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TL;DR

  • Meta is where consensus happens.
  • Questions and answers have to be good questions and answers without requiring "context" from chat.

Any Stack Exchange site has three realms for interaction: Main, Meta, and Chat.

  • Main is where the business of the site happens, in our case we ask and answer questions about Role Playing gamesas defined in help.
  • Meta is where we talk about the operation of the site, and come to agreements about how it works.
  • Chat is where we ... chat?

Chat is great for some things, generally extended discussions about questions and answers (especially questions that may be too broad, unclear, or subjective for the main site), and general socializing. However it is not a panacea.

Chat isn't a great place for establishing site consensus for the site for several reasons.

  • While permanent, it's not easy to refer to a specific canonical decision. Bookmarked conversations help, but unrelated chatter can obscure the message, and they can be created deceptively.
  • They are temporally localized. There might be consensus for 30 minutes, and that change later on. Also to participate a user has to be able to get on chat during the times the discussions are going on, which not all of us can.
  • Chat doesn't have the tools meta does for managing consensus. Stars aren't voting and there are no special tags.
  • Meta is the official place to establish consensus and discuss the site. If that's where people are going to look for those discussions that's where we should have those discussions.
  • Perhaps most importantly, chat gets a small subset of our user base, and a smaller subset at any given time. We have an active user base (based on a quick look at voters) of about 100. The main chat user base seems to be about 10, and some of those aren't active site users (surprisingly to me).

Obviously, Meta is the place for site consensus.

As previously mentioned chat is a great place for extended discussions about questions and answers, but this can sometimes create a integration problems main site (I welcome a better phrase). A question becomes a hot topic in chat, and because of chat consensus the main site activity changes in a way that doesn't make sense on the main site. The two most common ways this seems to happen are edits and duplicate questions. An edit problem happens a question is refined based on input and discussion from chat, to be a different question than it was originally. The duplicate problem happens when hours of good conversation and debate in chat can pull out a nuance that seems to beg to be asked, but to those who weren't in on the conversation, it just looks like a duplicate.

What are we asking you to do? Always consider contributions to the main site from the perspective of the main site. Questions and answers have to stand on their own.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for writing this up. One question: do we need to do anything special for comment discussions that get moved to chat? (W.r.t. the "because of chat consensus the main site activity changes in a way that doesn't make sense on the main site" issue you outlined.) \$\endgroup\$ – Alex P Jan 29 '14 at 2:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AlexP It depends on what comes of it. If it never comes back to Main, no worries. If it comes back as an edit it needs to make sense without the chat context. \$\endgroup\$ – C. Ross Jan 29 '14 at 2:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you add some examples of instances where a change in Main was unclear without the Chat context? Coming from the Chat user side, these cases might be invisible to me, since I have the context. \$\endgroup\$ – lisardggY Jan 29 '14 at 7:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for this. I have actually seen the problem of chat usurping the role of consensus-creation from Meta before (on Arqade, and I no longer participate there because of it, despite being a 20k user). I strongly believe it's a failure mode that breaks the Stack format, and I'm glad to see this assertion of Meta's primacy here. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 29 '14 at 17:36
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Often, a question is improved through feedback given in comments. In this case, the context of the change is clear, since it's right there in the comments next to the question.

In light of that, perhaps a solution to the problem would be to post the gist of a Chat discussion as a comment, to have the summary next to the question. Of course, this isn't enforceable, but as a general guideline or recommendation for chatters, it might be useful.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Not a bad idea, but remember that comments aren't first class citizens either. Better yet, put the context in the question or answer. If the change requires a lot of context that doesn't work in the post itself we have a problem. \$\endgroup\$ – C. Ross Jan 29 '14 at 18:25

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