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The Background

In my participation in other areas of the StackExchange family of sites, I have seen some back and forth about requiring comments for close and/or down votes. The culture at stackoverflow is strongly opposed to the idea, but other areas like Area51 are more inclined to like the idea.

With the recent move of StackExchange family to https://meta.stackexchange.com/ from https://meta.stackoverflow.com/ it promotes the possibility of cross family discussion that would allow the option for allowing each site to independently choose to require or not require comments on close and/or down votes. Which leads me to posting this straw pole as I believe Pets.SE family might like to have this option. Related Question

The Question

If the option were available (currently it is not) would you like to require comments for?

  1. Down Vote = Comments Required
  2. Close Vote = Comments Required
  3. Both Close & Down Votes = Comments Required
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  • If you support one of the choices, please post an answer with your rationale so others can clearly support you perspective. – James Jenkins May 1 '14 at 11:08
  • "It says 'comment required' so I'm just gonna say nonsense here... lol lol lol long enough yet?" – Monica Cellio May 1 '14 at 18:56
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None of the above. :)

While I tend to leave comments when I downvote or close, I do it when I think the comment has a chance to correct the problem I think I see. However, if I do that, it's my choice, though I feel a certain responsibility to do it when I make a direct call to close or delete something as a moderator.

However, the problem with requiring a comment on these actions for most people is that you'll discourage them from happening as people will tend to want to avoid confrontation with others. Or when they do, the natural defensive reaction kicks in for the recipient and we end up with comment wars as we have already seen here. Those of us who have been here for most of the site history can think of a few examples of this.

So, all of that would actually lead to less quality, in my view, in the information we have on the site.

As an aside, unless something was to change on the Stack platform (and their general philosophy), it's unenforceable even by moderators. We have no ability to reverse or remove a vote for any user and I can't see that being made available in the future.

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  • 1
    Thanks for the posting the none of the above answer, that I forgot to list as an option :) – James Jenkins May 1 '14 at 12:46
  • Per the aside, I was thinking of a technical solution, that would prevent the vote from registering without entering or up voting an existing comment. It is to much to ask for moderators to police this. – James Jenkins May 1 '14 at 12:48
  • @JamesJenkins As far as I'm aware, the SE team is very reluctant to make code changes to beta sites. The only examples I'm aware of are support for special formatting specific to the topic, such as the graphics for cards in poker.se. – Beofett May 1 '14 at 12:54
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No, comments should not be required.

First and foremost, comments can't be required. There's absolutely no way to enforce it, without rewriting the code.

While I believe comments should be encouraged, they can't be made mandatory.

Nor do I really believe they should be.

Revenge downvoting and arguments in comments are very real possibilities for someone posting even the most constructively-phrased comment explaining why a negative action (downvote or VTC) was made. Some people don't want to be involved in conflict like that, and that's their right. They shouldn't be stripped of one of the fundamental forms of participation on this site just because they can't trust other people to respond positively to criticism.

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  • +1 I'm still relatively new to SO/SE, and didn't believe that revenge downvoting would actually happen. I now know that it does. – ClickRick Jun 3 '14 at 18:11
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You may be reading into the MSE / MSO split too far, I think SE staff have always seen feature requests across all child sites. So it's always been possible to suggest site specific features, they've just chosen to keep most core features the same. Having said that my thoughts would be to leave down vote comments as-is for the following reasons:

  • General consistency across sites

  • For comments on down-votes I often like to leave a comment, but sometimes they are just obviously nasty / offensive / not constructive posts where I feel like a comment is just "feeding the troll". I'd rather they just disappear from view without wasting my time on a comment.

  • At other times on a down-vote someone has already posted a comment I agree with that I can just upvote. Forcing different comments for each vote would cause a lot of noise, and allowing just a comment vote means someone could upvote a "Wow what an interesting question / answer" type comment but downvote the post itself.

  • Another problem is revenge down-voting. Some of that might be detectable by the system but a lot wouldn't be. It could even be quite passive, maybe I could see that I'd voted up lots of your posts and you'd never upvoted me, and I could just simply stop voting on your answers and upvote alternative ones.

For comments on close votes I'd be a bit more open to that although probably a more straightforward way would be to allow low-rep users to view close votes on their own questions. Maybe that could occur at some threshold so they don't get discourage by the odd errant close vote, or possibly it could be a warning that there may be closed for the specific vote reasons once a threshold is passed.

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  • Good call on pointing out that "some" of the inappropriate "revenge down-voting" is system corrected. – James Jenkins May 1 '14 at 13:24
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I'm all for enforcing comments with close votes (or, at least, the first close vote if the system doesn't already supply an automated one (as it does with duplicates)). I have no idea if the moderator system functionality allows for this type of enforcement.

Down votes should never require comments.

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There's two fundamental behavioral paths you're describing here, when you get into the business of closing. You're anticipating the user thinking one, or both of the following things:

  • This bad thing happened, how can I fix it?
  • This bad thing is happening, how can I avoid it?

The changes we've put into how questions are closed have addressed both, to a degree - it's much more clear to users why their question was put on-hold, but not always immediately obvious why their question might be placed on-hold. That's something I'd definitely like to explore a bit more, but we do have the custom close reasons and comments, which helps to a large degree.

When it comes to duplicates, I think we could be doing much better than we're doing, and I'm working hard to bring some much needed love to that workflow. Focusing on questions when it comes to more immediate feedback and just-in-time help is definitely something worth additional time, I don't think we've hit the metaphorical 'sweet spot' just yet.

On answers, I don't want to think about requiring a comment, beyond the prompt that tells newer users that just unlocked the ability to down-vote that they can leave a comment if they have thoughts on how the post should be improved. There's reasons why even I don't leave comments when I down-vote:

  • I don't have the energy to engage the author of the post, I wanted to down-vote something I know contains bad or even dangerous advice, perhaps returning later to engage in a short discussion if someone else hasn't
  • I don't want to deal with the 'return to sender' phenomenon where someone obviously agitated goes through my history and down-votes everything they don't particularly care for
  • My disagreement is a philosophical, not technical one, and I don't want to make that argument with a diamond next to my name, because some users do perceive this to mean "I am the site administrator and you should think like I think or else."

However, the times that I abstain from commenting are indeed quite rare and it's generally obvious why I cast my vote to begin with.

There's been talk of having anonymous comments optionally accompany down-votes, however, there's a limited amount of action one can take if they can't actually engage with the person that left the comment. It turns out to be not that much better than no comment at all, which makes it not worth the amount of work it would take to implement.

The better thing to do is establish and maintain an outwardly-friendly policy as an unwavering norm with a mindset that folks should hold themselves self-accountable to this. Not everyone will, not everyone can - the Internet is full of socially awkward people. However, for the most part, folks see their contributions well-received or find clear guidance as to how they could be.

Questions, of course, notwithstanding - I think there's room for more improvement there.

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