I would like to discuss with some civility a recent action that has occurred in the Root Access chatroom. First, allow me to catch everyone up on the facts of the situation:

Overview

  1. Q: What happened?
    A: Please see this message in Root Access chat. This decision is the primary reason for asking this question on meta.SU. But before you make any judgments or conclusions, please read the other statements of fact which follow.
  2. Q: What is the chat bot's account name?
    A: ChatBot John Cavil.
  3. Q: Where is the source code for the chat bot located, and what is its source code lineage?
    A: This chat bot is based on the JavaScript ChatBot implemented by Zirak. Its code is located on GitHub. There are three repositories of interest: My Driver written in Java, which provides login functionality only; Zirak's base ChatBot; and my minimal changes as a friendly fork of Zirak's bot. The primary purpose of my changes is to adapt the functionality of the ChatBot to the Root Access chatroom, insofar as the existing code is specifically tuned for the JavaScript chatroom, which is the original home of Zirak's ChatBot.
  4. Q: Where else is a similar ChatBot (based on Zirak's code) hosted in chat rooms on the SE network?
    A: In the aforementioned JavaScript chatroom, as well as the Android chatroom, and perhaps others that I am not aware of. Some users in other rooms have expressed interest in having one, but have not yet put the hosting infrastructure in place to host one.
  5. Q: Are bots allowed on the SE network in general?
    A: It would appear that they are. I completely understand the proviso that SE has the final say regarding what they consider allowable and what is not considered allowable. I am eager to work with SE and the other ChatBot maintainers to ensure that these bots meet community standards and can continue to be a part of the flavor of the chat rooms for a long time.

The Problem

  1. Q: Having read balpha's message explaining the reason for suspension, what is your (allquixotic's) interpretation of the reasons for the suspension of ChatBot John Cavil?
    A: I see the reason as being three-fold:
    1. The bot greets every user who enters the room for the first time, if it has never seen them before.
    2. The bot contains commands which contain foul language, or might be viewed as objectionable and not rated "PG".
    3. The bot's message is written in a way that could be misinterpreted as indicating that the bot is part of the official chatroom functionality, or that it is officially endorsed by StackExchange, Inc.

Observations

  1. It is observed that other chatbots based on Zirak's code have existed on the StackExchange chat room network long before John Cavil came into existence.
  2. It is observed that every other chatbot based on Zirak's code...
    1. ...contains the same built-in command which balpha specifically found objectionable.
    2. ...automatically greets users joining the chat for the first time with some sort of welcome message.
    3. ...allows users to define their own commands, which can contain arbitrary text, links, or oneboxes, including foul language or inappropriate material.
  3. It is observed that regular users in Root Access, The Comms Room, The DMZ, and other popular chatrooms on the SE network, very frequently use foul language and post objectionable content, which is not flagged or removed from the chat history, even in the presence of several site moderators. It would appear that this content, in general, is considered to be acceptable by the majority of the users of these rooms, except in cases where it crosses a line in the opinion of the users, is flagged, and is taken care of. The efficacy of the chat flag system is very clear, because flags are usually handled within seconds, and valid flagged messages are almost always nuked within seconds. It would seem that this system should be able to take care of any foul language or objectionable content being output by the bot (either built-in, or induced by a user) in cases where chat users find it to be objectionable, and suspensions are unwarranted.
  4. It is observed that, to the best of my knowledge, ChatBot John Cavil does not have any chat flags which have been deemed valid, based on a user supplying non-objectionable input commands and receiving objectionable output. (It may be the case that it may have a flag when a user typed something that contained objectionable input, in which case that user, not John Cavil, should be held responsible for the output. It is impossible to write a filter for a chat bot that will absolutely prevent any objectionable material from being printed in chat or linked to, regardless of user input, without severely limiting its functionality.)
  5. It is observed that, as of this writing, and to the best of my knowledge, ChatBot John Cavil is the only chatbot which has been suspended from chat, despite containing the exact same feature set as other chatbots on the SE network, which on the whole have been met with chat user approval and have seen continual maintenance and improvement in cases where their behavior has proven annoying or undesirable.

My Questions

  1. Given the observations above, why is ChatBot John Cavil, specifically, suspended, and not the other chat bots?
  2. Without doing away with the ChatBot entirely -- which, thankfully, was not requested by the StackExchange employee who suspended it -- what are ways that I can improve its functionality in order to make it more acceptable? I will take a shot at this right now; if you have any additional suggestions, please post them as an answer or a comment:
    1. I would very much like to keep the automatic greeting in some form or another. The wording can easily be tweaked to indicate that the ChatBot is not built-in, and is not officially endorsed by StackExchange.
    2. I completely agree with the sentiment that removing the command which was found specifically objectionable by balpha is sensible. I will, additionally, submit my patch as a pull request on GitHub for Zirak, in the hopes that he will "clean up" his bot as well. I will then do a search through the command list and attempt to remove any other built-in or user-learned commands which could be construed as objectionable.
    3. Lastly, if it is the only way that StackExchange will agree to allow the bot to continue to exist, then I will reluctantly remove the automatic greeter.

The Case For The Auto-Greeter

(Big Kudos to @Skliwz for making me aware that I needed to add this section!) Here are my responses to some of the common objections which have been made regarding the auto-greeting functionality:

  1. Objection: The auto-greeting messages are obtrusive or noisy for users who are already acquainted with the room.
    Response:
    1. Relative to some more popular rooms, there really are not all that many new users who visit the Root Access chat, so the frequency of the messages is pretty low. Maybe one or two a day at most. There were a few spikes when popular questions linked to chat, but those are anomalies. We may be able to add code to the bot that stops greeting users if more than X number of users enter the room within a Y second window.
    2. Some room regulars find it useful to know when a new user has entered the room, because often we will immediately stop some off-topic conversation and prepare to help the user with their question.
    3. When a user joins the room, there is currently no way for regulars to know whether that user is completely new to Root Access; completely new to chat; or even whether they are able to post messages. Generally, users that the bot has never seen before are going to be the most impressionable, and we want to make a good impression, so we will make a greater effort to eliminate side conversations to allow the new user an opportunity to interject with a question about the site or seeking live support. Experienced users will not feel put-off by a continual stream of conversation, and are more likely to interject even if we don't make an opening for them specifically.
    4. Users who do find the bot's messages to be annoying can choose to ignore the bot using a feature built into the chat client.
  2. Objection: New users who wish to lurk in chat and not participate in the discussion are "pinged", which can annoy them, or bring unwanted attention to their profile or user name.
    Response:
    1. SE is a public site; user profiles and display names are public; and users should have no expectation of privacy when creating an account and electing to provide information in their profile. Users who wish to remain anonymous may do so: if you do not create an account (or even if you do have an account, but aren't logged in), you do not appear on the user list, and will not be "pinged" by the bot, or any other user.
    2. Everyone can already see your presence in the chat room in the user list if you're logged in. We know you're lurking, and we're totally fine with it. I have never seen a regular in Root Access ping a lurker just because the ChatBot pointed them out. We tend to only speak to users who have participated in the chat at one point or another, and are acquainted with at least a few people in the room.
  3. Objection: New users may mistakenly think that, due to the auto-greeting, the chat bot somehow represents the official points of view or stances of StackExchange (the company).
    Response:
    1. I am willing to modify the greeting message in any way that would help to clear up this misunderstanding, either by supplying text dictated by StackExchange themselves, or a community-approved string, that makes it unambiguous that this is a community, unofficial bot that is simply trying to provide useful and/or entertaining commands and information.
    2. It is already a common misconception among new users that diamond moderators represent the views of StackExchange, Inc. Clearly we know that they do not, as veteran users of the site, but it is very hard to avoid this initial impression. The best we can do is attempt to inform the user to the contrary, which some moderators explicitly do in their profiles. Maybe I can also add verbiage to this effect in ChatBot John Cavil's profile to help the situation?
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I'd add that the particular command in question was pretty much never used, and @allquixotic has made an effort to handle having a bot , and adjusting its greeting algorithm to be as unobtrusive y as possible. The channel regulars have not had any issues with the bot, and frankly are a little baffled by this –  Journeyman Geek Nov 12 '13 at 15:15
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An auto-greeter is a bad idea in my opinion, for everyone else the message is just noise. If therre is something special about the room new users should know, it should be in the chat description. –  Mad Scientist Nov 12 '13 at 15:24
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I'd assume the suspension happened mostly because: 1) The bot is in the official channel for the site 2) it greets everyone joining and suggesting him to view the command list and 3) that command list contains a questionable command (which would probably be fine by itself but not when advertised in the way I just mentioned) –  ThiefMaster Nov 12 '13 at 15:26
    
@MadScientist The greeting can be longer than the room description (which will quite quickly get cut off by "..." if it's too long), and appears in the same area as chat messages. It also pings users and is highlighted, so it's more likely they'll read it. Several first-time users have said the message is helpful. For regulars, the message is never displayed. If the bot has ever seen you in the chat before, you won't get the message. Does that change your opinion, or do you still think it's "just noise"? –  allquixotic Nov 12 '13 at 15:28
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@JourneymanGeek I'm not baffled at all –  Oliver Salzburg Nov 12 '13 at 15:28
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@ThiefMaster What does "official" mean, though? StackExchange, Inc. does not officially endorse any content posted in the channel. SE employees do not hang out there regularly, or, really, at all. A few site moderators do, but they're part of the community, not part of SE. The site moderators have all seen the bot, and none have raised any objections about any of its functionality to me (well, they did ask about the auto-greeting, but I updated it and made it more helpful, and they stopped complaining). So what does "official" actually mean? Do we only post messages endorsed by SE now? –  allquixotic Nov 12 '13 at 15:29
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It is still just noise for everyone else but the new user. If you want to add more text to the room description, just add a link to a page with the long version (like some other chat rooms already do). I also find such a bot rather obtrusive, and I don't think it makes sense to draw attention to every new user if they might just want to lurk in chat –  Mad Scientist Nov 12 '13 at 15:31
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Isn't it the "main" room for SuperUser.com? So I'd expect it to be handled a bit differently from rooms such as the JavaScript room which is just "some" room for a site. –  ThiefMaster Nov 12 '13 at 15:31
    
@ThiefMaster This is the first I'm hearing of there being any kind of difference in the allowable behavior/content/etc. between "main" rooms and other rooms. I mean, both "official" rooms and "unofficial" ones are listed side-by-side on the chat.{se,so}.com pages, even under "site", and there's no real distinction in the room description or anywhere else that says "I am the official room and this one is unofficial". Also, SO is a bit of an exception; AFAIK there is no official room for SO because it's such a big user base, so all chat.so.com rooms are unofficial... –  allquixotic Nov 12 '13 at 15:33
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@MadScientist Frankly, the chat doesn't get new users often enough for me to find it "noise". There's one every few days or so, that I've noticed. Also, chat room descriptions/topics in general are ignored so often by users new and old alike that it's almost an Internet-wide inside joke that nobody reads chat room topics, simply because they don't know to look for it. Pinging them in-chat is much more effective to give them a one-time notice or bring their attention to it. People asking if they can ask a question is far more annoying to me. –  Darth Android Nov 12 '13 at 15:37
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I think your question would be better if you focused on why you think that the command and the autogreeting are great and useful, if you want to convince the community and stack exchange to allow them. As it is, the question is a bit ...unconvincing to me. –  Sklivvz Nov 12 '13 at 15:41
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My thoughts on auto-greeting: One day I decided to check out the chat rooms for the first time, just to see what kind of things are talked about. I was greeted by a bot, even though I just wanted to lurk for a while. Not a problem, but it was unwanted and surprising. If the bot would wait until after I send a message, then it would not have ever greeted me, because I never sent anything. This way, the bot can still alert the room that someone new is talking, but not spam everybody when a new lurker pops up. –  Kevin Panko Nov 12 '13 at 17:11
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@KevinPanko the flip side of that is: The bot has no special powers that a regular user doesn't have. I often will ping new users and comment about their name, gravatar, location, etc. I also often creep profiles. If you have made this information public by being on SO, or joining the room then that is perfectly acceptable. Would you detest me greeting you in lieu of a bot? I must re-enforce, the bot is in no way special or above and beyond the system. It adheres to the exact same rules users do in the chat systems. as a side note: view the transcript if you don't want to be on the room list. –  rlemon Nov 12 '13 at 19:40
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To add to my last comment: We have tried to just pin said message, and include it in the description. However we found it was much more effective (and actually being read) when the user got a ping specifically to them containing the information. This is why it is useful to us, and this is why the JavaScript room would like it to stay. –  rlemon Nov 12 '13 at 20:11
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Unfortunately the chat has no private messaging options. Otherwise this may have been considered. –  rlemon Nov 12 '13 at 20:27

4 Answers 4

up vote 24 down vote accepted

This isn't actually an answer proper, but there's a few points where I suspect the process of well, all this could have run better. Hindsight is 20/20 , and this is not really a reflection on SE's moderation and administration processes. I'm posting this as a root access regular, and someone intimately familiar with the channel and its culture, and having heard one side of the issue. To mangle a quote from b5, understanding is a three edged sword, your side, their side and the truth, and I'm hoping this gives another perspective of this.

  • There wasn't any indication that an automatically triggered script was an issue before action was taken here. In general, the rules seem to be bot can't do anything a regular user can't. I suspect that's the real issue here, since it felt like a sudden decision, rather than a wider sitewide policy. We'd have had a lot less of a mess if we weren't working out what the lines were after action was taken. I do understand that the dev team explicitly didn't want this behaviour, but there was no way that the upstream or RA bot devs would have known of this.

  • Neither the regulars in the room, nor newbies had mentioned any issue with the bot. If we had felt so, we could have probably had a word with @allquixotic. The robogreeting was actually tweaked in consultation with the users, and for most part, the bot hasn't been a annoyance.

  • The first we knew of this was the bot getting suspended - which is a tiny bit like getting a telegram delivered through the roof by a swat team.

A little less shock and awe, might have been nice. @allquixotic has been very nice about tweaking his version of the chatbot (as time permits!), and this could have been probably handled with a little less drama (of which there was a little).

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This may not be the proper place to post this, but because of traction, we were pretty much ordered to disable the bot's auto-welcome in the javascript chat, which makes it kind of a big deal to me. Since most participants in this discussion are seeing the auto-welcome as one finished unit, I'd like to say how it came to existence.

But first I'd like to talk about margarine and my great-grandfather.

My grandmother used to tell me how she worked during vacations. Her father (let's call him Bob) was an engineer (or something of the sorts) in a company which made oil-based produce. One of their products was margarine. I think she told me one of her duties was packaging the margarine slabs. You know, putting them into these neat rectangular packages. It was a pretty annoying job, but it quite a few decades ago, and they didn't have something better.

And then they did. Bob, my great-grandfather, added a component in the production line which packaged the margarine. It was (and is) very not-trivial, since you have a moving product and you have to fold it just right with fixed mechanical movements. But it was a success, and all was well, and happiness was spread through all (except those who ate the margarine).

Since we're mostly programmers here (and those of you who aren't can still relate to the point), we know that any advancement, any introduction of a product is made out of some simple steps:

  1. The world is in a state where problem A exists (A can be margarine packaging, communicating with your friends, eating ice cream, anything).
  2. We identify A as a problem which we want to fix.
  3. We build a solution (this may take a while).
  4. A is no longer a problem for us.

This is a self-feeding loop, since introducing a solution can spawn many other problems, known as "bugs". Our solution isn't necessarily perfect.

Let me introduce a problem. We're in the javascript chat room. We want and like to help people (we really do!). We dedicate hours of our lives to educate and solve problems without asking for anything in return, because of our own reasons (some of us are bored, some of us are interested in the problems, some feel that education is the best way to advance the js community and the programmer community in general, etc).

And we notice things which annoy us. One of them is when new people show up, they have the same problem StackOverflow has - they're used to a certain format, but we work in another format. In some chat rooms (especially MMO chats for some reason), it's common practice to say things like "anybody here?" or "can anybody help me with X?" or "can anybody help me?", or maybe they just randomly select someone and ask. But we don't quite like it. We're here to answer questions. We can't answer your question...if we don't know what it is. Answering these questions produces 0 value in general, and just aggravates us because we see them over and over and over...

We notice a pattern, we notice a problem. We're now at the second step to solving it: https://github.com/Zirak/SO-ChatBot/issues/39 And we have the technology.

So we make a system. It had bugs, the community complained. They were so severe, we shut the system down, only two days after it was launched. But we didn't give up. We improved the system, we fixed bugs, we considered edge cases. 9 days later, it was live again. A month later, the system got improved again.

The system solved our problem. It didn't just do that, it did a lot more - new users really liked it (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, ...). It made them feel welcome (maybe because, well, the message does welcome you). So not only did it mostly solve our problem, it improved the overall feel of new users. Unlike IRC welcome messages, which are actually giant walls of text, this was a 2 liner asking something simple of you.

Can the system be better? Certainly! It still has bugs, it can still be improved, it can be more meticulous about who it welcomes and who it doesn't using better metrics. Heck, it might even have cross-site problems, since I really just made it for the SO chat, not SE in general. However, the important fact here is that it solves a real problem we had. Before it, we had to say "please don't ask to ask, just ask" about four dozen times a week. Now, it's a lot less (because some people either manage to forget, or need a reminder). Just today, when I was catching up to the whole story, someone came in and showed us the problem again.

I'd like to point out another important fact: Just because the system works for us doesn't mean it'll work for everybody. Some rooms don't need this kind of message. Some might just not like the idea. Some might not even have the problem to begin with - because we're a heavily invested technical room this problem began. Horse Grooming chat rooms may have 24/7 long discussions about...horse grooming, without ever having to face this.

And another important point, which may have been lost in the flow, the automation of it. In several points, we were asked to just do it manually, that is if we see a user acting in a problematic way, we welcome him. But that's just going back to how thing were before the system, which as described, was not ideal, which is why the solution sprouted in the first place.

To conclude, I'd like to say how community driven the bot is. Benjamin Gruenbaum said it before me, and I'd like to repeat: The bot is shaped by the community. We have an active and healthy discussion going around for every suggestion. If we see something isn't going well, we talk about it and improve. Features were added and removed, features were thrown away at planning stage, and it's all community driven. We also ask moderators (one of SO's mods is also a regular in the room) in some gray areas, ask for their approval. We do all this because we're programmers. Our job, our source of fun, is identifying problems, and solving them. So I'd like to ask the moderators to reconsider making this site-wide. Since they're the people who make the rules, my next commit is going to respect that and remove the auto-welcome. But it won't feel right, and it won't feel fair.

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Thanks for weighing in. At this point, I'm not optimistic that we can change their minds by saying stuff like this, but I at least enjoyed reading your answer, and I agree with your normative claims. I've noticed that the main question has 25 upvotes and 7 downvotes, so clearly the issue is controversial enough to have more than just balpha and Gilles' downvotes, but the majority seem to think that, even if they personally aren't in love with the feature, it should be up to the chat communities to decide whether to have it or not. Oh well; majority doesn't rule here. SE does. –  allquixotic Nov 15 '13 at 22:20
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+1 great EVIDENCE, quite frankly the bot has been welcoming people for months, what's the big issue now? It's a pathetic argument, I must remember to shout at the waitress when she welcomes me to the restaurant next time. –  Pinocchio Nov 17 '13 at 0:59

I suspended the bot because of the greeting, and only because of that, which is also what I told you in my chat message.

Root Access is the general chat room for users of Super User, and any new user coming in being curious about the chat will have that bot greeting them. That is a functionality that the Stack Exchange chat system specifically and intentionally does not offer, and a user-written bot shouldn't either.

Given that the user who is in control of the bot – you – wasn't available in the room at that time, I disabled the bot by "suspending" the user you created for it and left you a message, in particular telling you

I have suspended the bot for now, let me (or another moderator) know when the greeting is off.

I put the word "suspending" in quotes because it's not like I put a real user into the penalty bin – I just disabled a bot.

As to the question of why it's allowed in other rooms – it's not. I just wasn't aware there were more. Tim, one of our community managers, will check out the other rooms you mention and enforce the same thing there.

If a room is specifically created for a bot, or the room's purpose is very specific to a well-defined group of people who consider the bot fitting and its greeting appropriate, we don't have any issues with it.

But in this case we're talking about a general for-everybody chat room, the first point of contact of new users with the chat, and in such a room, we have to ask bots to tread lightly.

As to the /fuckable command, I merely asked you to reconsider. Personally, I find it extremely immature an inappropriate, but I haven't made up my mind about outright disallowing it, and if you do reconsider and remove it, we wouldn't have to make a decision about that. If you don't, then we'd have to talk about it and decide. From your point 2.2 it looks like this won't be necessary in this case, but if you say the same bot runs in other rooms, there may be other cases.

Finally for completeness and reference, our general stand on chat bots is stated in this answer of mine.

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The objectionable command: ok well I can see how some people wouldn't want this. However the fact that it exists in other rooms is because said rooms chose to include the plugin (most commands are available as plugins when you build the bot), but if the profanity is an issue then ok (however I argue that profanity exists all over the site). As far as the greeting message goes, I still don't understand why this would be a system wide rule and not just imposed on the rooms bots that don't want it. –  rlemon Nov 12 '13 at 16:25
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@allquixotic I know JavaScript, thank you. It's kinda my job. I have unsuspended the bot. –  balpha Nov 12 '13 at 16:25
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I honestly believe that the people deciding on the bot or not are the community of the room. Stack Overflow has always worked on community decisions. This has been working really well for us in JavaScript and we find the bot extremely useful. Other rooms who fork the bot need to reason about it and decide on what they like and what they don't. The room's community should be capable of handling that and deciding on usefulness pretty well. I think your course of action is correct. (Oh and btw !!/die stops the bot if it's annoying, no need to disable the user) –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Nov 12 '13 at 16:29
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@BenjaminGruenbaum Interesting that the "room's community" had absolutely no say in this decision, right? To be fair, we have had one SU diamond moderator express the viewpoint of not wanting the bot at all, but other mods are either neutral to it or supportive of it, and almost all regular users are universally in favor of it (as well as the auto-greeter). It doesn't matter, though, if SE wants it gone... I guess that's true of anything on the site. Seriously considering moving on to other communities whose owners haven't started letting absolute power corrupt them absolutely. :) –  allquixotic Nov 12 '13 at 16:36
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@allquixotic I'm not talking about your bot in Superuser. I'm talking about ours in JavaScript. My whole point is that you should get to decide (as a community) on the etiquette in the room. If not all members agreed on the greeting we'd never add it in JavaScript. In short - I agree with your point and position. I think most of the people in JS room do. –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Nov 12 '13 at 16:43
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Wasn't StackOverflow built for hackers? Y'know, those who like free speech, breaking things and neat technical solutions to problems caused by a overly-bureaucratic system? Now we're stuck with a closed-source system administrated by people who just plain ignore problems and ban 'objectionable' content so the lawyers are happy. –  SomeKittens Nov 12 '13 at 19:00
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@SomeKittens When did lawyers come into this? That kind of attitude is really what made it so hard to discuss things earlier in the JavaScript room: Lots (not all!) of people making up things that we supposedly said/claimed/demanded, and making that strawman the basis of all outrage. I have no interest in having a discussion on that grounds. –  balpha Nov 12 '13 at 19:15
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@balpha all that was claimed is that you won't do things. We were trying to have discussion. Let's have discussion on constructive grounds. We have a lot of input to give on how the chat works right now and what problems we face and we feel like we've been pretty much ignored (like in SomeKittens' example). We'd love discussion, honest. ( –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Nov 12 '13 at 19:21
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) I whole-heartedly agree here. (and I like closing braces). The discussion in the JS chat room was a little hard to follow with all of the flying inputs. However we are very interested in being part of this discussion as most of the room owners in Javascript use the chat frequently ( I will point to my own usage logs for this ). –  rlemon Nov 12 '13 at 19:24
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I think having a conversation with a "representative" of the js room would satisfy you, @balpha? @rlemon is a good candidate in case you consider this option, knowing his history with the room and his open attitude. –  Florian Margaine Nov 12 '13 at 21:10
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@SomeKittens Balpha never brought any legal aspects into this, you're arguing against a straw man argument. There are perfectly valid reasons to oppose the chat bot in this particular form, the auto-greeter is certainly controversial and the /fuckable command is at least in bad taste, if not worse. My main argument would be that interaction with a bot should be voluntary, and the auto-greeter violates that rule. –  Mad Scientist Nov 12 '13 at 21:51
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@MadScientist As for welcome message, in the JS room many new users: a) ask to ask questions or b)ask irrelevant stuff that violates the rules or c) interact with us poorly. It solves that by (a) Telling users their coding questions are welcome (unlike other rooms like C++) and their interactions are appreciated (b) prompt them with the room rules so they can see what we consider an OK topic and c) Link them to the room rules so they get a sense of the etiquette. (along the way, we also don't have multiple people greeting someone at the same time). We find it useful and it works well for us. –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Nov 12 '13 at 22:15
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There is no way joining a room means accepting the presence or interaction of a bot you didn't know was there in the first place. –  random Nov 12 '13 at 22:20
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@random It is the same as if you join the room and everyone goes hey @bob! –  Neal Nov 12 '13 at 22:21
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@random We haven't had any user complain about it in the past few months since it was implemented. Some users however, were happy about that interaction and said so. So in the test of time - anyone who said anything about it said nothing but positive things. We've never had any user complain about the ping. A simple canned welcome message once when the user is new and if the user has enough rep to engage to get users to play nice works well in practice. Honestly, a single complaint from a room user who did not enjoy that interaction would convince me a lot better. –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Nov 12 '13 at 22:24

So you are spamming anyone who joins the chatroom.

I'm puzzled how you could even think that assaulting anyone who joins the chatroom could be appropriate. It's bad enough when people do that manually, but automatically‽

Any auto-greet message is spam and that makes the auto-greeting bot a spammer. Banning that bot was appropriate. Letting the bot run was not appropriate.

A bot should never ping a user who didn't opt in.


I've proposed a change to the chat interface that would make this issue moot. If joining a chat room was an affirmative step, rather than the automatic and potentially accidental thing that it is now, I would have no objection to users joining a chat room being greeted. (Not that it would necessarily be a good idea, but it wouldn't be spamming undemanding users.)

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A single ping from a bot is not worse than multiple pings from users welcoming user who never joined the room before... –  ThiefMaster Nov 12 '13 at 22:24
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Its not a harmful ping if it says welcome - read the rules... its similiar to being told to agree to the TOS. Once you have been told to read the rules, breaking the rules is not really acceptable after that. –  Dave Nov 12 '13 at 22:25
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This might be true for a room as big as the main room for SU, but it works pretty well and does a lot of service in smaller rooms like the one the bot originated in –  Jan Dvorak Nov 12 '13 at 22:25
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@ThiefMaster I personally don't like it if users adress a new chat user before they talked on their own. Some users just want to lurk, and some want to talk, the decision on the level of interaction should be left to the user. –  Mad Scientist Nov 12 '13 at 22:26
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@jan One of the objections is that because it greets new users it appears to be an official SE thing - which it isn't. –  ChrisF Nov 12 '13 at 22:26
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@MadScientist users don't have to, and are not expected to reply to that ping. All a ping does is color the text in a different color to bring their attention to it. They can still just lurk and you still get notification when they join/leave on the side - it's just less explicit and not informative to the user who joined. –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Nov 12 '13 at 22:27
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@ChrisF hmm... would a disclaimer in the greeting message solve the appears-to-be-official issue? –  Jan Dvorak Nov 12 '13 at 22:27
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@Gilles so telling some one the rules of the chat with a bot is harmful ... in what way ? Doesn't make sense to me. Please explain this as i am not understanding =/ –  Dave Nov 12 '13 at 22:28
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@Gilles One non-recurring message being sent to you welcoming you and informing you of the rules the first time you visit a chat room (and not subsequent times) is "assaulting" users? This is the strawman. You are providing absolutely no reason why you think that this is "spam". Spam is defined as repeated messages. SU is a popular site, and we get maybe one of these auto-greetings displayed in our chat per day, because we only get maybe one or two new unique users per day. Your hyperbole is ridiculous, insulting, and groundless. I wish I could downvote something more than once.. –  allquixotic Nov 12 '13 at 23:05
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Also, the bot was not banned, it was suspended. I performed the adjustment requested by SE and the bot was un-suspended. You claim, "It's bad enough when people do that manually" -- you must live in an entirely different world than most people if you think that someone saying "Hi" or "Welcome!" to a user appearing on the user list is in any way objectionable. If you want to remain anonymous and be left alone, log out or use Incognito Mode in your browser. Sheesh. –  allquixotic Nov 12 '13 at 23:06
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@allquixotic Your bot is making the chatroom unfriendly to newcomers. So maybe you've established a clique who happens to like it. That's fine on a room of your own, but not appropriate for the main room of a site. –  Gilles Nov 12 '13 at 23:07
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@Gilles It's unfriendly to welcome someone? Oooooookay. You really do come from another planet. If it's the "please don't ask to ask" part that throws you off, you should be aware that it takes me about 30 seconds to change that text, and I even asked a meta question soliciting opinions on what to change it to, but I don't see your participation there. What could I have changed the text to say that would satisfy you? –  allquixotic Nov 12 '13 at 23:15
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I don't even.... what is this? Is this a joke? "Unsuspecting users"? What, exactly, do you think a typical user's expectation is when they enter a chat room? Are they expecting to view a static web page with no interactivity? That's pretty much what they'll see if they aren't logged in. But if they are logged in, then presumably they are at least aware of what the site is, and aware that "if I click this link, I'll enter some kind of chat room where I can talk to people". I'm having a hard time imagining a poor, unsuspecting, logged-in user clicking chat and being surprised by ... chat? –  allquixotic Nov 12 '13 at 23:27
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But it's not like I have any experience in this whatsoever; I only help people in IRC channels for various free software projects, where there are often auto-greeter bots in addition to the channel topic. Whenever an issue like this was discussed there, the general consensus is that the bots do more good than harm, and the tiny minority that might be scared by receiving an unsolicited message is outweighed by the majority who read that message and are emboldened to go ahead and ask their question, or even say "Hi". –  allquixotic Nov 12 '13 at 23:31
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It's not like we welcome them every time they join the room, or ping them continuously with advertisements or links to questions, or have 10 bots doing it, or anything like that. One. Singular. Message. And to be honest, we wouldn't have it if we felt that users didn't need it. Trust me, from the questions we got (before the bot existed), we need it. "Hi, can I ask a question?" Now we get "Thanks @ChatBotJohnCavil :)" followed by their question. –  allquixotic Nov 12 '13 at 23:34

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