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Recently, many members of to community, including me, have noticed that our chat is very close to dead in terms of how active our chat is. I want to change that.

I've seen how chats can be beneficial to the site's quality and content. I do think SE chat can be important to a SE community. For example, many chats support the use of "cv-please" or "flag please" to discuss bad quality posts. Many times, members come to chat to discuss about their answers & what other people think. Chat can be a good place to give and get feedback from others. There are other events like Chemistry's TRE and ELL's TCE that use chat to improve questions on the main site.

Also, chat is a free medium for free conversation, and since we want a detailed library of content, we can't allow chatty comments and the SE spirit fights against those. However, humans are social creatures and they need social casual conversation. Moderation of comments would be relatively easier if we used chat for . . . chatty purposes. By making chat more active, many people would probably use chat, instead of chatty comments to questions and answers.

Many times, I am stuck using chatty comments because the user I am talking to doesn't use chat. As you can see, it can become a problem but if we motivate people to use chat instead, it is much easier for moderators and other members of the community.

So chats have repeatedly proven to be beneficial to the site's quality and content, and a friendly, easy-to-use interface for scientific discussions. My question is -- Should we go about improving our chat, and how can we do this?

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  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean by 'dead'? Also, if people don't respond to your pings or chat invite, then how would you change that? $\endgroup$ – AliceD Nov 2 '15 at 9:39
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    $\begingroup$ @AliceD I was asking the community for ideas. That is a good point, but the focuse is on getting people who are available and free to come to chat and talk, not people who are ignoring pings and chat invites. $\endgroup$ – TanMath Nov 2 '15 at 18:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Alice 'dead' as in inactive. I disagree it's dead dead though: Thank God it's far from this. And I believe this meta post is a means of gathering opinions on how to make chat active. $\endgroup$ – M.A.R. Nov 2 '15 at 19:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Ϻ.Λ.Ʀ. it is dead though, to a certain extent.. Before, there used to be gaps of 2-3 days between messages..Now it is sometimes 16-17 hours..However, I do find that we need to reduce the gap to 1-2 hours, or better yet, almost no gap at all! $\endgroup$ – TanMath Nov 2 '15 at 19:03
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    $\begingroup$ I define this 'death' to be "to not be able to get an answer to the hypothetical question you ask in time". Many questions on the main site don't get their answers in a span of a day. Should we call the main site 'dead'? || The definition is rather subjective though, you may define it the way you want. $\endgroup$ – M.A.R. Nov 2 '15 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Ϻ.Λ.Ʀ. when I am saying the chat is 'dead', I mean that there aren't messages for a long period of time, mainly when there is a gap of 1 day or more. $\endgroup$ – TanMath Nov 2 '15 at 19:07
  • $\begingroup$ @TanMath given busy schedules and global time differences a day is not too much, really $\endgroup$ – AliceD Nov 2 '15 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ @AliceD then how would you define the chat being dead? It seems that the chat is obviously dead, but in what respect? $\endgroup$ – TanMath Nov 2 '15 at 20:30
  • $\begingroup$ @TanMath, again, they are your words... I don't understand why I have to explain your ideas? $\endgroup$ – AliceD Nov 2 '15 at 21:04
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I think the issue is that the main site has relatively few really active users, and only a subset of these are visiting chat (for different reasons). Therefore the chat is rather inactive. However, I think the inactivity of chat is a symptom and not something that can be fixed by only trying to improve the chat per se. If the userbase of Bio-SE grows, the chat will also become more active as a result.

This is partly speculation on my part, but here are a couple of reasons why the chat is relatively inactive:

1) rather few very active users on the main site,
2) many active users are working researchers, professionals or PhD students with many other things to do,
3) most focus their time on asking and answering questions and view chat as secondary (or tertiary),
4) many are here for Q/A content and not to chat casually or "make friends".

I'm not saying that it is meaningless to arrange chat activities or to improve the chat description, but I'm sceptical that it will make a big difference. Also, I don't think that a change can be forced. Start filling the chat with contents that people find interesting and more users will probably come there over time.

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I'd counter your question how do we improve chat with the question what's wrong with chat?

I don't see chat as dead, there are often users around willing to chat, and if I want to discuss something scientific I can. The limiting factor on the quality of such chats is the number of users familiar with my field. If I want an advanced discussion about a specialist topic I am unlikely to have much success here, not because people are not willing to chat, but because there simply is not a pool of users with enough knowledge of my specialism. With some users there are some common research interests, and those users regularly talk about their topic. I don't think we can improve this side by hosting chat sessions.

We also frequently discuss problematic questions, problematic users, and various other things which are also covered in the meta site. Also, often the users that need chatty comment sections to help improve their posts are new users, so simply can't access the chatroom.

The primary reason most users are here is to post and answer questions. Chat is a secondary function. I don't think I see a desperate need for improving chat. Perhaps you could clarify your vision for the future of chat, what should chat be used for?

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After posting my question, I have got many negative responses about improving the chat. It seems that much of the community does not believe that the chat is inactive (contrary to what I thought) or that even though the chat is inactive, there is not much we can do or that there is no point improving it.

@fileunderwater's answer did provide a perspective on why our chat is inactive. However, I do agree with @Resonating's comment in the chat that people are in the chat, but don't want to talk. Based on both this comment and @fileunderwater's answer and @Resonating's comment it seems that we need to just talk about interesting stuff!

It also seems that whether or not a chat is inactive is dependent on the definition of an inactive chat. When I am saying the chat is 'dead', I mean that there aren't messages for a long period of time, mainly when there is a gap of 1 day or more. However some disagree with this definition, therefore not agreeing that the chat is inactive.

Overall, the lesson learned is that we need to talk about fun stuff! That will get more people interested. We might also need to solve the problem of not having many active members but that is a different problem. I might start a meta post on having biology chat session as an experiment as well.

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  • $\begingroup$ As I said in chat (!) a delay of 24h is nothing. Graduate students, postdocs, let alone folks higher up in the food chain have other things to attend to too. Answering a well-researched question typically takes me a week before I can even get to it. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Nov 4 '15 at 11:12
  • $\begingroup$ @AliceD but many scientific SE chats are very active, and even though many of them are students and professors, they always keep their chat as active as possible. $\endgroup$ – TanMath Nov 4 '15 at 20:07
  • $\begingroup$ and which are those? $\endgroup$ – AliceD Nov 4 '15 at 21:13
  • $\begingroup$ @AliceD Mainly Periodic Table, but I find h Bar also much more active than us. Also Math.SE's chat is very active! $\endgroup$ – TanMath Nov 4 '15 at 21:17
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    $\begingroup$ @TanMath The user bases of Math-SE and Physics-SE are more than 18 and 5 times larger than us though respectively, and the communities are older. So the difference is quite large, which will be reflected in chat attendance as well. Chem-SE is comparable, but I don't know anything about the composition of that community. My perception is also that Math-SE is mostly composed of math students, and they will probably use chat quite frequenctly. Compare to MathOverflow, which is also a large community but mostly composed on professional mathematicians, where the chat is rather inactive. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Nov 5 '15 at 8:42

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