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Today I came across this question. It is asking for someone to identify a piece from a picture of the sheet music. This is obviously off-topic so I flagged it and it also got closed about a minute after that.

However, I knew which piece it was so I just left a comment under the question which basically answered the OP's question. Another user confirmed that I was right and posted a link to the piece on IMSLP (He tagged me in his comment, so I got a notification).

A couple of minutes ago - while browsing another SE site - I realized that the notification was gone, so I came back to the question to see if the question was maybe deleted altogether. The question is still there but both mine and the other user's comments were deleted (I'm guessing by a moderator).

So my question is: Was I wrong about commenting and answering the OP's question just because it's off-topic? Is it because providing an answer makes it seem like it's okay to continue asking these types of questions here?

  • I'm currently resisting the urge to ask you what the piece was, because as I commented, it looks really familiar and I'm very curious, but I think even answering it here would be bad form. – Todd Wilcox Jan 29 '17 at 16:04
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    Ah, for anyone else curious, the asker found success at Music Fans: musicfans.stackexchange.com/questions/4704/… – Todd Wilcox Jan 29 '17 at 16:11
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    Despite my answer, I want to be clear that I'm concern that your comment was summarily deleted without explanation. I've broken the rules and posted an answer in a comment before, but the way I learned not to do that was my comment (and several others) was deleted and the mod who did so commented "please don't answer in comments" with a link to the relevant meta. More instructive in that case was that the question I commented on was on topic! That would have been a better way for a mod to have handled your comment, IMHO. – Todd Wilcox Jan 30 '17 at 13:07
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    @ToddWilcox In addition to which, the moderator apparently prioritized deleting helpful comments over deleting the off-topic question...? – Kyle Strand Feb 8 '17 at 18:57
  • Kyle - couple of key points here. Deleting the comments helps ensure people don't get the idea that answering off topic questions is right. Leaving the post for a wee while so the OP can see the messages to him giving guidance is polite. The question was then deleted later once the OP had had a chance to read the guidance. Also - I think this issue has been discussed at great length already, and I don't see any extra value to be added by fanning any embers. – Doktor Mayhem Feb 8 '17 at 23:44
  • Well, yes. I always answer closed questions as comments. – user53472 Apr 23 '19 at 4:09
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If a question is clearly off-topic, the first thing to do is (in a friendly way) direct the asker to the https://music.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic page to explain why it's off-topic, as this isn't something that SE currently does very well.

Beyond that, If a helpful response can also be given briefly in a comment, it's generally fine to do this - I and others here frequently do. It doesn't have to be a full answer - another helpful thing is to direct the user to a better-suited site, which actually happened in this case.

There is a possible drawback, which is that it could encourage further such questions, but there is also a benefit in being generally welcoming and friendly, and coming across as a site that puts humanity before bureaucracy.

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    Surely if someone asks a non-accetable question, it means that we have more visitors to the site. A bad thing? I say the more the merrier, and they can be educated in the idiosyncracies of the site, and who knows, may even get involved.Throwing them out, for want of a better term, is only going to deter visitors, who probably talk to other musos, and maybe not in a complimentary way. – Tim Jan 30 '17 at 11:14
  • @Tim I'd like the message needs to be "come and join us... oh, and by the way we do things this way here" rather than "You're not one of us... close the door behind you, please". In a wider sense, I'd like this to be a great site for all musicians that also has the strengths of stack exchange, rather than live to be an archetypal SE site - the latter is many people's idea of an Orwellian dystopia and there are enough of those to go around at the moment. Aligned with that I'd actually be happy to see an expansion of our scope, but I answered based on what our on-topic is at the moment. – topo Reinstate Monica Jan 30 '17 at 11:31
  • I'm with you all the way - +1 as I first read it. We have what we have, but surely there are ways to improve things, like welcoming new contributors. It's the summary dismissals (or what feels like that sometimes) that just aren't necessary, I feel. Praps I'm getting tetchy in my old age. – Tim Jan 30 '17 at 11:37
  • @Tim When I look at the meta conversations it does seem like Music.SE is a better now from the inclusivity point of view than it was a few years ago; I even think in the couple of years I've been here it has become more friendly. Or maybe my emotions are just deadening in my old age... even so I think progress can be made! – topo Reinstate Monica Jan 30 '17 at 11:45
  • Just for reference, our full policy on comments and what they are for/not for is here: music.stackexchange.com/help/privileges/comment – Dom Feb 1 '17 at 17:35
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No. This question probably should have been transferred to Music Fans, where it would be right at home with an answer ready to apply. Even if it hadn't been, the rules had already been well applied when the answer was put on hold - either way, question and comments would have disappeared from this site with time, and, as topo morto has noted, the OP had been directed to the appropriate site for future questions of this sort. I'm not even sure that this was a valid application of the rules: comments are meant to add things that can't be used as answers.

Rules in an organisation like this, in other institutions, and in society in general can be applied in either a fashion that is genuinely helpful to the members of the community in question, or they can be used as a cudgel to beat the "non-compliant". This case has a feel of the latter, as someone went out of his/her way to delete those comments. (My declaration of interest in this: mine was the other comment.)

I think we tend to forget that we learn in this field (or any other) because others went out of their way to help us with acts of kindness - I know I surely gained whatever knowledge I have through many, many kind acts of others. In this particular case, I hadn't been aware of the author or piece until you mentioned it, and my knowledge of pre-Revolution and Soviet Russian music is better than most, so I don't think this particular act of kindness was misplaced.

To put it bluntly, if we want this community to succeed in its stated purpose, we need to be Menschen ourselves. If members of the community can help others, let them. If the nature of the help is off-topic, it will disappear when the question does (I am not proposing that we stop putting off-topic questions on hold - I've voted for a number of holds myself), but it will establish that this is a community that is genuinely helpful.

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    I'd like to point out that only mods can migrate to Music Fans as of now since it's only in beta. Anyone thinks a question should go there you can flag it with the custom flag and let us know about it. Also as I pointed out in a previous post on meta sheet-music identification on-topicness on music fans is questionable as that doesn't really fit the audience there. – Dom Jan 29 '17 at 20:57
  • @Dom, AFAIK, only mods can delete comments, so at least one mod was involved, no? I looked through the rules for Music Fans, and this kind of question isn't forbidden, and as it turns out, the question received an answer there (from Richard, and I suspect he got his answer from the comments). Now, I don't propose that mods feel obliged to transfer questions when they don't feel they have the time, but someone evidently had the time to delete the comments. However, as I say, the win-win here would have been to transfer the question along with comments: ( more ) – user16935 Jan 29 '17 at 21:23
  • the fellow asking the question gets his answer; Music Fans gets an easy-to-answer question that boosts their tallies; and we get the reputation of being a helpful place to deal with. – user16935 Jan 29 '17 at 21:24
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    I'm going to look more into the deleting of the comments. I don't know the full story behind them there could have been flags on the comments to be removed. As for Music Fans, the point of music fans is for fans of music, most of which won't know/care for this. The only two questions on Music Fans right now for that came directly from here after people pointed them to Music Fans which not being closed is not the same as fit for the site. You can also direct users to our chat for discussions and things not on-topic here. – Dom Jan 29 '17 at 21:48
  • Thanks, @Dom. Why the comments might have been flagged is beyond me - Keiwan's comment was short and factual, as was mine. I don't dispute any of this, except that the comment deletions were unnecessary and, well, rude. From the sounds of it, Music Fans might want to look at their inclusiveness: the original question is a pretty common type coming from classical music fans (a lot of whom can play). – user16935 Jan 29 '17 at 22:00
  • We're allowing them, but they aren't getting attention as with the other ID questions which is causing bigger issues for the site as not may people participate anymore as the lack of support for the incoming questions. I'm more suggesting users of our site to think of the impact something will have moved to music fans rather then just suggesting it goes there. – Dom Jan 29 '17 at 22:03
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    @Dom, it's one of those cases where I think Music Fans actually wins, because it was able to tap our expertise to come up with an answered question - the answer was in the comments, and one of our regulars gave essentially the same answer officially at Music Fans SE. It's thus a question that received support, and helps their stats (and general reputation). It may not be wise to transfer all the questions of this sort, but something where we know we already have the answer is going to be good all around. – user16935 Jan 29 '17 at 22:24
  • Which is what we tried doing, but the support does not stay on the site and the people who frequent the site don't really care about them so now the site has many unanswered questions in this vein that we don't know what to do with. The rep is really irreverent as if the users don't stay to support the site it's meaningless. – Dom Jan 29 '17 at 22:28
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    BTW, I did look into the comments and they were flagged as "not constructive" and removed for that reason. – Dom Jan 29 '17 at 22:36
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    Not constructive my arse. – user16935 Jan 29 '17 at 23:17
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    How on Earth can the actual answer to a question, albeit in a comment, be construed as 'not constructive'? Who flagged? Whose decision? How can one person (if so) have that power? – Tim Jan 30 '17 at 11:09
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    It's currently an SE wide policy to not answer any questions with a comment, on or off topic. So while this answer may state an opinion that has some popularity, it contradicts the actual facts. Currently, the factual answer to this meta question is that one should never answer any question with a comment. – Todd Wilcox Jan 30 '17 at 13:09
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    You did comment that the summary deletions of the comments without explanation was rude, and I agree with that. Mod deletes are brutal and should be undertaken with the utmost care and consideration, which does not seem to have been the case, in this case. – Todd Wilcox Jan 30 '17 at 13:13
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    Regarding the "music fans wins" comment above, I've not yet read anything in any SE/SO meta about any goals to improve stats or rep. At the same time, I've read much about asssembling and generating high quality content. It's not enough to merely create the best content, we also have to limit the bad content. To those ends every Stack determines what is better and what is worse content. When we act to remove content that we have decided we don't want here, we win in the sense of working towards our mission. This mission is SE/SO wide, so those who disagree with it are in a tough spot. – Todd Wilcox Jan 30 '17 at 13:22
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    If any correct answer is high quality content, why do we only have questions and answers about music theory and practice here? Why even have a concept of on-topic and off-topic? We want quality relevant content. "We build libraries of high-quality questions and answers, focused on each community's area of expertise." As Steve Jobs said, "Focus is about saying no". – Todd Wilcox Jan 30 '17 at 13:43
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Was I wrong about commenting and answering the OP's question just because it's off-topic?

In a word, Maybe.

You weren't very wrong, and your comment was from good intentions, and we all understand that. You'll notice that I really wanted to answer the question and I held back and instead gave some ideas for how the asker could discover the answer for themselves, so I personally identify greatly with the desire to help everyone who comes along.

I have been chastised by members of other Stacks in the past for answering questions in comments.

On the other hand: General policies on answering closed questions in the comments?

Is it because providing an answer makes it seem like it's okay to continue asking these types of questions here?

I'd rather someone more mod-like put their voice in here, but as I like to help people answer their questions, and this is a question that is not wrong to answer, I'm going to give it a shot.

One thing that is of great concern on Stack Exchange sites is the nature of the content. We want the best content with the least amount of content that isn't the best, since non-best content makes it harder to find the best content.

No matter how we provide an answer to off-topic questions, either in comments or in answers, providing an answer at all flies in the face of the notion that it is not content that we want here. It encourages more off-topic questions of the same type. It gives a voice to anyone who might come to the meta and write, "See! That question got an answer, so mine should too!" It also might attract people who are doing web searches for similar information and encourage them to post more about the topic.

All of that decreases our "signal to noise ratio", if you will. It adds to and encourages the not-best content that we actually want to discourage.

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    See my comment to Topo, please. Question like this will keep coming, as they always have. How long does it take to give the OP a clue - about as long as it takes to make them feel unwelcome. Whilst I agree with you, I feel we as a community are sometimes somewhat parochial in our approach to newcomers. Whereas other questions which are allowed get me thinking 'OP, use the great internet!' – Tim Jan 30 '17 at 11:23
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    Apropos of nothing, I'll just mention that I think Todd is one of the more active and friendly 'welcomers' on this site in general, whatever particular points we are discussing here! – topo Reinstate Monica Jan 30 '17 at 12:09
  • Thanks Topo. I worry that I'm one of the mean ones! Regarding my answer here: maybe I'm using the meta wrong, but this answer is more about my understanding of how the community feels, not about how I think it should be. I do agree that we should not answer off topic questions in the comments. I also am worried about mod deletes with no explanations given. Better to comment "please don't answer in the comments" than to just delete. If anything, users with rep above 200 should be treated with more care than new ones because they are on board and contributing. – Todd Wilcox Jan 30 '17 at 12:45
  • @Tim I've been admonished not to answer questions in comments myself. More than once. That is one mechanism for educating people on the idiosyncrasies of the site. You also ask if more users is a good or bad thing. Well, it's neither. More engaged users who are on board and willing to participate in the system is good. More users who constantly post unhelpful, noisy content is bad. But existing users who are more active is almost as good as new users. Posting answers in comments is not just a music.se concern, it's SE/SO wide. And there are plenty of meta questions about it. – Todd Wilcox Jan 30 '17 at 12:58
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    @Tim Another SE/SO wide philosophy is that we have no concern about how easy it is to find answers elsewhere on the web. How easy it is to Google something has nothing to do with the appropriateness of having it here. On the contrary, it's been stated in metas over and over again that SE/SO should strive to be one of the top hits on the hypothetical web search! The truth is, if we had a crystal ball to see which users will only ever post "noisy" content, we would want to make them feel unwelcome. Lacking that power, it's better to politely enforce policies and let users self select. – Todd Wilcox Jan 30 '17 at 13:02
  • @ToddWilcox as far as I can see this is the first time this question has explicitly been asked on meta, so answers here will inevitably be a mixture of "perceptions of how the community feels" and what people personally think. – topo Reinstate Monica Jan 30 '17 at 14:31
  • @ToddWilcox I'd be interested in exploring the idea that more new users isn't necessarily a good thing. Don't we want to help the broadest possible number of musicians in the world, and won't we do that better if we enable more people to actively participate? (My assumption is that after a few interactions, most people will either start to learn the ways of the site and become good contributors, OR leave. I don't think anyone would want to encourage users who would persist in adding noisy content long-term). – topo Reinstate Monica Jan 30 '17 at 14:34
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    Comments should never be used to answer a question regardless of if it is off-topic or not. – Dom Jan 30 '17 at 15:53
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    @topomorto There are similar questions on other SE meta sites, but from my experience it mostly comes down to how (strict) each site handles these rules as it's definitely not the same everywhere. On StackOverflow for example (where I'm more active than here) questions very frequently get answered in the comments, which can happen because of multiple reasons. Off-topic questions often receive answers in the comments as quickly as possible to prevent a flood of low quality "real" answers from people who just want an easy reputation gain before the question gets enough votes to be closed. – Keiwan Jan 30 '17 at 16:12
  • I have for example never seen such an answer-comment get deleted on SO simply for the reason that one should not answer questions in comments. Sometimes people don’t have the time to fully expand their thoughts into an answer and therefore just leave a comment (which still answers most of the question). – Keiwan Jan 30 '17 at 16:13
  • There is also another thing that seems to be different here, which is how off-topic or generally bad questions get handled: On SO a question equivalent to the one we’re discussing here would have received a ton of downvotes. Here, however, there was not a single downvote. Reasons to downvote include ”this post is not helpful”, which holds true for most off-topic posts, but still, even though people (including) a moderator flagged and removed the comments, nobody thought of downvoting the question itself. – Keiwan Jan 30 '17 at 16:13
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    I also just want to point out that I am not disputing the deletion of the comments. The possible reasons (of which I also gave one in my question) are clear and it just comes down to the community and the people moderating to decide which actions are the right ones to be taken in order to keep this site clean. And I have definitely enjoyed reading everybody’s opinions on this topic here, so thanks to all of you who took their time to give some input :) – Keiwan Jan 30 '17 at 16:15
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    @Keiwan I don't have an issue with the deletion itself as much as I'm concerned about deletion without explanation. – Todd Wilcox Jan 30 '17 at 17:35
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    Keiwan - yes, loads of them get deleted, all over SE. You maybe don't see them, but other sites have far more than us. It is explicitly not what comment posts should be used for. – Doktor Mayhem Jan 31 '17 at 13:03
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I have held off on posting as I do worry that when a mod posts an opinion on a mod action it can have one of two effects:

  • putting a halt to further posts
  • being seen as just "defending one of their own"

And I really don't want either of those to happen.

  • First off, yes we are one of the slightly special case sites - our topic is far more subjective than the majority of SE sites, so we know that not only do we get a lot of questions that are on the edge of "opinion based", we get a lot that are beyond it. And even the threshold for opinion based is quite broad compared to some of the IT sites. This does mean we do need to work with soft guidance on how the community flags, and how we respond to flags. Most of the community flags are responded to quickly, as in the past unhandled flags here have led to rapid escalations.

  • Secondly, when migrating there are quite strict rules to adhere to. So if there is some doubt that the question meets topic requirements, our guidance is usually not to migrate.

  • Thirdly, answering in a comment is explicitly dissuaded. If a question is off topic, we should be closing or migrating. If it is on topic, answer in an answer post.

This example, however, shows an intent to be helpful sort of getting stuck in between these rules. I think this was an exception, and it did get a resolution after a while, so I'm not 100% sure whether there is a specific learning point we can take forwards for other examples as they happen in future other than to come to meta early to discuss possible outcomes, and perhaps to leave a comment to say, "please do not use comments for answers."

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    Rory, if answering in comments is explicitly forbidden, then where is it stated? If it isn't stated anywhere where the community might reasonably be expected to find it, then its validity as a policy is, at very least, questionable. In this case, formal answers were impossible - the question was placed on hold as is correct for something outside our remit. I don't have a problem with the hold. I do have a problem with silent policies used to prevent a humane response to a genuine request. – user16935 Jan 31 '17 at 21:08
  • Specifically, look at this: meta.gardening.stackexchange.com/a/218/174 which is one of the links in the FAQ: meta.stackexchange.com/q/7931/154443 – Doktor Mayhem Feb 1 '17 at 8:06
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    Rory, if I have to go to a gardening Meta exchange to get something like this, there's a problem, a rather large one, and it shouldn't be mine (or any other user's, for that matter). It does, however, seem to be a fairly typical SE problem, and it has clarified a decision I needed to make. – user16935 Feb 1 '17 at 11:21
  • I got it from the central FAQ. Various of the Q's go off to individual metas because that is where they were first asked/answered. Yes, I agree with centralised data being the ideal - not sure what the fix is. – Doktor Mayhem Feb 1 '17 at 11:36
  • Not sure either, Rory, but I don't expect to be here to find out. Got my account deletion in already, and, if I'm answering you, it's because they're slow at pulling the trigger. – user16935 Feb 1 '17 at 11:42
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    Oh - I'm really really sorry to hear that. Your input has always been incredibly valuable, and there are wide areas of theory that I see you as the expert on! Plus, you are always very good at fair and reasonable explanation. – Doktor Mayhem Feb 1 '17 at 11:44
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    Rory, the way this place is run is a hot mess - duplicates galore because it is incredibly difficult to search the questions accurately, hidden and often arbitrary policies, even bureaucratic inertia (witness that I am still able to comment here - I was checking to see if I was gone yet). I have appreciated a fair number of the people I have dealt with (present company included), but I have become frustrated au bout. – user16935 Feb 1 '17 at 11:54
  • There is a lot there I sympathise with. I think a lot of it is down to the scale of SE, and the core focus on it being a site for developers. Those together do make it rather gargantuan (hell, we even have a mods cheat sheet to help us remember all the ins and outs: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/119111/moderator-cheat-sheet) but I do feel we are getting there, albeit slowly, with a community that does provide a valuable resource. – Doktor Mayhem Feb 1 '17 at 12:11
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    Still not deleted yet. Well, all the best to you, Rory. Good luck with that. – user16935 Feb 1 '17 at 12:21

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