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Edit: The Sand Trap is now frozen unfrozen. Come and discuss the results of the experiment.

To quote myself:

normal TNB chat rules still apply, obviously, but for general programming things, general life things, general funny things or things you want to share with people [in the nineteenth byte], do it

(source)


In 2022, in relation to concerns about noise in The Nineteenth Byte, there was a proposal to create a dedicated off-topic chatroom to act as an overflow for off-topic conversations. The idea behind it was that "noisy" conversations could be moved to it at any time if needed. In theory, regular conversation would occur in TNB, and if people wanted to discuss something serious, or felt that serious messages had been drowned out by chatter, messages (and consequently the flow of conversation) would be moved to The Sand Trap (originally called Off Topic TNB).

However, after almost 2 years of operation, there's a new problem: The Sand Trap has actively led to a decline in TNB activity. This has always been a concern right from when the overflow room was first proposed ([1], [2], [3], [4]). In fact, The Sand Trap was created despite the answer in favour of the room was at a net-0 score (+7/-7 at time of writing).

How has the creation of The Sand Trap led to a decrease in TNB activity? Well, there's a few reasons:

  1. Having a dedicated on-topic and a dedicated off-topic room leads to a level of fragmentation of discussions; when posting a new message, should it go into the on-topic room? Or should it go into the off-topic room?
  2. Because conversations can be moved at any time, you might as well start conversations in the off-topic room, saving everyone a bit of time. Thus the group of people who would often start conversations is reduced to those posting only serious messages.
  3. The crackdown on noise was too harsh. People (including myself) were jumping at the bit to have things moved out of the room, and to make sure that people didn't start long "noisy" conversations. To quote caird coinheringaahin g [sic]:

Unfortunately, it seemed like people had an attitude of "everything strictly on topic or everything is noise" back in 2022, and it just ended up hurting [The Nineteenth Byte]

(source)

All of these factors have led to The Sand Trap completely discouraging people from engaging in non-code golf related conversations:

This used to be a fun chat room. I think the whole cut down on noise thing was done a bit too seriously and drove away some of the culture that made this room somewhere I'd spend way too many hours in

(Quote from me in TNB, 17 stars)

That's something that drew me to the room. I wasn't here in its heyday, but I enjoyed the tail end of the fun.

(Quote from forest)

I joined right at the start of the crackdown and I felt pretty pushed to keep this room 100% serious all the time

(Quote from Ginger)

i agree with what you say about it not being fun here anymore... i think it mostly got worse in just the last two or three months

(Quote from jacob)

And with this discouragement comes a lack of interest in checking the room, leading to fewer people chatting. This is ironic actually because even "legitamate" messages like Chat Mini Challenges, requests for sandbox feedback, and golfing suggestions have become rare.


Edit: I was doing some meta diving on the topic of chat and found another reason why The Sand Trap has stolen activity. In response to an answer to a 2016 TNB noise complaint, user Rainbolt commented:

Let's assume that we made a separate room for general discussion, and transformed The Nineteenth Byte into the "code golf discussion only" room. Assume that the policy is enforced somehow. Because "general discussion" is a superset of "code golf discussion", eventually everyone will move to the less restrictive chat room, and we'll have the same "problem" all over again. The Nineteenth Byte will become that "special new room" that died.

(Source)

History has shown that making a dedicated chatroom just for golfing didn't work.

In creating The Sand Trap, TNB has become the de-facto dedicated chatroom just for golfing. While there's still some off-topic conversation in TNB, its scope has essentially decreased from being general conversation to being site-related only. TST took the regular conversations away from TNB, and the activity and user-retention of those regular conversations with it.

On a side note, I think that if this experiment shows signs of success (for example, it's seen that TNB can handle being a room for everything once more), the scope of TNB should be reconsidered (again, again). I know it's been done to death, but previous conversations have been from a perspective of too much activity, rather than reviving chat. To be investigated, as the point of TNB isn't the question here :p.


So what's the solution?

EmanresuA proposed an experiment that I would like to make the goal of this meta post:

It could be worth experimenting with freezing tst for a week (and pointing discussion here), and seeing how that affects activity here and whether we want to keep it that way.

(Source)

The Experiment (and the point of this Meta Post)

For 3 weeks (longer than the one week originally suggested, I'll expand on why in a bit), The Sand Trap (TST) would be frozen. That means that no new messages could be posted to TST, and messages wouldn't be able to be moved there by ROs (mods can move to frozen rooms though).

That's it. Just to see what it'd be like to only have TNB as a room again.

The reason for 3 weeks instead of 1 week would be to ensure that the experiment has a chance to have an impact. 1 week might not be long enough for people to realise that there's an experiment happening and consequently change their behaviour. Plus, having it active for 3 weeks means people have more of a chance to come back from any extended breaks.

After the 3 weeks, TST would be unfrozen and further actions would be discussed here on meta (that is, whether TST should remain permanently frozen).

What would happen to noisy conversations during the 3 weeks?

Encourage people having off-topic conversations to make their own rooms. Simple. If a conversation gets problematic or is called out as disruptive, a new chat room would be created for that one conversation, and the messages in question would be moved.

This would require people to not be too quick to want to move messages. The point of the experiment would be to see what would happen if TNB was allowed to relax its current stance on noise.

Final Remarks

I think caird summarised what I'm trying to get across:

I think [The Sand Trap has] directly contributed to a decline in activity here, and personally, I'd prefer TNB to be more active and require a bit more moderation than it to die to inactivity

(source).

This experiment would help to see if relaxing the standards a bit would bring more people back to TNB. Sure, it might require more activity from Room Owners, but that's okay. We have 7 of them, and 4 site mods, and more can always be added if needed.


So having said all that, let's make chat great again!

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  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ A footnote kind of thing that didn't really fit into the post: I'm not advocating for "lawlessness" like what apparently was TNB in 2016-2019 - even I believe that excessively long caret chains, "wow so random xD" type messages (like you might find in a 2012 forum cringe compilation - you know what I'm talking about if you've ever used Scratch), and drowned-out CGCC pertinent messages are a bad thing. Rather, I believe that TNB has gotten too serious for its own good, and that TST has taken away a lot of the activity TNB used to have. (1/3) \$\endgroup\$
    – lyxal
    Commented Mar 17 at 12:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ So then what kind of level of noise would I envision for TNB going forward? Something similar to the code golf discord server. The #the-nineteenth-byte channel there doesn't have a noise problem - people are free to talk about whatever topic they want, whether it be anything technology related, something goofy that happened in their lives, or even just a funny meme they saw on reddit. That's the kind of thing I want to see TNB on SE accomplish. Now sure, there's a #code-golf channel, which does help with the problem of drowning out /srs messages (2/3) \$\endgroup\$
    – lyxal
    Commented Mar 17 at 12:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ But I believe that with tools like chatbots that can pin or temporarily star messages designated as "serious" messages, the problem of messages going unnoticed can be overcome. Such solutions would need to be discussed here on meta first, obviously, but my point is that there's more options than just "have another chatroom". (3/3) \$\endgroup\$
    – lyxal
    Commented Mar 17 at 12:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ I support this. I initially strongly supported and kind of spearheaded the plan to create an off-topic room, but even I came to this same conclusion not long after it actually happened. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 19 at 15:24

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Sounds like a plan to me.

While I don't really look at chat much anymore, TNB was the place to go when I did want to. If there are now two rooms (which I wasn't aware of) it would certainly discourage me from participating at all. I like the idea of the experiment.

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