I have been here for 3 weeks now, and I like to think that I'm gradually understanding, how the place works. However, there are a few things that I haven't figured out yet, and the FAQ didn't give any clues either, as it is geared towards the needs of new users asking questions (as it probably should!). Nor did browsing old questions give any advice.

  1. How does the `personal messaging' system work? I mean: some comments are obviously directed at me, and I see the word "StackExchange" in the top left turn red notifying me of something (a new message, rep update, whatever). The comments to my answers are obviously there, but what about the rest? Beginning a comment with @username seems to be somehow related to this. I have just thought that this is a handy way of directing a comment to a particular fellow poster, but would have thought that the recipient only sees that if she/he shows up to view that particular question again. Therefore I only use the first name, as more often than not that is enough to identify the person within that context. Where is this feature explained?

  2. The list of comments that I have received is becoming longer and longer. Am I expected to do some basic housekeeping chores, and start deleting the older ones? Something similar to maintaining an inbox.

  3. While typing an answer I occasionally notice that my answer is not gonna cut it. Either a very similar answer was just posted, I realize that I overlooked something and my argument doesn't really work, or I notice that my answer may be at a level unsuitable to the OP. Whatever it is, at this point I want to abandon it. Only I can't! If I simply move elsewhere to read other questions, I first get a dialogue asking, whether I really want to go elsewhere given that I have started typing an aswer. I click 'Ok', do something else, come back, and, lo and behold, the old incomplete answer is there! How do I delete it for good? I realize that caching such unposted answers is a nice safety thing, but I find it mildly annoying that I cannot decide such things myself. I tried replacing the incomplete answer with a single blank. To my surprise even that didn't work. What's going on?

  4. Is there a FAQ explaining this kind of features of the site?

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    $\begingroup$ BTW, I second (3) -- it's quite annoying sometimes $\endgroup$
    – Grigory M
    Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 20:14
  • $\begingroup$ As for (4), there is meta.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/faq -- but it's too vast to be too useful $\endgroup$
    – Grigory M
    Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ Re 3: Probably you're experiencing the saved draft feature. I don't know if/when the system eventually deletes these saved drafts. But it is handy, e.g. allowing one to recover from crashes etc. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 20:38
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    $\begingroup$ For (3): With me, the previous answer remains there (but not posted) for a while; often, it will clear up after I have typed and posted an answer to a different question. It seems to be some kind of "buffer" that remains, but it's not a big deal (at least to me). $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Arturo There's much discussion of drafts on MSO, e.g. here. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 20:45
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    $\begingroup$ The system only saves one of your drafts, if you start answering a different question your previous draft will be deleted. $\endgroup$
    – user9733
    Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 21:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Fabian Although the SE platform saves only one draft, a browser can cache others, so one can in fact have multiple drafts active at one time. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 21:27
  • $\begingroup$ This is a good question. I'm putting a featured tag on it in the hopes that it gets more views. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 21:58
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    $\begingroup$ Re: 3) The drafts are saved every thirty seconds. So if you want to get rid of that draft for good, you can type one letter (not a blank!) replacing your answer and wait until a short message saying "draft saved" appears below the answer field. I find this the most comforting way of doing it, even if the solutions provided by others may be more efficient. $\endgroup$
    – t.b.
    Commented Jun 25, 2011 at 7:16

5 Answers 5


If you have a question about the software that is running this site, the best place to find an answer is meta.stackoverflow.com. The frequently asked questions are all found in the FAQ tag on meta.SO.

The @user replies in comments notify the user you are responding to via his global inbox. The exact behaviour of this feature is pretty complicated, just follow the link if you really want to know the details.

You don't have to do anything with your notifications, there is no need to clear anything.

Your draft of an answer is saved to prevent you from losing all that work. Only one draft per site is kept, so if you answer a different question your previous draft will be deleted.

You can browse the FAQ tag on Meta.SO if you want to know more about the platform and community this site is built on.

  1. @UserName is used to direct a comment to a particular user, and it will give you a notification if either the question / answer being commented on belongs to you or if you've previously commented on the question / answer (I think). This is so you can be informed if, for example, someone comments on an answer you've accepted saying "this is wrong, actually it should be this" or something like that. I don't see why it should wait until you view the question again; the whole point is that it informs you that you should view the question again!

  2. No. They're like Facebook notifications; read the new ones, and the rest are there only if you need to refer back to them (for example you ran out of time the last time you looked at them).

  3. To be honest, I don't see why you would need to do this, but have you tried clearing your cookies?

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the information on #1. Re: #2 I'm afraid I don't know what Facebook notifications are :-). Re: #3 When I learned to use a PC disk space was always used sparingly :-) Also, I'm a bit worried about deleting a wrong cookie - like the one containing my login info or something more critical. You see that I'm clueless as to how the automatic login works :-) $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 20:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Jyr Re 1: Note that only the first @name is notified (allong with the author of the question/answer). Also you need write only the first 3 characters of the username (or enough needed for a unique match), e.g. this comment. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Jyrki: you don't have to worry about space. All post data is archived in large SQL databases and this is true even if any individual post gets "deleted." People don't throw away this kind of information anymore. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 25, 2011 at 4:28
  • $\begingroup$ +1 as I actually find (3) quite convenient $\endgroup$
    – kuch nahi
    Commented Jun 27, 2011 at 23:50

Answering my own question part 3. There is now a discard option next to the "Post your answer"-button. It does not appear immediately, but its function seems to be exactly what I wanted to have.

Thank you, SE support/development team !


Re (3), my understanding is that the system only stores one draft at a time, so if you compose another answer, the new saved-drafts will cause the old saved drafts on the other question to go away.


click the help link under [add comment] to see a summary of the available formatting options; this includes a basic description of the @username notifications.

(also note that comment help is pre-expanded for new users automatically upon comment entry display, without needing to click "help".)

commenting help

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Is it documented somewhere that HTML entity codes would be stripped/escaped in comments, but not in answer body? In an answer, if I type > I get >. In a comment if I type > I get >. Is this what it means for it to be mini-Markdown? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 25, 2011 at 11:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Willie: This is my related meta.SO question about HTML entities in comments, though it doesn't exactly answer your question. $\endgroup$
    – Isaac
    Commented Jun 25, 2011 at 14:25
  • $\begingroup$ @willie per the Markdown spec, HTML is supported in posts, so you can type (and I do, all the time) &hellip; to get the entity in a post or <b> to make things bold. Comments support a teeny-tiny subset of Markdown, per the help link pictured above. See math.stackexchange.com/editing-help for more detail on what is supported in both places; look closely. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 25, 2011 at 17:44

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