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I'd like the recent activity and responses pages to show new comments on questions/answers I have commented on (even if I don't own them). If I leave a comment somewhere, I am implicitly engaging in a conversation. Currently, I have to keep looking everywhere I recently left a comment to see if there are new comments.


Derived from uservoice items:

The first one was merged with the second one. When that one was completed, the "recent activity" page was introduced, but I think it is still a problem that it fails to inform me of comment conversations.

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4  
Good idea, I second that. –  malach Jun 30 '09 at 13:26
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+1 agree that it's useful, however could get quite noisy when you have a lot of comments out. –  Ian Elliott Jun 30 '09 at 16:18
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Agree with Ian; by default I think it's fine as it is it, but there should be a way to opt-in for notifications for interesting "threads" (questions or answers). –  Jonik Jun 30 '09 at 20:53
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I don't think it's any noisier than the current system is if you provide lots of answers or questions. As it is, you get an update for every comment on any question/answer that you own. Most comments threads die down after 3-4 comments anyway. –  Kip Jul 1 '09 at 12:45
    
When I added the 'derived from' link, I was just trying to copy the relevant info out of a duplicate question that was eventually merged into here. –  Kyle Cronin Jul 1 '09 at 14:52
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+200 if I could. Wait, how many votes does it take to get a feature request considered for integration? –  P Daddy Sep 4 '09 at 5:53
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I wish I could upvote this more then once. Right now, I'm not replying to questions within comments and this is rude and ignorant. Please, don't make me do this anymore :-) –  Tim Büthe Oct 27 '09 at 12:23
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I'd like this implementation: Add a new tab in my profile where I can see in a single list, all activities in the questions where I have been involved at least once OR that are in my favorite questions. That page would also offer a RSS feed. –  Sly Nov 11 '09 at 19:41
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Very good suggestion Kip, been looking for this feature aswell. –  pauska Nov 12 '09 at 23:54
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Does anyone know if anything like this is ever going to happen? How do we find out what the programmers of SO are actually planning to do? The lack of a proper comment notification system is my single greatest frustration with SO. "Can you clarify this aspect of your answer?" Sure you can, but I'll never be notified when you do. A simple "subscribe to this comment thread" checkbox would do so much to improve the usefulness of the site. –  devuxer Nov 29 '09 at 19:02
    
@Kip, Thanks for your comment on my answer. I think you're right. I edited my answer and added a second version. Does that seem like an improvement to you? –  devuxer Dec 4 '09 at 21:57
    
I suggest making the title shorter. –  Peter Mortensen Dec 5 '09 at 23:54
    
@Peter Mortensen: this continues to get a steady trickle of upvotes, so I assume people who want this functionality are finding my suggestion based on the title. so i don't think it needs to be changed. :) –  Kip Dec 6 '09 at 4:53
    
Now that this has been implemented, it's quite annoying. I frequently leave a comment suggesting how people can improve their questions (or explaining why they're not a good fit for the site), and my inbox is constantly flooded with subsequent whines about downvotes. I simply couldn't care less. Wish there was a way to turn this "feature" off now... –  Cody Gray Jul 18 '11 at 8:25
    
@Cody, I don't want a notification every time. I just want an optional spot that will list the questions where there has been subsequent activity. There are a lot of cases where I've left an answer or a comment, and some other answer or comment has triggered a conversation. I'm missing out if there is no way for me to track that just because a comment wasn't directed @ me or my answer. I described it a little differently before I found this question: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/100520/… –  Aaron Bertrand Aug 1 '11 at 13:46
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10 Answers

up vote 19 down vote accepted

This feature reminds me of commenting on one's status on Facebook - you get updates for all the following replies. So instead of spamming, notifying can be done only when @username is mentioned (linked) in the reply.

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12  
the "notify when people say my name" is really interesting, but requires unique names which we don't enforce. –  Jeff Atwood Jul 1 '09 at 4:56
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What about @#? Our user numbers are unique right? Maybe even hack it into markdown to have it pull the user's name and autolink to the user's profile. –  toast Jul 3 '09 at 23:48
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@toast: why go to such great lengths while spamming the user with comment replies is very easy to do? If you leave a comment, you'll get the replies, much better than hunting for replies (and you will miss replies to older comments.) –  hayalci Jul 13 '09 at 21:38
    
I'm accepting this because, having thought about it more, I think this is a better option. It would balance between the extremes of 1) only getting notified of comments to my posts, and 2) getting notified of all comments to everything i've ever touched. See also: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/4798/… –  Kip Aug 14 '09 at 14:49
    
+1 for a feature like this. I think it would be helpful just to have a simple marker or icon on the user profile page. It just be like a little orange box next to the question or answer on the page that says "New comments!" that would be useful enough to me. –  RMorrisey Sep 3 '09 at 16:31
    
It would just be* –  RMorrisey Sep 3 '09 at 16:32
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@Jeff Atwood, i think the likelihood that people with the same nick comment on the same answer is spectaculary small. It's not like you have to send a notification to both "foo"'s if someone does "@foo". You only send it to the one that actually also commented in the same comment thread. And for this small percentage of false positives, i wouldn't worry. –  Johannes Schaub - litb Sep 27 '09 at 13:56
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You can also view it like this: If a user in a comment says "@bar" and in the thread there were two "bar" users, then he addressed both of them, so both should get a notification. It's the user's fault, not the system's fault. :) –  Johannes Schaub - litb Sep 27 '09 at 14:10
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The system already generates the username without spaces and umlauts. My username is "Tim Büthe" but the link to my profile reads "tim-buthe". There could be a auto complete feature, so if you write "@" you get suggestions for usernames, maybe all within this question. When you choose me, it completes to "@tim-buthe" and could display a nicely formatted link to my profile. –  Tim Büthe Oct 27 '09 at 12:22
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hey @litb that was a good idea :) –  Jeff Atwood Jan 16 '10 at 7:40
    
@Jeff You could also add an auto-complete to this, like Facebook does. If you start typing @ in the textbox, it lists all the matching users. –  Igal Tabachnik Jan 16 '10 at 16:17
    
@Jeff: so does everyone who commented earlier on this post get the notification (as described by the OP here), or just the person being addressed (as this particular answer amended the description)? –  Ether Jan 17 '10 at 4:22
    
@Æther just the person being addressed gets notified -- it's exactly like Twitter @replies –  Jeff Atwood Jan 17 '10 at 5:29
    
@JeffAtwood - I just wanted to thank you :) I received my first notification for a comment on an answer that wasn't mine tonight. I had to double-check to make sure that's what had really happened. After confirming it, I immediately went to the blog to read about the details. I really like the way you've implemented it! Having wrestled with it myself, I can tell some really careful thought went into your solution. It wasn't an easy problem, but you've come up with a very clever solution without adding any UI infrastructure whatsoever. –  devuxer Jan 23 '10 at 3:18
    
@dan thanks -- I plan to expand it so you can also refer to post editors as well, even if they haven't commented yet –  Jeff Atwood Jan 23 '10 at 3:24
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I would like to see an opt-in option where people who leave comments may request to get notifications when people leave comments to their comments. (Comments from the question asker)

For example, If I ask a new question and someone asks me for more clarification in a form of a question in a comment and I reply, it would be beneficial if the person gets a notification so that the thread continues. I am pretty sure that person is not going to keep checking to see if I replied. People just move on to more recent activities.

I have seen a few questions in limbo because of unanswered questions in comments.

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I agree with this option. If it wasn't opt-in, active users might get too many (uninteresting) response notifications. Personally I think only part of the 'threads' I comment on are ones I really want to keep tracking. By the way, if this was implemented, I think it should be possible to 'unsubscribe' from a given thread too. –  Jonik Jul 6 '09 at 12:49
    
How about incorporating this with tracking edits on a post: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1751/… (To solve two, or maybe more, FRs with one stone...) –  Jonik Aug 6 '09 at 8:36
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Normally, you only get notified of comments when you own the post.

You will now get notified of any comments that refer to you by @username in a comment, even if you do not own the post.

Rules:

  1. Only applies to other people in the comments that you are commenting on.

  2. Response must include @username that you are referring to, where "username" is a reasonable match to the user's current display name (as seen in the comments above yours).

  3. There must be a starts-with, case insensitive match of at least THREE characters to the displayname. So @a and @ab will never match anyone or anything. We do have an exception for users with 2 character firstnames where the space between first and last name is the implicit third character for match.

  4. Spaces cannot be used to match, so if the person's display name is "Peter Smith" then just use @peter or @petersmith to match. Also, international characters are mapped to their plain-text equivalents.

  5. Matching is performed in reverse chronological order, so if there are five people named "John" in the comments, writing "hey @john, have you considered apples?" will match the most recent John to comment.

  6. Only one person can be replied to at a time in a comment. The first one "in" wins.

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If such @name are recognized to notify the concerned user, how about generating a link to profile with it, on it? Like a confirmation that this user was recognized, and will be notified. –  Gnoupi Jan 16 '10 at 15:10
    
@gnoupi see meta.stackexchange.com/questions/9652/… I do not agree at all with that request –  Jeff Atwood Jan 16 '10 at 15:16
    
FYI- I've added this information to the FAQ page on comments: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/19756/… –  Kip Jan 16 '10 at 15:34
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I think this would be useful. To check for replies to a comment you've made is pretty unfeasible currently - it involves checking every answer you've ever commented on for new comments..

It wouldn't have to show you every new comment, like is done for answers (which would get out-of-hand rather quickly) - it would just say "New follow-up comments today on the following questions/answers:"

Comments are single threaded, and always ordered - it's easy enough to find your comment and read from there-on, as long as you know which question/answer to look at.

An option to only see replies directed at you with @username could be nice, but that's starting to getting rather.. Twitter'ish, and would be unreliable given StackOverflow does not require unique usernames, and many people only use first-names when replying ("@Jeff blah blah" for example)

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2  
Also worth having in writing somewhere is that the @username convention isn't very robust. A lot of people respond to my comments with "@Aaron". –  AaronSieb Aug 7 '09 at 16:02
    
@Aaron, you could define a list of aliases in your user settings, which you want to be notified about. Since the algorithm only checks those users that also actually are involved in a specific comment thread, i think this would go fine with the traffic too. –  Johannes Schaub - litb Sep 27 '09 at 14:01
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Here's a storyboard depicting how an improved comment notification system could be implemented on SO sites...


///// STORYBOARD - Version 1 //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Note - This is the original version. Please scroll down for version 2.


Frame 1 (v1-old) - User has entered comment and wishes to notify Jeff Atwood that a new comment has been added to the thread. This is referred to as "tagging".

alt text

Frame 2 (v1-old) - User has clicked "select user(s)" and brought up list of only commenters who indicated they are willing to be notified of new comments (by selecting "Notify me only if commenter tags me" or "Notify me of all new comments"). Notice that the first few words of the user's comment are included. This makes it easier to match up the right comment with the right person, and helps nullify any issues with two users having the same name.

alt text

Frame 3 (v1-old) - User has selected Jeff Atwood and clicked Apply. Now, the "Notify" line reads "Notify 1 user of new comment" and an orange status bar appears to alert the user to the fact that Jeff Atwood has been tagged.

alt text

Discussion

I believe this UI offers the best of all worlds. Users do not have to receive any notifications if they don't want to. Users can specifically tag users that are willing to be notified if the comment is directed at them. Just as with many forums, only one notification needs to be sent per thread until the user checks the thread, so it's not like anyone will be spammed with 20 notifications when a single thread receives 20 comments. They'll simply receive one.

The only disadvantages I see are some added clutter and complexity, and of course, someone has to program this.

Edit

Right after posting this, I of course noticed something I'd like to change right off the bat. The radio buttons should actually be available all the time, not just when posting a comment. This way, users could subscribe even to threads they didn't comment on, and they could change their notification preference at any time. If there's any interest, I can fix the storyboard to reflect this change, but for now, I hope this offers some good food for thought.


///// STORYBOARD - Version 2 //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////


I think Kip is right that my original concept was too busy. Maybe this second attempt will be more "Stack Overflow"-like in simplicity and style.

Frame 1 (v2) - User has entered comment and wishes to "tag" Jeff Atwood so he will be notified of this comment. User clicks "tag users". Note: the checkbox ("do not allow users to tag me") could be changed to a friendlier "do not notify me of new comments", although this may not be as clear.

alt text

Frame 2 (v2) - User reviews list of commenters and clicks the checkbox next to Jeff Atwood.

alt text

Frame 3 (v2) - Subscribe feature allows users who have not commented in the thread to receive notifications.

alt text

Frame 4 (v2) (see Frame 3 image)

The link buttons in Frame 3 will change depending on the situation:

  • Subscribed users who now wish to stop receiving notifications:

    add comment | stop notifications
    
  • Users who have commented in the thread and elected to allow users to tag them (but haven't subscribed):

    add comment | full notifications | stop notifications
    
  • Users who have commented in the thread but elected not to allow users to tag them:

    add comment | full notifications | allow users to tag me
    

Discussion

This version is much cleaner and less cluttered than the original version, yet it still allows users a great deal of flexibility in what notifications they receive. By default, users will only receive notifications if they own the question/answer (just as it works today) or if they have commented on the thread and a subsequent commenter tags them. However, users can opt out of any notification, or, conversely, elect to be notified of all new comments. Even users who have not commented in a thread can subscribe (and receive notification). All of this functionality is available with only a single checkbox and link button added to the current SO comment editor, and one or two additional link buttons next to the "add comment" link button at the bottom of each comment thread. The "tag users" link button expands into a simple checkbox list that users can use to tag users (but onlyu those users are willing to be tagged).

This UI would minimize the annoyance of receiving unwanted notifications, it would allow users to tag other users even though aliases are not unique (or static) on SO, and, most important, it would improve the exchange of information between SO users.


///// ANOTHER IDEA - Threading //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////


Threading provides some interesting advantages when it comes to comment notification, but there are definitely some issues with it as well.

How it would work

There would be one comment button for the overall thread, and one reply button for each comment. If you comment directly on a question or answer, your comment will appear "left justified" (lined up with the left margin of the page). If you reply to an existing comment, your comment will appear indented beneath the comment you responded to.

Notification

You receive notification if users comment on your question or answer (as usual) or if they reply to your comment.

Pros

  • Comments are organized into a format that is easy to understand.
  • Users are notified only if someone responds to something they wrote (either a question, answer, or comment).
  • UI changes are limited to indenting and the addition of a single reply button per comment.

Cons

  • Need a mechanism to handle the edge case of a comment hierarchy that is so deep that there is no longer sufficient space to indent.
  • Also need a mechanism to handle deleted comments that have child comments, such as replacing the deleted comment with a placeholder that says "(comment deleted by author)".
  • Complex hierarchies would become hard to visualize.
  • Might encourage casual chatting, which would make it more difficult to find the critical information.


Edit:

As suggested by Peter Mortensen, I've added red annotations to each image in the Version 2 storyboard to make it easier to see what the descriptive text is referring to.

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2  
+1 for effort, and maybe this will get the team another view to think about, but I think the interface is way too busy. users will be overwhelmed. –  Kip Dec 4 '09 at 13:37
    
Kip, Thanks for your comment. I think you're right. I edited my answer and added a second version. Does that seem cleaner and less overwhelming to you? –  devuxer Dec 4 '09 at 21:48
    
@DanThMan: it does look better. still not sure about the "allow users to tag me" option. seems like they should always be allowed to tag me, but I should have the option to opt-out of being notified when it happens (or maybe that's what you mean). –  Kip Dec 5 '09 at 13:21
    
@Kip, you may be right. Let me explain why I did it this way, though. When users click "tag users", they get a list of only those users who are willing to be tagged. This way, they won't won't have a false belief that someone will be notified when in fact they won't. That said, it might be better to change the wording of the check box to "do not notify me of new comments". Maybe that sounds less mean that "don't let users tag me". –  devuxer Dec 5 '09 at 19:06
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A few (hand-drawn or perfect) circles with text annotation would do wonders. No joking intended. –  Peter Mortensen Dec 5 '09 at 23:48
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I'd rather have all the checkboxes left off of this UI, and have the preferences configurable in the profile page: [x] notify me of comments to posts I have commented on [ ] ...only for my own posts (option2 greyed out if option1 not selected). I don't see a strong need to be able to tweak behaviour for every post, and it also would require much more DB storage (a few new columns for the Comments table). –  Ether Dec 5 '09 at 23:58
    
@Peter, I see your point. I'm not sure when I'll have a chance to get to that, but is there anything in particular that's not clear to you? –  devuxer Dec 6 '09 at 0:47
    
@DanThMan: I find it difficult to make the link between the descriptive text and where it is referring to in the (fuzzy JPEG) picture. Just circles alone would really help. –  Peter Mortensen Dec 6 '09 at 2:02
    
@DanThMan: if you have PNG files I can host them for you. E-mail address through my SO profile. –  Peter Mortensen Dec 6 '09 at 2:10
    
@Æther, good point about database storage, but I could very well see wanting to opt out of a particular post if it becomes popular and generates a lot of comments (I can think of lots of instances on facebook where I "liked" something and regretted it due to the insane amount of comments that followed). I also think being able to talk to a specific person is really critical. I would definitely want you to know about this particular comment, for example. –  devuxer Dec 6 '09 at 6:55
    
@Peter, I added some red boxes to the images to help highlight the important parts. Hopefully, that will help make it easier to see what the text is referring to. Thanks for the suggestion. –  devuxer Dec 7 '09 at 4:35
    
I added a new section to the bottom of my answer that discusses threading. This offers some unique advantages for comment notification. –  devuxer Dec 7 '09 at 19:08
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How about a checkbox at the bottom of the question that subscribes the user to comments? The users could opt in/out anytime they want.

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I agree with not too much notificiation: how about a choice to be notified about comments posted on an answer? sort of like a favorite question, but with an answer. I wondered if we should be able to mark a comment as a response to another comment, so I could see my comment responses, but this idea seems better.

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Ran into a good reason why we need SOME kind of comment notification mechanism yesterday. I posted an answer to this question asked by a new user. My original answer was somewhat off-base, the user commented on it (which I received a notification about), and I updated my answer to (hopefully) address their concern, leaving a comment on my answer to indicate that it was updated.

But now what? Have they been notified in any way? Should I have posted a new answer instead of editing my existing one (even though all that was needed was a few tweaks)? Should I have commented on the original question saying "Hey, I updated my answer"? Or do I just need to hope that this new user will look through the comments of every answer to his question periodically?

None of these options seem particularly intuitive.

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1  
The way I've seen most people handle this is by leaving a comment on the question, saying something like "Hey, I've updated my answer, let me know if it helps." It's not intuitive--a new user wouldn't know to do that, you'd have to be around for a while. –  Kip Aug 14 '09 at 14:43
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@Kip It also clutters the question section with a lot of noise. "I've updated my comment" isn't particularly useful to any future readers looking at the post. –  AaronSieb Aug 17 '09 at 19:15
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A Facebook-like system (i.e., "100% notification") would be annoying at times, but I think missing out on followup questions or having someone miss out on yours is far worse. So, 100% notification would actually be a good start in my opinion.

An improvement might be to give people the ability to opt out of notifications for a particular thread. I've noticed from Facebook that there's sort of a threshold where you go from a few harmless comment notifications to, "OK! Make it stop!" (Usually, it's because someone's status was something like, "What's your favorite movie?!" or because two people decided to use the comment system as an instant messaging service :).) Hopefully, that type of thing would happen quite rarely on stackoverflow, but if it did, a "Stop Notifying Me About This Thread" button would solve the problem.

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i think facebook stopped sending notifications after 5 comments. it may be new. i noticed that 8 comments were left on a photo i posted a few days ago, but i only got 5 notifications. maybe something similar could be done here? –  Kip Jul 20 '09 at 2:35
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I just realized that I don't even get notified if someone comments on an someone's answer to my question. I only get notified if the comment is directly under my question or directly under my answer. So, I could be unaware of activity going on with my own question. That hurts even more. –  devuxer Jul 21 '09 at 1:51
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When I ask a technical question here and get 5 replies from 5 users. There are chances that I don't understand a particular reply completely or the particular poster is not able to make me understand with a proper example, or the poster has gone on a holiday (after posting the comment), in these kind of situations, there is a possibility that other 4 posters in the same thread can better explain me my problem, if and only if they get notified of my question comment!

OTOH, there are times when experienced users among themselves exchange technical details through comments, which I can easily miss, if they don't mention @myname there.

This is an important reason, I feel, there should be an option to get notified w.r.t all the comments posted. Option can be made non-compulsory as already mentioned in above posts.

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