Best practices for online chat rooms/communities?
April 7, 2015 12:30 PM   Subscribe

How does an online chat community (i.e. IRC, Slack) work best? How does it function and what is it good for?

I'm thinking about creating an online community that will use Slack as a platform for discussion and moral support. Slack is similar to IRC in that it uses channels to create different streams of conversation.

Most of my experience in discussion communities has been in threaded forums and Facebook groups. So I'm trying to get my bearings in terms of how a chat room is different and how to take advantage of those differences. Here are some of my questions:

Are there rules of thumb for the optimal size of a chat community, where there are enough people to generate a good level of discussion, but not so many that one feels overwhelmed or flooded?

What is the protocol for responding to messages upstream in the channel? Is there a way to reference them? How do people juggle more than one topic/conversation in the same channel? How do channels v. threads affect the flow of interaction?

Are there certain kinds of topics or types of conversations that work better on chat v. threaded forums? What kinds of relationships does it create?

Is it good to have designated chat periods when more people are online? Or just check in randomly?

I may be asking for too much here (Teach me the culture and practice of chat rooms!). If that's the case, I'd be happy just to hear stories about successful chat communities you've belonged to (or run yourself) and what worked well and what didn't. Thanks!
posted by alicat to Computers & Internet (3 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I think a chat based on an AMA/Ask Me Anything format are really great, especially with leaders who are hard to get in front of. Those are best done as scheduled chats with a clear start and end time, and also a transcript available after it's all over, for those who couldn't attend.
posted by xingcat at 12:35 PM on April 7, 2015

I am in two Slack communities that are not based around a specific subject, just friend groups. Both work really well and I like them a lot. What works:

Each Slack has about 30-40 people in it total, but usually it's anywhere from 2-15 people active at any given time. There tend to be shifts, where some people are always online during work hours and others are always online at night.

Most of the conversation in both happens in the #general channel. Separate channels are for things that could flood the general channel or are not of interest to the group as a whole. Like #jobs (for job search help or people letting folks know if their company is hiring), #politics, #computers or #code, #petphotos, #gaming, etc. That said, sometimes those topics do get discussed in the general channel. It would depend on your crowd how strictly that should be enforced.

One of the communities has two designated admins and the other one gave us all admin rights. Admins can invite people, ban people, move/delete groups, etc.

Slack has notifications and back-scrolling, so if you drop out of a conversation you can scroll back and see what you missed while you were away or logged out. You'll get a notification if someone specifically replied to you, though it doesn't take you to the specific message that contained your nickname. Keeping the communities small is probably pretty key - it's not really possible to scroll back to see what you missed if there are thousands of missed messages, and free Slack has a limit to archived messages.

My Slack communities came from Twitter and IRC so we were already used to the issues with real-time chat regarding cross-talk, multiple conversations going at once, etc. It would definitely be an adjustment coming from threaded forums/boards where all of the posting is just there to see and the conversations are more asynchronous.

Basically it's much more like conversation at a dinner party, where sometimes the conversation moves on from a topic while a couple people are still talking, and so conversations splinter and re-join and people just have to be flexible with that. And if you leave to go to the bathroom or have a smoke, you may not be able to ask people to go back and see what you missed so you can join in.

My internet friendships have strengthened due to our ability to talk more like we're in person via Slack. My work productivity has declined, though, so sometimes I have to close the app so I can actually get work done. When those messages are constantly scrolling it's hard not to pay attention and read them.
posted by misskaz at 1:00 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm casually involved in a team-based location-aware smartphone ARG where much of the organization of team activity has been handled through various chat platforms including Slack, GroupMe, Google Hangouts, Telegram and others (as local ad-hoc communities each tended to choose a platform independent of each other, leaving those at the regional to national and international levels to have to come up to speed on all of them to be able to get in touch with everyone).

Are there rules of thumb for the optimal size of a chat community
I've seen everything from a half dozen to up into the hundreds, and all I can say is that it depends. What you do have to look out for is platform limitations: Hangouts for instance, still has a limit of 100 I believe, where as slack has a limit, but it's trivial to get slack to up the limit for your channel if you need it.

What is the protocol for responding to messages upstream in the channel?
That should probably depend on the amount of traffic in the channel. If a dozen other unrelated/semi-related messages have come through since the message you intend to respond to, it may be best to tag your message with the recipient's name, so it's clear who you're talking to.

Are there certain kinds of topics or types of conversations that work better on chat v. threaded forums?
Things that need to be quickly found and referenced, such as meet up invitations or community rules do better when posted to a forum rather than a chat.
posted by radwolf76 at 6:16 PM on April 7, 2015

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