Our friendly RebolBot got flagged for the first time, apparently for an automated greeting. Another bot was taken down for (among other reasons cited) speaking without spoken to:

rlemon offers RebolBot a protip

Is it the case that bots shouldn't speak unless they're spoken to?

From a technical angle, I can understand the potential for infinite chatter if bots talk without provocation. But bots are there to add missing features to SO chat, which is still not open source...e.g. I can't (make fixed font code a reply [cough, hint, hint]). Tying the hands of bot authors to define their rooms makes it harder to accept the constraints.

If the no-speaking-out-of-turn policy stands, I really will miss the notification of when users-not-before-seen join and having a little thumbnail show up. It's helpful to know the tags in which they are active. But this kind of feature would be prohibited under a blanket "no bot posts without provocation rule". An articulated policy would be hepful.

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    [Obligatory comment about how votes work differently on Meta]
    – user102937
    Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 5:46
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    If I were to guess, I'd say one of those downvotes are "when is he going to get to the point?"
    – user102937
    Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 5:47
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    @RobertHarvey I know "downvote means disagree" but disagree with what? I asked a question. I didn't state any particular point of view other than I kind of liked knowing who joined the room and the current interface for finding out who they were is awkward and involves right clicks and such. I asked what the policy was and suggested maybe chat could have some more features, and the fixed font reply thing is a decent idea that if you opened up your code people could add in seconds. Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 5:48
  • Then I must ask... Is there a question in here somewhere? I'll +1 for effort, research and thoroughness, but what are you asking, exactly?
    – user102937
    Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 5:48
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    @RobertHarvey "Should bots not speak unless they are spoken to?" is the cornerstone. e.g. a linkable node to set that specific policy point, so yes, there is a question, with an actual mark. Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 5:50
  • So you're asking if the bot should refrain from greeting until and unless a new visitor actually speaks first?
    – user102937
    Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 5:50
  • @RobertHarvey "Greeting" is a poorly defined subclass of a general behavior that I defined more specifically. Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 5:51
  • But it does get the general gist, yes? In other news, oh, my. I thought this post was long.
    – user102937
    Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 5:52
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    New comers feel lost in a chat room and bots make them feel welcome. However, for those who want to feel anonymous, it marks them out distinctly, so there goes why it must have been flagged. Like the facebook "Seen" on messages. And about the downvote,I think it received a downvote since it is too elaborative and not concentrated on the topic of discussion, and it sways us off topic. as a side note: a good discussion though Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 5:53
  • @HostileFork I didn't downvote your answer, but I'm sure as heck not upvoting it until you edit it to actually just get to the point sooner. Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 5:56
  • @RobertHarvey Like you, I just found out about this today, you have the context, and you can ask balpha about the policy I guess. Really, I don't know, I'm just pointing it out. Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 6:00
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    I think an important part of this that really puts it on either one side of the line or the other: is this a one-time greeting or does is trigger every single time? Automated greetings every time you join a room are flat-out annoying, period. I can't stand them, and it's a good reason for me to stop visiting a room (just like on IRC). If it's a one-time message meant to inform new users of your room's rules, and they'll never see it again, then I don't see a huge problem with it (although you could probably do without oneboxing the user's profile).
    – animuson StaffMod
    Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 6:09
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    The Rebol room is one of the politest rooms in Stack Overflow. Let them dictate their own rules. @RobertHarvey it's something that the room has to decide on as a room, in practice it's been working quite nicely. Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 12:05
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    for the record: The Javascript bot also only greeted users who could chat (>20 rep) once. and iirc there were limits in place to not greet mods or high rep users (as they probably wouldn't ask redundant questions)
    – rlemon
    Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 14:56
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    The loss of automated greetings in the JS room has also resulted in users being greeted manually multiple times, rather than being greeted automatically once.
    – Ryan Kinal
    Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 19:10

2 Answers 2


It's been a while since this problem previously arose. I gave my two cents there, but people (cough Benjamin Gruenmbaum cough) asked for it again. What's my opinion on the matter? Let me tell you a story...

Once upon a time there was a chatroom whose topic happened to be javascript. People came and people left, people asked questions, got answers, sometimes got annoyed and sometimes laughed. A community formed in that chatroom, a pretty...odd community, to say the least, but a helpful one nonetheless. Since javascript is a rather popular language (ever heard of browsers?), there was always an influx of new users. These users were oftentimes new to stackoverflow in general, so they came with some annoying habits from other social sites. A lot of times, their first message(s) was:

  • Anyone here?
  • (Can|May) I ask a question?
  • Does anyone know anything about {subject}?
  • Can anyone help me with {subject}?
  • @randomRoomMember Can you help me with {subject}?

And many more of the sort. This was a source of annoyance, as they were useless questions. Instead of spending time on an actual problem, we had to explain that yes, you may ask questions, but it'd be better off to just ask a question instead of posting a primer. After all, we want to help you, and if you ping user FooBar asking for help and he doesn't reply, what, the rest can't help? And we don't know if we can help with {subject}, you haven't asked anything yet! And so forth.

So the community of programmers were annoyed about a problem and did absolutely nothing about it.

The End.

Wait, what? That can't be right! There's a problem...why not fix it!? The princess didn't wake up, say "oh, it's just a pea in my mattress..." and went back to sleep. Well, she did, but if she had half a brain, she would've woken up, said "why the hell is there a pea under my mattress?" and got rid of it! And that's where our story actually continues...

I remember one sunny day, barely 10 months ago, that Benjamin Gruenbaum came to the chat and said:

@Zirak RebolBot detects new room users and sends them a link to the room FAQ, "Welcome to the Rebol and Red room. See our FAQ" do you think it's a good feature? (source)

Mind you that by then, there's been a bot running for quite a while. That seemed like a good idea, it was implemented, and lo and behold: The number of newcomers asking the annoying questions above was reduced to almost zero.

The End.

Gotcha, not there yet! We were asked (or rather, told) to turn off the auto-welcome. This has been...a bit annoying. We left the basic command, so we don't have to type the "welcome to the user, please don't ask to ask, blah blah" message, just invoke a bot command, but why would we have to do it in the first place? We had a problem, the solution was pretty good and popular, we never received a complaint from an end-user.

In conclusion:

  • From your experience, there seems to have been no problem.
  • From our experience ripping off of your system, there's been no problem.

So no problem, right? We can turn on the auto-welcome again?

P.S. Thank you Rebol Room bot creators for inspiring our auto-welcome, and sorry for all the mess.

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    Also worth noting - we were asked to turn it off for a little while while it was being investigated and discussed - this was some time ago and we were not updated on any of it at all. Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 14:38
  • Apparently Shadow Wizard believes at least some form of respond-to-join is OK. His bot doesn't ping the newcomers, though, only mentions them by name. Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 22:41

There's some prior discussion here: What should be the limits for chat bots interacting with regular users?

The general consensus is that bots don't need special rules - they just need to follow common chat etiquette, which is basically: don't be annoying. Your bot can go ahead and speak when not spoken to, and greet people, as long as it isn't annoying.

The prior culprit was different: ChatBot John Cavil

The bot rlemon brought up was ChatBot John Cavil. The context of why that bot was told to have its greeting removed is important here. Here's the message where @balpha asks them to disable the greeting:

@allquixotic Please disable the greeting. Annoying every user joining the official Super User room and pretending that a bot that calculates fuckability is an official part of the chat is not acceptable. If someone knows about the bot and talks to it fine, but an auto-greeting is crossing the line. And please reconsider the /fuckable command.

The main issue here was that this was Super User's core, official room, where there are also going to be a lot of people coming and going. This is different to your situation, where you just have one bot sitting in your own private room.

Then there was that other command. I'm going to assume that's not an issue here. Nothing more really needs to be said about that, nor will be.

So should your bot greet people?

Up to you.

It's not annoying to your regulars, but then again, those who found the bot annoying enough probably didn't become regulars, so you're left with the people who either enjoy the welcome messages or can put up with them.

So the test probably is: Are you okay with your bot annoying a significant (but unknown) portion of users, who may or may not visit your room? If so, its greeting is fine.

Would you prefer not to annoy those people? Then get it to say a much more concise welcome, without a onebox or any extra commentary, or don't have a greeting at all.

Personally, if you brought that bot to a room I frequent, I would not find its greeting message acceptable on any level. But that's just me. It's not in any room I use, and I'm not in any room your bot uses.

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    I agree, let rooms dictate themselves. Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 12:06
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    Does this mean the js room gets to keep the automated welcome as well?
    – Zirak
    Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 12:08
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    @Zirak Quite possibly - sounds like it was doing your room an important service. Shog9 brought up this extra caveat: "Perhaps the only extra limit needed here is one similar to our rule of thumb for sockpuppets: a chat-bot shouldn't allow you to do anything you couldn't do by yourself, with your own account." If other people are doing what the chatbot would do anyway (or even manually commanding the chatbot to do it anyway) then you're fine by that caveat too. Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 0:17

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