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Comments are often used on this site for discussion, quick hints and even sometimes even more-or-less fully-baked answers. But this is not actually great!

In fact, comments are not for discussion. They are not even for hints. In fact, at least within the domain model of StackExchange, comments are intended only for clarifying the question or answer they're underneath.

In other words: comments should help the asker frame their question. Comments should help facilitate answers. They are not at all for discussion; and in fact, the system already provides such a "third space": the chat engine.

I suggest, with respect to comments, high-rep users in particular need to be thinking about these things. We have to set the tone. Keep chattiness out of comments -- it goes into chat. Hints and partial answers -- should largely go into Answers.

Of course it can be a fine line between clarifying/edifying, but in general I would prefer trying to err on the side of shorter answers than chattier comments. --It's definitely okay to go with a more partial, hint-like or "discursive" answer; especially if the alternative is starting a discussion in comments.

Again: consider bringing some of that energy to chat! Seriously, the chat could be way more fun here given the user base. (The chat mobile interface is not entirely unreasonable.)

Please do consider introducing people to the Chat instead of participating in discussions in comments; and please do consider promoting hints and partial answers in proper Answers. Let's keep comments about clarifying questions.

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From the help center:

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, up-vote it and pay it forward;

  • Criticisms which do not add anything constructive ("-1, see previous comments you scallywag!"); instead, down-vote (and provide or up-vote 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.

Note that the phrasing is "not recommended". I can totally see where you're coming from, though. However, when you write

Comments are often used on this site for [...] quick hints and even sometimes even more-or-less fully-baked answers. But this is not actually great! In fact, comments are not for discussion. They are not even for hints.

then you are wrong. Comments are great for hints! When I write an answer, the community and I expect me to write more than "Yes" or "No" and provide a link, some substance is required. However, if I don't have much time, I can at least throw in a link that may help. Maybe no one else knows of this link and it can contribute to the OP's understanding or even be used by some people for actual answers.

Similarly, sometimes answers are given in comments that the OP can totally accept. Then one can also ask the commenteer to change his comment into an answer.

Besides that, I agree with you, as someone who easily gets dragged into comment discussion or accidentally starts them (one just want to clarify something and suddenly two users are having a chat, whoops!), but I work to become more professional in this regard.

  • This is some good clarification about hints! There’s definitely alot of it here — and often the “hint” is several comments plus references... – Joseph Weissman Apr 7 '18 at 22:02
  • Thank you for pointing out the actual guidelines. I think it's clear from the text that comments should be about clarification and improvement of the (main) point of the post and that everything else, like an expression of material dissent and different views on the subject matter, should be moved to chat or formed into another answer that offers this differing perspective. Discussions in comments often occur because of dissent on the subject matter (not ok), not on the point of the post they should be about (ok to a certain extent, then move to chat). – Philip Klöcking Apr 10 '18 at 9:56
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This is a partial answer.

The reason the comment section is used rather than chat is because there is a comment link, "add a comment", below each question and answer, but there is no link to "discuss in chat".

It is unclear to users that there is a chat option that will tie a discussion back to a particular question or answer.

Some ways to fix this would be:

  1. Provide a "discuss in chat" link that moves the discussion off the question-answer page, but allows the discussion to be linked back to the specific question or answer.
  2. Remove the "add a comment" link from both questions and answers forcing people to use chat or answers. This would hide comments from users only interested in the questions and answers.

Rather than placing this as a comment, I am trying your approach to use an answer rather than a comment and to label it with "This is a partial answer."

  • The system does present some hints about chat, but I don’t think they kick in until the comment thread is already 10+ or so – Joseph Weissman Mar 31 '18 at 14:45
  • @JosephWeissman That's true and I've taken one discussion to chat in the past. But notice what is happening right now. You are responding to me by using a comment and I am responding back with a comment. I don't know how to take this to chat and maintain a link to the answer we are chatting about. – Frank Hubeny Mar 31 '18 at 14:54
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Don't dismiss discussion as mere "chat." It is often at least as enlightening as the answers themselves. They are worth preserving in an accessible archive. If you are concerned about the look of the page (legitimate concern), there could be a link to the comments (or further comments) as in many news websites. It would also be nice to know how many comments and commentators there are and the date of the last comment. Maybe a list of the commentators and their reputation scores?

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    When discussions are moved to and going on in chats, they are not lost. Actually, they are "preserved" and linked to. I would not cling to labels like "comment" or "chat", they do not necessarily reflect their function. Additionally, if you have a feature request or proposal to make, look at Meta.SE whether it has not been discussed earlier. Comments are inscribed deep into the core functions and can not be altered for this site only. – Philip Klöcking Apr 10 '18 at 21:02

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