I know that this sounds like a duplicate, but please read on.
I would like the ability to invite people into chat. I understand that I can already invite people who have already been in the chat room, but I would actually like to be able to invite anyone into chat.
This has been discussed before (and here), and the feature request has been declined. But I think that the justification was poor. Let me explain. The following reasons have been given for declining the feature request:
"This is not a social network". Well, actually we have loads of chat rooms, and the whole Meta thing. Jeff Atwood originally thought that there should be no discussion at all, no chat, no Meta, but eventually realised his error. The fact is that we are a community, and chatting helps to cement that community. People discuss all kinds of things.
"Chat shouldn't be private, it should be public in the comments of a question". Too late! There is already chat. This is not an argument against inviting someone into chat, this is an out of date argument against chat itself.
"If you want to invite someone into chat, just leave them a comment" Are you serious? You're encouraging me to clutter up the comments with chaff that nobody else wants to see? Is that solution really better than a proper invite mechanism.
"Some users would just annoy other users with invites all the time" So give users the ability to disable them. Or to block users. This has to be one of the daftest reasons against chat invites. Let's look at what we're allowed to do: A user with only 2000 rep is allowed to Leave comments, Create new tags and Edit other people’s posts! They can be trusted to do all of these things, but apparently can't be trusted not to bug people all the time.
"If you want to contact someone, look for contact details on their profile page" When people put contact details, it's usually in the form of a link to their personal site/blog. From there I can usually get contact information. But 1) this is a waste of my time to have to do this research. If they've left contact details, then they clearly don't mind being contacted. 2) It kind of feels like stalking. Contacting them about the site, through the site, seems much more polite.
Now let's look at some of the reasons for chat invites.
Jeff has already conceded 95% of the ground. He's allowed Comments, He's allowed Meta discussion. He's allowed chat rooms. The last bastion is chat invites, held on to in the mistaken belief that it's preventing total chaos. It's not. It would actually clean up the comments section by moving the uninteresting chaff away from the main pages.
Sometimes I just want to chat to someone, and I'm pretty sure they would like to chat to me. According to my rep, I'm a respected member of the community. So stop being a micromanaging douche and just let me talk to them!
Sometimes a new user needs a lot of help asking a question. Having a protracted discussion in the comments isn't helping anyone. It's also very slow and a waste of my time which I could be using more productively. After a great deal of rubbish posted in the comments for posterity, the system finally suggests that this would have been better in chat. I know! Why not trust me to have known that from the beginning? Having discussed their needs in full, I would be able to guide them in phrasing their question correctly, and thus having a successful question with helpful answers. Isn't that what we're here for?
Added: Re: "This isn't a social networking site".
It already is, and it's not causing you a problem. But being able to talk to people is really helpful.
Ask yourself this: Would you be willing to allow chat invites under the following conditions?
- You can choose to block individuals.
- You can choose to block users with less than x reputation.
- You can switch it off entirely.
The third condition means that you would be totally unaffected by this feature. I would be very interested to know why you would be affected by a feature you could opt out of.