Let's assume that I receive a flag on a comment added to an answer, asking for the removal of said comment because the suggested improvement has been used to update the answer and the comment is now moot. Should I delete this comment?

I would hesitate to do this, as I strongly believe in "credit where credit is due" and I feel the commenter should receive some attribution for his or her effort.

Let's also assume, for the sake of argument, that the answerer didn't mention the origin of his corrections in the answer text.

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    "I would hesitate to do this, as I strongly believe in "credit where credit is due" and I feel the commenter should receive some attribution for his or her effort." +1 – Mr.Wizard Feb 15 '12 at 2:11
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    I think deleting or leaving a comment should be left to the commenter (unless the comment is offensive or causes trouble in some way of course). Just decline the flag. – Szabolcs Feb 15 '12 at 9:05
  • While I have earlier said that deleting the comment should be left to the commenter, I come across clearly obsolete comments more and more often (where I think the commenters wouldn't mind at all removing the resolved comments). I just flagged a couple for cleanup. – Szabolcs Mar 11 '12 at 12:30

I can only speak from my experience moderating Physics SE, but over there the answer would be unambiguously yes. The reasoning is that comments are second-class citizens of the site; they are meant to be ephemeral. Once they have been posted and acted on, they serve no purpose other than distracting from the question and answers, so they might as well be deleted, and since moderators are the only ones with the ability to globally delete comments, it falls to them to do the deletion. If a poster wants credit for something they write, they should be putting it in an answer, not a comment. (Or using the chat room.)

Of course, different SE sites have different moderation policies, so what works on Physics may not be appropriate or necessary here.

  • This, plus 5 obsolete comments don't help anyone ever visiting the question again (except when he's looking for an information scavenger hunt). – David Feb 16 '12 at 14:09
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    Please don't take this personally, but there's no sentence in your answer that I can agree with (except the last one). It starts off with a Argumentum ad populum and/or an Appeal to authority. The second sentence smells of petitio principii (begging the question). "They are second class because they are second class". Your third sentences errs in assuming comments only serve to put forward errors or suggestions for improvement and draws generalized conclusions from that incorrect premise... – Sjoerd C. de Vries Feb 16 '12 at 23:09
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    ...In your fourth sentence you make the mistake of assuming that comments can always be turned into an answer. Anyway, I feel that you and your namesake overlook many of the positive aspects of comments, especially the community-building aspect. – Sjoerd C. de Vries Feb 16 '12 at 23:09
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    This answer was never intended to be a logically rigorous argument, so analyzing it in a logical framework just seems silly. I certainly don't contest that there is circular reasoning in there, but it doesn't invalidate my point, which is that comments are (or if you prefer, are intended to be) second-class citizens of the site and are not supposed to permanently contain important information. Sure, not all comments can be incorporated into answers, but the ones that can't should just be deleted. And I'm not the only one who thinks that way. – David Z Feb 16 '12 at 23:27
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    I think what @Sjoerd has in mind is this situation: a comment points out that an answer is not correct; the answer is corrected (by the person posting it), without mentioning whoever it was that pointed out the mistake, and the comment is flagged for deletion. Sounds unfair to the commenter. Perhaps the commenter should have posted their own answer, pointing out the mistake, but that is confrontational. I'd vote for leaving the comment rather than inviting confrontation. – acl Feb 17 '12 at 0:50
  • @acl I do understand that viewpoint. Basically what I wanted to point out was that, under the culture of how comments are treated on Physics.SE, it would not be considered unfair to the commenter. The expectation is that if a person really wants credit for improving an answer, they should submit the edit themselves (or post a competing answer). But I suppose the culture will be different here, and that deleting a comment after the edit has been made will be considered unfair. That's fine, I certainly don't object to it, I'm just saying it's not the only way. – David Z Feb 17 '12 at 1:14
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    @DavidZaslavsky I do not disagree with the sentiment expressed in your last comment (namely, that if one wants credit, one should post an answer). However, there is the issue of not alienating people. It is not a moderator's job to judge such things, I should think (I could be wrong though). More importantly, this is a fairly small community and I do not think it would be wise to stress our moderators by forcing them to make such judgements, or alienate commenters by deleting their comments. physics.se is less friendly than here (although I would not call it unfriendly). – acl Feb 17 '12 at 1:23
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    I don't agree that comments should be deleted simply because they are comments. Several times I have left a comment clarifying or expanding an aspect of someone else's answer, and the comment has been upvoted but they haven't incorporated this clarification into their post. I do not think it is consistent with the spirit of the site for me to post an answer that mostly duplicates an existing answer while including a minor but possibly significant clarification. My concern is not for gaining credit, but rather that I object to capricious deletion of information based on some aesthetic ideal. – Oleksandr R. Feb 20 '12 at 12:09
  • @Oleksandr: It's not based on an aesthetic ideal, it's based on utility. All I was saying was that comments could be deleted once their purpose has been served. By the way, if you leave a clarifying comment and it doesn't get incorporated into the post by the OP, you can propose an edit that does so (although whether doing so is an appropriate use of the edit mechanism may vary from site to site). – David Z Feb 20 '12 at 17:23
  • Okay, so if you're just suggesting removing comments that no longer add value, rather than that all comments which cannot stand as answers in their own right are intrinsically worthless and should be deleted regardless of content, then we probably don't disagree as strongly as I'd thought. However, I still stand by the views I stated in my answer, as I think (a) this activity is a poor use of moderators' time and (b) as @acl mentioned, the chances are high that eventually some user will be disgruntled or alienated as a result, which is a highly counterproductive outcome. – Oleksandr R. Feb 20 '12 at 18:41
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    However, perhaps there is a middle ground to be struck. If a moderator wishes to be particularly proactive and is willing to bear the political fallout from a perceived bad decision, I would personally have no problem with deletion of comments provided that any useful information was edited into the corresponding answer at the same time (maybe in a separate section at the bottom). However, I definitely do not want to be made responsible for editing unsolicited information into other people's answers any time I feel there is something to add. – Oleksandr R. Feb 20 '12 at 18:49

Oh, no. I would point out that there is overwhelming support of cleaning up comments after the issue has been resolved. It's crucial for the maintenance of your site.

Should moderators delete obsolete and resolved comment threads?

Look at the bigger picture — The elegance and beauty of a well-maintained Stack Exchange site is how quickly a user can get to the information they need. All the needless conversation of your typical discussion forum has been stripped away so you're left with just the pure, vetted information. That's the entire point of having the best answers float to the top!

In contrast, you're taking one giant step back…

Take one clean, well-vetted post and hang on to all the redundant, obsolete, historical information that got you there. How will a user know if someone added substantive comment? You've taught them that comments are mostly duplicate information maintained out of some sense of preserving a quasi-bibliographical history.

Some comments are relevant but are not necessarily rolled into the main post. Those are fine to make the post more complete. But comments should all be relevant. Those that are resolved and rolled into the post should then be deleted. Sure, users can read through to make sure the comments aren't relevant: "yup, read that, saw that, uh huh saw that, that's in there, okay fine," but that does a terrible disservice to the vast majority of those who come after.

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    The discussion you are linking to refers to a trivial type of comment, namely those correcting simple grammar or spelling issues. Since almost anyone could edit those answers these comments are indeed useless and may be removed without much thought.That differs considerably from the issue I tried to address here, namely that of attribution. I feel that (significant) contributions of others should be attributed. So, the author of an answer should say something like: "Following the suggestion of Mr.Wizard ...". Alternatively, the comment could be left below the answer to serve the same goal. – Sjoerd C. de Vries Feb 26 '12 at 13:10

In my opinion, the comment definitely should not be deleted. Not because of a moderator's personal views on it, or through any sense of fairness, but simply because the job of a moderator is first and foremost to prevent abuse of the site for purposes for which it was not intended, and not to be an editor or curator (or at least not significantly more so than any active user assumes these roles because of the way this site operates).

I think it's important for both moderators and (probably more importantly) users who would flag items for moderator attention to understand this distinction. As a moderator, the temptation is (understandably) always there to be proactive and try to improve the site in any way possible. However, in my experience as a one-time forum moderator, this bureaucratic workload coupled with continually having to make value judgments in ambiguous circumstances can lead to burnout and an eventual disinclination to visit the site at all, so my advice to you would be: be careful how much of this you take on, because you may regret it later. This is especially likely if anyone might be inclined to question or disagree with your actions. (The one exception I would suggest to this is in strongly discouraging questions in which the asker displays an obvious disinterest in engaging with their problem, because the long-term results of allowing such questions--as rather graphically evidenced on Python.SO--seem to be quite severely corrosive.)

Getting back to the central point of your question, comments are very unobtrusive and it seems to me not worth the time and effort to delete them even if they contain redundant information. Maybe the commentator will come back and, seeing that their comment no longer adds value, delete it; maybe they feel that their contribution should be recorded and let it remain. Either way, it doesn't very much matter. In fact, the site concept seems very well thought through in general and with luck should require minimal moderator attention to maintain in a useful state, especially given that the Mathematica community is, on the whole, very reasonable, well-informed, and helpful.

  • I will just add that my view on this has mellowed significantly since I wrote this answer. Our moderators seem much more adept at avoiding burn-out than I was in the same position. So, while I wouldn't encourage people to expect moderators to do this sort of work, it doesn't any more seem obviously harmful that they would do so. – Oleksandr R. Dec 23 '14 at 0:24

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