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This is a question talking about the Ask Ubuntu General Room chat.


It seems like every day we have an incident where somebody goes over the top with the bot that sits in the room. A moderator has to threaten somebody with punitive action and the tone of chat sours for a while.

From a moderation point of view, we [think we] have to stop people taking up three pages of chat with nonsense because it really does make things harder for other people to hold and follow a conversation.

I still don't really understand what FlackBot brings to the party. When I see it, it's being used to Google things (you're already in a browser!) and for people to try and get it to understand what they say (which it invariably fails at). It's not like an IRC bot that provides a useful function (services, flood detection, etc). If somebody could explain what and why it is, I'd quite appreciate that.

Other than that, it only seems to have a detrimental effect on chat (as above)... So I guess the question is:

Do we really want something that doesn't really seem to add anything and causes friction between users and moderators sitting around in the main chat room?

I know some people use FlackBot so I'd like to hear from them on why it should stay (if they think it should, that is).

This is a discussion. There aren't rights or wrongs, just opinions. Please share yours.

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As creator and maintainer of FlackBot, I am slightly biased :)

First: FlackBot's intended role. When I created the bot, I had two purposes in mind. The first was to create the first chatbot to run in the Stack Exchange chat rooms (which is quite a technical feat considering there is no API and the bot needs to perform OAuth authentication and keep track of cookies himself). Secondly, I wanted to provide some helpful commands that would be quicker than pulling open a terminal (or even firing up Google in some cases). For example, FlackBot can run WHOIS queries and return the results quite quickly. Another thing FlackBot can do is keep track of things for you. Although still in its early stages, you can tell FlackBot what you're favorite 'x' is and when asked later, he will remember what you told him.

I fully agree with you that misuse has been a bit of a problem lately and I have begun exploring some solutions. One of the most obvious was enabling multi-room support for FlackBot so that he could be both in the General Room and in the Sandbox where people could play with him and not worry about it. Unfortunately there is some glitch with the chat causing him to mysteriously leave the room every so often. I'll be working on that.

Some other ideas that might resolve this issue:

  • A predetermined number of questions in a short time frame by one user will result in the message 'Let's continue this discussion in a new room.' For extra points, FlackBot could create a new room automatically and invite the user.
  • Prevent any user with less than a predetermined amount of rep. from talking to FlackBot. (The user will simply be ingored or a predefined message will be provided.)
  • Perhaps complete documentation on his abilities will supress the need to experiment with him. If everyone knows what he does, then there's no need to 'try it out.'
  • For those of you who simply can't stand seeing so many FlackBot posts, you could always ignore his posts by clicking his Gravatar and 'ignore user'.
  • Ignore his posts are only half the battle - as the rest of the users are still interacting with him. So posts addressed to him still show. I agree documentation is good, people need to also learn they can try out FlackBot and other chat features in the Sandbox. I disagree whole heartedly with pre-defined responses to users (acknowledgement of an error, etc) as it's the same amount of noise created. – Marco Ceppi Jul 25 '11 at 17:04
  • @Marco: Yeah, I kind of figured. Do you think the first option is viable? – Nathan Osman Jul 25 '11 at 17:09
  • I like the idea, sounds difficult to execute though. – Marco Ceppi Jul 25 '11 at 17:10
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Sorry to be a buzz-kill, but I do mind FlackBot.

His "Hey, nice to see you!" messages are confusing new users, and, apart from being cool software, it doesn't add anything to our community.

His messages are pure noise, it's a throwback to the days of IRC bots. Really not the kind of thing we ought to be doing here.

Let's try to make a great chat room for humans, not software.

  • IF you remove the "hi, nice to see you" and just use it to "lookup" or stuff like that. then it would be awesome! :) And maybe make a command that tells a new user what flackbot is. – Alvar Jul 25 '11 at 19:58
  • Why should new users care about what flackbot is? They should't have to learn this. I mean, they come to the chat room to talk to a human, right? :) – Stefano Palazzo Jul 25 '11 at 20:02
  • true, but if you keep the welcome message then you should get introduction. if they try and talk to flackbot – Alvar Jul 25 '11 at 20:57
  • Fair point (and a nice feature to suggest). It would make it better, indeed. But I still think flackbot adds no value, that's why we should't have to make compromises like that. If one user is turned off by a bot being there (and it's more than one already, I imagine), that's too much. – Stefano Palazzo Jul 25 '11 at 21:05
  • well Im like it's feuters! like lookup and stuff like that. If you limit the commands and give a help option like "@flackbot -help" and list the commands then it would be a great tool – Alvar Jul 25 '11 at 21:13
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    I thought its greeting was polite :) – Nathan Osman Jul 25 '11 at 21:22
  • Well yes if you know what Flackbot is then it is, but if you are new then you don't... – Alvar Jul 26 '11 at 9:47
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The main chat room has a low post frequency most of the time, so I don't see an urgent need to remove bot chatter - whether it's deemed useful or not.

  • We have one the most active room of the area51 sites with the exception of Gaming. I can't fathom how creating noise is worth filling the few times during the day chat is dead – Marco Ceppi Jul 25 '11 at 12:00
  • Having one of the most active rooms doesn't say anything about the absolute post frequency (about one post every two minutes). Anyways, why don't we collect suggestions on how to make the bot more useful? – htorque Jul 25 '11 at 12:52
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I like the idea of flackbot, there are times when it's been useful to me.

But the main chat room has had serious signal/noise issues the last month or so and the bot just enables people to do more stupid crap instead of working on the site. Maybe dial it back for a while and see how that works.

  • It's been 'on vacation' for a few days while this issue is resolved - any suggestions for preventing abuse would be welcome. – Nathan Osman Aug 1 '11 at 2:20
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I don't use it but I also don't mind Flackbot being around if it's not being over-used for off-topic issues too much.

In rare cases when the chat is cluttered by many messages from Tweet, U&L, etc. additional messages from Flacky makes it harder for me to find messages from real people. Still, I could live with that.

To reduce overusage of the bot, we may think about implementing an upper limit of lets say 30 messages a day after which the bot will automatically be sent to sleep for a while.

  • That's an interesting idea, thank you – Oli Jul 25 '11 at 10:58
  • @Oli: I have some more ideas in my answer. – Nathan Osman Jul 25 '11 at 16:58

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