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I've seen a lot of answers from low-rep members that belong more correctly in the comments section they can't post in because they don't have enough rep. After getting enough rep to see deleted answers, I can see even more of such posts. My observations:

  • Many of them have only 1 rep - it appears these are people who created an account because they finally have something they want to say and decided to join the discussion - only to discover they can't comment so they resorted to posting an answer, forum style layout-wise, as an alternative.
  • These guys aren't aware of site policy. Almost every such answer has a comment from a seasoned user informing them that the "answer" doesn't answer the question. When they do reply though, it's almost invariably a "I want to post it as a comment but can't" response, usually phrased in a way that suggests they don't know why. Virtually none of the replies say "I don't have enough rep to comment so I chose to post it as an answer instead."
  • If you put just a little thought into it, you'd easily realise all these guys are newbies who have zero awareness of site policy. However, few comments that called them out for their mistake actually explained why it happened and how they can get the rep they needed to comment until asked.
  • A good number of such answers, even if posted as comments, would probably be spam-ish and adds no value (the very problem the rep requirement exists for), but majority are still valid as comments from what I've seen.
  • Ironically, they lose rep from downvotes because these comments, when posted as an answer, would be flagged as not-an-answer.

I understand the current rep requirement exists for a reason, but the system needs improvement for the following reasons:

  • Rep requirement to comment is meant to stop the comment sections from being flooded by spam and non-constructive posts by at least ensuring only committed users of SE can comment. But this implementation pushes the flood into the answers. The symptoms changed but the root causes aren't addressed.
  • The current solution to this is to just comment and inform them, but then that hinges on commenters to tell them what they need to know. That doesn't happen reliably, and it's repetitive and inefficient. And then the community makes things worse by downvoting them - by policy, the downvoters aren't wrong, but it still feels a bit unfair to the newbie who knows and is told nothing relevant until they effectively asked "why are you doing this to me??". There should be a better way to do this, seeing as removing the rep requirement will probably do more harm than good.
  • Is there a place people can go to see salient points about what they need to know about using this site correctly and effectively? I've accumulated so much rep over 13 months and I still don't know where I can find info on site policy and such meta stuff (official policy text in b/w, not questions). I think new users need more help learning the site's features: the dos and don'ts, the good to know and nice to know.
  • The people who commit these are almost invariably guests who, prior to posting their first comment because they finally have something to say, are up until then just a reader. It would seem they don't understand how this site is different from a forum until we point it out after the deed is done - otherwise why would they initially think posting comments as an answer is ok, given that the visual layout can be mistakened to be like a forum thread?

I understand why the rep requirement exists, and agrees it needs to stay. I just think there are some things about the site new users who have something perfectly legit to post as a comment should be introduced to important points about the site and its policy before they actually try to do anything with this newly created account. The current solution isn't consistently effective nor sustainable - if you need to manually correct newcomers for the hundredth time, the implementation has a bad design imo.

I don't know enough about this site to give specific suggestions, however. I can only give general ideas on what I feel would be my preferred design for the sake of user-friendliness. Hence, I would like to ask what has already been done to address the issues I've stated, and whether anything more can be done because as it stands whatever is already implemented, if at all, is inadequate.

I'm not sure if this question should belong in the overarching SE Meta. I don't know if other SEs have the same rep requirement on comments, since I start with 100 rep in all the others I join, although I don't believe I've seen answers in other SEs' questions with the same telltale signs of a new user trying to comment but failed.

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    Armadillo's Law: No matter what options you provide new users, they will misuse them. In the last 24 hours, I've rejected five edits by new or anonymous users that were attempts to reply to a post. There may be a way to improve the system somehow, but nothing compelling comes to mind. – Molag Bal Jun 3 '16 at 21:02
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    This would be a more useful discussion on Meta Stack Exchange (though it's almost certainly a duplicate) as it is a problem across the entire SE network. If you think it's bad here, you should see the problem on Stack Overflow. – Null Jun 3 '16 at 21:25
  • I've got a vague memory of one of my first answers on an SE site being turned automatically(!) into a comment upon answering. I suppose that system isn't in place anymore? – BCdotWEB Jun 13 '16 at 8:27
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You've raised a lot of points in your question, so I'll try to address them one by one.

Most importantly, you seem to be assuming that non-answers stick around as (downvoted) answers even when they should be comments. They don't. They usually get deleted pretty quickly, or if a moderator comes across them they may be directly converted to comments.

  • If you put just a little thought into it, you'd easily realise all these guys are newbies who have zero awareness of site policy. However, few comments that called them out for their mistake actually explained why it happened and how they can get the rep they needed to comment until asked.

Actually, answers that get deleted by "should have been a comment" votes from the review queue do get canned comments left on them which say “This does not provide an answer to the question. Once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post; instead, provide answers that don't require clarification from the asker.” All of the links included in such auto-generated comments are designed to be useful to new users who haven't learned the ropes yet.

  • A good number of such answers, even if posted as comments, would probably be spam-ish and adds no value (the very problem the rep requirement exists for), but majority are still valid as comments from what I've seen.

That's what the "convert to comment" button is for. This is a mod-only power, but the mods here are ever-vigilant - I doubt there are too many answers which should have been converted to comments and instead get outright deleted. If you're really worried about preserving a non-answer's content as a comment, you could use a custom flag saying "please convert to comment" rather than just flagging as Not an Answer - this ensures mods see the flagged post even if it gets deleted by 20k users first.

  • Ironically, they lose rep from downvotes because these comments, when posted as an answer, would be flagged as not-an-answer.

No, they don't lose rep. Non-answers posted as answers, after being flagged as Not an Answer, get deleted, which means all rep changes from these posts are cancelled. Also, new (1-rep) users can't lose any rep anyway: 1 rep is an absolute lower bound.

  • Rep requirement to comment is meant to stop the comment sections from being flooded by spam and non-constructive posts by at least ensuring only committed users of SE can comment. But this implementation pushes the flood into the answers. The symptoms changed but the root causes aren't addressed.

But answers are much much easier to moderate than comments.

Mainly because comments can only be edited or deleted by moderators, whereas answers can be edited by anyone (subject to approval, for <2k rep users) and delete-voted by anyone with at least 20k rep. There's an entire review queue for low-quality answers, and 40-odd users to deal with them, compared to the 5 poor schmucks who have to handle all moderation of comments.

Also, every time a new answer is posted, it bumps the post to the front page, where reviewers, editors, and flaggers are standing ready to scrutinise it. (Whenever I saw a new post from a 1-rep user on the front page, I used to go and check if it was worth fixing or flagging. Now I don't need to bother, since others will flag it for mod attention if it needs it. Mwahahaha.) By comparison, new comments don't bump a post at all, or notify anyone except the OP. Someone who wanted to post spam in comments, for example, might get away with it for a long time if they had enough rep to get started.

  • Is there a place people can go to see salient points about what they need to know about using this site correctly and effectively? I've accumulated so much rep over 13 months and I still don't know where I can find info on site policy and such meta stuff (official policy text in b/w, not questions). I think new users need more help learning the site's features: the dos and don'ts, the good to know and nice to know.

That would be the help centre, which has various links telling you more than you'd ever need to know about the workings of the SE system. For more SFF-specific stuff, meta is the place to go. Both meta and the help centre are listed on the dropdown menu from the "help" button in the top right of any page on the main site.

The current solution isn't consistently effective nor sustainable - if you need to manually correct newcomers for the hundredth time, the implementation has a bad design imo.

Every newcomer needs to be treated individually; we can't educate them all at once. And the system does what it can to help us; e.g. those auto-generated comments I mentioned above, and also certain warnings shown to users who post answers the system detects as low-quality (e.g. short).

I don't know if other SEs have the same rep requirement on comments, since I start with 100 rep in all the others I join, although I don't believe I've seen answers in other SEs' questions with the same telltale signs of a new user trying to comment but failed.

All rep requirements are the same on all SEs (well, scaled down for beta sites, but there's no single site which works differently from the rest on this issue). The reason you've never seen such answers on other SEs is because you don't have enough rep (10k) to see deleted posts there. They're everywhere, but the system, the users, and the moderators work well together to delete them or convert them to comments where necessary. The fact that you haven't seen many on sites where you can't see deleted posts is a testament to how well it all works.

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The very short answer is that the present system works reasonably well. Users are given a shiny badge for actually reading the manual, which specifically notes that...

As you earn reputation, you'll unlock new privileges like the ability to vote, comment, and even edit other people's posts.

Generally people who answer (in place of commenting) do so because they're more interested in getting a point across than in actually providing a useful addition to the question asked. Most times the comment itself is relatively worthless.


So what should we, the community do? If you see an answer that should be a comment, downvote it as not helpful, flag it for a moderator's attention, click the delete button and consider posting a comment explaining that answers aren't intended to be used to comment. Beyond that, there's not a lot more that needs to be done. Users who want to "join in the conversation" but aren't interested in trying to understand even the most basic aspects of site policy (rule 33) aren't especially welcome.

  • I feel at the least more should be done to point people to the rules, especially before they try to make their first post. It's something that has to be implemented technically, but it would definitely be a good feature. I for one still don't know where to find the rules like the one you mentioned. – thegreatjedi Jun 4 '16 at 7:10
  • @thegreatjedi - Rule 33 is more of a general rule of Internet etiquette. – Valorum Jun 4 '16 at 8:30
  • That's the first time I've ever heard of such a thing in my life of a quarter century. Are they like a W3C specification or something? – thegreatjedi Jun 4 '16 at 11:01
  • @thegreatjedi - The "rules of the Internet" are basically an invention that pre-dates the internet. They started out as a humourous set of 'rules' for etiquette on BBS. Rule 34 is probably the most famous but these are not official rules for SE, just guidelines for general internet conduct. – Valorum Jun 4 '16 at 11:04
  • Does it really need to be flagged for moderator attention? Unless it's truly a worthwhile comment, then I'd do "Not an answer". Delete the stuff that's not worth keeping – user31178 Jun 9 '16 at 1:58
  • @creationedge - Meh. Flag it and let a mod decide. That's what they're there for. – Valorum Jun 9 '16 at 6:08

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