Olark is a customer support tool that you can use to offer real-time chat on your website or in your web app.

We use it for our tool (click to see a demo of how olark is integrated in our site). It lives in the bottom right of the browser window and you can click it at any time to speak directly with a support person (in our case, myself and my co-developer). It integrates wonderfully into our app as well, allowing us to pass username and email address to us in chat, and Olark itself lets you know what URL a user is viewing so we can click on it and see what they see. It also monitors for idle time, supports Jabber/Gtalk, and a host of other useful features that make it a great little piece of kit.

It strikes me that something like Olark might offer an opportunity for moderators to nip some issues in the bud in terms of new user confusion or people wondering whether their question would be a good fit (or any number of other issues that may come up). It would also allow moderators to provide basic support in how to use the site.

I've heard (this is anecdotal) of people having trouble with signing up using OpenID, for instance, or with the initial understanding of the Q&A model, and this might give us a chance to help those folks out and learn more about what challenges people face in using the site.

Let's face it, they aren't going to go to meta to ask about how something works, and there isn't really an easy to use help section in place anywhere (the faq doesn't count as it's mostly about rules, not about how things work). Chat isn't an option either as it's only usable once you have an account. And we must remember that 90%+ of visitors are are lurkers who aren't going to actively participate, but might be willing to ask a non-committal question without having to sign up.

Is this an option worth considering? Or are moderators not "customer support" and should they not be involved with such roles? (If so, perhaps StackExchange Inc. could consider using it internally?)

Note: I'm not advocating using Olark per se, just that the functionality and usefulness it could add to a community are beneficial. Don't focus on Olark, focus on the added value.

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    I could forsee a lot of abuse when impatient users might start paging mods for help on their unanswered questions. I've seen a similar phenomenon on sites that have PM systems. – jonsca Aug 14 '11 at 16:16
  • I don't think that's too much of a problem. You could only show the Olark widget to people with <200 rep and people with no account, for instance, and Olark limits concurrent chats to n depending on what kind of plan you sign up for. Or we could use a homegrown option that replicates Olark's functionality and integrates with SE's logic better. Lots of options available. – Rahul Aug 14 '11 at 16:20
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    Why not just create a separate chat room on the existing chat system called something like "Support" or "Help!" and lift the rep requirement for that room only? I'm still missing why we need a third-party solution for this. – Cody Gray Aug 14 '11 at 16:22
  • I think it would be more of a problem than you think. Mods are almost always high rep users. I've seen at least 4-5 questions over the past few months where people want to learn how to direct their questions to high rep users. Such proposals are turned down, but something like this would give those users a tool. – jonsca Aug 14 '11 at 16:23
  • @CodyGray It's not about the third-party solution, it's about the solution. Ignore that it's Olark and consider how real-time chat for early and potential users could be useful. Your suggestion may work, but the difference is that it's a group chat as opposed to a one on one chat with someone who will dedicate time to assisting you. – Rahul Aug 14 '11 at 16:30
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  • (Just as an aside, given the many downvotes: downvotes on Meta often just mean people don't agree.) – Arjan Aug 14 '11 at 16:36
  • @Arjan I know :) And those people are wrong! ;) – Rahul Aug 14 '11 at 16:37
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    I don't understand why it's bad to have a whole group of people assisting you (as would be the case here on Meta or in the existing chat rooms), as opposed to a single person. When you have lots of people available, it's far more likely that any one of them will dedicate time to assisting you than it is that a single person will do so. – Cody Gray Aug 14 '11 at 16:38
  • @CodyGray It's something to think about, for sure, I just think that one-on-one assistance is more likely to be successful than dumping you in a big room where social effects like shyness, hostility towards newbies, fear of asking stupid questions etc can kick in. But if I talk to someone in private, I might not feel that pressure. Also, I think the barrier to entry of an in-page chat widget is far lower than being asked to join a chat room on a different area of the site. – Rahul Aug 14 '11 at 16:40
  • Yeah, it's also less than the barrier to entry of the "Ask Question" page, meaning that you'd get a lot of people who think that's where you go to participate on the site. We don't want to funnel users there. We want to funnel users to post answers (and maybe questions). If they have an actual problem, they can come here to get help/support. There's been a very big push since the beginning to keep meta-related issues off of the main site. – Cody Gray Aug 14 '11 at 16:42
  • I'm also not seeing any particular reason to believe that there are as many users as you think who are unable to use the site at all without assistance. I sure delete and/or flag a lot of low-quality posts from people who figured out how to use it somehow. – Cody Gray Aug 14 '11 at 16:43
  • @CodyGray It's all speculation without data. Like I said, I've only heard some anecdotes about it which suggest to me there's some number of people (following the 90% rule) that aren't participating as much as we'd want them to. But I still detect some connection between "low quality posters" and "people who don't understand how to use SE" in your tone. It's not about that. It's about potentially very clever people just not figuring it out for some reason, and this being a cost-effective way to determine why and help them before they lose interest and leave. – Rahul Aug 14 '11 at 16:45
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    One other thing, too. Would there be enough moderators around to field all of these requests, and even if there were, how would they moderate? "Take a call. Clear a flag. Start to clear a flag and get interrupted. Etc." That leaves umpteen thousands of flags unattended. I suppose, theoretically, elections could be held for more moderators, but where do you draw the line? – jonsca Aug 14 '11 at 16:54

We already have "real-time chat", and we have the Meta discussion site (you've already found that one).

So I don't understand why we need some other third-party tool. If users aren't going to go to Meta and aren't going to read the FAQ, why should we go out of our way to help them why should we expect that they'll use the Olark chat system that you are proposing here?

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    The point was (I think) that users who need the help either aren't logged in yet or don't have the rep to use chat. However, if they can't figure out how to log in do we want to spend time supporting them? – ChrisF Aug 14 '11 at 15:57
  • @ChrisF: If they can't figure out how to log in, how are they going to figure out how to use this other chat system? – Cody Gray Aug 14 '11 at 15:58
  • I'm not saying I agree with the idea - just adding my interpretation of it (and see my updated comment). – ChrisF Aug 14 '11 at 15:59
  • Wow, what a hostile attitude. If people can't figure out how to log in we should help them, not reject them. Learning from people by communicating with them would be a good first step, as opposed to this "well then just go away" approach. – Rahul Aug 14 '11 at 16:12
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    Your experience might be different, @Rahul, but many of us recognize help vampires when encountering folks who don't care to read about the site they're using. I'm sure Cody is not trying to be hostile; there's just so many other users to spend time on. – Arjan Aug 14 '11 at 16:27
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    @Rahul If we had unlimited resources, this would be a wonderful idea. Since we don't, we have to Optimize for Pearls not sand. – John Aug 14 '11 at 16:30
  • @Arjan Why do you assume people who are having trouble "don't care to read about the site they're using"? That's not how it works at all. Some people just aren't as familiar with some of the paradigms SE employs, and are confused by various features. I'm saying we should welcome them with open arms rather than shunning them. It feels elitist. – Rahul Aug 14 '11 at 16:32
  • @John That's a great comment and blog post, thanks! – Rahul Aug 14 '11 at 16:32

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