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I have noticed that there are very few answers on Seasoned Advice, and that what looks to me to be a reasonable answer (from my other stack experience) is often in comments instead.

Is this a stylistic choice on the part of the editors?

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    I think I can answer, but just to be sure, can you link to a couple examples? And what do you mean by "editors"? – Cascabel May 2 '14 at 14:33
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Every Stack Exchange site has its own community, so it's not surprising that we have some differences. To be clear up front: if you have an answer, you should post it as an answer. I've definitely asked people to write answers based on their comments before, though I don't feel it's a common occurrence any more than it was on Stack Overflow when I was active there.

So why would someone post a comment instead of an answer?

  • Maybe they're not sure. I think people here are very hesitant to post an answer they haven't tried or otherwise seen evidence for. This is perhaps more common on Seasoned Advice: we have a lot of very knowledgeable people, but they may not have actually cooked everything, and doing an experiment takes time and money. In contrast, if you have an idea for a question on Stack Overflow, you can probably just go try it.

  • Maybe they're not sure if their answer is a real answer. Cooking is naturally a bit more subjective, and we attract a lot of non-expert posters, so there are certainly plenty of slightly unclear questions where we all think we know the answer, but we're really not sure it's what the OP is looking for.

  • Maybe they're lazy or pressed for time. I'm not sure if this is more common here than on other sites. I know I used to see plenty of this on Stack Overflow, with people who obviously knew the correct answer posting a very brief version of it as a comment.

  • Seasoned Advice is less competitive and reputation-motivated. On some sites (especially Stack Overflow) people really feel they have to fight for their rep, posting early to make sure they get to answer the question and get the votes. While the first poster certainly has an advantage here too, we seem to be generally less competitive about it.

I think a common thread here is that people generally have fairly high standards for their answer quality, but are interested in helping the OP even if they don't want to write an answer. If you're not sure what the OP wants, aren't confident about your solution, or don't think you can write it up in enough detail, refraining from posting it as an answer might be the responsible thing to do. But at the same time, the OP might be trying to cook right now, and appreciate any help they can get!

I'm sure it's some combination of all of these reasons and more. But whatever the reasons, I wouldn't characterize this as a conscious stylistic choice on the part of any individuals. It's more of a site culture thing, something that has its roots in the original community and has evolved with the community over the years. It's not like there's anyone here who can truly force people to post in the right (or wrong) place; what you see is simply a result of everyone doing what they want to do.

Apologies if this isn't what you meant to ask about - happy to edit.

  • Thanks for your detail. I have had some rather aggressive moderating of some entries I have thought were answers to questions, but I ended up deleting them because the moderator was so specific in the interpretation of the question, telling me I needed to change them to comments. I felt that perhaps a person with only a 950 rep is not the type of person whose answers are wanted around here. Thus, I guess I will never have much of a reputation on this site, despite the fact that I have plenty of people ask me about cooking and food in person. – Jennifer S May 2 '14 at 19:17
  • I understand the need for specificity of answers over "discussion", as I am a contributor on several Stack sites, but it seems that the moderation on this one (the one where I actually have the most expertise) is the one where I have gotten the impression that perfection is expected in answers, vs. helping the OPs. – Jennifer S May 2 '14 at 19:19
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    @JenniferS The way you asked your question it definitely sounded like you were talking about other people posting things as comments. But now it sounds like you're talking about potential overmoderation. If you ever think a mod has done something wrong, please feel free to call us on it: post on meta with the specific example, or find one of us in chat, or even just flag for further review if you prefer it not to be public. – Cascabel May 2 '14 at 21:17
  • @JenniferS I'm going to have a look at all of your deleted answers and leave my opinions in comments on them for now, but if there's anything in particular you want me to focus on, feel free to bring it up directly however you prefer (meta, main chat, chat just between us, etc). – Cascabel May 2 '14 at 21:19
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    @JenniferS Okay, unless I'm really missing something, I haven't found too much to be concerned about - you only have four deleted answers out of 38 and I think just one is debatable but hardly a pattern. But if we're making you feel unwelcome, I do really want to fix that - you obviously have plenty to offer here. – Cascabel May 2 '14 at 21:30
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    @JenniferS Just to really hammer this home, because I feel awful after re-reading your comments: you are definitely welcome here. All our high-rep users had 950 rep at some point. Your reputation will definitely keep climbing as long as you keep posting answers - 1k rep with 34 answers, around 30 rep per answer, seems pretty good to me. And subjectively, in responding here I looked at a fair number of answers, and they generally seem great to me. You're obviously knowledgeable. – Cascabel May 2 '14 at 23:34
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I also looked into the history of your deleted answers. Based on both the history and on your opinion stated in the new chat room, it seems that you have an issue with my decision to convert your answer to the flambe question to a comment.

You and your contributions are welcome on the site

I felt that perhaps a person with only a 950 rep is not the type of person whose answers are wanted around here.

I am sorry that my actions created this impression. I value your contributions, have upvoted several of them, and would like you to feel welcome on the site. Indeed, I think that our site can only profit of having more users like you, who are not hanging out here constantly, but come in now and again and provide answers in areas they know well. The handful of high-rep users provides depth to our content, but users like you provide breadth, and are what makes the site a community as opposed to a closed group of hopefully-experts. The presence of many users with diverse backgrounds providing answers is what makes us a Stack exchange site instead of a "ask miss Lonelyhearts" advice place. I have nothing but respect for users like you who don't commit themselves to the site and still find the time to come in and share their experience.

How moderators take editing decisions

We frequently have to take decisions falling into a grey area. The SE team likes to call us "human exception handlers", and our most important role is to make decisions when the rules are unclear. This also applies to your answer on the flambe question. We don't pretend to be infallible or to always be able to find a solution which is optimal for everybody. We are just doing our best trying to find a solution in a situation with no exact precedent, in which the interests of several stakeholders are at odds. We have to consider that the author of a post invested effort into it and has the understandable desire to be rewarded with votes (which is impossible after deletion or conversion), that the person who asked is expecting an answer which will provide the perfect solution for their exact situation, that there will be hundreds of readers with a similar, but not exactly the same problem who also need information, and that the stack exchange philosophy requires us to keep all discussions very tightly focused. In fact, the SE team position is that moderators should decide based purely on content quality, disregarding the negative feelings this causes in contributors whose posts get closed, deleted or converted. I personally find this directive too stubbornly limited, seeing that I have to deal with people in a complicated social context and not just content-churning robots, but I (and the other moderators) can't ignore its implications - we have some wiggle room in our decisions, but still have to give content quality (in the usual Stack Exchange sense) a high priority.

I am aware that moderator actions can seem hostile to users who contributed with best intents and have their posts changed in some way or even deleted. I fully understand how this can feel disheartening and unfair; it has happened to me too. But in the long run, it is impossible to always find a solution which keeps everybody happy. We don't take these decisions lightly, and certainly don't change posts without reason. We just hope the users will understand that not every contribution they make can have the best quality and that, when one of their posts is changed or removed, this is not a personal attack, and that nobody thinks any less of them for having made the post.

Why I took the conversion decision in the flambe case

My attention got called to your answer when another user cast a "Not an answer" flag on it. I thought how this flag can be explained, and looked at the question and its history. The OP has prominently linked another question which already covers the "is it possible to flambe creme brulee" consideration. This made me conclude that the OP is fully aware that he is choosing an unusual method, and that the question is posted in the context of this choice being already made.

You refer to the common situation where a novice user asks "I want to do X to achieve Y, how is X done?" and experienced users advice to do Z instead, because it is easier. This is indeed considered a valid answer on most Stack Exchange sites, including ours. In my view, we have a different, more complicated situation here: The user has made the informed decision to not do Z, despite it being easier, and wants advanced advice on X. In such a case, the advice to do Z is not helpful to the OP.

Knowing the question background, it seemed to me that you are writing a well-intended answer based on the assumption that the user does not know that grilling and torching a creme brulee are easier than flambeing it. Your assumption is quite visible in the formulation "I think you may be confusing the flambe method with the traditional method of making Creme Brulee". Having judged that the OP is not confusing anything here, but is specifically requesting information on the flambe method, I inferred that the rest of your post is true in itself, but irrelevant as an answer to this specific question. This is a common situation on Stack Exchange site, and moderators are required to delete such posts.

I also thought how likely this information is to help future visitors of the site. And decided that, while the OP knows that flambe is not the preferred method, others may not know this, and will probably not care to click through to the linked questions. This is why I decided that your information adds value to the discussion, even though it is not an answer. This is why I decided to convert it to a comment.

Was my decision right?

As you see, my decision involved several subjective judgements. This is common in moderation, just like any other situation where people have to take decisions based on incomplete information. I can certainly understand that, if you are still assuming that we are faced with a simple "I thought I'd do X to achieve Y" situation, my decision is unfair from your point of view. And I guess that even if you are no longer holding this assumption, you could argue that your post is nevertheless relevant enough to be kept as an answer.

Given the complex situation, I think that no position is 100% right or 100% wrong. I had my reasons for converting your answer, and still think that this was one correct course of action, but not the only one which can be considered correct under these circumstances.

What happens now?

Restoring your answer

As explained above, I don't claim to be 100% certain that my decision was correct. After your post, I realized that it is causing you more distress than I anticipated. So I will go back to the question and restore your answer. I will also delete the comment thread which developed, as it is no longer relevant now that your answer is back.

My own answer

To prevent any apparent conflict of interest, I will delete my own answer to the same question. Frankly, I stopped caring much about my reputation here some years ago, but I remember what it feels like to be grateful for each upvote. And now I realize that it looks ugly from the side when I delete an answer to a question and post my own (maybe I should have noticed that back when I was posting, sorry). I still think my answer is correct, but the OP has already had whatever benefit this information brought him, and the loss for any future visitors to the page is unlikely to be too high. The deletion will negate the reputation I got from the accepted mark.

Why did I write this long answer?

I don't consider this one problem to be especially important. We don't have an influx of similar situations to deal with, and I hope you would have already felt better if I had just restored your answer and deleted mine without the whole trara. But I wrote this overly long answer because I wanted to explain something.

I know that for many users, we moderators seem to have a police-like role, and may appear formidable and unrelenting. Our decisions have immediate consequences for the posts, and they can look very final.

But in reality we are subject to scrutiny from you, the users, and responsible to the community as a whole. I see that you waited a long time to take up the matter, and even then were careful to approach the problem in a very neutral way. Maybe your comment back when I converted was an attempt to communicate that you have issues with my decision; if so, I certainly did not understand your message. So here is my point: don't be afraid to be direct when you have an issue with the moderation. It is your right to challenge our decisions and ask for clarification. We know that we are not infallible. We try to act in the best interest of the community, but this is hard when we don't know how the community sees our decisions.

You can actively seek discussion on moderation issues here on meta, or in chat, whichever you prefer. We cannot guarantee that we will always take the user's side when such a discussion happens, but we will certainly re-evaluate our decisions in light of the user's position. Other moderators are also likely to intervene, which increases the chance that the conflict will be solved in the sense of the community (a flag is virtually always handled by a single moderator). And there is always the option of escalating an issue to the SE team. As a Stack Exchange user, the moderators have some power over your posts, but you certainly have the right to appeal. We ask you to not view our editing as a personal attack on your posts; in return, we do not view your protests as a personal attack on our actions. We are open for discussion, and for actively involving other users, other moderators and even the SE team when we feel that we cannot solve a matter impartially by ourselves.

I hope this solves the issues you had with me handling that question. But if it doesn't, I am of course open for further discussion. Don't be afraid to speak out your mind, I won't take offense.

  • Thank you for your thoughtful reply. It is not easy to develop a reputation on this site. In retrospect, I should have read the background more thoroughly. Thank you for taking the time to review this. – Jennifer S May 5 '14 at 18:07
  • I deleted another answer I had today, about the differences between melting bar chocolate and melting chocolate chips, which I have experienced myself in baking. Because I have read and heard from Cook's Illustrated that the formulas for chocolate chips are different than for bar chocolates, I mentioned that the OP might get different results. This was commented on by another high rep person who was expecting me to pick out the actual ingredient that would be the thickener, from two different manufacturers. – Jennifer S May 5 '14 at 18:09
  • Unfortunately, if the the expectation that I be able to give that level of exact detail when one person asks "can I substitute x for y", I am getting a message from the community to leave, or become a profession food scientist before responding to any questions. – Jennifer S May 5 '14 at 18:13
  • @JenniferS I think what actually happened there was that the user in question didn't actually think there was a binding agent, so he asked what it was by way of finding out if it was actually there. It's totally fine to respond, "I don't know, but Cook's Illustrated said it existed." You do not need to be a food scientist to post here, and it's fine to write answers that don't go to that level of detail, but at the same time you do have to expect that people here will call you out if they think you might be wrong. – Cascabel May 6 '14 at 17:19
  • @JenniferS As moderators, as much as we want to encourage people to form a friendly community, it's not exactly in our powers to force people to be tactful. I'd suggest that you should definitely flag any comments you find offensive, and otherwise just respond honestly and to the best of your abilities. You will not get in trouble for not knowing everything. – Cascabel May 6 '14 at 17:21
  • @JenniferS I see the situation similarly as Jefromi. People will always complain, or ask if you can provide more; the second can actually be a sign not that your answer is bad, but that they find it so interesting that they are eager to learn more about the matter. This doesn't mean that you have to always be able to extend your answers, or that you are required to invest the effort in extending them even if you could. Your answer is already valuable long before it goes into full depth. Note also that when one user grumbles, this is a personal opinion, not the opinion of the community (cont) – rumtscho May 7 '14 at 19:18
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    I have seen truly bad answers on StackExchange, and users who were so disruptive or contributed in such low quality that they were unwanted. And believe me, the community really shows displeasure then - lots of downvotes, reprimands, moderator action. This has not happened to you, because you are not one of these users. The answer you deleted was not downvoted. I really don't see any signs of being unwanted in your history, or any reasons for such a thing. If somebody has too high expectations of your answers, that's their problem, not yours. – rumtscho May 7 '14 at 19:23
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Not to discount the very long answers addressing the specific users/questions/etc., but I thought it would help to offer something short(er) and sweet:

  • There are only two activities on the site that don't require any reputation or even a registration: Asking questions and posting answers. The fact that we welcome answers from anyone, regardless of reputation, is literally built into the system. Comments actually require reputation!

  • On Seasoned Advice specifically, we average at least two answers per question. Given that the ideal question should have exactly one correct answer, this is a strong signal that we aren't overly light on answers.

  • Converting answers to comments is something only the moderators can do, and we rarely do. It's far more common to downvote, or occasionally delete an answer (but only after it's attracted "Not An Answer" flags).

  • The "editors" on this site comprise every user of the site; that is to say, anyone can edit or suggest an edit. But they can't dictate whether a post is an answer or a comment. If you really meant the moderators, then that's not really a stylistic choice we'd be able to enforce without being on the site 24/7. Moreover, if we could choose, we'd definitely favour answers over comments; answers have better voting options and searchability.

  • That being said, we will convert answers to comments if they're short and don't really answer the question. We're actually trying to be helpful; if an answer is long and doesn't answer the question, we'll just delete it.

Again, just for the record, this is a general answer - I'm not personally aware of whatever specific circumstances motivated this question, so don't assume that anything I've said applies to anything you wrote or did. I'm just answering the question.

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