Sometimes I'll come back to SO after a few hours (gotta sleep sometime), and I'll have a bunch of comments waiting for me. A lot of my answers lately have spawned mini discussions as I help solve new issues and corner cases, and I'd like to reply to them all if I can.

When I click the global inbox, it sets every message to "read" status. This is fine if I open everything in a new tab, but sometimes I'll only notice the top comment and click on it, and the other replies get lost.

I'd like it if we could have a setting whereby we have to either explicitly say to mark an item as read, or at least click on the item before it gets marked.

This is probably best as a preference, since some folks in chat didn't see this as a problem.

  • Can the browser capture if the link was opened in a new tab? Should open in a new tab be default behavior for those links? (community consensus)
    – jcolebrand
    Commented Dec 16, 2010 at 15:43
  • @drachenstern, some browsers do send the HTTP Referer header in that case, but some don't (and hence handle opening in a new tab or in a new window just like if you entered the URL in the location bar yourself). So: the server cannot know for sure. (I don't know if client side JavaScript could know; I guess not.)
    – Arjan
    Commented Dec 16, 2010 at 15:48
  • I don't see how the other replies get lost when not opening the links in new tabs. The inbox (currently) does not mark anything as read or unread, or does it? Or, in other words: I don't see how opening in a new tab makes any difference for your feature request? (I thought it only shows a number indicating how many new events occurred, but does not actually mark/render new items in the Inbox different from old items?)
    – Arjan
    Commented Dec 16, 2010 at 15:57
  • 1
    @Arjan: It shows a number of events, but those events are reported as separate items (comments on the same post get rolled into one though). If I have comments waiting for me on three different answers, then clicking the inbox once sets the "waiting items" count to 0, leaving me with no reminder that I have other items to reply to. Commented Dec 16, 2010 at 15:59
  • 1
    @Arjan ~ I rather meant the sending page, so that an async update can be fired off that a target had been read.
    – jcolebrand
    Commented Dec 16, 2010 at 16:56
  • 5
    I really think this needs to be changed, it's much too easy to miss other new inbox messages after you've clicked on one of them. I think you've let Jeff off too lightly accepting his answer about preferences here.
    – Dan J
    Commented Nov 1, 2011 at 1:04
  • I agree that marking all posts as read when checking the inbox is an odd and confusing behaviour. Commented Jan 3, 2012 at 9:26
  • Count me in a someone who finds the current behaviour aggravating. Commented Feb 12, 2012 at 22:50
  • This would make a dandy stackapp. StackReader? Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 22:02
  • yes, this is avery annoy ing bug. what's hte point of an inbox if everything is marked as read as soon as you click one thing?
    – chovy
    Commented Sep 25, 2012 at 17:56
  • 2
    I was going to raise this as an issue, but figured it would be closed as a duplicate of this question. So I agree with the problem, but don't think we should have an option or setting. It should only mark things as read when you read them, i.e. when you click the link. Commented Oct 22, 2012 at 2:07
  • @JeffreyKemp You should raise it as a new one (I, for one, would upvote it), or try to get this one resurrected (I am!): Viewing inbox should unmark read items rather than all items. The negative reaction here seems to have been mostly about adding an option. Asking for the default (only) behaviour to change is a different question (feature request).
    – A.M.
    Commented Jul 3, 2013 at 13:32
  • @A.M. I've recently created a new request for this; Inbox notifications - marking as read etc
    – MarioDS
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 13:14
  • I think this is effectively (sort of) implemented by the recent inbox improvements (I say "sort of" because it's not an optional thing). As such, I'm marking this as a duplicate of that post for clarity.
    – V2Blast
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 17:39

3 Answers 3


We generally don't do preferences, so this is unlikely.

I'd much rather pick a sane default that works for 90% of folks than have a bunch of configuration options.

  • 1
    Fair enough, I expected as much. I suppose I should be taking more care to open these in new tabs. My only question to you would be whether you would prefer to optimize for giving askers the attention they deserve, or what "works for folks". Commented Dec 16, 2010 at 15:48
  • 1
    I just reread my comment. Sorry if it came off as snarky. It wasn't intended as such. Commented Dec 16, 2010 at 15:52
  • 27
    Agreed about less preferences and more sane defaults. What's curious to me is why you think that 90% of folks would prefer that all items are marked as "read" when you drop-down the box, rather than when you click on the link to actually read them. I, like everyone else, have resorted to ctrl+clicking to open each in a new tab, but I'm not sure I agree that this is more natural or intuitive. Very little else works this way. Commented Aug 11, 2011 at 12:37
  • 2
    How about offering "mark as read" and "mark all as read" options on the inbox (as well as marking individual notifications as read when each link is clicked)? At the moment it's much too easy to miss other new inbox messages after you've clicked on one of them.
    – Dan J
    Commented Nov 1, 2011 at 1:12
  • 1
    Any chance to revisit this now that a lot more preferences are being stored? Favorite / hated tags, starred questions, sort preferences and display preferences nearly everywhere, question and answer drafts, etc.?
    – sarnold
    Commented Jan 3, 2012 at 9:28
  • 7
    So if I have 20 notifications in my inbox, I'm supposed to open 20 tabs? :-/ Can we at least make it so that there's a way to see the most recent inbox items again, whether or not they have been "read"? Commented Feb 12, 2012 at 22:49
  • 2
    @Emile the notifications are not lost - you can always see them all here in the inbox on the main StackExchange site. Commented Mar 13, 2012 at 7:35
  • @Jeff agree about no need for complicated preferences but what about such thing that appears on hover? Commented Mar 13, 2012 at 7:44
  • 6
    I'd really like to see only the new messages I read get marked as read instead of all of them at once. The way it is makes me manually look at dates and text to figure out if I've read them before. That's what computers are for.
    – Joe
    Commented May 25, 2012 at 17:03
  • 2
    How do you know that 90% of folks actually prefer it this way? I would have thought the opposite. Commented Oct 22, 2012 at 2:06
  • 2
    Why not just add a "mark all read" button at the top right of the list?
    – Alexander
    Commented Apr 18, 2013 at 0:42

Background on Stack Overflow Development

Stack Overflow developed and launched Stack Overflow, without actually hiring a real, paid employee, until 4 months after the platform launched!

This absolutely did not happen by accident or because Jeff Atwood drank a bunch of Starbucks coffee and started feverishly programming away every conceivable possible feature. (I'm assuming Jeff handled most of the coding in the early days based on the fact that they announced Jarrod Dixon was hired 4 months after Stack Overflow's beta. See the blog for more details).

Just Say No

The more preferences there are, the more bloated an application becomes. For a small development team, supporting every whim of every user can quickly become costly. While the team is now 60 Valued Associates strong, maintaining focus still yields its rewards.

Consider all the spec writing, design decisions, maintenance, bug fixing, unit testing, hallway usability testing, code optimization, and not to mention all of the complexity involved in making requests to the server and/or database. Whenever the system must perform an action, it now must check with the boss (the server/cache, etc) to see if that's okay. This is inefficient, and makes it hard for developers to adapt new features if they constantly have to battle with the complexity of user preferences modules.

It's extremely difficult to say no to your users, but that's a skill that -- when mastered -- can keep your small, agile team tightly focused on the main goals, which is building a great Q&A platform.

The API -- Extensible Platforms and User Scripts --

While the development team remains extremely focused on Q&A, they also just happen to have made another very good design decision: They created an API!

If your pet feature isn't available, and you can do a little coding, or if you know someone who can do a little coding, you can develop a user script that utilizes the API to add your desired functionality to the site.

For instance, I really missed the old reputation line graph that used to appear in my profile to show how my reputation changes over time. One of the Stack Exchange developers actually spent his free time writing a Reputation graph user script that adds this back to my profile.

I haven't looked into your specific request myself yet, but check out the Global Inbox **Unviewed Count** API. With the right person and enough free time, your feature request could become a reality.

  • 1
    Maybe it's just me, but I just don't understand your answer. You start with "This absolutely did not happen by accident or because Jeff Atwood drank a bunch of Starbucks coffee and started feverishly programming away." but then quickly mention "I'm assuming Jeff handled most of the coding in the early days."... which baffles me. If you know so much about this company's startup days, why do you "assume" Jeff coded it? Or is your answer just a big guess? (I also don't think this feature request is as big of a deal to maintain as you make it seem, but that's just a guess on my part.)
    – user541686
    Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 4:20
  • The blog mentions hiring Jarrod Dixon 4 months after beta launch in 2008/2009. If he was the first employee, then Jeff and/or Joel coded and launched SO. The point is they've kept development lean, and making SO act different for each user creates bloat. I did offer you a solution and that's a user script. There doesn't seem to be one yet but there is an API that could be used to save the state of unclicked items in the inbox. I was thinking of coding it myself; however, adding this to the main stack is a waste of resources. Just Ctrl-T or 'right-click/open tab'.
    – jmort253
    Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 7:11
  • Hi @Mehrdad, you may be interested in this Chrome Extension, StackInbox that keeps the items in your inbox from being marked as read until you explicitly have read them, not just viewed them.
    – jmort253
    Commented Nov 18, 2012 at 9:32
  • So it's really a matter of keeping a priority queue of (user) feature requests. And the question is how useful users would consider such a feature to be. I think this is really a case where the status quo is disliked by most people who think about this. With the right user feedback, I hope we can bring this issue back to the attention of the developers. Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 20:52
  • @LoverofStructure - It's not just about a priority queue, but also reducing bloat in the code. Even though there are some people who hate the fact that the inbox marks everything as read, it's simpler to not be tempted to build custom preferences for each and every user, which means SE can hire less devs and focus more on the important Q&A stuff. With that said, check out StackInbox, I've been using this for several months, and it's come in handy a few times.
    – jmort253
    Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 22:23
  • @jmort253 I agree about feature bloat in general (not that it's bad per se, but it can be hard to manage). About this actual feature: it could be as simple as providing a checkbox or a "mark as unread" button. Or the option to add questions/answers/comments to a personal "view later" list (see this feature request); I think this wouldn't bother people. Anyways, kudos for StackInbox; why don't you add it into your answer here. Commented Mar 21, 2013 at 2:37
  • @LoverofStructure - I have this thing about being a spammer or overly self promoting stuff I'm involved in on Stack Exchange. However, if you really like it and wanted to help by promoting it in your user profile, that would really be awesome! :)
    – jmort253
    Commented Mar 21, 2013 at 2:38

There is a workaround for this, which has become more useful now that one of the other ways to see inbox items without marking them as read will be phased out.

It requires the use of the Stack Exchange API but don't worry; it does not require any programming from your side. Use this link to the API documentation; I've set up a filter for you so you see only the relevant fields.

enter image description here

Click the 'Get Token' button and authenticate yourself with your Stack Overflow account. Then, click the 'Run' button.

enter image description here

Note the clickable link to the (in this case) comment that caused the notification. You can click 'Run' again to ensure calling this API does not mark them as read, the white-on-red badge on your global inbox remains as well.

  • 2
    I feel a stack-app in the making ;)
    – Luuklag
    Commented Jul 1, 2021 at 6:46

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