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Chat FAQ says:

What can we chat about?

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.

The current text implies that chat rooms should generally be discussing whatever the site is about, and other subjects are "off-topic." This can lead to unfortunate misunderstandings.

However, in my own humble experience, chat rooms are seen as much more of a social outlet. You can always start an "on-topic" discussion there, but pure socializing and general randomness are acceptable and encouraged. Examples include chat rooms for Area 51 sites, which play a community-building role even when veering off the "official" site topic, and of course Aww!.

I suggest the FAQ should reflect this tone better. For example:

What can we chat about?

This site is an extension of The Stack Exchange Network, so discussion will generally revolve around the same topics you'd find at The Stack Exchange Network — but it's also a more open, social medium, so other topics and general socializing are common as well. You can always feel free to jump in with any conversation topic that relates to the individual Stack Exchange site or its topic. Do have fun, but please keep it professional and always be respectful of your fellow community members.

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opening the door to even further off-topic randomness is not a good idea in the chat faq. It's open enough as written -- see "more or less" –  Jeff Atwood Jun 10 '12 at 18:52

2 Answers 2

The chat FAQ is correct as stated.

Chat rooms that don't at least somewhat relate to the topic of the site sometimes are subject to removal and deletion at any time.

More open does not mean "anything goes".

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Chat rooms that are entirely off-topic are a different matter. The FAQ addresses the question "What can we chat about?" -- including (presumably primarily!) the many existing site rooms. The statement "discussion on non-site topics is discouraged" is patently false - I've never seen any discouraging... It just sets up a false policy which is knowingly ignored by all, and which misleadingly seems severe to newcomers. –  Ziv Jun 10 '12 at 22:35

You can always start an "on-topic" discussion there, but pure socializing and general randomness are acceptable and encouraged.

I... Don't think this really needs to be explicitly condoned by the FAQ. It's human nature - it'll happen regardless. The stated purpose of even having this "third place" was never, "a free-for-all":

I’ve been asked a few times what the heck real time chat is supposed to be for, exactly. In truth, it is a bit of a specialized tool — a real time, interactive collaboration tool unlike anything else we offer. It is used primarily by our most avid community members, and I don’t see a thing wrong with that. Without avid community members, we’d have no real community at all.

In other words, it's a community-building tool for the communities on Stack Exchange - not for anyone who just wants to chat. There are plenty of other chat services out there if you're looking for something general-purpose.

As a purely practical matter, when moderators (or staff) get a complaint about a chatroom being too "off topic" they'll generally give it the benefit of the doubt up to a point - in the example you cite, that meant asking for the assistance of a couple other SE moderators in interpreting the content... But if a room obviously exists for no purpose other than, say, match-making or other such private, off-topic conversation, then it is not just possible but prudent for us to delete it - we really can't be expected to moderate such things, and they offer no value at all to our communities.

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You're saying that if actual use contradicts written policy, then ignoring the policy is OK because it's human nature? Come, now. The FAQ says "discussion should more or less revolve around [site topics]". So if I write something cute my kid did on RPG.SE chat instead of on Parenting, I'm doing something I "shouldn't". That's a policy that's so far off actual-use, it's absurd - unless anybody's actually interested in enforcing it (which, frankly, I'm equally fine with). –  Ziv Jun 10 '12 at 22:44
    
(cont.) Bottom line is, if somebody's mis-using the chat system, mods can step in and fix it. That's a vastly different statement than saying "we expect chat to remain on site topics." Is it really so difficult for the FAQ to say what you actually mean? –  Ziv Jun 10 '12 at 22:45
    
@Ziv: I'm saying discussing your kid's hijinks in RPG's room is fine, if no one seriously objects, because it's that sort of informal conversation that builds a feeling of community. Creating a room for trading parenting stories attached to RPG is less understandable. It costs us - and potentially your peers - some amount of time and effort to maintain these chats; that cost is unjustifiable as soon as there stops being any perceptible benefit to the site's membership. –  Shogging through the snow Jun 10 '12 at 22:54
    
I agree entirely. That's just not what the FAQ says. –  Ziv Jun 10 '12 at 23:04
    
Sure it does. It doesn't say, "will generally revolve around the site's topics while in the course of doing so touching on many tangential and utterly unrelated topics of interest to the community" because it doesn't need to - jump into any new chat room on any new site, and if it's not a ghost town it'll be folks discussing the site's topic, the community itself, their personal lives, and whatever else pops into their heads. You don't need to tell them this is ok any more than you need to explicitly state it's ok to breath while chatting. –  Shogging through the snow Jun 11 '12 at 0:14
    
Good point. In this spirit, perhaps amend the FAQ to clarify that users should chat more or less without oxygen? –  Ziv Jun 11 '12 at 3:59
    
Look, I'm not trying to make more of this than it is. IMHO, the FAQ description directly contradicts actual intended use. You've seen the phrasing I suggested; I think you'll agree it's a more accurate description of chat - which I see as valuable; FAQs are for newbies and SO is a site with many many rules. Honestly, when chat is presented as a " real time, interactive collaboration tool," who knows what to expect? I've gone back-and-forth with you here because I think you're arguing "the FAQ lies, but it's OK, since it's so obviously a lie." That's my issue, and yeah, it's not a big deal. –  Ziv Jun 11 '12 at 4:15
    
Ziv, I think this is the crux of my distaste for your suggestion: all of this stuff is fun (mentioned in the FAQ) and a nice diversion, but "general randomness" and "Aww" are not good examples to present to newbies, and neither is "general socialization" - we've already had to shut down rooms created purely for the purpose of, ahem, courtship. You wouldn't mention "the many memes" in the FAQ here, would you? The FAQ should encourage the best from new users. –  Shogging through the snow Jun 11 '12 at 5:06

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