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The fact that a user can change their name at will can lead to some confusion in the comments. For instance, suppose a user named "foo" changes his name to "bar", all those comments signed by "foo" are now signed by "bar", but responses to "bar"'s comments still start with "@foo".

Could those "@foo" references in comments be changed to "@bar"? This wouldn't solve the problem of people who use abbreviations (e.g., referring to "george.w.bush" as "@george" or "@dubya"), but that's another issue.

A brief discussion on this has set me straight. I didn't think it through. Request withdrawn.

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Just a warning: if this feature is implemented, I will change my username over and over again, each time choosing another user's name, until either all comments begin with "@Pesto" or the system collapses under the strain. –  Hilarious Comedy Pesto Dec 4 '09 at 17:17
Like Smith in the matrix... only I can stop you Pesto –  juanformoso Dec 4 '09 at 17:21
It is quite a bummer, however, that this can't be done as is. I've seen several comment streams that have become difficult to follow after none of the names match up any longer. –  beska Dec 4 '09 at 18:13
I think this could be accomplished though for future comments via some new username insertion schema. At the time of posting the comment, the server would not store the string @username, but instead @userGUID, then at the time of displaying it would resolve those. –  Brian R. Bondy Dec 4 '09 at 19:28
@Hilarious Comedy Pesto: Regarding collapsing under the strain, there could be a "username change" maximum in place per day. –  Brian R. Bondy Dec 4 '09 at 19:34
I don't think this is so impossible. The same way that SE detects which user you are "@referencing" so that it can notify them, it can know which "@references" to map to which usernames. –  HodofHod Jan 18 '12 at 17:20
Doing this would not be hard; doing it accurately would be impossible for the reasons outlined below. It would also be quite expensive. –  Shog9 Mar 25 at 18:07

5 Answers 5

up vote 30 down vote accepted

I could see this causing some problems because:

  • Maybe someone refers to an unrelated @Brian on twitter, and then @Brian changes his name on stackoverflow.
  • Comments can be stolen by renaming your name to someone and then back to someone else.
  • Sometimes people will refer to me as @Brian; however, a real @Brian may change his name to @Bob and then no one would know people were referring to me.
  • This wasn't implemented since day #1, so there are probably a lot of @Name's out there that can be stolen to be renamed to an unrelated person.
  • How do you differentiate between @Brian the developer, and a user named "@Brian the developer". Spaces could cause bad renames.
  • Search / replace for name changes could be a costly operation on all text comments
  • You are changing the text strings of people's comments, so changing their original comments may make them mad.

I think it would be possible this way:

I think this could be accomplished though for future comments via some new username insertion schema. At the time of posting the comment, the server would not store the string @username, but instead @userGUID, then at the time of displaying it would resolve those.

If the server replaced the @userGUID, it could also put a link to the @username's account, so that the poster of the comment could ensure it referenced the correct user.

Still I'm not sure that would be worth the effort.

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As I said, only references to your actual user name could be changed. "@Brian" would not be changed if you changed your name to "Minihaha", only "@Brian R. Bondy" would be changed to "@Minihaha". –  raven Dec 4 '09 at 17:27
Every one of my points are still valid even after your rehash comment here. My concern was that if @Brian changes his name to @Tom then so will the comments that are supposed to refer to @Brian R. Bondy, but actually refer to @Brian. SO it will look like there is an @Tom in the conversation. No one would link that to @Brian R. Bondy, people will link @Brian to @Brian R .Bondy. –  Brian R. Bondy Dec 4 '09 at 17:33
Now I see, that's a good point. –  raven Dec 4 '09 at 17:36

This would happen automatically if my answer on a related question, was implemented.

@[1337] Hey, look I'm talking to myself.

Would get turned into:

@Brad Gilbert Hey, look I'm talking to myself.

<a href="http://meta.stackoverflow.com/users/1337/brad-gilbert">@Brad Gilbert</a>
Hey, look I'm talking to myself.

This could get problematic to comments on questions which later get migrated. That hopefully doesn't happen with enough regularity for it to be that big of a problem.

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You're just showing off your user id again, aren't you? –  mmyers Dec 4 '09 at 19:58
If you had a user-id of 1337, wouldn't you show it off? –  Brad Gilbert Dec 4 '09 at 20:16
No. I mean... wait... who am I kidding? –  mmyers Dec 4 '09 at 22:46

No. Usernames are not unique, so this fails horribly.

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So? Then you need a much bigger and more expensive query to try to guess which instances of "@foo" need changing, and you still can't guarantee that you'll get it right. The only right solution would be to build comment referencing support in, and the team has resisted that. –  dmckee Dec 4 '09 at 17:35
I deleted my comment before I saw your response. You're right. I now understand how this can't work. –  raven Dec 4 '09 at 17:39
This, to me, highlights another reason why usernames should be unique. –  beska Dec 4 '09 at 18:12
@beska: So what do all the people with common names like "John Smith" do when more than one try to work under their own name? –  AnonJr Dec 4 '09 at 19:48
@AnonJr: Good point, although I wonder if they would then have been in a worse trouble than if, under the present circumstances, they happened to answer the same question (or couldn't resist answering one another's question). –  Andriy M Jan 21 '13 at 9:27
"Usernames aren't unique"... So does this mean everyone can rename himself to Jon Skeet? It would be funny... –  Calmarius Sep 26 '13 at 13:42

While I agree with the sentiment behind it, I'm not convinced its that big a problem.

Normally/Usually/Generally you can tell from the context who is talking at whom, and even if you can't it doesn't detract appreciably from the information value (if any) in the comment.

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Its sometimes difficult to tell the difference between a name change, and someone deleting a comment. –  Brad Gilbert Aug 29 '14 at 13:43

No, this won't work. Beyond what has been mentioned so far, it won't work correctly because some people do not respond to the full name also. Like the user Jon Skeet, Many people would just say @Jon. Besides that, the username is not the identifier of the user, so I can't see this ever being implemented.

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Comments could be restricted so that name tags have to exist. Similar to how it already stops you from entering multiple names. –  flem Dec 29 '12 at 16:29

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