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I would like to suggest a standard mechanism to mention users and link to their answers. I edit a large number of posts on the ServerFault and Unix site and have observed that people (including me) really have no idea how to link to or even mention other answers. It is not uncommon for one answer to reference another and build off of it. While I understand this should be kept at a minimum so that each answer has stand alone value, it is often practical to say something like "Displayname's answer works for x and y cases, but here is a solution for in case of z." Of course there are other examples. I have even seen this done where the links span multiple questions.

On a related note, comments frequently "@mention" users, but most people know the convention, it is not clear how to handle monikers with spaces. Of course since these are all manual references, if somebody were to change their display name, all their @mentions would break in an ugly way.

I would suggest two related mechanisms, the one building on the other.

  1. An autocomplete @mention system that completes to names of other users who have participated in the question in any way (asker, answerer, commentor, editor). This should have an interface similar to twitter/facebook mention systems, and should simply produce a link to the users profile with link text of their current display name. A fancy popup like you do for tags with extra user information and links would be icing on the cake. The ability to link to a user not participating in the current question by userid should also be considered as a way to draw peoples attention. e.g. "Perhaps @Displayname could shed some light on this."

  2. Somewhat harder to implement in a user friendly way would be an extension of the above that linked to a specific answer instead of the user profile. Perhaps links in the format should could be auto-titled with "Displayname's answer", or perhaps starting an @mention in an answer should prompt with a list of answers to the current question to link to instead of the users profile and the link text should read "Displayname's answer".

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2 Answers

Many of the topics you raise have already been covered on Meta (browse the and tags and this question's related questions). Comments are purposefully not threaded discussions to discourage their use: answers are the goal, and comments should only be used for minor remarks, corrections that don't warrant an edit or clarification requests.

If you want a more comfortable UI for comments, you can use a script:

If a user changes their name, the discussion thread might get difficult to follow, but if the thread is really that complicated, it may be time to clean up or wrap up. @name matters for notifications, but that's not an issue unless the user changed their name right before you posted your comment.

Involving other users, as in “perhaps @name could shed some light on this”, can be done on the chat. If the user participates in the chat associated to your site or tags, you'll be able to notify them that way. If they don't, it's their choice not to get involved. SE isn't a social networking site.

For linking to answers that already explain one subcase well, just use the link button below each answer. I often don't even include the author's name in that case: “Under circumstances A, use [½-line summary of method 1](link to other answer). Under circumstances B, use [½-line summary of method 2](link to other other answer). Under circumstances C, do <explanation of method no one has mentioned yet>.”

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I disagree (with my former-self) and think this (especially the #2 item) would be a bad idea. It is fairly rare that referencing a person is actually beneficial to a post. In the cases where referencing the content of another answer is actually called for, it is typically advisable to also quote the relevant bits. Making it too easy to mention and link other posts without actually producing the requisite content inside a post will just make lazy and inappropriate uses more common without actually encouraging better answers.

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