While I understand that the chat function is a convenience feature, I'd like to make a proposal. Modify the "Users chatting" tooltip on the right sidebar of each site to accurately reflect users that are actively chatting.
For example, on cooking.SE:
"Wow! There are 79 people chatting; I have someone to ask for help right away!"
"Uh....well maybe it's just a bug or something..."
I see some major problems. First off, the first chat room hotlink doesn't accurately reflect if users are actually actively chatting, like in the second screenshot (which shows that all the users in the room are inactive). Secondly, 79 people chatting seems to imply that there are actually 79 people chatting right now, instead of over different times and altogether inactive.
Please post feedback! I understand that pinging someone works, just that it doesn't work as well as having an instant chat. Something simple like, how many users chatted in the past 30 min or something, or whatever defines "active" (definitely not a span of 3 hours), then reflect that. So if 4 unique users were chatting in the past 25 minutes, you could say "4 People Chatting Right Now", or something.
While chat is useful in some situations, the current system is misleading and unhelpful for users seeking instant communication with others. Changing this could make chat a much more viable source for communication between users of a site.