I’m a hacker, and I love to build stuff for the Web.

 

The Problem With Comments

Friday 7th September, 2012

As much as we appreciate well-written comments, most of us would admit to finding it difficult to keep comments up-to-date. Why is this? Surely, when you’re editing code, the comments are right there and easy to update along with the code? Yet still we forget, overlooking a comment when changing the fundamental behavior of semantics of the code to which it relates.

My argument is that this is actually a UX failure on the part of our text editors; to see why, here’s a real-world example of a contextual message which doesn’t change the substance of the object to which it relates:

Post-it notes sit brightly on a dull background.

The Post-it note is more than just an optional message—it’s an admonition, a sign to whoever is using the object that there is some critical piece of information that should be considered before proceeding. In fact, it’s deliberately colored in such a way as to clash with almost any background you’d put it against.

Compare this with how comments are typically displayed:

Comments in code are usually displayed in a grey typeface.

The comment, as a syntactic structure, is supposed to be a piece of human-readable information which is ignored by the compiler. But why, then, do our editors display comments in such a way as to be ignored by the programmer? Imagine if comments were displayed like this instead:

Brighter comments

I think there would be a lot fewer meaningless, out-of-date and unhelpful comments.