I was recently alerted to our increasing noise-to-signal ratio we have in chat, something I can definitely see looking back.

While discussing it in chat, people mentioned that they still enjoy the occasional off-topic chat, and even some of the ಠ_ಠ faces and other "pointless" chats. That said, I can definitely say that there are users that feel like there is too much of it.

Therefore, do you feel like there is too much off-topic chatter in our chat? If so, how do we go about changing it?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Context. \$\endgroup\$ – Doorknob Mar 23 '16 at 2:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ I do not feel that this is much of a problem, and any solution is likely to be worse than the issue it's trying to solve. \$\endgroup\$ – Geobits Mar 23 '16 at 2:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @IGoBest seems like a valid answer. Post it and see if the community agrees :) \$\endgroup\$ – Nathan Merrill Mar 23 '16 at 2:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't like posting one-line answers. I may after giving it some more thought, but this is just my initial impression from the recent chat conversation. \$\endgroup\$ – Geobits Mar 23 '16 at 2:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @IGoBest While I'm not sure there's much we can do about it, I think it is a problem if it drives people like Peter away (and who knows how many people have decided never to join in after lurking for a bit). \$\endgroup\$ – Martin Ender Mar 23 '16 at 9:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ ಠ_ಠ is still going?! Bloody hell :D \$\endgroup\$ – Beta Decay Mar 28 '16 at 8:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Doorknob has drafted the Chattiquette, a set of proposed guidelines which-quoting Doorknob-"we think overall uphold the general purpose of SE chat." \$\endgroup\$ – user48538 Jun 14 '16 at 4:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Here is the announcement chat post. \$\endgroup\$ – user48538 Jun 14 '16 at 4:23

One chat room cannot be what everybody expects from it

The Nineteenth Byte's purpose is labeled as general discussion; the jestful addendum appears to indicate that pretty much everything goes.

A good thing about this is that The Nineteenth Byte is usually crowded. If you need input on something, you can almost be sure that you'll find somebody you can talk to. It also means that there is a place where we can get to know each other better, which I think is useful for community building. None of this would be the case with a strict policy about what is on topic and what not.1

Moreover, I feel The Nineteenth Byte should also be the go-to place for serious discussions about PPCG.2 Idle chatter is not a problem, as long as it occurs during idle times. When a serious, important discussion is taking place, chatter should cease until that discussion is over.

Is it possible to have a calm, extended, one-to-one conversation with somebody about, say, golfing a particular answer? Probably not. I also don't think that falls under general discussion.

Ideally, we'd have topic rooms for these things. That has worked well for the development of esoteric programming languages, Data, the testing room for bots, etc. For whatever reason, the Code Golfer's Corner – which would seem like a popular idea on paper – didn't share that success.

Finally, there's always the option to create a temporary chat room for an extended conversation between a small number of users. That's a useful feature, and it should get used more often.

1 That does not mean I endorse caret chains, conversations that consist solely of animated GIFs, and similarly disruptive interactions that do not even qualify as off-topic chatter.

2 By that, I mean discussions that affect the site, like the recent discussion about the purpose of The Nineteenth Byte.

  • \$\begingroup\$ What do you mean by "serious discussions about PPCG"? \$\endgroup\$ – xnor Mar 23 '16 at 3:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Anything that affects the site, like the discussion from a few minutes ago about what should be on topic/allowed in TNB. \$\endgroup\$ – Dennis Mar 23 '16 at 3:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ So not discussion like "how can a save a byte in this expression?" \$\endgroup\$ – xnor Mar 23 '16 at 3:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's certainly on topic and related to PPCG, but it's not a discussion about PPCG. \$\endgroup\$ – Dennis Mar 23 '16 at 3:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think part of the problem with Code Golfer's Corner is that it seemed to be more of a knee-jerk reaction to the off-topic chatter in TNB, rather than trying to focus and condense the code golfing chat to a single room. \$\endgroup\$ – user45941 Mar 23 '16 at 7:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ The big problem I see with this position 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. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Taylor Mar 23 '16 at 9:40

I find it hard to try to discuss golfing in chat. When I'm not pinging a specific person, my messages get lost in the flood of unrelated conversation. It's also hard to scan through the transcript for chat about golfing when it's full of meme clutter.

People can always make other chatrooms for a more focused discussion. - Helka Homba

"More focused discussion"? You have to be kidding me. You want me to go to a side room to discuss code golfing on a site about code golfing? We tried making a room for code golfing and it predictably died due to lack of activity. Nobody looks for some special new room, they look in the main site chat.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would bounty this if I could bounty an answer on meta. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Taylor Mar 23 '16 at 9:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ -1 for lack of foresight. 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. \$\endgroup\$ – Rainbolt Jun 11 '16 at 17:09

Exercise Self Moderation

Having a main chat room for everything is okay, but it can get out of control, such as caret denotion turning into a train of noise that only annoying and distracts people.

The "solutions" of having a secondary chat room, room owners moving messages to the trash or even moderators deleting messages is both painful for users and often moderators to logistically co-ordinate who moves things and what gets moved.

Over in Code Review, we had a similar issue that arose when our userbase, chat userbase and subsequently noise increased. While the consensus was the creation of a secondary room, it's been a painful experience ever since. Room owners can get in arguments with normal chat users and it just creates tension and unhappiness.

People love the off-topic and random nature of the chat, it's a great way to talk to likeminded individuals about things you wouldn't otherwise bring up. People also love the idea that you can be talking about a certain topic and come back minutes later to an entirely different conversation.

So, what can you do?

Exercise Self Moderation. When you see this sort of thing:

aUser: ಠ_ಠ
secondUser: ^
thirdUser: ^^

Don't reply. Trains of ಠ_ಠ and ^ benefit nobody. If you agree with someone's post enough to post a caret'd reply, star the message ("Feel free to star any message you feel is particularly useful or worthy of summarizing in the transcript": from the FAQ)

While I'm not saying "abandon personality and fun", as rational people, you can make the choice whether or not to contribute to the noise.

Noise is an inevitable result of chatrooms, you simply have to deal with it the best you can as an individual.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't completely support starring everything you agree with. I don't want to see the starboard filled with ಠ_ಠs. \$\endgroup\$ – Downgoat Mar 23 '16 at 3:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Downgoat, make a decision yourself with you want to star it or not. At the end of the day, you have complete control over what you do as a person. \$\endgroup\$ – Quill Mar 23 '16 at 3:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Downgoat, ಠ_ಠ is noise which doesn't belong in the chat in the first place. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Taylor Mar 23 '16 at 8:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Trains of ಠ_ಠ and ^ benefit nobody" Here I must disagree with you. In this case, it is rather evident that disapproval towards a certain topic is expressed by three individuals. It is more concise than say "I disapprove" and "I agree", so it gets the idea out quicker. Sometimes, we don't want to spend the extra few seconds to type something English. Further, @PeterTaylor, I argue that ಠ_ಠ is not merely noise, it's just an emoticon which people are free to use to express their feelings concisely and shortly. I concede that there are absurdly long chains of these which should be avoided, .... \$\endgroup\$ – Conor O'Brien Mar 23 '16 at 14:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ ...but a meaningful chain of two or three surely can surely not be called pointless. And, to mirror what Downgoat said, I do not want the starboard filled with ಠ_ಠ's, to which you responded "make a decision yourself", etc. to which I must say that you have provided contradicting advice. Should we star it to show agreement, or should we caret it? Supposedly, both are annoying, but the former stays around for longer on the starboard. Do tell me then what the resolution of this is, as I would like to hear your thought upon the subject. \$\endgroup\$ – Conor O'Brien Mar 23 '16 at 14:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ You're taking my "make your own decision" phrase out of context. It actually said "make a decision yourself with you want to star it or not" not whether to use carets. And a chain and train are different things, the latter being towards keeping the pattern as long as possible. Realistically, if you feel the need to agree with a message, then you probably can use stars. \$\endgroup\$ – Quill Mar 23 '16 at 14:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @CᴏɴᴏʀO'Bʀɪᴇɴ, re "In this case, it is rather evident that disapproval towards a certain topic is expressed by three individuals", no, it isn't at all evident. If the first poster wrote "I disagree" then it would be evident, but an obscure emoticon which is only understood by a certain subculture is not clear communication in a chat room which has no particular reason to overlap with that subculture. And really an "I disagree" without any kind of reasoning is noise anyway: it doesn't contribute usefully to a discussion. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Taylor Mar 23 '16 at 15:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ To add onto what Peter said, it's massively confusing to new users to understand those messages. While it may be a more concise way to say "I agree" those milliseconds you lose typing, you get back in having to explain it to new users. \$\endgroup\$ – Quill Mar 23 '16 at 15:36

As the person whose comment triggered Nathan's question, I think I should answer.

Yes, there's far too much off-topic chatter

The FAQ for chat says:

This site is an extension of The Stack Exchange Network, so discussion should more or less revolve around the same topics you'd find at The Stack Exchange Network — but in an interactive, less strictly Q&A focused way. Do have fun, but please keep it professional and always be respectful of your fellow community members.

I understand this to mean that in the chat rooms associated with PPCG, especially in the primary chat room associated with PPCG, chat should be about programming puzzles, code golf, PPCG itself, and similar themes. For a long time I had the impression that at least 50% of the content was on-topic by that standard. But at some point it seemed to turn into a chan, where a handful of newish users posted memes and the on-topic content was 10% on a good day. That's why I abandoned it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mego, are you seriously asking for a citation for something which is explicitly stated to be a subjective impression? If so, the only one I can give you is meta.codegolf.stackexchange.com/a/8780/194 \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Taylor Mar 23 '16 at 21:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mego jokelibrary.net/education/after_m/stat-dilbert.jpg (IMHO, Peter's estimates seem fairly accurate, though... it doesn't even matter if they are though... if he feels that way, others might too. If you don't, there isn't much that's going to convince you otherwise.) \$\endgroup\$ – Martin Ender Mar 23 '16 at 21:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mego, the claim is "My subjective impression is that the amount of off-topic crap has grown from tolerable to intolerable, leading me to abandon chat". That claim is easily substantiated by anyone who has observed that I used to spend a lot of time in the chat room and now only visit briefly when someone pings me. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Taylor Mar 24 '16 at 7:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mego If it makes any difference, I fully agree with Peter's subjective claim, and insisting on logical reasoning for personal opinions isn't going to get us anywhere. Otherwise we wouldn't even need this meta question. \$\endgroup\$ – Doorknob Mar 24 '16 at 15:41

No, there is not too much off-topic chatter

"General discussion" means general discussion. A few off topic tangents or unnecessary messages still fall into that category.

Unless there is outright spamming, nothing needs to be done.

People can always make other chatrooms for a more focused discussion.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd assume "General discussion" is "General discussion about PP & CG", not "General discussion about anything", if I refer to this answer on MSE \$\endgroup\$ – Andrew T. Mar 23 '16 at 2:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AndrewT. If I may quote the other similarly-voted answer there: The room's given topic (and thus its definition) already hints at the fact that people explicitly not want to talk about stuff that would be considered SO-related. Our room's given topic includes Great minds waste time alike, and has previously been abandon work, all ye who enter here or similar. These clearly hint to me that it's not intended as on-topic chat only. \$\endgroup\$ – Geobits Mar 23 '16 at 2:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @IGoBest I think those room topics are part of the problem. Who selects them? \$\endgroup\$ – xnor Mar 23 '16 at 2:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @xnor our glorious mods. \$\endgroup\$ – Maltysen Mar 23 '16 at 3:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @xnor Maybe, but even the name implies (at least some) off-topicness imo. "The Nineteenth Byte" is a clear play on the nineteenth hole, or the bar at the end of a golf course for bullshitting with other players. \$\endgroup\$ – Geobits Mar 23 '16 at 3:02

Our community is growing.

In chat, as on main and meta, beyond a certain level of activity it becomes unfeasible for an individual to read through every post. We are approaching the point where activity on chat will be too much to read the transcript in full even with all off topic content excluded.

This doesn't mean we shouldn't try to improve things, but the solutions we find or make cannot be limited only to narrowing the topic of conversation. By all means encourage chatters to be reasonable and respect the chat community, but we're going to need something more in addition to that before long.

Stack Exchange already solves the major problem: It is not necessary for everyone (or anyone) to read every post on main, meta or chat. The community as a whole takes care of it. However, until recently it was in principle possible for an individual to read the entire chat transcript by catching up each day. As this becomes less practical, it can be frustrating for people who want to keep up to date.

Making an "off topic" chat room seems like a bad idea at present, since the activity level of The Nineteenth Byte is part of what makes it so useful for questions at short notice. However, as our community grows it may become more viable. Purely the on topic activity may become sufficient. It might be worth looking at what other sites with much bigger/more active chat communities do.


Some people are saying that memes are a part of chat culture, and so when rules or mods restrict them, they are suppressing site culture. I disagree.

Don't mistake volume for culture. A meme being repeated ad nauseum in chat does not make it part of the community. Rather, it's some of loud users who spam these memes over and over, long past the point that they were funny, if there ever was such a point. Chat discussions that cannot coexist in this environment are pushed out, along with whatever culture they carried. To borrow from Gresham's Law, bad culture drives out good.

  • \$\begingroup\$ While I agree with most of the points you make (specifically that mod actions do not suppress chat "culture"), I disagree with the basic premise (that the memes meta post deserves to be locked - if this is not what you are trying to convey, feel free to correct me). Mother Meta has a much larger memes post and doesn't have the same problems we have had, which indicates to me that the problem lies elsewhere. Specifically, I believe the problem lies with a few not-nice "memes" and immature users who repeat certain memes ad nauseum. \$\endgroup\$ – user45941 Jul 1 '16 at 10:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mego, I got the impression (before I abandoned chat) that the existence of the memes post was being taken by some users as a challenge to invent new memes. I would quite happily see it deleted rather than locked. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Taylor Jul 1 '16 at 10:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PeterTaylor Again, I would argue that those specific users are the problem, not the existence of the memes post. Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater. \$\endgroup\$ – user45941 Jul 1 '16 at 10:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mego I'm not arguing here that the memes post should be locked, though I would agree with it. Because this meta question is about the state of chat, I wanted to stick to memes and chat culture. I think my preface is bringing too much baggage into it, even though it's how I came to the topic, so I'll edit it. \$\endgroup\$ – xnor Jul 1 '16 at 10:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've removed my downvote, but I'm still hesitant to upvote, because I believe that the few troublesome users are the problem. \$\endgroup\$ – user45941 Jul 2 '16 at 2:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mego It seems you're right. \$\endgroup\$ – xnor Sep 27 '16 at 5:20

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