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Don't you think that it is a good idea to add a reply button to comments to questions and answers? Most people forget to type @username when replying which makes the person who made the previous comment miss the reply and miss the chance to help that person.

There is a user script for this already. See the stackapps post.

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This is the story of a time long ago, a time of myth and legend, when Jeff Atwood ruled Stack Exchange. He Add "Reply" link to comment that pre-populates comment box with @username.

But! Since it was declined so long ago, and the company has changed considerably since then, it might worth asking for an escalation (see Community and Moderator guidelines for escalating issues via new response process (March-April 2020)).

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  • Ok. I flagged it as suggested there. – Sasuke Uchiha May 9 at 9:16
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The only real disadvantage I can think of to a properly designed reply button is that it might lead to more replying, encouraging protracted conversations in comments.

The original arguments against a reply button were mostly that it would result in the @ notation used unnecessarily, in places where users wouldn't otherwise use it. But in addition to having lots of comments that intend but don't achieve a notification, we also have numerous comments that already use this notation unnecessarily, sometimes unintentionally. Both these problems can be solved together, with a reply button.

Instead of the reply button simply adding an @ mention for the user no matter what, it should:

  • add an @ mention if doing so causes the user to be notified when they otherwise wouldn't
  • raise a tooltip to explain that the user will already be notified, if they already would
  • raise a tooltip to explain that the user can't be notified, if they don't have activity on the post that would facilitate it

That would result in fewer unnecessary @ mentions, not more, if people use the reply button instead of writing the @ mentions manually.

The problem that people often think they're notifying someone when they're not is much more severe than the problem of extra noise that Jeff Atwood talked about. But a reply button needn't be a trade-off between them. It can mitigate both.


Note that it sometimes does make sense to use @username when addressing a post author and in other scenarios where it is not needed. The purpose of code is not just to make computers behave a certain way, but also to make meaning clear to humans. This is still not the same as just writing their name; using the @ notation expresses an intent to notify them.

For example, when replying to a comment by a post author when there has been at least one other commenter, I almost always use that notation, so that it is clear to them that they're not just being notified incidentally to the comment being on their post.

But this feature needn't prevent me from writing such notation manually, as I currently do.

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  • I agree with you completely. That is a good idea about tooltips. It will certainly counter some cons of reply button. Also extended discussions can easily be moved into chat. Having a discussion that will help the OP is better than not having any at all – Sasuke Uchiha Jul 1 at 17:22
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About Jeff Atwood's answer,

  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.

  1. I am not suggesting that @username should be used always. When users gain experience in the site, they will get a sense about when to use it and when not to. However, new users not using this purely because they are unaware, makes them lose the help of people who can help.
  2. Unrelated. The average number is useless as the number of comments is unrelated to how helpful or willing to help a comment is.
  3. Again unrelated.
  4. There is no reason use @username when replying to the OP. I agree. New users will figure this out.
  5. This is one of the instances where @username shouldn't be used that I mentioned in 0. and new users will figure this out soon enough.
  6. As I said, the average is unrelated as it doesn't mean comments are spread out evenly. Many posts I have seen have 7-8 comments and some have none.
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