I've noticed a message in mathoverflow's place for comments saying that '+1' or 'thanks' comments are not appropriate. I don't agree with the second kind of comment being inappropriate. I think it's appropriate in many cases, e.g. if we accept an answer but there are others which are equally useful, if we want to express our appreciation on an answer to a question we haven't made, etc. Could this message be modified?

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    $\begingroup$ Fernando, I completely agree. +1, thanks! $\endgroup$ – Vidit Nanda Aug 10 '13 at 13:43
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    $\begingroup$ Agreed. I do think +1's are unnecessary - that's what upvoting is for - but I generally thank people when they answer my questions. I think this is related to the fact that MO is more in line with mathematical academic culture than the Stack Exchange network in general, which encourages a more impersonal level of discourse (which is not a priori bad, just different). $\endgroup$ – Chuck Hague Aug 10 '13 at 14:31
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, I believe that thanking people who've helped you is entirely appropriate. I have to admit that I find the anonymous impersonal culture here at variance with my own. This is part of the reason, I rarely contribute any more. $\endgroup$ – Donu Arapura Aug 10 '13 at 15:16
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    $\begingroup$ I completely agree with Donu. $\endgroup$ – Angelo Aug 10 '13 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ @DonuArapura Since the move there would be technically ample of room for more personal interaction (via chat), however, almost noone seems to use it. And, let me add it is really simple to use this chat and it also works in an asynchronous way; it is roughly like a huge comment thread. On math.SE for example this is quite active and personal; now the precise tone of the math.SE chat might not be such that everybody on this site would enjoy it (I guess) but one can start any number of rooms, for example there is already an Algebraic Geometry room, did you already have a look at it? $\endgroup$ – user9072 Aug 10 '13 at 19:13
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    $\begingroup$ @quid: The chat system is fundamentally flawed. I don't see the point in using it. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Aug 10 '13 at 21:51
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    $\begingroup$ @quid: First let me say that I was extremely active on the math.SE chatroom (in fact, I was so active that I got an automatic ownership, and I stayed with that title for quite some time). The chat system has a really lousy moderation abilities, the moderators have a lot of power across the entire network (if you're a diamond moderator in one site, you're a chat-wide moderator), but on the other hand there is no local moderation in chatrooms (owners are practically powerless). Moreover flags are being evaluated by users from all over the network, causing loss of context [cont'] $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Aug 10 '13 at 21:57
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    $\begingroup$ [...] which causes both dismissing of actual flags, and admitting ill-posed flags -- which induce an immediate 30 minutes suspension from the chat. All in all, this is a very bad design system for a chat which includes more than one room. Due to this reason I have decided not to use the chat system (with the exception of the MO chatroom for the first day or two after migration). You may think these things are not a huge issue, but they become issues when you're sitting in one of the two ends of the gun. You don't want your flagged posts to be evaluated by outsiders, or vice versa. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Aug 10 '13 at 22:00
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    $\begingroup$ @quid: It's not just the flags. It's the fact that if you want to suspend a particular user from a particular room you can't do it. You can only suspend them globally, or kick them (and they can just join back). Oh, and did I mention that you have to be a moderator in order to do either? Yes, not even the room owner can decide what is going in the room they own. And this sort of trouble, I assure you, the MO chatroom will attract (unless, of course, it won't be used by any real MO user, of course). $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Aug 10 '13 at 23:03
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    $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila: well, actually, this does not sound too good the way you describe it. If some cranks or people just an epsilon away from it could annoy "us" without much to be done against it. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Aug 10 '13 at 23:27
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    $\begingroup$ @quid: Exactly. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Aug 10 '13 at 23:28
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    $\begingroup$ @quid: I should have linked to Official reference for “don't leave ‘thank you’ comments” and Is it acceptable to write a thank you in a comment?. Of course, I am aware that different communities have different standards. But I thought it might be useful to have here links to some relevant discussions at meta.SO anyway. One of those discussions also links to faq about comments, the section When shouldn't I comment? seems relevant here. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Aug 11 '13 at 12:09
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    $\begingroup$ I think the obvious solution is to simply ignore this. As long as MO-moderators don't delete such comments, nobody will (network mods don't do such micro-management). This solution works quite well on MSE. $\endgroup$ – Michael Greinecker Aug 12 '13 at 0:58
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    $\begingroup$ @quid Most people who write in MO chat seem to have no relation to research mathematics whatsoever. Many do not even have an account on MO. People post their questions from MSE there. There are discussions on how sad it is not to have done any mathematics after highschool... In short, the chat room is an emberassment. $\endgroup$ – Michael Greinecker Aug 12 '13 at 1:19
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    $\begingroup$ @quid: Let this be a short lesson (which I refuse to elaborate on), don't encourage skullpatrol. It can do more harm than you think. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Aug 12 '13 at 6:48

I think that this is part of the network-wide changes. We can't control them, and they are applied uniformly across the SE network.

The thing is that on sites like StackOverflow, and on many other sites in the network, the community norms and etiquette can be very very very very different from the ones here (and on math.SE, for that matter).

It's good to remember that, when you see a feature like that. And then continue to ignore it.

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    $\begingroup$ I disagree with this. The culture does not seem that different to me. Of course, SO in particular is a much larger site, and it is thus different, or math.SE is somewhat larger and is/feels "younger" but other than that I really do not see a huge a difference. I think many of the innovations make sense when suitably interpreted. This however makes it necessary to engage with the intent and not take some reading with which one diasgrees and then feel in a position to dismiss it. For example, I often wish people would write more detailed comments on this site. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Aug 10 '13 at 19:03

I would like to suggest a different or more nuanced reading of the advice. Namely, the advice is to avoid comments that only contain this.

I agree it can be appropriate and nice if a questioner thanks the other (or all people) that provided answers beyond an accept and an upvote. Or, also other communication in the comments.

However, I also think that it can be still nicer if the comment is not only a quick "Thanks!" (plus something to get over the character limit) but actually says something specific or personal, for instance in the situation described it is not unlikely one could highlight a point that one specifically appreciated about this one answer.

Or, put differently, a 'thanks' comment can be appropriate but I think in most cases a comment containing not only 'thanks' but also something in addition can be even more appropriate.

Still put differently and somewhat jokingly, if somebody often writes comments containing only 'thanks' they do not put enough effort into expressing their gratitude.

I should also add that it is my understanding that this reading of the advice is not an absurd one (relative to its intent). Also comments should add some information, a comment that thanks in a specific and somewhat detailed way does, only "thanks" does not.

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    $\begingroup$ Are you going to thank me for correcting the typos now? ;-) $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Aug 10 '13 at 21:50
  • $\begingroup$ I am on record as saying I appreciate all edits to my posts that improve them, and since you seem to have corrected two spelling errors it seems like an improvement. So, thank your for doing this. It is a bit embarassing how badly I spell on this site; it is not as bad everywhere (but it is not one of my strength anyway). Not sure what makes it so bad here. I blame a combination of the small boxes, the fact that I sometimes type the things here very quickly, and mainly the fact that in the browser I write under a spellchecker...for another language. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Aug 10 '13 at 22:03

I think the reason why SE discourages such comments becomes clear if you look at how SE views comments.

AFAIU, from SE's perspective the purpose of comments is not having conversation. A good comparison might be Wikipedia articles and their talk pages. Comments which are not providing useful relevant information or suggest improvements to the post should not be posted (and can be removed as obsolete or too chatty). Only the content which is relevant and useful for later readers should be kept.

Just to clarify: I am not saying we should follow this on MO, I simply explaining SE's perspective AFAIU.

From comments:

What are comments?

Comments are temporary "Post-It" notes left on a question or answer.

When should I comment?

You should submit a comment if you want to:

  • Request clarification from the author;
  • Leave constructive criticism that guides the author in improving the post;
  • Add relevant but minor or transient information to a post (e.g. a link to a related question, or an alert to the author that the question has been updated).

When shouldn't I comment?

Comments are not recommended for any of the following:

  • Suggesting corrections that don't fundamentally change the meaning of the post; instead, make or suggest an edit;
  • Answering a question or providing an alternate solution to an existing answer; instead, post an actual answer (or edit to expand an existing one);
  • Compliments which do not add new information ("+1, great answer!"); instead, up-vote it and pay it forward;
  • Criticisms which do not add anything constructive ("-1, see previous comments you scallywag!"); instead, down-vote (and provide or up-vote a better answer if appropriate);
  • Secondary discussion or debating a controversial point; please use chat instead;
  • Discussion of community behavior or site policies; please use meta instead.
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    $\begingroup$ Hi Kaveh! How are you today? Lately you seem not as active on meta as before. How so? In any case glad to see you again. Nice post, by the way. Only I am sort of surprised you imply the purpose of comments on MO might be having conversation. This did never really occur to me. But now that I know, I thought I would do some small talk right away. How is the wheather wherever you are? Have a nice day and hope to see you soon on meta or on main or maybe I will eventually do an excursion to cs-theory. All the best, quid $\endgroup$ – user9072 Aug 12 '13 at 2:05
  • $\begingroup$ Since the point I want to make might not be apparent, let me stress again that I think there is not that much of a cultural divide as one might infer from some contributions, including this one. This is not directed against this post, which provides relevant information. But I do not see a reason to stress the differences in culture over the similarities (in particular, as the latter seem a lot greater). What is different I think is that there is more a culture of comment deletition (but this is likely also a question of sites size). But then some deleted obsolete comments all along on MO. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Aug 12 '13 at 2:34
  • $\begingroup$ @quid, thanks quid. I still read the posts. And I don't imply that the purpose of comments on MO are conversation. ps: this answer is kind of obsolete now that Tim has posted an answer. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Aug 12 '13 at 6:11
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, but I didn't say you implied that it is the purpose, either; only that it might be. Now, I am willing to admit that I perhaps read your post in a way different than intended (eg, due to Asaf Karagila's insistance on the "very, very, very, very" large differences; and similar situations earlier). The reason I said this is, you start your explication pointing out that in your understanding SE's perspective on cmnts is they are not for having conv. If this needs saying I thought you assume this might be different on MO. But, as said, I might have taken post the wrong way. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Aug 12 '13 at 9:25
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    $\begingroup$ And, don't worry about obsolete! This is MO after all! ;-) Where some arguue abstractly for keeping comments around that point out typos that already got corrected. (Requests for clarification why it is desirable to keep them go unanswered, so please don't ask me why.) $\endgroup$ – user9072 Aug 12 '13 at 9:28

Comments can become a bit unwieldy; they can attract quite a bit of noise that tasks moderators to disposing of it. There are two kinds of comments that we can consider valuable to future visitors, and our sites are all about helping future visitors equally well as the person that asked a question:

  • Corrections and clarification that should be moved into a post
  • Related short conversations that illustrate someone's process of grasping the knowledge an answer shared.

Comments like thanks!, this was awesome!, Wow, you nailed this! can sometimes be harmful because they fragment or even hide the types of comments that someone might actually find of value. This could mean that a point raised and addressed in comments never makes its way into the actual post where it should be, or valuable short discussions become fragmented and obscure.

Remember, everyone loves to up-vote a thank you comment to increase its sentiment and they can quickly bury hints that expanding comments might lead to something worthwhile.

It became enough of a problem that we added the hint right in the text input box, after so many moderators across the network expressed their frustration with having to clean up comments.

As noted by several others, every community on Stack Exchange is its own entity. As long as each community has struck a balance with the moderators that serve it, we're generally happy. As a general rule, if anything is consistently obscuring valuable information, we pay attention and try to make changes to keep that from happening.

It's not a major problem on Math Overflow, but something to watch as your scale continues to grow.

Finally, if you see oddly specific help such as this, it's generally indicative of us applying a stop gap solution while we evaluate a more holistic solution to a problem, which is the case here.

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    $\begingroup$ How much has the scale for MathOverflow grown since migration? Also, I understand and appreciate several points you make, and also disagree with almost all of them. Even though I do not administer dozens of forums, may I suggest that a preferred goal be to "help future visitors differently well from current visitors"? $\endgroup$ – The Masked Avenger Aug 12 '13 at 7:21
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    $\begingroup$ Note that moderators don't delete comments on MathOverflow, except in egregious circumstances. $\endgroup$ – François G. Dorais Aug 12 '13 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ @TheMaskedAvenger I'm not quite sure to be honest, I'm not aware of how it was doing prior to joining the network in granular enough detail to say. However as François notes, the policy of this community is to not remove comments except in extreme cases, and that's perfectly fine. Whenever possible, we want sites to do what works for them. I appreciate your candor, and the points do indeed come from a bird's eye view of many different sites, but that doesn't mean that they necessarily apply everywhere :) I mostly just wanted to explain why we're being so oddly specific in that help text. $\endgroup$ – Tim Post Aug 12 '13 at 15:22
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    $\begingroup$ I think it important to acknowledge the efforts of others with something more than a number. Thank you for clarifying the intent of your post, and for your response to my question. Please note we are still grateful for the service MathOverflow (and StackExchange) provides. $\endgroup$ – The Masked Avenger Aug 12 '13 at 15:46
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    $\begingroup$ @TheMaskedAvenger MO is quite "seasonal". One would have to compare this July/August with one year ago. Locally, it feels rather not-so-active (but this is normal). On your second point, would you consider it as better or worse if most accompanied most votes they cast with a comment? (IMO, the main reason why on this site people do not see the need for this guidance is that most people anyway excercise some healthy restraint in leaving insignificant comments.) $\endgroup$ – user9072 Aug 12 '13 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ I am experiencing a semantic disconnect: I do not see your remarks as having anything to do with my second point, quid. I will be hanging out in a chat room soon. We can attempt clarity and mutual understanding there. $\endgroup$ – The Masked Avenger Aug 12 '13 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ Not everything that is good for SO is good for any other (including smaller very specialized) site in the network. So SE should let the individual sites decide for themself, if they want to adopt such not explicitely asked for helps and features (automated downvotes upon closure is another bad one) too, instead of globally implementing such changes without asking for agreement. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 11 '14 at 21:52

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