Around March of last year, chat users started becoming really annoyed by the level of noise in chat and became motivated enough to speak out about it, which lead to The state of chat being posted. Several months later, We need to talk about chat was posted to address the worst of the noise and the most disruptive users. Most recently, Should we have even more room owners for The Nineteenth Byte? was posted regarding adding more room owners to manage the noise levels at a time when most of the mods and room owners are absent.
Everyone seems to agree that the noise level has lessened, but with the removal of the worst of the noise, the less-bad noise has become more apparent, and it's still aggravating to many.
Why is noise even a problem?
A few regular chat users have gone on record to say that they stopped participating in chat because of the noise. For instance, Peter Taylor and Morgan Thrapp. Both of these chat users once contributed valuable and interesting content to our chat, but they don't anymore because the level of noise became too much.
Relatedly, some time ago, I posted this message as a knee-jerk reaction to a pattern of escalating noise (meaningless faces). I never expected it to get more than a few stars, but it got fourteen stars by the time of this writing. That tells me that there are a lot of chat users who are aggravated by such noise but they don't say anything. Who knows how many users silently left, barely participate, or never participate at all because of the noise they see when they enter?
What do we do about it?
I see two intertwined questions here:
- What is noise?
- What is the purpose of The Nineteenth Byte?
I believe that resolving these questions will go a long way towards making most users happy, managing the level of noise, and perhaps even attracting valuable contributors to chat.
What is noise?
An observation that is at once fairly obvious and yet has not been spoken is that people disagree on what constitutes noise. Which of these count as "noise", and why?
- Caret chains
- ASCII faces for the fun of it or in response to other ASCII faces
- ASCII faces in response to messages
- Announcements of arrival ("hi", "I'm back") and departure ("bye", "gtg")
- Poor pun chains
- Better pun chains (reads more like a conversation)
- Chat mini challenges (CMC)
- Stand-alone jokes or memes
- Jokes or memes in response to someone else
- Funny images or gifs
- Self-promotion of posts or projects
- Promotion of other users' posts or projects
- Deliberately poor English or meme-y spellings or phrases (e.g., "wat iz")
- Messages with nothing more than a single question mark
- Chatter about who lives where or time-zone related chatter
I've deliberately included a variety of common patterns that span some of the spectrum from noise to signal. Some people will see these as a natural way to converse in this kind of environment (a la xkcd 1709, especially the alt-text). Others will see these as detracting from interesting conversations that benefit many or everyone, or make it harder for them to find conversations that are interesting to them.
We do have a set of guidelines in the Chatiquette, but their efficacy is uncertain.
What is the purpose of The Nineteenth Byte?
Right now, TNB is serving two distinct functions at once: it is the main gathering place for people who frequent PPCG and it is the main chat room for discussing issues related to PPCG. I believe this is a significant motivator for the opinions expressed by multiple people in answers to The state of chat.
In my opinion, casual conversation will inevitably contain some amount of noise. That's just human nature in social situations. Thus, I believe the conflict mainly arises from the fact that it's hard to distinguish casual conversation from serious discussion. That's the main thrust of Peter Taylor's comment:
The big problem I see with [pausing idle chatter for serious discussion] is that idle chatter reduces the usefulness of a room for serious discussion, because even if the meme-posting pauses for the duration, a) reviewing the transcript for serious discussion to which I want to add my views becomes a search for a needle in a haystack; b) as someone who only wants to participate in serious discussion, real-time participation requires sitting in the chat-room and glancing over when I see activity, but that becomes a waste of time when most of the activity is pointless crap.
Hence, I see three main options:
- TNB should be for both casual conversation and serious discussion
- TNB should be for casual conversation and a new chat room should be created for serious discussion
- TNB should be for serious discussion and a new chat room should be created for casual conversation
I'd like to note here that "serious discussion" encompasses all kinds of discussion relating to Programming Puzzles and Code Golf. That is, discussions about golfing, about feedback on Sandbox entries, about challenges and submissions on the main site, about how to use golfing languages, and about issues such as these. That sort of thing. This avoids the issue pointed out by xnor that the chat room specifically about code golfing frequently dies due to lack of activity. A chat room for serious discussion about PPCG would have plenty of activity to keep it alive.
I'd also like to clarify a chat room for casual conversation is not a room for noise. It is a place for members of the community of PPCG to talk about whatever interests them with like-minded people. Topics are free to wander and touch on linguistics, cyber security, cooking, that sort of stuff.
Of course, there very well might be additional options. Please feel free to bring them up in your answer (or comment) if you think they're at least as good as the three choices above.
This is a complex and important issue. Please take the time to consider what course(s) of action will most benefit the community as a whole and its individual constituents.