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Why can't you @reply more than one user? It seems like I should be able to @reply at least two users. I've run into this problem several times now. Is there a reason why you can only @reply one user?

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This would be useful on occasion, I can't deny...

But the rationale is simply that comments aren't meant for tangential discussion. The author of the post you're commenting on is always notified, regardless of whether he's "@-replied" to explicitly in a comment. Responding to one of these comments requires only a single @-reply. Allowing comments to notify multiple people could result in obnoxious behavior or harassment.

As Diago notes, this has been discussed several times over on MetaSO - this is a good example.

It's worth contrasting the design of comment @-notifications with those of chat, where you can notify multiple users in a single message:

  • Comments always notify the post-author, regardless of @... Chat messages appear to anyone in the room.
  • Comments can @-notify anyone who has ever commented / edited the post... Chat messages can notify anyone who has been in the room recently.
  • Comment notifications persist in your global SE inbox... Chat notifications produce a small indicator within chat, with an entry in the SE inbox only if you don't respond.
  • You can only leave one comment every 15 seconds... You can post multiple chat messages within that timespan.

In short, chat messages will only notify people who are probably expecting them, having recently joined a chat room for the purpose of chatting. Comments might notify people who've long ago forgotten about the topic. Making it easier to mass-notify multiple users via comments has a much larger "harassment" potential.

  • Basically what most people would like to use comments for, the powers that be don't like. Annoying, but you can get round it by making a second comment with the 2nd person's name and some random characters following it, then when they reply you can delete it or not. – Jonathan. Oct 22 '11 at 21:42
  • Right. Because the idea is to have a question, followed by one or more answers, without a lot of extraneous chit-chat in between them. There is a full-on chat system available if you need a lot of back-and-forth with someone. – Shog9 Oct 22 '11 at 23:35
  • Compared to the main sites the chat sites aren't very used. Part of the point of StackExchange sites is to be a reference for people searching in the future, it's not a great reference if the discussion (which can help five an answer) is no longer there or is somewhere else you don't know about. Also the site hides long comment discussions so it doesn't create any mess. – Jonathan. Oct 22 '11 at 23:39
  • Jonathan, you put your finger right on the problem of hosting long discussions on the main site: they're hidden. So it doesn't matter if there's some great conclusion arrived at eventually - the casual reader won't see it. For reasonably short discussions, the system's ability to "float" up-voted comments works pretty well, but before long you reach the point where the only good solution is to simply edit the answer to reflect the outcome. Which you can just as easily do in response to a conversation in chat (I've seen this done many times). – Shog9 Oct 30 '11 at 2:35
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    but then one could say chat is even more hidden than the comments, and there is no chance at all of a comment on chat bring invited enough that it gets out of the hidden section. If the both places you can have a conversation are hidden and both will require the answer to be edited in order for the answer to be corrected, you might as well have the conversation in the easiest to unhindered place, in the comments. – Jonathan. Oct 30 '11 at 9:21
  • Except that, as you noticed, comments are fairly hindered. Y'know - only one @reply at a time, gotta wait 15 seconds between posts, manual refresh... – Shog9 Oct 30 '11 at 14:53
  • However they are imposed limits and could easily be removed. It would be better if the comments became like chat. So you still have the general chat rooms for each site etc, but specifc question/answer chats are found below the relevant question or answer. Making the whole UX more fluid and less broken up. Make the comments real time, allow more than @reply, and remove the limit, exactly like chat. And instead of clicking a link to go a to a seperate chat site (with a different UI than most users know on SE sites), the link simply expands the comment section as it does now. – Jonathan. Oct 30 '11 at 15:40
  • Well, yeah, the comment system could have been expanded until it resembled what chat became... But that would have been a major, major change to the system - the system that is, after all, supposed to be centered around Q&A. I rather expect we'll see chat become more integrated into the site as time goes on, but there are significant challenges, both technical and social, to doing so properly. So for now, comments are light-weight "Post-It notes", and if you want serious discussion try using Chat. – Shog9 Oct 30 '11 at 15:58
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From this Meta SO answer

You can explicitly notify one (1) other commenter or editor, by using @name, where name is the username with all spaces removed.

It contains most of the details behind the system, however the short answer is that it is related to the lack of display names, and it was really a system put in place as an afterthought, since it is not a defining feature of SE.

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