176

Now this is probably a surprise to many since I always see thousands of comments like the following(10k only):

@Sarfraz, @balpha just told you they did in the first comment he wrote. Also, allowing only one Stack Overflow user to be logged in per IP address would be problematic for networks with shared IPs.

What's surprising is that apparently the notification will trigger only for Sarfraz and not for balpha. As you can see from the blog post:

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

I propose to increase the limit to let's say 3 or 5 people; it won't hurt (never seen that feature being abused) and especially many people believe it already works that way.

  • 26
    Next up: Images and newlines in comments. – random Apr 2 '10 at 9:38
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    I must say I agree with Kop that this is a totally justified feature request addressing something that is not working at the moment (I too was under the impression that both parties get notified), and it's got nothing to do with images or newlines in comments. – Pëkka Apr 2 '10 at 13:51
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    How much more of a discussion board does SO have to be? – random Apr 2 '10 at 16:01
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    @random as much more as is needed to properly discuss, or follow up on, a question or answer, I would say. What sense does it make to have arbitratry limitations like this, and nobody knowing about them? – Pëkka Apr 2 '10 at 16:50
  • 2
    I asked for a similar feature in [this question][1], and the answer was that it was intentional to suppress comments discussion. [Threaded comments][2] is the best they offer for this functionality. [1]: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/83392/… [2]: stackapps.com/questions/2050/threaded-comments – BЈовић Apr 5 '11 at 13:54
  • 1
    This has also been discussed here: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/85771/… but got just a few answers and a lot less votes. It's amazing the effect of a 50 rep bounty... – Aleadam Apr 9 '11 at 7:20
  • @Aleadam: this question is a year older than the one you linked – Thomas Bonini Apr 10 '11 at 7:44
  • @Kop Oops! I saw April 2nd and the recent bounty and I never even considered that year number :/ Sorry about that! – Aleadam Apr 10 '11 at 18:27
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    I personally think two notifications should be allowed. A maximum higher than that that adds potential clutter, noise, and confusion. But a maximum of only one adds potential clutter and annoyance. In all my time at SO, I've never once wanted to @-notify more than 2 people (but the roughly dozen times I've wanted to @-notify exactly 2 people have been very annoying). – Ben Lee Mar 2 '12 at 9:41
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    @Jeff don't we at least deserve explanation why it's declined? – Shadow Wizard Apr 4 '13 at 10:37
  • This needs to be tagged as status-inprogress – Kermit Apr 10 '13 at 21:13
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    @jeff-attwood : Shouldn't this be re-opened as this particular functionality is a very useful one. Moreover this question has been asked like 3 years ago and still the feature is still sought after.. – Roy M J Feb 6 '14 at 5:32
112
+200

Seconded. I would really like to see this extended to 3 or 5 people. Yes, it can be worked around by simply creating two comments. And isn't the point of the limitation to reduce clutter?

It's really counter-intuitive not to be able to notify both people in a discussion, and many newbies get it wrong. The way it is right now, you have to worry about whose question it is, who will see this and who you have to notify.

@Arjan's example is fine in its own right, but there are legitimate cases when you want to address two people. Not often enough for this to be a really big deal, but it happens.

  • 1
    generally those two people are the owner of the underlying post you are commenting on (already happens), and one other @person – Jeff Atwood Apr 24 '11 at 21:09
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    @Jeff there are cases where you need to notify a large number of people - and a part of them simply won't be notified, with the system giving no feedback about this. It's unexpected and counter-intuitive, and I don't understand why this is done this way. – Pëkka Apr 24 '11 at 21:11
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    there's no valid case for "I need to notify a large number of people" -- at least not one I will support by writing software for it. – Jeff Atwood Apr 24 '11 at 21:13
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    @Jeff there are valid cases, for example when a question deserves to be reopened again upon being edited after a long discussion. – Pëkka Apr 24 '11 at 21:14
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    @Jeff: people who really want to notify more than one person will then create one comment for each person he/she wants to notify. At least allowing more than one notification would prevent the extra moderation needed due to a flood of comment. – Eldros Sep 22 '11 at 12:40
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    @Jeff Here's a case where it was necessary: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/639/… Two people commented on my post asking for enhancements. I had to make two comments to notify them both. – user168625 Nov 22 '11 at 19:57
  • @justin no, you didn't "have" to do that. If these users are interested, they can follow up themselves. – Jeff Atwood Jan 12 '12 at 7:31
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    @Jeff I can tell you that I've missed more interesting stuff by not being notified by the system than I've been annoyed by the stuff I was notified about. You can still ignore notifications when you see them. But I can live with the current behaviour of the system clearly telling you that it's not possible to @ more than one person - at least this way, there are no misunderstandings. – Pëkka Jan 12 '12 at 8:03
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    @JeffAtwood This question is a good example of where I needed to do this. I wanted to ask both commenters how the web.xml change worked out for them. – theblang Apr 9 '13 at 16:10
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    It actually happens often, that I need to notify 2 people! Several times per day! Like in this question. – Tomas Jun 30 '13 at 7:38
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    It happens very often to me in case when 2 people are commenting on my answer. – Tomas Jun 30 '13 at 16:30
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    .. and in this question I needed to notify all the answerers that something important changed in my question! – Tomas Aug 7 '13 at 14:58
  • @Jeff, yet another case where I had to submit the same comment twice to notify all the people involved.. But also see the above comments for even more relevant cases. – Tomas Oct 31 '13 at 9:51
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    @JeffAtwood By that logic, why have notifications in the first place? Surely a user can just follow up themselves on any questions/answers in which they're interested? – Drazen Bjelovuk May 12 '15 at 12:27
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    I would honestly be fine with being able to "@" two non-owners per comment. I haven't come across a situation where more than that was necessary. But it seems clear that only allowing one is a nuisance far too often, and is ultimately inhibiting the quality of discourse on SO. – MichaelChirico Nov 17 '15 at 21:54
27

The comment box gives no indication that only one '@' is significant. If the goal of stack exchange/overflow is to be so clear that no manual is needed, this area is not finished yet.

If we can only use one '@', give a warning if you have two '@'s in your message. If you decide to support more than one '@' (my preference) than no warning code needed.

  • 3
    There are far too many rules to comment replies to try and be clear on this without a manual, or to try and catch everything in warnings. Between this, whitespace, and punctuation rules... one really needs to read the full list. – Grace Note Jan 11 '11 at 21:25
  • well, there is the help link in comments now. i.imgur.com/PDoiW.png – Jeff Atwood Apr 24 '11 at 21:08
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    @JeffAtwood - That is nice, and an improvement. However, it doesn't address the two @ problem. For example, @GraceNote will not get this notification. – Alex B Apr 25 '11 at 15:47
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    the comment box explicitly disallows submission of comments with two @name notifications now, FYI – Jeff Atwood Aug 6 '11 at 5:53
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    @JeffAtwood that's even worse, what if I am writing a comment discussing @lerting people? Unless I put this backtick at the end, I can't even submit this post:` – AJMansfield Mar 3 '14 at 3:18
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    @JeffAtwood,@GraceNote but then why doesn't it still work? – Amal Murali May 9 '14 at 10:05
11

The half-dozen times I've wanted to do this, I just wrote two comments.

One of the problems I see with this is that of escalating communication paths. That is to say, Joe replies to @Jim and @Bob, and Pete replies to @Jim and @Bob and @Joe, and Mort comes in late and writes to @Pete and @Jim and @Bob and @Joe and also decides that this is relevant to @Frank, and eventually the comments become an unreadable mess and your head explodes because you can never figure out who's really talking to whom.

I realize that this could be mitigated somewhat with limits of 3 or 5 names, but that only softens the blow, it doesn't solve the problem.

It's a bit like the "reply all" infinite loops that happen at businesses. Somebody decides to write a message to way more people than those who actually need/want to read it, some random people "reply all" because they don't know who is really important on the list, and anyone replying after that has no choice but to reply-all because otherwise the four parallel "threads" won't make any sense.

Personally, I believe that the occasional annoyance I have to suffer is a fair trade for not accidentally getting caught in the middle of a reply-all combinatorial explosion. Being able to "reply" to only one person completely nullifies this risk, so I say keep it the way it is.

  • 11
    I do however think that getting a useless notification is much better than not getting an useful one. I always enjoy reading comments and following the discussion even if I'm not personally involved; there was never a case where I thought "omg too many notifications stop bothering me" – Thomas Bonini Apr 2 '10 at 15:59
  • 1
    @Kop: Sure, getting one useless notification is better than not getting a useful one. But what about getting 50 of them? It's easy to say that you haven't run into any problem-cases for a feature that doesn't currently exist. :P – Aarobot Apr 2 '10 at 16:05
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    @Aaronaught I don't really see the danger of loops here. Even a heated discussion usually has 2-3 people maximum you want to reply to. I see way more junk coming up when you have to add a comment to reach each one of these people (at the moment, I'm pretty sure, the majority doesn't know about the one person limitation.) – Pëkka Apr 2 '10 at 16:33
  • @Pekka - I think the majority do know about the limitation. I didn't understand the twitter-style comments at all until I read the blog post about automatic notifications, which also states the 1-person limitation. I wouldn't mind seeing an example of a situation in which you'd expect separate replies to lead to a worse result than group replies. – Aarobot Apr 2 '10 at 17:10
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    @Aaronaught the latter is simple: I hereby state that I am a Unicorn. I want everyone in this thread to learn about it so I notify – Pëkka Apr 2 '10 at 17:20
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    @Pekka (just to make the point :) – Pëkka Apr 2 '10 at 17:20
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    and @Kop ------ – Pëkka Apr 2 '10 at 17:21
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    and another imaginary @Participant in this discussion. – Pëkka Apr 2 '10 at 17:21
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    End result: four comments instead of one. I realize this is not the perfect example, as you would have gotten notified anyway. The point still stands, it doesn't make sense this way. – Pëkka Apr 2 '10 at 17:21
  • @Pekka - contrived example, you're focusing exclusively on one person's messages and not the entire "conversation". The reality, most of the time, is that people are forced to focus their comments, rather than "broadcast" them and bring more people into the fold. – Aarobot Apr 2 '10 at 20:49
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    @Aaronaught not true, if several people are discussing your answer, and you add a major change to it you want to make those people aware of. Happens often. – Pëkka Apr 2 '10 at 21:45
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    @Pekka: That much is true, but I would posit that the more fundamental problem there is the inability of those people to "watch" the question, as Jon Skeet has asked for in the past (i.e. to monitor a downvoted answer to see if the author has fixed it). – Aarobot Apr 3 '10 at 2:05
  • @Aaronaught True, true. I have a suggestion in the shelf for exactly that that I think has no duplicates yet, maybe I need to dig it out. – Pëkka Apr 3 '10 at 8:52
  • 1
    The fact that one has to manually type @username reduces the chance that someone will make noise (i.e. notify more ppl than needed). – Tshepang Feb 4 '11 at 16:37
11
+25

For the sake of documenting the official response for later visitors, the reasoning behind the decline appears to be Jeff's comment on Pekka's answer:

there's no valid case for "I need to notify a large number of people" -- at least not one I will support by writing software for it. – Jeff Atwood♦

By "large number of people" Jeff apparently means 3+, as 2 is the current max (and one of them must be the post owner).

  • Fair enough, still hoping to hear it from the source or better yet one of the current team so waiting with the +50. :) – Shadow Wizard Apr 10 '13 at 20:31
  • @ShaWizDowArd By all means, I'm all for you getting the most out of your bounty and ideally even re-opening discussion on this, but I fear it'll be ignored. – blahdiblah Apr 10 '13 at 22:00
  • @ShaWizDowArd Meh, I was looking for the real answer from Jeff's account so I could downvote it. Of course I need to upvote this one, since it doesn't seem to endorse Jeff's reponse. – Revetahw Aug 13 '17 at 16:16
  • @Revetahw yeah, Jeff wasn't the type to explain his decisions. – Shadow Wizard Aug 13 '17 at 20:48
3

Of course, I know the question is not about this specific example. But while things are not changed, some thoughts that might help as a workaround.

@Sarfraz, @balpha just told you they ...

In this specific example, I doubt @balpha was meant to be a reply to balpha. Hence, I doubt the commenter expected balpha to be notified.

And Sarfraz would have been notified anyhow, as it was his question that was commented on. I also sometimes include the author of the question or answer I comment to (again: this is not required for any notification), just to indicate to whom the comment is addressed. But that does not need the @-syntax. So, if balpha should have been notified as well, it could have been solved using:

Sarfraz, @balpha just told you they ...

or (ugly):

@balpha, @Sarfraz: balpha just told Sarfraz they ...


(More details on how the matching works in How do comment replies work?)

  • 1
    This is the workaround I use. Solves about 90% of cases for me. On the other 10% I either write two comments or just suffer. – dmckee Apr 2 '10 at 10:20
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    Even if it wasn't directed towards @balpha, it would help if balpha was notified, so that he can e.g. verify/correct the claim. – Tshepang Feb 4 '11 at 16:41
  • True, @Tshepang. Still, in this specific case Sarfraz was the author and hence was notified anyhow. So: no need "to spoil" the one-and-only @ that is at one's disposal on Sarfraz. And hence, in this example, one could indeed us @balpha to notify both him and Sarfraz (when not first using @ to prefix Sarfraz). All this aside: most of the users simply won't know about all these rules, of course. So this is really a workaround. – Arjan Feb 4 '11 at 17:03
-7

I think the best solution here would be to simply have the system notify every participant by default, and add a "Disable notifications from this comment thread" button/option. Either that or the other way around, i.e notifications from everyone would be disabled by default (as it is now), while the button/option would be "Enable all notifications from this comment thread".

  • 3
    No thanks. I don't want to start getting thousands of notifications. – Shadow Wizard May 12 '15 at 12:48
  • Did you miss the last sentence or just choose to ignore it? – Drazen Bjelovuk May 12 '15 at 12:49
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    I didn't miss it, I have to desire to start ticking checkbox whenever I comment. – Shadow Wizard May 12 '15 at 12:58
  • Then you clearly have. The other way around implies notifications from everyone would be disabled by default (as it is now), while the button/option would be "Enable all notifications from this comment thread". – Drazen Bjelovuk May 12 '15 at 13:01
  • I didn't have to explain in the first place - there are other reasons why I'm against your idea, maybe I'll explain when having some time to think of putting it into proper words. I'm just one person though, for all we know you might get others to support you, so it's really no big deal. – Shadow Wizard May 12 '15 at 14:06
  • -1 But maybe I don't want everyone to see my comment? What would happen to current comment threads? I don't want to have to tick / untick half the time - I often want and often don't want. – Tim May 12 '15 at 18:13
  • @Tim What do you care if everyone sees your comment? How does others choosing to be notified of an already public posting affect you in any way? That's a ridiculous criticism. As for current comment threads, they'd be disabled by default, or in the case of my alternate suggestion, which you've also seemed to completely overlook, nothing would change. At that point you're literally protesting optionally additional functionality. – Drazen Bjelovuk May 12 '15 at 18:29
  • @Josh sometimes, I'm talking to one person. I don't want to be notifying everyone. I'm not after an argument, I'm just explaining my -1. – Tim May 12 '15 at 20:30
  • @Tim That's fine, I'm explaining why your issue is perfectly unfounded. If someone desires to be notified of all comments in a public and open thread, that should be solely up to them and in no way affects you. There's no reason @username couldn't still act as a guarantee that the directed recipient will get the message. Whether or not a third party chooses to be notified as well is completely inconsequential. – Drazen Bjelovuk May 12 '15 at 23:12
  • @DrazenBjelovuk Part of the issue might be that your answer is misunderstood. Until reading your comments here, I did not realize that it was an option that you intend everyone to have for all threads that applies only to themselves. The "only to themselves" part being the most important. – Aaron Jan 30 '18 at 22:33
  • @Aaron Well none of the comments had suggested that misunderstanding until yours, so unfortunate if that's the case. I'd figured that was implicit. You at least made the effort to comprehend and evaluate before knee-jerk downvoting, so cheers to that. – Drazen Bjelovuk Jan 31 '18 at 12:05
  • @DrazenBjelovuk And I would not have suggested it either if it weren't for that last comment you made "May 12 '15 at 23:12". That came after most of the other comments, and there was only just 1 negative comment after that. And even that comment seems to be misunderstanding your answer, as Tim could do exactly as he says he wants... just don't check the box. But he doesn't seem to get that, perhaps due to misunderstanding. Of course, I am not them and am only guessing. – Aaron Jan 31 '18 at 17:22
  • @DrazenBjelovuk Now to discuss the merits of your answer itself: To notify all by default I think is bad, but to have the option to notify all, as you suggested after, could be useful. I think the times when notifying all is necessary is less often than needing to notify 2 or 3 people, but there could be instances where all is better than exactly 1. Your answer could be a separate feature request too, and such a feature would be fine (if not abused), though I highly doubt it would get implemented. If they refuse to let use tag 2 people, they'll refuse all as well. – Aaron Jan 31 '18 at 17:25
  • @Aaron Now I think you're misunderstanding the premise. The option would be for users who want to be notified by all comments, not for a user to notify everyone. Use case being for someone who wants to follow the discussion of a particular comment thread. – Drazen Bjelovuk Jan 31 '18 at 19:47
  • @DrazenBjelovuk For the second part, yes, but for the first part it says "notify every participant by default". Did you intend for that to be used the same way, so more of a "notify me by default"? I thought you were kind of discussing both at the same time and was trying to do the same myself. If you are talking about only subscribing to a thread to be notified of changes, then this will likely receive more support. If there is not already a feature request for that, I suggest you make one. – Aaron Jan 31 '18 at 20:50

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