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I know the @username isn't technically a markdown format, but I had no idea that using it actually notified people in the comments of a reply until I got reprimanded for it.

I originally thought it was just a twitter-ism. But twitter highlights it, yes? Shouldn't people be keyed in to the idea that @ actually does something by making blue, or linking to the user's profile?


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Plus, when I enter a comment. THere's no sidebar like there is for Questioning or Tags telling me what to use as format or anything. I know this is a Q&A site, but sometimes you have to do root cause analysis through the comments to actually get to the source of the issue. – Stephen Furlani Nov 15 '10 at 16:08
There are technical problems with linking them. Usernames are not unique and are mutable, so while the notification system can (usually) deduce the right target at the time the comment is made, establishing links could break in the future. – dmckee Nov 15 '10 at 16:41
@dmckee, I see. But could it at least highlight at the time? Comments are immutable after 5 minutes, yes? – Stephen Furlani Nov 15 '10 at 16:51
up vote 1 down vote accepted

I don't find highlighting to be a wise idea, largely because comment replies are not a visually taught system. I enumerate in this answer why highlighting isn't going to be particularly useful to the recipient; there are enough notifications attached to comment replies that highlighting is entirely unnecessary. So let's focus on the faults of highlighting as a teaching system.

To the point: comment replies are too complex to teach by demonstration alone. Knowing the rules behind them is necessary to their proper utility, otherwise you only propogate mis-usage, and no one learns anything.

As I spoke of in this answer, there are a lot of different quirks to the comment reply system. Between the short-hands, the white-space issue, and the fact only one comment reply can work, it is not very easy to understand what works and what doesn't. The fact that no one repairs broken replies (often because it's well after 5 minutes) means there's a lot of mis-information on the system prevalent throughout the sites. People even use @ to try and reply to downvoters, or to also refer to people who aren't even in the conversation string.

Introduce highlighting into the mix and you don't get any good comprehension out of users. If we restrict the highlighting to only when it was successful, it won't always make sense. For the most ludicrous case, consider the comment exchange on this answer: that @devinb isn't a successful comment reply because at the time, devinb had a nulled username. When you add users who change name (myself as a prime example) and users who are in the middle of an edit revision history, what you get is a lot of confusion as to what is a legal reply and what isn't. Highlighting is not really doing to improve that comprehension because two otherwise matching mentions can be unmatched in highlighting in the same comment stream.

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I never really go the feeling that people leaving "@downvoter" comments actually expect the system to handle that for them. Rather it is a convenient shorthand. Likewise the occasionally seen "@all". But I suppose that new users could easily be confused. – dmckee Nov 15 '10 at 19:06
I see your points, but if the @ syntax can notify someone, surely it can permalink to their profile? My flair knows who I am regardless of my username, right? – Stephen Furlani Nov 15 '10 at 19:16
@Stephen It still doesn't help explain the system, which is the goal of your suggestion, right? Yes, the comment is permanently tied to the user even post-namechange (you can tell because your envelope report will still keep record of old comment replies). But I don't see any important need to point any attention to presence of a comment reply by highlighting it. – Grace Note Nov 15 '10 at 19:23
@Stephen Even people experienced with the system will use @ syntax as a shorthand, as noted by dmckee. And sometimes we use @ syntax as a courtesy even when we know the "target" isn't going to receive an alert. So even if you get the successful comment replies linked, I'm not really sure it'll be of that much good effect. – Grace Note Nov 15 '10 at 19:27
that's fair enough. – Stephen Furlani Nov 15 '10 at 20:00

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