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This question is very much related to my previous post about new users who post non-answers. I'm just looking through my comment history and see some comments on "answers" in which new users asked new questions or left comments. I advised to use the "Ask Question" link, but apparently the "answers" are still there.

What is the correct procedure here, should I flag for moderator attention?

  • Any word from any of the moderators from other SE platforms? This problem must have been solved before. – Konrad Rudolph Jan 13 '11 at 10:41
  • @Konrad: There's a very recent post on meta.SO (2 days younger than my question, actually). No idea what else there may be buried among the 17000+ posts ... – Hendrik Vogt Jan 15 '11 at 10:59
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The comment thread on Joseph's answer is getting a little long and there's an extension of Joseph's proposal in there that I'd like to draw to everyone's attention. The full proposal is:

  1. Experienced user spots an "answer" that isn't really an answer.
  2. Experienced user leaves a helpful comment explaining what best to do with that answer.
  3. Experienced user flags the answer for moderator attention.
  4. Assuming that the moderator agrees, the moderator then leaves a comment whose content is designed to indicate that Experienced User was acting in accordance with the site etiquette and that after X days, this answer will be deleted.
  5. After X days, the answer is deleted.

Note: nothing prevents anyone reposting the "answer" themselves as a comment or question if they decide that it is something that they themselves would have said or asked if only they'd thought of it first.

I also suggest that there be a basic template that can be used for the comments. This can be ignored, but I find it helps to have something to fall back on. It should be polite and it should indicate why it is in the best interests of the original poster to repost their answer as a comment or a question. Here's my proposals:

  1. Experienced user's comment (on something that should be a question):

    Hi, welcome to tex.SX. Your question won't get seen by many people here so it would be best to repost it as a fresh question. Follow-up questions like this are more than welcome! Please use the "Ask Question" link for your new question; there you can link to this question to provide the background.

  2. Moderator's comment (on something that should be a question):

    Just a note to confirm _X_'s comment, this ought to be reposted as a question for you to get the best chance of it being answered. Also, it's a little confusing to have fresh questions in the _answers_ section, so this answer will be removed from public view in _N_ days.

    (I said "removed from public view" rather than "deleted" deliberately, others may think I'm being overly polite there!)

If the "answer" should best be left as a comment then there's the problem of reputation. If it's the poster's own question then the above can be adapted, but if it's a different question then the poster may not have the reputation to comment, in which case I would say that the automatic deletion be put on hold until the comment is either irrelevant or the user has enough reputation to repost as a comment. If the comment is particularly pertinent, the "Experienced User" could post it (with correct attribution).

(CW so that anyone can edit the comments, and propose modifications for separate cases. My idea is that these be easily cut-and-pasted with only minor editing to make it easy for all to do.)

  • I've added the piece 'Please use the "Ask Question" link for your new question'. – Hendrik Vogt Jan 6 '11 at 9:45
5

UPDATE

It appears that moderators now have the power to convert answers to comments:

Should moderators be able to convert answers into comments?

So flagging for moderator attention is definitely the Right Thing to do. So the "answer to question" still needs to be done via comments and (eventual) deletion (and I wouldn't support an automatic answer-to-question conversion since the question almost always needs more information), but "answer to comment" can be done by a moderator.

  • This only applies to few of these "answers", but still interesting. – Hendrik Vogt Jan 7 '11 at 8:44
  • @Hendrik: agreed. – Loop Space Jan 7 '11 at 8:48
  • @Andrew: Good note. I already converted some non-answers to comments. – Stefan Kottwitz Jan 8 '11 at 22:17
  • @Stefan, @Andrew: I just saw that lots (all?) of the non-answers I had flagged are now converted to comments. Do you really think that for these posts it was the right thing to do? I'd say it wasn't; why not just delete the posts? Two reasons for this: 1. The users never checked back. 2. (not to be taken too seriously) my comments now look rather stupid, or at least incomprehensible, since they speak of removing this "answer". – Hendrik Vogt Jan 11 '11 at 11:03
  • @Hendrik: For (2), I think that you can just delete your comments since they are no longer valid - perhaps the moderator should delete such a comment providing it has no extra content. For (1), it wasn't me that did the conversion so I don't know for these specifics. I would go along with the view that the conversion should only happen if it is beneficial to the site that these "answers" stay on it. Perhaps this is something to discuss in a fresh question? – Loop Space Jan 11 '11 at 12:28
  • @Andrew: Thanks for your answer. From what Stefan wrote I suspected that he did the conversion. Let's see what he says. (For the moment I'll leave my comments as otherwise your back-up comments look rather strange.) – Hendrik Vogt Jan 11 '11 at 12:35
  • @Hendrik: I converted 4 or 5. 2 have been deleted. I preferred conversion over deletion because the content was related to the question, not offensive, at least it brings some alternative keywords or phrases for search engines ;-) a question in a comment might show another aspect, a comment doesn't really hurt and it's friendly to a new user who did not know better at that time. I've left your comments there because I was pretty sure that you would look after it. – Stefan Kottwitz Jan 11 '11 at 18:47
  • @Hendrik, @Stefan: I was going to go through the ones that Stefan'd modified and see if our comments should be deleted or not, but it appears that the record of "what the mods have done" does not (yet) appear in the records. Hendrik, if I can track them down, do I have your permission to delete your comments on these? – Loop Space Jan 11 '11 at 19:45
  • @Stefan: Thanks for your answer. I actually assumed that the non-answers would be deleted; I only saw the "conversion to comment" when I looked at my recent comments since the date of the comments was changed by the conversion. (I still think that deletion would be best in the following case: The user came to the site, did not register, posted one non-answer, and then never came back.) – Hendrik Vogt Jan 12 '11 at 12:58
  • @Andrew: I don't quite understand what you mean by 'the record of "what the mods have done" does not (yet) appear in the records'. (I don't see any reason why I shouldn't be able to delete my own comments; I think any (registered?) user can do that.) – Hendrik Vogt Jan 12 '11 at 13:01
  • @Hendrik: The mods can see a list of what actions the (other) mods have taken. I intended to use this as a quick way to clean up the "dangling comments". Since both of us left comments that may now be irrelevant, it seems reasonable to delete those that are obviously such. As you said, deleting one of our comments without deleting the other leaves it a little messy, so since I can delete your comments, I could do both at the same time. So I was merely asking your permission to speed up the process, rather than me deleting mine and then tell you I've done it and then you deleting yours. – Loop Space Jan 12 '11 at 13:07
  • @Andrew: I should try and learn to read :-) Thanks a lot for your quick reply. Of course you have my permission; if you do the cleaning up, then this will indeed be easier. – Hendrik Vogt Jan 12 '11 at 13:11
  • @Hendrik: I've done some cleaning up. It felt that the "try reposting as a question" part of our comments was still relevant: many of these would have been better as new questions (though they're better as comments than as answers) so I left the bits suggesting that. That meant that I just removed the "Don't leave this as an answer" from both our comments. – Loop Space Jan 12 '11 at 13:26
  • @Andrew: ... and this I couldn't have done myself. This way my comments look very good, thanks! – Hendrik Vogt Jan 12 '11 at 13:45
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I'd suggest that you (1) make a comment pointing out the 'correct' approach and (2) flag the 'answer'. That way, the user gets some feedback, and there is some record of the issue (it will sit in the list the mods can see). We can then give the user some time to see the comment and react (I'd suggest a day) before deleting the 'answer' to keep the site ticking over nicely.

  • Thanks again, Joseph. So you'll see 7 new flags soon (all old issues that had much more than a day). – Hendrik Vogt Jan 5 '11 at 19:41
  • @Hendrik. I'll wait and see if there are any other views on this before doing a bit of a sweep :-) (Perhaps you'll be volunteering to be a moderator when the election comes round!) – Joseph Wright Jan 5 '11 at 19:52
  • @Joseph: I think I'd prefer staying a volunteer, but we'll see :-) – Hendrik Vogt Jan 5 '11 at 19:53
  • @Hendrik. Sounds fine :-) Anyway, there is currently no sign of the election! – Joseph Wright Jan 5 '11 at 21:44
  • 3
    @Hendrik: Gosh, I thought I'd wandered over to math.SX there when I saw all those mod flags! I suggest that one of us mods leaves a "please post this as a new question, we'll delete this in X days because ... (some polite but to-the-point reason)". (I think that having a mod back-up Henrik's comment before the deletion would be good to show that this is how things work here). – Loop Space Jan 5 '11 at 21:51
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    @Andrew. This seems like a good plan: do we want to agree a 'standard' comment. Perhaps "This information would be better as (a comment on the original question/edited into the original question/a new question). Please help us to make the site work better by doing this and deleting this 'answer'. I'll check back in a couple of days to see what's happened." – Joseph Wright Jan 5 '11 at 22:05
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    @Joseph: I like individual comments better. For example, if users are not registered, it makes no sense telling them to delete their answers as they cannot. (I'm not sure how my comments could get backed up. But I just see that I want to make a personal backup, so please wait a bit before you delete.) – Hendrik Vogt Jan 6 '11 at 7:27
  • @Joseph, @Hendrik: I agree that individual comments are better, but I'd rather have a simple template that could be used than no comments whatsoever (or brusque ones). I've put a new "answer" with some proposals. – Loop Space Jan 6 '11 at 8:17
  • @Andrew: OMG, now I got what you mean by "back-up". – Hendrik Vogt Jan 6 '11 at 9:47
  • @Hendrik: Are you referring to a specific instance, or do you mean that you just worked out what I meant? If the former, flag it for moderator attention. (I just went through the current flags and couldn't see anything amiss, as I was going through them I left comments similar to my one below as well but with "a few" days instead of a definite figure). – Loop Space Jan 6 '11 at 10:23
  • @Andrew: It seems that we are talking at cross-purposes. You wanted to back-up my comments by an additional comment coming from a moderator. I wanted to backup my comments before the posts get deleted so that I can copy and paste them if I need them again. Everything clear now? – Hendrik Vogt Jan 6 '11 at 10:27
  • @Hendrik: Yup, clear as ...; I was just worried that someone had been rude about one of your comments and wanted to ensure that that wasn't left unchecked. All fine now. – Loop Space Jan 6 '11 at 10:45

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