The Community Club

Louis
Louis

Posted on

Issues with managing real time chat communities

This was posted as a question in one of my other posts in the community but I thought I should repost it on the main feed for more exposure to see if any other more experienced community builders faced these issues.

When starting the Slack/Discord community (when there was only a handful of members) how did you guys solve the problem of having people saying "Hi", "Anyone online?" at different times because each of them is living in different timezones?

Also, some channels get so flooded when I come back to some of the discord community I can't even follow the conversation anymore, was this a problem for you guys too?

Discussion (9)

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mmohammed profile image
Mohamed

I worked as a Mod on social media platform meant for university students and it had a live chat element to it. I did wonder the same thing as folks from Australia were logging in after the UK members were done for the day. It's a tricky one, honestly. I did end up spending hours following real time convos at breakneck speeds and yeah, the pile ups are a familiar site too.

For Slack, I wonder if there's a bot that can greet folks who login, letting them know how many folks are online at that time?

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lingxiao profile image
Xiao Ling

@Mohamed how often do students actually partake in the live chat component of this channel? And when they do what do they talk about that cannot be communicated by text.

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mmohammed profile image
Mohamed

They mostly logged on during the evenings and the occasional early afternoon. Everything they talk about, absolutely everything, could be discussed via text. In fact, we often had users sharing WhatsApp group info with each other. However, when you've got over 500,000 people registered on a platform, even 0.5% of that number logged on and participating at any given time makes for a nightmare when it comes to moderation.

Personally, I think the students on the platform saw it as something new and shiny. They showed up to find out who else was going to their university (the platform had channels and sub channels for every university in the UK and a few in the US as well) and stayed to chat because it was easy to sign on and get talking in a public chat room.

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lingxiao profile image
Xiao Ling

That's an incredible use case, honestly I feel like there is something there if it's properly managed. Is there a notion of breakout rooms? It would do a lot in terms of containing conversations. If the room is small enough people will constrain each other's behavior. Many startups have tried this concept but so far nothing is compelling in so far as I can tell.

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mmohammed profile image
Mohamed • Edited

Unfortunately, the business went under a few mere months after I left. They'd been heading in that direction for a while. They had largely slacked on running ads on the platform, which was fine were it not for the equal lack of alternative revenue. They had an idea, a good one, but no way to translate it into actual money. As a Mod, it felt like we were aiming for engagement as a success point in and of itself, which was why the Community team largely saw that downfall coming and started leaving one by one.

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lingxiao profile image
Xiao Ling

Oh that's so unfortunate. From a space standpoint, colleges are co-working spaces that also act as a managed marketplaces for recruIting, so there's an obvious missed opportunity here beyond another ad page. I'm working on a similar use case, could I reach out to you and hear more about your experience over Zoom? It seems like there's so much to be learned here.

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mmohammed profile image
Mohamed

Yes, of course. I'd be happy to help and answer any questions I can!

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lingxiao profile image
Xiao Ling

awesome I just dm'ed you

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superplane39 profile image
Mithical

First question first - how do you avoid the "anyone online?" issue?

In the real-time chats I've been responsible for (largely Discord servers and Stack Exchange chat rooms, really), I've found that you're never going to be able to fully avoid it unless the chat is active 24/7, which is a bit of an unrealistic goal for most chats. When someone does start with asking, it usually works just to post a reminder that it's okay for chat to be idle for a bit and that there's no need to have a conversation for the sake of a conversation.

If someone has a question, encourage them to ask it even if nobody's around. It might rouse people to answer, or someone will respond when they get online. Chat is inherently asynchronous; that's a strength, not a weakness.


As for flooding the chat... that's a bit more of an issue. I'd question, though, what your motivation is for seeing everything - to keep an eye out for moderation issues? Support questions that may have gotten lost? Something else?

If you're worried about moderation issues being lost, I'd encourage making sure there's another moderator online when you're not on. (If you don't want to appoint someone to the same level you are, you can even create several levels of moderator, each with different privileges.) That way you know that someone has an eye on things / is around even when you're sleeping or busy. For reference, in a server with around 320 members total and maybe 30 regulars, we have 9 moderators, of which 7 are active. This includes a timezone spread that covers Europe, the US, the Middle East, and India. (As for how to decide who to appoint, we created a nomination channel (cooldown locked to 1 message every 6 hours per person) where people could volunteer and then hand-picked from those.)

If you're worried about other things getting lost (such as support requests) and / or different topics getting mingled, you can splinter your channels a bit. Personally, I dislike splintering too much, but there's no denying that having dedicated channels for different topics helps keep conversations focused, allows different topics to be discussed simultaneously without getting too confusing, and helps people not interested in a subject avoid it.

As your space grows, though, I'd give up hope of reading every single message. For those times when there are thousands of new messages, scanning is often the best you'll get - and if there were problems that popped up, ideally that will be documented in your moderator space.