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Arts & Crafts is one of the smallest sites on the SE network, and a few meta discussions here have focused on how to increase our traffic and participation, most recently How can we increase participation in community moderation?

Joachim just mentioned something in chat that struck a chord:

what is obviously missing from our arts and crafts website in comparison to others, is a way to display and discuss projects themselves. This is likely the largest setback of having a moderated crafts-related website in trying to attract and retain users.

Judging from my experience in some other sites on the network, an important feature for building a community is chat. People posting high-quality Q&A is enough to kickstart a repository of knowledge, and we have some of those already. Promoting the site elsewhere, e.g. by community ads, may be enough to make people come and look at what we've got. But a community isn't built just by people coming to look: how do we convert casual visitors into contributors and contributors into committed community members? My answer is, by having an active chatroom: that's how people actually get to know each other, as opposed to the more strictly content-centred approach of the main site and even meta. Roping people into chat makes them feel like part of a community, makes them want to stay, rather than just dropping a post and disappearing.

A&C actually had a fairly active chatroom years ago, but with some of the early active members and pro-tem mods drifting away, deleting their accounts, or getting hired at SE, it's become more of a tumbleweed zone in recent years. How do we revive it? Obviously we need people who actually care enough to lurk in the chatroom and start conversations, but there's also a feature we can use for wider promotion: scheduled chat events.

  • Via this page, any room owner or chat moderator can schedule timed events in our main chatroom The Studio.
  • Chatroom events get promoted across the entire network chat, see this page. This will help to attract people who use chat but aren't A&C regulars.
  • If an A&C diamond mod does the scheduling, it will automatically appear as an "Upcoming Event" in the top right sidebar box on the main site. This will help to attract people who use A&C but aren't chat regulars.
  • It doesn't have to be a one-off: any scheduled event can be set to recur every N days, and then it'll keep appearing in the chat events tab and site sidebar every time without any further effort required.
  • People can register to attend by a simple press of a button in chat, and SE will then automatically send them a notification when the event is due to start, every time if it's a repeat event.

There's an existing meta post What sort of chat events should we hold? but I suggest keeping the scope very broad to attract as many people as possible. We're a small site, and an event (for example) just about origami might turn away people who aren't interested in origami. To start with, it could be something as simple as "Chat about Arts and Crafts", with a scope including:

  • Showing off pictures of your own creations.
  • Discussing, comparing, and critiquing (nicely!) said pictures.
  • Asking for advice on how to make stuff (could also give rise to main-site questions).
  • Comparing and discussing techniques.

I suggest that, after the election is over, the new moderators can schedule a regular chat event and try to be present in chat for it each time. Even if it starts off with just two or three people attending, a bit of chatter will make the chatroom more active and thus more visible, and that'll help to attract more participants. It gives people a chance to "display and discuss projects" as Joachim said, in a more relaxed environment than the main site with its scope and rules, and (crucially) it's a way to start building a community. Casual site browsers can feel more like part of the site and get the confidence to start posting; network chat users can discover A&C and become contributors here; it's a win-win.

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Despite what you say, I wonder about chats related to particular techniques or topics - sewing, painting, stuff done with/for kids etc.

That would mainly be if the initial broad chat events take off - and those broad events are good (as this whole community is) for the stuff that's hard to pin down beyond the fact it's definitely craft.

One downside of chat is the broad range of timezones of our users. Looking at the first page of users sorted by rep this year (as a quick way of seeing active users), considering only those who have given a readable location, we span at least 10 hours' worth of timezones (+2 to -8). From hints I've seen in people's posts I'm pretty certain that's an underestimate of the scope of fairly active users

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    I'm not saying chat events on specific topics should never be done, just that it's better to start off with events of broad appeal. If those take off and we succeed in getting an active chat community, then splintering into subgroups of particular interest makes sense. But we could take years to reach that point. Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 13:15
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    @Randal'Thor I agree - start general and see how it goes.
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 13:17
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    There are pros & cons for topic-specific chats. If there is a big community of people interested in that topic who want to participate, a focused venue can be good. It's also a way for people contemplating getting into it to get some exposure to people already doing it, and to their discussions. Another potential benefit is that nitty-gritty discussions about a topic of no interest to them can turn people away from the regular chat room if it dominates the discussion for a long time. But topic-specific chat rooms need a critical mass of participants (the general chat, too, for that matter).
    – fixer1234
    Commented Apr 3, 2022 at 19:12
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We could consider running multiple chat rooms or running these events in Meta.

Chat

To be honest the main chat has extremely low traffic right now, but in time that could and should change.

Some experience we had on Pets.SE:

  • The main chat was initially reserved for discussions about pets in general.
  • A second chat room was intended for sharing pictures of your pet. Since few people can resist, this increased chat traffic (at least for a while. This chat room is dead now)
  • A third chat room was opened where people could discuss any topic not related to pets. This was mostly done in reaction to a slightly problematic user and complains of the regular chat users. I don't think this will be necessary for A&C, but a single user can make a huge difference.

So my proposal is to run these events in a dedicated chat room. The first could certainly be a "show us your craft" room because of the low barrier to participate. Everyone can post, from the pro artist to the mom proud of her kids first scribbling.

Meta

Apart from using the chat rooms, Photography.SE has a "photo of the week" feature inbuilt into their landing page and in addition to that a reoccurring themed photo contest that is currently undergoing some changes. Personally, I quite liked the photo competitions in Meta because it's easier to view old submissions than in chat.

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  • Your last paragraph seems to be a bit out of place here, as this thread is about the chat function only. I suppose it was triggered by my comment? In any case, here is the thread suggesting a gallery.
    – Joachim Mod
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 16:47
  • @Joachim I wrote this paragraph before I noticed your second thread. I could move it to that second thread, I just don't know how much information it actually adds (in comparison to a simple upvote of the second question)
    – Elmy Mod
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 17:13
  • Yeah, I just added it around that time. You're right, it might not add a lot, but I just wanted to bring it to your attention in case you did want to elaborate on the topic.
    – Joachim Mod
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 17:15
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    In the interests of attracting and maintaining traffic, I disagree with your suggestion to use a dedicated room or meta. As you saw on Pets, a dedicated chatroom can draw attention for a while and then die, because people will come there, post pictures, and then not have anything else to say. Keeping it in the main room is better for maintaining volume, because conversation can continue on any topic even after people have used up their pictures. Plus the system will never freeze all of a site's rooms, so using a single chatroom makes it immune to dying. [cont.] Commented Mar 16, 2022 at 4:32
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    [cont.] A meta gallery, as also suggested by @Joachim, is another nice idea alongside this (if A&C has enough people/traffic to maintain it - Photography SE is a much bigger site and probably gets more posts on each week's photo meta thread than a week of main-site posts on A&C). But meta has a Q&A structure like the main site, whereas chat lets people go off-topic, get to know each other, feel like part of a community. Plus, chat events get promoted across the entire network chat, whereas meta events will never attract people who aren't already A&C members. Commented Mar 16, 2022 at 4:39

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