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Looking at the chat activity for the past week or so, it appears that hardly anyone hangs out in the Travel chat room. This wasn't the case in the early days of the site, when the chat was a lot more active. I think it feels barren right now because there's hardly anyone there, and thus people don't feel like visiting it.

How can we try to get more activity on the chat room, to promote a more vibrant and active community?

  • Props to @hippietrail for initiating the idea of starting this discussion. – Ankur Banerjee Jul 12 '11 at 8:37
  • Even if it looks empty it's good to pop in and say "hello" or "is anyone here". Often enough somebody will see you do that and then join which is how Ankur and I ended up spending the past several hours there. It's generally a freer and friendlier way to discuss things than comments even on meta. Plus we can get more of a feeling for each other. I think it's especially helpful during our formative beta days. – hippietrail Jul 12 '11 at 9:53
  • I don't think this is really necessary. For me it is much easier and less time to ask a question on meta than enter the chat. – VMAtm Jul 12 '11 at 10:12
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    @VMAtm: That's good if time is valuable but things do go a lot smoother in chat that can appear like arguing/fighting in meta/comments. We're not saying it's necessary rather we're trying to encourage it. – hippietrail Jul 12 '11 at 10:49
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An activity which has worked on many sites is to schedule specific events to gather a larger group of people together at the same time. Create a "chat event", pick a topic of discussion, schedule the event, and promote it. Meta works well for promoting that type of activity.

We're working on ways to shore up the exposure of chat; The average user isn't likely to know it exists. Part of our efforts are to make it more obvious site-wide when a chat event is about to happen.

But the premise here is sound — For a chat room to work, you need a critical mass of users to participate… and the only way to reach a critical mass on a young site is to concentrate the participation to specific points in time. Once everyone realizes "hey, this is a cool place to hang out," the on-going participation will snowball from there.

  • We were discussing on chat and came up with an idea. Is this feasible? – Ankur Banerjee Jul 12 '11 at 16:56
  • Specific events sounds like a good idea to promote the chat feature too! – Ankur Banerjee Jul 12 '11 at 16:56
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    @Ankur Banergee: Right now, the placement of the chat notifications depends on the number of answers because of the space available on that sidebar. We're looking at ways to better promote chat and highlighting the pending start of an up-coming chat event, specifically. I don't have any specifics at this time. – Robert Cartaino Jul 12 '11 at 17:00
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Ankur had the idea of making the chat sidebar appear directly on the main site. By default it seems to only appear on the meta site which makes it less obvious even to some of us regulars.

So I asked on meta.SO if this is possible.

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    Well, I think you are wrong here. I see the chat link left from main/meta link in upper menu. – VMAtm Jul 12 '11 at 10:54
  • @VMAtm: After asking the question with the wording "link" I realised there is a plain link as well as a fancy "sidebar" and that it was the sidebar Ankur and I were talking about so I reworded the question to clarify. – hippietrail Jul 12 '11 at 11:14
  • @VMAtm: The plain chat link in the navbar gives no indication of number of people in the room or latest activity, the chat box in sidebar does. It makes sense to put it on front page to encourage people to use it. English.SE shows it on front page, for instance, and they have a fairly active chat room. – Ankur Banerjee Jul 12 '11 at 16:25

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