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chat.meta.stackoverflow.com is extremely confusing, crowded, and hard-to-figure-out for even an experienced Trilogy user such as myself. I'm having a really hard time understanding it because it seems all so complex. Can we work on dates (time), what posts come first, etc...

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Crowded? I was just noticing how few people there are; I'm shocked if the number of people in a room hits double digits –  Michael Mrozek Aug 16 '10 at 4:53
    
@Michael, probably crowded as in "lots of things on the screen" rather than crowded as in "lots of people chatting away." –  Pops Aug 16 '10 at 16:10
    
what do you mean by "Can we work on dates"?. Are you looking for a gf/bf? –  Johannes Schaub - litb Aug 16 '10 at 17:36
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Am I the only one who thinks using IRC would have been better? :S I confess I haven't tried chat.meta (it looked too "scary") and that I've been using IRC for years, so I'm biased. But the advantages I see for IRC are that: 1) It's a well established protocol, why re-invent the wheel? 2) It uses a stand alone application rather the browser (so it doesn't close if you "close all tabs", something I do very often) 3) It's easier to use, at least for me 4) The same program allows you to chat in other channels/networks too –  Andreas Bonini Aug 16 '10 at 17:37
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@Kop: Man, I hate IRC. I'm all about open protocols and not re-inventing the wheel, but... IRC is awful, just awful. It's the 'Net equivalent of Soviet-era technology held together by duct tape and bailing wire. And BTW: SO did have/still has a channel on IRC: it excludes casual Mibbit users such as myself and tends to have more inactive users than active ones, but if you really like IRC it does exist... –  Shog9 Aug 16 '10 at 18:17
    
@michael by crowded, i mean with all the information, the data, and how confusing the layout was. Popular Demand has it right. @litb HAHA no I'm not looking for gf/bf, what I mean is timing, like what time was this post posted and which end of the chat room is recent and etc. FYI: I have never used a chat room in my life, so that may be why this is so confusing for me, but the question is still relevant because we have new, novice people who are not geeks or superusers who know anything about anything. get my drift? :-) –  studiohack Aug 17 '10 at 0:57
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3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Well, here's the getting started:

  1. Pick a room (this is also a topic)

  2. Click on it to enter

  3. Type what you want to say at the bottom

  4. Your messages, as well as the messages of anyone else in the room, will appear as they are typed, newest on the bottom, oldest at the top.

Maybe if you could clarify what exactly you find confusing? It is a different user interface than the trilogy because real time chat is a fundamentally a very different thing from Q&A.

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Thanks Jeff...nice and simple, will try again...thanks! –  studiohack Aug 17 '10 at 0:59
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I don't find it confusing. I find it impractical. I will argument as soon as I get a better picture, but the point is that it tries to mimic a IRC discussion, without the practicality of IRC. The sensation is that it adds something to IRC, but the additions do not improve it.

However, I like the idea. it just needs some shaping.

For example:

  • The room name could be put on top, as a bar. I find it a waste of pixels to have it lateral on the left
  • other rooms you are in is a very light grey. I assume it turns black with activity, but I don't like things I can barely see. The same holds for the user icons turning grayish as their inactivity time increases. I do see the reason behind this, it seems a cool usability choice, but in reality I am left wondering "what is this icon/who is this guy? it's too washed out to understand". Again, I don't like things I cannot see clearly, but that's just me.
  • jumping to other rooms should be made mIRC/KVIrc style. There's not much room for improvement in this field. A multiple tab widget is all you need, but tabs within tabs (of the browser) is evil... so I cannot really help here.
  • I like the entrance animation, it's cute, but in the end it's not easy to spot. Maybe a simple "foo enters" and "foo leaves" would be easier to understand, and leaves a log for everyone in the room at that time. Don't keep in the saved log otherwise very old, very empty rooms will have the chat log filled with enter/leave.
  • I don't get why dotted division lines are of two different shades of gray.
  • written stuff first comes out red, then it becomes green, then black. I assume it is the status of the XMLRPC operation, but I don't think it's clear enough, and I find it confusing. A small status icon would do the same task, with a contextual tooltip which would improve understanding if needed during a hang.
  • the big ugly face near to the send textarea brings up a popup with the link "user profile on the parent site". I don't get the relationship between meta.so being the parent site and the chat. I don't think the chat is something to be integrated with meta.so, since meta.so is for meta discussions about SO. We already have meta discussion about area51 on meta.so, and this is kind of strange for me. When a professional chef joins, say, cooking, and wants to chat, why should he need a meta.so account ? He is not a programmer, why should he deal with stackoverflow (or its meta) at all ?
  • the lateral ticker on the left is non-scrollable. I definitely love the starred messages ticker, but without scrolling is kind of ugly to have it disappear under the "send" bar.
  • Icons are generally a bit too small.
  • there is too much unused space between the "send" input and the "meta stackoverflow" logo on the left. It's a bunch of unused pixels that can accommodate something
  • nicks in the discussion area use a font that is too small to read comfortably.
  • I suggest to use a slightly different background color in the discussion area to timestamp the chat bubbles. currently it's always white, and the bubbles are grey pinkish. You can put the white to another, slightly different color for a whole hour (from 19 to 20) and then back to white from 20 to 21 and then different color from 21 to 22. It would make easier to check the time flow. However, I don't think "checking the logs" will be a strong activity, but it will give an idea of the flow, instead of explicitly timestamping every bubble.
  • the color scheme is a bit too dull. I would say rather sad. Pimp it up a bit (but not MTV style please. I can deal with cornify only once a year)
  • I find rather puzzling the connection between the chats and the SE sites. I like the idea to associate a chat to every question, but I don't understand if this is going to hold for every SE site (e.g. cooking). Also, I don't understand another thing. Are SE sites associated to specific rooms, and questions are automatically posted, or did I not understand correctly ?
  • When you have messages with your name, your icon starts bouncing, but it never stops, unless you send another message. An idle check to stop it would be probably useful... my feeling was "stop jumping, you damn ugly face. stop it!"
  • please, no "person to person messages". I believe we don't need it.
  • shog9 with the rolling head as an icon is disgusting ;)

Small bug: if you click on "room" to get the roominfo popup and then on "starred posts" you get an error.

This is just a random set of cerebral activity, I don't claim it to be coherent at all, but it's feedback...

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"multiple tab widget" - my browser has tabs, no more thanks! Agree on enter/leave msgs, subtle status color cues. And yes, my icon needs more rolling! –  Shog9 Aug 16 '10 at 18:38
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@Shog9: you have a point... tabs within tabs is evil. –  Stefano Borini Aug 16 '10 at 18:45
    
As i understood it the chat is only in public beta here and supposed to be added to the other sites later. –  Georg Fritzsche Aug 16 '10 at 21:29
    
@shog9 violent disagreement on adding enter/leave noise, but I like the timestamp suggestion for recent timestamps; generally not much actionable here other than "sounds like you should head on back to ye olde world of IRC" –  Jeff Atwood Aug 16 '10 at 21:50
    
@Jeff : I wasted 3 years of my life on IRC fighting lamers. I learned Linux security in the meantime, but I carry some nostalgia. :) –  Stefano Borini Aug 17 '10 at 7:19
    
@Stefano Borini: You can stop the bouncing icon by hitting <esc>. –  Robert Cartaino Aug 17 '10 at 19:42
    
@Robert : mmmh.... thanks for the tip, but there is clearly a usability problem. Also, what's the purpose of bouncing the icon, if there's already the highlight of the message ? If you are on another browser tab, you don't see the bouncing icon anyway. if you get back, that makes sense to warn you, but you also have the asterisk in the title, and bouncing it three times after refocus is enough, imho. –  Stefano Borini Aug 18 '10 at 10:53
    
@Stefano Borini: To me its an answering machine. I can step away from the computer or flip to another tab for any number of reasons; the message has long since scrolled by. I need that little red light blinking until I notice it and get around to seeing what message they left me. Simply indispensable. –  Robert Cartaino Aug 18 '10 at 12:54
    
@Robert : ok, I see your point, although I have a counter opinion and a counter proposal. The counter opinion is that if you were away so much that the message scrolled by, now it's probably too late to reply anyway.. but ok, I can be wrong on this. So let's keep it, but please I counter propose some non-moving highlight, such a badge on the icon, or a border. Constant, difficult to stop animation is too much IMHO. –  Stefano Borini Aug 18 '10 at 13:10
    
@Stefano Borini: Now that's a feature request and way more likely to get any actionable response rather than a "here are 17 things wrong with chat" post like this. –  Robert Cartaino Aug 18 '10 at 13:22
    
@Robert: I never claimed to propose solutions, I just reported my personal feelings. –  Stefano Borini Aug 18 '10 at 13:39
    
+1 to Stefan Borini for summing up my feelings about SE chat. –  Stefan Monov Feb 26 '11 at 12:13
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This is technically an answer to an answer, but since Stefano had a few interesting points, some of which might have had to do with the OP's confusion, I'll address them here:

The room name could be put on top, as a bar. I find it a waste of pixels to have it lateral on the left

Maybe, maybe not. Considering that room names aren't usually that long, and that more people usually have limited screen height rather than screen width, I'd say keep as much height as possible to the chat.

other rooms you are in is a very light grey. I assume it turns black with activity, but I don't like things I can barely see.

Yes, the lightness shows if the room was recently active. So when it's grey, you're not forced to give your attention to something that doesn't need it.

The same holds for the user icons turning grayish as their inactivity time increases. I do see the reason behind this, it seems a cool usability choice, but in reality I am left wondering "what is this icon/who is this guy? it's too washed out to understand". Again, I don't like things I cannot see clearly, but that's just me.

Same as above; when scanning the "user list", you can see quickly how many of those users are really active, and how many are just lurking. In addition, you'll get all info you need if you click on the avatar, including a larger and fully visible version of the same.

jumping to other rooms should be made mIRC/KVIrc style. There's not much room for improvement in this field. A multiple tab widget is all you need, but tabs within tabs (of the browser) is evil... so I cannot really help here.

You actually have two choices: You can either a) open as many browser tabs as you want, with as many rooms as you want, or b) keep the chat in one browser tab only, and be notified of messages in other rooms via the sidebar. I usually use b), unless I'm active in conversations in several rooms at the same time.

I like the entrance animation, it's cute, but in the end it's not easy to spot. Maybe a simple "foo enters" and "foo leaves" would be easier to understand, and leaves a log for everyone in the room at that time. Don't keep in the saved log otherwise very old, very empty rooms will have the chat log filled with enter/leave.

This animation has actually been toned down quite a bit since earlier versions, because many people found it… well, too easy to spot. And let's be honest, in almost all cases, the fact that someone enters the room isn't really that interesting. If they engage in the conversation, you'll notice them, and if they just want to lurk, what's the point of cluttering up the timeline with "user entered" messages? Even more so for "user left".

I don't get why dotted division lines are of two different shades of gray.

Actually there are three; the lines fade away.

written stuff first comes out red, then it becomes green, then black. I assume it is the status of the XMLRPC operation, but I don't think it's clear enough, and I find it confusing. A small status icon would do the same task, with a contextual tooltip which would improve understanding if needed during a hang.

Yeah, that was less than optimal; we changed christmas tree coloring today.

the big ugly face near to the send textarea brings up a popup with the link "user profile on the parent site". I don't get the relationship between meta.so being the parent site and the chat. I don't think the chat is something to be integrated with meta.so, since meta.so is for meta discussions about SO. We already have meta discussion about area51 on meta.so, and this is kind of strange for me. When a professional chef joins, say, cooking, and wants to chat, why should he need a meta.so account ? He is not a programmer, why should he deal with stackoverflow (or its meta) at all ?

chat.meta.stackoverflow.com is the beta site for the chat functionality that will, in the end, be available on all sites. There will be a chat.cookingoverflow.com, and the chef will go there to chat. All he'll need is an account on cookingoverflow.com, and that's where the "user profile on parent site" link will lead.

the lateral ticker on the left is non-scrollable. I definitely love the starred messages ticker, but without scrolling is kind of ugly to have it disappear under the "send" bar.

I assume you mean "on the right". That should actually be scrollable, and also only use as much screen height as is available. If that's not the case, it would be nice if you opened a bug report here on meta, preferably with a screenshot.

Icons are generally a bit too small.

Space is valuable :) FWIW, the user icons next to the messages get larger if there is additional space to be filled (because they said several things in a row).

there is too much unused space between the "send" input and the "meta stackoverflow" logo on the left. It's a bunch of unused pixels that can accommodate something

That depends on your screen (or browser) size. The chat should be usable at a screen width of 1024 pixels, and at that window size, there's not really any space left to put something. What would you insert there, anyway?

nicks in the discussion area use a font that is too small to read comfortably.

That's probably a matter of taste; but even more, it again touches the "screen real-estate" issue.

I suggest to use a slightly different background color in the discussion area to timestamp the chat bubbles. currently it's always white, and the bubbles are grey pinkish. You can put the white to another, slightly different color for a whole hour (from 19 to 20) and then back to white from 20 to 21 and then different color from 21 to 22. It would make easier to check the time flow. However, I don't think "checking the logs" will be a strong activity, but it will give an idea of the flow, instead of explicitly timestamping every bubble.

I'm not toally averse to that idea, although I wonder if it wouldn't cause more confusion of the "what the heck do those colors mean" kind.

the color scheme is a bit too dull. I would say rather sad. Pimp it up a bit (but not MTV style please. I can deal with cornify only once a year)

Oh don't worry, the color scheme you currently see is just for the Meta version. This is more or less what the Super User chat will look like:

Colors

I find rather puzzling the connection between the chats and the SE sites. I like the idea to associate a chat to every question, but I don't understand if this is going to hold for every SE site (e.g. cooking). Also, I don't understand another thing. Are SE sites associated to specific rooms, and questions are automatically posted, or did I not understand correctly ?

As I said above, every site will have their own chat.

When you have messages with your name, your icon starts bouncing, but it never stops, unless you send another message. An idle check to stop it would be probably useful... my feeling was "stop jumping, you damn ugly face. stop it!"

You have already discussed that with Robert in the comments, so I'll skip this.

please, no "person to person messages". I believe we don't need it.

Not planned, nor ever was. Did anybody say differently?

shog9 with the rolling head as an icon is disgusting ;)

Don't get me started on Shog9 :)

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I can't believe you used ImageShack instead of taking advantage of the shiny new image upload support. –  mmyers Aug 18 '10 at 16:20
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@mmyers Oh yeah, forgot about that. I'm getting old, I can't keep up with all they new things that keep popping up. –  balpha Aug 18 '10 at 16:26
    
I said not MTV style! :D nice answers though. –  Stefano Borini Aug 18 '10 at 18:57
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