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When people refer to me on stackexchange websites they call me @broiyan. Where did this convention arise from? If it were taken from my email address, the @ symbol would be at the other end of my name so that does not appear to be the source of this convention.

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it comes from Twitter –  nohat Sep 20 '11 at 23:48
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Not really a ELU question: It is a programming convention to ensure that comments can be directed to you by including @broiyan in the text of the comment. You should get a notification that you have "inbox" items in the upper left corner where it says "StackExchange". –  JeffSahol Sep 21 '11 at 1:03
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@JeffSahol I think it is an ELU question; I've seen it used in emails and on forums where it's a style thing not a programming thing. –  Hugo Sep 21 '11 at 6:16
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You may be interested in other modern uses of the @ sign. While Twitter popularized the @name convention, it is sometimes used in emails or other contexts where it has no technical effect (it does not trigger a notification but merely serves as a typographical cue). –  aedia λ Sep 21 '11 at 18:27
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This question appears to be off-topic because it is more about technology, not English language. –  medica Jan 16 at 14:07
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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Its first popular use seems to have begun on Twitter. It was formalized on Stack Overflow in January 2010. http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/01/new-improved-comments-with-reply/

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Old IRC (internet realyed chat) services used to offer features that would indicate (in a different color or graphic effect) that a particular message - among tenths or hundreds in a crowded chat room - is directed to you or someone in particular. Old school programers kept the use of it as a way to directly say something to someone in particular. The use of it in Twitter is a re-introduction of this practice.

More and more, even on applications that won't offer any particular effect to respond the existence of the @name convention, people is using it to diferentiate the destination of the message. Like:

@Hugo: it may be now a ELU question, but yes, it is a programmer's thing @aedia: totally agree with you.

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It’s the vocative particle, like how in “O Zeus, how mighty are your thunderbolts”, the “O” is the vocative particle. We now use @Zeus instead for the same thing: to summon his attention in our hubris. Apparently Irish does the same thing with an A instead of an O, and an @ is a stylized A. Still vocative. –  tchrist Jan 16 at 4:02
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@AtilaTini: It's not just a programmer thing. You used it twice in your answer as a style thing to address different people. No programming parsed it as anything special special in your answer. Plenty of non-programmers now use it everyday. –  Hugo Jan 16 at 8:05
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@tchrist: From now on, I'm going to start reading these @s as Os in my head :) Maybe I'll make a Chrome extension to replace them (with an optional "(how mighty are your thunderbolts)"). –  Hugo Jan 16 at 8:07
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@ is sometimes referred to as the at sign, so when you leave a message @broiyan, you are directing it at broiyan.

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This doesn't answer the question. –  Hugo Sep 21 '11 at 6:14
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