Note: This is a follow-up to my previous question, How do we improve chat?

Brief description

The briefest I can be is that I want a chat session. Let me add to that. Based on my previous question, our chat is inactive though many people are in the room. Therefore, I propose to have chat sessions.

Why chat sessions?

Chat can sometimes be an integral part of an SE community. 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.

However, based on the feedback I received, people just do not want to use chat, even though they may be present in the room. Therefore I propose we should have chat sessions. I have heard that in Physics.SE there used to be chat sessions that dramatically improved the activeness of the chat. In fact, some of the mods and high-rep users only came to chat during these chat sessions. I want to replicate this effect.

Main Question

My main question is:

  1. When should we have these chat sessions? Every week? every month? On Tuesday, On Friday?

  2. What topics should we discuss at our chat sessions? We cannot be chatting "Hello" to everybody who enters! We need a topic! I propose that our first topic should be "Top Biology news of 2015" (assuming we get this done by mid-January)

  3. How long should these sessions be? 1 hour? 2 hour?

If you have anything else to add about the chat specifications, please include them in your answer.

  • $\begingroup$ @downvoters, why? $\endgroup$ – TanMath Jan 7 '16 at 2:42
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    $\begingroup$ couldn't you use a new room for this - you could just go to chat, say "hi - I would like to host a group chat where we can discuss insert topic here on insert date/day here at insert time here, come and join me". Why make something so formal as a chat session? If you want to discuss a topic then do it, I've seen many impromptu discussions come up in chat, the worst that will happen is that there is no one around that wants to discuss it (but that problem will affect formal chat sessions too). $\endgroup$ – rg255 Jan 12 '16 at 11:56

I don't see the point of starting another room, as everything that's been mentioned here so far would fit in with The Biosphere. Here's the thing with chat: it is what you make of it, and the attitude of the participants is everything. I spend a lot of time in the Python chat room on Stack Overflow, and a conversation like this would be pretty much unthinkable there. Yes, random people come in and ask Python questions that may be off-topic on the main site, or too short, or whatever. However, a lot of the time the room regulars, and whoever drops in, are just ... chatting. We usually stay away from touchy subjects like politics, unless it's to make fun of somebody. We joke with and about each other a lot, as the regulars have spent so much time there that we all "know" each other (at least, our online persona, as real or constructed as that may be). The atmosphere is quite collegial, and we just generally hang out and have fun, along with helping random strangers (or each other) along the way with programming issues. There are a number of room owners, and a defined set of room rules/guidelines, so if anyone is really getting out of hand they can be pointed to the rules, and booted if necessary. Over-the-top messages do get deleted on occasion, but it's all done by ROs, not mods (although some of the ROs happen to be mods). We have and tags requesting close and delete votes, respectively, on specified questions. We talk about interesting questions, and discuss how to best answer the particularly thorny ones. We complain talk about our jobs and coworkers.

The culture in the Biosphere is much different. I don't see extended conversations that often, and if there are some, they're generally very "professional", even what I'd call uptight, at times. People don't relax in there, or banter, or make much of an effort to draw others out of their shells. Things just seem stiff, kind of like attending your partner's work cocktail party where you don't really know anyone. It's hard to explain.

I commend TanMath for trying to improve things, but it's going to take everyone coming out of their shells and really participating to make the room more interesting. One difference between here and SOPython is the amount of time people spend on the main site, which is directly related to the quantity of questions. From mid-morning to mid-afternoon US Eastern time during the first half of the week, the Python tags may get five or more questions per minute, so there's a reason to stick around for a while to see if something interesting comes along that you can answer. That means a lot of people hanging around, and chatting while they do so, and provides fodder for them to discuss. Biology gets five or so questions per day on some days (others are faster, I know), so there just isn't that much site-specific stuff to talk about. I do think we should be much more proactive about requests (hint: type [tag:cv-pls] in a post or in chat to get the cool tag formatting) to get rid of the garbage earlier. If it's obvious that something needs to be closed, don't be shy about spreading the word!

So, what is to be done, other than what I've suggested so far already? I think informal chat sessions are a great idea, just to get people in the room (here's the link, as it's kind of hard to find) and talking. Give it six or eight hours instead of two, as we're spread across the globe, and those in India/Southeast Asia likely won't be up and about at the same times as those of us in the US or Canada are. If you come in late, you can scroll up to see what you've missed, and at the very top of the page is a load older messages button to go back even farther in history. I don't think they necessarily need to have a specified topic or topics to begin with, but perhaps some suggested topics could come in handy if the smalltalk falls short. Just try to get to know your fellow biologists a little better: where they come from, what they do, what they're interested in, etc. Just normal friend-making stuff.

After a couple of these, or perhaps interspersed with them, we could do topic discussions, although they'd have to be chosen very carefully, as (for example) I have very little interest in theoretical population biology and all of those equations that Remi.b loves to pour out (no offense), but someone else couldn't care less about the tumor microenvironment and immunotherapy, my current field of work.

In conclusion (finally!), I'd like to repeat what I said at the top: chat is what you make of it. If you want more interesting discussion, get in there and put something out for discussion. Make small talk. Get to know people better. Joke (kindly). Don't worry about appearing to be a brainy nerd, but don't show off your massive knowledge just to show off. Relax, and have fun.

  • $\begingroup$ Having been to the Python chat room several times, I have had a bad experience with it and find their rules too strict. Also, if you want, I could definitely advocate the use cv-pls in the chat. Finally, I am not trying to make a separate room, but have a chat session in the Biosphere. It seems that is not clear. Also, I was thinking of having more broad topics but your idea of just...chatting! $\endgroup$ – TanMath Jan 3 '16 at 5:31
  • $\begingroup$ You said it yourself. The culture is different, and one user trying to force the issue is not going to change it. TanMath has posted this Meta question twice and there have been +4 and +3 votes. You got +21 on a question about voting meta.biology.stackexchange.com/q/2961/16651, and just because it wasn't down voted doesn't mean that it is what people want. $\endgroup$ – AMR Jan 3 '16 at 8:34
  • $\begingroup$ I have tried to say it in a nice way and give constructive suggestions on starting their own area for the few that want it, but why should the rest of the community have to deal with the sites chat space being hijacked by single user or user trying to force something that there isn't an appetite for. If there is a prevailing tendency in the community then respect it and either conform to it or leave it. Some people want a study hall and others want a lounge. The nice thing about virtual worlds is that there is plenty of room for both. Create a lounge and leave those who want the study hall. $\endgroup$ – AMR Jan 3 '16 at 8:39
  • $\begingroup$ That's a good summary of the situation, Matt. Upvoted. I liked your use of the word "stiff". The entire para starting with "The culture in the Biosphere" is spot-on. I suppose this is partly because almost everyone on this site is an academic or a researcher. I've spent time in the chat rooms of other sites, and they do vary quite a lot. The TeX SX site, despite being full of academics, is still quite friendly. So it's certainly possible. I think the more active chat rooms have a solid core of users, sometimes as few as two or three, who just show up and talk. $\endgroup$ – Faheem Mitha Jan 3 '16 at 8:51
  • $\begingroup$ And if other people see them talking, they sometimes join in. But it takes someone to get the ball rolling. $\endgroup$ – Faheem Mitha Jan 3 '16 at 8:51
  • $\begingroup$ @TanMath I'm really sorry you had a bad experience in the Python room! What specifically about the rules did you find too strict? They've been put in place over time in response to certain common situations. I think most of them are pretty reasonable; which one(s) rubbed you the wrong way? $\endgroup$ – MattDMo Jan 3 '16 at 17:45
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    $\begingroup$ @AMR I had no idea that question got so many votes. In response to your next comment though, I disagree. If we were to go by what you suggest ("If there is a prevailing tendency in the community then respect it and either conform to it or leave it."), then literally nothing would ever change, even if many people disagreed with it. This could be extended to all sorts of issues: slavery, racial/gender/sexual orientation-based discrimination, anti-war movements, opposition political movements of any kind, etc. I don't think any community should sit quietly and let the status quo exist (...) $\endgroup$ – MattDMo Jan 3 '16 at 17:53
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    $\begingroup$ (...) without examining and discussing it from time-to-time and deciding what should be done moving forward. I honestly don't think this is a choice between a lounge and a study hall, because an empty, quiet chat room isn't a chat room, it's an underutilized server wasting electricity. $\endgroup$ – MattDMo Jan 3 '16 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ @MattDMo In the Python room, you cannot ask a single question! I have asked Python questions before and everybody jumped on me. They kept on calling me a help vampire and once, I was kicked out of there! I definitely do not want our Biosphere to be like that. There are some reasonable rules, but some are just too strict. $\endgroup$ – TanMath Jan 3 '16 at 18:02
  • $\begingroup$ @MattDMo You are the only contributing, active user that sees this as a problem. And don't use hyperbolic comparison to societal change on the grounds of morals and ethics to changing a well functioning chat room; it is silly. And it isn't empty. While all the children were writing exams or away on holiday, there was still a steady, productive flow of chat on Biosphere. I guess there will be no alternative other than to permanently mute communication, which means that even if there are valid concerns being raised, they will fall on deaf ears. $\endgroup$ – AMR Jan 3 '16 at 18:34
  • $\begingroup$ @AMR incorrect, I believe even fileunderwater finds it as a problem, but not something that can be fixed by itself. However, he agrees that we should have a chat session, if I remember correctly. $\endgroup$ – TanMath Jan 3 '16 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ @TanMath I found my solution. I have used the option to ignore all of your communications on chat. It works rather well. I don't see anything you post and I can see the things that I go to the chat room to see. I tried not to do that but you left no choice. $\endgroup$ – AMR Jan 3 '16 at 18:39
  • $\begingroup$ @AMR I was being hyperbolic to make a point. I don't know how to sort this dichotomy out. I don't think anyone is saying that The Biosphere should only be a pub, with all academic discussion banned (that's certainly not what I'm saying), but I don't see that much support for a purely "research library" feel either. We need more users to be involved in the discussion. $\endgroup$ – MattDMo Jan 3 '16 at 18:40
  • $\begingroup$ @AMR Fine, go ahead. I have returned the favor. $\endgroup$ – TanMath Jan 3 '16 at 18:42
  • $\begingroup$ @MattDMo Why is a CV-Please necessary? We have review cues for that. The only people who should need to use that are users with rep less than 3000, but, there is the down vote the question option, and although it isn't too appreciated here, the ability for them to flag questions. It just seems unnecessary. We usually have more than enough activity of 3K+ users to get the poor questions closed and Chris is usually pretty good about deleting the really bad ones straight away. $\endgroup$ – AMR Jan 3 '16 at 18:48

With respect to item 2, TeX SX has an occasional session called "Answer The Unanswered". This is a session in which people sit down and go through unanswered questions in order to answer them, close them, or otherwise deal with them. This session does not seem to have a fixed duration. I asked how long it lasts for, and Joseph Wright replied "Formally two hours".

While I realise that others may have a different opinion, I think initiatives to have more activity in Chat, as long as it isn't wildly off-topic, should be encouraged. It helps build a sense of community, and that's something we could always do with more of.

Addendum: I added a "getting to know you" question to U&L Meta some time ago. Does this site have a similar question? If not, maybe someone could add one?

  • $\begingroup$ Based on your profile, I think maybe you have more experience in Tech.. Biology is an extremely broad field, and that is exhibited in the make up in the community. Unlike Tex or Ask Different or Unix/Linux, which have a narrow focus, Biology is more like Stack Overflow in that regards. A C++ programmer may have no interest in a discussion about Python and a Ruby programmer may not have a clue about C++, so you are not going to get them to chat, because likely it is a waste of time. If Kendall and I chat Immunology, then someone here for entomology won't have an interest in that chat. $\endgroup$ – AMR Jan 2 '16 at 21:50
  • $\begingroup$ @AMR Actually, all areas have their own subspecialities. Even in U&L people may be interested in different sub-areas. And certainly U&L, for example, is quite a broad area. However, in biology, like other broad areas, there is still a common culture and language. So people should be able to talk to each other. $\endgroup$ – Faheem Mitha Jan 3 '16 at 8:12
  • $\begingroup$ A molecular biologist is going to be different that an anatomist, who will be different from an ecologist, in training and focus. There is an enormous difference between everyone having covered something in Biology 101 and having a specialty in a field, and Biology is probably the most diverse of the sciences that gets lumped under a single umbrella. If I ask a physical chemist to explain nucleophilic substitution, they'll do a decent job. If I ask an ecologist to explain somatic hypermutation and class switching in B-Cells, they wouldn't know where to start, nor should they. $\endgroup$ – AMR Jan 3 '16 at 8:26
  • $\begingroup$ @AMR I don't know that much about Biology, so I can't say anything sensible about "Biology is probably the most diverse of the sciences that gets lumped under a single umbrella". Regardless, I've seen people have sensible conversations in the chat room. I've had some myself. Again, this is about fostering a sense of community. And there may be differences, but there are also commonalities. And maybe there are people here who are open to talking more in chat, I don't know. But I don't see much objection to it either. $\endgroup$ – Faheem Mitha Jan 3 '16 at 8:39
  • $\begingroup$ @AMR You are saying that Biology is too diverse and that an ecologist won't know anything about molecular biology and vice versa. That assumption is false. Depending how deep the topic is, an ecologist would certainly know something about molecular biology and vice versa because they studied an overview of biology at the beginning of their academic journey, right? It isn't like ecologists don't know what transcription is. They will certainly know something about such topics; they learnt it as an undergraduate! Therefore, there is at least something that we can all talk about to a certain depth $\endgroup$ – TanMath Jan 3 '16 at 18:06

While the suggestion is not to start a chat room that already covers the topic, it appears from your repeated lobbying that The Biosphere does not fulfill your requirements.

As such, I do not see the reason for you not to start your own chat room. You have more than enough reputation. Call it something like TanMath Talks Bio. Then anyone who feels they want to participate can join you. Those who do not won't.

This leaves The Biosphere alone for things that are less formal than a meta post or people who only occasionally want to check something with one of the other users, as there is not DM feature.

Others may disagree, but I do not see a problem with you starting a room for the purpose you propose above.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Well, given that the main chat room is not very active, I think TanMath's initiative is quite reasonable. If the main chat room was active, and some people wanted to talk about other things, then it would make sense to create another room to discuss those things. But that is not the case here, as far as I can see. And just creating another room would not change anything - there would then just be two rooms which were not very active. Bottom line - TanMath just wants people on this site to talk to each other more. Again, this seems quite reasonable to me. $\endgroup$ – Faheem Mitha Jan 2 '16 at 21:12
  • $\begingroup$ @FaheemMitha Except for the fact that for those not interested in what is planned but want to keep up with what is going on on the main room then have to wade through pages of information that for them is useless. Christian replied to me, but because of all of the ver recent messages, I could see exactly which comment he was referring to. $\endgroup$ – AMR Jan 2 '16 at 21:16
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    $\begingroup$ That's what the reply function is for. $\endgroup$ – Faheem Mitha Jan 2 '16 at 21:17
  • $\begingroup$ @FaheemMitha And if TanMath wants to lead the initiative, then they should start their own room and drive it there. This has been discussed several times. There are a handful of users interested and the rest don't want to be a part of it. Let those interested start their own club. $\endgroup$ – AMR Jan 2 '16 at 21:18
  • $\begingroup$ @FaheemMitha Right, but I then could not see the message that he replied to highlighted. $\endgroup$ – AMR Jan 2 '16 at 21:19
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think TanMath wants to form a club. He just wants people to talk to each other more. @TanMath, if I'm speaking incorrectly, feel free to correct me. $\endgroup$ – Faheem Mitha Jan 2 '16 at 21:31
  • $\begingroup$ @FaheemMitha is correct in every way. Why should I make my own room? The purpose is to increase the activity of the main chatroom, not make my own room and chat there! $\endgroup$ – TanMath Jan 3 '16 at 5:34

Here is my personal opinion:

  1. What topics should we discuss at our chat sessions? We cannot be chatting "Hello" to everybody who enters! We need a topic! I propose that our first topic should be "Top Biology news of 2015" (assuming we get this done by mid-January)

It looks to me as if you are searching for topics to discuss, as was evident in your previous attempts to promote chat use. If there is nothing to talk about, then why would we wish to force this to happen? If there is stuff you wish to share, then why not simply use the existing Biosphere as it is?

  1. How long should these sessions be? 1 hour? 2 hour?

Two hours is a long time. Personally, I wouldn't be able to spend so much time in chat.

From my pov a reactive approach is best, i.e., generate chat opportunities only when they are needed. You seem to be chasing the opposite, i.e., start a chat opportunity and seek reasons for it.

  • $\begingroup$ "why not simply use the existing Biosphere?" it will be in the Biosphere! $\endgroup$ – TanMath Jan 6 '16 at 21:38
  • $\begingroup$ edited, hope it's clearer now $\endgroup$ – AliceD Mod Jan 6 '16 at 21:41

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