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That is, when should thanks be given, and how should that Thank You look?

  1. At what point should questions or answers inspired by another user's question, answer, or comment be attributed to that user in the question or answer?

    This answer was modified because of other users' comments, and the poster was polite enough to thank the commentators, one of whom was me, in his answer. It wasn't necessary the user thank me--my comment wasn't an innovation or opinion but merely noted a relevant yet omitted fact, suitable for expanding the answer but offering nothing more research would've yielded. Was that thanks appropriate and expected?

    The final section of my answer here was added completely at the behest of a commentator who believed the information important enough to comment twice even though I didn't initially think it'd be a thing. Turned out it kind of was a thing; should I thank the commentator for inspiring that section of the answer?

  2. What should a Thank You look like?

    Several times recently I've seen thanks given by linking to the user's profile, which seems a bit weird, but considering that--so far as I can tell--linking to a specific answer requires entering keywords from that answer into the search bar to find the answer's URL and linking to that, and that there's no way to read the deleted comment inspired a question or answer, I don't know how else to properly and readily thank innovation, inspiration, or opinion.

    When using **@***username* in a question or answer, does that do anything besides look silly? Is there a method for searching for those? I've thanked another user by employing that method myself here instead of profile-linking, but I don't know if that just makes me look silly and does nothing.

The role-playing game community is quite incestuous already so thanking folks for every little thing is obviously too much, but it's also militant about giving credit where credit's due. When and how should thanks be given?

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    \$\begingroup\$ That's a really interesting question. A bit on the off side, here on Brazil you are supposed to acknowledge any intent to help - not just the contributtions that really helped you, but every effort made by others to help, even the ones that you couldn't really use. It's considered basic education. I read this meta a while ago, and I confess that I need to struggle the urge to thank others by their contributtions. It's a cultural thing, I suppose. \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar Apr 15 '14 at 16:25
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First, the legal stuff

The only time acknowledgement is actually required is when you're doing something relative to the cc by-sa 3.0 license all our content is provided under, and the requirements are in this blog post.

This almost never applies to comments. This covers using someone's actual written words, like when you're quoting them or redistributing things they've authored or developed. If you've edited their words, attribution is still required as long as their original work is recognisable. (Naturally, if it isn't, you're not even using their work anymore and copyright and licensing is moot.)

Everything outside this is entirely optional and subjective. We won't be able to tell you how to do all of this, and we don't have a community standard on how to handle this stuff. You'll have to use your judgement.

1. When should we thank people?

This is a matter of subjective ethics. But, a couple of things are simple at least: there is never a should, or to put it differently, you are never obligated to thank people.

Likewise, it should never be expected by anyone, unless it's a matter of legal attribution. Someone might have given you pointers or prompts, but people do that constantly here, and you're the one doing the hard work following it up and doing the study and writing.

There's something to weigh your thanks against: the fact of the matter is that giving thanks does not improve the usefulness of your post, and most of your readers will not care. The only people with any emotional investment in an author thanking someone is the author, that someone, and the people with emotional investment in either of those people.

If you give thanks, I suggest this rule of thumb: make it genuine. Give thanks when you are genuinely, emotionally thankful and grateful. This keeps it infrequent, valuable and meaningful. You should not give thanks merely because you're concerned someone expects it: it's unreasonable of them to do so.

2. What should it look like?

Unobtrusive. That's the main thing, because of the point above: this does not make your post more useful, so it should also not make it less useful. Mention your thanks in a sentence at the end, or briefly state "(thanks Hey I Can Chan)" then move on, or state your thanks your edit summary where it's permanent, attached to your change, and out of the way. Ensure it doesn't disrupt our ability to understand what you're trying to say.

Beyond that, however you see fit. There's no standard form of giving thanks here. Go ahead and link to profiles, and say @HeyICanChan or Hey I Can Chan or whatever you'd like. You won't look silly, I promise.

Linking to a question or answer

Every answer and question has a 'share' link in the bottom left. Click it and it'll give you the URL for that question or answer:

The URL always comes in this form:

http://example.stackexchange.com/{letter}/{post ID}/{your user ID}

where:

  • {letter} is either 'q' or 'a', for question or answer.
  • {post ID} is the ID of that question or answer.
  • {your user ID} is... well, your user ID, which is the same number that shows up in your profile URL. Mine is 1204. This part is optional, and contributes to the Announcer, Booster and Publicist badges. You can cut it off if you need the extra characters.

(naturally, sometimes the start bit will be stackoverflow.com or something else for those sites with a domain name)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So to address one point more directly: credit when using actual or edited words of someone is required; "inspired by" doesn't require a credit, but one might choose to give thanks as a courtesy. Is that about right? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 5 '14 at 16:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes. In fact, that's right on the mark: often in these situations, the 'credit' is more a matter of giving thanks than attribution. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Apr 6 '14 at 1:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this question was more about etiquette and politeness than legal requirements. \$\endgroup\$ – Flamma Apr 6 '14 at 9:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Flamma Perfect. Thank you. It's not a legal question but a courtesy question. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Apr 6 '14 at 11:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Often (when using words verbatim or in edited form) required credit will override the optionality of courtesy though, so mentioning the legal issue at the beginning of the decision-making flow is relevant. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 6 '14 at 19:13
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Since I was used as an example, and I like to talk, I'll go over some of my reasoning.

When I don't

In general, I do not attribute changes to the main copy of the question / answer. See this answer as an example... The bolded text was softened up a bit to be more accurate.

In this case I don't attribute because:

  1. The words are still my own both before and after.
  2. Attributing all changes would clutter the answer.

In that same answer, you can see a different kind of attribution, though. I try to always link directly to answers that I quote or otherwise reference.

When I do

Most often, I attribute comments when it aids the structure of the answer. This will most often happen when I'm rolling comments into an answer.

The answer you linked is a good example of this. The comments don't really add anything to the answer itself. Neither of them have anything to do with either of the two central questions that are being answered. On the other hand, they're both interesting points that may very well help the person who asked the question.

I don't want to rewrite the original answer, because the content I'm adding is tangential and not really important. So I put attach the new information to the bottom as addenda. I don't really want to take the time to reword the new information into flowing prose (because I'm lazy), so I just use a list.

At this point I'm doing very little work, so an attribution feels somewhat necessary. Also, I like the look of the names a bit better than bullet points.

I will also sometimes use a structure such as "So and so raises the question... " when comments indicate that something needs clarifying or the need for a new section. It's just easier to add a "Q&A" format than working out connecting prose.

Does @UserName do anything?

It does not. Other than that people who use twitter recognize an @ symbol followed by a bunch of letters as a handle. No notifications or links are generated.

Why link to the profile?

It shows "who" the person I'm talking about is on the site. And it gives them an opportunity to promote their own platform (web site, blog, comment block, whatever) via their user profile. It also just feels like what I'd expect to see on the Internet, with its emphasis on links.

What's up with rolling in comments?

Comments on the site are semi-permanent. The mods delete them fairly regularly. On the other hand, the mods frequently leave relevant comments while getting rid of the trash. So, I could just let the mods clean out the garbage comments until eventually only Eric B and Hey I Can Chan's comments remained.

I don't take this route, because rolling the comments in gives me a bit of extra control. I can expand on, format, spell-correct, organize, merge, split, etc. the comments to my heart's content.

It also means I don't need to guess which ones the mods will save, and the mods don't need to guess which ones I think are important. If I leave out an important comment, someone can edit it into the answer proper, or the mods can leave the original comment.

(although usually they'll just delete everything but a few highly upvoted comments, once they see they've been integrated into the answer)

Attribution required

As mentioned elsewhere, attribution is usually required when quoting or paraphrasing someone. There's some wiggle-room for comments in that they are intended to "improve the answer," but anything from elsewhere should be attributed and linked (if possible).

Facts should also be attributed when possible.

tldr;

Callouts like the ones in your example are as much about making the answer look nice as they are about giving thanks. Saying thanks is polite, but not always necessary.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually, the term used for the lifetime of most comments is "ephemeral". :) Basically, their useful lifetime is until they, or the information requested, is incorporated into the post itself; after that, they are fair game (no pun intended) for deletion. \$\endgroup\$ – a CVn Apr 9 '14 at 12:03

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