This question has been superseded by the following questions:
How can we improve our guidance about the purpose of comments?
When should comments be deleted?

Subsequent to a question about technical solutions to cleaning up noise, Jeff Atwood posted this answer:

I appreciate the intent, but this is hellishly complex. I think my solution is even simpler than Shog9's

Simply flag the first comment in the series for mod attention with the text

irrelevant comment conversation; delete this conversation

A moderator could then blam, blam, blam, blam on each [x] to remove it.

I agree with this. I've often wanted to even clean up my own conversations after resolving something that was productive, but not worth preserving.

However, as we all know, with the introduction of flag weight our flagging ability and priority gets diminished if no action is taken on our flags. So, I think it's up to our community and moderators to decide (and therefore send the message to our moderators and 10k users) whether we believe this is an appropriate action.

So, I'm all for it - I'd love to see transient and incidental conversations completely disappear (not just be hidden) so that new visitors have a higher comment signal-to-noise ratio.

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I'm okay with pruning dead comment "threads" as we have. It's the one off comments that I find hard to justify deleting as others might find them helpful, they are truly just a "comment" not a discussion. –  Josh K Apr 20 '11 at 16:26
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To be clear, your flag weight is not affected at all by moderator inaction on flags. A moderator can still dismiss your flag as valid without taking action on it, and your flag weight will go up, not down. –  Robert Harvey Apr 22 '11 at 22:43
    
@Robert Except for comment flags which, if I'm not mistaken, have no effect on flag weight at all. –  Anna Lear Apr 24 '11 at 4:51
    
@Anna I'm fairly sure that comment flags cause the weight to go up and down by 5. I've seen both. –  NickC Apr 24 '11 at 14:22
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Interesting. There are no separate links to dismiss a comment as valid or invalid. I guess it must go by whether or not action was taken. –  Anna Lear Apr 24 '11 at 14:33
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Interesting use of "exact duplicate", posting your own 3 months later and then closing this one. –  NickC Oct 4 '11 at 3:44
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marked as duplicate by Mark Trapp Sep 19 '11 at 9:48

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

7 Answers

I feel about it the same way as if someone deleted my code comments without first asking me. The comments do have my name on them and I did mean to write what I wrote. I am an adult. Someone else feels like they should delete my comments. This is totally subjective. Can I think for myself for once? If I do not like my old comment, then I will remove it. Others can too. I moved from SO ti PSE because I could talk to humans, not machines. many questions, answers and comments do fit the guidelines technically, but are pretty stupid nonetheless (in my opinion). It is one thing to have a democratic process where the community decides to shut down an answer or a comment with enough votes. It is different when the chosen few decided to delete a bunch of good, highly-upvoted comments, and then leave their own comments in place, basically saying "Commenters - screw yourself. This is my territory. I get to delete all other comments and leave only mine here. This is exactly what you need and why you elected me, I swear.". Do as I say, and not as I do. This is just like in politics. You vote for the whole package. They look great when running for elections, and then they start power-tripping. They also use coercion in the name of greater good.

So, Stack Exchange is a for-profit organization that owns the content. I thought they were hip and not MSFT-like, anti-dictatorship and all. They feel like they can make more money by strict policing, although they sell this under the guise of helping the programmers. Well, I happen to hate a lot of "nerdy talk" that is so common here and is supposed to be cool. I do not go about deleting those answers or comments. I rarely even down-vote them. I just accept this for what it is - most programmers are dorky geeks whether I like it or not. In terms of filtering out the answers and comments - the most useful already float to the top. if you do not like my comments, then do not read them. If they suck, then they will not be up-voted much and will be harder to find. But no, we have got to censor everything in order to protect the innocent.

Whatever happened to freedom? Ah, right, I am on a private property of the Stack Exchange which owns my posts and thoughts, so my freedom is limited by their EULA. Fair enough, I shall vote with my feet then.

PSE is a very subjective forum.

if you feel like responding to my post, do not even try to leave a comment. Instead, visit the http://chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/21 as I have been told, and hope that I will show up there as well.

So, this is how I feel about the forced, unbeknown deletion of comments.

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Comment functionality is important, no doubt. Some are worth preserving - but not all. I would agree with you if cleanup applied to all comments, but hopefully only those that are resolved and no longer useful, as I said in the question, end up being subjected to cleanup. In fact, that should help the good comments stand out better. –  NickC Jun 24 '11 at 21:00
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@Renesis: Since it seems that interesting, on-topic discussions are removed (as happened here, and that is not the first time I see this, mind you), I'm all against deleting comments. –  sbi Jul 9 '11 at 10:38
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I personally find comments helpful. If an answer to a question still leaves me on the fence about an issue, sometimes a comment from an articulate user can help convince me or clarify doubts that I had.

Of course, this isn't a discussion site, so I guess I can see why some users and moderators would want to delete comments.

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Are you saying you find all comments helpful? Certainly I'm not encouraging the deletion of helpful comments. –  NickC Apr 20 '11 at 5:15
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@Renesis - The answer is no, not all comments are helpful to me. But it's worth noting that what you find helpful and what I find helpful may be different. How do we objectively determine what goes and what stays without someone losing value? –  jmort253 Apr 20 '11 at 9:30
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@jmort fortune favors the bold. Also, if we don't trust the moderators to do the right thing plus or minus 10 percent, there are deeper issues. See math.meta.se for example, which is a warzone. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 26 '11 at 8:49
    
@Jeff - This makes sense. I agree that trusting our moderators to make the right decisions definitely outweighs any potential lost value from deleted comments. I was merely playing devils advocate. –  jmort253 Apr 30 '11 at 2:30
    
@Jeff - Out of curiosity, I did check out Math Meta SE. What a nightmare! I completely understand what you mean. I couldn't imagine trying to be a moderator there. There seems to be quite a few people there -- moderators included -- who seem like they just like to rock the boat just to be difficult. –  jmort253 Apr 30 '11 at 2:49
    
+1, Also helpful comments do float to the top. –  Job Jun 24 '11 at 20:40
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@Renesis Who decides what is helpful and what isn't? You personally? –  Diego Deberdt Jun 27 '11 at 9:43
    
@Seventh Element Don't be silly. The fact that it might be difficult to determine the helpfulness of comments in the gray area is no reason to keep all comments. Obviously votes, for one. It's also often easy to see that a dispute was wrapped up, or that nobody responded to a certain comment. –  NickC Jun 27 '11 at 14:45
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@Renesis The basis of this dispute is that there are people who prefer to err on the side of caution and others who don't mind the occasional mistake (collateral damage) if it is for the greater good and with the best intentions. I believe a compromise can be found where both sides get what they want (sort of, but I did say it was a compromise): do not permanently delete flagged comments, simply hide them. Those who wish to read them can still do so at the click of a button. –  Diego Deberdt Jun 27 '11 at 15:05
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Flag weights diminish if you constantly use the flag system inappropriately. If you are acting in good faith, I would not obsess too much over "maintaining the integrity" of your flag weight.

I raised this issue in meta: Should moderators delete ... comments? The consensus seems to be (and the action taken) that comments which no longer serve a purpose (or never had a purpose to begin with) should be removed.

It's all about creating the highest quality content possible; the end result. If a comment-conversation was the means of getting that content — and that means was served — those now-superfluous discussions should be removed.

It's a matter of community self-moderation. Moderators should remove irrelevant comments in the routine course of using the site. Users can help by flagging comments that that serve no further purpose.

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We moderators will now be actively cleaning up questions and answers that have extended discussion in comments: any additional information teased out in the comments should be re-incorporated back into the question or answer, not left as a comment. Any extended discussion should go to our awesome chat system, built from the ground up explicitly for this purpose.

If you see the original asker or answerer leave a comment instead of editing their post, you should edit it back in yourself: anyone can edit a post or suggest an edit.

Because comment deletions aren't very transparent, we will be leaving the following comment when comments are cleaned up:

Commenters: comments are meant for seeking clarification, not for extended discussion. If you have a solution, leave an answer. If your solution is already posted, please upvote it. If you'd like to discuss this question with others, please use chat. See the FAQ for more information.

and the following has been added to our FAQ:

Can I use comments to discuss the topic of a post?

Comments are useful for getting clarifications, but extended discussions detract from the question and its answers. If you'd like to discuss anything related to programming with other expert programmers, please use our chat room.

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Where is the harm in leaving the comments as they are? I have visited the Programmes chat room on several occasions only to find I was the only one there. The people participating on Programmers don't seem to care about the chat room, sorry but that's the way it is. Yes, sometimes comments wander about a bit and take on the form of a discussion, but this is healthy and ultimately gives people room to free-wheel a bit. Why is it a bad thing to see a discussion about a particular answer in a side bar (for those who are interested in such a thing)? –  Diego Deberdt Jun 27 '11 at 9:35
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Don't delete individual comments either, 'cause it totally destroys any context there is in these threads. I don't doubt the good intentions of the moderators but I personnaly think both the users AND moderators should learn to restrain themselves. (The road to hell is paved with good intentions) –  Diego Deberdt Jun 27 '11 at 9:40
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I've got into a few comment conversations in response to answers I've made.

While SE isn't designed for this sort of thing, sometimes that's what needs to happen to get clarity.

For me the appropriate response is to take the outcome, edit it into the answer and then remove the comments.

Based on that I'd very much like to be able to remove comments once I've taken them onboard and answered them in the main answer.

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I don't know if comment removal by community members is something that'd ever become a feature, but in the meantime you can flag a comment in the thread and write a note to the mods explaining which comments are now obsolete. We can clean things up for you. –  Anna Lear Jun 27 '11 at 13:11
    
I've seen comment threads get cleaned up by users who take cues from each other: cleaning up your comments, in many cases, prompts the person you're conversing to clean their comments up as well as they are no longer relevant. But yeah, otherwise, we'll clean it up. –  user8 Jun 27 '11 at 17:13
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I disagree.

Comments don't answer the question, but they answer certain important aspects of the question -- and I don't mean just to clarify the question, but to actually lead to a good answer by establishing that entire types of answers are incorrect or meritless.

For instance, this answer would likely not have come up had our comments about having patience with beginners been kept.

As @Captain Shakespeare notes, no one really uses the chat. At this point it's kind of futile to try to make people switch to chat, except for debates between exactly two people -- and most of the time we aren't interested in debating. Public discussion, no matter how fitting for chat, will never have the same participants.

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Anyone care to explain the -1? –  Rei Miyasaka Oct 1 '11 at 4:43
    
I agree with you. On SO, I frequent the WPF tag. Consistently, there are bad questions (poorly worded, incomplete context, etc.) which I usually just give a 2-sentence comment as a suggestion to try (half-answer, if you will). Many times, the response is either "That worked." or "Well, I forgot to say...". However, on this site, if a hot question has a phenomenal answer and a bunch of low-vote answers, there is little chance of anyone reading the low-vote answers. Hence, why not contribute a snippet of advice in a more-likely-to-be-read comment? –  jberger Mar 8 '12 at 18:18
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I agree with deleting transient comments. That issue seems fairly straightforward to me -- if the comment has served its purpose, it can be safely removed.

Other comments, such as heated discussions on particularly contentious subjects, are harder to judge. My personal policy is to clean up threads that may contain valuable information but degenerate into name-calling. Threads that devolve into rounds and rounds of "Your comment is stupid and shows a total lack of understanding of [some useful information]." / "No, your comment is stupid, you didn't even read mine, and anyway... [useful information]." are the kind of thing I'm talking about. In some cases I feel that the way the information is presented trumps the usefulness of that information. (Especially if the conversation starts to veer off on a tangent.)

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