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Users whose reputation score is below 50 points cannot post comments except for comments on their own question, their own answer and the answers to their own question. Before, it was common for those users to post remarks as answers. Recently moderators seem to be discouraging those users from posting remarks as answers (and rather recommend to keep quiet until they gain enough reputation points).

I do not like this change. In fact, I can find no reason for this change. A relatively new feature of the system allows moderators to convert answers to comments, so those answers can be converted to comments if necessary, which eliminates one of the reasons against new users posting remarks as answers.

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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps you could phrase your question to be more objective. Rather than saying "I don't like this change", your question would garner more interest if you said "Is this a change our community wants?" and then provide reasons why it may not be. After all this is a community and the moderators should act in the interests of the community. $\endgroup$ – Dave Clarke May 1 '11 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Dave: I have no idea why this change happened, so I cannot say anything objective. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito May 1 '11 at 17:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Kaveh: Can you post your comments as an answer? A long comment is harder to read than a long answer. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito May 1 '11 at 18:18
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, but it is a comment not an answer. :) $\endgroup$ – Kaveh May 1 '11 at 18:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Kaveh: This is meta and the distinction between answers and comments is less strict because it does not matter the rep score. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito May 1 '11 at 18:22
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    $\begingroup$ Tsuyoshi, done. ps: IMHO, you sometimes take things too seriously, e.g. my previous comment. :) I was trying to make something like a pun. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh May 1 '11 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Kaveh: “too seriously” is in the eye of the beholder. From my viewpoint, I responded with an appropriate degree of seriousness. I usually ignore a joke when I cannot be sure that it is really a joke. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito May 2 '11 at 11:34
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The reason new users are discouraged from commenting is simple: comments are intended and designed for low-value content, and it's preferable if users contribute high-value content. Suggest edits, post answers, ask questions... These are highly visible on the site and in search results, and have heavy-duty review and revision-history features.

If moderators must slavishly help new users circumvent this system by turning all their non-answers into comments, this aspect of the system loses its value. Moderators should simply delete answers that don't add any value to a question. If they want to add a comment encouraging the user to write a full answer before they delete, so much the better...

That said, if a new user posts a useful response in an answer without answering the question, moderators should try to preserve it as a comment. Practicality trumps principle.

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  • $\begingroup$ “The reason new users are discouraged from commenting is simple: comments are intended and designed for low-value content, and it's preferable if users contribute high-value content.” I do not find your reason logical. Why doesn’t the same reason apply to old users? $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito May 2 '11 at 11:30
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    $\begingroup$ Because a user with 50 rep has presumably contributed high value content already in the form of questions and answers, and so has "earned" the right to contribute some low-value content. $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat May 2 '11 at 16:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Suresh: Earn the right to contribute low-value content! I am sorry, but your argument is pointless. If comments are bad, that right should not be given to old users, either. If comments are not bad, that breaks Shog9’s argument. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito May 4 '11 at 0:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Tsuyoshi, although I agree that the reasons are not strong, I also can understand them. They want these sites to be used by community, so it is not so unnatural to restrict commenting to users who have already made some contribution to the site. The Wikipedia has similar restrictions. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh May 4 '11 at 20:23
  • $\begingroup$ Also my impression ( 1, 2, 3) is that users of other SE sites support the restriction, so it is probably not as pointless as you may think. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh May 4 '11 at 20:23
  • $\begingroup$ In any case, it is not clear to me what are you proposing, are you saying that: 1. we should generally allow users to comment using answers, or 2. I should stop saying that "answers should not be used for commenting at all", or 3. I should stop saying "answers should be used for commenting only in exceptional cases (not general commenting)" 4. 1 and 3 and moderators should turn them into comments? $\endgroup$ – Kaveh May 4 '11 at 20:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Kaveh: 2 and 3, and we should allow low-rep users to post remarks as answers. And if moderators do not like such answers sitting around, moderators can convert them to comments; I have no opinion whether moderators should do that or not. 1 is a secondary point and I do not want to focus on it in fact. I stated my objection because Shog9 and Suresh posted a non-reason for the restriction. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito May 4 '11 at 21:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Tsuyoshi, "we should allow low-rep users to post remarks as answers." seems like what I said in 1, so I am confused. I have no problem 2, and I am OK with 3. Anyway, I would suggest that you post "we should allow low-rep users to post remarks as answers." as a new answer or a policy proposal so people can vote on it. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh May 4 '11 at 21:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Kaveh: I misread your comment. I am definitely for 1, and also for 2 and 3. About 4, I do not have any opinion. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito May 4 '11 at 21:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Tsuyoshi, I forgot to reply, sorry. I will follow 2 and 3 and will not post such comments anymore. About 1, I still think it would be better if you post it as a policy proposal so we can vote on it since although this question is very highly up-voted I am not sure if the votes on this question represent the support for it (I myself have up-voted it). ps: thanks as always for keeping an eye over what I do and for expressing what you find bad, I really appreciate that you care about things being done in the correct way. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh May 18 '11 at 4:12
  • $\begingroup$ ps: I wish we had more people like you, though not too many. ;) $\endgroup$ – Kaveh May 18 '11 at 4:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Tsuyoshi: for some reason, I wasn't being notified of comments here; please forgive my late response to your question. The reasoning does apply to old users - if they stop contributing good answers or questions upon reaching 50 rep points, they'll never gain access to any other tools on the site! 50 is merely a token amount; a user able to obtain it could presumably obtain more should they apply themselves to the task. Users are expected to realize early on that posting questions and answers are the critical activity on these sites; nearly every other form of participation is locked. $\endgroup$ – Shog9 May 23 '11 at 4:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Shog9: (1) No problem with late response (partly because I am not active on this website anymore). (2) That is something different. You argued that comments are low-value. I asked then why high-rep users are allowed to post them. I cannot see how your comment relates to this argument. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito May 23 '11 at 12:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Tsu: the point I tried to make in the answer (badly, as it seems) is that comments are low-value at best - they just don't get the same emphasis, protection, etc. from the system that answers do. That doesn't mean they should be no-value. We restrict them to folks who have provided something - anything - of lasting value to the site. You must eat your meat before you can have any pudding... The confusion usually arises because folks think comments are useful as an end-result - they're not. No one's gonna read this until they've read the answer, and if that sucks their time is wasted. $\endgroup$ – Shog9 Jun 21 '11 at 17:41
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I don't recall changing my behavior on this matter at all. But I am happy to be more lenient on the answers vs comments issue.

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A few comments and clarifications:

  1. I think it would be more fair if you titled the question "what should we do when a user uses an answer for commenting?", or "should we allow low rep users to use answers for commenting?".

  2. This is not a change, AFAIR, we were (at least I was) doing this even before becoming a moderator. We were posting similar comments on such answers which were should be comments but were posted as answers.

  3. The FAQ says that:

Answers that do not fundamentally answer the question may be removed. Answers that are …

  • commentary on the question or other answers
  • asking another, different question
  • “thanks!” or “me too!” responses
  • exact duplicates of other answers
  • not even a partial answer to the actual question

… may be be removed.

The comments are just explaining why the answer is removed, and it is more respectful to user than just removing their answer without any feedback. (But it seems that explaining thing can cause more problems than not explaining them. :)


Now regarding the question: "Should we allow low rep users to use comments or should we discourage them?"

I don't have a strong feeling about forbidding them, and I don't have a problem with exceptions (e.g. the comment is too long to be posted as a comment, which I think we can think of them as partial answers) but here are some points that I think we should take into consideration:

  1. This is circumventing the SE system, and I don't think it is a good thing to do unless there is very good reason and strong need for it.

  2. You are right that moderators can turn answers into comments, and I try to do this, but I would prefer if this does not become a norm, i.e. users posting comments as answers, then they get flagged by users for being not an answer (not even a partial one), and finally moderators turning them into comments. I think it will be too much work for moderators if low rep users start to comment in this way. Too much moderator intervention.

  3. I was one of the people who have complained about the restriction previously, and don't think SE has a very good reasons for the restriction. But based on our experience so far, this restriction has not become a serious issue (I haven't seen anyone complain about this in recent months). My explanation is that those users who become part of the community easily gain the required 50 rep points by posting one or two answers, we get quite a number of question each day and expecting users to answer one or two question before being able to comment is not a strong requirement. So in practice the restriction is not as serious as it might seem at first. In other words, I also don't think there is a serious need for allowing low rep users to comment using answers.


Update:

Just to clarify another point, I think there are legitimate cases where a user can use an answer to post a comment, e.g. the comment is too long for a comment. (I am also personally OK with any comment that is adding some new information in the direction of finding an answer, I consider them partial answers.) And there are other cases where it is not legitimate (IMHO) like a one line question about the question.

I understand that the problem might be the following: my comment might mean to some users that answers should not be used as all to comment, where the FAQ entry only say that they may be removed. So I think there might be a better way like posting a better comment that would not imply that commenting using answers is totally forbidden. (Or maybe I shouldn't post any comments at all regarding use of answers for commenting, that might end up being a better option.)

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  • $\begingroup$ Is the reason that you haven't seen anyone complain about this recently because people are abandoning the site instead of complaining? To quote myself, in a discussion about this on my first "answer" here, which was correcting two answers but should really have been comments on those two answers, the rep limit on commenting forces new users to choose between not being helpful or answering in the wrong place. $\endgroup$ – Peter Taylor May 13 '11 at 12:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Peter, might be, but I see it a little less probable since in that case I would expect some users to bring it up on meta. In any case, it is not in our hands to change the software. (Also this is the case on MO AFAIK and other SE sites and there seems to be heavy support from the users for the restriction.) I still think it is not a bing thing, provide one (or two) good answers and you get enough reputation for commenting. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh May 16 '11 at 7:09

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