Should we split the chat into on- and off-topic rooms?

A user has proposed effectively(*) splitting our site's chat room into on- and off- topic sub-rooms. A grassroots attempt to populate or otherwise prove obvious utility of the room was given about two weeks or so to show something for itself.

I'm posting this question to get a feeling from the community as a whole about the idea in order to help determine whether or not we should do it.

Note that if we do split the chat room:

• we'll probably make the existing one of on-topic room, as it is the target of [chat] quicklinks all around the site, most of which should be for on-topic purposes
• we'll normalize permission settings across both rooms as much as possible
• the same rules for what is appropriate off-topic conversation will still apply; this is not a follow-up experiment to our first "almost-anything-goes" style of chatroom split that went so poorly

If we don't split the chat room:

• we'll just convert the experimental room into a regular "conversation between X and Y" room (this means renaming it) to preserve its discussion in the archives

(*) in this particular case I say "effectively" primarily due to the chosen name of the room; irrespective of the intent behind creating the room, it looks like and acts like an on-topic-only room for the site. This is still a question I feel we should have documented on meta regardless, as this comes up more often than I'd frankly like it to come up.

• Potentially relevant discussion (as requested by @AlecTeal): chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/message/24628846#24628846 Oct 10, 2015 at 17:49
• Hi, now I can comment I just want to say I don't endorse nor did I propose any of what is here. I have inquired and my consent isn't needed to post this, but I feel compelled to say it. (Also the top answer had 5 upvotes before any others showed up. I have questions with the procedure) - awesome pony show though. Oct 17, 2015 at 13:40

I don't like the idea. I hang out in the room to be social. Then real gamedev questions come up, and I'm there to answer them. I won't hang out in a strictly on-topic room... I would just go there when I had a question.

The split would reduce the utility of the room greatly if others feel the way I do about it.

• I agree with Almo completly. It would be a great hassle to be in both chatrooms at the same time, which is why I don't really use any other rooms in the network. Oct 10, 2015 at 6:34
• Agreed. Splitting the room into 2 is not appropriate. You create bonds in there by socializing with others with similar interests. Having two rooms just makes it a hassle to have to go between both rooms to accomplish the same thing we have been doing in the one. Oct 14, 2015 at 18:54

We've had at least one, possibly two (I don't recall the details) attempts to split the chat room before. They both, obviously, did not work out.

Like Lasse commented on Almo's answer (which I am mostly agreement with), I find it distracting and tedious to have to monitor both on- and off- topic chat rooms (even as a user, forgetting for my moment my obligation to do so as a moderator). In my experience they never work out well, because people tend to clump up in the more social-oriented rooms (people being social creatures for the most part), and that's where the people are so that's where the discussions end up happening.

So I am not in favor of splitting the site's chat room, preferring instead that we adopt a model whereby on-topic conversation should in general take priority over off-topic banter. I'd rather we strengthen and elevate the level of discourse in our existing room rather than fracture the reasonably-small chat community further.

But at the same time I recognize there is a need for people to create side-rooms for the purpose of specific, directed discussion for some length of time. I'm not opposed to doing so, provided that those rooms aren't named in a way that might suggest they're official site rooms; after discussion with some fellow moderators I think the best way to do this is for such rooms to named something like "'s Pathfinding Chat" or whatnot (the key aspect being the inclusion of the username, which mirrors the functionality provided by the chat system for 1:1 rooms and comment imports).

I agree with Almo's answer and I would like to add that I think the social aspect of the room is one of the more important aspects that makes it run smoothly.

Being a more social room on a niche SE site keeps it populated and active. The social environment also helps newcomers feel that they can open a conversation (on and off topic) encouraging engaging conversation.

I hail from RPG.SE (we do tabletop, pen and paper RPGs), and RPG General Chat. I've not been here actively for quite a while (just in and out as an observer sometimes), but your chat room seems to be pretty similar to ours: similar levels of activity and chat regulars, and a generally sociable atmosphere which ebbs and flows between being on- and off-topic with priority given to on-topic stuff.

I don't know your exact situation, but given the similarities I might be able to offer some insight and suggestions. I've read this meta, and the attached chat. I note Alec's complaint that the room is very casual, and that there are large amounts of time devoted to topics he's (she's?) unhappy with.

If we're discussing the matter of chat's casualness, I need to bring up that chat was created to be a "third place" (see the SE blog and wikipedia). Third places are those places away from home or work we congregate and socialise, and among their hallmarks is that the mood is playful:

The tone of conversation in third places are never marked with tension or hostility. Instead, they have a playful nature, where witty conversation and frivolous banter are not only common, but highly valued. — Wikipedia

Chats are always going to be casual and social because it's what we're in chat for.

We're also here because we like game development, so that's always going to be one of the fun topics. That means an "off topic" room is not going to be very good at staying that way. It's always going to drift back on topic, and probably just look exactly like what your main chat looks like now.

Which means other rooms are just going to be... other rooms. And actually that seems to be our answer here.

On creating extra rooms to facilitate whatever people need

Primarily we talk in RPG General Chat. This place looks pretty much like your main chat room: we socialise, go on- or off-topic, discuss advanced or simple stuff, etc.

We try to keep General Chat a safe place where anyone can join in. To those ends we created Not A Bar (the name's a joke). It's our pressure valve for unpleasant conversations and arguments. Those get moved there wholesale from General Chat when it's called for. It also makes for a pretty good side-conversation room when General Chat's busy.

We also have some purpose-built rooms that just naturally emerged and may fade out of use later:

• The Campfire is where we share stories about our tabletop sessions. It started a few weeks ago to do just that while General Chat was busy, and has stuck around.

• Genesis is where we do random character generation, usually for fun. We created it recently once we started doing a whole lot of that in Not A Bar.

• Before that we were using a room just for deadEarth, which is one of the worst designed RPGs ever, and on top of that offensive in most ways: sexist, homophobic, racist, you name it. (So, trigger warning, the material we quote from it might offend.) Characters are extremely likely to come out of character creation crippled, dying, or already dead, but that also makes character creation amusing and strangely relaxing.
• Some users also have their very own rooms we've taken to calling spoil-lairs, which they'll use to plan their upcoming RPG sessions so that their fellow players (who are also in chat) don't see it.

And so on. The list has changed over time.

This is what it sounds like you need to be doing.

You might need a professional version of Not A Bar: a pressure-valve side-room where people can go to discuss advanced topics while Main Chat's busy. Main Chat can't do all things, and it will always be a social place. You might want an AI Guild room, or an AI Chat, or a Super Advanced Stuff chat, or a Super Basics chat.

You might want a "move it when someone asks" rule, you might not. (Our General Chat upholds a general rule that anyone can ping the room's owner and request a conversation be moved to Not A Bar, and it'll be moved. This has only ever been invoked for conversations that were genuinely unpleasant for that person: it's genuinely overstaying its welcome. We've only had to do this a few times, so your mileage may vary.)

You may want to just create chats about topics as they're needed. Is someone busy talking about pointers in the main room, but you want to talk about advanced physics for in-motion collision detection of soft bodies? Create a room, link it in main chat (if you paste just the URL, it oneboxes all fancy-like). If you find you're needing to talk about advanced mathematics often, maybe it's worth having an advanced mathematics room to be available while main chat's busy, or to just be the go-to place for that stuff.

If you need a place where "people know their stuff" (quoting that rationale conversation), it'll come about one of these ways.

• Alec was unhappy about a discussion about C and pointers. So his opinion of what is and is not appropriate is suspect. Game dev involves programming, so we accept that there will be some programming discussion.
– Almo Mod
Oct 14, 2015 at 19:04
• @Almo I don't really mean to suggest programming discussion would be off topic. Does something convey that impression? (Also revisiting this this morning, I see this was wordier than it needed to be, so I'll do some heavy editing.) Oct 14, 2015 at 23:44
• No, not you, but one of the people involved in this whole thing got mad at me about talking about programming in the chat room.
– Almo Mod
Oct 15, 2015 at 0:57

I've rarely seen more than 10 people active in it at a time. Splitting anything with such a low amount of traffic is pointless.

It might make sense if people were trying to discuss topics but too many folks talk about their cats and tv shows - but thats not the case.

I see it as over-zelous move.

If you force everybody out, you'll have 1 empty room and off-topic will again start spilling between one way or the other.

Grass roots?! Get serious he is not trying to overthrow the government here. Just fussing about a room usage vs NAME that is not being 100% ocd certified for the content that flows through.

I certainly don't see the main contributors of the room in question having any complaint about it. They respond to people with questions - right on point, and talk about gamey stuff to fill the gaps.

"There are other rooms, with 80 users currently talking in 52 rooms." - What do you think maybe we should get each person a room right?

I remember the old days where I used to chat on IRC and there was soo much talk in the channels that it was very hard to follow a conversation.

I hang on the official chat from time to time, and I would say there is not enough volume there to justify a more 'serious' game-dev only chat room. There is currently plenty of room for many conversations to happen at the same time.

I do agree with most of the previously given answers; I just wanted to highlight another reason not to split :)

I'm kind of split on the idea, sometimes I want to get some focus on a problem and its hard when people just want to "socialise".

Having a room that was purely "business only" would enforce a certain attitude towards the conversation, but I do like to use the existing chat to hang out and see what others are up to.

I would propose that perhaps a little more focus on game dev be the priority for the chat but still allow "other" more social chat when people don't have a technical question.

I have been a little put off coming to the chat by certain conversations and having flagged 1 or two comments I didn't feel were appropriate in the past got met with a lot of ranting from certain members as they didn't agree with the fact that I flagged the message, maybe all the room needs a slightly more ... um ... active moderation group / process that keeps the conversation a little more on topic without actually enforcing it as a rule.

• Tip regarding flagging: Flagging is anonymous, you don't need to say anything, I've done the same.
– Elva
Oct 10, 2015 at 18:37
• "I would propose that perhaps a little more focus on game dev be the priority..." We changed the room description recently to try to emphasis this, that game development stuff should have priority.
– user1430
Oct 10, 2015 at 18:57
• @KevinvanderVelden yeh I flagged someone once in the room, my point here was that for the next month any time someone got flagged I got blamed because the message I had flagged was obviously targetted at me and some unprofessional admin decided to declare to the room that it must have been me.
– War
Oct 13, 2015 at 7:57
• @JoshPetrie I was thinking this recently when I asked a clearly game dev related question and the room went silent for a bit then someone started posting random drawings and took the conversation in to a completely other direction ... got me thinking ... why am I in there again?
– War
Oct 13, 2015 at 7:58
• @Wardy Well, conversation isn't obligated to defer to on-topic talk if nobody can participate in the on-topic talk (that is, if nobody knew how to answer your question). I don't think splitting the channel would have any real impact on that (it might make it worse?), that's more of an issue of the chat having a very small population in general. (That said, you should flag or contact a mod/room owner if you see instances of off-topic talk drowning out the on-topic.)
– user1430
Oct 13, 2015 at 15:12
• @JoshPetrie flag how though? The regular chat-flag to all 10k+ people on the network would just be invalidated because, well, they don't know the rules on that specific chat room. =[
– Elva
Oct 13, 2015 at 20:24
• Yeah, fair point, I guess @-pinging a moderator or room owner is probably the safest option there.
– user1430
Oct 13, 2015 at 20:30