stack Exchange Q&A without extended forum-style discussions... but that has not been our experience. – Robert Cartaino Jul 20 '11 at 19:59

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