Related discussion on Meta.SO.

Is there some kind of way that comments that are in fact answers to questions be moved from a comment section into the answer section? Ideally the user who asks the question should be able to do this or a mod.

This would possibly decrease the number of unanswered questions a little and encourage people to be more careful to put answers where they should be.

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    $\begingroup$ I think the moderators can do this. Another approach is to move the comment yourself and mark it as community wiki, acknowledging the commenter in the process. $\endgroup$ – cardinal Apr 25 '11 at 1:44
  • $\begingroup$ @cardinal We can convert answers as comments, but not the other way around. I fully agree with your second recommendation. $\endgroup$ – chl Apr 25 '11 at 8:50
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    $\begingroup$ And so, yet another comment answers ;-) $\endgroup$ – user88 Apr 25 '11 at 11:22
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    $\begingroup$ @mbq: Different users are motivated by different factors and so use the site in different ways. I'm probably one of the serial commenters that @Parbury alludes to. My personal threshold is pretty high for submitting an answer, mostly because I like to be able to compose something of quality that goes a little beyond what the OP is asking for. For me, that takes time and effort (I'm slow in more ways than one!). On the other hand, sometimes providing the right word or phrase can be enough to set the OP up to find their own answer. Hence, I comment! ;-) $\endgroup$ – cardinal Apr 25 '11 at 11:56
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    $\begingroup$ @cardinal Sorry, but I think it is like writing poems on a toilet paper; maybe it has some deep value, but there is also an unbalanced usability loss. One cannot accept, downvote or edit comments, they have to be short, have no permalinks, finally discussions in comments degenerate into unreadable clutter. I also had those doubts about answer quality, but those not so good are just getting over-voted by better ones, when they appear. $\endgroup$ – user88 Apr 25 '11 at 14:16
  • $\begingroup$ @mbq: Thanks for your comments. Your points regarding limited feedback on comments are very well taken and I think it's important and relevant. Regarding the "clutter" issue, I think the feedback mechanisms in place (you can upvote them) and the use of the interface "folding" keep the clutter minimal. $\endgroup$ – cardinal Apr 30 '11 at 14:08
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    $\begingroup$ @mbq: My purely anecdotal observations don't quite seem to match your description of answers, though. "Quality" is certainly a subjective thing and with the diversity of users here it's hard to know what that means. My own general perspective seems to indicate that there is a much stronger association between the order in which the answers were submitted and the number of votes received as compared to the association between "quality" and votes. Personally, I would rather see 0-3 (very) high quality answers than 2-6 responses of limited long-term value. $\endgroup$ – cardinal Apr 30 '11 at 14:12
  • $\begingroup$ @cardinal I understand your point, and that's why I oppose on usability/SEO/standarization planes, i.e. areas where comment-answers cause/are problems. Voting~quality problems are known and frequently mentioned on meta.SO, but while this voting scheme is the core of SE those are "bugs that have become features". $\endgroup$ – user88 Apr 30 '11 at 15:15
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    $\begingroup$ @cardinal your recommendation is reasonable, bit it is still annoying to have to do this. A good example is chl's comment on stats.stackexchange.com/q/11322/9007 - the comment IS the answer, and it is difficult to improve on it. No-one wants to submit a real answer, because they'd be stealing chl's rep, so the question remained unanswered for nearly a year. I tried asking chl to convert to an answer, but got no response. $\endgroup$ – naught101 May 15 '12 at 2:02
  • $\begingroup$ It probably wouldn't annoy me so much if the question wasn't high on the "unanswered" list for so long... $\endgroup$ – naught101 May 15 '12 at 2:36
  • $\begingroup$ @naught101 I am happy to leave a comment when question requires clarification or I'm unsure to have fully grasped it. I am grateful to you for taking time to provide an answer to the question you referred to. In this particular case, I have no excuse. (No worry with reputation issue: I'm not here for that.) $\endgroup$ – chl May 26 '12 at 10:55
  • $\begingroup$ @chl: I know, sorry to pick on you in that way, lots of other people do it too. That was just a good example because it was such a simple answer. I generally appreciate your comments :) $\endgroup$ – naught101 May 26 '12 at 11:28
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    $\begingroup$ If I'm giving a fairly simple answer, I'll usually give it as a comment instead of an answer, because a couple of times I was told that my answers were not detailed enough. The reputation points aren't important to me. $\endgroup$ – mark999 May 26 '12 at 23:51
  • $\begingroup$ @cardinal, I've certainly noticed the high average quality of your answers here on CV, & I appreciate that. In fact, I sometimes comment instead of answer for the same reason. I would not want to push someone towards a strategy that isn't a good fit for them, but I do want to note that there are other viable approaches (eg, as I discuss in the last paragraph of my answer here as well). $\endgroup$ – gung May 28 '12 at 19:35
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    $\begingroup$ @gung That's a clever approach, but you might appreciate discovering that it's much easier to right-click on the comment's time stamp and choose "Copy Link Location" :-). $\endgroup$ – whuber May 29 '12 at 14:55

It seems as though @Parbury and @cardinal tried to address this problem over a year ago, in April 2011. It was not resolved, and @Cardinal politely tried to broach the matter again, more recently. However, that question was closed as a duplicate, and referred back here.

I don't believe that conversion to Community Wiki is a good idea. The answer given by @mbq (and the answer comments that followed) address that adequately already. Situations like this Comments that are actually answers need to be resolved though. Otherwise, there will be more of this Comments that are actually answers which benefits no one.

My suggestion
Whenever one notices a good answer to a question in the question comments, and then notices it again the next day/week/year (no, that isn't well quantified, I realize), one should feel free, though not obliged, to use that comment as the basis for an answer. It would be appropriate to mention the user name of the person who made the comment initially. The answer should be written up decently, not just a copy and paste or a link. Expanding on it a little would be nice, but not mandatory. Community policy should then be to up vote said answer if it is worthy. Voting should not be biased by the fact that the original idea was provided by someone else. There should be no shame brought to bear on the person wrote up the answer.

Moderators don't have time to fix everything. And points are often earned in far less productive ways! While there are not a large number of situations as the one described by @naught101 in my second paragraph, they will accrue over time. This course of action will prevent future build-up. Perhaps it will have the secondary effect of encouraging users to post answers rather than question comments. The goal is to encourage the users who have a good answer in mind, but are hesitant due to shyness, or awareness of the time required to write up a decent quality answer. I feel both, quite often.

  • No, I am not being quarrelsome! I strongly agree with this: Comments that are actually answers as the reason there is such an abundance of comments that fully answer questions. I mostly attribute that behavior to the fact that users of this website, and many other StackExchange sites, have uncommonly high levels of moral and intellectual integrity. Don't any of you deny it! You know it is true. Well, "moral integrity" is an overstatement. Better: A sense of fairness, or merit-based preference. Possibly a tendency toward modesty, maybe antipathy for the seeming-appearance of "glory hogging" behavior. I have some basis for my conjecture. It is empirical, personal observation, I admit. Given the difficulty in quantifying human behavior, I am willing to go out on a limb. There are Q&A sites where network homophily and contagion (not that there is anything wrong with that, for a more "social" site...) is much more in evidence than SE. On such sites, I have observed that comments on questions are few and far between. Incidence of comments that answer the question are close to nil. This is true, despite the fact that comments on questions are allowed. They aren't implicitly discouraged by site policy, either. (It becomes problematic when questions are not closed, as dozens of answers pile up, over time.)

As chl said, even moderators can't do the comment->answer conversion. However I don't think it is reasonable to build tools that justify wrong behavior -- we should rather all start encouraging authors of comment-answers to repost them.

I don't like the CW option since it is a lot of work, will generate clutter and become a reputation drain.

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    $\begingroup$ Reputation drain in what sense? Also, I wasn't suggesting that moderators hop around converting comments to answers, but rather if another user sees a comment that they feel is worthy of being an answer, they can also copy and CW it. I suggest CW as a courtesy; I believe that Jeff Atwood advocates or at least is not bothered by more "aggressive" behavior where the person copying also takes the "reputation". But, I think that can be a little counterproductive and goes against the general tenor of this particular site. $\endgroup$ – cardinal Apr 25 '11 at 11:49
  • $\begingroup$ In a sense it goes nowhere. If we create an atmosphere causing that only superb/insolent answers get rep, the whole concept will become broken. Anyway, on Physics.SE a single comment to CW conversion act caused a little war, so not all will agree with that idea. $\endgroup$ – user88 Apr 25 '11 at 14:25
  • $\begingroup$ @mbq: I suppose my perspective is such that I do not view "reputation" as some perishable resource that disappears forever never to be recovered. I also find the term a bit misleading. In my view, a more descriptive name would be "activity level" or "participation level", as that seems to be what is most highly correlated with the numbers next to our names. Being a stats website, I think we should be more in tune with these nuances. $\endgroup$ – cardinal Apr 30 '11 at 14:18
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    $\begingroup$ @mbq: I think if we wanted to show a bit more sense of humor and irreverence, we'd randomly generate a new number for each user every day and display that next to their name. I have some other thoughts on how the "scoring" of questions and answers might be more valuable, but I'll leave that for another time. $\endgroup$ – cardinal Apr 30 '11 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ @cardinal I agree that rep is quite irrelevant to the quality of posts; even FAQs claim that "Reputation is a rough measurement of how much the community trusts you.". However IMO it is a strong enrolling factor, especially for new users, and this is why I defend it. $\endgroup$ – user88 Apr 30 '11 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ @mbq: Yes, I am sure it is a motivating factor for many new users. Unfortunately, this can, at times, lead to counterproductive behavior. $\endgroup$ – cardinal Apr 30 '11 at 15:16

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