First Some Context:

Let us start with this post this post by T.J. (Don't remove the @ part of my comment), in which we find out that SO is automatically removing @postowner from comments. T.J., myself, and many others object to this behavior. But Jeff remains strongly fixed on the idea that @postowner increases the noise in the comment stream, and has an (understandable) belief that noise in the comments is a Bad Thing.

Jeff and I disagree on the nature of what is noise, and the expected behavior of @postowner -- I believe its purpose is to direct the attention of a comment, whereas Jeff believes that it is to ensure notification. He does however say that he has no problem with people entering "Postowner," as in:

@JockM did you take into account factors Foo and or Bar?

T.J. later makes this post making a excellent suggestion that the SO comment UI, should inform the user who will be notified when the comment is made. He goes on to say:

...but the crowd of us opposed to the change it relates to haven't done the constructive thing of offering a viable alternative.

The Suggestion

So in that light I would like to make the following suggestion: Instead of deleting @postowner as it does now, why not convert "@postowner" to "postowner,"?

This would accomplish two things:

  1. It would decrease noise, since Jeff has repeatedly said "postowner," is just fine with him.
  2. It would preserve the intent of the commenter, which is to direct the comment to a specific person. Especially if T.J.'s suggestion is adopted, it is clear that those who go to the effort to manually type @postowner, are attempting to specially address the postowner (as opposed to the whole thread)
  3. It would greatly ease the concern of those of us in the anti camp, that our comments are being automatically edited to remove something we consider important.

Addendum: I want to make something clear here, I am suggesting this be done ONLY when the system is currently deleting @postowner now.

edit July 22, 2011: Updated title, added addendum, and additional clarification

  • 4
    This sounds like the worst of both worlds. It leads casual users to think the @ is unnecessary for notifications and it only reduces the noise by one character. Jul 22, 2011 at 5:24
  • Now that I've read everything and see that it doesn't strip out @s if there are more than 2 non-OP commenters, I'm fine with the feature. I think the @ is only important (outside of notification) to keep track of who's talking to who, so with only one non-OP commenter, it doesn't really matter. Jul 22, 2011 at 5:51
  • @Rick if you read my comments, and the linked posts you will see that Jeff himself sai that he doesn't consider "Postowner," to be noise, only the @. And what the system is doing now (removing the @ postowner entirely) gives that exact same impression As for calling it an ampersand, I think we all have made that gaff at least once
    – JockM
    Jul 22, 2011 at 5:59
  • JockM: I agree with you: chat.meta.stackoverflow.com/transcript/message/672787#672787. Taking away @PO can be changing the meaning of the comment. Replace it with 'PO' and the meaning is preserved. Rick Sladkey has a point though, but the other at signs will be respected, so there will be no problem.
    – GUI Junkie
    Jul 22, 2011 at 6:03
  • I published the above comment without 'JockM'. Whom would I have meant?
    – GUI Junkie
    Jul 22, 2011 at 6:04
  • @JockM: I do admire an attempt to compromise and agree that the major disadvantage of the current scheme is for people who just use the system intuitively and by example. I think people are already omitting notifications when they should be using them because the system is sometimes silently reinforcing don't do that. Jul 22, 2011 at 6:06
  • @GUI Junkie I am not quire sure what you mean. Do you mean "Whom would I have meant if you had left it off?" Jeff has said that if you leave off an @ the comment is directed to the postowner (since that is who will be notified). But there can be times when you are trying to address people in general, and the natural way to do that (at least to me) is to leave off the @ and have it be naked. Forgive me if I interpreted your question incorrectly
    – JockM
    Jul 22, 2011 at 6:11
  • 'Whom' from a human interpreter point of view. The PO would be notified of course, but I might have agreed with Rick who is there in the comment trace.
    – GUI Junkie
    Jul 22, 2011 at 6:43
  • @JockM: Jeff has said that if you leave off an @ the comment is directed to the postowner..." Just for clarity, the postowner is notified whether there's an @lert pointing to someone else or not. If Cody comments on my question and you reply with @Cody, I still get a notification. Jul 22, 2011 at 14:16

3 Answers 3


This is a terrible idea. The most compelling argument that Jeff has made for automatically removing unnecessary and superfluous @user remarks is that it reduces noise.

Your proposal is simply to strip the @ sign, leaving behind the user name, which defeats the whole point of removing it in the first place.

I'm left behind with even more noise, this time words that look like content but are actually meta content.

Either support the proposal to stop removing the @user part, or toe the party line and support the removal, but whatever you do, don't do this. The "worst of both worlds" is not something to strive for.

  • 1
    Jeff repeatedly said the noise was not the name, and that he was fine with that, but the@ sign
    – JockM
    Jul 22, 2011 at 13:53
  • @JockM: That's not how I read or understood his comments. He said that if you wanted to do this, no one was preventing you from doing so. He didn't say that he liked it or encouraged it. For all we know, that'll be removed next if it becomes as profligate as the version with the @ sign did. Certainly he never agreed that it was any less noisy. And if he did, well then let it be known: I disagree. Jul 22, 2011 at 13:57
  • "Either support the proposal to stop removing the @user part, or toe the party line and support the removal..." If you're talking about @JockM there, he's very much on record as being vehemently opposed to what the system is doing now. Jul 22, 2011 at 14:13
  • @T.J.: By "support", I meant "upvote the existing proposal" as opposed to starting a new [inferior] one yourself. Jul 22, 2011 at 14:14
  • @Cody WOW, and if I happen to think my idea is simply better than what is being done now, and not a replacement for what T.J. is proposing, I should just STFU? That is very much akin to saying "America, love it, or leave it!"
    – JockM
    Jul 22, 2011 at 14:19
  • @JockM: Obviously you're welcome to disagree with anything. I've posted an answer disagreeing with your proposal. It stands to reason that you'd disagree with my disagreement. I don't think there's anything "WOW" about that. I provided a serious of arguments in the first part of my answer explaining why I think your proposal is "inferior"; don't just focus on the last sentence and ignore the rest. Jul 22, 2011 at 14:20
  • @Cody with respect, you didn't say "agree with the current system", but "toe the party line" which carries with it the strong implication to STFU. That is what I object to
    – JockM
    Jul 22, 2011 at 15:13
  • @JockM: Sounds like you missed the word "or" in that sentence. I tried to make it clear by including a comma. Guess that failed. Jul 22, 2011 at 15:13
  • @cody no I got the or. But the phrase still rankles
    – JockM
    Jul 22, 2011 at 15:25

As Cody said, terrible idea. I like that @ very much because it's like on twitter.

It is just part of it and it should stay there. Noise is removed automatically if necessary

I'm not reading foreign comments (in case I don't see @ I do read it everytime, which eats my time)

  • please reread my proposal (especially the links to posts that lead up to this), I am not asking that @ be removed, only that how it is handled when the system is currently deleting your @postowner
    – JockM
    Jul 22, 2011 at 13:59
  • I know, I read your question... But I do not agree.
    – genesis
    Jul 22, 2011 at 14:04
  • So to be clear, you are saying you like @, but are OK with the system deleting @postowner?
    – JockM
    Jul 22, 2011 at 14:10
  • yes I do. I just don'T like something (your idea) between these 2 things you just listed
    – genesis
    Jul 22, 2011 at 14:13

I can't say I'm liking this idea. :-) However, if I compare it to what the system is currently doing as opposed to what I want it to do, it's an improvement. It's not the way I want to go, but it's better than what we have right now.

Two primary reasons and two one secondary one for why I'm not in love with it:

  1. Because people tend not to read FAQs and help pages and such, one of the key ways in which people learn is by example. The system removing the @ removes the example. New users would come to believe that JockM, lorem ipsum... when commenting on something that isn't your post will notify you, which it won't.

  2. It doesn't nudge people into not including Postowner: Lorem ipsum... when they're not doing it for their own reasons; e.g., one can still think that one needs it (just without the @) to trigger notifications. I don't think it's the @ that Jeff objects to per se, it's people using @postowner for no good reason (neither a technical nor a social one). Hence Postowner, lorem ipsum... is okay because it serves a social purpose, but he has an issue with @postowner, lorem ipsum... because it encourages the belief you need it to trigger notifications. (I don't agree with him, but I think that's what he's saying.)

  3. The @ is helpful for identifying usernames. There are some...interesting...usernames on SO and probably on other SE sites in the network. I think the @ is useful visually for distinguishing them from other text. Ignore this, if it's removing the entire thing as it does now or just removing the @, this is irrelevant.

  4. The system would still be editing my comments for style. But then, again, comparing with what the system is doing now, which is editing my comments for style IMHO, it's a less-intrusive edit. So this also falls into the "better than right now, but not what I want" category.

It's own-horn-tooting, but I think my suggestion that you linked to addresses the issue in a way that maintains teaching by example and supports Jeff's noise-minimizing goals more successfully.

  • 1. I don't believe this is the case, since this would only happen when the system is stripping out @postowner already (because the person will be notified), so the other @'s will still be there. If anything it will push people away from using @ to the subject of the comment when it is the postowner
    – JockM
    Jul 22, 2011 at 14:02
  • 2. I don't believe nudging people in any direction is a requirement. However I do believe everyone believes the @ is the special part, if the system is still removing that, then the same level of education from the current system will be maintained
    – JockM
    Jul 22, 2011 at 14:04
  • 3. I am only proposing this for when the system would otherwise delete @postowner, so I don't see how this would apply
    – JockM
    Jul 22, 2011 at 14:05
  • 4. It would be, but the system is doing that today. So I am proposing something that changes the edit to something that preserves intent
    – JockM
    Jul 22, 2011 at 14:06
  • @JockM: Disagree on #1. No strong feeling on #2 either way. Fair point on #3 and #4 if you're just comparing this with what the system is currently doing at the moment. Agreed that this is certainly better than what the system is doing now. I'd like to take it further, but this is definitely better than what's there. Jul 22, 2011 at 14:10
  • While I love your suggestion from a usability standpoint, I don't personally think it will do much on the education front. There are too many other precedents for @ that they are already using.
    – JockM
    Jul 22, 2011 at 14:12

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