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For those who aren't aware, we currently hold a chat in a dedicated chat room every Saturday about a different genealogical topic each time. It's really great to hop in every week when I can and discuss these topics with fellow genealogists and Stack Exchangians.

After a lot of chats, some things have been plain awesome and others stand out as needing improvement.

  • Saturdays aren't always for everyone to make. I know at least, for myself, I have to work Saturdays a lot, so I can't join as often as I'd like. Others have mentioned similar problems. Should we expand the chat to week long (with a new topic every Saturday)?

  • Another aspect up for discussion is where we should hold the chat? There is not much chat happening in our main room, Roots. Perhaps we are diluting interest by having two separate rooms. Should we merge the two and hold our chats in the main room or keep there own room?

What else can we do to improve this chat and make it as accessible and useful as possible?

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    I've missed you in the Saturday chats.
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Jul 31 '14 at 22:59
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This is going to be a really long rambling answer because I won't know what I think until I see what I say. (Edited to add: TL;DR -- I'd like two separate rooms. I originally suggested flipping them, so that the Weekly Topic chat takes place in Roots, with a weekend BS session in a separate Weekend room, but now it seems better to leave Roots as-is and hold the Topic chats in their own room.)

One difficulty with using Roots for me is that I never know who (if anyone) is around to chat. I know that when I log in and check the site for new questions, I forget to swing by Roots and join the room so people can see that I am here, and I don't think to look if anyone is in the chat room. I am still used to forum software where you can set the board to automatically show you are online if you don't want to be invisible. I think for the weekly chat, I have seen notices on the right-hand side of the page where the Related topics and the 'Featured on' box are displayed, but I don't know the system well enough yet to know how all that works. So for me, part of the decision about what to do should be driven by how SE's software works.

The one time I've really used Roots in a big way is when Dave Blackston and I were getting into a tennis match in the comments to his question, and I asked him to meet me in chat. The system was about to send us into a dedicated chat room, which would have been okay if we were only working his problem, but I wanted to talk to him about methodology, so it was really a commentary on all of the questions he had posted so far, and there were (I hope) ideas tossed about that might be useful to someone else coming along later.

The other posts I've made in Roots have been a couple of news items I just tossed in for people to see if they stopped into the room, because no one was around when I made them, or if I wanted to ping a specific person (e.g. telling JustinY about Find-a-Record getting talked about).

The idea of moving the chat with a topic to the main room, and having it all week long, is intriguing. One advantage: we have had a recent visitor whom I suspect has been coming by to chat primarily because he wants to practice his English skills. He has said that he stopped by because he saw people were in the room. PolyGeo and I have been steering the conversation back to G&FH topics as much as we can, but it is a slog, because he seems to be more interested in ancient history.

If the chat-with-topic is held in Roots instead, it might be easier to sustain a conversation about the topic of the week because Roots might be less attractive to random people who just want to chat about anything.

However, the downside might be that if someone had a situation like Dave and I did, there would no longer be a general chat room to go to, and that off-the-cuff talk would collide with the on-topic conversation.

I would not like to see the weekly chat -- that is, the current chat-by-appointment chat setup -- go away entirely. Random visitors aside, it is useful to have a time when you can look in and perhaps have a greater chance of finding someone there. I know it hasn't worked out that way so far, but I was hoping that the monthly workshop chat could be an incubator for Q/As. A weekend free-for-all BS session in a separate room could be a useful compliment to the on-topic-chat.

My other feeling is that it won't help to move the weekly-topic-chat to Roots unless people are willing to say something even when they are the only person in the room. Otherwise, it will be like the Saturday chat is now, where people come in, see that no one else is there, or active, they say nothing, and they leave -- only instead of that happening over 24 hours, it will happen all week long.

So, to sum up: I would still like to see a separate room for chatting about things which are not about the specific weekly topic. I propose that if we move the on-topic chat to Roots and have it last all week, that there be a separate free-for-all room, perhaps all weekend long, that could be used for workshopping and other current events that are outside the Topic of the Week.


Edited to add: As I write this, I see two boxes on the right hand side of the screen underneath the message "125 People Chatting" and two boxes, one for each chat room, displaying the information about the last posts in each chat room. I don't see these boxes or the messages about the chat room on the main site. Might we get more users in both chat rooms if this information was displayed on the main page in addition to on Meta?

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    I like to see Roots used to flag news items and alert people to topics being discussed elseweb and don't see why that should be confined to weekends only.
    – user104
    Aug 4 '14 at 14:06
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    I just posted a Meta SE answer on a question requesting that "Who's Chatting" be added to our sidebar. Hopefully, some votes there can help raise the chances of it being implemented.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Sep 6 '14 at 10:07
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  1. I think extending the 'focus period' from a day to a week could be beneficial -- it would potentially allow more people to join in, as well as enabling conversations to develop more fully over time.

  2. I'm very much in favour of retaining two separate rooms -- one where there's a specific focus every week, and one for more general (but still on-topic) chat, including discussion of specific questions or topics that spin-off from specific questions.

My reasoning for keeping two rooms?

  • If we're defining a weekly focussed chat topic, IMO that topic ought to be (pretty-well) uninterrupted by random other things -- so that somebody who has a burning interest in the topic doesn't have to negotiate the confusion that is an unfocussed chat-room. (I speak from experience elsewhere on SE where it can be impossible to follow the threads of numerous conversations going on in parallel).

  • We ought to have a place for spontaneous chat and news items -- it's impossible to predict what topics will arise on the site that excite interest but not of the kind that immediately generate answers. As the site grows, this general chat-room will (ought) to become much busier, but the chats will be of shorter duration and easier to follow in parallel. If something develops a longer life of its own, there's an option to create a new chat room but those evanesce with time once they cease to be used, so are potentially less useful.

  • It will be much easier to keep them separate now than try to separate them in future, when the volume of chat (I hope) becomes large enough to warrant it.

I don't much care what the two rooms are called, but Roots sounds a bit more general to me, and I'd prefer to re-brand "Genealogy Weekly Chat" to something snappier but clearly related. ("Roots" and "Roots Focus"? "Roots" and "Roots Buzz"? Open to suggestions...)

I'd be very happy to announce each week's new topic during the ending Saturday (especially if it didn't involve me cudgelling my brain to come up with something new in the absence of community suggestions).

ETA: If you agree with "two rooms", vote for https://genealogy.meta.stackexchange.com/a/1854/104 to keep all the votes in one place.

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So that we have another, and I think easily sustained, option to compare, I propose that we:

  1. Maintain two chat rooms
  2. Rename the Genealogy Weekly Chat to be called the Genealogy Conference Room (name suggested by @JanMurphy). This would be a chat room dedicated to a single topic but not for a set duration
  3. Encourage everyone to announce a new chat topic which they are keen to participate in when they are keen to participate. This can be done by posting a Meta Question describing very briefly that they wish to chat about "XXX" in the Genealogy Conference Room.
  4. Optionally, use flagging of the question to alert the moderators to assign it a Featured tag so that it shows up in the right hand side bar.
  5. As part of the announcement say that the chat is "starting now" or at a later time - and include your local date and time so that we can include a universal time conversion to it.
  6. Don't be afraid to suggest topics to chat about that have already, or even recently, been chatted about because we want to chat about what is topical for you!

By using this model I think we can have a more community driven, but focussed, chat room that complements the multi-topic chatting that the Roots chat room is allocated for.

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    By "Conference Room" I wanted to pick up on the idea of a Genealogical Conference (e.g. the The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) 2014 conference, which has just concluded) and the business/academic usage of the meeting room which can be reserved for groups who want to hold a meeting. It's not as snazzy as some of the other chat room names here on SE (favorite names are The Pod Bay, The Water Cooler, The Velodrome, The Whiteboard, and The Frying Pan) but I wanted to suggest it was a Meeting with a Program, like a Genealogy Conference, as opposed to the general chat of Roots.
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Sep 1 '14 at 23:36
  • I've converted my answer to Community Wiki to encourage anyone who would like to refine by editing to do so.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Sep 2 '14 at 0:04
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I somehow had completely forgotten we even had a chatroom, but it's nice to see that people are using it and that you've still got a weekly schedule of discussion topics. I'll try to join back in from time to time.

I like the idea of having the "Genealogy Conference" chat room specifically for weekly topics, and having a list of all the past topics and the topics coming up.

But what's a good way to remember that a new chat is starting? Is there a way we can be automatically notified (i.e. reminded) to check the new chat?

Could I suggest maybe a post on the @StackExchange Twitter account to mention the new chat each week?.


5 minutes later: Whoops. Check that. I just rediscovered that we can register ourselves in the chat room. I expect that I will now get notified.

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