Reading the answer by SuperCiocia to this question Should we flag comments like "Thank you"?, I learned about the comment flag for "no longer needed".

I thought this was interesting because, from time to time, I stumble on dead-end questions that are being kept alive from Roomba solely based on having more than one comment. Specifically that it meets the criteria for being "abandoned" except for having 2+ comments. https://physics.stackexchange.com/help/roomba Many times these comments have no real content that advances the archival value in general, and especially not after many years. (After 9 years, I think it's safe to say that the OP is not going to respond to a request to add details.)

I picked out a couple of examples that I thought were particularly egregious to see how they'd be handled. Most were declined, which didn't really surprise me except that the mods had just weighed in on the meta question linked above indicating that such flags were appropriate. I don't necessarily care about these specific comments, but I'd like to get some community sense about why or if we should be keeping some of these questions on life support by keeping these types of comments in place.

Examples (obviously these may become out of date if the comments are eventually deleted, so keep that in mind if you come around later):

  • First comment here is link-only. Moreover it doesn't link to anything other than a search engine, so it's essentially spam. I raised a custom flag with comment "Dead link / spam link. There's nothing useful on the other side of this link in any case." Experimental realization of Quantum Teleportation of Spin, not polarization, not ions or atoms
  • First comment here says nothing except that the person commenting knows "nothing about" the topic of the question but that the person might find someone who could answer. In what environments can a dipolariton form? The second of two comments, which I didn't separately flag, just says thank you to the first person. So this is a closed-loop of two comments that at best is out of date and, arguably, had no chance of long-term value from the start.
  • Last comment here is a thank you, which is essentially the topic of the meta that I linked above as an example of the type of comment that should be flagged under the policy plus a request to post an answer. (After 10 years, I think we can assume that request will not be met so the comment is "no longer needed".) Is this a known entropy formula?
  • Last comment here is a request that a comment above be turned into an answer. This flag was marked "helpful" but the comment wasn't deleted. At almost 9 years, I think we can assume the request will not be met and so the comment in question is "no longer needed". Folded and/or compacted dimensions in M-theory?

These are 4 examples, but there are many on the site where "chatty" comments that either could not or, with hindsight now available, did not advance questions toward answers. Having tried to use the site over the last few months to find information rather than just answering new questions as the arise, I'm confident that this noise is reducing the archival value of the better questions that do have answers.

Doing a question-by-question search for this situation probably isn't a good use of our time, but to the extent that they are found during normal use:

  • What's the community's view on cleaning up some of these older comments?
  • What criteria are the mods using to handle the flags?


I had forgotten about this part: I also flagged a couple of questions for closure rather than flagging the comments as a control in the experiment. I went back and checked those, and most were ultimately closed in review. Interestingly, in each case they were closed by a moderator casting a binding vote. There's no way to see who handled the comment flags, so it might be a difference in approach between mods. Given that the comments are definitionally ephemeral though, and the questions get more a presumption to be preserved, it strikes me as odd that the mods took decisive action only on the closure of the questions themselves.

In this scenario, closing also puts the questions in line for Roomba, just in a different category, so either by approving the comment flag or agreeing to the closure they effectively decided to delete the question. For some reason there seems to be a preference for path over the other.


3 Answers 3


I was the moderator that rejected most of your flags.

There were 4 or 5 flags from the same user in a very short span of time, on questions from 10 (or something) years ago.

While the intentions you are now describing are noble, as per the Roomba definition:

the annoyance to those searching for a solution outweighs the increasingly-small chance that an answer will be provided ,

I can't deny I initially thought someone was trying to get "easy" helpful flags to get Deputy or Marshal badges.

Responding to your linked questions in order, these were my personal motivations for rejecting most of your flags:

  • You are right, that comment can be deleted as it's useless. I had confirmed it was technically neither dead nor spam (rude/abusive). But upon reviewing it now, it's the only thing keeping the question alive and it adds nothing to it so I have deleted it. It was last active 9 years ago though but ok.

  • Same as before

  • The comment here is Thank you for your great answer! If you could post this as an answer I will most definitely accept it.. In my view, this confirms that the previous comment (upvoted by more than one user) contains a satisfactory answer to the OP's question. This may well be useful to the community and to "those searching for a solution" (Roomba quote) because it contains useful content. Useful enough that the OP themselves said they would accept it if it were an answer. Removing the comment and having the question eventually deleted would be a loss of useful content.

  • Same exact thing as for previous answer.

As for your controlled experiment in flagging questions for closure, I only found one where you raised the flag and I cast the decisive closing vote -- and that question was 2 days old (as opposed to 10 years old for the comment flags you had raised). So the question was still active, interested & involved users were probably still checking it, and it was indeed 'cumbersome' on the homepage.

So, I have answered your question:

What criteria are the mods using to handle the flags?

by giving you my personal reasons for the decisions I made. Maybe you'll get other answers from older / more experienced moderators.

As far as

What's the community's view on cleaning up some of these older comments?

is concerned, I guess an 'official' answer should be based from the help centre page and from precedent (e.g. here). If one were to follow those rules and discussions to the letter, then yes, one should delete most if not all the comments you flagged, as they are using the comments to answer the question instead of 'asking for clarification' etc. Truth be told, if comments like this were to occur on recent questions (active, where the interested users are still checking it), I would probably delete them (as I have already done sometimes). I just didn't think it was worth it for 9+ years old ones.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for this explanation. My view is that it's much MORE important for the old questions than the new ones as their age is a strong indication that the " increasingly-small chance that an answer will be provided" part of the criterion is met. $\endgroup$
    – Brick
    Sep 14, 2021 at 17:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Might I also respectfully suggest that you've misinterpreted the point of the Roomba language. People who come searching for answer typically aren't checking the most recent, active questions. They are doing a search in the SE search bar or they are coming in directly from Google. The fact that a question is new or "active" has little to do with "the annoyance to those searching for a solution". The point is - I say from recent experience - you do a good-faith search and you get many old questions with no answers. That is the "annoyance" that's to be mitigated. $\endgroup$
    – Brick
    Sep 14, 2021 at 17:50

The questions here and here have comments that should have been posted as answers, and replies saying "thanks, please post this as an answer." You have proposed to delete the thank-you comments, which will permit the Roomba to cull the question.

A better solution might be to transfer the should-have-been-an-answer comment to an answer, then mark both comments as obsolete. When I do this, I usually write

Promoted from a comment by [user]:


and mark the answer as community-wiki, so that it's clear I'm not trying take credit or reputation for someone else's words.

  • $\begingroup$ There was some method in selecting the exemplars. The two out of the group that you've highlighted were selected just for the reason that you noted. The help center, however, says that both the thank you and the answer are not valid as comments. So the flag, it would seem, was proper. The suggestion for self-promoting the comment to an answer is interesting, although I don't know that I agree that it avoids the plagiarism issues. It does at least represent a good-faith attempt to source the material back. $\endgroup$
    – Brick
    Sep 14, 2021 at 17:56

I suspect there will be other perspectives, but I'll get things started with an answer in favor of deleting most comments in these scenarios. Possible criteria:

  • The comments are "chatty" without contributing anything that advances the question toward an answer. Examples are "thank you", "good question!", or "I don't know".
  • The comments are link-only, especially if the link is already dead or spam.
  • The comments stood a chance of advancing the question at the time they were posed but are far enough removed in time that they are "no longer needed". Examples would be comments that request an essential clarification or detail when such detail is never added. These comments, at the time they were made, had a chance to be useful, but without a response the question cannot get a reasonable answer. We may disagree on where the cutoff lies, but at 8, 9, or 10 years I think we can be confident that the OP is not coming back to provide those details.

Of these, the last category could arguably also be handled by voting to close. I think that's a respectable alternative, but it seems like senseless work to put a question that's been "abandoned" for many years into a review queue rather than doing a small clean-up of comments and letting the Roomba process do it's job.


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