Here's my proposal. Every comment has a 'Reply' link after it. Clicking on this link adds the standard @UserName: to the comment edit box.

After posting, the @UserName: is converted into a javascript 'link'. By 'link' I mean that it appears to be a hyperlink, but is actually a span with the hyperlink style and javascript in its onmouseover event. When you hover over this link, the comment it references is highlighted in some fashion (background color changes, its outlined, whatever).

When the referenced comment is hidden, one of two things can happen:

  1. The comments section is expanded and unshown comments are revealed, or
  2. A hovering div appears next to the pointer containing the comment that is referenced.

No. 2 is probably easier to implement.

  • Has already been suggested in part and more or less denied. Jul 13, 2009 at 17:28
  • see also: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1093/…
    – Kip
    Jul 13, 2009 at 17:30
  • This is a little different than Q#1093. That one wants reminders when you type the text. This one also wants a button to fill the text in for you and highlighting features within a single view. Jul 13, 2009 at 17:34
  • @Ian do you have a link? Jul 14, 2009 at 18:14
  • 1
    1) This is not a question, but does that matter here on Meta? 2) Usernames change on SO. The whole we-love-twitter-therefore-we-use-the-at-sign system makes no sense whatsoever on SO. Your proposal could be reworked to use userIds, however... Jul 19, 2009 at 11:46
  • 1
    1) Since when is Meta question only? this is a feature request, which goes here. 2) Usernames don't change, or if they do its so infrequently to be not an issue. Besides, what shows on the screen is not relevant to what happens in javascript. Obviously, some reference to a code within a div tag (or whatever the comments are in) would be used rather than some weird text search within the actual comment. And the @username: is as much twitter as it is a shortened version of "I am speaking at yar:" or "at yar:" or "@yar:". Change it to F*yar: I don't really care. The form is not important.
    – user1228
    Jul 19, 2009 at 17:50
  • @Yar: the @name convention was used in forums long before twitter was a half-baked idea. For purposes of linear posts (like the comments) it is probably the most concise way to keep the proper context.
    – AnonJr
    Oct 14, 2009 at 14:12

9 Answers 9


Normally, you only get notified of comments when you own the post.

You will now get notified of any comments that refer to you by @username in a comment, even if you do not own the post.


  1. Only applies to other people in the comments that you are commenting on, or editors of the current post.

  2. Response must include @username that you are referring to, where "username" is a reasonable match to the user's current display name (as seen in the comments above yours).

  3. There must be a starts-with, case insensitive match of at least THREE characters to the displayname. So @a and @ab will never match anyone or anything.

  4. Spaces cannot be used to match, so if the person's display name is "Peter Smith" then just use @peter or @petersmith to match.

  5. Matching is performed in reverse chronological order, so if there are five people named "John" in the comments, writing "hey @john, have you considered apples?" will match the most recent John to comment.

  • 1
    Great changes to comments. Now, is this the feature request that spawned this, or is there another? Because its still marked as status-declined :)
    – user1228
    Jan 18, 2010 at 17:36
  • @Will I guess this is declined as it is, but implemented some other way
    – OscarRyz
    Jan 18, 2010 at 19:10
  • 14
    I realize I'm a bit late to the party, but what about the first part of the post requesting a simple link called "reply" next to a comment, automatically inserting the standard @UserName: text? Seems fairly trivial and highly useful...
    – Randolpho
    Jan 25, 2010 at 13:10
  • 11
    @Jeff: I agree with Randolpho. This (the "reply" button/link) would make even more sense now. I find myself copy-pasting usernames very often because I don't want to mistype them (knowing that would make the notification mechanism fail). This is unnecessarily fiddly and could easily solved by such a feature. Plus it would make new users readily aware of the existence if an actual @reply system.
    – Tomalak
    Mar 25, 2010 at 2:20
  • 9
    @Tomalak: I also agree with @Randolpho, its trivial and would be a significant improvement in usability. Co-incidentally I just notice a new SO user that has taken the name 103067513055141045393 and I've been conversing with someone who has the name user301089, its painful and fiddly. Mar 25, 2010 at 14:14
  • 1
    With regards to (5), we can't use @John[3] to refer to the fourth John (assuming most programmers think 0-based).
    – dreamlax
    Aug 25, 2010 at 7:30
  • @dreamlax: Not sure if you are serious or not, but to me, implementing something like that is admitting that the comment reply system as-is is a failure.
    – RedFilter
    Nov 27, 2010 at 15:32
  • 1
    -1: While the notification changes are great, this is an overly complex solution that doesn't really solve some fundamental issues: incorrect matching, typos by user, forgetting to type username at all, username changes, overall usabilit (even Twitter has a reply-to link). Replies should instead be linked by UserID.
    – RedFilter
    Nov 27, 2010 at 15:37
  • @randolpho @tomalak if you don't already know stackapps.com/questions/2051/reply-links-on-comments works great.
    – user1228
    Jun 1, 2011 at 13:21
  • 1
    New users will not know how to use @user , can we instead have a reply link to comment which is nothing but Add comment but with @user pre-populated. Makes sense ? Am sure 90% of users wont click on Help
    – GoodSp33d
    May 6, 2013 at 12:22

I would prefer it it used the user id instead.

@[1337] Hey, look I'm talking to myself.
**@[1337]** Now I'm yelling at myself!

That would completely prevent collisions.

This would be easy to do if there was a Reply to: link on every comment.

The @[1337] would get changed to:

@<a href="http://meta.stackoverflow.com/users/1337/brad-gilbert">Brad Gilbert</a>

based on the current name associated with the userid.

This could be done browser side, perhaps as a Grease Monkey script ( hint hint ).


I wrote this related post: Make recent activity and responses show new comments on questions/answers I have commented on (even if I don’t own them)

However, after thinking about it some more, I really think that Twitter-style @username replies would be a better option. Here are some of the potential problems, and my solutions to them.

  1. Usernames are not unique. You should only show notifications to users with matching names who are either: a) the owner of the post; b) active in the current comment thread; or possibly c) the owner of the question (if this is a comment on an answer). Collisions should be rare enough that this is not a big deal.

  2. Usernames can have spaces. I think this makes simple "@username" Twitter-style replies difficult, but we could easily do a sytax which is delimited on both ends. I'd suggest @username:, or possibly @[username]. A Twitter-style reply button (as suggested in this feature request) would fill in the comment box so the user doesn't even have to do this himself most of the time.

  3. Usernames are not permanent. That's fine. If a user changes their name, they shouldn't expect a way of tracking old comment responses to their new name. Besides, I don't think active users change their name very often because they'd lose some of their name recognition. (Anyone want to diff usernames between July and August dumps to see how many name changes there actually were, and how much rep those users had on average?)

  • 2
    The non-permenant thing shouldn't be a problem. The link to the user should just include their number. That way, name changes wont affect where the link points. (affect correct word choice here?
    – jjnguy
    Aug 14, 2009 at 15:09
  • 7
    Why do people call @username Twitter-style? I was doing it for years before I ever heard of Twitter, and I certainly didn't come up with it myself.
    – mmyers
    Aug 14, 2009 at 15:09
  • 2
    Well, obviously because twitter made it popular.
    – jjnguy
    Aug 14, 2009 at 15:12
  • 1
    When I say popular, I mean really popular!
    – jjnguy
    Aug 14, 2009 at 15:12
  • but @98454 is not intuitive. you have to do work to find out who the reply is addressed at. I guess they could overwrite it with the user's name, but then new users don't realize they need to enter the user's number (after all, it looks like everyone else is using the name and it works for them!)
    – Kip
    Aug 14, 2009 at 15:34
  • 3
    what i mean, is the markup would be like @[jjnguy] but it would get changed to a link to the user on serverside right away. Then it will always point to the correct user, even if the name changes.
    – jjnguy
    Aug 14, 2009 at 15:42
  • @jjnguy gotcha. good idea, although you'd need someway to handle the case when two people with the same name are active on the same thread. if there were another jjnguy who posted above, for example, you wouldn't know who @jjnguy in this post refers to.
    – Kip
    Aug 14, 2009 at 19:24
  • Instead of worrying about the problems with username clashes, why not just use the comment id of the comment being replied to? After all, this MSE post is about replying to comments- not to users.
    – starball
    Nov 2, 2022 at 0:22

It'd be nice if it also alerted the first Comment's User, that a reply has been left. This can be part of the Responses section.


I'd suggest to make two simple things for starters:

  1. Make a hyperlink next to each comment with a Reply written on it.

    Say, user named James Kilter made a comment: Oh, I really like your answer!.

  2. Whenever I click on that hyperlink, two things happen:

    • The text field that allows me to type in a comment shows up (as if you clicked add comment)

    • Text **@James Kilter** appears in the beginning of the text field and I can write thanks! into that field.

That will allow James Kilter to see that the comment with the word thanks is addressed to him.

I'm not an expert in making web sites, but it appears to me this is quite an easy task to do.

And this will help a lot, as many of the users as for now have to make their comments addressed to certain people manually.

  • 1
    "I'm not an expert in making web sites, but it appears to me this is quite an easy task to do." Now that just begs the question.
    – random
    Aug 27, 2009 at 13:08
  • 2
    The phrase "I'm not an expert in ___, but it appears to me this is quite easy" has started some of the biggest migraines in just about every job I've had - regardless of the field.
    – AnonJr
    Oct 14, 2009 at 14:17
  • Joking aside, that is a trivial feature to implement, with some clear UX benefit. This is how I wish it was done, with the additional feature that the comments are linked by UserID in the backend, not user name, so that subsequent user name changes would not break the comment chain. I am surprised Twitter-style replies were implemented - there are many ways the user can break that (forgetting to type name, spelling name wrong, not putting it at beginning).
    – RedFilter
    Nov 27, 2010 at 15:28

Here's great UserScript from balpha ♦ which does exactly the same you need

install / update scriptview source


It would be nice if you could reply to a specific comment and it was threaded. For example:

This answer saved my marriage, career and $4.99 - mrX
  I'm glad I could help - BrianG
This is clearly the wrong answer, -1 and I'm not talking to you for 23 minutes - dave
  Infact, make that 26 minutes - dave

But do the number of questions that actually have large amounts of comments make it worth it?

  • Programmers in particular seem to have this obsession with threading messages, and for the life of me I just don't get it. (Well, I do but I don't) While it seems intuitive on paper, I've rarely seen it work out in practice - even with an audience that should theoretically "get it".
    – AnonJr
    Oct 14, 2009 at 14:19
  • Just a context that someone is replying to would be good. Also the fact comments are ordered by rating makes tracking the original longer
    – Chris S
    Oct 14, 2009 at 15:11
  • I think that is a bad idea. Threaded comments will change "comments" into "discussions". And that is more like wikipedia than "question and answer".
    – seyran
    Jan 20, 2011 at 0:20

Oh dear, don't let Jeff hear this...

Else he'll change those @username replies into Twitter messages.

But I like the idea


Are we losing the point of a Q & A site?

The comment system should be simple and not take anything away from the questions and answers.
If the comment system gets too complex, then it will be used instead.

  • 2
    I spend more time than needed tracing back from a comment to try and reconstruct the conversation. What's so awful about making it a little easier?
    – user1228
    Oct 14, 2009 at 18:19
  • 1
    The suggested change is about making it simpler. Less typing, more accurate, better UX. Where is the downside?
    – RedFilter
    Nov 27, 2010 at 15:33

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