# How do we deal with coded comments?

As seen in this question, the OP needs help decoding comments written with some sort of code/cipher. Though solved, these comments can be rather pesky and annoying for other users. Scrambled comments have no constructiveness in the site and will be very, very difficult for users to understand, especially the new users like what Emarkul said in a comment on the accepted answer of the above question:

This worries me. Scrambled comments provide literally no constructive value to anyone who's not in on this, excluding almost all people from discussion - particularly new users to the site, who won't have any clue what's going on.

Now apparently these garbled comments can be solved with rot13 with a help of a website. Though some might know, others will not. So I have two proposals:

• Ban these garbled comments outright and flag them with Not Constructive

or

• Apply an official policy into the Help Center saying that the coded comments must be able to be decoded as seen in this answer and the site linked in that answer

My question is, how do we deal with garbled/coded comments? Do we flag them, make sure they follow some new policy, or just leave them alone?

• Is there a use case for scrambled comments on answers? I can understand it for questions - that's where you go to ask for clarification when you're still working on a solution. But if you're reading the comments under an answer, is it safe to presume you don't mind spoilers at that point? – user20 Apr 3 '16 at 22:53
• @Emrakul They serve the same purpose as spoiler tags in answers: so that you don't accidentally read something you don't mean to. It's not for the people reading the comments, it's for the people scrolling past the comments without trying to read them. – f'' Apr 4 '16 at 1:53
• Is there any way to enable spoiler markdown in comments for this specific site? That would be the ideal solution as far as I can see. Other than that I'd say go for the hover text. – Duncan X Simpson Apr 12 '16 at 20:40
• @VirtualDXS - At the time this question was asked, that would have been am almost definite "no", but now that we're graduating it sounds like a possibility... – Alconja Apr 12 '16 at 22:04
• Used to be if you didn't know what rot13 was, you'd fail the test for getting your Internet License. – hobbs Apr 14 '16 at 22:36

Pros:

• Prevents accidental spoilers to people scrolling past comments

Cons:

• Not intuitive (as seen by this meta post)
• More time/effort required to post comments

Whilst I'm generally in favour of spoiler tags in posts, I'm not a fan of rot13 spoiler comments. To me the cons above far outweigh the pro. To the point that generally I'll choose not to read the comment rather than bothering to decode it, and if it became "policy" across PSE, I'd probably post less comments too.

So, what is the alternative (assuming we don't get official support via in-line spoiler tags in comments)? My personal opinion is:

1. If you're commenting on answers, then, as Emrakul says, it's probably not a big deal, since you're already in spoiler territory, and readers know what they're getting into
2. If it's a comment on a question, do one of the following:
1. Be a bit cryptic/indirect in your comments, such that anyone (eg. the OP) who already knows the answer would understand your comment, but casual scanners should not
2. Stick "Spoiler:" at the start of your comment. People scrolling past are more likely to catch a glimpse of the bolded word first and therefore not be drawn to the actual spoiler content and have the chance to react and scroll on/look away

Another alternative to rot13, if your comment would completely spoil the puzzle, and you can't avoid it by using the above for whatever reason, would be to abuse anchor tag hover text. See example comment below this answer. (removed, since this doesn't work in too many circumstances which makes it a bad idea)

Finally as a last resort, if you must use rot13, at the very least, label it as such (eg. "rot13(yvxr guvf)").

Edit (13 Jun): I've noticed more people using rot13(...) style spoiler comments, so I made a user-script for lazy people like myself to at least automate the encode/decode process. Requires Greasemonkey+Firefox or Tapermonkey+Chrome (or equivalent user script browser extension).

• I agree that rot13ing isn't ideal, but hovertext is even worse: it's completely inaccessible to anyone on mobile. At least rot13 can be copied and pasted into a decoder. – Deusovi Apr 4 '16 at 6:12
• @Deusovi - Fair point (though as I state above, I don't think there's really a need for either). Also, rot13 is completely inaccessible to the lazy, like myself. :) – Alconja Apr 4 '16 at 6:17
• something we can do for easy coding and decoding of a comment is to swap the first letter and last letter of each word in the comment. For example manshu Hates Everybody is coded into uanshm sateH yverybodE. It's easy to create and decode by yourself and cannot be read in the first glance. – manshu Apr 4 '16 at 7:46
• @manshu - you could, and arguably it's an improvement over rot13, but it's also even less discoverable (takes more to explain than just rot13:blah). Ultimately it comes back to the question, do we really need to be obfuscating spoilers in comments? Is the minor benefit really worth the downsides? (I think no) – Alconja Apr 4 '16 at 10:02
• Clicking the hover text on mobile craches the app. – dramzy Apr 4 '16 at 13:20
• Honest question: What are the downsides? Because it seems to me like the comprehensive list of downsides is as follows: some people are slightly confused, ask about it, get an answer, and happily go about their day, knowing the answer. I haven't read anything to the contrary. Seeing garbled-looking text that I can't immediately decipher on a puzzle I want to solve is not a problem; seeing the answer (or significant clues/parts of the answer) completely unhidden, absolutely positively is. – question_asker Apr 4 '16 at 14:46
• @question_asker - I see we lie on opposite sides of an imagined line again... :) To me, i can't imagine a scenario where I'm looking at comments (or anywhere beyond the question itself), where I'm not prepared for things to be spoiled. Further, I can't think of a time where I've ever seen a comment spoil things for me anyway. Are people really having things spoiled by comments or is this a solution with significant downsides to "fix" something that's not actually a problem? What is the purpose of looking anywhere but the question text if you're trying to solve the puzzle without help? – Alconja Apr 4 '16 at 18:01
• @question_asker - and to finish mirroring your point... to me, having the bulk of comments become rot13 gibberish (and having to do so myself) would be a usability nightmare which creates a far more frustrating problem than the one it solves. To the point that I'd likely interact via comments significantly less. – Alconja Apr 4 '16 at 18:01
• @question_asker - that being said, as always, if I'm out voted by the community (and there certainly seems, superficially, to be more chance this time), I'll bow to convention, and probably write a greasemonkey script to automate the rot 13 conversion process... – Alconja Apr 4 '16 at 18:02
• @question_asker The key issue is that it poses a significant barrier to casual participation. Not all people who don't get it will ask what it is, and I suspect most actually won't. On top of that, it seriously harms the mobile UX, and forces anyone looking at a question to judge whether they really care enough about it to break out a tool from an external site in another tab. What would be casual participation becomes restricted through a participation barrier, and on the whole, I'm of the opinion that's not a good thing for the site. – user20 Apr 4 '16 at 18:04
• @Emrakul and Alconja: Yeah, that's a good point about usability on mobile; I guess I'm of the opinion that interacting with it is a) entirely optional (i.e., not a requirement) and b) totally visible (i.e., can spoil things for you even if you didn't even try to look at comments). You're both definitely right that it means having to go to a secondary resource just for (usually) < 100 characters, and that's a non-trivial task if it's happening on every question/answer – question_asker Apr 4 '16 at 18:08
• @Alconja I can't tag two people in one comment so see above (spoiler: I think we're less on opposite sides than it may have seemed) – question_asker Apr 4 '16 at 18:09
• @question_asker I definitely get why people want to put spoilers in their comments, and I definitely think that's a legitimate issue, I'm just not sure the cost of this particular solution is... worth it, I guess, as creative as it is. Maybe another meta question on what should be done when someone wants to put spoilers in comments is the right direction to take this discussion? – user20 Apr 4 '16 at 18:25
• @Emrakul Yeah, this is one of those specifically Puzzling-related issues; nowhere else on SE (OK, maybe Arqade/Movies and TV being the exception?) is anyone going to worry about seeing the answer accidentally. – question_asker Apr 4 '16 at 18:28
• FWIW, hovering over that initial comment in Chrome on this Mac doesn't display hover text. – Ian MacDonald Apr 14 '16 at 16:50

All "coded comments" that you refer to are rot13ed. All of them. There are no other codes used; that would be pointless since the comments would then be difficult to decode. The point of rot13ing comments is not encryption; it's unreadability on first glance.

That being said, I think that rot13ing isn't ideal, but in some cases it can be necessary to prevent spoilers from people casually reading. Our policy should be to require either mentioning rot13 or linking to rot13.com in any comments that have rot13ed text - preferably, both.

• This makes sense. It suppose would be easy enough to do rot13(guvf) – Khale_Kitha Apr 4 '16 at 14:40
• the link to rot13 is good idea. It could be taken a step further, and linked to a decoder that takes the string as a query parameter, so there's no copy and paste step, such a s this one: decode.org/?q=this – Matt Apr 4 '16 at 18:04
• ¿ʇxǝʇ uʍop ǝpᴉsdn ʇnoqɐ lǝǝɟ ǝʍ op ʍoH – Chris Cudmore Apr 5 '16 at 19:53
• @ChrisCudmore: It would probably work for most people, but I can read upside-down text with only slightly more effort than regular text, and I'm sure there are others too. – Deusovi Apr 5 '16 at 19:55
• Yes, but it is a common technique in newspapers and puzzle books for hiding answers in plain sight. – Chris Cudmore Apr 5 '16 at 19:57
• @ChrisCudmore "hiding answers in plain sight" - But that's usually tucked away in a corner of the page, away from where you are directly looking. – MrWhite Apr 7 '16 at 21:25
• @Deusovi Likewise for myself, but if you're actively scrolling down, upside down text is much more obscured than after you've stopped to read the comment. I could live with that. – pydsigner Apr 8 '16 at 19:36