Thanks everyone for the many replies while I was away - I guess I shouldn't start conversations directly before being AFK for about a day! ;)
While I'm reading through all the replies, I'll comment on some of the things that come up.
While conversations are interesting, they are rarely interesting solely aside from the posters who are presenting on the thread. We "meet" new people here and want to interact/explore new areas of interest appropriately with them. This interaction may be in the form of questions, statements of what we believe to be facts along with references, or just jocular interactions, puns, funny stuff. Or other hobbies, etc.
@Pathfinder - I wonder if that is a clue that something might be off about Cake's current idea of "gathering around topics, but not around personal connections". Socializing will likely always play a role no matter what the platform has to offer in that regard. I like the fact that topics are front and center, but it should probably be "topics first, socializing second" - not "no socializing at all".
However, if Cake allowed me to "snip" the connection between my original post and their "ludicrous" reply, that would please me (regardless of whether it caused their reply to lack contextual coherency).
@Shewmaker "Snipping" would be one way to do this, although it might turn out to be a logistical nightmare if posts that were intended to be a reply in an ongoing conversation suddenly end up being the start of their own conversation.
I think this response is an example of topic drift.What does the conversation host want to do about it, @Factotum ?
@apm I think there actually was an on-topic part in that response, so I want to do nothing about it. ;)
There are a few mega-threads on advrider that meander all over the place for literally thousands of pages. I hopped into one of those threads once because the initial topic was interesting to me. I was told I should read all the thousands of pages before I dare contribute a comment or ask questions. Basically, there was a group of people on that thread that felt it was their “campfire,” and visitors were not welcome. The initial topic was far from anyone’s mind by then. I carefully withdrew from that corner of the forum. Do we want that to happen here...?
Definitely not, @lidja - that sounds crazy! I think as long as there's the idea that conversations on Cake should be searchable and still valuable weeks and months down the line, they actually need to stay on-topic for the most part. Someone visiting Cake for the first time because they found a conversation about topic A in a Google search, only to find out that this conversation no longer is about A, but instead Z (or, worse, about nothing at all) is something like a worst-case scenario for the platform.
I personally think a human solution is best. If you hide someone’s post, you have the option of providing them a private explanation: it’s literally the one way to DM someone on Cake.
Using the option to hide posts lightly is probably not going to sit well with most users. At least I would not like it if it happened to me too often, and I would probably avoid interacting with that user going forward. What does everyone else think about this?
Last but not least, here's an idea I came up in the meantime: as I mentioned earlier, conversations on Cake are currently always sorted chronologically. This means that an off-topic response in the middle can really derail a conversation, because everyone who joins the conversation later will see the off-topic post before further on-topic posts.
What if it was possible to sort conversation posts in a different order? Especially, what if every author of a post could nominate one of the replies to it to be the "best one", and there was a sort order to show the resulting "best thread" first?
There are some platforms, mostly Help forums, where something like this is already possible for the conversation starter: I ask for help, a dozen people reply, and I choose the best of them by adding a star or something.
My suggestion would take this to the next level, by allowing not only the conversation starter - but everyone participating in the conversation - to nominate the best reply to their post(s). That way, someone reading through the conversation later would see a mutually agreed upon "best chain of replies" first, and anything that might be off-topic further down the page.