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Lots of the first questions come with insufficient information, context and eventually left unanswered after days.

While other users comment below requesting more info, the inexperienced OP usually reply without @ believing it works exactly the same as facebook, but no one receives notification.

One or two days later, the OP feels really lost on the site, and convinced his/her question is so hard to be solved or the people on the site just trend to ignore him/her.

A little extreme example today on stackoverflow, a user deleted the question posted yesterday, and posted again to get other's attention. Simply because no one being notified.

Current notification policy will notify other users when OP missed @ in such cases:

  1. OP comment on an answer, the author of the answer will be notified. (not applicable, as most unnotified comments are under the question.)
  2. OP comment under his own post, and exactly one person commented. (not applicable in most cases, as a fuzzy question usually start a little discussion below.)

Which means basically, there won't be any notification for previous people who commented.

So is it possible to enforce (at least shows a tip) the new user comment with a @ in their first few comments?

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4  
I've noticed this too actually--I comment on questions that I'm genuinely interested in and then the OP doesn't use @ so I don't realize that the asker has responded. I've started favoriting the question to get around this. –  ɹǝʞɐʇıɥʍ ʍǝɹpuɐ Dec 7 '12 at 16:11
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@ɹǝʞɐʇıɥʍʍǝɹpuɐ but some questions are not qualified to be marked as favorite, and there is no filters in favorite tab. –  xiaoyi Dec 7 '12 at 16:13
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What do you mean by "not qualified to be marked as favorite"? Even if it's not a good question, there's no reason you can't mark it as favorite to come back to it. –  David Robinson Dec 7 '12 at 16:15
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@DavidRobinson maybe I only see the literal name of it, I use favorite to collect great answers. And there isn't a good way to filter the favorite or grouping it, so I would like to leave it clean. –  xiaoyi Dec 7 '12 at 16:17
    
Note that you don't always need to use @ to reply. The last commenter is always notified of new comments. –  Martijn Pieters Dec 7 '12 at 16:18
    
@MartijnPieters still prefer doing so, works fine even if a comment comes up in the between. –  xiaoyi Dec 7 '12 at 16:21
    
@xiaoyi: Sure, I od too. But it doesn't mean that when the OP responds that you will not be notified just because he or she forgot to use the @ notification syntax. –  Martijn Pieters Dec 7 '12 at 16:24
    
In the case that the OP was absent for hours after post the question, there might be several people commented, and some who may concern is not the last one commented. then the OP commented without @ for each one's comment, other people won't receive a notification. –  xiaoyi Dec 7 '12 at 16:28
    
You don't need to favourite. I just go through my last days comments and see whether people have responded. I'm not sure that you can enforce this. –  ben is uǝq backwards Dec 7 '12 at 16:33
    
@Ben it could be easily implemented in script for one or two lines of code, and maybe not enforce, just a tip shows up when someone with less than 10 reputations comment below a bunch of comments. –  xiaoyi Dec 7 '12 at 16:38
    
This feature request, while very good, flies in the face of the prevailing opinion that newbies should be left to flounder, especially if they fail to read the FAQ. This feature has my support (which appears to be the kiss of death for a feature-request on MSO) –  Chris Gerken Dec 7 '12 at 16:46
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@ChrisGerken thanks. Sometimes not reading FAQ is the basic reason why they are newbies. –  xiaoyi Dec 7 '12 at 16:50
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@rek - Perhaps you don't get many @replies because people can't find the upsodedown ɹ or ɐ on their keyboard! :P –  Lix Dec 7 '12 at 17:48
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@Lix: Well, my actual SO name is right-side-up :) –  ɹǝʞɐʇıɥʍ ʍǝɹpuɐ Dec 7 '12 at 17:50
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FWIW: over half of all questions from new users that get even one comment from someone other than the author have only one other user - so any response from the author will notify the commenter. –  Shog9 Mar 20 '13 at 22:47

2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

This already happens. When you click the "help" link next to the comment box, you see this:

comment help popdown

For users with 100 reputation or less, this help appears automatically when they focus the comment box.

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Thanks, though I think this is not obvious enough for someone who focus on reply. –  xiaoyi Dec 10 '12 at 12:34

The current solution might not be sufficient.

The current text is useful as a quick reminder for veteran users of the system:

Comments use mini-Markdown formatting: [link](http://example.com) _italic_ **bold** `code`. The post author will always be notified of your comment. To also notify a previous commenter, mention their user name: @peter or @PeterSmith will both work. Learn more…

(I don't actually recall ever using this, but I know to look for it by starting to edit a post and clicking on "advanced help", which is what I needed to do know how to put a ` in an inline code span. This might be my own quirk.)

Now link formatting in comments is pretty useful and worth including, but I'm not sure about italic and bold. Certainly code formatting is worthwhile on code-related sites (SO, DBA, TeX, etc.), but for non-coding sites (History, Gardening, Writers, etc.) this is just clutter. Further, these tools are likely to be familiar to people who have already learned Markdown in order to post questions or answers. The really unique incantation is obscured at the bottom of the box.

A suggested change to the help text.

To notify a previous commenter of your comment, mention their user name: @UserName. The post author will always be notified.
Comments use mini-Markdown formatting.

This cuts out a lot of the cruft:

  1. General Markdown formatting is removed.

  2. The key functionality (notifying a previous commenter) is moved to the top.

  3. The link to the general help is more descriptive. ("Learn more..." is a baby-step up from "Click here.")

  4. @UserName is more obviously a generic name than @PeterSmith. Since many folks don't use their real names, the bit about just using the first name (I know that's not really how it works) could be confusing.

I'm split on whether to include the detail about the post author being notified. This is something that might be intuitive, so explaining it might be unnecessary. An alternate version that excludes it could remind users about inline links instead:

This also allows a bullet point presentation for good or ill.

Graduated help could help.

Currently, the threshold for getting this prompt automatically is 100 reputation. That's convenient because of the site association bonus. (New users are not all created equal.) But it's entirely possible to get 100 points without feeling the need to comment. (Usually this will happen when an enthusiastic user answers 3 or 4 questions in quick succession and comes back the next day with some upvotes on each. In other words, new users we want to retain.)

Raising the bar to 250 or something might help. But I wonder if it would be possible for the system to react to user behavior instead. For instance, the first comment a user makes will have help on how to ping other users. Once a user has employed the @ notation, the help changes to describe how to embed links inline. (Alternatively, if the user types in a bare link, the help for links could pop up.) As the users demonstrates mastery of aspects of the system, the help prompts for those aspects stop appearing.

My guess is that graduated help will be a much bigger task than simply changing the text. Without solid user testing, it's probably not possible to justify the change. But the Stack Exchange system has become quick complex and difficult to learn for many new users, who are not always the programmer demographic that SO caters to.

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Yes. All kinds of yes. –  Caleb Mar 21 '13 at 12:15
    
Jon, much appreciated. For others: this comes out of my duplicate post on the topic. Since that was closed, I'm transferring my hearty support to this answer. Increasing the 100 to a few hundred (250 or 500?) might be a good start, but, as Jon says, other ideas are welcome to get new users reliably using the @addressing system. In my personal experience, many of them are falling through the cracks. –  halfer Mar 21 '13 at 19:10

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