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I love Stack Exchange sites because of the amount of knowledge and people sharing it.

One of the best thing is that here you can find real people, sharing your interests and job experience. It's a human site, not a bunch of computer data like you can find on wikis.

This is possible imho thanks to comments. Thanks to comments we can express our opinions, enhance our point of views, have fun, share links and useful resources, etc.

To me, comments are underrated and they can be used more effectively to enhance user experience, without making the site a holy-war place of course.

Please don't say "you can continue discussion in chat". In chat you can find 3 people sleeping, and chat rooms are not good for specified arguments. We have thousands of questions on specific topics, and only two chat rooms... wonder why? because chat rooms are good oldie useless '90.

I think somewhere comments (not merely clarifications) should find their place to allow pacific discussion and view sharing. How about a collapsed box next to the question? If you want to look at it and take place just click it to show other comments, otherwise you won't get distracted by those.

Edit

Just for clarification, I never talked about forums! Those sucks as much as the chat here. I'm talking about doing the same identical thing we all are doing now, commenting on answers with personal opinions and points of view, without the fear that some random moderator may interrupt a pacific and interesting discussion.

It's not that we have chat, forums and comments and we have to choose between those 3... probably if we think about it we could find a better solution, without going against the site main interests.

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One of the best thing is that here you can find real people, sharing your interests and job experience. It's a human site, not a bunch of computer data like you can find on wikis.

Ok, I have two questions now:

  1. Have you ever participated in an actual forum? Because, man, those things can be great for sharing interests and job experiences. Someone starts a conversation, others chime in, threads branch off on tangential topics... It's good fun. You might even learn something.

  2. What sad, sad wikis have you been hanging around? A good wiki can have all sorts of interesting stuff on it, stuff from humans, even stuff about humans. Indeed, the whole point of a wiki is that humans - multiple persons - can edit them; packing them full of static "computer data" is really missing the point.

Aaaand, one little aside:

In chat you can find 3 people sleeping

Yeah, 'cause the folks who have stuff to chat about are still trying to hammer that square peg into the wrong hole that is the Q&A site, and coming here to gripe about all the splinters.

Patient: Doctor, it hurts when I do this!
Doctor: Well, then don't
do that!

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    Have you ever participated in an actual forum? Because, man, those things can be so filled with noise and drivel that you can't possibly learn anything from them. – Robert Harvey Sep 10 '11 at 5:06
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    Hence the development of Q&A sites like this one. – Shog9 Sep 10 '11 at 5:24
  • Exactly! . . . . – Robert Harvey Sep 10 '11 at 5:25
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    However, if you're after noise, want to hang out with peers and chew the fat, a Q&A site is a poor choice. So it perplexes me that so many seem determined to turn this into a forum... – Shog9 Sep 10 '11 at 5:27
  • I never talked about forums (these sucks). Wikis? There's no discussion and opinion sharing going on there or I'm missing something? You and I can discuss about a wiki page, but going there you won't find a chance to share an opinion with anyone. You can use the data on a wiki to discuss with somebody else, but it's not a place for talks. – Jose Faeti Sep 10 '11 at 7:29
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    @Jose: Yes, you were very careful to describe a forum without actually calling it a forum. And for what? There's no shame in admitting, "Hey, this Q&A thing is great, but... sometimes, I really just want to trade opinions with my peers." Just... Use the right tool for the job. When folks started trying to hold conversations on wikis, "talk pages" were created to act as per-topic forums. When folks started trying to hold conversations in questions, answers, and comments, Chat was created to provide... forums! Because they're the right tool for that job. If you need a forum, use a forum. – Shog9 Sep 10 '11 at 15:03
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The focus of all Stack Exchange sites is the question and the answer, not the interaction between the people. Jeff and co have resisted many attempts to turn the sites into social networks and I agree with this. There are plenty of other places on the internet to chat.

That's one of the reasons why Stack Overflow succeeded and allowed the model to expand to other areas.

Comments that aren't asking for clarification or adding clarification are just noise. Even comments that are adding clarification are ultimately noise when that clarification is edited into the post.

  • It's not simple chat as long as it's relative to the question... it's a way to expand the question and the answers. – Jose Faeti Sep 9 '11 at 16:01
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    @Jose - these should be directed at improving the question or answer and then deleted. – ChrisF Sep 9 '11 at 16:03
  • Then why don't think about a link to go somewhere where the discussion is related only to that particular question? no comments in the site, nor in the question page or the answer post, just another page, another part of the site dedicated to commenting questions. – Jose Faeti Sep 9 '11 at 16:05
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    @Jose That's the niche the chat is meant to fill. See my answer to this question for my take on why we don't want to just hide comments out of sight. They might still contain useful info. We want to make sure that info is in an answer somewhere. – Adam Lear Sep 9 '11 at 18:07
  • Don't forget that comment conversations can always be continued in a custom chat window that is tied to the original question; this provides a richer experience than comments does, because it is realtime, threaded, and allows for code markup and oneboxing. – Robert Harvey Sep 10 '11 at 4:33
  • @Robert: I tried to follow that approach sometimes, I created a chat but other people don't follow you, because they don't have time for a real chat conversation or because they simply don't want, I would rather avoid it myself, because in chat there are no rules! that's really noise! If 3 or more people starts to talk you soon you don't understand a thing! Chats were good 20 years ago, I think a message system like comments is great and could be improved maybe. – Jose Faeti Sep 10 '11 at 7:35
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    @Jose: and yet, we have rules for comments and you dispute the need for them. Three people responding in comments simultaneously works even less well than it does in chat. Chat doesn't have to be real-time; unlike IRC and many IM systems, the messages persist indefinitely, replies are wired into the global notification system, and transcripts are provided to allow folks to catch up. Some rooms are real-time, some host conversations spanning days. The only thing comments offer you is a stick to goad post-authors into responding (because your comment's sitting at the bottom of their post). – Shog9 Sep 10 '11 at 15:09
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Because forums suck.

By way of answering your question about comments, let me tell you about my own personal experience with forums.

It has to do with trying to find out why my 2005 Ford Taurus wouldn't start when the engine was hot. I spent about an hour sifting through chaff in various forums that I found in a Google search. The closest thing I came up with is the starter relay in the fuse box might be bad (it wasn't).

The following post is typical of such forums. Note that this post actually has better signal to noise ratio than most of the others I found:

http://www.epinions.com/msg/show_~threads/cat_id_~3/id_~8961/forum_id_~124

A summary of the replies in this post:

  • It could be an electrical problem.
  • I'm having the same problem.
  • I'm also having the same problem. Let me know if you fixed it.
  • I'm having the same problem. With my Honda Accord (!)
  • I am having the exact same problem with my 98 Dodge Avenger.
  • Maybe you need a tune-up.
  • Check for the connections in the engine. Maybe the problem is there.
  • I'm having kinda the same problem, but slightly different...
  • Colder weather tends to bring out the worst in an improperly maintained vehicle.
  • Find a mechanic.
  • Pat's advice is good. Remember, your car is old.
  • Anyone knows any information about upgrades for our ignition coils?
  • A lame reply to the ignition coils query (having nothing to do with the original question)

And finally,

  • an answer (posted by a moderator) stating that the problem might be a bad starter relay in the fuse box. This is the only answer that imparts any useful information.

Under the Stack Exchange rules, every one of these answers except the useful one would have been flagged and deleted by the system, leaving only the useful answer.

The only posts that would be eligible as comments would be those that provided clarification on the original question and on-topic answers.

This is how a Q & A site works. It's deliberately designed to reduce the noise as much as possible.

  • P.S. My mechanic has stated a number of causes, all of which are very expensive to fix. My father (who has worked on vehicles extensively, though he is not a mechanic) believes it is a $60 oxygen sensor going bad. – Robert Harvey Sep 10 '11 at 5:28
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    Sorry but I wasn't talking about forums. I was talking about improving the current comment system, without adding noises, without going against the site policies. Are we only able to think about chat, forums and other 20 yo cheap things? – Jose Faeti Sep 10 '11 at 7:37
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    Forums are the main reason the site is designed the way it is. You can't talk about the proper use of comments without also talking about why forums do it wrong. Any proposal for changing the way comments work would also have to explain how those changes would prevent the site from turning back into a forum. – Robert Harvey Sep 10 '11 at 7:39
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    Where'd you get this 20 year thing from, @Jose? USENET is over 30 years old now. The fact that so many features have been replicated (albeit sometimes badly) in other systems speaks to the utility of the concept when it comes to fostering the sort of social interaction you crave. Indeed, today's hottest "social networking" systems owe much of their designs to implementing solutions to problems that were first encountered decades ago. Q&A takes this in the other direction: how can we minimize the social aspects while obtaining and retaining reusable content?' – Shog9 Sep 10 '11 at 15:15
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I think a lot of people come to Stack Exchange sites in the hope of learning a subject or getting a deeper understanding of a subject. Jeff claims that they want people to learn, but what they really desire is to have people that already have learned the subject share their expert knowledge.

In my view, The Stack Exchange model isn't for learning in the broad sense. It is for fact gathering or specific skill building. I am not saying you can't learn from the posts but that is not the intent. The type of learning going on in the Stack Exchange sites is more like either elementary level learning or expert data exchange.

So experts are generally not going to gain a deeper understanding of the subject because of Stack Exchange sites, and individuals will not go from, say, novice to intermediate because of Stack Exchange. (Well, individuals might do these things but it will be in spite of the design and moderation of the subject areas.)

None of what I have said is inherently bad. What is bad is that the fact/skill gathering have been watered down because the moderators have not been strict enough. There is too much noise to use it as a programmers dictionary/encyclopedia.

I believe this has happened because the creators and moderators do actually, in their gut, want people to be able to learn but have no good ideas how to do this with what has developed so far.

The reason is because nobody has real good ideas on how to use the whole hyper text thing to instigate real learning that is also efficient. Real learning is very messy and needs lots of side questions and discussion and off topic comments and tangents. Real learning isn't along a straight path guided by precise Q&A.

Actually I think they are getting closer to a good model. But the owners may simply be happy with what they have and have no desire to make it an actual learning site. Or maybe they understand and want to try it but understand that it would be to hard to implement or take too much trained manpower.

Plus understand the the moderators are going to be developers. I haven't known too many software developers that understand and have the social skills to teach people how to use complex tools like Stack Exchange in a pleasant way. Instead they tend to instruct by just telling people what to do using their authority (often like a hammer). Getting people to use the tools correctly and consistently over time would take teachers. Instructors will work but it will almost always come across heavy handed and a bit rude.

Personally I think they, or somebody else, could implement the social aspect required for true learning using the (often) high quality Q&A focus of Stack Exchange (or other subject sites). One idea is actually tying chat to questions and removing comments so that you can look at a question and, instead of comments, you could optionally view the chat that comes up.

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    Wow. I don't think I've ever seen an ostensibly pro-moderator post that I found quite as insulting as this one. – Adam Lear Sep 10 '11 at 2:45
  • LOL Don't you see the irony or your comment? (I didn't intend it to happen but it is a wonderful thing.) And now you know how many of the people you close down feel. Not making any comment on whether any individuals feelings are justified or not. Just pointing out something I observed. (But really. Your comment is priceless. Really.) – ElGringoGrande Sep 10 '11 at 2:53
  • Wait, so are we too strict (by "closing down" people) or not strict enough? – Adam Lear Sep 10 '11 at 3:05
  • One other thing. I really didn't intend to insult anybody. And I know the moderators don't intend to insult or offend posters. But I, like the moderators, am a developer with limited social and teaching skills. I instruct my co-workers and I often come across as rude and elitist. My authority is often used roughly because I have limited time and skill with it. I am sorry for any offense given. – ElGringoGrande Sep 10 '11 at 3:05
  • @Anna Lear. This is becoming a discussion! But both. You are too strict if you want people to learn as humans learn. But you are not strict enough if you want the site to be a strict Q&A type thing with very high signal to noise ratio. – ElGringoGrande Sep 10 '11 at 3:06
  • Well, for an encyclopedia there are wikis which are definitely good at that. Of course this site doesn't have all the features a learning system could possibly have, but the amount of knowledge sharing going on here is overwhelming. I In a couple of months since I'm on SO and here I gathered so much knowledge I wouldn't have been able to learn in years by myself. I think this approach is great, but perhaps it could be improved in some aspects, that's why the question here. – Jose Faeti Sep 10 '11 at 7:49
  • I re-read your post and your comments here, and decided to make a few edits to improve the tone of your post a bit, and removed my downvote, since I think you do make some valid points. But I disagree with some of your premises, particularly the suggestion that you can't learn anything "real" from the SE platform. – Robert Harvey Sep 10 '11 at 15:39
  • Your post seems to suggest that professional teachers and a carefully crafted curriculum or some kind of special tools are required for learning; I can assure you that is not the case. I am a professional developer (I make my living doing it), but I still manage to learn something new and valuable from the Stack every day. The most valuable thing I get from the SE network is exposure to new concepts, techniques and tools, without which my knowledge of software development wouldn't be nearly as broad as it is today. – Robert Harvey Sep 10 '11 at 15:44
  • It is, of course, up to me to go and explore those new concepts, techniques and tools, and if you mean that the Stack is not designed for extended tutorials, then you would be right about that, but I've had little difficulty finding material to study, once I have become aware of something new I wish to learn. In fact, I have an email address, the sole purpose of which is to bookmark things I have discovered on SE, so that I can study them later. I've got at least two years of research backlogged in there. :) – Robert Harvey Sep 10 '11 at 15:49
  • Finally, to my main point, on-topic with the posted question: Yes, it is truly unfortunate that there isn't a better way to encourage productive discussions. In the early days of Stack Overflow, the members were all professionals, sharing ideas. The rules were looser back then, because most of the participants could be counted on to act as professionals. But nowadays there are a lot of new members that strongly believe in the forum model, and want to force that model on SE; that same dynamic that we've gone out of our way to avoid (See the answer I posted for a detailed example). – Robert Harvey Sep 10 '11 at 15:56

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