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I think a really useful feature for chat would be some sort of indicator to show when a user is typing. The conventional "so-and-so is typing…" wouldn't work very well, as lots of people are in SE chats at once. I suggest a static or animated ellipsis appears only at the end of the last message of the last person to say anything. In other words, if someone is typing a long thing split up over multiple messages, their previous message will display an ellipsis at the end which automatically disappears.

Would this be a bad idea?

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I support this as long as it's optional. On both ends. – John Mar 2 '12 at 3:53
Maybe not a bad idea, but why is it a good idea? In other words, what's the point? Your feature request is missing the required justification. – Cody Gray Mar 2 '12 at 3:57
I've never known a 3+ user chat system to support this. It's marginally useful for one-on-one talks, but seems not useful for a room with many users – Michael Mrozek Mar 2 '12 at 3:58
@CodyGray I often see a situation (regardless of my involvement) in which one person has split one cohesive thought between multiple messages in chat. This can be useful so as to start "talking" when it's relevant to the conversation, and then to continue until the message is completed. This splitting, however, leaves it vulnerable to interruption. Such a feature as this would show that the person was still talking, and people might be less prone to interrupt. – timothymh Mar 2 '12 at 4:00
@MichaelMrozek Hence my suggestion of a very minimal indicator. – timothymh Mar 2 '12 at 4:00
@TimothyMueller-Harder "It should be minimal" isn't a response to "this doesn't seem useful", it's a response to "that sounds annoying" – Michael Mrozek Mar 2 '12 at 4:01
@MichaelMrozek The only argument having to do with number of users that I can think of has to do with the intrusiveness of the hypothetical indicator. What do you find not useful about it? – timothymh Mar 2 '12 at 4:03
@TimothyMueller-Harder In a private conversation you're talking directly to another person the whole time. In a chat room people chime in all the time with random comments; you don't know who's going to talk next, or whether or not the people currently typing are going to respond to your comment or mention something completely different – Michael Mrozek Mar 2 '12 at 4:08
@MichaelMrozek: That's the point I tried to make in my answer--it's more practical to wait for the other person, especially in one-on-one conversations. But it's really not very useful in SE's context. – Mystery Mar 2 '12 at 4:13
@MichaelMrozek New idea; see last two sentences of question. – timothymh Mar 11 '12 at 2:34
Also @CodyGray. – timothymh Mar 11 '12 at 2:36
@TimothyMueller-Harder That's useful, but odds are most people are going to ignore it – Michael Mrozek Mar 11 '12 at 2:41
@MichaelMrozek Still, it's useful. Even if only some people don't ignore it, it's probably an improvement. – timothymh Mar 11 '12 at 2:47
"if someone is typing a long thing split up over multiple messages" I don't really use chat, so I don't know the answer to this. But is there a significant character limit that forces people to type things out over multiple messages? If not, why would this be a big problem? Why can't they just put it all in a single message? – Cody Gray Mar 11 '12 at 5:07
@Cody Yes, there's a limit. IIRC, it's about the same as comments. – Kevin Mar 11 '12 at 5:47
up vote 8 down vote accepted

The main thing we should be asking ourselves is whether knowing when somebody else is typing will really have a significant enough impact on our behavior.

Because that's really what the feature is for on other sites that have it—when someone else is typing, especially in a heated conversation, it helps to know that they are so you can stop for a moment and let them finish. It's somewhat like an actual conversation. Is it polite or appropriate to interrupt someone when you're speaking with them? Absolutely not.

And, perhaps, waiting for the next message (because I know lots of people that submit sentence fragments, or submit incomplete thoughts with intents to complete it in their next message) could better influence or guide what your next message may be.

So the answer to the question of whether it will have an impact is dependent on the current behavior and habits of our population. From what I, personally, have observed, most chat users do submit complete thoughts in each message. Such is a benefit of the more sophisticated, grammar-conscious community that the SE sites are able to maintain.

But we must refer back to the purpose of the chats, which is really to discuss something that either takes up too much space on the actual site or just isn't a proper fit for the Q&A system. The other day, I wanted a professional opinion on a design I was doing, so I went over to the UX.SE chat and asked for it. I knew I couldn't mold it into the Q&A model that the SE sites rely on for their core content, so I decided to use the chat system instead.

So, I can't speak on behalf of the entire chat population, but given the purpose of the chat system, or at least what I perceive it to be, this feature would be an excellent addition.

However, given the habits of most of the users in chat, it would be more appropriate in the context of Stack Exchange and likely cause less confusion to not make this kind of addition to the chat system.

So my final stance on this, with the vision of SE and the chat system in mind, is no.

EDIT: I say no especially because I see no practical implementation of this. You're absolutely right, a text indicator would be extremely confusing, but an icon over a user's avatar in the sidebar would be so hidden and inconvenient. When I'm typing I either look at what I'm typing or at the last few messages, never at the sidebar.

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Thanks for the response! I personally disagree (hence my asking the question in the first place), but I appreciate the in-depth analysis. :) – timothymh Mar 2 '12 at 3:57
The obvious low-tech solution is to add a (...) or something similar to the end of your message, if you intend to continue it. – Benjol Mar 2 '12 at 5:53
@Benjol Though that doesn't work if it's a long response to a new topic… – timothymh Mar 7 '12 at 21:56
So you then you make your first response to a new topic a short one... – Daniel Mar 7 '12 at 22:01
@Benjol OK, I have a better idea based on that. Please see the updated question. :) – timothymh Mar 11 '12 at 2:35

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