In spite of the loner stereotype that SysAdmins have, we’re rather social creatures typically. In my experience, IRC was, is and will continue to be king of real-time communication between techie types. I’ve had my bacon saved a few times by very helpful volunteers on various IRC channels. IRC as a medium provides a lot of features, history and culture and is unlikely to have a complete downfall. However, the medium isn’t exactly “light weight” for people new to the concept, and sometimes for old IRC hands it can still be something of a pain to set up a new client or even run a separate client on top of everything else that’s already running on their PC. Is IRC burdensome? Not exactly. However, a lighter weight medium might be nice once in a while.
Enter ServerFault’s new chat feature (okay, it’s half a year old, but it still has that new car smell). Actually, it’s a feature of the entire Stack Exchange family of sites. If you log into any Stack Exchange site, the most popular of which are ServerFault, StackOverflow and SuperUser, you will see a small link that says “Chat” at the top of the page (click to see a larger image).
The chat room is browser-based and is the single sharpest, most functional browser-based chat system I’ve ever experienced. I’m not sure how it’s made, but hats of to the creators. It may not be as fully functional as IRC (not even close), but for a simple means of exchanging real-time text chat in a browser, it’s unparalleled in my experience.
There are a few rules to consider with all Stack Exchange chat rooms. These are copied from Jeff Atwood’s blog post about the public beta of chat rooms back in August 2010.
- You must have a parent site account in good standing with at least 20 reputation to talk in the chat. So if you don’t have a ServerFault account, you can’t get into the ServerFault chat rooms. If you have an account on any Stack Exchange site via an OpenID account (in my case my Google ID), then you can easily create an associated account with any other Stack Exchange site in about 4 seconds. Just attempt to log in to the new site and select your OpenID provider.
- Before visiting chat, be sure you’re logged in at the parent site, because Stack Exchange uses the parent cookie to know who you are.
- Please read the chat faq. And if you’ve already read it, humor Jeff and read it again … it has changed, and they will continue to improve it over time.
Again, take a look at the chat FAQ to get familiar with the concept. Some things to keep in mind:
- You must have a reputation of 20 to chat. This keeps out drive-by “Do you haz teh codes” seekers. Twenty reputation points is pretty trivial to gain, so don’t worry.
- The chat room isn’t suited for troubleshooting and problem solving issues. That’s what the main Stack Exchange sites are for. That’s not to say that people won’t ask the occasional question on a topic, however deep discussion is usually directed to make an official question on a Stack Exchange site. The chat tends to be a great place for open ended discussions. Postfix vs sendmail and Linux vs BSD are recent examples of topics that come up. However, I’ve never seen discussions cross any friendly lines, so if you have an axe to grind, check it at the door because you won’t be accepted with it.
- The culture is laid back, non confrontational and not entirely politically correct. It’s helpful, casual and friendly. Long periods of silence are punctuated by rapid discussions about which wireless carrier rips off their customers worst, what the best brand of cheap bourbon is and the merits and demerits of sales tax (all real-life examples that I’ve seen talked about).
- There are multiple chat room associated with each site. For example, as of this post, ServerFault has three rooms. “The Comms Room” (general banter; most popular), “ServerFailt: Vote to Close” (A place for links to be posted to questions that should likely be closed) and “Backup and Disaster Recovery” (No idea where this one came from, it’s not inhabited and will likely be closed soon).
Here’s a screenshot of the larger Stack Exchange community of chat rooms. As of this posting, there are 22 active rooms with 60 users spread out between them:
If you’re a SysAdmin and would like to find a group of likeminded professionals to gab with, head on over to ServerFault’s chat rooms (specifically The Comms Room) and join us!