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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.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Some things I do not consider noise: CMC's, better pun chains, jokes in response, announcements of departure (when crucial--e.g., when signalling a user they may be unavailable for further interaction, at least temporarily); the topic of promotion is more nebulous IMO and I might post an answer concerning promotion. I think that ASCII faces in moderation are okay, if it is clear why they are there. (E.g., you just got dissed, and you reply with "ಠ_ಠ") \$\endgroup\$ – Conor O'Brien Jan 5 '17 at 4:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Some things I do consider noise: Strings of carets, carets in general when not in moderation, random ASCII faces, stand-alone puns/jokes (while I'm okay with them, I still think them to be noise), most GIFs, single-character messages, and poor english for the sake of writing poor english. \$\endgroup\$ – Conor O'Brien Jan 5 '17 at 4:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, relevant to self-promotion \$\endgroup\$ – Conor O'Brien Jan 5 '17 at 4:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think something you (and answers) should make clear is the difference between off-topic messages, and off-topic conversations. If we do split TNB, do we still allow the one or two off-topic messages, or do we completely disallow them? The former has a grey line that's hard to enforce, the latter is quite strict. \$\endgroup\$ – Nathan Merrill Jan 5 '17 at 4:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Come on, the timezone thing was only on New Year's Eve, and it was completely relevant then. \$\endgroup\$ – Pavel Jan 5 '17 at 4:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ I mght be oblivious to some noise, particularly since I may of caused some myself (which I'm very sorry for), but I don't thik there's any particularially new things that are now noise that haven't been covered before, it's still the meme faces, intentional misspellings, and jokes to the point they're annoying. I wouldn't however call enforcement lax but much rather becoming a less significant thing. Suspensions are now jokes brought on my so called "evil no-fun mods" which is what suspended people say. That's where I think the problem really lies, in the consequences rather than the rules. \$\endgroup\$ – Downgoat Jan 5 '17 at 4:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Downgoat I don't necessarily agree that the punishments should be the focus - I trust the mods and ROs to use their discretion to issue effective and appropriate punishments. What we as a community need to do is finally decide what is and isn't acceptable room behavior, so that the mods and ROs can point to a post and say "that's why you're being punished." The "evil no-fun mods" feeling will be lessened if it's clear there's community consensus behind the action (and those who don't accept that probably can't be helped). \$\endgroup\$ – Mego Jan 5 '17 at 7:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mego when I say consequences I'm not referring specifically to the consequences but the mindset. The mindset is what's wrong. If there is an almost disdainful attitude (too harsh?) for chat rules and mods. Kicking or banning won't really change anything. Many of the users we point fingers too are well aware chatettiquite exists, but either do not realize their disruptive behavior or do not care. \$\endgroup\$ – Downgoat Jan 5 '17 at 7:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Downgoat But we can't change a user's mindset - they have to choose to change it themselves. The best we can do is have a definitive policy on acceptable behavior. \$\endgroup\$ – Mego Jan 5 '17 at 7:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ While I don't agree with the entire list of what's noise or not (though I mostly agree), I would also add the worst kind of noise to me: people saying "chat is dead", "is anyone on?", etc. which add absolutely nothing and usually come from people who contribute the most to the overall noise: they are the people that can't stand chat being silent for a few hours, which should actually be normal. \$\endgroup\$ – Fatalize Jan 5 '17 at 7:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Pavel Timezones are discussed all the time due to chat users living all around the world. \$\endgroup\$ – El'endia Starman Jan 5 '17 at 9:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Some of those bullet-points are not considered noise by me. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik the Outgolfer Jan 5 '17 at 10:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mbomb007 Better pun chains, CMCs, Stand-alone jokes/memes, Jokes/memes in response if appropriate, Funny images/gifs, Deliberately poor English (still understandable though), Time-zone chatter. Of course, to allow them, there must not be a serious PPCG-related conversation. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik the Outgolfer Jan 5 '17 at 15:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @EriktheOutgolfer This is a professional site. So we can't just put whatever we want, and this isn't reddit. The point of this question is because all or most chat on TNB is supposed to be "a serious PPCG-related conversation". \$\endgroup\$ – mbomb007 Jan 5 '17 at 15:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Downgoat The maximum duration for chat suspensions is 9999 hours, so simply ignoring suspensions by "evil no-fun mods" is only a short-term problem. We're very reluctant to suspend people for extended periods of time, but we will if nothing else works. \$\endgroup\$ – Dennis Jan 5 '17 at 15:59
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The Chatiquette on noise is ineffective

The problem with the Chatiquette document is that the noisy chatters to which it's addressed won't get the message. It should be addressed to the individual chatter, giving specific guidelines for what they should and should not do. Instead, the "Signal:noise" section lists vague unactionable statements of what we wish were true.

  • Avoid posting messages that add nothing to the conversation (^, ಠ_ಠ,
    rofl, etc.).

Thing is, a noisy user does think their spammy replies are adding to the conversation. Nobody thinks of themselves as the problem. This is like giving someone the advice, "Instead of doing X badly, how about you do it well?" (The specific examples are useful though, as are those in the "Courtesy" section.)

  • PPCG-related (on-topic) discussion always overrides idle chatter.

False? This isn't a guideline, it's a statement. And, it's one that's disproven constantly. Is the intent, "If you're having an off-topic conversation and someone posts an on-topic message, you immediately stop talking in that conversation"? If so, it should say this.

  • Consider creating a separate chatroom if a topic appears to be dominating or preventing effective discussion of other, more relevant topics.

"OK, I've considered it. Check."

This is like telling drivers in a traffic jam to stop holding up traffic. No individual car is the cause. It's a group dynamic, a bulk effect. "The single raindrop never feels responsible for the flood." The off-topic discussion in TNB constantly stifles more relevant topics, but no one user feels a given conversation is the problem.

Someone won't come it to tell the noisy chatter, "Hey, I was going to start a quality on-topic discussion, but I saw you're posting noise now, so I've decided against it." Even if the noisy chatter has exceptional presence of mind to see the overall effect of their chats, they won't think to move to a separate chat room in any one instance.


The Chatiquette guidelines on noise are unhelpful even if a user reads them and takes them to heart. And those are big if's. They are easy to miss and easy to ignore. They don't list any consequences to not following them. The problem is not the wording, but the whole philosophy of what they are there to do.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So, the TL;DR is that it's ineffective to try to help keep chat on topic, so let's stop trying? \$\endgroup\$ – Nathan Merrill Jan 6 '17 at 9:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NathanMerrill Not at all. Please reread the first paragraph. \$\endgroup\$ – xnor Jan 6 '17 at 10:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ You say "it should give specific guidelines", so you are suggesting that the chattiquette has a list of messages that are not allowed? \$\endgroup\$ – Nathan Merrill Jan 6 '17 at 10:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NathanMerrill No, exhaustively listing messages would be futile, but I think examples would be helpful. Or, an attempt at an explanation of what makes a message likely not to contribute, such as having no context, or being a topic that only the writer could possibly have anything to say about. But I'd leave the revision to those who know PPCG chat better that I do. I'm mostly just pointing out what seems to not be working about chatiquette as it's worded now -- coming up with something better is above my pay grade :) \$\endgroup\$ – xnor Jan 6 '17 at 10:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, one problem that I see sometimes is that users simply ignore on-topic content. I've been on that chat a few times, and was completelly ignored to oblivion most of them, with (I believe) on-topic content. The few times, one was to complain about the penguim and others were to talk about an abandoned project, where I tried to improve the leaderboard. The project is abandoned by me due to complete lack of interest by most people on the chat. \$\endgroup\$ – Ismael Miguel Jan 8 '17 at 13:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @IsmaelMiguel These are good points, and I'm going to write up an answer expanding on issues like this. \$\endgroup\$ – xnor Jan 9 '17 at 2:32
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The Nineteenth Byte can be a place for both serious and casual conversations. I imagine it as a sort of virtual "water cooler" environment. Some people gather to chat about the site. Some people gather to have more casual conversations. That's perfectly fine.

What's not fine is when people disrupt other conversations. To continue the water cooler analogy, the people making noise in TNB correspond to people standing around the water cooler, saying and doing things that distract other people from conversations ("Mondays, right?", "TGIF!", or blaring audio from their phones).

Like Dennis said before, TNB cannot be what everybody wants it to be. However, we can set some rules so that it can be a positive environment, and most people will be satisfied:

  • Don't disrupt active conversations.
  • Important discussions about the site (e.g. moderator elections, scope discussions, discussion of the issues brought up in this post) take priority over other idle chatter. Don't expect a response if you try to start another conversation while there's an important discussion going on - instead, wait until a more appropriate time (you wouldn't interrupt people at the water cooler who are talking about a work project to chat about a sports team).
  • If you don't have anything to contribute, don't. Silence is golden.
    • "hi", "bye", and other "disposable" messages don't count as contributing. By disposable, I mean they wouldn't be missed if they were gone.
  • Don't engage in vitriolic conversations, and don't bait others into engaging. Sure, you may think that <insert name here> is absolutely incapable of doing anything right, but that kind of anger-fueled conversation isn't productive. Take it elsewhere, or keep it to yourself. Remember, we're all here to have a good time.

If you can't follow these basic rules of etiquette, you aren't welcome in chat, and you will be dealt with according to the discretion of the moderators and room owners. That may sound harsh, but really, we're not asking much - just that you respect your fellow chatters, and apply the same social guidelines you follow in real life to chat.

As for having multiple rooms:

Splitting golfing chat into its own room has been tried before, and it didn't work (the room is rarely active, and on several occasions the only messages posted are noise to keep the room from being automatically frozen due to inactivity for the rare occasion that actual conversations happen there). There's no reason to expect trying to split serious and casual conversations into two separate rooms would go any differently.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ When you say "If you can't follow these basic rules of etiquette, you aren't welcome in chat", what are you suggesting be done with chatters who break these rules? \$\endgroup\$ – xnor Jan 5 '17 at 6:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @xnor The usual - warnings, kicks, suspensions. \$\endgroup\$ – Mego Jan 5 '17 at 6:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Those are happening already, so it seems to me this is just suggesting things continue as they are. \$\endgroup\$ – xnor Jan 5 '17 at 6:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @xnor The focus isn't on the punishments - it's on defining what constitutes acceptable behavior in TNB. \$\endgroup\$ – Mego Jan 5 '17 at 6:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ It might fit in your last bullet point but messages which are primarily complaining, e.g. "ugh, I hate c", "the world and ppcg hates me", might also deserve there own bullet point since they tend to be disruptive calls for attention \$\endgroup\$ – Downgoat Jan 5 '17 at 7:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Downgoat I consider that "having nothing to contribute" \$\endgroup\$ – Mego Jan 5 '17 at 7:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure how relevant it is that the golfing chat room is frequently inactive since that has a narrower focus than "general discussion about PPCG". A room for that broad topic should have no problems staying alive. \$\endgroup\$ – El'endia Starman Jan 5 '17 at 9:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @El'endiaStarman My point was, trying to split off TNB into multiple rooms (like a casual room and a serious room) won't work. It's been tried before (with CGC for serious golfing chat), and it failed. \$\endgroup\$ – Mego Jan 5 '17 at 9:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mego: It's arguable that CGC "failed" because it has such a narrow topic. We have many similarly narrow rooms with similar patterns of activity. \$\endgroup\$ – El'endia Starman Jan 5 '17 at 10:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ While whether the Code Golfer's Corner failed is a matter of judgment, this characterization is absolutely untrue: (most of the messages in that room are noise, to keep the room from being automatically frozen due to inactivity for the rare occasion that actual conversations happen there). Read through the messages in the room \$\endgroup\$ – xnor Jan 6 '17 at 0:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @xnor There are days where the sole message in the room is a single dot. \$\endgroup\$ – Mego Jan 6 '17 at 1:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mego Right, but that's totally different from what you're saying, that "most of the messages in that room are noise" to keep the room open. I'd estimate <1% of message are for that. Saying the room is mostly noise is far worse than saying it has long silent periods. \$\endgroup\$ – xnor Jan 6 '17 at 7:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @xnor You're right - I overexaggerated. I've edited the statement. \$\endgroup\$ – Mego Jan 6 '17 at 9:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mego Thanks got rewording that! \$\endgroup\$ – xnor Jan 6 '17 at 10:09
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We need a place to discuss site-related matters

Chat is a useful tool to talk about issues relevant to the site that work better as a back-and-forth real-time conversation that the Q&A format of main and meta.

  • Asking for more feedback on a Sandbox post
  • Floating opinions about site policy
  • Brainstorming a new type of challenge
  • Discussing potential improvements to a golf

I think have a place to talk about site matters is important for PPCG to thrive.

The Nineteenth Byte as is does not meet these needs.

Multiple times I brought up some site-related matter in chat, it was completely ignored. Nobody responded, and with some other high-volume off-topic discussion going on, it quickly got scrolled within minutes. As a single line among eye-catching pictures and formatting, it was quickly missed and forgotten.

Now, I don't expect every message to necessarily warrant a response. Yet, I think some people would have responded had they simply seen it. But, finding site-relevant messages can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack to someone looking through the transcript.

I'm talking here about messages addressed to the general community or anyone interested, one where there's no ping to notify you. Or, conversations that where people join and leave that can't just followed via a back-and-forth chain of replies.

I don't think my experience is singular. Ismael Miguel puts it well:

Also, one problem that I see sometimes is that users simply ignore on-topic content. I've been on that chat a few times, and was completelly ignored to oblivion most of them, with (I believe) on-topic content. The few times, one was to complain about the penguim and others were to talk about an abandoned project, where I tried to improve the leaderboard. The project is abandoned by me due to complete lack of interest by most people on the chat.

I wonder how often this happens, because the very nature of the problem is that you don't see it. Add to that the users who simply choose not to speak up because they've already given up chat as a way to have on-topic conversations.

I've been given the advice to wait for a lull in the conversation to post, but found that unsatisfactory. Sometimes, the lull never seems to come. I wait and wait and messages just keep going. I don't want to keep having to re-opening the tab to look for a time to get a word it. And one time I did wait for a high-volume conversation to end, a new fast-moving conversation started right after, and my messages was still ignored.

The problem is that noisy, high-volume conversation drowns out everything else. On-topic discussions tend to be longer and more deliberative. They have trouble sustaining themselves in a fast-moving distracting environment. But, low-effort noisy messages thrive in the environment they create.

So what do we do?

So, we need some form of chat discuss site-related matters, and TNB currently isn't cutting in. Some options that come to mind are:

  • Aggressively curb noise and message volume
  • Strictly enforce that off-topic conversation must give way to on-topic ones
  • Limit TNB to on-topic conversations
  • Make a new room that only allows on-topic conversations
  • Find another way to for those looking for on-topic discussion in TNB to find it
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  • \$\begingroup\$ What about allowing on-topic conversation in TNB but also have another room that is strictly for on-topic conversation? \$\endgroup\$ – El'endia Starman Jan 9 '17 at 3:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @El'endiaStarman I intended option 4 to cover that, let me word it better. \$\endgroup\$ – xnor Jan 9 '17 at 3:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ There's also the possibility that people just aren't interested in having the discussion at that point in time. If the topic was posted on meta rather than in chat, it might have been similarly ignored. This is a bit of the XY problem. No matter how important you may feel a topic is, you cannot force people to talk about it. \$\endgroup\$ – Mego Jan 9 '17 at 4:38
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My definition of noise

These are solely my opinion. Whether or not the community accepts these or not is it's choice.

  • Caret chains
    • Yes. This adds absolutely nothing to chat.
  • ASCII faces for the fun of it or in response to other ASCII faces
    • Yes. If you want a place to discuss ASCII faces, create a new room.
  • ASCII faces in response to messages
    • No. ASCII faces are a robust form of legitimate communication.1
  • Announcements of arrival ("hi", "I'm back") and departure ("bye", "gtg")
    • Maybe. gtg is legitimate if the speaker is having an active conversation with someone else and must leave. Likewise for I'm back. Unprompted announcements of arrival and departure are noise.
  • Poor pun chains
    • Yes, but go light when removing them. Ask the chatroom before moving or deleting messages. A "poor pun" is subjective.
  • Better pun chains (reads more like a conversation)
    • Maybe. I'm undecided on this one.
  • Chat mini challenges (CMC)
    • No. This adds to conversation and is one of the most fun parts about TNB.
  • Stand-alone jokes or memes
    • Maybe. I'm undecided on this one.
  • Jokes or memes in response to someone else
    • No, to a certain extent. This is allowed in real life, and jokes are conversation. However, too many jokes interrupt conversation and flow of thought.
  • Funny images or gifs
    • Maybe. I'm undecided on this one.
  • Self-promotion of posts or projects
    • No, to a certain extent. Infrequent self-promotion is OK - everybody wants to share their own stuff. It can be fun to see other's stuff too.
  • Promotion of other users' posts or projects
    • No, to a certain extent. Promotion should be limited and the rules of the above bullet point apply.
  • Deliberately poor English or meme-y spellings or phrases (e.g., "wat iz")
    • Maybe. Using this as a form of communication is OK, but posting this out of nowhere is unacceptable. Extended poor English is also not acceptable.
  • Messages with nothing more than a single question mark
    • No. This is a short version of huh?
  • Chatter about who lives where or time-zone related chatter
    • Maybe. Do we want this in TNB?

1 What differs ASCII faces from other forms of communication? An ASCII face can say more than a paragraph because of it's concise qualities.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree mostly with this answer but at "Jokes or memes in response to someone else", I'd say this is "to an extent," I mean I don't find it that annoying when someone gives me a joke response to one of my questions but if it starts to disrupt a serious discussion or is done way to frequently (like in response to every message), then I'd say no. Also it depends on the joke or meme. Posting a giant "wat" gif in response to someone's legitimate question is definitely noise \$\endgroup\$ – Downgoat Jan 22 '17 at 16:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Downgoat agreed \$\endgroup\$ – noɥʇʎԀʎzɐɹƆ Jan 22 '17 at 16:46
-1
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Chatter about who lives where or time-zone related chatter

Vote on this answer to determine what the consensus is.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It's contextual. I saw some messages on these lines today in the context of an active meta topic about nominating new chat room owners: in that context it is relevant to the site and hence on topic. But it's certainly true that who lives where is not inherently on topic. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Taylor Jan 22 '17 at 0:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Meta is not for polls. \$\endgroup\$ – Mego Jan 22 '17 at 0:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mego Meta is perfectly OK for site-related polls? We have them all the time. \$\endgroup\$ – Downgoat Jan 22 '17 at 16:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ What does upvote on this one mean? That time zone chatter is good or bad? \$\endgroup\$ – Adám May 23 '17 at 7:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Adám upvote = allow, downvote = not allow \$\endgroup\$ – noɥʇʎԀʎzɐɹƆ May 24 '17 at 1:33

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