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Inspired by: Best place to meet female programmers (for romance) ?

It occurs to me that Chat would be a fine place to get to know your fellow SE users a bit more, by enabling the rapid eXchange of... thoughts and ideas.

But this presents a problem: users are scattered across the globe, with wildly varying times of activity. Some of us get up at the break of dawn and chat while drinking our morning coffee, while others wake at dusk and chat while sucking the life essence from their evening's victim. Attempting to use chat across such barriers can be an exercise in futility!

Furthermore, some topics themselves have regular periods of low and high activity. For instance, most users tend to visit The Tavern in the morning, while later on preferring to discuss their bedtime bacon.

Therefore, I propose an addition to the information displayed for both users and rooms: daily activity histograms:

User activity histogram

Room activity histogram

I envision each graph representing a day, with each bucket representing the sum of an hour's worth of posts. This would be most useful if no more than the last week or so of data was used for each user or room - curiosity on long-term historical trends could be sated elsewhere. My goal here is that users would be able to identify at a glance the likelihood that their target will be active, and plan accordingly.

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Room activity reporting is a great idea.

User activity reporting seems like an unecessary privacy compromise.

Tracking time patterns feels more invasive than just having your individual posts public.

Public records of how long one spends in a chat room during business hours or how often someone's up all night (on school nights, no less!) trying to meet attractive programmers of the opposite sex strikes me as more sharing than one should be exposed to just by participating in chat.

Yes, I recognize that this info could be gleaned by following a user's individual posts, etc. but it takes a lot more work to track someone's every movement that way. It's a little like the difference in your comfort knowing that you're being recorded by some camera most of the day in most cities, and how you'd feel if they were all owned by the same person and that person could track your every movement.

No, no one cares about my movement, but people are very protective about privacy.

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I care about your movement, Jaydles. I care a lot... – Shog9 Aug 16 '10 at 22:17
I don't think this is a valid issue; your public chat messages are a matter of public record. See.. and – Jeff Atwood Aug 16 '10 at 22:21
Yeah! Let's be creepy - like Twitter! – Shog9 Aug 16 '10 at 22:26
Ok, serious response: while Jeff is right in that the data will be available to whoever wants it, there's something to be said for not providing too much in the way of easily-indexed statistics right on the site. That first twitter graph is fine - there's no indication of how much time you're spending in chat, just a rough idea of when you spend it. My histogram mock-ups above eschew hard numbers and a labeled y-axis for the same reason. I think we should avoid anything like the second twitter example... – Shog9 Aug 16 '10 at 23:15
@Jeff, I do get that it's public - I just think a lot of folks (including me) will balk when it gets really easy to track my activity. One reason I don't use twitter (other than having little to say) is that I don't want others to be able to track when I sleep unless they invest a little time in stalking me, or at least compiling a bunch of post data in an annoying way. Speaking of which, you should really try to get closer to 8 hours. Truth is, I've already achieved my main goal here: getting @Shog9 to tell me how much he cares. Sometimes it's just nice to hear it, you know? – Jaydles Aug 17 '10 at 1:10

This is a great idea.

One of the key elements of chat is that you have to be "in the right time, at the right place" since most stuff happens in real time. There's always the archives / search, of course, and we're struggling mightily to make archives work as well as possible, but .. there's no getting around the fact that certain times are just better than others to reach the critical mass necessary to have a viable chat room.

And what better than letting history be our guide?

However, I think it might work better as plain text? The graph could of course be there to back up the data, but I think plain text is easier to process as "the answer"

For a room:


This room is most active between 12 pm to 3 pm, and 5 pm to 8 pm.

The most active days are Wednesday and Thursday, with lowest activity on Saturdays.

And for a user:


This user tends to chat between 11 pm and 4 am.

Their most active days are Saturday and Sunday, with lowest activity on Tuesdays.

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I guess my concerns with this would be 1) that it takes a lot of space to present not very much information, and 2) that it could be rather difficult to get "right": picking a range or ranges that cover 90% of activity could work well for rooms/users with one or two clear peaks and lots of dead time, but would be misleading for users/rooms that have a fairly constant presence / buzz with occasional periods of abnormal activity. What algorithm did you have in mind for calculating this? – Shog9 Aug 16 '10 at 16:44
@shog9 reading those tiny graphs, and interpreting "hmm, which hours does that mean.. and which time zone is this in?" is the very definition of don't make me think. Text is better as a first responder. – Jeff Atwood Aug 16 '10 at 22:22
only if you can pick the right data for what you want. If it's enough to know that UserA tends to be around between 6 and 10, then it's easy; if you need more detail, this could turn into a wall of text fast. – Shog9 Aug 16 '10 at 22:44

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