In the recent mod/staff virtual meetup, which included members of senior company leadership such as the CEO, a lot of discussion happened around focusing on new initiatives versus community requests. One example brought up was deciding to work on Discussions, as, according to Prashanth (the CEO), there were thousands of people saying that they needed a place for more open discussion in a less formal method than Q&A.
However, such a place does already exist, and has for many years on the Stack Exchange platform, and that is chat. There are currently three chat servers, chat.SE, chat.SO, and chat.Meta. These provide a much less structured, and less formal, way of discussion. It was explicitly developed to be the more lax "third place".
As Prashanth noted, it's very hard to build a community without discussing things, and I wholeheartedly agree. We've been pushing for more focus on chat for years, but it hasn't been a priority. I understand that; Teams and the like were much more urgent as the company needed to make money to survive.
However, when people are requesting something that very much does exist, but is not well-known, why was the decision made to make something entirely new (Discussions) rather than going, "Okay, we need a discussion area for the NLP Collective. Let's create a chat room, appoint "recognized members" as Room Owners, and prominently link this from the Collective"?
The existing chat features are where the community already hangs out, and so it would be less isolated - you're more likely to involve more people if you go to where they are rather than having them come to you. It has existing moderation tools that mods are familiar with, meaning that the existing tools can handle moderation instead of requiring CMs to moderate the Discussion spaces. It supports most of the features that Discussions currently has:
- Users can browse and view open Discussions posts.
- Collective members can create new Discussions, and any registered user can reply to existing Discussions.
- Nested replies are supported.
- While voting is supported and post scores are tracked, there is no reputation impact to voting within Discussions.
Any user can view chat rooms, even if they can't talk until they have 20 rep. (However, users with lower rep can be manually granted talk permissions per-room, and this 20-rep limit is something that, if dev work was being done, could even be adjusted or removed on Collective chatrooms.)
Users gain the ability to create new rooms at 100 rep or so.
Replies are robust and implemented in the least confusing way of any chat system I've used.
Users can star interesting messages, and this doesn't affect rep (but you can get a couple badges).
In addition, this would have been a great opportunity to simultaneously work on something community-requested and that feeds into the current needs of the company.
From what Prashanth said in the meetup, I understand that focusing on a discussion space was a major priority in the past few months. The example given was Area 51 vs Discussions. However, I didn't hear anything about why a new feature was developed from the ground up instead of improving and using an existing feature, that's well-loved by the community and proven to be robust. Yes, apparently the chat codebase is esoteric, but surely with (one of) the original creator(s) of chat on board and a very competent dev team, it could be figured out.
Why was the decision made to create this new feature instead of using something that already exists?