I've noticed that it's only possible to mention another SE user using the "@" symbol in a comment thread where the user appears, and I was wondering if it was a feature or a bug. In particular, I couldn't find any easy to refer to another member, or just to draw the attention of another member to a particular question. Similarly, on this question, eykanal mentioned my name in a comment, but I didn't receive any message, although I would have liked to.

I know that the point of SE is not to create a mail platform, and clearly there should be some kind of regulations, but I wouldn't mind indicating a list of users who can "refer" me (or say, put a default level of reputation), so that I don't miss out a potentially interesting question.

I don't know if such a mechanism already exists, but somehow it could be nice (with an opt-in mechanism, so that by default, nobody can refer to you).

  • I just posted something to SE Meta about this. Check it out.
    – eykanal
    Feb 27, 2012 at 2:39
  • @eykanal I just replied to it, and as I said, I think we can know about that with the auto-completion. But an explicit message could be better.
    – user102
    Feb 27, 2012 at 10:00

5 Answers 5


There are no plans right now to introduce any sort of notification feature along these lines. Stack Exchange is by design avoiding social networking features, including things like this.

Adding a feature that'd allow someone to ping a user from anywhere would go against the design philosophy we've adopted here. Comment notifications are a concession to the fact that the intended use of comments is for clarifications and they often involve some amount of back-and-forth communication.

In the example you give, eykanal should've posted that comment on your answer instead of on the question. It's unfortunate that you didn't get notified, but it's entirely by design.

  • Whether or not SE has an intent to do it, I find the ability not to flag specific people who likely are experts to be irksome, and the community is somewhat less for it. In a site for experts, it would be nice not to have to pray that GuyIKnowProbablyKnowsTheAnswer stumbles across a post.
    – Fomite
    Feb 27, 2012 at 4:09
  • 4
    @EpiGrad That might be nice for you, but not so nice for GuyIKnowProbablyKnowsTheAnswer who'd be spammed with unsolicited "please look at my question" notifications.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Feb 27, 2012 at 4:44
  • @AnnaLear That's why I'm suggesting to have an opt-in mechanism, and to be able to limit (either explicitly or by level of reputation) those who can contact you. I'd say that a great feature of communities is the interconnection between members. There are many ways one could emulate this feature (we could exchange emails, we could create specific tag, like charles-tag, we could have a specific comment thread where one could post an answer, we could use the chat), but somehow, it would be nice to have it integrated.
    – user102
    Feb 27, 2012 at 9:53
  • @AnnaLear Just out of curiosity, is there a special reason that SE wants to avoid social networking features? I mean, I can understand the risks you're mentioning, and clearly, the point is not to create a big IRC, but, at least in academia, I'd say that referring is pretty much a standard way: "I don't know, but I know someone who might know". But to be clear, I don't want to insist or anything, I'd just like to understand :)
    – user102
    Feb 27, 2012 at 10:04
  • @AnnaLear With all the clever programmers at Stack Exchange, I'd be astonished if you guys failed to come up with an unobtrusive way to implement it.
    – Fomite
    Feb 27, 2012 at 22:42
  • @CharlesMorisset In a nutshell, because this is a Q&A network, not a social network. There is more information in this answer on MSO. Plus there's no need to add the complexity of a private messaging system when we value communication out in the open and already give users the ability to comment on posts, participate in chat, and include contact information in their user profiles if they wish to be contacted privately (effectively creating an "opt-in" system).
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Feb 28, 2012 at 3:41
  • @AnnaLear OK, thanks for the explanation :)
    – user102
    Feb 28, 2012 at 14:20

If you want to be available for contacting at any time, just hang out in the main chat room of the site. As long as you were recently in a chat room, you can be pinged there and the notification will land in your global inbox.

  • Yes, that's my point exactly, as I mention in my comment to Anna's answer, you can already emulate this feature, but it's more complex, and you can't restrict the list of users who can contact you. So, basically, I'm just saying: if we can emulate it, why can't we have directly integrated, in a better way?
    – user102
    Feb 27, 2012 at 10:20
  • Seems like a reasonable solution, if I put any @username in chat do they always get a notification in their inbox?
    – Andy W
    Feb 27, 2012 at 13:43
  • @AndyW As long as they were in that chat room recently, yes. Feb 27, 2012 at 13:46

I think notifications are really beneficial. I think private messages are not generally useful and go against what I like about the SE network. There might be a few cases where a private conversation would be useful, but I think that they are few and far between.

Chat provides a means of alerting a user while keeping everything out in the open. I personally think it is much better than @user type notifications buried in comments.


We did try setting something like this up on Physics.

It's a question on meta, where people who want to be pingable, each give a single answer, in which they state the specialities on which they want to be pinged.

And then, in theory, if anyone wants to ping you about a question, they can just leave a comment on that meta answer, with a link pointing to the question. Once you've answered the question, the comment can then be deleted.

Nice theory, huh?

Only thing is, it's almost never been used.

It's also worth quoting what David Z said in a related meta.physics question:

Sure, having a meta question where people can "register" their interest in being pinged sounds fine - at least, there's no rule against it. It wouldn't hurt to try it and see if it helps at all. It wouldn't be forever, but we could probably put on it if you word it the right way (e.g. "How can I ask someone specific to answer a question?").

However, I would encourage anyone who would be interested in participating in such a system to also do the following three things:

  1. Include your areas of expertise (those in which you would like to be "pinged" if a pinging system were available) in your profile text blurb. If you have enough reputation to have a "user card" (the thing that pops up when the mouse hovers over your gravatar), then make sure your areas of expertise show up there.
  2. Also include those areas in your chat profile.
  3. Stay logged into our chat room as much as possible, and check it periodically to see if you've been "requested." Let's make that the central place to recruit people to help with specific questions.

I think this is the best way to use the existing system to accomplish the goal here - and at worst, it's not going to interfere with the meta post.

(I've amended the links to point to academia rather than physics)


This recent question:

Is it my responsibility to point out that a paper has been plagiarized from another researcher's blog?

seems like a good reason to provide moderators (at least) the ability to ping a particular user. For those who haven't read the thread, the OP has a question about alerting a blog owner about plagiarism against the blog owner, and it turns out that the blog owner is @Suresh, a member of this community.

Obviously, there are other methods (the OP can contact @Suresh through his blog, or more sneakily through a previous comment where "@Suresh" would send Suresh a message), but I think it would be a good idea to allow moderators the ability to email/ping a user (and maybe this is already the case).

  • Moderators have access to the email address used for registering to SE, so I guess that in this case, we could contact Suresh directly. But this example is so coincidental that I'm not sure we can generalize it :)
    – user102
    Aug 20, 2013 at 7:07
  • Fair enough -- this is a particularly coincidental one! Aug 20, 2013 at 7:12

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