I know that StackExchange encourages moving extended discussions to chat. I have also seen moderators actively moving extended discussions to chat.

The question is, what's the point of this? Personally, I have been using this site for almost 3 years and I haven't been to chat once. And I like discussions related to a question being together with the question, not a further link (and opening a new page) away.

The software already shortens the list of comments for viewing, and one can expand the list at will. So, why remove the comments?

Has this been discussed, or is it a given ?

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    $\begingroup$ I think one reason is to remove noise. You want to have the comment area free for people to "comment". If you have a long discussion going on in the comments, then that buries other comments that are related to the post. $\endgroup$
    – Thomas
    Nov 21, 2014 at 18:37
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    $\begingroup$ There will be a link in the comments to the chatroom used for the discussion so it can be referenced easily. $\endgroup$
    – robjohn Mod
    Nov 21, 2014 at 18:47
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    $\begingroup$ It’s a pain. I prefer the comments interface to the chat interface. $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2014 at 21:19
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    $\begingroup$ @robjohn: yes, but it implies opening a different page. I'd rather see the discussion about a question together with the question. $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2014 at 21:34
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    $\begingroup$ I have been to the chat, and I don't like that system so I avoid it. I generally dislike when my comments are moved to the chat, and would prefer them to be deleted altogether. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Nov 21, 2014 at 21:37
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    $\begingroup$ I absolutely refuse to move the discussion to a chatroom. May be I have an attitude problem? So be it. If a forced move takes place I just quit discussing that question. $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2014 at 22:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Jyrki: I won’t go of my own accord no matter how much the system nags, but I will reluctantly shift venues of the OP wants to do so. $\endgroup$ Nov 22, 2014 at 7:06
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    $\begingroup$ I think some people have an issue with going to chat whilst still talking to the OP, but not necessarily with the comments being moved to chat after the interaction is over. I can see why people wouldn't want to move to chat while still communicating with the OP, but after the conversation is over, I don't see what's the issue with moving the comments to the chat. $\endgroup$
    – Git Gud
    Nov 22, 2014 at 11:51
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    $\begingroup$ @GitGud: They’re less likely to be seen by later viewers, and not infrequently they’re actually of some use. $\endgroup$ Nov 22, 2014 at 17:57
  • $\begingroup$ Sometimes a bit of a discussion clarifies the point at issue for the person who has asked the question, and - for example - why an apparently complete and adequate answer does not immediately help. To remove the discussion to chat hides the problem and its resolution and would have to be accompanied by edits to question and answer to retain the key information. I have very rarely gone into chat to pursue a discussion related to a question, rather than a direct answer. $\endgroup$ Nov 24, 2014 at 8:07
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    $\begingroup$ @BrianM.Scott: My experience is that while they are eventually of some use, it takes far longer to get there than any reasonable person wants to follow a comment thread for. $\endgroup$ Nov 25, 2014 at 12:37
  • $\begingroup$ We should make a teeshirt with this catchphrase $\endgroup$ Apr 13, 2022 at 20:53

3 Answers 3


TL;DR: The reason for this policy about comments is that the StackExchange network was designed to be a Wikipedia-style, easily referenced Q&A database. On the other hand, this is nothing like what mathSE has actually become.

StackExchange is intended as a Q&A network. Among other things, this means that the most important questions are those that more people will have later, all information on a page should be kept as relevant as possible, and the most relevant information should be highlighted and accessible (accepted answers, upvotes). Irrelevant details should be removed not just from comments but also from questions and answers, and Wikipedia-style editing allows this to happen efficiently. Questions that are too localized should be closed under a strict adherence to this philosophy, because they are unlikely to help future visitors to the site or to show up on a google search result.

It follows directly from this philosophy that back-and-forth commenting should be discouraged. Instead, important information should be edited into the post itself, so that it is more accessible. This keeps the site from becoming like a forum, where you have to dig through pages of cumbersome details to find the information you need.

See, providing extended help in the comments is never appropriate. And extended discussions are not what this network was created for. This is a Q&A Site.

What mathSE actually is: a forum. Sure, it poses as a Q&A database, and because of the site design a lot of the features are optimized for such a database. But at some point, the entire philosophy behind StackExchange seems to have gone out the window.

It is a forum because you ask any question you want, and can hope to get an answer as long as you provide context (notice the focus on context rather than on value or usefulness of the question itself). "Too localized" as a close reason is now effectively gone, with no real incentive for anyone to enforce it anymore and no clear indication that it should be enforced at all. Interesting, obscure questions get lost in the swamp of conceptual duplicates which have been answered hundreds of times before. Finding duplicates, editing, and closing are not rewarded by reputation so they are not particularly widespread behavior, and certainly they are not widespread enough to put a reasonable dent in the never-ending barrage of questions.

Worse, the Hot Network Questions list (coupled with some related issues) has made it so upvotes no longer indicate either the quality of a post or its widespread applicability. Instead, a large number of upvotes probably indicate that your post is a fun distraction or worthy of attention on Reddit.

Does this comments policy make sense for the site's actual (intended or unintended) purpose? Many respectable users have upheld mathSE for what it is, and I do not fault them for it; they enjoy helping people, and they are not apparently too fazed by the unending stream of questions or the incredibly low bar we set for content. They may say that it is annoying or pointless to move comment threads to chat, and that it makes it harder to help people. Of the two positions here, theirs is certainly the more consistent with this site's actual usage.

On the other hand, the software wasn't designed for localized homework help. It was designed for excellent questions that help future users. And, it has served its purpose here to a large degree as well. I am often googling math questions and finding incredibly helpful answers from mathSE, formatted perfectly and free from irrelevant information. So it makes sense to at least try to uphold what the site was actually built for, and what in my opinion is really where most of its potential lies.

But those who are insisting that we continue to moderate comments in the way the software wants us to are probably fighting a losing battle, and the votes on this meta thread are not particularly encouraging. Perhaps we should cut the act and embrace mathSE for what it actually is.

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    $\begingroup$ Criticism of my post is welcome; please comment if you disagree. $\endgroup$ Nov 27, 2014 at 11:12
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    $\begingroup$ -1, Math SE being rather untroubled by the typical "SE culture" prevailing on most other parts of the network, is actually a good thing. It would be a pitty if the nice helpful rather academic spirit of the site would be replaced by the SE typical negative oppressive and unwelcoming overmoderation atmosphere, the site get infected by the virus of (comment and old question) deletism, or vigorous efforts to enforce to the contributing community adverse rules to make everything useful exclusively for external Googlers by all means. It is enough that this fate has overtaken Physics SE 2013 ... $\endgroup$
    – Dilaton
    Nov 27, 2014 at 17:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton: You know what would have been even more wonderful? If people who wanted a math forum had started up a math forum and the people who wanted to engage in a mathematician-for-hire-(for-free) had created a site for that, rather than deny the internet the existence of what could have been be a wonderful wikipedia-style, easily referenced Q&A database. $\endgroup$
    – user14972
    Nov 27, 2014 at 23:06
  • $\begingroup$ +1 for the "embrace..." part. I have never found comments to be much of a distraction and vaguely resent the 'software shepherding'. I find folks on MSE to be rather welcoming with none of the abusive superiority I have encountered on similar sites (sample response from SO: "Two dumb errors. And useless unrelated advice"). $\endgroup$
    – copper.hat
    Dec 2, 2014 at 6:37
  • $\begingroup$ What does "TL;DR" mean? $\endgroup$
    – copper.hat
    Dec 2, 2014 at 6:37
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    $\begingroup$ @copper.hat From our very own English.SE. $\endgroup$ Dec 2, 2014 at 7:32
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    $\begingroup$ @ChrisHayes: TVM! $\endgroup$
    – copper.hat
    Dec 2, 2014 at 7:36
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    $\begingroup$ @Hurkyl in particular science sites (and for Math SE this always has nicely been the case until recently) can be so much more than "dead" databases of Q&As or wikipedia style books for people to look up stuff. They can be a huge service for international communities of experts and (university!) students who want to help each other advancing or learning about the topic of the site. The since a few months ongoing attempts to destroy these nice characteristics of the site (kicked off by a single very determined user who is quickly gaining power and followers) ... $\endgroup$
    – Dilaton
    Dec 2, 2014 at 13:07
  • $\begingroup$ ... is exactly why I offered some help to people who are dissatisfied with the current wind of change and want to restart a mathematics site keeping the old spirit outside the SE network. $\endgroup$
    – Dilaton
    Dec 2, 2014 at 13:11
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinArgerami And the point of that unnecessary edit was? $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2015 at 13:33
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    $\begingroup$ Change my downvote for an upvote. $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2015 at 13:57

It's a pain to read through a long, (possibly) clarification-seeking argument between two users when I'm just trying to understand relevant discussion to the post at hand. Delegating to chat means that I don't have to see your one-on-one discussion with some other user.

That's one reason.


Note that currently the ability to move comments to chat is only available to moderators when an automatic "too many comments" flag is raised on a post, which occurs when more than 20 comments are made to a post within a three-day period.1

On math.SE, such a flag is almost exclusively raised on answers where the original asker and the answerer are engaged in what could be termed an extended tutorial session. This is, however, not among the intended purposes of comments. Such lengthy discussions are much better suited for our chatrooms (and while MathJax is not natively supported in SE chat robjohn has provided bookmarklets to enable the rendering of MathJax in chat). Valuable information within these discussions should be edited into the post itself, as even as part of a lengthy discussion they are hidden.

Moving these extended discussions to chat both retains the discussions themselves (albeit somewhere else, but that somewhere else both is linked from and links to the originating post), and allows for the greater visibility of comments that serve the intended role. (Furthermore, it keeps the pages tidy, but that may only be important for the OCD folks among us.)

1There is a feature request on MSE to broaden this moderator ability.

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    $\begingroup$ Such discussions may be better suited for the chatrooms, but the chatrooms are emphatically not better suited for the discussions. And there is often information in the comment stream that may be useful to a later viewer but does not obviously belong in the answer, especially when the answer was a hint. (And I very much hope that the requested feature is not implemented.) $\endgroup$ Nov 23, 2014 at 18:39
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    $\begingroup$ I had one discussion with a guy and he could not get to the chat. He said his reputation was too low. This site can be overwhelming to first timers and maybe he just could not find it. Anyhow, he just left. I would prefer comments right with the question with mods cutting out the excess. $\endgroup$
    – bobbym
    Dec 1, 2014 at 11:29
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    $\begingroup$ @bobbym: When comments are moved to chat by the moderators, all users involved in the ongoing discussion are given explicit write privileges to the created chatroom, regardless of their reputation. $\endgroup$
    – user642796
    Dec 1, 2014 at 12:01

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