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I'm considering myself a chat regular and as such, I've witnessed a small but growing trend of on-topic (wrt the main site) questions of varying quality being asked in chat rather than on the main site. While the general sentiment appears to be to answer those whenever any one or more chatters feel like it, I'm dissatisfied with this trend for several reasons:

  • Asking in chat seems like a short cut, or a way to cheat the community for quick answers, while depriving other aid-seekers of those answers.
    • Answers and Questions are not indexed and categorized and are thus less accessible to others than Q&A on the main site.
    • Quality rules etc. are much more relaxed in chat. This invites questions that will be penalised on the main site, i.e. questions that are easily solved by general references or search engines, which might be a symptom of help vampires.
  • While distinct from the main site in user interaction paradigm, the quality and timeliness of answers might reflect on the main site. However, chat gives no guarantees regarding availability or willingness to answer questions quickly. This disparity might lead to aid-seeker dissatisfaction, which is not something we want in general.
    • In fact, over the last day, four questions have amassed and remained unanswered, drawing a comment as to an unusual quietness already.
    • Posting on the main site will expose a question to many more problem solvers at many more times of the day, which is something we want in general, because it ensures some kind of service level assertion which the chat regulars cannot provide. This is what our core competence is on the main site.
  • Chat doesn't have obvious boundaries about what's on-topic. While the contents of the main site in general could be named as its obvious mission, small talk and topics outside the realm of the german language appear to be welcome and heartily discussed, as per live consensus among the chatters at the time the topic is posed.
    • That said, I feel like "contents of the main site is its obvious mission" is actively being misunderstood. It is my own understanding that the main intention of chat is to help users with the contents on the main site, not to be a substitute for the main site - fixing closed answers, improving low rated answers etc., instead of just moving these contributions to chat.
    • In that, I think regarding its mission, chat should serve rather like the extension of meta.glSE, instead of the "sewers" or "backyard" of glSE.

What I'd like the community to discuss in this thread is

  • a) What is your opinion about what the mission of our main chat room shall be? What are the topic boundaries?
  • b) Am I wrong in my reception that chat is partly misused to place questions as a short cut instead of at the main site?
  • c) If you see this, too, do you feel that's a problem?

The individual answer is obvious: Don't answer those questions if you feel they're inappropriate. However, I fear that this might be interpreted as indifference, which it is not. I'd rather there be a consensus on this, so that aid-seekers may be redirected to the main site with confidence whenever prompt help cannot be supplied in chat.

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We do not really have an urgent need to narrow the scope of our chat room at times it is quiet for days.

Still, we want the chat to be at least remotely related to the German Language, or our site. There is little dispute that a discussion on "Meta" topics or on a given post on main is always welcome.

This may be different if we started chatting about topics other than that. Any conversation on any topic is a good ground for learners of the German language to practise their skills as long as we prefer to talk German. We are open for this and we do welcome such discussions but English conversations about e.g. astro-physics, or coding in C++ would not be a good fit for our German Language chat.

If at some time in the future general topic conversations start cluttering our main chat room we always have the option to create another room for "Conversations in German".

Needless to say that when chatting we need to keep being nice. It is no place for rudeness or possibly offensive content. Also keep in mind that there are people who have that chat window open at their workplace or may be a 13 years old minor. So let's keep stuff safe for both occasions.

Also consider that our chat is open to the public. We do not need to register to have read access. Everybody all over the world can follow our conversations and can read all transcripts. Some posts will be indexed by search machines in addition.

As there is an inherent risk of getting out of hand quickly we may also want to hold discussions on politics or religion low.

For questions that could be asked in both, the chat room or on the main site it is us the chat users who decide whether to answer or to recommend posting on main. It is also welcome to ask both, in chat and on main. There is no reason why an interesting topic should not be asked again on the main site even if it was already answered in chat.

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a) What is your opinion about what the mission of our main chat room shall be? What are the topic boundaries?

The original idea behind chat was the creation of a "third place". So in itself it's neither the main site, nor meta, nor an extension of either.

Chat is a place for the community to "meet and exchange ideas". It's a place to discuss the best question of the last week, the new off-topic post, what the community should change, ...

Chat's "on-topic" is much less clearly defined as the site's or meta's. That's not necessarily a bad thing.
This allows for questions that would pile up on meta or main to be answered in a discussion with the "regulars" of the community.

As such the mission of Chat is defined. It's an extension of meta, main, and even more than that.

b) Am I wrong in my reception that chat is partly misused to place questions as a short cut instead of at the main site?

Chat will always be used to ask questions that aren't necessarily well-suited for the main site. That's one of the drawbacks of having an open third place for these things.
But (just as on main) there's no obligation for these questions to be answered.

While asking in chat can stop questions from being asked it's also significantly better at handling a "fast paced" discussion as well as back and forth. In any case the questions from chat can still be asked on main anyways.

Particularly "help-vampy" users can be muted (for you), kicked or even suspended depending on how many warnings have been given.

c) If you see this, too, do you feel that's a problem?

Back when I was still a chat regular here on German people came in and asked questions. In the other chatrooms I participate in that also happens for a considerable amount. I haven't checked the transcript, but I don't think there's a real trend here, just a "flood" after a period of "ebb"

In general I don't feel it's a problem to answer such questions (if the scope of chat allows). Instead of writing long-winded answers in chat, referring to main is my preferred option for difficult questions or questions with long answers.

  • Thank you. Do you have an opinion about the slighted accessibility of knowledge presented in chat? – hiergiltdiestfu Feb 9 '16 at 7:43
  • with which I mean the problem that answers given in chat are not as easily accessible to the general public as postings on the main Q&A – hiergiltdiestfu Feb 9 '16 at 13:38
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Vogel already noted that the chat is supposed to be a third place, strictly separated from the main site (where high-quality questions are supposed to be rewarded with high-quality answers) and the meta-site (where discussion about the main site, its scope, the way users behave, past peculiarities and rules should happen). Let me quickly bring the rules of chat back into your mind:

  1. No being an idiot.
  2. No visitor in chat shall hate towards another member.
  3. No being an idiot.
  4. I don’t want to catch anyone not enjoying their time in chat.
  5. No being an idiot.
  6. There is no rule 6.
  7. No being an idiot.

(Strongly borrowed from Monty Python’s Flying Circus to emphasise the seriousness of the rules.)

So visitors of the chat are free to do as they like as long as they do not breach the terms of usage of Stack Exchange, are not offensive and do not spam. This means they are allowed to do all of the following:

  • Ask questions of any kind.
  • Ask questions that are off-topic on the main site (translation requests, general references, etc).
  • Answer questions of any kind.
  • Answer questions that are off-topic on the main site (translation requests, general references, etc).
  • Tell others that their question is better not asked on the main site.
  • Tell others that their question is better asked on the main site (applies to a general audience, could give better answers, is more helpful to future visitors, etc).
  • Refuse to answer questions because they are tired, drunk, working, …
  • Ignore people who ask questions.
  • Being annoyed by people asking too many questions.
  • Chatter along about the latest music in German radio.
  • Chatter along about how the music on the radio is not metal enough.
  • Tell people that something they wrote was offensive and that they shouldn’t write that any more.
  • Inform moderators/room owners about such inappropriate behaviour if necessary.
  • Discuss community policies before they are taken to meta.
  • Have fun.
  • Play games (word tennis, anybody?)
  • Post funny pictures.
  • Tell jokes.
  • … I could go on forever.

The bottom line is that anything unoffensive non-spammy and non-terms-violating goes in chat. So asking is fine and answering is fine (and also being annoyed by asking or answering). Every now and again I see people suggesting to ask a question on the main site since it could be beneficial for both the question and the site — which is also fine.

Of course, some people are notorious for asking many questions that often sound like translation requests. But that is okay — they are asking in chat, where scope, on-topicness or closing of questions simply does not exist.

Most people will realise that this is a chat room after all, so answer can only be given by people present and sometimes nobody will be present. Well — that’s life, people will live with that. Chat isn’t ‘open’ to the general Laufkundschaft anyway, since you need 20 rep to chat at all, so people will have had to have spent some time on SE and know what it’s about.

If a certain type of question really poses an annoyance at some point, we are free to create a new chat room for that question specifically — chemistry, as an example, has a chatroom for LaTeX/MathJax help.

Personally, I rather have a chat that is kept alive now and again by somebody asking a question than one that doesn’t move at all — like Linguistics had when I last visited or like German had when I first checked it.

And of-course, this post is slightly self-biased: I have been caught asking programming questions in the deutschprachiger Raum and talking about chemistry, so …

  • 2
    TL;DR Don't be a dick. Besides that, anything goes. If you don't care, don't feel bad about it. – hiergiltdiestfu Feb 9 '16 at 13:47

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