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Below is a sketch of a proposal I devised for handling the problem of rambling contentious meta-level discussions on the main site. The basic idea is to have a list of standardized community-elected meta-comments - comments on non-mathematical matters such as homework, imperative mode, prior work, etc. Each standard comment links to a meta thread on one specific issue. We recommend that users follow the policy that the only comments allowed on such (contentious) topics is the standard comment, i.e. the comment that is currently the top-voted answer in the associated meta-thread (which may change over time as the community grows and learns more about global site dynamics). Any user is free to post the standard comment as a comment to any question or answer - but without any modification whatsoever (note that this implies that multiple identical meta comments posted simultaneously can be flagged and easily deleted by mods without having to worry about editing out additional content in the comment). The FAQ should prominently mention the policy.

As an example, a standard meta comment on imperative mode questions might look as follows

Please be aware that questions posed imperatively are not well-received by many readers ...
... etc, etc
See this meta thread for discussion on this topic; see here for more on standard meta comments.

I think some variation of the above could be quite successful. At the least, this will move contentious discussions off the main site to the meta site. At the best, we can devise standard meta-comments that are polite and accurately represent the diversity of viewpoints in our community (something that should be viewed as an asset - not a liability).

Another benefit is that - due to standardization - these meta comments can be automatically processed, e.g. they could be (automatically) deleted after the thread becomes inactive. They can easily be ignored by users if they have some easily recognized standard form. Further, if there is a way to search comments in the future, then the search algorithm can easily ignore such meta-level text - returning more relevant results. Note that none of this holds true if such metal-level remarks are instead randomly interspersed within comments that also contain text that is mathematical (non-meta). The localization of such meta-level content has many benefits.

If you think that this is a policy worth pursuing, please upvote this question and leave answers or comments with feedback. If you downvote please leave some constructive feedback so that we can attempt to put together a proposal that has some chance of receiving widespread acceptance. Note that the primary goal is to move meta-level discussion off the main site and on to the meta site. For contentious issues the standard comment can in fact accurately represent the fact that that there are various viewpoints, so minority positions needn't be suppressed on the main site if such a policy is implemented. No doubt there are various issues that I have overlooked, but if we all work together to remedy these deficiencies, then such a policy could go a long way to improving the signal-to-noise ratio on the main site.

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    $\begingroup$ Seems like a very reasonable idea to me. I've always been fascinated by people making essentially the same remarks over and over again, with ever changing but always kind and adequate formulations. Like Arturo explaning people not to you the imperative... $\endgroup$ – Rasmus Sep 13 '11 at 20:34
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    $\begingroup$ Wonderful idea. Something similar has been implemented over at TeX.SE, and we can learn from them for some idea of what kinds of "standard comments" are useful. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Sep 13 '11 at 22:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Willie Thanks much for the link. I hadn't seen that since I haven't yet had enough spare time to follow TeX.SE. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Sep 13 '11 at 22:21
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    $\begingroup$ By the way, what does CFV mean? $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Sep 13 '11 at 22:55
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    $\begingroup$ @Willie: "Call For Votes" it's a usenet thing. $\endgroup$ – t.b. Sep 13 '11 at 23:29
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    $\begingroup$ have you seen the Pro Forma comments browser extension? stackapps.com/questions/2116/pro-forma-comments $\endgroup$ – Jeff Atwood Sep 14 '11 at 1:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Theo: Isn't that a bit like "PLEASE UPVOTE THIS QUESTION!"? :-) (Nah, I'm kidding. I know what it means.) $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Sep 14 '11 at 10:53
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    $\begingroup$ Bill: How do you suggest to proceed? Should people just post some sample standardized comments here and see what happens or do you want to wait a little longer for people to voice their opinions? The feedback so far is rather disappointing, I think. $\endgroup$ – t.b. Sep 16 '11 at 0:22
  • $\begingroup$ What's happening with this? $\endgroup$ – Casebash Mar 22 '12 at 6:38
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    $\begingroup$ I have downvoted because of the obligatory part "We strive to enforce a policy that the only comments allowed on such (contentious) topics is the standard comment,". I have a big problem with adding stringent new rules on the behaviour of helpful users, the fact that not every user who sees a problem has the standard text at hand, the fact that I will certainly not post other people's words under my name if I cannot fully identify and the fact that we already have problems with the inadequate built-in boilerplate for closing questions, moving comments to chat, etc. $\endgroup$ – Phira May 4 '12 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ I still think that recommended standard texts would be a good idea, but usage should be recommended, not enforced and tailoring to the two communicating users should be encouraged, not forbidden. $\endgroup$ – Phira May 4 '12 at 15:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Phira That's coming across stronger than I intended. How about instead "We recommend that users follow the policy..." $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque May 4 '12 at 17:09
  • $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque Yes, I can certainly agree with that. $\endgroup$ – Phira May 4 '12 at 18:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Phira Done. Thanks for bringing that to my attention. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque May 4 '12 at 18:57
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I think it would be a good idea to define standard meta-comments, but I'm not sure it should be taken to the extreme of automation. Ideally, meta-comments should be tailored to the user's expressed personality, in a constructive fashion. Otherwise we run the risk of alienating new users with canned responses. Have a nice day.

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  • $\begingroup$ Would it be possible to have standard meta-comments which allow the option of appending a further individualized comment? The search process should still work. It may be necessary to develop a method of not deleting the further comments. $\endgroup$ – Jay May 5 '12 at 12:43

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