There apparently is an experiment running on a few SE:


Last year, Robert Cartaino relayed this one weird trick to fix [low quality] comments:

I also flag dozens-to-hundreds of posts daily simply to remove misplaced answers and other minutia from comments which simply don't belong there. It's very time consuming, and largely ineffective.

But it never stops.

Only recently, I changed the comment prompt in Area 51 from "add comment" to "suggest improvements" (the primary use case for example questions), and that number dropped to essentially… ZERO!

He proposed a two-part change based on this observation:

  • Change "add comment" under the question to "ask for clarification"
  • Change "add comment" under the answer to "suggest improvements"

It seems like a pretty good idea. Thoughts on experimenting with this change here too?

  • 2
    I guess I read that wrong at first. Therefor I think it would be helpful if you include a bit more of the explanation on what is meant: "dropped to zero". It is not (all) comments dropped to zero, but policy-violating comments dropped to zero, Cartaino-violating comments dropped to zero, comments he thought "ought to be removed" dropped… (I first read all, and thought this was a ridiculously wrong idea; while the other options might have some advantages after all) Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 20:03

4 Answers 4


I like that change a lot for large (graduated) sites that are inherently subjective, and thus utterly plagued with off-topic comments. Good examples of this being Interpersonal Skills (which uses it) and Politics (which currently does not).

In our case, I don't think we have it quite that bad. A lot of times we make good use of comments for things like adding related but off-topic historical tidbits, first-hand accounts, etc. I'm not sure I'd be happy to lose all that. Worse, it might encourage people to add off-topic answers instead.

I would highly suggest anyone thinking of doing this, first go use a site that is doing it for a while. The basic gist of the presentation is that whatever it is you want to comment, if it doesn't somehow relate to actually editing the post, you should keep it to yourself. I've personally found the vibe this puts off to be seriously unfriendly. For graduated sites awash in horrible comments, that's probably a trade-off worth making. But for us?

As one of the folks with a mop, I'm not sure its a tool we quite need yet. Perhaps when we are bigger we'll really need it. Just my opinion of course. I'm only one user.

  • 1
    One of the "benefits" of these new off topic answers if they appear might be that the community would participate in getting rid of them, instead of it being the sole responsibility of moderators when flags get raised. (I do agree we might lose some of the many valuable comments we get to read, though.) Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 14:55
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    Uck. I don't know. It might be nice if we could restrict its use to certain tags. I wouldn't mind seeing that pop up on our "higher standard" posts. But for our normal everyday questions about Pirates or Zambonis I'd rather be forgiving with comments.
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 16:36
  • IPS no longer has the experiment running. It's now being run on TWP to see if they can replicate the mild success that IPS had during the experiment.
    – Laurel
    Commented Jun 30, 2018 at 12:27

I'm not so sure. History is a multi-layered, multi-factored subject - there is rarely one "right" answer, other than "the date of the Battle of Hastings" type questions. Comments can add nuances /perspectives which might be otherwise missed. I've learnt from comments, and that's why we're all here - isn't it?


This will have side-effects, most of them unwanted ones.

While comment threads get long and then tend to be cluttered with off-topic or inappropriate or whatever content, they also are a vital line of communication not otherwise present.

That might sound like an advertisement for a violation of guidelines? It is not meant to be that. Some use cases come to mind:

  • Our "welcome to new users" is a borderline case where part of the comment is not "suggesting an improvement" but meta-ish talk explaining the site
  • If a post, especially an answer, is just wrong or "not even wrong" then stating or explaining that is not an improvement suggestion
  • adding an explanation for downvotes or votes to close are sometimes useful for improvement; if it's about off-topic posts, then what is the "improvement"? Deletion?

These are not the only usage scenarios imaginable that would not fit too perfectly into the "suggest improvements" version of "add a comment"?

The comment policy is formulated quite strictly and enforced with varying adherence to that strictness, but certainly not followed too loosely on this site and my impression is that the mods do use their mops quite effectively and efficiently; that is the system seems to work relatively well (also in comparison with other sites). If chit-chat appears, and I've seen it appear from high-rep users and even mods as well, then it nearly always disappears into oblivion quite quickly.

That said, I often find the comments quite valuable on their own, in conjunction with the answer or in their own right (I know that this is also a conceptual problem). But the change proposed is mainly designed to do one thing: reduce the number of comments. Well, "reduce the number of [low quality] comments" is the stated goal, but the result to be expected is the overall number of comments being reduced.

Finally, low quality comments emerge and have to be seen as a social problem: people not knowing or consciously violating the rules; rephrasing a button text to nudge people into better behaviour is an attempt to fix social problems with technology. People inclined to agree to that might want to read Howard Rheingold: "Why can't we use technology to solve social problems?"
Max Oelschlaeger: "The Myth of the Technological Fix"
and weigh the arguments on that.


I think this is a good idea.

  • It may result in nicer comments
  • it may encourage posters to edit clarifications into their question rather than building long comment chains

Can we do a 4 week trial and then re-evaluate?


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