Background: There was an answer on one question that referenced a personal anecdote of physical punishment. I argued against that answer, at first pointing out the fact that it was anecdotal. A discussion about this ensued between me and the answer's author in the comments, which I considered to be constructive, proceeding and civil from all sides, even though clearly adversary.

The poster of that question reported that admins removed all the discussion defending the anwser, and left only one comment, critical to answer, the in the comment section. The answer's poster, quite understandably, removed his answer thinking it the site prejudiced against his position.

My question is: Is discussion about an answer something we should discourage on this site, even to a point where it gets deleted?

If not, what would be the proper way to deal with an answer that argues something I think is incorrect? Downvote without explanation? Downvote with explanation, but without the poster being allowed to argue back? Downvote with explanation, with the poster allowed to argue back, but the downvoter not allowed to reply?

Or would downvoting an answer I disagree with because it is based on false assumptions even be appropriate, if the answer is otherwise well constructed? I don't personally think so, I'd reserve downvoting for simply poor or inappropriate answers.

One part of the problem may be that a criticizing comment (which I think everyone agrees should be ok) will lead to making the answer better if the answer's poster agrees (or doesn't do anything about it), but in case he disagrees, that same comment isn't a just criticizing comment anymore, but the first comment of a discussion.

And how are we to correct anyone's view if discussion about the basis of that view is not allowed? Or is that even the purpose of this site? (And there's also the related discussion on whether parenting topic is even valid for the SE format, on the basis that the topic inherently provokes discussions.)

With a site that will have controversial or otherwise discussion provoking topics both in questions and answers, this is an important issue to consider.

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As a side note, even my comment regarding the issue was deleted. I think it should have stayed for everyone who saw my answer and wondering why its no longer there. Just like explaining a downvote in a comment, I explained the deletion in a comment. –  Justin808 Jun 14 '11 at 10:22
    
(I'm adding two replies to my own question, to add possible alternative solutions to be considered.) –  Ilari Kajaste Jun 14 '11 at 10:28
    
Small social sidenote: I'm actually not emotionally invested in any solution here, just wanting to clarify how this site should be used. I will regardless argue for what I think is best, but there is no emotional subtext even if it may seem like that. I have no quarrel on what the major user base will eventually decide is the right use. If it's to be no discussion allowed, I won't agree that it would be the best solution, but then it'll be that. –  Ilari Kajaste Jun 14 '11 at 16:42
    
@justin - Ilari's comment directing people to this issue was not deleted. Your series of comments about previous deletions were off topic and not constructive, thus they were deleted. –  HedgeMage Jun 14 '11 at 19:19
    
@HedgeMage - it leaves a hanging comment, why is Ilari's comment there, noone will know as my comments are gone. –  Justin808 Jun 14 '11 at 20:30
    
I can understand the answers removal but I think there is also a cultural shift that has to be understood here. I was put under the same sorts of punishments as the answer had noted when I was young, although I turned out ok as far as I can tell. I wouldn't perform the same punishments now on my sons because I am not sure they are as effective. Partly as well the answer revolved around your experience, not what you have done with a child, and I think that is an important facet on a parenting forum. –  MichaelF Jun 16 '11 at 12:23
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6 Answers 6

As someone who struggled initially with the concept of "comments are not for discussions", I have come up with my own personal compromise rule that so far seems to work fairly well.

If I disagree with a point mentioned in a question, answer, or another comment, or if I feel that some form of clarification on another user's position would be helpful, I'll comment. If my comment elicits a comment that begs a response from me, I'll give one more comment to respond. However, if the discussion looks like it will continue after the second comment, I will post a third comment requesting that any further discussion move to chat.

While there are drawbacks to the chat system, I think it is still workable, especially due to the generally low volume of activity we see in our chat room. The tools available make discussions between people who aren't online at the same time possible, although if we start seeing higher volumes in the chat room, that might become an issue (which would easily be solved by the addition of additional focused chat rooms).

The key to any discussion, though, whether a short discussion in comments or a lengthier one in chat is that answers should be either added or updated to reflect any new ideas or clarifications that result.

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+1 for "answers should be either added or updated to reflect any new ideas or clarifications that result" –  HedgeMage Jun 14 '11 at 17:50
    
Agreed, I'm doing the same thing. –  MichaelF Jun 16 '11 at 12:24
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The comments were not removed without explanation.

The answerer and other participants decided to have an argument (i.e. a form of discussion) in the comments rather than taking it to chat. Pages of point-counterpoint (especially when it is mostly argument with low information density) doesn't improve the site, and isn't appropriate to the format.

The correct behavior when you believe that an answer is based on false premises or false reasoning is to downvote, comment with a short explanation of said downvote, and move on. If you have a better answer, great! Submit it as an answer.

Chat is a great place to have discussions. That's what it's for. Parenting.SE itself is not a forum for discussion -- it's a place to find information, a living reference. That reference is most usable when we condense what we have to say rather than seeding tiny bits of info amid drawn-out rants. Avoiding that particular pitfall is even more important on parenting.SE

Finally, I'm absolutely in favor of comments where asking for clarification is called for, or there's a downvote to explain. However, after that point if there is something worth saying it is either discussion (which should go in chat), a clarification/correction (which should be applied as an edit to the answer), or an alternate theory/suggestion (which should be posted as a separate answer).

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-1 I cant downvote this as I dont have the reputation required. I'm the other person involved in the above question (I deleted my answer). Chat is not a great place to have discussions. There is nothing tying a question/answer to a chat. Other discussions happen in the same area and make following the discussion your are interested in difficult if not there with everyone involved for a real-time chat. There are other reasons as well, mentioned in our chat session, I would link to it but not sure how to link to the full transcript of the discussion (another issue). –  Justin808 Jun 14 '11 at 10:16
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I didn't think this would apply in meta, where discussion is indeed needed. There's even a tag for discussions. –  Ilari Kajaste Jun 14 '11 at 18:02
    
@illari A certain amount of discussion is meant to happen in meta, however, it's hard to come to a consensus when an answer is provided as a comment rather than an answer -- I get it, by making a comment you aren't subject to downvote if people disagree with you, but your bid for "safety" from disagreement comes at the expense of making the evolving consensus harder to follow. –  HedgeMage Jun 14 '11 at 19:23
    
What? No! That is something I would never do. I do understand how you might see it as such, but I am a bit personally offended to be considered to employ technical trickery like that. I'll always gladly subject all my contributions to downvoting, discussion, counterarguments and any other types of community analysis, and I hold that value important. By making my arguments a comment, I was trying to keep the context. However, since that practice apparently isn't accepted even here in meta, I will edit my contribution to fit the rules. –  Ilari Kajaste Jun 14 '11 at 19:56
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The idea of "Discussion goes to chat" is fine, even very good. But Chat has a few crucial problems in order to be accepted as a place for discussion to be naturally directed to. See detailed description from this answer of mine. –  Ilari Kajaste Jun 14 '11 at 20:23
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I propose that we adopt the same policy as they have on photo.SE:

The site moderators will now be actively cleaning up questions and answers that have extended discussions in comments: any additional information teased out in the comments should be re-incorporated back into the question or answer, not left as a comment. Any extended discussion should go to our awesome chat system, built from the ground up explicitly for this purpose.

If you see the original asker or answerer leave a comment instead of editing their post, you should edit it back in yourself: anyone can edit a post or suggest an edit.

Because comment deletions aren't very transparent, we will be leaving the following comment when comments are cleaned up:

Commenters: comments are meant for seeking clarification, not for extended discussion. If you have a solution, leave an answer. If your solution is already posted, please upvote it. If you'd like to discuss this question with others, please use the chat. See the site FAQ for more information.

and the following has been added to our FAQ:

Can I use comments to discuss the topic of a post?

Comments are useful for getting clarifications, but not for extended discussions because they detract from the question and its answers. If you'd like to discuss anything with other users, please use our awesome chat room.

(above quote is slightly edited by me)

Update:
Jeff Atwood points out that extended comment discussions are now automatically directed to the chat room.

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Generally, discussions add background and depth to the answers (and questions) and as such discussion should be allowed using the comment system. Not all SE sites allow this, but parenting is a topic much more suited for discussion, than topics that have mostly clear, exact answers, like solving computer problems.

However, discussions should be allowed only as long as they keep to-the-point, civil, constructive and argumentative, and don't devolve into bickering and shoutfests.

It will be up to the mods to decide what is constructive and argumentative. Before deleting a discussion, the usual practice should be that the mod warns first that the discussion doesn't seem healthy and will be deleted if it gets out of hand.

As HedgeMage suggest in her answer, the chat could in theory provide an alternative platform for this sort of discussions. But it has a few crucial problems that would have to be solved in order for it to be accepted as a place for discussion to naturally direct users to:

  • All of the discussion goes to the same general room, making non-concurrent discussions difficult to catch up on, or follow. There indeed are features implemented in SE Chat that could help with this - 1) the @-notification indication when not logged in, 2) the reply-link and 3) the ability to create a specific room. However, even with these it's evident that the system is not designed for non-concurrently discussing a specific topic, and all of the helping features are really rather cludgy. (I can elaborate on the "cludgy" if really required.)

  • The name "chat" itself, and the whole chat interface suggests concurrent, non-permanent and general social conversations. However discussions need to be non-concurrent, permanent and limited to a specific topic. For the uninitiated, "take it to chat" is pretty much equivalent to "get out of here and have your insignificant discussions elsewhere on a platform that really doesn't consider your needs at all". Especially combined with the interface discouraging discussions, I expect it does not read as an encouragement to actually go discuss the issue in chat, but rather as a dismissal.

  • The point where commenting turns into discussion is vague, and acutal discussion content from the comments cannot be moved to the chat, where discussion should happen. This could be helped by efficient mod enforcement, though, and could become a learned practice by the experinced users, who indeed are most likely to also start the discussion. This might not be a big issue.

To illustrate my point by counter-example: In order for the chat to really work as a discussion platform that encourages and welcomes discussion for a specific answer, there should be, on each answer, an automatic link to an (initially empty) chat room about that answer, preferably with an indicator of the number of messages there. The number visible on the answer's info would suggest permanence to the user, and the link would provide a natural way to access the functionality. Again, I of course do realize this isn't possible to do "just like that" or even at all for parenting.se, this is just to illustrate my point.

In short: The SE Chat system inherently discourages long-timespan non-concurrent discussions on a single, specific topic. Thus it isn't actually suited for discussions.

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Just a small note: I don't think that it's the experienced parenting users who start the longer discussions. Based on my experience, they are more likely to keep comments short than parenting novices. If you mean more experienced SE users in general (because they are aware of the comment feature) then you may be right, I'm not sure. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 15 '11 at 5:23
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@TorbenGB I'd think that depends on what the culture is about disucssions. If they are actively discouraged, then experienced users won't be having the discussions. But if discussion would be encouraged, then experienced users are probably those with most information and interes in the topic, and thus most likely to enter discussions. Of course, that reasoning may be faulty. :) –  Ilari Kajaste Jun 15 '11 at 5:28
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The points in this answer by Ilari, about why SE Chat is not suited for discussions are quite valid. However, having discussions in the comments is not a satisfactory solution either. Comments serve the site's content a lot better if they are kept as short remarks, and having lengthy discussions in them would just bloat what is designed to be a light system with too heavy information. This also fits how most other SE sites treat comments.

The are no good solutions to having discussions.

So while mature, argumentative and constructive discussions are valuable especially for parenting.se answers, in lack of an actual good solution for holding discussions, attempts at discussion should be directed to chat, even though it might be a poor platform for it.

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While discussions do add background and depth to the answers (and questions), the SE comment system isn't really suited or meant for them. Discussions should be directed to the chat platform.

However, to overcome the problems inherent in both the UI of the platform - which is clearly not directed towards non-concurrent discussions of a single topic - and the UI of it's relationship to the actual site, regular mod actions are needed:

Wherever a discussion appears on the comments, the mods create a specific room for that discussion. The mods also remove all the comments discussion from the answer/question itself, and copy&paste the discussion comments to the new chat room (with proper attribution of course) as a starting point for the discussion. They also leave a comment, with a link to that specific chat room, indicating that the discussion of the topic has been moved there.

It might also be a good idea to together draft some sort of initial message the mods could leave to such a newly created chat room, that would very shortly explain some specific features of chat: That @-notification to people written in chat appear also outside it, and that the chat messages are permanent so the platform can be well used for non-concurrent discussion as well.

When the site is getting out of beta, we could also ask the SE coders whether there's a chance to create an automatic link to a new chat room, associated with every answer/question, so this mod activity described here would no longer be needed.

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Please don't ask the mods to create rooms for you and copy&paste stuff that you could just as well do yourself. That is not what we are meant to be doing. We are volunteers, not hired secretaries. I'll remove my downvote if you edit your post to suggest that everyone do that themselves, if they feel it's needed. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 14 '11 at 11:21
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If a new chat room is created for every new question and answer, won't the system simply devolve into a regular-style forum? How to ensure that the actual quality content finds its way back to the original post? –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 14 '11 at 12:12
    
@TorbenGB No, chat rooms would be created for only those questions or answers that seem to spark a discussion. That's not common, but it happens. –  Ilari Kajaste Jun 14 '11 at 16:16
    
@TorbenGB Sure, I could - and would under this policy - do it myself, but I will not be a participant in every case a discussion happens. I'd hope via the mod's example it would become a site practice that would usually be handled directly by users, but while it isn't, mods would have to show the way. –  Ilari Kajaste Jun 14 '11 at 16:18
    
I don't see why mods would have to create the room for the discussion. All that is required to create a new chat room is 100 rep, which any veteran from another SE site will likely have from the outset. Nor is there reason for copying and pasting the comments to the chat as part of the process, otherwise this becomes an approach of "once we've broken it, these are the steps we take to fix it". A good solution prevents it from ever needing to be fixed in the first place (i.e. people should use the "right" place for discussion, instead of relying on mods to move discussions). –  Beofett Jun 14 '11 at 18:44
    
@Beofett People don't magically use the "right" place, without guidance, especially since the practice I described is rather unintuitive. The mod attention was intended excatly to counter the inherent unintuitivness. However, the point about mod time waste is very valid. –  Ilari Kajaste Jun 14 '11 at 19:49
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