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Very often I’ve seen low-quality questions (i.e. questions which don’t fit the requirements for what Good Question is supposed to be) hinted or answered by comments (here one very recent among many other possible examples).

I could be wrong, but my impression is that this habit is accepted or tolerated by the community and, as a consequence, by the team of moderators.

With reference to what stated in the EoQS, I’m convinced that, like ordinary answers to low-quality questions, also answers given by comments “reward users for their low-quality contributions, and encourage further low-quality contributions in the future” and therefore the same actions promoted by the EoQS should be taken also for this kind of behaviour.

From the above reasons here is my question:

are answers given by comments for low-quality questions against the principles stated with the EoQS?

I would appreciate to know the thoughts of the community about that.

P.S. Also feel free to suggest any improvement for the clarity of the text or for the editing.

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  • $\begingroup$ Which comment do you refer to as an "answer" in the linked post? I see only relevant hints there. $\endgroup$
    – user1046533
    Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 22:05
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    $\begingroup$ @user1046533 I'm referring indeed to questions "hinted or answered by comments". It is not relevant for the point I'm raising here, but in this particular example the given different hints are equivalent to a complete answer. Anyway this specific example is not relevant here. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 22:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Strictly speaking, yes, but I think it's fine as it is. Because in general, a complete answer can't be given in comments, unless maybe one engages in the threat, which in turn can encourage the OP to learn. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 23:13
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    $\begingroup$ @user: fair enough; I was thinking about "answers" in the title of your post.// "Anyway this specific example is not relevant here." Then why do you want to mention it in your post at all?// All those mentioned comments are now all deleted, most likely by a mod. $\endgroup$
    – user1046533
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 1:24
  • $\begingroup$ @user1046533 Yes in the present state the link is not so useful, at first it was useful just to give an example for the cases I'm referring to. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 19:53
  • $\begingroup$ @user1046533 I've deleted it and posted a new example. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 20:20
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    $\begingroup$ Please don't make significant changes to your question after votes have occurred. In particular adding opinions from "answers' wrongly makes the pior votes appear to be in support of those opinions - when they may not have been (future readers can't easily infer that). $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 2, 2022 at 20:48
  • $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque It is not a modification of the original content, I've just added an appendix at the end to recap some comments which I would like to put at the attention of the Community. Maybe I can highlight this fact more. Do you suggest to ad for example an "answer" for these comments? or what else? Thanks $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Sep 2, 2022 at 21:46
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    $\begingroup$ @user Please reread what I wrote. Doing that corrupts the votes. In the past some users have used such methods to mislead users for political gain. The proper place for your addendum is an answer (or comment). $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 3, 2022 at 2:54
  • $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque I've already asked to convert these comments in an answer to recap. I'll try again or ask if I can post an answer on that. Thanks $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Sep 3, 2022 at 7:09
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Please do not edit your question in such a way that it changes the meaning of that question, or changes the potential interpretation of a vote on a meta question. The information you posted is in comments, and if you are unsatisfied with that, you could post a new answer. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Commented Sep 3, 2022 at 12:24
  • $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson Thanks! If you don't mind I'll post the deleted appendix as an answer. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Sep 3, 2022 at 12:28

6 Answers 6

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I'd say that answering Questions in comments is strongly discouraged by SE policies generally, not just on Math.SE and not particularly in connection with EoQS.

Poor quality Questions often get commented by me to encourage the OP to make necessary edits to improve them. I can see that this has a certain overlap with the posited answering in comments, but it is in the nature of wanting the OP to provide context or clarity, which are proper goals for comments.

One point to bear in mind is that by SE philosophy, Comments are ephemeral content. Anything of lasting value should be incorporated into the Question's body, or in suitable cases provided as the content of an Answer.

Let me give a recent example. While the OP asks if a certain equality of vector spaces is true, the body of the Question focuses on an effort to prove that it is (but it isn't). Where I left a Comment urging the OP to close a gap between talking about an approach and showing the argument that (presumably) they had in mind, another Comment left gives tersely a counterexample (and yet another user answered the Question with a counterexample).

I voted to close the Question for lack of context and left the comment to reflect what the OP minimally needed to do for reopening. But in a sense the OP was not thinking about the problem in a productive way, and thus Comments urging the OP to think about the problem in a different way are both "answering" but also calling for improvement/clarity.

In summary I don't think it is desirable to enforce "strict" policing of Comments on low quality Questions when gray area exists between encouraging the OP to edit and improve and suggesting an approach to solving the underlying problem. If the OP is able to rethink their approach and potentially answer an improved Question, everybody wins.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your thoughts and consideration even if I don't think these refer precisely to my point. I'm referring to the specific case of answering Low-Quality Questions in comments and the effect that this behaviuor may have in encorauging "further low-quality contributions in the future". I don't see why this case should be handled in a different way with respect to ordinary answers to Low-Quality Questions, in the sense that finally the produce the same effect. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 19:35
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Regarding your habit to comment also low-quality questions to encourage the asker to improve it, I can say that I appreciate a lot this way to handle LQ post and I can't exclude that in specific case also an answer or a partial answer or a hint can help. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ Therefore I'm not claiming that we should enforce "strict" policing of Comments on low quality Questions but maybe we should consider to enforce "strict" policing of Answers abd Hints given by Comments on low quality Questions since the final result is the same (in encorauging "further low-quality contributions in the future"). $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 19:48
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    $\begingroup$ There is an option to flag a Comment for removal by a moderator, and I'd be inclined to use that in the event a Comment seemed aimed merely at fully answering without asking for the Question to be improved. As the Close Review queue takes so much of my attention, it's largely in connection with reviewing low-quality Questions that I look through Comments with a critical eye. $\endgroup$
    – hardmath
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 19:55
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    $\begingroup$ @hardmath That's fine but, once these kind of answers given by comments are flagged, do you agree that they should be handled according to the EoQS policy or you think that their deletion suffices? $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 20:13
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure what "handled according to the EoQS policy" means. A user suspension for continuing to "answer Questions in the comments" after a suitable warning? There's no rep-gaming reward for doing it, so I'm guessing this is less likely than the usual EoQS penalties. While I suspect deletion suffices for most cases, web interactions have a way escalating beyond ordinary discourse. $\endgroup$
    – hardmath
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 20:25
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    $\begingroup$ @hardmath But the point behind EoQS policy is not the "no rep-gaming reward" (which of course plays a role in the whole site) but the effect in encorauging "further low-quality contributions in the future". At this aim, maybe also answering LQQ by comment should be firmly discouraged. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 20:31
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    $\begingroup$ Creating an environment in which low-quality content thrives should always be firmly discouraged. We discourage users who post low-quality questions. We discourage users who post answers to low-quality questions. We discourage users who post answers in the comments (whether in reply to a low-quality question or not). We have many tools and procedures for doing this. EoQS is specifically about discouraging answers qua answers to low-quality questions. The fact that EoQS is silent regarding comments does not mean that we don't care about comments-they are simply handled differently. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 21:02
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    $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson Maybe I'm wrong but it seems to me that the negative effect of answering by comments to LQ questions (in encorauging "further low-quality contributions in the future") is highly underestimated. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 21:45
  • $\begingroup$ @user I am not sure that I know what you are responding to. You seem to be inferring that we don't take answers in the comments seriously, yet I have said absolutely nothing which I believe could be interpreted in that manner. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 21:50
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with your answer (and upvoted it) but I don't think the example you linked is low-quality. The OP had a linear algebra problem and expressed his thoughts about the problem (it could have been more specific, I agree). I am not sure what context could have been added here. $\endgroup$
    – Taladris
    Commented Sep 2, 2022 at 2:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Taladris Source + similar questions? According to hardmath, there is something off with the effort : and that's one of the problems with effort as context. I'd much rather have "this textbook is my source" and "I have seen the solution of xyz similar problem in my book". In that case, I would not even ask for an attempt. OP gets brownie points for participation in the comments, that is always useful. Another "what have you tried" travesty which could be a better question (I also need to check if it's a duplicate) $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 2, 2022 at 4:36
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    $\begingroup$ The biggest problem with effort is that people start asking "is this enough? is this honest?" and vote on this basis : which is always, well almost always subjective. A source is not : definitely not one with an online link, for example. Similar questions? Subjective, yes, but much easier to judge because of similar appearance or similar proof technique. As far as context is concerned, I'd much rather see undebatable , undoubtedly helpful pointers than ramblings, unless the question is solution-verification or the OP knows that their way is "almost" the right way from somewhere. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 2, 2022 at 12:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Taladris A source is extremely helpful when you can borrow from it. If this question is from Axler's book, I can use examples from Axler's book which the user can grasp easily because they're already reading the book. As for similar questions, I flat out don't agree with $99$% of questions on this site not having "similar" questions. Any other equality among subspaces which involves a complement can be argued as a "similar" question to this one, because they could potentially share the same proof technique. Lastly, questions are being raised about the nature of OP's effort by hardmath, so ... $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 3, 2022 at 4:58
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    $\begingroup$ ... it basically means that even if they've been honest, people are still doubting their effort : that's what led to the closure. Having said that, I wouldn't close this question as anything but a duplicate if I can find one, because of the comments of the OP. Comments have some weightage in my interpretation. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 3, 2022 at 4:59
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I think answering LQ [Low-Quality] question in the comments goes against the goals of encouraging high-quality contributions here. [In general I think answering in the comments is bad for the site, period, but I digress.]

EoQS the way it is enforced may have brought this about. People who post answers to LQ questions get scolding from Moderation. But as far as I know, people who post answers to questions in the comments do not. I think this is too bad. Even if comments are deleted, the person who asked the LQ question got what they came for.

What I am noticing in general is that it is many of the lower-quality questions get more attention here than many of the better questions do. This 'give feedback to help the user improve their question' seems in general, to be silly to me. All the attention being given to a LQ question to help the user 'improve it' seems to me to be, well, rewarding LQ contributions.

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    $\begingroup$ If you don't want to help users improve low quality questions, what do you want to do with those questions? $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 6, 2022 at 23:22
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    $\begingroup$ If a question is not good, I usually put a link to "how to ask a good question", and then vote to close. It isn't ideal , but this site is getting swamped with LQ contributions, especially now that the fall semester is underway. $\endgroup$
    – Mike
    Commented Sep 6, 2022 at 23:26
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    $\begingroup$ FYI, I knew of at least two users (one pre, and one post-EoQS announcement) that frequently answered low-quality questions in the comments. Both were suspended for some period. For the record, I collected some such comments and inserted them into flags. One of those users is inactive, the other has deleted their account. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 7, 2022 at 7:58
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Please forgive that this answer goes somewhat off a tangent. I do think this site is sometimes confused on what it is supposed to be, and this topic is a manifestation of that.

Is the primary goal of this site about produce a library of high-quality questions and answers? Or is it instead to help students learn? It can be that both are goals of this site I suppose, but keep in mind that these two goals often are quite different from each other. In particular, it seems to me that there is a difference between:

  • what many consider a quality question--a question that is original, challenging and interesting, posed by someone who clearly put a lot of thought into it, versus

  • [what many would consider anyway] a deserving question--a question that may not be so interesting or original, but one that is posed by a student who is clearly struggling to learn the concepts, and who is putting in a good-faith effort.

An example of a question that is considered deserving according to the above definition, but not quality, would be the question of whether say $\{(x,y) \in \mathbb{R}^2; x+y=5\}$, is a vector space, asked by a student clearly struggling with linear algebra but is making a good-faith attempt to figure this out. And so a question like this on this site oftentimes will get a lot of attention [which includes an answer on occasion] in the Comments, as people will want to help the student out. But c'mon, this question itself hardly has what it takes to ever be "quality" per se. It certainly isn't original and it isn't really interesting to most members. And there isn't anything conceivable that the student could add to their question to make it original or interesting to the site as a whole. [And, going by what I've seen so far on here at least, even the next person who comes and asks a basic linear algebra question along the same lines, will want to walked through their specific question, instead of being pointed to examples of similar questions that were asked a bunch of times on here already.]

In any event, I do think it would be good for the site to think about what the goal here really is. Especially now with Fall Semester in session and all the "problem set" type questions now on this site.

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    $\begingroup$ Excellent point I think often we are conflating quality and deserving questions in discussions $\endgroup$
    – Babu
    Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 22:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ While "deserving questions" can be answered reliably, they affect the search results for similar questions because their answers are not written in much generality. At the least, tagging and duplicate closure (where applicable) has to be done. It's good if a "deserving" duplicate is even answered as long as, in some way, it directs to a more general question which visitors seeking more general answers can use as a signpost. The site's organization has to be maintained, there no point of collecting answers without one being able to find them later. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 10:01
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    $\begingroup$ I think this is a fantastic explanation of a debate that is at the heart of many Math.SE discussions! It gets at an identity crisis within Math.SE. My own attraction to Math.SE is as an archive of knowledge that will be useful to others in the future, expressed in the format of questions and answers. I suspect I get that from coming from other SE sites, where that is the Stack Exchange model. That attitude then drives a lot of my views on closing questions, EoQS, PSQs, etc. But I know there is a significant population who prefer a different vision for Math.SE, and I respect that. $\endgroup$
    – D.W.
    Commented Oct 16, 2022 at 2:56
  • $\begingroup$ @D.W. As I see it, "effort" as "context" is quite weird. Context is "where the problem comes from/manifests itself" and effort is "how the problem is solved", so they are fundamentally two different things and I'd like it that way. To the extent that I advocate for questions to be left alone, even up voted if they don't show effort but otherwise contain enough context. Nowadays, we are just awarding As for effort : which is great because it prevents lazy posters from entering the site, but bad because effort comes closer and closer to being equated with context. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 11:27
  • $\begingroup$ Also, I wonder if the argument used on other SE sites , namely that low-quality questions will "drive the experts away" will work here. For example, the above vector space question doesn't need an expert to address it : and personally, I'd say more than half the questions here don't need experts. I've seen experts work in restricted tags, so they don't seem to be driven away because their own tags are fairly clean. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 11:29
  • $\begingroup$ Another factor which comes in is the meaning of effort. This thread seems to be a very decent look at how much effort should correlate with being a good question. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 11:38
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    $\begingroup$ @SarveshRavichandranIyer, there's a lot I could say about that (I have some anecdotes on the question of whether it drives experts away), but I suspect this probably isn't the place to debate the issues at large or try to reach a resolution on them. A fascinating topic worthy of careful examination, though! $\endgroup$
    – D.W.
    Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 18:16
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At this point I think can be useful incorporate here, as an answer, some clarifications given by moderator Xander Henderson by comments and which, at the moment, I consider as a possible answer regarding the application/interpretation of EoQS for this case. Notably:

  1. Comments and answers are not treated in the same way because comments and answers are fundamentally different, either from a psychological point of view or from a software point of view.
  1. Comments are designed to be ephemeral, whereas answers are designed to be permanent. It is relatively easy for moderators to track deleted answers; much harder to track deleted comments. Answers get XP, comments don't.
  1. Answers in the comments are just as damaging, with respect to building a quality repository, as direct answers.
  1. If we notice that a user has a habit of posting answers in the comments, they will likely get a warning (in the same way that someone posting a lot of answers to low quality questions might have gotten a warning before EoQS was posted), but it is a lot harder to track users who make a habit of using the comments to post answers.
  1. There are many reasons why comments and answers are treated differently. The technical problem of keeping track of comments is only one such reason.
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$\begingroup$

are answers given by comments for low-quality questions against the principles stated with the EoQS?

  1. EoQS is a procedure, not a policy. It is impossible for anything to be "against" a procedure. Moreover, EoQS is a procedure regarding answers, not comments, so it doesn't apply to comments. However, one might argue that EoQS is a procedure meant to enforce the policy regarding quality standards, as articulated in the "How to ask a good question" post, and that posting answers in comments might be a violation of that policy, but that is neither here nor there, because...

  2. Part of the SE model (not just on Math SE, but on SE in general) is that comments are ephemeral, and should be used to help an asker or answerer improve their post. Comments should point out areas where a post is unclear, or suggest changes which might improve a post. Comments should not be used for posting answers. As such, answers which are posted in the comments will typically be deleted, assuming that they are brought to the attention of a moderator.

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  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thanks for your thoughts. With referenco to point "1", let me clarify that I'm not claiming that answering LQ questions by comments is against EoQS policy but against the principles declared in the policy, since any kind of answer to a LQ post “reward users for their low-quality contributions, and encourage further low-quality contributions in the future”. Maybe the way I've expressed this concept in the OP is not the best, I can improve it if you have some suggestion. Thanks $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 19:34
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    $\begingroup$ Using your words in the comment to this deleted answer: "Answers in the comments are just as damaging, with respect to building a quality repository, as direct answers". This is precisely my point: why these cases should be handled in a different way with respect to ordinary answers given in the proper way? $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ @user I am not sure that I understand the question. Comments and answers are not the same thing, either from a psychological point of view or from a software point of view. Moderators delete comments all the time (the moderation team has deleted over 300 comments in the last week); moderators rarely delete answers (a total of 10 posts have been mod-deleted in the last week). Comments are designed to be ephemeral, whereas answers are designed to be permanent. It is relatively easy for moderators to track deleted answers; much harder to track deleted comments. Answers get XP, comments don't. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 20:53
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Comments and answers are not treated in the same way because comments and answers are fundamentally different. If we notice that a user has a habit of posting answers in the comments, they will likely get a warning (in the same way that someone posting a lot of answers to low quality questions might have gotten a warning before EoQS was posted), but it is a lot harder to track users who make a habit of using the comments to post answers. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 20:55
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks this last one is the point! In principle all kind of answers to LQ post are not in line with EoQS but for answers given by comments there is a practical issue to track them. Am I right? $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 20:57
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @user You are correct that there are technical hurdles, but please don't fixate on that sentence. There are many reasons why comments and answers are treated differently. The technical problem of keeping track of comments is only one such reason. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 20:58
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thanks, if you convert this in an answer or add that in your answer I think I can accept that. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 21:00
  • $\begingroup$ May I recap the main points you given by comments in an answer? Currently I've posted an appendix to my OP but @BillDubuque suggest a different way to proceed. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Sep 3, 2022 at 7:11
  • $\begingroup$ It's weird how this solution, which is merely two statements of fact that are well established, has accrued any downvotes at all. My theory: the downvoters are really angry there's nothing to be angry about in it. $\endgroup$
    – rschwieb
    Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 15:24
-11
$\begingroup$

Yes

I think I can give a simple reason for why this happens in an Ayn Rand style . The reason is that people typically answer and ask is for their own selfish pleasure, not for others or some great goal of building MSE as greatest site of all time. Now, the only question is, how can we stop people from deriving personal pleasure from answering such questions? Answer : no clue.

It seems to me that bans as a deterrent is not very effective and has been leading to splits/polarization in the community. Better ideas are required.

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    $\begingroup$ [to a now-deleted comment] Eh. I think there is at least a secondary desire for some people (not the main point they're here, but rather just something that contributes) to gain more of these oh-so-important imaginary internet points. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 22:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @user1046533 I think there are many different reasons and among these maybe there is also "selfish pleasure" or also "selfish pleasure to help". But also this is not the point I'm referring to. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 22:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Pri, one doesn't score internet points, real or imaginary, from upvotes on comments. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 23:02
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    $\begingroup$ Bans are not a deterrent, they are a direct prevention. People who make or support junk posts get told not to; those that persist are disallowed from continuing to do it. $\endgroup$
    – Nij
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 4:16

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