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If you've been using SE network for some time, you have surely seen some chat rooms displayed in the sidebar on the right, something like this:

screenshot

I will add that I consider something like this useful. It promotes chat and displays rooms that had some activity recently.

Main question: Were there some changes to the algorithm that decides whether the box with chat rooms is displayed? Is it no longer displayed on main sites and only on per-site-metas?

A bit more details. As far as I know, the details of the algorithm which decides whether the box with chatrooms is shown or not are not publicly known. And moreover it seems at least to some extent random, so the details might be quite complicated. Still, some observations about how it works can be made from the past experience. I have only seen them when displaying a question. (So, for example, not on the frontpage.) At some point a more experienced user gave me advice that they are typically displayed when there is enough vertical space in the sidebar. So it is good to try questions with many answers. (I do not remember who it was - but they definitely deserve credit for this advice.) I have used this a lot whenever I wanted to see the chatrooms in the sidebar. And - at least until recently - it seemed to work quite reliably, the likelihood to see the rooms in the sidebar was much bigger on such question than in average. (And it still seem to work quite reliably on meta sites.)

Lately I've been noticing that it does not work that well. But I initially dismissed this as probably I just had bad luck. However, after some time I decided to test this in more detail. I have tried a few sites and corresponding metas and tried several questions with many answers. (I have tried at least 10 questions on the main site.) I never saw the chatrooms when trying this on the main site. And it works almost always on the corresponding meta. I will list here the sites I have tried if you want to check for yourself:

I do not know whether this was discussed also on some other local metas, the first time I heard somebody complaining about this was in this discussion on Mathematics Meta: Chatroom links disappeared. It might be a complete coincidence, but it seems that was around the time when the threads for 2018 community promotion ads were posted on per-site-metas.

EDIT: As far as I can tell, on beta sites it still works the same way it used to be on all sites. I.e., the box with chatrooms is shown on the main site, too. You can try yourself - after clicking on a few posts with enough answers, I relatively quickly stumbled on one where the chat rooms are displayed. (I have tried this on a few beta sites, for example, History, Health, Politics, Sports, etc.)


I had some doubts whether to tag this , but I have decided to include it. If it turns out that it was made on purpose, either I can remove the tag or this can be tagged .

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    I suspect that since they enabled ads on all sites, it came instead of the chat sidebar widget. (Jobs are also considered ads) – ShaWiz Apr 2 '18 at 8:44
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    Note that if you are participating in Teams on Stack Overflow proper, you don't get any ads served on /home or /questions. The chat rooms where never in that rotation IIRC. So definitely something happened with the widgets in the sidebar – rene Apr 2 '18 at 8:47
  • @ShadowWizard I might have missed something, but I am not sure whether ads are enabled on all sites. I have found these posts which only mentions specific sites: Affiliate Ads Are Coming To The Network and We're enabling display ads on select Stack Exchange sites. Still, I agree that based on the timing it is possible that this has something to do with the disappearance of the chatrooms. – Martin Apr 2 '18 at 9:00
  • @Martin yeah, they now can be enabled on all sites, they just didn't pull the trigger everywhere yet. But most likely in preparation for this, they removed the old stuff that used to take the ads place. (Probably unlike ads, chat sidebar widget can't be customized per site, it's either on all of them, or not at all.) – ShaWiz Apr 2 '18 at 9:04
  • I think there might be a bug in there somewhere. I'm currently writing up an in-depth answer as to how all that works, and seeing some behavior that doesn't seem to match what it's supposed to be doing. I'll finish up the answer and then dig in to see if it's really a bug. – rossipedia Apr 26 '18 at 15:30
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I'm going to try to update this answer later with a more in-depth explanation, but the TL;DR version is that when we enabled display ads (from Google's DFP service) on some network sites, they took the place of what we call "Dynamic Height Ads", which is basically a bit of code that shows either the chat module, the newsletter signup, or community ads (or, in some cases, all 3).

I plan on re-enabling the dynamic ads on those sites where they were replaced by display ads, but it's not entirely straightforward as in some cases we have ad campaigns served from DFP that display community ads as well, and well... that could look a bit weird if DFP renders a community ad, and then we render the same ad just below it.

So in short: the chat module will come back, it just might be a little bit before I can work out all the kinks

  • Thanks a lot for looking into this! – Martin Apr 26 '18 at 18:04
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    Just curious, was there any (proper) way we could have caused you to noitce this earlier? 24 days aren't much when it comes to bugs which aren't fatal, but still... if there's a proper way to make it faster, I'll be happy to use it in the future. – ShaWiz Apr 26 '18 at 18:34
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    Meta is good. And you can ping me on chat in Tavern and I should see it. While I have been aware of this issue for a while, it's hard to gauge it's priority in the context of any given specific site. But generally, asking a question and tagging it with [advertising] will pop it into our internal ads chat room and I'll see it – rossipedia Apr 26 '18 at 19:40
  • @ShadowWizard It is not exactly what you asked in your comment, but still, this question by Sonic Wizard seems related: How do I get attention for old, unfixed bug reports and feature requests without official responses here on Meta? – Martin Apr 27 '18 at 13:29
  • @Martin nah, this doesn't yet fall under "old". Sonic meant bugs that are year old at least, in my opinion, which really went below the team radar. Ross, thanks, though you're rarely pingable in Tavern. :) – ShaWiz Apr 27 '18 at 22:29
  • Oh dang. Ok I'll try to hang out in there a bit more frequently then – rossipedia Apr 27 '18 at 22:29
  • @rossipedia I have recently seen chatrooms in the sidebar a few times (next to a question on a main graduated site). I have even taken a few screenshots. So have some changes been made recently, Can this be now considered resolved? – Martin Nov 6 '18 at 9:13
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They are shown sometimes. I have seen them a few times on Movies & TV which is a graduated site with a design. Besides these, I have noticed that link to chat room on some beta sites also.

Image captured without logging in.

Chat rooms on home page before logging in

Following image is captured after logging in.

Chat rooms showing on Homepage after logging in

But after sometime, the link is gone and replaced with community ad, newsletter or related tags and sometimes with linked questions. As pointed out by @ShadowWizard in the comments I also suspect this has something to do with display ads.

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