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There are two camps with very different positions regarding how users should be treated when they join a chat room:

  1. If you join a chat room, you've signed on to be addressed by random people and bots. It's expected that you may be pinged by anyone or anything.
  2. If you join a chat room, you're lurking. Until you talk, you've only dipped your toes into the water.

I'm in camp #2, and the main reason is that joining a chat room is very lightweight. It happens as soon as you click the big link in the room description. I'm not too happy that (provided that you're logged into chat and have enough reputation to talk) clicking the big link makes you appear in a very visible manner into the list of participants in the room.

I wouldn't mind as much if joining a chat room was truly an active decision, if it wasn't something that happened as soon as you wanted to have a look. (Yes, there's a link to the transcript, but it's rather small and hidden.)

Changing the main link to the transcript would solve the problem — browsing the transcript is discreet. However, I don't think this is an acceptable solution, because it would make actually joining the room — a common action — too much work.

What I propose instead is the following:

  • When you click on the main link in a room description, the display is similar to what it is now when you don't have the reputation to participate in the room (or aren't logged in at all). You get to see messages appearing in real time, and the screen layout is the same as if you were in the room.
  • The bottom part of the screen should show a message like “click here to participate” (I'm not hung on the wording). If you click, you get to join the room, with your avatar appearing in the participant list. If you start typing, then “send” button and the other buttons appear, and posting a message also joins the room.
  • If you've talked in a room recently, clicking on the main link for that room directly makes you an active participant.

The first click is merely clicking on a link whose text is the room name, which doesn't hint that this is an active, public action, so it doesn't have any effect that's visible to other people. The second click clearly tells the user that he's about to participate, and participating in a chat is by definition public since others may talk to you.

This provides a lightweight way to make joining a chatroom less accidental than it is now. It solves the problem of users being jumped on as soon as they click the link to a chat room: now they won't be jumped on until they deliberately jump in.

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Awesome. This feature, or something very similar to it, could really help with this whole issue and make the controversy over it seem silly. I like your reasoning. +1. –  allquixotic Nov 13 '13 at 1:31
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I think this is a good idea! –  Dave Nov 13 '13 at 1:36
    
The transcript is always available if participating is not desired. It will show literally every message every placed in the room. Joining a room implies participation. As in "to join" –  Travis J Nov 13 '13 at 2:44
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@TravisJ The transcript isn't what you get when you click on the prominent link in the room description (the room name). There's a link to the transcript, but you have to hunt it down. Clicking on the room name currently dumps you into participating the room — I want to change that so that clicking on the room name makes you a discreet observer. –  Gilles Nov 13 '13 at 8:17

4 Answers 4

Instead of introducing a medium weight feature, why not just make the existing feature more noticeable? I doubt many users understand what the message count really means in the bottom right corner.

small message count

Moreover, I sincerely doubt inexperienced users know you can view the current transcript starting from that minute by clicking that link

transcript

There is even the option to join the room while looking at the transcript.

join current users

What I am getting at is, lets make those numbers have a word there. Using preview would get the point across. This will require two things.

  1. Change the width of .room-message-count from 35px to 40px.
  2. Change the text of the link to preview. The title can remain to show the all time messages on hover.

preview text

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Note: This is a mockup, for those who are having trouble understanding with text, according to my best understanding of what the proposal is.

Current Setup

If you go to the chat main page you will get a bunch of rooms that look like this:

Chat Info

If you click on the room name, you are automatically joined in to the room as a user:

Joined Chat

If you click on the circled number in the bottom left of the chat screen, you get the transcript without joining (this is difficult to find for your average user).

Proposed Setup

When you click on the room name, rather than immediately joining you get to browse the contents but do not instantly join. Instead you get the standard window with the chat box below looking something like this:

Just Window Shopping

Buttons are greyed out, comment clearly stating that if you click here, you will join and can be pinged.

You can browse messages, and to join all you need to do is click in the chat box. The only added effort it takes over the current system is that the chat box does not start active. If you click in the box, the buttons turn back to orange, and you get the default behavior again:

Able to chat

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Beautiful pictures. I love it! :'3 –  allquixotic Nov 13 '13 at 2:16
    
I actually like this kind of better, maybe a mix of this and what I had in mind. Very close. –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Nov 13 '13 at 11:40

This sounds like an acceptable solution to what greeting solves for us with the bot right now.

Greeting (and pretty much every other bot feature) is the result of shimming things SE staff has not implemented.

If you could show users a few messages and maybe a line indicating a welcome message. That'd totally solve it for us. That's give a native way to implement the greet feature.

What about something like this?

enter image description here good luck getting SE to implement it though.. chat feature requests are often ignored.

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That said, I think there are several things that should be fixed first like the fact the current flagging system results in some pretty offensive behavior. –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Nov 13 '13 at 1:44
    
Lets prioritize tho? –  Braiam Nov 13 '13 at 1:45
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Your mockup looks good to me, and you're right, the text at the bottom should include the room description or some possibly customizable greeting message, which might even alleviate the perceived need for a greeter bot. –  Gilles Nov 13 '13 at 1:45
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Agreed. If that message can be room-configurable, we won't need any extra greeters. –  Jan Dvorak Nov 13 '13 at 1:47
    
Based on normal SE conventions, I think it's likely the rules should be hosted in the help center and not outside. –  Sklivvz Nov 13 '13 at 2:34
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Why is everything blurred out? Is this Quora?? Seems reasonable otherwise. –  Shog9 Nov 13 '13 at 2:34
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@Sklivvz these rules are room-specific. I can't imagine that all the rooms will be as welcoming to newbies as ours. –  Jan Dvorak Nov 13 '13 at 2:36
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@Shog9 no, it's to keep focus on the thing in question. It's a public chat.. –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Nov 13 '13 at 2:39
    
Actually, I agree with Shog9 that the blur effect is unnecessary. I'd like for users to be able to read the chat clearly on this screen without any further interaction with the webpage -- no clicking, no scrolling, no mousing, no key presses, etc. -- they could literally just sit on the screen you mocked up and read the chat, and never appear in the user list, even if they're logged in. That's what Gilles wanted, anyway. So yeah, please do away with the blurring? –  allquixotic Nov 13 '13 at 12:18
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@allquixotic of course the blur is unnecessary. It was added to not draw attention of you people reading the meta thread to the contents of that particular room. In practice no blurring will occur. Blurring would make no sense in a public chat anyway. –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Nov 13 '13 at 12:31
    
Ah, I didn't catch that part, sorry. In that case -- cool. Yeah, this looks like the way to go. Getting it implemented, though -- I guess we'll find out in 6-8 weeks, right? :D One can dream! :) –  allquixotic Nov 13 '13 at 12:33
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While some kind of help center would be nice a centralized SE/♦-controlled one would not be the best choice. Different rooms have different cultures and opinions on certain things. However, I wouldn't mind an about page similar to tag wikis: Everyone (or maybe only room owners?) can suggest edits and enough room owners (I'd say 50% of the ones who were active recently) have to approve it. –  ThiefMaster Nov 15 '13 at 20:41

Studies have shown that adding even two clicks to a process like this one reduces the number of participants by 80%.

I love the chat rooms, I'd like to make it as easy as possible to join. My vote's to keep it the way it is.

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I don't really think they will decide to leave because they have to click an extra button when they're already in the chat room. –  Jan Dvorak Nov 13 '13 at 1:36
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There is no extra click required to participate under my proposal. If you want to lurk anonymously, you need to click on a large link instead of a tiny one. If you want to post a message, the UX remains the same. It's only if you want to be shown in the participant list without posting a message and you haven't participated in this room recently that you need an extra click. –  Gilles Nov 13 '13 at 1:37
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I was against this proposal, until you suggested it might reduce chat participants by 80%. Now, I kinda like it... –  Shog9 Nov 13 '13 at 1:38

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