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I've run into a couple of questions where obvious newbies are asking questions to which I've responded such as this one. The questions are pretty poor,but I've attempted to answer in a helpful way and ask them to expand their original question. Someone has converted the answer to a comment without any explanation, without providing feedback to either myself or the OP. According to the help center, this should only happen if under specific circumstances, none of which apply to my response.

I could understand if the OP were asked to improve their question, but I also understood that improvements to answers were to be suggested, and the merit of individual answers to be weighed according to up/downvotes.

I'm making an effort to be encouraging to new users, and this guy felt that I answered his question. I'd like to know who is making this call and ask why they're not following protocol.

This isn't the first time I've been corrected by over-zealous moderators, twice when I was, in fact, correct. It's getting tedious.

  • The fact of "weak questions" is significant here. We get a lot of them, and it is tempting to then use an answer to indicate how to solve the problem rather than for the solution itself (e.g., because some information is needed which makes it simple, but it is information that's not in the question). That's fine, but if you are going to do it, do it definitively: Explain what the missing information is and how to use it (some people may take that as curt, but cookies crumble). If instead you want to take the time to ask for the information and then explain how to use it, do it in comments. – goldilocks Jul 24 '15 at 14:15
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Although I wasn't involved in this "convert to comment" incident, I do it pretty regularly, as I am sure so does Steve. The system in fact flags and queues candidate posts for us every N hours. Usually these are things left by brand new users who don't have the rep to comment, so there's nothing contentious.

I don't know exactly how the system algorithm works (it seems to do with length, punctuation, and probably rep) or that this is how this started (not that that makes any difference). I just want to paint in the background a bit to help you see where we are coming from -- this is a judgement call we have to make everyday.

We also have the opportunity to follow up on and observe the results of the things we do every day, and over time form opinions about what works and what doesn't. Those opinions of course help make subsequent judgement calls. I am sure the workings of this not-so-invisible hand may often appear inconsistent because what's clear to us may not be so clear to others. And to be honest, I admit I am inconsistent, largely because I am often of two minds about some particular distinction and will try one approach, then another, but still not really settle for myself what the generic case is.

Looking at the answer you're referring to (which was converted verbatim to the first comment on the question), I would have to agree with Steve because it seems mostly like a lead up to this question:

Are you able to establish the connection with PuTTY?

That's not an answer. If you'd left that off, I'd probably consider it an excessively abbreviated answer, but still an answer if that's what you want to call it. I'm not saying ending that in a question was wrong, I think you were legitimately being helpful and this was a request for clarification.1

Here's the thing: Although I am constantly telling people this isn't a discussion forum, the amount of discussion I end up engaging in comments is certainly enough to brand me a hypocrite. Sort of. Discussion in comments is obviously necessary to some extent, the idea is to try and minimize it and not treat it as an opportunity to chat. We do have a (much neglected) chat room and in fact you have enough rep (>= 100) to create rooms as well. Pretty much everyone can access them (>= 20, meaning it takes two upvotes on a new user).

However, taking everything immediately to chat isn't necessary. A quick request for clarification in a comment on the question is great if it elicits a response because the information is then right there for everyone else to see (even better if it then gets edited into the question by you, or the OP, or someone). It seems to me that's exactly what this one is, and it is a shame the OP did not follow up because if you look at the accepted answer, ifermon had to refer to two different scenarios which an answer to your question could have resolved. That's inconsiderate of the OP, although I think many people who only ever ask questions do not realize this.

Part of the role of moderator is to be a little bit mean to people in certain situations, such as when a questioner does not bother to reply to comments, leading other people to more work than they should have had to do. The reason this is "a little bit mean" is because the OP likely just does not see the issue and will perceive me as trying to create a hassle, or acting power mad, or being dumb and annoying, etc.

Another example of having to seem mean would be this conversion-to-comment thing. By making that an answer, you were explicitly inviting the OP to reply in comments to a question. If you want to talk one-on-one, chat. If you want clarification on a question, ask in the comments. That's pretty clear cut.2 I can promise we could take this to Meta S.E. or poll all the world's moderators and the overwhelming majority are going to agree with Steve and I here. Not because they are moderators and we like to maintain a "blue wall", lol, but because I think the issue is very clear if you have enough experience trying to make things work better.

I think you are genuinely a helpful person, and there's nothing wrong with questioning our judgement, but have a little faith! Although I'm obviously biased, I really believe you are in good hands here moderation wise. Unfortunately, it is not always something I enjoy because of the perception issues, etc. I don't want to seem mean or annoying so please do everything right in the future. ;)


1. Something you can do that's fine is post an answer and ask a question (in comments on the question, not your answer), then use the information that comes out to refine your answer.

2. Part of the problem there that may not be obvious is you are then encouraging this very neophyte user to believe "answers" are individual discussion threads. Keep in mind people who want help may really, really want help (I'm sure we've all been there) and if you give them an easy way out of making an effort to do their homework and compose the question, plus the opportunity to hold hands, they'll take it. I didn't end up here because I don't like helping people or answering questions -- before S.E., I was one of those people with thousands of forum posts various places. A major reason S.E. has been a wild success (like, the major reason) is because people like me appreciate the structure. That's something I'm happy to stand up for, even if it does make me seem mean occasionally. I recognize the desire to jump in and start helping, but there are more and less efficient ways to do it, and it is a mistake to believe there is a limitless supply of help available and so using it efficiently doesn't matter.

  • The OP's question was very poorly written, "how do I start raspbian" after saying he'd connected, so I responded that he had started raspbian, but would not see a GUI. I put a level of effort into the answer commensurate with the question, and asked a question for more detail in order to provide a better answer. The OP responded indicating that he understood. Had you simply downvoted my answer or the original Q, I would have had an opportunity to improve my answer. By converting, you took that opportunity away from me. By not providing comment you left me to wonder why, creating resentment. – bobstro Jul 24 '15 at 16:17
  • I agree the question was not a great one. But that doesn't mean you should let that shape the whole shebang (although I know to an extent it tends to anyway). The reason to try and maintain the correct structure has to do with "broken windows" -- if people who don't get the big picture are not discouraged from doing things in a way that is detrimental to the site as a whole, other similar people will take this as encouragement to do similar things... – goldilocks Jul 24 '15 at 18:06
  • ...This is why I converted that -- almost a month after the original exchange (which is probably why I also did not leave a comment; I figured it at that point no one would care anyway). As I said in my answer above, you were encouraging someone to treat the Q&A format as just a formality that can be worked around or ignored. There's no need for that. – goldilocks Jul 24 '15 at 18:07
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    The central point here is answers should NOT be questions; both your examples are clearly questions and could just as easily been asked in comments. I did not take the opportunity away from you to create an actual, comprehensive answer. You're still free to do that. I will take this to heart, though, and make sure I explain all converted answers from now on. – goldilocks Jul 24 '15 at 18:07
  • I had no further opportunity to improve my answer (save recreating it) once it was converted. That is my objection. I do feel that, weak as it was, my answer did answer the equally weak question of "how to start raspbian" (he had). He just didn't seem to grasp that he wouldn't see a GUI. Converting responses like this on a reputation-based forum like SE leaves one wondering why points move about seemingly at the whims of administrators. My understanding is that downvotes are meant to encourage improvement. – bobstro Jul 24 '15 at 18:49
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I am the over zealous moderator who converted your answer to a comment. The original question clearly states that they have connected via SSH using putty, but you ask them that anyway. The rest of your response boils done to telling them they are on the right track and that they have more work to do. However you don't even hint at or link to a how to describing what that extra work might be. Had you done that it would have constituted an answer. However as written it is not an answer.

The proper way to elicit more info from a user is through comments.

I have searched through your comments and assume that this is the other answer you are referring to. In this case I was not the mod who converted this to a comment, but I agree with the decision. By definition answers do not end with a question mark. Asking this question to gather more info and encourage new users is definitely valuable to the community and the users in question, but as I said above the proper way to do that is via the comments.

  • I disagree. The original (pre-edit) question was asking how to start Raspbian. Informing the user that they had, in fact, started it is an answer. I had to ask a question to confirm that he had, in fact, succeeded in connecting via PuTTY. It certainly wasn't clear to me that it had succeeded since he was asking that question. I agree that answers are weak, reflecting the weakness of the question. It would be more helpful to suggest changes to strengthen both question & answers (and let up/downvotes take care of quality) than give impression of omnipotent admins sweeping in to cast judgement. – bobstro Jul 22 '15 at 14:15
  • The other incident involved Goldilocks essentially telling me I was wrong without researching the issue, and subsequently editing responses. I was not the only one upset by this incident. If this is to be an admin driven site, so be it. I understood it was to be participatory with the community judging worthiness. If there are better answers, it would be nice to see them rather than new users left with zero help. Please at least leave some comment as to what objections are. – bobstro Jul 22 '15 at 14:17

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