On the Matter of Off-site IM Services
There are strong feelings in the roleplaying community about using programs like Skype or Discord for your community. This article is going to lightly dissect the matter and address some points of concern, as well as give brief instruction on how to fairly integrate such a service.
Usage - Pros & Cons
There are pros and cons to using an instant messenger service for your forum. I’ll try to cover the major ones here!
It can be much easier for users on mobile to communicate with the rest of the group. While you can get a direct link to a cbox, there can still be complications with using it. Skype and other instant messengers have programs designed specifically for mobile use.
Most services allow you to create group chats, which can make discussing and plotting with a faction much easier- as it happens in real time, and most people typically find it easier to bounce ideas off each other this way.
In that same vein, if you ever have an event scheduled for your forum, using an instant messenger program can make it vastly easier to coordinate events and keep in touch with everyone during the event. For example, if you are playing Cards Against Humanity together or are putting a link out there to a Rabb.it room!
Many of them allow for voice chatting. This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it can make talking about plots or updates easier. Some people also simply find the experience enjoyable.
It’s faster. Just in general, it’s faster to use than a forum. It also doesn’t require you to be on the forum to communicate with the other players.
Guests can join, too. With Skype and Discord at least, guests can temporarily join your group.
Not everyone has it. There are some people who have one program but not the other, and the one they have might not be the one you’re using!
Not everyone wants to download it. For many, if they don’t already make use of the service then they don’t want to have to download it.
It takes you off-site.
You might “have” to share contact information with someone you don’t want to. I include this as a con because there are people who feel pressured into adding everyone- however, we are all adults entitled to our privacy. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, you are not obligated to add them or engage in conversation with them.
Everyone has a means to get in touch with you at any time. Again, this is something which is really only a con if you allow it to be- you do not have to respond to every IM you get, neither right away or at all. Still, there are many who feel pressured to.
Lots of notifications! However, you do have the option to turn these off or specify what words or phrases will trigger a notification for you.
Most messengers log all conversations, but that can also make it easy to fall behind sometimes. If the chat is moving quickly and you’re gone for a few hours, you can miss out on some plot discussion. It’s also all there for you to catch up on, but some people don’t like having to go back and read.
Having a method of chat off the forum makes it easier for cliques to form.
A clique is a group of people who are not looking to let anyone new into their circle. They may make it a constant game of jumping through hoops in order to gain recognition and acceptance, but in the end you never make it to the same level as everyone else.
An instant messenger chat is just as likely to cause a clique as is a cbox. If a clique forms because of the group chat, then there is already something about your forum and your community that is conducive to the formation of one. As it is the nature of a clique to be exclusive, the only way the entirety of the group chat can be considered a clique is if joining the group chat is an exclusive affair.
In the end, this is on the admin’s shoulders. It is their job to maintain the atmosphere of the community, and they opt not to or encourage cliquish behavior then a clique will happen regardless of the method of chat being used.
It makes a forum look inactive.
While the activity of a forum is partially judged by the chatter going on in the cbox, a slow cbox isn’t what is going to make your site look inactive. Not having any IC posts is what will make your site look inactive, more than anything else.
It’s true that having a group chat off of the site can slow your cbox down some, but in most cases it is sufficient to simply say “good morning” in the cbox in order to get some reply and generate activity. All it takes is a few extra seconds of effort, and you get that back from your members.
It excludes people.
There are two ways that people can be excluded from the group chat: by the admin’s choice, or by theirs. As the admin, you either select which people to invite or not invite. Or, the person is invited but they opt not to join for one reason or another. If it’s the former, then you’re promoting cliquish behavior as an admin. If it’s the latter, then that’s the choice of the player. One cannot claim that they are being excluded when the offer to be included was extended their way. Having a group chat and pointing it out to new people and offering to invite them into it is a good way to make a new member feel recognized and welcome, in fact.
How to Implement One
That’s all well and good, but if you want one for your forum how do you implement it correctly? Here’s how you do!
Adjust the settings. Nearly every instant messenger has options for joining the group- adjust them according to what you want. Most of them will allow the option for people to join the group instantly, if they have the link.
Put up the link! Or the join information, if it’s not possible to just join through clicking a link. Good places to put this information are by the cbox, in the starter guide, and in any areas where you put links to important things.
Extend the offer to join! When someone new joins, always be sure to remind them that the group chat is there and that they are welcome to join! If your forum software allows you to automatically send PMs to new registrations, then it can be good to include a note about that in your welcome message as well!
Say hello! In both your cbox and in your group chat, just say hello in the mornings or whenever it is you’re online. It’s usually all the nudge you need to get some activity going in both places.
There is a right way and a wrong way to implement an external instant messenger for your forum, however an IM service is not a must have for a forum. A forum without one is not any worse or better than a forum with them, just as having a word count doesn’t automatically make a site better than one without a word count. As with all things, it is just a matter of the kind of community you want to build. Some might not need an IM services, others may benefit from it. Either way, they certainly aren’t harmful or dangerous!
Is there something you would like to see a guide for? Reply to this topic with your request!