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When I read old posts, I come across some informative comments below the questions which are off-topic, i.e., not aimed at asking for clarification, but they do add some value. I have noticed such comments being deleted under new questions for attempting to answer instead of using the answer box. I understand the reasons for their deletion which have been discussed in other meta posts, like this one, for example.

But what should we do with such inappropriate comments under old questions like the following?:

To preserve such comments, I have once transferred them to a community wiki answer as per a suggestion given by a user in the main chatroom. But in the above cases, I think the comments (as such) wouldn't qualify as an answer, but at the same time, they aren't on-topic as well. These could be a part of an answer, but I don't think requests like "Please turn this comment into an answer" would not work as these old comments might be by inactive/deleted users. They have been there for so long and might have helped a lot of readers. So, is it fine to leave them as such and flag to delete comments only in newer questions? Further, were the criteria for an on-topic comment less strict or different in the past, as these comments are especially from high reputation users?

This question is directed towards old posts with informative comments, in general, not just the ones I have mentioned here.

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I see little reason to treat comments on old questions any different from other comments. Whether or not our policies today are different from what they were back then is irrelevant, likewise it is irrelevant who authored the comments. (Consider that many high-reputation users have high reputation because they've been here a while, so of course you'll see more contributions of any kind from today's high-reputation users as you go back in time)

Whether or not the comments "might have helped a lot of readers" is not something we could assess, and it is not considered relevant for newer comments either: You can write the most interesting comment in the world, if it doesn't aim at criticizing or improving the post being commented on, you shouldn't have left it as a comment on that post. So why should it suddenly matter for comments that are a bit older?

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    $\begingroup$ I thought if the rules were different in the past then we could not apply the rules of the present to the old posts. Something similar I can think of is - old posts still have the CC BY-SA 3.0 licence but the new ones have the version 4.0. I might be wrong on this aspect, but this is what confused me and made me write this question. $\endgroup$ – Guru Vishnu Aug 3 at 10:37
  • $\begingroup$ @GuruVishnu Licensing issues are a bit different due to the terms of the licenses, but for ordinary policies, I don't see why they would not apply retroactively. Many sites have closed questions after they became off-topic years later. $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Aug 3 at 11:59
  • $\begingroup$ @GuruVishnu Why do you think the rules were different in the past? $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Aug 3 at 13:46
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    $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty: For two reasons: (1) They were present there for years, and (2) They were comments from high reputation users (as mentioned in my question); Although, it seems these assumptions of mine are not correct as per ACM's answer. It was also based on this observation on site's homework rules. $\endgroup$ – Guru Vishnu Aug 3 at 14:07
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    $\begingroup$ @GuruVishnu Many high-rep users even today repeatedly ignore the comments policy as well as post answers to questions that should be closed. Do not associate all behavior of high-rep users with site policy. $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Aug 3 at 14:14
  • $\begingroup$ @GuruVishnu Those outcomes would also have come about if the rules in the past were the same, but inconsistently applied because the moderators did not see every post at every point in time; as such, they are not evidence that the rules were different in the past. (Hint: they weren't. Site policy has always been that comments are second-class citizens and subject to deletion at any time.) $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Aug 3 at 14:17
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    $\begingroup$ Here's some actual evidence: archive of the help-center page about comments showing that the guidance regarding When should[n't] I comment? is unchanged since 2013. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Aug 3 at 14:19
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What you should do with old comments is this:

  1. If the content of the comments would be suitable as an answer, or if they inspire you to post an answer, go ahead and do it. While you can ask the comments' authors to turn them into answers, I generally wouldn't bother; it's probably not worth the trouble of coming back to the question again.
  2. If you feel like making a personal copy of the comments' content, feel free to do so.
  3. Flag any of the comments as "no longer needed". Keep in mind that the primary purpose of a comment is to suggest an improvement of some kind (a clarification, a link, etc.) to its parent post, but if comment is months or years old, the OP has had plenty of time to act on it and has either done so or implicitly declined to do so. Either way, it's unlikely that leaving the comment there will lead to a change in the future.
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    $\begingroup$ It seems like people don't like the current comment policy $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Aug 13 at 20:33
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, but we knew that. $\endgroup$ – David Z Aug 13 at 22:54
  • $\begingroup$ I like deleting off-topic comments under new posts. The only reason why I thought of not flagging to delete them in old ones is we might lose potentially useful information which might help someone (not only the person who flags them). There were times when I found the comments more useful than the answers to an old post. $\endgroup$ – Guru Vishnu Aug 14 at 14:30
  • $\begingroup$ @GuruVishnu If there's helpful information in comments that would constitute an answer to the question, a really good thing to do is post an answer based on those comments. Then you can flag the comments for deletion without the concern of information being lost. $\endgroup$ – David Z Aug 14 at 19:09

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