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Someone recently mentioned in chat that asking questions in chat is unwelcome behavior. Personally, I ask some short questions which I feel shouldn't be asked as a proper question on the main site, in particular short optimization questions or questions involving opinion. Can I get a sense from the community (especially those who participate often in chat) what is meant by the statement?

To quote the actual chat post, "please do not ask/pre-announce your questions here in the chat. This has been specifically mentioned by some people as being an unwelcome behavior."

  • If you click on the actual message from the pin board, you'll see that indeed it was aimed at a specific user with a penchant for being, well, excessive. As always: everything in moderation. – J. M. will be back soon Apr 23 '13 at 8:33
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In my opinion, it is perfectly acceptable (and preferable) to post short/localized questions/brain farts/minor confusions/etc. in chat and not on the main site. Most of the chat regulars will be more than willing to indulge you in a conversation/help you fix your problem (sometimes spending way more time than on an answer)/explain concepts (time permitting)/be a bouncing board for ideas... or perhaps simply tell you that your question is worth asking on main (or not) if it's more involved.

That quote was rather aimed at a particular user, regarding his habit of rapidly asking one obtuse question after another and asking it on main when he doesn't get a chat response within a few minutes (only to be eventually closed by the community). In general, such behaviour, coupled with a willful disregard of prior advice/help and refusal to RTFM can quickly become very annoying to the regulars (and often has). Although it may seem harsh to a casual reader who isn't aware of the background/context (which can sometimes span months), it is important to let such users know that what they're doing is not welcome (FWIW, I agree with that quote in that context and probably have told something similar to that user myself).

The only real rule in chat is — "Don't be an ass and be respectful of others". So feel free to ask your short questions in chat :)

  • Thank you! I was trying to read the chat history, but couldn't figure out the exact context of the question. – Vincent Tjeng Apr 23 '13 at 6:36
  • Yeah, it's not going to be easy with over 100k messages! :) Trust me, it's generally not worth digging (at least, not in this case)... – rm -rf Apr 23 '13 at 6:39
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I should say first of all that I agree with rm -rf on this point and absolutely do not wish to discourage anyone from soliciting ideas or discussing code in the chat (although, for longer and more detailed discussions on a specific topic, it's probably better to create a separate room so that people won't be talking over each other). My reason for posting that message was as a result of a prior conversation I had with Mark McClure and acl, both of whom expressed strong views that certain patterns of behavior, if they become widespread, will make the chat a much less pleasant and tranquil environment than it is currently.

For example, consider the following scenario. user-a and user-b are having a conversation; others are also present in the chat but may not have said anything for a while. Another user, perhaps new to the site, enters and writes:

@user-a @user-b @user-c @user-d @user-e hi, i have a problem with a for loop. i posted my question on the site. can you help me?

We should remember that, due to the question feed, these users are already aware that the question was posted, so they either haven't had time to answer it or weren't interested and chose to ignore it. They could continue to ignore it even after being pinged, or even, if they are feeling especially mercenary, tell the user to go away. Indeed, this response is not uncommon if a particularly baffling question is asked while chat regulars are in the room, but perhaps the user will persist in asking and someone will feel obliged to respond to the direct enquiry. If this occurs frequently, users will probably either avoid the chat, or begin to respond impolitely to unsolicited questions after having become annoyed by their volume. The chat hence eventually becomes frequented by only those users who are willing to make themselves appear sufficiently unapproachable. I understand that this has in fact occurred on some of the larger sites, so the existence of such an outcome isn't completely speculative.

In deciding what is or isn't acceptable, acl gave a very convincing analogy, which I'll take the liberty of embellishing somewhat. Imagine that you're in the coffee lounge with your colleagues. Maybe you're discussing your work, seeking opinions on your research ideas, or just gossiping about how drunk a certain person got at a recent conference. I suppose this scenario is familiar to most people. But now, imagine that undergraduates are told that they can show up and ask whatever they like, including badgering you over why you haven't graded their latest assignment yet, or asking for help with the tutorial problems for someone else's course. With all due respect to undergraduates, I suspect that most people would not consider this a positive development. So, similarly for the chat: anything that can genuinely be considered as chatting is surely fine, but nobody appreciates being nagged for help with very basic questions.

  • thank you for the answer - and I love the analogy :) – Vincent Tjeng Apr 26 '13 at 6:22

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