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Building on 'not in comments please!', what concrete steps can we take towards encouraging broader use of the chat functionality in favor of extended comment-based discussion?

Note that comments are generally considered fairly disposable as your contributions to StackExchange go -- they are regarded by many as a necessary evil. For my part I am planning on beginning to review and if necessary selectively purging excessively long comment chains.

  • Why do you want to take such steps in the first place? A discussion generally needs a context to work well. I don't see a context provided by a chat. However, a question given does provide a context, and thus naturally makes discussion easier. If you think comments can wander "off-topic", that's not necessarily a bad thing, since it can show connections between the question and other ideas. It doesn't cause confusion to have extended discussions in a question... it helps to get rid of the false impression that questions do have clear-cut, simple answers. – Doug Spoonwood Sep 25 '11 at 23:08
  • @DougSpoonwood Comments are not intended to enable general discussion. In fact, the main SE site really isn't the place for discussion; 'context' should come from the questions and answers. Comments are supposed to clarify the original contribution -- an edit should be made on the question, and once an update has been made, the comment should be removed. Please don't rely on a point made below the fold in a long comment thread to clarify the question or answer -- just update the question or answer to reflect the clarification. – Joseph Weissman Sep 25 '11 at 23:26
  • Whether particular comments are or are not intended to enable general discussion depends on the person making the comment. Though the people designing the comments section may not have intended general discussion to come about, other people might intend to use the comments section otherwise. My point above comes as that you won't get as much discussion in the chat area as you potentially could in a given comment section, because chat lacks a contextual setup. – Doug Spoonwood Sep 26 '11 at 1:09
  • @DougSpoonwood The question of intent aside, the purpose of comments on SE is to clarify contributions. They should not be used to engage in involved/extended discussion, analysis or debate. As far as chat does, it does have some contextual functionality -- I agree it doesn't make sense to try to have all the conversations in one space. Note that you can create a new chat room and invite someone to speak with you if you want a broader discussion between you and the answerer/questioner. – Joseph Weissman Sep 26 '11 at 1:16
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Other than simply getting in the habit of encouraging people yourself to move to chat when their comments veer off-topic, and maybe adding a section in the FAQ for it, there's not much you can do. It would be cool if moderators could add announcements, like via a strip of text at the top of your screen when you log in (like when you get a new privilege).

But I think the change you are looking for will only come from the veteran users getting used to it, and by demonstration/modelling having the new users follow suit. But as of now I'm with Mitch in that I don't see too many comment discussions that are off-topic; many are long, but that's not a problem intrinsically as long as the comments clarify the answer or question. As the post points out, it's only bad when they become a "forum" with off-topic content.

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I think in general:

  • the comments are being used well
  • moving things to chat rooms will be counter-productive
  • the chat rooms are not conducive here (in phil.SE) to productive discussions

This is pointedly in general; I'm sure there are instances of comment exchanges that are not productive. But I don't think they are as numerous as you.

Many of the lengthy comment threads are necessary explanations of the ideas in a question or answer.

Also, whatever the intended use of chat rooms (to have a back and forth where people explain terms at length and question what one really means, nothing really of import to the original SE question or answer but for the benefit of the discussants), it just doesn't work out that way. People are hardly ever available at the same time (that's exactly the benefit of the newsgroup/QA call/response mode. I believe if you summarily move a comment thread/discussion to a chat room, it will kill the discussion (that may be the intent, but I don't think it should be so).

This is not at all to say that the chat rooms -shouldn't- be used for discussions, I just think as they are engineered now and with the current behavior of participants, it's just not feasible to hold a discussion between two people. Visits to the site and even moreso the chat rooms are so sporadic that using the chat room is almost identical in behavior to responding comment threads, just not associated with a particular question/answer. (my limited experience of the chat rooms here at SE are that they are used mostly for socializing or gossipy meta-talk about the questions and answer at the main site.)

In fact, I'd like to see discussions in the chat rooms. I just don't think it is realistic to expect people to start using them even if pushed there.

To end on a more positive note, I think encouraging visits to the chat rooms in general is a positive thing, but to make that kind of encouragement successful, it would be better to encourage visiting the entire site.

  • Thank you, Mitch -- any thoughts on good ways to encourage people to use the chat functionality? Note I'm not suggesting people try to all have their discussions in the one room -- the idea is for particular conversations between particular people to take place in rooms dedicated to those conversations. Also, just in passing, the workflow really isn't that different -- the basic notification logic works just the same on chat as on the main site (they both show up in your inbox, right?) – Joseph Weissman Sep 21 '11 at 23:00
  • @Joseph: OK, yes, I see re: notification. Well, how about this...for encouraging a useful but off-topic comment exchange to be moved to chat, how about create a chat entry (in the main chat or specially created room) that leaves a notification for all participants? (in fact saying in the comments 'please move this to chat' might be considered off-topic). – Mitch Sep 22 '11 at 15:44
  • @Joseph: how does the 'move this conversation to chat' feature wok? does it move (copy and delete) all the comments to an answer to the main chat room, or are there more refined options? – Mitch Sep 22 '11 at 15:45
  • I think suggestions to move extended/chatty discussions to chat are entirely on-point in comments. As far as the automatic comment-to-chat migration I think it's pretty much a copy/delete but don't really know the technical details. – Joseph Weissman Sep 22 '11 at 16:56
  • Also, just to respond to the general point -- if the comments clarify the answer or question, update the question to reflect the new considerations. Don't rely on a discussion occurring in a comment thread (most of which will be under the fold) to clarify. – Joseph Weissman Sep 23 '11 at 5:44

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