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This is a really hard post to write. It's been coming for a while and I'll admit I'm of mixed feelings about it but I'm making the right decision here even if it hurts a little. A big part of me wants to just walk away quietly and not be noticed in my absence, but that would not solve the underlying reasons for which I'm leaving in the first place.

I will preface what is to come by stating that I don't consider myself one of the 'high rep' users of the site that has the influence to be listened to about how the site should change; I fully expect this note to be ignored by SE but I'm writing it for the same reason that I've spent the last 2 years, 4 months on this site - because it makes ME feel better. You don't often get to write valedictory speeches, so forgive my small indulgence this time.

So; let's get the announcement out of the way first and then I'll deal with the advice. I'm withdrawing from Stack Exchange. I'm not deleting my account or anything that extreme, just not actively participating anymore. I want to stress this is NOT because of GME-19 (the Great Monica Event of 2019), although GME-19 was the thin edge of the wedge. I have a lot of time and respect for Monica and SE treated her very poorly and then the outrage to that was not handled at all well. But, my reasons run a lot deeper.

I came to worldbuilding in particular in November, 2017 after looking up an answer on SO and seeing a HNQ for whether lights were necessary in space and realised that I had an opinion on that, and that not only had it not been expressed yet, but I felt strongly enough to put up my own answer. It was the start of something magical for me as I found that wasn't the only thing I had an answer for. More importantly, some of the questions themselves got me curious. I wanted to know the answer for myself and figured I could with just a little bit of research. I had the seed of an answer, and just had to check a few things to be sure and then wrote up the answer that resulted from my own research.

As a consequence, I have learned a great many things and had a ball doing so. I've learned how dave acts as a magical catalyst, how to make cars unsafe with kinetic energy removal, Why fairy flies experience atmosphere as a syrup, how to grate a humpback whale and of course, whether you can terraform Mars with a bovine orbital bombardment. I've also learned a great deal more about organic chemistry, the science behind vampires, how to both cause and survive apocalyptic events, and literally hundreds of other topics than I ever thought I would in one life, all because of this site.

It was a lot of fun. But, it's not fun anymore so it's time for me to stop and find something to do in my own time that I actually enjoy.

This brings me to the key point of this post - why is SE no longer fun? What is it that SE needs to make the site truly great and would augment everyone's experience, whether as a consumer or as a contributor to the site?

SE, when you get right down to it, is the best open source point-level knowledge generator ever devised. I know, some of you are going to call out Wikipedia, and that is a reasonable answer, but the true value of SE, and why people keep coming back to it, is because if they have a specific question, they can get a specific answer. In that sense, the knowledge base being accumulated is invaluable and is a credit to SE regardless of how people feel about it. But, SE isn't generating this content - we are.

Why do people write open source software and give it away? Because they want to. Because they want to learn how to do something new and they take some satisfaction from seeing their software downloaded and used in the general community. It makes them feel useful in a way that their job often doesn't, because in their job, their boss sets the agenda and tells them what to work on. In an open source project, THEY choose what they want to work on and the usefulness of that work in the community speaks to their own sense of contribution, not the agenda of the business that pays them to do what it is they think is useful.

So it is with us as contributors to SE. I only answer the questions I 'like' and if they are found useful by the community, I feel a sense of achievement from that. This gamification of solution providing is a powerful tool, but only so long as the contributors feel that sense of satisfaction. I no longer feel that. It's become a grind, and one that is more often un-appreciated from where I stand. I don't feel like I'm appreciated as an 'asset' by the community; in point of fact, I feel like I'm more likely to be treated as a 'resource', with the value of my contribution more likely to be criticised than welcomed. I feel that of late, this has only become worse and the tipping point has now been reached for me which is why I need to walk away.

So, to SE (not that I think you're reading this), I have two points that I need to make to you - if you want to keep people contributing, you have to change the structure of comments and introduce off topic forums. Controversial points I know, and many of you are not going to agree. I'll make my case below for both, however.

Comments
Comments in their current form need to die a slow, lingering, painful death of something embarrassing, like untreated syphilis. In my opinion, comments are the single largest generator of negative opinion towards this site and the larger contributors to it. The strange thing is that this is a no brainer to me and I find it amazing that no-one else sees this.

In theory, comments are meant to allow users to improve existing questions and answers by providing constructive criticism so that the person responsible for the post can edit it and make it better. But in practice, it's the weapon of choice used by snipers (people who want to cut down existing answers either so that they get deleted out of frustration to reduce competition, or people who have no intention of putting up an answer of their own but like to cut down those who do) and these have far more of an impact on the contributor than the rep score does. It shouldn't be that way, but most users I've seen are more likely to get worked up about a negative comment than seeing their answer get 20x up votes. Part of that is that the comment is words, whereas the rep is just a number. We are not encouraged to leave positive comments as that is seen as a waste - if the answer is already good and doesn't need improvement, why comment at all? What's the benefit?

But, comments are (whether I like it or not) essential to the operation of the site nonetheless. How do we make them better? How do we make them work?

Assign them a cost.

Here's my approach - for every comment you leave, you give one of your rep points to the person on whose post you leave that comment. The rationale is simple - the post has attracted your attention, so it's worthy of additional reputation. But, if you have a good idea, then the OP will update their post and you can safely delete your comment, regaining your rep point (but leaving a rep point with the OP). If nothing happens, and you leave your comment there, you lose your rep point and if it is eventually deleted by a Mod, you lose it permanently.

Mods could leave comments for free for obvious reasons, but everyone else (just like with neg votes) would have to consider whether or not it is worth the cost to leave a comment. It doesn't preclude them, they just have to be important enough to the user to pay for it.

For the record, I stopped responding to comments 6 months ago. I stopped reading them 4 months ago. I now just clear the notifications, because I reached a point where reading them was a waste as they were not contributing anything constructive to the discussion. So, if you've recently left me a comment, please be aware that it is really important to me; please hold...

Off Topic Forums (or Fora if you prefer)
Dear Increasingly Hypothetical SE Reader, I am a human being, not a free source of content. I blame you personally for the comments model and how it is being used by other human beings. Why? Because when we can't communicate except around a very narrow domain of topics, it dehumanises us to each other. We are not human beings to each other, we are users. We are icons of varying design that sit beside content with which we may or may not agree. The trouble is, when I write a comment on something, I'm not writing to the content; I'm writing to a person.

We as a community must bear some responsibility for ensuring that we are nice to each other to be sure, but you don't make it easy. You don't give us the tools we need to know each other as more than just icons beside content. You don't (for example) give us an off topic site where we can learn about each other beyond the narrow domain of our common interest in contributing content to your site. As such, you make it really hard for us to be constructive without giving offence because we don't get to know what turns of phrase annoy the person for whom we are leaving the content; what they are likely to respond to, what is going to hurt them, what the context is that they bring to the content to make it appear wrong to us. All we can know about each other is the sum of our questions and answers, and that is so very far from who I am as a person. SE is so small a slice of who I am that it will barely register as a blip on my personal radar in terms of volume. Importance is another matter, but SE doesn't account for a significant percentage of my output at all. I would like to think that I've helped a lot of people via this medium, but I am not so arrogant for a second to believe it. Entertainment value, perhaps. But I doubt I've been of a lot of help to more than a few handfuls of individuals via this site.

If you're asking why that's important, then you shouldn't be in charge of the SE community. People are going to respond to each other with more dignity, respect and understanding if they feel like they know the person as an individual. The whole Monica thing was supposed to have been about members showing respect to each other, but (in point of fact), SE still has yet to see the forest for the trees; instead of focusing on pronouns, it should be focusing on people. Do that and the respect for each other comes on its own; respect is pushing against an open door instead of being forced upon the community through a narrow set of pronouns that must be adopted and to hell with any perceived non-compliance.

That's why on most forum sites, the off topic forum is the most active forum there. It's because in order to act as a team of contributors, they must first be a team, not just a collection of like minded individuals set to a common purpose. Getting individuals to form up into high performing teams is impossible if you don't let them get to know each other in a broader context than the task you set them to. By deliberately discouraging that kind of conversation, you're not enriching the content at all; you're putting a glass ceiling on its value that will never be breached.

The fact that SE has achieved so much using the 'collection of individuals' model is a testament to the original community engagement people, but (respectfully) it's also the millstone around your neck. You can't go to the next level without building teams out of these individuals, and you're not going to achieve that with content alone. You need to shape a common personality, common vision and sense of contribution that goes beyond up votes. We as a community of contributors need to know each other beyond the content and the comments thereon.

SE's single biggest asset is its community of contributors - this is also its single biggest liability as it is not a team. Neither is it a resource and right now, that's what I feel like - a resource.

I'm not saying that I'll never be back and there's a part of me that still has to 'break the habit' that is worldbuilding but it's time for me to withdraw. Some users here I'll miss, some like JBH I miss already. Others - well, not so much. That will be true of us all I suspect.

I do find myself concerned that I'm leaving this site without an active Tim B for the first time. I'm pretty sure that any legends of this being one of the signs of a coming apocalypse is without basis but if it turns out I'm wrong, I apologise in advance. That said, there is a lot of very useful information on this site as to how to survive it, so I'm sure you'll all be fine.

In any event; adieu to you all, be nice to each other, post more answers than comments, and I wish you all the satisfaction that I no longer get on this site.

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  • $\begingroup$ The horse isn't dead, but right now it's very ill. I suspect that's not entirely disconnected from the other Event in progress mind you. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Mar 31 at 9:33
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    $\begingroup$ I'd just like to say two things (even though I know this is a comment, and as such, you probably won't read it). 1: Thanks so much for all of the incredible content you've contributed to this site. You've given me both knowledge and laughter (often at the same time), and that's something that very few people can do well. So thank-you. 2: I wish you the very best in whatever else you decide to do in your free time, now that you have more of it. $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Mar 31 at 12:53
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    $\begingroup$ I know it is unfair to speak ill of the departed, but please, do not wrap feature requests as concrete and detailed as these in your goodbye-announcement. You're not giving your suggestions the exposure and opportunity for debate that they deserve. $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Mar 31 at 15:05
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    $\begingroup$ This gets a +1 Comments in their current form need to die a slow, lingering, painful death of something embarrassing, like untreated syphilis SE residents too often talk at people, not to them. It's a risk of the text based medium. $\endgroup$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 2 at 0:38
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    $\begingroup$ I rarely log in and only found this due to a student pointing me to it but your answers were excellent (even the ones that beat my own ;) and thank you for your curation effort. Good luck (to you and all the other WB users who have left - myself including) $\endgroup$ – LinkBerest Apr 3 at 4:05
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    $\begingroup$ I have to say that I disagree about comments. IMHO they're often the most interesting part of SE, and the worst part (and why I no longer participate on a couple of otherwise interesting sites) is the (long string of expletives omitted) people who just go in and delete everything in an interesting comment thread. Comments ARE for ongoing discussion: that's what people use them for, and the discussion is a large part of the attraction. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 4 at 19:28
  • $\begingroup$ there are 2 kinds of people in the world: those flopping a dead horse and those treating a dead horse as if it's still alive, neither have any outcome but I think one of them is more interesting than the other. $\endgroup$ – user6760 Apr 6 at 0:59
  • $\begingroup$ @user6760 that is why no one like necromancer :P $\endgroup$ – Li Jun Apr 18 at 8:01
  • $\begingroup$ @user6760 I think that you meant flogging, not flopping. ;-) $\endgroup$ – KorvinStarmast May 4 at 19:38
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Posting this as an answer, instead of as a comment, because then you might read it :)

Personally I've never found comments to be a problem. This is just my own perspective, but I've always found comments to be helpful. Of course I don't take critical comments personally, since if a comment rubs me the wrong way most of the time it's because of pride on my part, not the commenter being mean. Others experiences may vary.

As for an off topic forum, have you ever come to visit us in chat? It's pretty off-topic, and anyone with >20 rep can participate. Granted, it used to be a lot more lively before the GME, and a lot of good users have stopped checking in, but there are still a few of us.

I'm not trying to talk you out of leaving/going dormant/whatever, but I did want to point out that for all it's faults, SE does have one of the things you talked about. We can disagree on the usefulness of comments another time.

SE does have some faults, and the GME really highlighted them. I don't slam anyone for wanting to go. I still hope that it can be saved, if some of the cancer can be excised.

Edit:

How to find the chat rooms:

enter image description here

The red circle is the SE logo (looks a little like a speech bubble).
After you click on that, it brings up all the different stack exchange sites, but right up at the top is the link to the chat area, which has the the orange ring around it.

Once you click on Chat you'll see something like this:

enter image description here

The Factory Floor is the main chat room for WB. It's worth checking what chat rooms are available for each SE site, since you'll sometimes be able to find people to help answer a simple question without having to post it as a full question.

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    $\begingroup$ Tim B II, like myself, lives in Australia. Participating in Chat is difficult. The majority of Chatters are either in Europe or USA, so when we go there either almost everybody is offline or you can only comment on discussions well after the event and hope someone will respond later. This makes Chat less useful. If there were more WBers on Chat in the Eastern Hemisphere it would be viable. Presently, no. $\endgroup$ – a4android Apr 2 at 23:13
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    $\begingroup$ @a4android Chat seems pretty dead in general. Either I'm misreading it somehow, or there are under 10 posts per day. Maybe even less than 5 per day. $\endgroup$ – Ryan_L Apr 3 at 21:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Ryan_L Thanks for the information. Somehow I'm not surprised. This is despite not visiting recently. The Old WB hands seem demoralized in the post-GME-19 era. $\endgroup$ – a4android Apr 3 at 23:56
  • $\begingroup$ The problem with chat is that (at least for me) it's basically non-functional. I've occasionally had a response to a "comments moved to chat" comment, but all I can ever see is that one response. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 4 at 19:29
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf The "Comments moved to chat" is only one small part of the chat. If you find your way to The Factory Floor room there are people that generally are up for talking about whatever. Granted, it's a lot more dead now than it was 6 months ago. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Apr 6 at 17:41
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android Yeah, it has really gone down hill since GME-19 ravaged the server, and even more so now that quarantine is keeping people from going to work and needing to distract themselves. I can see the time zone thing being a problem, and probably not one that is going to improve in the near future. But I also don't see how an off topic area is going to be any different. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Apr 6 at 17:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Ryan_L Yeah, it used to be much more lively. It's a symptom of a certain type of cancer that is invading a lot of businesses, usually shortly before they go broke, and I fear that until SE is willing to admit that they have a problem it's not going to get any better. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Apr 6 at 17:47
  • $\begingroup$ @AndyD273: But as I said, the problem is that I can't get there from here :-) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 7 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf You can. In the upper right there should be a little SE icon, looks like a speech bubble, and when you click on it you'll see a list of all the different SE sites. But at the top of the list you'll see Worldbuilding, along with help, chat, and log out. If you click on chat it will give you a list of all the chat rooms, and the Factory Floor is one of them. Or you can get there directly: chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/17213/the-factory-floor $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Apr 7 at 20:40
  • $\begingroup$ There's the problem. I have no clue as to what you mean by "a little SE icon, looks like a speech bubble". There are some little pictures & numbers, but if they're not words, how would I know what they're supposed to do? $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 9 at 2:30
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf I added some more info to the answer with a full walkthrough, instead of relying on words to try to describe where to go and what to click on. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Apr 9 at 5:00
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I see the principle of what you are suggesting, but gifting reputation through comments would be a terrible idea. If someone wanted to then farm rep, they'd just have to spam a bunch of really bad questions and leech rep off of the well intentioned folks who try to help them refine their questions.

Allowing people to perhaps downvote comments which would cost both users' rep would probably be more fair. Then people looking to comment just for the sake of sabotaging or undermining someone would come to expect the downvotes and learn when it is better just to keep their mouth shut.

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    $\begingroup$ ...and if the OP fully retains the ability to delete a downvoted comment, I think that might work. The problem with adding a cost to commenting is that you're adding a disincentive to discussion, which is directly contradictory to the desire for more communication (forums). $\endgroup$ – Matthew Apr 4 at 19:00
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As someone who used to be here every day, lost interest and stopped coming here at all and recently returned :

I warmly recommend dropping out as soon as it starts being not fun or stressful.

If it is not fun do not feel obliged to be here. If it gives you stress do feel obliged to endure it. Because there is no obligation and feeling there is just makes it less fun and more stressful. In fact, I'd argue it is that false sense of obligation that causes much of the stress and kills your enjoyment.

Think about it, why do we get stress about random comments made by strangers on things that are not of any real importance? Because we feel obliged to care about our answers and what people say about them. The gamified reputation system creates this false sense of importance that tricks our brains to care and feel obligation.

The absolute easiest and most practical way to deal with this? Just drop out until your value system resets. If you then later return most of the stress will be absent and replaced by the fun being back. It won't be as good as it once was but that will be due to seeing clearer the issues not because of stress.

So I think you are doing the right thing. Hope you will one day return. And want you to know that in my personal experience (YMMV), if you do return many of the things that now annoy and stress you will do so less.

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I find SE to be less unwelcoming than Wikipedia, but not by that much. Worldbuilding is a much more welcoming community than most others here on SE, and in general the meta communities are much less friendly than others. I don't think that the problem is the comments, I think that it is the unwelcoming people. If you eliminated the comments then those people would express their unwelcoming attitude via other ways such as closing more questions, downvoting more, etc. Overall I believe that the underlying problem is that the unwelcoming people tend to gain a position of power, and the power goes to their heads.

I do like the idea that you had about charging people for leaving a comment. There would need to be some system in place so that people who have not accumulated much reputation could be able to leave comments without having to spend on it on leaving comments.

Best of luck to you.

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    $\begingroup$ I think there's some selection bias going on here. The personality traits like aggression and disagreeability make you more likely to climb social hierarchies are the same ones that make someone leave mean comments. $\endgroup$ – Ryan_L Apr 2 at 3:41
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I agree with you about the direction SE has been going as a whole. But I have to disagree about your belief that we should all know each other better as people. I don't come here to learn about any other users and I don't expect other users to learn about me. I don't believe my identity or any other user's identity is relevant to our questions or answers, excluding perhaps SE.IPS. If I had my way, we would all be anonymous. I think that's the only way to keep this site from becoming collateral damage in the culture war that's currently ongoing. The only way to keep people from fighting about their identities is to not enable identities in the first place.

The key to a strong community isn't being nice to each other. The key is to work towards a shared goal. The best way to get people to set their differences aside is to stop pointing them out all the time.

Hopefully we're both wrong and SE just turns itself around though.

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How many shovels did it take you to dig that heap!?

Basically, it seems like this query~rant~manifesto boils down to three key sentences:

  1. I'm leaving for no clearly defined reason other than vague notions of this forum being no longer "fun" and you personally feeling "unappreciated".
  2. I don't like the comment system and think users ought to pay to be able to comment.
  3. There is no discussion forum.

I'm Leaving!
Okay. Fair enough. People come and go, so I guess we'll see you around somewhere somewhen! And, of course, you know you'll be welcome back here any time. If the format is no longer fun for you, then of course there's no reason to hang about. And also no reason to carp about it so.

As for being "unappreciated", I don't get that at all. A quick look at your profile shows you're a creative respondent with a large number of well received answers given with quite a few earning the Green Check. I agree with you, from a different meta post, that answers are the more important component of Q&A. Of course, we need queries to answer, but WB.SE (and all the other communities here) exist for the purpose of giving good answers, not as a repository of questions. To that end, you've obviously demonstrated yourself more than capable here. I don't see any negatively voted answers, and while you've got a number of 0 to 2 vote answers, your higher value answers outweigh those.

But to be fair, this isn't the Tim B II appreciation society. Any more than it is for the rest of us. Appreciation and usefulness are shown through upvotes & Green Checks. For comparison, since your premise begs it, we arrived at about the same time. And I too remember the lights on a space ship query! The difference between us is that you've answered more queries and have earned twice the rep I have. Stands to reason: your 600 responses against my 275; your 52k points vs my 23k.

I consider myself sufficiently appreciated for the work I've done here. Yes, sometimes I put in a lot of extra effort to research a problem and come up with what I hope is an entertaining and informative answer. Sometimes, I don't even get an upvote from the querent for my work. Myeh. Then again, the points aren't the real reason for being here or giving answers. They're just a fun way of graphically showing the impact we've made on the community.

Ultimately, I do this as much for myself (brain exercise) as for helping the querent or the broader community. I do the same on worldbuilding forums elsewhere, and don't even get Green Checks for the effort! I guess I just don't understand why you feel unappreciated?, when it's pretty clear the worldbuilding community here in WB disagrees with your assessment wholeheartedly!

Comments!
As for the comment system, I get your point, but I also think your solution is wrong. Some comments are intended to be helpful (pointing new members to the help desk and suggesting they take the tour or guiding them how to improve their queries and responses). Some comments are just chatty. And yes, some comments are mean and insulting. I see no good reason to charge users for making comments, though, because ultimately, no one cares about comments. Once the dust settles, all the mean comments amount to nothing. And so do the helpful ones!

I think a better solution would be for comments to expire after a set time. All comments should start dropping off a Q or A after one or two months. If the OP isn't going to pay any attention to the comments within that time period, she's probably not going to come back ten years later and say, oo golly! I guess I'd better edit my question!

This would solve your issue with comments being used to "cut down" a Q or A. Frankly, I haven't really noticed that as being an issue. But then again, I don't really read the comments unless it's my own response to a query, or unless I'm considering a closure or reopen vote. The other solution to that problem is to flag all comments you find rude, abusive or insulting. Yeah, I know -- extra work for the Mods! But, if there is a real instance of someone trying to undermine someone else's work, that's definitely within the purview of the Mod Squod.

No Discussion Forum!
As for there being no discussion forum, well, you know as well as anyone else: SE is not a discussion forum! It's a focused Q&A forum. End of story.

But, given one of your other Meta posts, you are apparently aware that we háve an off topic forum, the Factory Floor, so I am very confused why you say here that we aren't given the tools to bond as a community!

I get that the chat forum is not clearly advertised and it's not really easy to find the link to the Factory Floor, but, really, to say it doesn't exist is going a bit beyond!

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    $\begingroup$ To note, the "let comments expire" solution has the downside of actively preventing other people from benefiting from potentially useful comments, even if the asker or answerer themselves don't do anything with the comments. The importance of this would, of course, vary between individual SEs, with it being a big problem on, e.g., Stack Overflow (where comments might, e.g., mention that a solution has been deprecated and/or has undiscussed flaws, points which might not otherwise be addressed if the poster no longer uses SO). $\endgroup$ – Justin Time - Reinstate Monica Apr 10 at 22:56
  • $\begingroup$ @JustinTime-ReinstateMonica - Oh, I get that! A valid point. But then you'd have to wade through all the comments just to find the one potentially useful one. In my opinion, not enough of a downside, especially given that SE focuses on Q&A, not comments & chat. As it is, lots of potentially useful comments are relegated to the Void of "removed to chat" where no one will ever see them anyway. I guess if someone feels strongly enough to write a comment to the effect that a solution has been deprecated, they can always just edit the response itself. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Apr 11 at 13:15

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