If we could design Q&A comments from scratch, what would we do?

As the title suggests, I’m curious whether future development investment in the Q&A format might include thinking about how the comment feature is designed and implemented. Since the format is so new to Discourse, I thought it might be interesting to discuss how we might think about comments if we were designing them from scratch.

A bit of background - I’ve been an avid Stack Exchange user for years and was a Community Manager there from 2018 until October 2023, so you’ll forgive me for saying that the Q&A format here looks particularly reminiscent of that platform (which definitely makes me feel at home). Many SE sites spend a lot of time and effort dealing with comments, whether that’s addressing answers in comments, arguments/discussions in comments, and flags on comments.

That said, I recognize that Discourse is not Stack Overflow and the principles of how and when to use the Q&A format will be up to each community to determine for themselves. Similarly, how they use comments on the Q&A posts will be up to each community to establish guidance for. This discussion/feature idea is not about recommending guidance or rules for comments and more about supporting communities who choose to add the Post Voting plugin.

My understanding of how comments work here is fairly limited as I haven’t seen a lot of the post-voting style Q&A that uses them, so I’m not sure what’s possible.

Based on what I have tried, here’s what I’ve found out about the current implementation:

  • Comments are presented in chronological order
  • Comments notify the post creator of a new comment; unsure if other participants in the thread are notified.
  • unsure if Comment mentions can be used to notify members who haven’t participated in the topic. They don’t auto-fill the way mentions do in posts.
  • Comments don’t have a reply option and don’t appear to offer any threading.
  • I have the option to edit, delete, and flag other people’s comments on my Q&A but edits don’t go through (configuration issue?).

So, all in all, even as a minimal feature set, comments seem somewhat limited. Considering that, what are things that would make comments work in Discourse? Are there aspects that make more sense as settings?

My thoughts:

I’d love a comment system that emphasizes readability and recognizes that some communities may want to keep comments really limited while others may want them to be more full-featured. Some things I’d hope to see:

  • Mentions autocomplete like post mentions do. While on SO, comments could only mention the OP or people who had participated in the post, they also don’t have post mentions, so it makes more sense to allow mentions in comments here to allow someone to say “@jericson, I think you can answer this one!”
  • Comment replies should be built in - There should be an easy way to reply to a specific comment (an icon) and there should be a threaded view option that allows you to view or regroup comments that refer to each other. This could be through indent-level threading that sorts by threads rather than pure chronology or a filter that fades out unrelated comments or adds emphasis to the thread you’re interested in/hovered over.
  • Only show icons we can use. - This is probably a bug or config setting that’s wonky but if I can’t edit or delete a comment, don’t show me that icon!
  • Expand/collapse comments button - Through a “show more/less” button, it’d be great to have a way to hide overly-long comment sections. Maybe this auto-hides when a comments section gets too long. Bonus points if it indicates the number of new comments since my last page visit.
  • Follow/unfollow comments separately from post - It’s possible I’ll find a situation where I’m interested in the answers to a question but the comments are annoying me. Having the option to mute the comments without muting new answers would be nice.
  • Indexing comments in search - This seems like a setting some might benefit from - though maybe it’s off by default. On sites like SO, comments are seen as transient, so there’s little reason to make them searchable. Depending on how communities use Q&A in Discourse, they may wish to have the option to easily search comments in addition to posts.
  • Moderation tools for comments - I’m not sure how this differs from post moderation or if it needs to. I am aware that comment moderation can become a headache in some spaces, so there may eventually need to be some thought put into whether comments need separate moderation options.

What do y’all think of these? Are there some you agree or disagree with? Are there some I missed? Do you even use the Q&A format on your Discourse insance? I’m curious to know more about the adoption of this feature!