This is a followup meta topic from the blog post.


I tend to think that meta is the work part, while Stack Overflow, Super User, and Server Fault are the home. But where is the other place, the third place that isn’t work or home?

We noticed early on that some Stack Overflow users were using IRC to socialize and coordinate their efforts on the site in real time. Per their request, we even set up a special RSS feed just for these folks, so that new questions would be visible there as they were asked.

Similarly, we’re using the 37signals Campfire app to coordinate our own work in real time between the NYC team and the distributed core team. I’ve been rather impressed with it; Campfire is an awful lot like a web 2.0 version of IRC. Try it yourself and see. It’s great!

Which makes me wonder — should we add a Campfire-like “third place” for real time socialization and coordination of work?

  1. unicornoverflow.com
  2. meta.unicornoverflow.com
  3. chat.unicornoverflow.com

I’m not sure “chat” is the right word here, necessarily, but it’s all I have at the moment. Other proposed names:

  • offtopic.
  • offline.
  • coffeehouse.
  • cafe.
  • live.
  • social.
  • thirdplace.
  • mod.
  • lounge.

So, specifically:

  • do you think this makes sense?
  • does it meet a real need for informal, real-time backchannel, similar to what people were using IRC for?
  • how would wediscourage people from asking and answering questions there in chat form?
  • what existing web-based "IRC-like" solutions do you think work, and why?

Edit: it seems many are unfamiliar with Campfire, so please watch this brief flash video to get a sense of what we think this feature might look like.

  • 13
    Are we doing May Fool's now? You want to add a chat feature to SO and call it unicornoverflow? Who are you and what have you done with Jeff Atwood? – user27414 Apr 29 '10 at 13:43
  • 17
    perhaps live.unicornoverflow.com rather than "chat" – heavyd Apr 29 '10 at 13:51
  • 5
    Perhaps roulette.unicornoverflow.com ;-) – Dennis Williamson Apr 29 '10 at 14:07
  • Freecycle calls its equivalent the "Freecycle Cafe". – RichieHindle Apr 29 '10 at 14:26
  • 9
    @Dennis - that would just be a bunch of unicorns showing their horns. – user27414 Apr 29 '10 at 14:31
  • 17
    So the site to replace forums needs a forum? :) – Benjol Apr 29 '10 at 14:41
  • 2
    as for name, I like coffeehouse.unicornoverflow.com - make it clear that this is just a place to hang-out, and not a place to ask questions, or provide feedback, or get support, or anything like that. – Portman Apr 29 '10 at 14:54
  • 2
    I don't mind if people answer questions there, but I will steal their answer and post it on SU :P – Ivo Flipse Apr 29 '10 at 20:07
  • You forgot wave. and buzz. :P – Michael Stum Apr 29 '10 at 21:44
  • 1
    If you do a real-time chat, make it IRC (possibly with web 2.0 frontend), so that grown up men can use real IRC clients. (grown up and IRC in one sentence? Huh?) – Tadeusz A. Kadłubowski Apr 30 '10 at 6:36
  • watercooler.unicornoverflow.com seems appropriate... – Osama ALASSIRY Apr 30 '10 at 14:19
  • I propose the 'cat' site to be called pata.unicornoverflow.com. Pata is that which is beyond meta, and a social gathering at the same time. – Wilhelm May 8 '10 at 13:05
  • Since this site has a tendency to turn into an MMO for some people, we could just name it lookingforgroup, or even guild for the per-tag things. – György Andrasek May 28 '10 at 11:51
  • sounds nice. but what about chat history for those in different time zones still interested in those conversations? – Tobias Kienzler Jun 16 '10 at 7:32
  • Would it be possible to modify/edit history of this chat? What if someone accidentally enters personal information that they don't want seen or even rolledback? – Mottie Oct 25 '10 at 13:08

30 Answers 30


I think this is a great idea! Were we only talking about the existing trilogy, I would not be so enthusiastic, but I would still be supportive.

I would like there to be a place where questions could be discussed, without necessarily answering the question. It would be nice to be able to throw out tangents, or ask ancillary questions, etc..

People, this isn't about US, it is about everyone else.

The existing non-answer discussion methods won't scale to lots of sites, and won't be easily adopted by the non-technical target users of StackExchange 2.0. This isn't about improving the trilogy, it is about making SE 2.0 work.

SO and the trilogy were made for US, but SE 2.0 is for everyone else. We are strange. For regular folks, there must be some sort of social component for the community to form.

I suspect that for most SE 2.0 sites, chat will remove the need for a separate meta site. Discussion about the sites itself can be done in the chat module, but feature discussions could be directed to meta.stackexchange. The last thing you want is a discussion about features and functions on the meta site for every topic site.

My recommendations ...

  • Have a "room" for each question, with the feed visible on the question screen. Have an easy way to make a chat item point to a specific answer or comment.

  • Have "rooms" (as Jeff mentioned) for general discussion and for specifics.

  • Perhaps have "rooms" for each tag, or for each tag with over n questions.

  • Enforce a (relatively small) message size restriction in the chat module, especially for newbies. The chat message size restriction could be increased as rep grows.

  • Thread the chat .. allowing (and nesting) replies to existing items.

  • Have the same kind of control tools (flag, close, etc.) for chat as already exist for questions, answers and comments.

  • Connect chat into rep and badges. Perhaps have voting on chat items, at smaller numbers (perhaps up vote +1 rep, down -0.5), or rep awarded for quantity of chat posts.

  • Include chat items in the search results.

  • Perhaps show status (controlled via user setting).

  • Perhaps allow (controlled via user settings and/or rep) a user to "poke" an offline or inactive user, which might IM or send a note asking the target user to join a conversation.

  • Some integration with Twitter or Facebook .. perhaps allow a user to choose notification of activity via a twitter DM or a Facebook message rather than through email.

  • I don't think rooms for each tag, but we will probably have some way of auto-feeding new questions that meet {whatever} tag criteria to come into your room as they are asked – Jeff Atwood May 3 '10 at 8:01
  • 3
    also finally someone who seems to really understand how this new feature would work! Of course I didn't explain myself that well, as usual, but.. still. – Jeff Atwood May 3 '10 at 8:36
  • 2
    Sounds like FacebookOverflow ;-) – Ivo Flipse May 3 '10 at 11:43
  • @Jeff - Any comment on the idea that the separate meta sites will not be needed? – tomjedrz May 3 '10 at 15:35
  • 1
    BTW .. the comment I just made would be PERFECT for a "chat" item. – tomjedrz May 3 '10 at 15:35
  • +1 for threading the chat. There could be lots of people in the room multiple conversations going on, so threading the chats would make it much easier to follow. So long as it is easier to read than twitter :-P I initially thought that Google Wave might work better than Campfire, but that is just because it already has threaded conversations and a wicked cool robot/gadget API. One reason geeks like IRC is that you can setup bots to do cool things in a channel, but this can also be abused, so an API definitely needs to be carefully considered to prevent spam/abuse. – Greg Bray May 4 '10 at 23:57
  • 3
    Rep for quantity of chat posts? Yikes, that really opens the door to a lot of chatter about nothing – Marjan Venema Oct 25 '10 at 10:11

Replicating what I just posted to as a comment on the blog piece:

Oh God, please, no. This kills off the argument that the Trilogy is not a social network. If people are interested in chatting and hooking up off-topic, they have -- by your own post -- already found ways: Twitter, IRC, etc. You don't need to divert development resources away from your core mission to support those who want that extra social vibe.

This leads, in my mind, down a slippery slope. What happens at chat.[foobaroverflow].com? Same engine? Different engine? Open-ended discussions? PMs? Smileys? All of those will be requested very quickly, especially on the SE sites which are not as "professionally-oriented" as, say, SO and SF.

On the other hand, a certain Meta user would probably love it.

  • basically, go here and use this. campfirenow.com It'd be a lot like that but with fully automatic/integrated login (we can pull your cookie from the parent domain). – Jeff Atwood Apr 29 '10 at 13:24
  • 3
    @Zombie I'm thinking certain users wouldn't exhibit the same behavior in real-time, it requires too much of them. – Sampson Apr 29 '10 at 13:28
  • 1
    @Jeff: You're going to replicate all those features? That's gonna take a hair longer than 6 - 8 weeks. :) – John Rudy Apr 29 '10 at 13:34
  • 7
    The web is becoming increasing social, like it or not. Leaving social features out entirely creates an opening for another site to better compete with SO. This feature would help keep SO ahead of the curve and make sure it remains relevant. This will meet a need for some users. If you don't need it, don't use it. – user27414 Apr 29 '10 at 13:39
  • @zombie obviously no conference calling (how web 0.5), no file uploads, somewhat simplified of course.. but sure. Watch the flash video. campfirenow.com/tour – Jeff Atwood Apr 29 '10 at 13:47
  • I did; that's what had me saying more than 6 - 8 weeks. Taking out file uploads and conference calling will shorten that. – John Rudy Apr 29 '10 at 14:07
  • @Jeff Im sorry I must have missed it, what was that flash video URL? :) – Locutus Apr 29 '10 at 15:43
  • @Locutus No worries. For you, and anybody else who missed it, it's http://campfirenow.com/tour - http://www.campfirenow.com/tour also works. – Sampson Apr 29 '10 at 15:54
  • 2
    I say it should not be built into the site like this. An official IRC channel or something like that may be nice though. – Earlz Apr 29 '10 at 17:06
  • @Zombie @Jeff This really would kill off the non-social networking image/argument the sites have held true to for so long. Would this be the end of us supporting that viewpoint? – Troggy Apr 29 '10 at 19:33
  • 2
    @Troggy: That's my whole point with this post. I'm not comfortable throwing out over a year of that argument ... – John Rudy Apr 29 '10 at 20:23
  • 1
    @Zombie Jeff would have to revert a lot of [status-declined] and [status-bydesign] tag changes :P – Earlz Apr 29 '10 at 21:15
  • No social huh? First thing I'm doing is throw @Troggy out of my Gtalk! Oh wait, where do I go with my moderator questions again? – Ivo Flipse Apr 30 '10 at 6:29
  • 2
    +1 and lol @ Evan Carroll reference. – snicker Apr 30 '10 at 15:05
  • 2
    I believe this is both my most upvoted AND most downvoted answer on Meta. :) – John Rudy May 1 '10 at 21:44

We're already using IRC, Wave, Sidewiki, e-mail, smoke signals, lasers and Meta comments.

Another method won't really change anything. We already have a third place notwithstanding your slowness in creating one in any official capacity.

Nevertheless, this kind of thing is important to community. It's taken you long enough to realize that.

Knowing that, I don't see why you should seek to use some new thing when the community has already organized around several old things. Just pick one of those (probably the largest) and make it official (or make an official branch). Or just leave them be, but facilitate finding the existing unofficial third places (a link to the popular IRC channels/wave accounts/sidewiki/e-mail addresses/GPS co-ordinates of smoke/lasers/etc).

  • 4
    Can't really say I'm a big fan of communicating via lasers, but smoke signals are awesome. – alex Apr 29 '10 at 13:43
  • 10
    ok, but IRC sucks, Wave really sucks, email makes me want to cut myself, and Sidewiki .. I have no idea what that is, but I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that it sucks. Try out campfirenow.com and see what you think. I really liked it, and I pretty much hate everything. – Jeff Atwood Apr 29 '10 at 13:44
  • 3
    Not to mention LinkedIn, Twitter, Citizen's Band radio, telegraph, seances, and even FaceBook. – Bill the Lizard Apr 29 '10 at 13:46
  • 6
    IRC rocks. Wave is OK. E-mail isn't right for this at all. Sidewiki is really terrible. Campfire looks stupid, and easily blocked by companies since it's just a regular ol' site. I'll likely give it a try later, though, when I'm less busy. – Welbog Apr 29 '10 at 13:46
  • @Jeff Atwood Wave doesn't really suck, maybe you can't find an use for it, but it's better than a lot of things out there, performance aside. – alex Apr 29 '10 at 13:47
  • 21
    If Jeff links to campfire one more time I'm going to start flagging his posts as spam :P – user27414 Apr 29 '10 at 13:48
  • 1
    @Jon B Why? Campfire is really great. You should try Campfire. Just go to Campfire's site and try Campfire. The site is campfirenow.com. Actually, has Jeff's account been hacked by a Campfire (ugh, the name is making me sick) employee? – alex Apr 29 '10 at 13:51
  • 1
    I link it because that's what the feature would look like, and the comments here indicate.. uh.. people .. aren't getting that. – Jeff Atwood Apr 29 '10 at 13:56
  • 7
    @Jeff: bzzzzt... The Websense category "Web Chat" is filtered. For the record: Wave isn't. – fretje Apr 29 '10 at 14:06
  • I told you it would be blocked. Anyway, I am looking into this campfire thing now that I have a few moments to myself. – Welbog Apr 29 '10 at 14:16
  • 3
    @Jeff: I don't think Campfire will work well for something as large as SO. Too many users would want to be talking at once, it would be a nightmare to moderate and it doesn't look like it's possible to break off from the main channels to have quick (or deep) side conversations with a few people (I might be wrong about that one, but I don't see anything like that). I think you're going about this wrong. You should see what kinds of features the community will tolerate (we know unsolicited PMs are out of the question, for example) and work from there rather than starting from Campfire. – Welbog Apr 29 '10 at 14:35
  • 10
    @Jeff, continued: Basically I think you're doing this backward. Don't look at existing collaboration tools for your featureset, look to the community that is going to be using the thing. Campfire is designed, it seems, for small groups to record conversations for later lookup in a very straightforward and unobtrusive manner. Who cares? SO is not small groups, and SO itself records all of the important information. Side conversations where two experts can talk about a question to try and figure out what an OP means (something I use Wave for) don't need to be recorded. They are transient. – Welbog Apr 29 '10 at 14:38
  • 5
    @Jeff, continued: Campfire is probably fine software. It probably has a few features that would be good for SO. But I don't think its focus at all aligns with what we clubbers (again, for lack of a better term - those of us who branch off on IRC, Wave, etc to talk about SO questions) need from our chosen communication technologies. Ask the users. You are very obviously not a user. – Welbog Apr 29 '10 at 14:40
  • 3
    @wel what? you can create rooms, then invite other people into them at will, or password protect them. That's basic functionality. It's not one giant room full of 10,000 programmers -- that's crazy! – Jeff Atwood Apr 29 '10 at 15:01
  • 6
    @Jeff: All I have to go on is that video. It looked like only the admin had those rights. If just anybody can do that, then you're talking about something a lot more similar to Wave and IRC. What are the benefits of Campfire over Wave or IRC from your point of view? – Welbog Apr 29 '10 at 15:10

And how would the chatroom Make the Internet a better place to get expert answers to your questions.one question at a time.?

Sure there're going to be questions and answers, but it's just a chatroom. You logout and the collective knowledge the question generated is gone and recorded nowhere.

If such a chatroom exists and gets traction, it will be tempting to post your question, get a answer, post followups and get your work done (something I always do on #python irc)

So I would say it's a big NO.

  • 1
    This is a valid point. – Paul Nathan Apr 29 '10 at 18:23
  • 4
    If someone posted a programming question there, Rich B would flame them until they left. These things have a way of taking care of themselves. – mmyers Apr 29 '10 at 21:38
  • 5
    the chatroom makes it easier to coordinate work on the site, like "check out this question", or "can you think of a better way to do this?". Being real time and informal, it also engenders community in a way that we haven't before. – Jeff Atwood Apr 30 '10 at 6:49
  • 1
    @Jeff So? These are meta discussions. should be done on meta – Midhat Apr 30 '10 at 18:24

Not everyone knows or goes to the IRC channel. I understand they can find out.. but making an official hub for chat would attract a lot more people. If they're all there as fans of stackoverflow, they'll have at least that in common.

I don't see why this is a bad idea. At its worst, not a lot of people would use it. At its best, it would be a really good social hub for programmer extraordinaires. (That is, if I understand what's getting proposed here...)


Is it more useful for Stack Overflow to provide a third place, or more useful to provide easy access to existing third places? What if profiles were augmented to provide places to enter XMPP IDs, user names on developer sites such as GitHub, Bitbucket, and Ohloh, IRC screen names, etc., with everything hyperlinked as appropriate?

If a real-time chat solution is added, however, it would be nice to be able to connect to it via either IRC or XMPP conferencing as well as the Web. I don't know if Campfire supports such a thing, but there shouldn't be any insurmountable technical hurdles to the concept.

  • love it! (15 char minimum) – Kyle Apr 30 '10 at 15:03
  • I agree 100%. That would make everything much simpler (for the users) and more open. – Andrew Ensley Apr 30 '10 at 22:56

I think a chat feature makes sense for moderators, but the type of chat a mod would want should not be publicly available. If you were to implement something like this I'd either make it moderator only, or have discrete channels for users and moderators, e.g. mod.unicornoverflow.com and lounge.unicornoverflow.com

I'd also consider making posting on it a privilege based on reputation to stop it from being a spam-fest.

  • 7
    I like the idea of rep-based entry. Perhaps this should be a 10k tool? – Sampson Apr 29 '10 at 14:09
  • 2
    I think doing rep-based entry and mod-exclusivity should be exclusive approaches (mostly because the latter implies a higher scale of the former). If we plan on it not being mod exclusive, then the rep-based entry should be lower than 10k simply by virtue that all mods, pseudo or otherwise, are already above that level. 3k is a more sound level I would think. – Grace Note Apr 29 '10 at 14:18
  • 6
    this is something that is captured in the "rooms" functionality of campfire already, and we'd certainly have that. Private rooms, passworded rooms, 10k+ rep rooms, moderator rooms.. – Jeff Atwood Apr 29 '10 at 15:32
  • 8
    @Jeff: Can we have a /b/, too? Pleeeeeease! – Dennis Williamson Apr 29 '10 at 15:51

I've got a great idea for a new [X]. Let's take [existing protocol] and implement it over HTTP!

Coming soon.. Email over HTTP!

  • 11
    isn't that what gmail is? – Knox Apr 29 '10 at 14:59
  • 2
    That would be a fair comparison if chat.stackoverflow.com ended up as a web interface for an IRC channel. Gmail is just a web interface for an email client, not a replacement for the entire protocol. – Gareth Apr 30 '10 at 10:48

Uh... That Camp thing looks nifty and all, but... They had, what, seven people chatting in the demo? There are a few more SO users...

Who's going to sit there and moderate it? If you intend to leave it unmoderated, do you have it in you to brush off whining from users whose feelings get hurt when they got flamed for spamming their SO questions?

As Welbog notes, this sort of thing has already kinda happened, without you. No offense, but... you're not a chatter, more a Twitter person. Maybe Robert C can help you out with this though?

Oh yeah - and Wave rocks.

  • 5
    Aw, man. I was all "hmm, a well written, well thought-out post." Then I read your last sentence. :( -1 – Randolpho Apr 29 '10 at 16:24

I must be the only person (besides Jeff) that thinks this is a good idea. Real-time collaboration is an essential tool for any collaborative project, which Stackoverflow exemplifies.

Yeah, people are doing it with other tools/sites already, but why push users away from StackOverflow to talk about StackOverflow? Shouldn't that tool be readily available as a part of the site?

And as far as taking so long to implement something, it's better late than never. That's not a reason to dismiss the idea entirely.

  • 2
    It's not a reason to dismiss the idea, but it is an opportunity to look at what's already out there for ideas before slapping something up. – Shog9 Apr 29 '10 at 16:56
  • 1
    Uservoice was also out there, but Meta is a lot better. I feel the same goes for what's already out there @Shog9 – Ivo Flipse Apr 29 '10 at 20:03
  • @Ivo: UserVoice wasn't something that SO users took to when SO didn't provide an official feedback mechanism - UV was the official feedback mechanism. And even then, it's hard to argue that Meta wasn't influenced by UV, considering how differently voting is used here vs. the other sites. – Shog9 Apr 29 '10 at 20:36
  • 1
    Nope .. I think it is a good idea as well, PARTICULARLY for the non-trilogy sites. – tomjedrz May 3 '10 at 6:05

My opinion - for all that it's worth - is that IRC is the best real-time chat facility. Clients are pretty lightweight, it's a well-understood protocol, the design is well known. I'm not saying that it is technically super wizbang, but man, it gets the job done.

I have advocated - occasionally - for a long time that forums are an excellent model for certain interactions. I'm not saying phpBB is teh awesome - it's not - but the idea of n-threaded asynchronous communication is not to be pushed aside lightly. SE is thread-level 1 async communication. There have been requests since what, day 2, for n-level async discussions?

I don't see the advantage of campfire. Especially if it's blocked at some workplaces.

(edit) IRC suffers hugely if more than 5 people are chatting at the same time in the same room. I don't think it's The Solution, but having an IRC server to ready spawn rooms on demand would be a good tactic, I think.

I should also note that I am not a Twitter person. I am an IRC/email person.


I have no idea if I would find this useful in the long run. However, I don't feel entitled to vote against a feature because I might not use it. I can certainly see how this may be useful, and that some users might love it.

The only downside I can think of is that many of us log on from work. While we can take a few minutes here and there to post to a "forum", keeping a "chat" open is crossing the line. I don't think that would kill this entirely, but it might discourage many users (like myself) from using it.

how would wediscourage people from asking and answering questions there in chat form?

Easy: no rep. If you want to earn points for your q&a, use the correct site!

  • 12
    I'm blocked from campfire at work, so that sends a pretty clear message that chat is discouraged. I'd probably participate at home though. – Bill the Lizard Apr 29 '10 at 13:53
  • 1
    @Bill I am in the same boat as Bill. Campfire does not allow working dragons and lizards. – Troggy Apr 29 '10 at 19:28
  • 1
    @Troggy: They're discriminating against the scaly! – Bill the Lizard Apr 29 '10 at 20:53
  • 1
    It's blocked for some of us non-reptilians too. – mmyers Apr 30 '10 at 14:41

If it is anything like campfire, I must say that I like the idea, personally. I do think it would be a great tool for Moderators to communicate better. I also think that a rep-based entry might prevent a lot of activity that would be unwanted. If users were required to have 3k rep to participate, there may be a lot less complaints about spammers, trolls, etc.

this is something that is captured in the "rooms" functionality of campfire already, and we'd certainly have that. Private rooms, passworded rooms, 10k+ rep rooms, moderator rooms... – Jeff Atwood♦

Sold! Sign me up.

  • 8
    AARRGGHHHHH! No more campfire links!!!!!!1! The guys over at 37 Signals are going to look at their server logs and say "What the hell is meta.stackoverflow.com and why does 99% of our traffic come from there?" – user27414 Apr 29 '10 at 15:24
  • Jon B: no they aren't, they are counting the hits and giving money to SO. – Nicolás Apr 29 '10 at 16:39
  • [BEGIN SARCASM]Thank you for adding 10 more links that are blocked by websense. It really helps.[END SARCASM] – C. Ross Apr 29 '10 at 18:43
  • 1
    Sold too! I don't want to have to use something else to chat about Super User. Example: what if one of your SO-buddies is on IRC, another uses Wave and YET another email since everything's blocked at work? You want me to keep track of everything? No I'd much rather have ONE place to chat with you guys and keep it separated from my Facebook instead. – Ivo Flipse Apr 29 '10 at 20:01

Hmm... Although I don't necessarily think SOFU, as a trilogy, needs its own chat, I agree that offering chat as part of the stack exchange package might have value. Because although SOFU has a directed purpose in which chat might not be valuable, many stack exchange sites are social sites. They're becoming the new forums.

That's not necessarily a bad thing; especially if it drives usage and revenue.

Edit Also, if you go chat, you better give us some emoticons...

  • 4
    Yes, looking at the bigger picture, the users of the mustachioedbowyersoverflow.com site might be a bit more social than us. – Bill the Lizard Apr 29 '10 at 15:41
  • +1 to Bill the Lizard! For those who don't get the reference, Joel discussed this topic with Scott Hanselman on the Hanselminute podcast, and bow-and-arrow hunters came up as possible SE 2.0 site. It's a good listen, although I don't think Joel was convinced about the need for chat. – tomjedrz May 3 '10 at 6:10

Why web-based? If you want to set up a chat system, why not use an existing technology that allows the user to pick his own interface, be it web-based, command-line, or direct neural implant?

I agree with Mr. Rudy that we don't need another place -- we've already found each other if we wanted to, and I'd rather not move discussions into another medium that really should be taking place on the site.

  • 4
    We can all net send to each other can't we? – random Apr 30 '10 at 11:57

I love the idea of the third site. Sorry, I don't have a TLDR version of the below.

I don't see it so much like IRC... I see it more like this. When I was listening to Jeff Atwood on Scott Hanselman's excellent Hanselminutes podcast, the conversation went towards the possibility of a third place per stack exchange in addition to Meta Stack Overflow - I think it was referred to as "off-topic".

So I immediately had this flash in my mind, of "personalinjurylawyeroverflow.com" and "surgeonoverflow.com" and "saltwatertank.com" and on and on and on each with their satellite meta sites and their satellite offtopic... this Universe of overflow sites. Escaping the engineering ghetto even. PatchworkQuiltOverFlow.com, and so on.

And in the picture in my head, the "Q&A professional" or "Q&A serious interest" sites were these big motherships, islands to themselves - places to do battle, earn badges, reputation, garner community and build search engine traffic ... but the off-topic questions were something different... they were the social network that connected them - more overlapping.

And I thought to myself "it would be like this if I logged on to FacebookTwitterThingWithStatusUpdatesAndAddAsFriendFeature, but I had my badges and reputations... and all my Stack Overflow buddies were on there and we were all in the same off-topic group, but I could add my brother-in-law over on legaloverflow and his buddy on saltwatertank... and nobody, I mean nobody would ask anyone anything about Farmville ever seriously!" and I think this could work.

If Stack Overflow is the intersection of Digg, Reddit, Wikipedia and whatever, this is the intersection of that and Facebook. But it wouldn't be a place to upload pictures of yourself drunk at the party the night before, it would be what LinkedIn couldn't ever become even if it tried really really hard. Because LinkedIn is just the "off-topic thing" in the middle - they don't have the mother-ships that surround it.

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter ... re-imagined. So the lifecycle would go like this.

Bob, a new personal injury lawyer, googles to try to find some answer or other. This might already be implausible, as I have no idea if lawyers google to find answers, but bear with me. He finds an answer on personalinjurylawyer.com. Repeat. Bob notices that this site is typically pretty good at getting him answers.

Being a kind of Jon Skeet of personal injury law, he starts answering questions, and doing a bang up job. He starts to recognize other lawyers, even one of whom is a cute blonde that he went to law school with and wants to date. He wishes he could reach out to her in some way.

Bob notices a link to the "off-topic" site, which the PersonalInjuryoverflow moderators have lovingly named the Legal Eagle, a sort of watering hole place. Bored one Friday evening (hah! lawyers are never bored) he stumbles in and notices that the object of his affection also has an account and is already a regular at the Legal Eagle. He is able to strike up a conversation, wearing his badges and joking about his gigantic reputation he earned on PersonalInjuryoverflow proudly. Much to the delight of Maslow, he asks her out and they are eventually able to pass on their genes.

Bob eventually adds his brother to his friends list, who has an account on SaltWaterTank.com and they use the off-topic megasite to trade YouTube videos of cats doing funny things. He adds his old university buddy who's on stackoverflow.com and they trade drinking stories and talk about the new bands that they're listening to.

I guess I don't see it like IRC... IRC and web chat sites tend to have the almost MMO like the problem that you have to be logged in all the time to get the benefit from the community. I see it more like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, just inherently attached to the overflow sites.

The "main sites" are strictly Q&A - no monkey business. They attract the professionals and people with interests.

The "meta sites" are the meeting rooms - well intentioned moderators and community members speaking in polite tones about how to improve the site.

The "off-topic questions" are the social side of things. Sure, we self organizing Twitter obsessed already blogging geeks have figured it out and don't need it. And sure, Facebook already exists.

But that's no reason not to try to go one up them. :)

  • That's more or less what I have in mind as well :-) Perhaps someone should make a mockup of something like this – Ivo Flipse Apr 30 '10 at 16:23
  • I enjoyed this read, and it is an excellent case scenario. But at the same time, what if this cute blonde never actually joined the Legal Eagle? What if she was an IRC girl? This isn't a hole in your interpretation, but really a thing for Jeff to consider when trying to "one up" the other channels. People will have preferences, some for and some against a new implementation. This doesn't make the third place a bad idea. But it does mean you have to consider how much time is invested in creating it versus how much utility it will actually get, and avoid neglect to higher Trilogy priorities. – Grace Note Apr 30 '10 at 17:13
  • Perhaps the people using IRC aren't the target audience of the third place. Just as not every SOFU-user uses Meta, the same goes for the third place – Ivo Flipse Apr 30 '10 at 18:25
  • Exactly, @Ivo. I support the concept of the third place. I simply picked IRC via hat. – Grace Note Apr 30 '10 at 18:33
  • Then they should use Diaspora instead of setting up their own thing that's in its own little software universe. I hate tons of random sites that each have their own ways of doing everything. – Omnifarious Oct 26 '10 at 17:28

I'm not really sure a third place directly connected to the trilogy is necessary. This need might be better served by helping SO users connect with each other on existing online social sites/services.

However, if you do proceed along this route I would encourage you to make it more than just chat. At the vary least, consider some means of asynchronous communication like threaded discussion.

  • Remember .. this isn't about SO or the trilogy. It is about SE 2.0, and the expansion to (hopefully many) sites targeting communities that aren't nearly as technical, that are more social, and that have the same (pedantic?) obsession with staying on topic. – tomjedrz May 3 '10 at 6:13

I don't think an IRC is the perfect solution. And I'm sure I won't use it.

If you really want a chat system, there's some good Metaforum (web 2.0 Forum, if you'd like) available out there. Like this one.
It's no longer under development -and written in PHP-, but the basic functionalities are there: good administration system (locking, post-it, ...), automatic update of the topics -no need to hit F5 every 5 seconds-. And its open-sourced.

The automatic update feature allows an almost chat-like functionality and has the advantage over IRC to keep an historic of the conversation for the people who can't stay on it 24/7.

  • 1
    "has the advantage over IRC to keep an historic" again.. this is something that Campfire does -- I urge everyone reading this to watch the brief flash video, so you can have some idea of the functionality I'm talking about: campfirenow.com/tour – Jeff Atwood Apr 29 '10 at 13:35
  • Let's not imagine that it's impossible for an IRC server to log its own channels. What you're talking about is just the ability to be able to 'catch up' on entering a channel - which is still an issue, but not as dramatic as saying IRC != historic data – Gareth Apr 29 '10 at 13:40
  • 9
    If you're looking up IRC logs on a regular basis you're doing it wrong anyway. Real-time chat moves too fast in large channels. Of course that really means that any real-time software isn't going to work for a community as large as SO. That's a big part of why we have formed "clubs" (for lack of a better term) around different real-time technologies that are small enough to work in real time but large enough to be interesting. – Welbog Apr 29 '10 at 13:43
  • 1
    @gareth I hope everybody understood it like that. IRC == no way to catch up. Anyway, the main advantage of being a forum interface is that it encourages people to write complete sentences/post. Not a 3 words answer like you could and probably do using chat or IRC. – Loïc Wolff Apr 29 '10 at 13:59

Too many sites.

I'd rather introduce a special type of question into Meta that has chat format, or try to find other ways to integrate this stuff with Meta without turning it into a crapswamp.

If this is at all necessary, Meta is the place for it IMO. The "Work / Home" analogy doesn't really apply because SO is not really "work", and Meta is not "home".

  • other way around -- meta is the work part. Though it is somewhat debatable, meta is much more "government". – Jeff Atwood Apr 29 '10 at 15:53

I think CampFire is the wrong interface. It seems to me that group chat is much more likely among a diverse and loosely related population such as SO, to devolve into flames more often than not. I think you should consider something similar to FB, if anything, where you control who your friends are and offer control over communication mechanisms to the individual based on established relationships. I'm not sure if I would use it or not, but I would prefer a system that allows me to control who I interact with rather than one or more public spaces that I can either choose to enter or not.

Here are some features that I would like to see if something is done.

  1. Real-time interaction (chat/group chat)
    • One-to-one access controlled by each individual via an mutual opt-in mechanism, or may be public.
    • Ability to share files, pictures, etc.
    • Use cases
      • I want to collaborate with another SO member on a project.
      • I want to have a conversation with one other SO member.
  2. Status updates (think FB wall)
    • Personal update access controlled by each individual via a mutual opt-in mechanism or may be public.
    • Should be able to
    • Use cases:
      • I want to let my SO friends know what is happening
      • I want to let people know when I've answered or asked a question
      • I want a place to organize an interest group or local user group based on SO
  3. Messaging
    • Ability to send a private message to another SO user
    • Ability to reject messages (permanently) from another SO user
  4. Groups
    • Should support both real-time (chat) and non-real-time (status updates) interaction
    • Real-time access should be multiparty (2 or more)
    • Requires a minimal amount of rep in the system (200?) to create a new group
    • Inactive groups are automatically removed
    • Access is controlled by membership
      • Public mode, anyone can join
      • Private mode, must be invited by group creator
      • Membership can be revoked/blocked in problem cases

Note -- what I'm describing sound a lot like Facebook so I'm not sure that it's actually important to provide the mechanism within SO. I'm actually ok with not having it, though, I've occasionally wanted the ability to directly contact someone that I knew could answer a question better than me to let them know about it.

  • 1
    you'd generally be in the "room" of your choosing, with people in that room that you want to be there. Not sure why there's such deep misunderstanding on how this works. – Jeff Atwood Apr 30 '10 at 15:21
  • 1
    @Jeff - who controls who is in the room? if someone enters the room that I choose not to communicate with, what are my options? what happens if someone follows me from room to room throwing flaming darts my way? for all it's faults, there's a reason why FB is way bigger than IRC ever was or will be -- the control they give you over your experience makes it a much more pleasant experience. IRC, and Campfire, don't offer anything other than "choose to participate or not". In that environment, the obnoxious people win. When I control who I interact with, I win. – tvanfosson Apr 30 '10 at 15:38
  • 1
    @tvan There are ways to control who can access a room in IRC. Having never been a part of Facebook, I can only assume that FB is far more finetuned in the ability to set these, but that isn't to say IRC is completely bare on that front. Many times I am part of a subset of the main room, and only those few of us are allowed to access it. If we don't prevent an obnoxious fellow from coming in in the first place, we can certainly be rid of him. And judging from the Campfire video, there is also a similar enough method for allowing permissions on rooms. – Grace Note Apr 30 '10 at 15:46
  • I do like the idea to hook this up to a more global portal, you could redirect 'friends' to questions they might like and show what questions/answers you've posted all over the Stack Exchange/SOFU. The way @Jeff suggests the chatroom thing right now it kind of lacks structure and relationship with the site itself. So +1 for me! – Ivo Flipse Apr 30 '10 at 16:21
  • It kind of sounds like LinkedIn: a place where professional/experts can meet – Ivo Flipse Apr 30 '10 at 16:21
  • I thought this post was a joke - making fun of the rabbit hole one can fall into. But you guys are taking this seriously? Seriously? – Frank A. Krueger May 1 '10 at 18:25

I don't really care if there is a web-based IRC, provided that I can also connect to it with a regular IRC-type client. By that I basically mean any of the protocols that Pidgin works with. ( Which also includes Facebook chat )

  • 1
    Hear hear. I'm very fond of IRC-based IRC-like chat :) One big win is accessibility; you don't end up with every screen-reader user having to figure out how to best get it to work with your "IRC-like" site. – ysth Oct 25 '10 at 15:19
  • 1
    Yes, IRC or XMPP, it should speak a standard protocol, not a super-duper-special NIH protocol. – Omnifarious Oct 26 '10 at 14:50

I'm saying no, specifically in relation to the Trilogy.

My reasoning is around the real-time nature of the chat.

My major concern, and the one that popped into mind straight away, is that certain groups of people would post questions/answers in the chat. I can imagine there is people who don't post a question on the trilogy because they don't like just posting it out into the ether, where as if they had a list of people, which would be obviously changing in real-time, they would be much more inclined to post.

I could see people post links to their questions, pleading for answers.

My other concern would be moderation. To keep a relatively public chat clean, on-topic and not filled with spammers and other disreputable types would require a significant amount of human resources.

And my other thought is that I really don't think the trilogy needs it. I think the community has been forged successfully.

So again no, but I'm all for these types of thoughts.

  • #2 can fairly easily be addressed by setting a minimum S[OFU] reputation level for participation, I think. – mmyers Apr 29 '10 at 21:49

I want to tee off the two words you cite as motivating this proposal: 'coordinate' and 'socialize'.


When your development team sets out to coordinate, they all start with one critical common premise about what they are coordinating: "We work for Jeff." I'm sure that there are disagreements from time to time; I certainly don't mean to accuse you of running the corporate equivalent of HMS Bounty. My point is that there is much, much, much more common understanding of the goal of the effort in your team than there is in the entire so.com community, or even the 10K subset thereof.

I fear that an IRC channel or any of the other mechanisms discussed here will mostly deliver fuel and oxygen to the disputes about subjective questions, editing, and question voting (just to name three).

The structured Q&A format of meta serves as a set of control rods in these reactions. People post up their views, there are comments in tiny print. Nothing is resolved, but the clumsiness of the whole business seems to me to impede the inevitable rush toward name-calling.

If this thing existed, my most frequent post might well be: "Quick: question X is open for deletion! Let's go get it before they finish reopening it!"

I suspect that this, and it's mirror image, are not going to lead to building a happier community.

I could summarize all of this under the general description of "Snark Fin Soup."


I could see some socialization at the 50K level. People who invest the time to get really high rep put so much time into this that they are prone to feel like they want the moral equivalent of the local VFW hall in which to swap stories and compare wounds. Below that level, my personal opinion is that the various denizens don't have enough in common.


I will not use any chat system that's not XMPP based. Seriously, I'm tired of having to have a special account on a special system that doesn't interact with any of my other software in a reasonable way.

The chat problem has been solved, and for better or worse, it's XMPP.

As for whether or not it's needed, I have no idea. Personally I don't see why there's any need for 'discussion' or 'community' on a site that's supposed to ideally be a collection of largely anonymous oracles. In fact, it seems quite highly counterproductive to that goal.

  • Chat doesn't need a new account - it uses the account from the parent site. – ChrisF Oct 25 '10 at 14:44
  • @ChrisF - I still have to use non-standard tools to use it. It will still be its own private universe. – Omnifarious Oct 25 '10 at 17:07

I think the answer to a "third place" is to create glue that enables users at the account level to connect with each other, but abstract away specific communication technologies and let users choose what they want.

For me the biggest challenge is how to get in touch with the SO userbase about items of discussion. The people who know each other have already found their own channels and means. But how do I even start an intention to connect with 'BigEasy5' about my answer on "C# references"? Right now I'll have to visit his profile, see a website link (if he provided it), visit the web site, and try to track down an email or something about him. Or I'll have to leave a public comment and cause comment spam.

The challenge in my view isn't finding an existing technology to communicate with, or creating a new techology which may or may not fly (although it would tightly bind the userbase to communication with one another) but how to connect within the community.

I suggest making users available to each other for communication as the first item, based on their own communication prefs, and subject to appropriate privacy controls and such.

Secondly focus on technologies that can enable that communication. Let the users choose their own way as they do now. One of the choices might be your handy dandy new "third place" web 3.5 chatroom -- think Wave killer :). Or I might choose IRC with SO users to get away from yet another web-based communication forum and log my own chatter.

I say consider separating the concepts of enabling communication and communication itself.

My answer misses the point of gathering all discussion in one place but there's already a lot of that given main and meta. I'm addressing the realtime discussion scenarios with fellow users.

  • Inside this new "third place" will it be easy for me to collaborate in real time to offer incentives to users who upvote my questions? :) Or might I provide a biased view to posture myself in the community, maybe flame some newbies? How about asking somebody out for a date based on their "reputation"? :) Lots of questions around how these live discussions could or should be handled but that's probably for another thread another day. Can my points rep be affected positively or negatively by how well I participate and whether I'm a considerate citizen or not? – John K Oct 26 '10 at 0:38
  • Hey, just realized I'm 6 months too late. Responded to new activity ont the blog post, but activity is because it's just been launched! Was just there and hey, I like it! – John K Oct 26 '10 at 1:16

I like idea of campfirenow alike site for somehow, but unicornoverflow.com might be a joke, if you are serious, the domain should already be taken, but now looks like still available at the moment.


Can't you give every question their own discussion 'page', like they have on Wikipedia?

That way if people want to talk about the question, they can do it over there rather than spamming extremely long comments to one another.

Also discussion on why questions are closed could be held there, rather than over here at Meta. Meta should be about the site, not about the questions themselves.

  • 1
    I don't actually like the "behind the curtain" of wikipedia, and I think the real time vector is the hook here; that's what makes it a materially different third place. – Jeff Atwood Apr 30 '10 at 12:30
  • 1
    It's just as 'behind the curtain' as a Meta question about it would be. Plus I didn't say you couldn't have real time discussions about questions. I just find that your proposal lacks SOFU's strict orders of seperating things into questions and cluster them in tags. Chatrooms won't nearly give the same structure – Ivo Flipse Apr 30 '10 at 16:26

Backchannel Q/A, not a problem

Nobody's going to waste their time answering a question for one person and have it scroll away where it won't get any votes!


I just thought I'd point out this conversation I was having with Jim B (as transcribed into his answer from the comments on my answer) on SF as an example of something that would be perfect to have a "third space" for. The topic was interesting and germane to IT professionals, but fell out of the scope of an Q&A site.

I would have loved to have a place to continue that back-and-forth, hopefully with a way to attach it to the originating question - maybe a link to a transcript in the vein of "discussion moved to thirdspace.serverfault.com/path/to/transcript" after the discussion was done, and "Join this conversation at: thirdspace.serverfault.com/?id=xxxxxxx" while it was ongoing.


Why not cornify.stackoverflow.com? Oh yeah I went there :P

Actually, I was thinking it would be good to have a moderator control that allows you to convert a chat question into a question in either SO or meta with approval by the person asking the question. That would save new people from trying to figure out how to do it as well as minimizing questions in chat.

Some other "real" channel names I thought up include:

  • irc.
  • rap. (this may have several meanings LOL)
  • gather.
  • group.
  • growl. (as in the MAC notification window)

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .