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The main chat room for Physics SE is called the h Bar (yeah, it's a cool name); it has been an active place for a while now, and a lot of you have probably popped in at some point of time. However, some of the regulars recently got the feeling that chat isn't what it once was, and the consensus of that discussion was that codifying a bit of the room culture is certainly a step in the right direction. So we'd like to clarify some things:

  • What are the rules?

  • What to do when you're uncomfortable about something?

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  • $\begingroup$ What should be the process for determining whether this should become an "official" post representing policies for the room? $\endgroup$ – David Z Feb 13 at 8:56
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidZ I think that votes could decide whether this becomes an 'official' post. If it gets to 5 or more, we can add a link to this post in the room description. $\endgroup$ – user191954 Feb 13 at 8:59
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidZ No, strike that last one, chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/message/49023200#49023200 suggests that we should focus on the consensus of chat regulars instead. $\endgroup$ – user191954 Feb 13 at 9:07
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    $\begingroup$ Are you a Stack Exchange employee or a moderator? If not, then you should have made this into a question, and given a separate answer IMO. Having universal rules for the whole site seems more elegant to me, rather than particular ones for chat rooms, certain chatrooms etc making the whole system unnecessarily complicated. $\endgroup$ – John McVirgooo Feb 13 at 23:20
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnMcVirgo No, I'm not an SE employee/moderator on any site. technically, I'm even quite new compared to most users :P I've pinged the moderators specifically asking whether this should be converted into an answer, since there seems to be quite a bit of disagreement regarding that.. $\endgroup$ – user191954 Feb 14 at 1:02
  • $\begingroup$ I have to admit I am guilty of using the h bar as a replacement for the main site. Although I find it to be a better place to ask questions that are not well thought out yet. It is very hard to discuss a question as opposed to just answer it on the main site, and sometimes that approach is much more useful than a simple answer will be. $\endgroup$ – user400188 Feb 14 at 3:17
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    $\begingroup$ I've removed a bunch of comments asking for the actual content of the proposed room rules to be moved to an answer since that has now happened. $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Feb 14 at 18:16
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What are the rules?

  • Be nice. Although chat is a place for casual conversation, swearing is generally frowned upon on SE, so be polite too. This is something you need to be particularly careful about when discussing sensitive topics like politics, sex, and religion.

  • Don't use chat as a 'replacement' for the main site. Though we'll obviously talk a lot of physics, some questions are better off on the main site. In chat, people's answers won't be consistently indexed by search engines like Google, so they won't be 'contributing to a body of knowledge' or 'gaining internet points', so clearly questions are a lot more useful on the main site. Some questions which aren't great for the main site (I'm thinking of the opinion-based ones) are great for chat, but if someone tells you that the questions you're asking aren't suitable, please listen.

  • Some things are better suited for other rooms. Homework-like questions are more welcome in the problem-solving room. That room has a few requirements which can be read about here. That being said, there's no requirement that conversations in the h Bar must be about physics.

  • Try to use MathJax for typesetting mathematical expressions. It isn't enabled by default, but if you can follow the suggestions here, you can enable it for your browser or app. Here's a basic tutorial.

  • Don't advertise your recent questions. If you just posted something on the main site, give it some time, and don't tell people to go there and look at it. Particularly by pinging people. That's rude. Those who can answer are already watching the queue on the main site!

  • Don't interrupt ongoing conversations. One of the great things about Stack Exchange chat is that the reply system allows multiple conversations to take place simultaneously. But that only works if you're discreet, and you don't post walls of text which occupy space on the screens of people who're talking about something else. If there's a discussion taking place, scroll up to figure out what it's about, and don't force a change in topic (unless what's going on is actually harmful, of course).

  • Don't ping random users. You may use pings, but responsibly and sparingly. Err on the side of not pinging when you're unsure that the pingee(s) would be interested in your message(s).

  • Be patient. Don't appear entitled. Don't post the same thing multiple times just because the last version disappeared at the top. Even if there's another discussion going on, or nobody has acknowledged your message, understand that it's not considered important or actionable by the current residents, and don't push it again. You'll probably have better luck if you ask your question on the appropriate main site.

  • Use correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar to the best of your ability. Avoid rapid, short messages and txt spk/l33tspeak. These are often hard to read and take up valuable screen space. Txt spk may save you time typing, but it imposes a huge reading overhead on others - you're simply offloading your communications work onto everyone else.

  • Use stars reasonably. Read What are chat stars?. Stars shouldn't be used as "thank you" indicators. They should be used for useful/interesting stuff which you think should be seen by people who come by after the conversation has finished.

  • Avoid speculating about user suspensions and pinging suspended users. The mods here prefer to not discuss suspension reasons in public and it's bad form to intentionally ping someone or talk about them when they can't reply.

  • Don't expect users to respond in real-time. Think of chat as an asynchronous communication protocol. Instead of asking "Are you free for X minutes?" or "Can you answer a X minute question?" every time, directly type out the question you want to ask. That way, even after you've logged off, others can answer it. Then you have the answer the next time you log on. But if you just ask "Are you around, user X?", then, if user X is not around, you haven't gained anything. A late response is better than no response at all!

Yikes, that's a lot! What can I talk about then???

Anything! As I mentioned earlier, conversations are not restricted to physics, though we do like to move the homework and meta-physics SE-discussions elsewhere. Don't ask about asking, just ask! Really, The h Bar is full of people who're interested in all sorts of things.

Something's wrong...

If you see some obviously offensive or inappropriate messages, flag them. They will be dealt with appropriately. If there's a more general pattern which is worrying you, ping one of the room owners (ROs) or active moderators for anything that can wait, possibly with a request to talk privately if it's not suitable for public discussion.


Note: 1. Parts adapted from the Math SE chat room guide and the Stack Overflow Python room rules. If you're new to Stack Exchange chat as a whole, also read through the chat faq. 2. A few edits were made while this post was part of the 'question', see the question's revision history for a list of edits. 3. This is a community wiki post for a reason! Feel free to suggest improvements by editing it. If you have some drastically different rules in mind or opinion about whether we should have rules or not, please write another answer.

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    $\begingroup$ My personal thoughts: (1) The whole first section seems written in a distracting way; I'd like to see it more to-the-point. (2) The prohibition on pinging is too harsh. People can use pings, but responsibly and sparingly. (3) The paragraph about the starboard also has some distracting fluff which I'd like to see removed - no need to mention math puns and pictures of food. (4) We may want to be explicit about what it means to talk behind someone's back in chat. (5) I'd not encourage asking mods for private chat rooms - definitely not before flagging, at least. $\endgroup$ – David Z Feb 15 at 8:28
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidZ (1) Indeed, it's making very little sense and the amount of information is marginal. I'd like to keep the link to the naming meta post somewhere, since it emphasizes that chat's for fun, but this isn't the right place. I've put it in the question (2) I will remove the repetition of the word specific and some of the italicization. $\endgroup$ – user191954 Feb 15 at 8:55
  • $\begingroup$ (3) I think it's nice to keep those links. It makes us not sound too rigid. SO Python has plenty of vegetable jokes, which makes them sound chill (to me). There's a heading in bold for people who don't care too much about that point (it's a more obscure one anyways). (4) and (5) are more like our site's moderators' policies; I'd like it if you could put in the wording which reflects the moderators' position/requests for those. What I have hear is a direct copy of something ACM said in chat when I asked (the first revision of this answer had a link to the chat) $\endgroup$ – user191954 Feb 15 at 8:55
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for replying! (3) It's not the links I object to; it's saying that the star board should be used for math puns and pictures of food. Those aren't good examples. The star board is for anything useful to other people who come in later, as the last part of your description says; I think we can leave it at that. (4,5) I'll propose something later, either by edit or perhaps we can discuss it in chat, but let me take some time to think about it and to see if any other comments come in. $\endgroup$ – David Z Feb 15 at 9:19
  • $\begingroup$ If math puns are bad examples, I can remove those (I just did). $\endgroup$ – user191954 Feb 15 at 9:33
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This is feedback for the content in the answer by Chair.

I think several of these points are well-intentioned but either overshoot their intention or make a point not actually in line with what is current practice in the room:

Some things are meant for other rooms: Meta-issues are frequently best off in the Physics meta chat room, and homework-like questions are more welcome in the Problem-solving room. The meta room is quite still, so you'll probably need to ping a person you'd like to talk to, and the problem-solving room has a few requirements which can be read about here. That being said, there's no requirement that conversations in the h bar must be about physics.

Remove the explicit mention of meta issues or the meta room. Meta issues are just fine in the h bar, as long as they don't drown out any other conversation, like any other topic. The meta chat room has always been used as an overflow room - i.e. a room to shift a meta discussion to when the h bar was otherwise busy or the discussion went on for a very long period of time - not as a "room for meta issues".

Avoid sensitive topics: These can range from local stuff like suspensions of users on Physics SE (which the mods here prefer to not discuss in public and is bad form when the user can't reply), to broader issues like politics, sex, and religion. They aren't strictly off-topic in the room, but we try to avoid them.

Split this into two parts. This point lumps together things which don't belong together. That we discourage discussion of suspensions and overly and/or unduly negative discussion of other users' behaviour is indeed a rule the moderators have adopted, and such discussion should indeed be avoided. However, discussion of other sensitive topics should not be avoided as such - you should just be especially certain that you discuss them in a respectful and considerate manner, and that you should be more than willing to drop the issue if someone expresses their discomfort with the topic. The canonical network-wide post on political discussion in chat is here. The bottom line is be respectful, not "don't talk about this".

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    $\begingroup$ Since this is causing contention (for the first time, as far as I know), I'm going to rename the meta chat room to reflect its usage. If we decide that it should be a room dedicated to "meta issues", we can change the name back. $\endgroup$ – David Z Feb 13 at 22:08

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