In relation to this problem, I propose that a new link, reply, be added added after the time indication on comments which opens the comment box and pre-populates it with the @username of the comment that reply was clicked on, as follows:

alt text

It doesn't load the server, doesn't add any hierarchy, and is natural and obvious to new users - a UI win, since it teaches them about the @username feature as it does the work for them.

One of the main benefits to this functionality is that when new users post a question and seasoned users ask follow up comments, the new user is more likely to have the correct @ functionality which will notify the seasoned user that their follow up comments were responded to, and they might be better able to answer the question now.

At the moment a lot of questions get follow up comments to which the OP responds, but there the communication ends because the OP doesn't use the @username notification, and the seasoned user doesn't come back.

Humbly submitted for your consideration.

  • 1
    First related item is Add a 'Reply' button next to Comments, but that itself is a dupe of Let's make it easier to reply within comments!. This is very much repeatedly requested.
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Jan 12, 2011 at 16:45
  • 3
    The original question has multiple parts, some of which were implemented, some of which were not. Is there a question which is exactly this (and only this) with status-declined ?
    – Pollyanna
    Jan 12, 2011 at 16:49
  • You're definitively a duplicate of the first link I provided. If you think the original question was too broad and wasn't directly addressed, try to get the actual dupe reopened, then. At any case Jeff says, and I quote, - "reply button will always be denied with extreme prejudice." So I don't think yet another question is really going to help.
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Jan 12, 2011 at 16:57
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    Further, I haven't yet seen a good reason to avoid adding this feature. It doesn't require server interaction at all - when the server sends the page, it already has all the information it needs to perform this action in javascript on the client. It provides a better user experience. The only reason not to do it is that it would require a change to the SOIS engine, and perhaps there aren't enough resources to make such a change - but in that case it should be deferred, not declined. So perhaps someone can explain why this is a bad UI feature.
    – Pollyanna
    Jan 12, 2011 at 16:58
  • 4
    Shameless plug: Script to add “reply” links to comments
    – balpha StaffMod
    Jan 12, 2011 at 17:00
  • @Grace - I've decided to let this one stand as it's slightly better presented, and the prior dupe doesn't have any useful answers, so it doesn't matter which one remains open.
    – Pollyanna
    Jan 12, 2011 at 17:03
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    For a request made so frequently, it's odd that Jeff didn't even try to explain why it's declined. For me, that feature is an absolute most. People keep misspelling my name "Borrow0" over and over again.
    – Borror0
    Feb 5, 2011 at 13:34
  • @Borror0 -The main reason similar requests are often denied is that comments are not meant to provide a long discussion area - they are secondary to the main point of asking and answering questions. Making it easier to comment and reply to comments is not something SOIS wants to encourage.
    – Pollyanna
    Feb 5, 2011 at 14:41
  • @Pollyanna: Still, that's ideological rather than, you know, empirical. If they're worried that it would encourage commenting too much, they could try it out on one site and see what happens. Refusing outright based on what maybe might happen isn't rational.
    – Borror0
    Feb 5, 2011 at 15:22
  • @Bor - Given that the person is going to be typing a message in anyway, asking them to type another 4 characters is not much. Perhaps if there were significant evidence that this feature would significantly improve stack overflow there might be reason to trial it. It is not incumbent on stack overflow to prove it's a bad feature, it's incumbent on the people who request the feature to prove that it's a necessary feature.
    – Pollyanna
    Feb 5, 2011 at 16:06
  • @Borrow0 misspelling sounds like a great reason to add this feature. (misspelled phun made on purpose)
    – cregox
    Apr 15, 2011 at 10:50

1 Answer 1


We're actually moving away from indoctrinating users into the @username cult for comment replies, for these reasons:

  1. AXIOM: A bunch of comments filled with @username are harder to read and noisier than those which are not. The goal of our sites is to increase signal-to-noise, not reduce it.

  2. The average number of comments on a SO question is 2.5.

  3. The median number of comments on a SO question is ZERO.

  4. Post owners are always notified of comments on their posts.

  5. If there are only two people talking in comments, the post owner and one other person, we auto-infer replies in that situation as well; that is:

    Question? -- User A
    Clarifying comment. -- User B
    Response to clarifying comment. -- User A

    In the above case, A would be notified of B's comment. And B would be notified of A's response to his comment as well. Notice the conspicuous lack of @username anywhere!

  6. If the average number of comments is 2.5 -- let's go nucking futs here and assume one of those is a reply from the post owner back to the person who left the comment -- then statistically speaking, @username is not required at all.

For these reasons, I am loathe to perpetuate the idea that people have to use @username at all, except when they need to talk to another commenter.

(Note that I am in no way objecting to an organic mention of someone's name in a comment, in the form of "If you consider blaz, Greg, I think you'll see that fromenting the hogribicator when the z-axis is above 96 degrees is your best option.")

  • 1
    out of topic comment: how did you calculate the average and median number of comments? Apr 5, 2014 at 15:10

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