Hosting a welcoming project channel
So, you have a great project or community group going, and you are considering taking it onto IRC. IRC is a great way to communicate in real time, but there are serious consideration in making users comfortable in using your IRC channel.
- Be a member of the channel. If you founded (or registered) the IRC channel, you will generally have the rights to become an operator of the channel and wear the precious “@” symbol. Becoming an op allows you to kick, ban, and make other changes to the channel as needed. While this is useful and may sometimes be necessary, it is advised that you not be opped when not needed. Keeping ops segregates the channel. It is far more welcoming to present yourself as just a member of the channel, and take action from that perspective unless it becomes necessary to do otherwise. In addition, if you are in the channel and speaking about welcome topics yourself, others are more likely to do the same.
- Be welcoming! This article is of course about hosting a welcoming project channel. If it fits the mood and flow of your channel, welcoming new users to a channel and asking if they need help is a quick way to make them feel welcome and comfortable. While this is not viable for large channels, it often works in smaller ones. For a larger channel it may be appropriate to approach those who speak up with “I have a question” or even just “hi” to check if they are in need of help. Simply asking “Can we help you with something?” goes a long way towards making a new user comfortable.
- Be open to questions. People will ask questions in a project channel, and sometimes they may seem odd, silly, or obvious, but to the person asking them they are important. If a new user joins and asks something, this is your opportunity to show the attitude behind your project. If they leave with a bad impression this will often be expanded to give them a bad impression of the project in general. Sending them off to google is sometimes the right answer, but what may seem like an obvious google search might not be so obvious to a new user exploring what your project has to offer. It’s important to offer constructive answers, and to encourage those who ask questions today to answer them tomorrow, building your community along the way.
- Be tolerant of new users. Many channels have different rules about what is allowed, what isn’t, and where things belong. It’s important first of all provide any such rules in an easy to find place, but second of all not to assume everyone has seen them. In the event of a minor issue, speak to the user in question (preferably by using a private message) and see if you can calm the situation down, rather than escalating it. You might also want to consider having an “offtopic” channel for subjects that don’t belong in the main channel but which your community wants to talk about. This provides a useful place to redirect conversations while still letting the community stick together.
- Catalyze problems away. Not every problem needs to be dealt with the same way, but almost all user issues can be dealt with first by a gentle push instead of a harsh shove (a ban). If tensions are high, be the voice of reason, bringing things back down, or even try to move the topic to something else for a while. Bringing in an unrelated technical problem during a high-tension discussion will often divert attention to the new topic and prevent the old one from blowing up.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember you are building or extending a community of people. Relationships ebb and flow and people change over time, and the community grows along with them. Keep an active role in your channel, pay attention to whats going on, and the channel will have a much better chance of being a welcoming place for new users.