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It’s oh so quiet, it’s oh so still – Group chat is thoroughly Bjorked

It has probably not escaped your notice that group chat in SL has been somewhat… troublesome of late. It’s always been a little bit wonky, which was part of its slightly irksome charm, but in recent weeks it’s basically drifted completely up the creek and there appears to be no paddle in sight.

For the past four days now I have been in a bizarre ‘chat limbo’ where I’m completely unable to see any group chat in several of the groups I’m a member of. Worst for this is the Catwa Head Friends group – the support group for Catwa – of which I’m one of five moderators. I haven’t seen any chat since 14th April, and when I open the participants list I only see myself listed there:

You probably don’t need me to tell you that there’s something seriously wrong with this. Catwa Head Friends has over 67,500 members. It’s always busy, and on average there are around 200 or so people in that list, at minimum. Another of my fellow moderators has exactly the same issue as me. Luckily, the remaining three moderators can still see and interact with chat, so the group still has someone to offer support.

On week commencing Monday 29th March, in an attempt to lighten the burden on the group chat service, Linden Lab updated the group chat system so that only moderators in a group were able to view the full participants list. If a non-moderator member of the group opened the participants list, they would only see themselves plus any moderators that were logged in and had the group chat open. Maestro Linden explains what was done and why in this thread on the official Second Life forums: Recent updates to the group chat system. I might add a request to it that it would be preferable to also disable the loading of profile images in that participants list, as – prior to the latest issues – simply opening that list would completely lock up my computer for several minutes until all the icons had loaded. Since the only reason I need to open that list is when I need to quickly mute or kick someone from the chat for trolling or being otherwise disruptive, being unable to do anything on my PC for several minutes at an urgent moment like that is not good for the blood pressure.

If you read through that thread you’ll see a number of responses, and as the thread goes on you can see the complaints beginning to come in about increasing serious issues with group chat.

In recent months, we’ve noticed the group chat experience getting worse and worse, with people who:

  • can’t see their own messages going through, and thus ask their question over and over
  • can’t see replies from CSRs (or any other group members) in the group, and thus ask their questions over and over, and then get angry when there’s no response. And yes, after about the third time of trying to reply to them – when it’s become obvious that they’re not seeing our responses – we IM them with the response. From my own personal experience of doing that, about half the time when we IM them, they don’t answer, so who knows if even our IMs are consistently going through?
  • can only see some replies and not others
  • continually type ‘.’ into group in an attempt to force the chat to work

Sometimes I’ve watched my fellow CSRs responding to questions that I don’t see. It’s as if the person they’re helping is completely invisible to me. And sometimes they’ve had the same experience: unable to see any text from the person I’m helping (even though I can see their text).

I decided to carry out some testing with an alt who is also a member of Catwa Head Friends, but doesn’t have the moderator role. That alt – according to the new changes announced by LL – when viewing the chat participants list should only see their own name and the names of any online moderators who have the group chat open. This is how the first test went:

Skell:

    • Relog
    • On login, group chat does not pop up automatically
    • Does not initiate an IM to the group

Alt:

    • Alt initiates a new IM to the group after Skell has relogged, and checks the sidebar listing of people.
    • Expected behaviour: alt should see listing of self, plus all moderators who currently have the group chat window actively open (this should be all moderators except Skell and one other who was offline at the time, as I’d asked the online mods in advance who currently had the chat open and they all did)
    • Alt sees self and all online moderators – Skell included – in the list, even though chat did not pop up for Skell and he didn’t initiate an IM with the group. Alt also saw listed the other moderator who only sees herself listed when initiating a group chat, even though she did not have chat open
    • Closes the group chat window

Skell:

    • Initiates an IM with the group. Opens the participants list and sees only himself listed there
    • Closes the group chat window

Alt:

    • Initiates a new IM with the group and checks the sidebar listing of people
    • Now sees self and online moderators. Skell is no longer in the list

From this it’s possible to surmise that when Skell relogs he actually does somehow join the group chat (it pops up on login but he doesn’t see it), as he shows up in the listing for the alt, but that the group chat does not register with him/his account/his viewer/whatever. It is only when he initiates a chat and then manually closes it that he disappears from the list of people in the chat.

I carried out a second test today:

Skell:

    • Logs in
    • No chat pops up
    • Asks fellow moderators if they see him in the participants list. They do not
    • Initiates an IM with the group, then opens participant list
    • Only sees self listed there

I then tried to send something into the chat. My text vanished when I hit ‘enter’. It did not appear in the chat window, but people who were in the chat saw it. A second message ended up the same: missing from my window, but seen by others in chat.

All of this is why so many inworld support groups have moved to using Discord in addition to inworld group chat. However, many people don’t know how to use Discord, or they don’t want to use another program. (It’s worth knowing that you can use Discord without downloading or installing anything; just access the web-only version, create an account, and use that.)

AlettaMondragon has opened a bug report on Linden Lab’s JIRA system: BUG-230592. If you’re experiencing the same group chat issues, I strongly suggest logging into the JIRA (use the link on the top right of the page at that link) and clicking the ‘watch this issue’ link on the right sidebar. The more eyes on this, the better. If you’ve conducted your own testing then perhaps consider adding a comment yourself, but please, try only to add constructive comments. If you’ve tested things with an alt, with different groups, and different viewers or options/settings, then that may be of use to Linden Lab.

As for me, I’ve been sat here for four days in absolute group chat radio silence, and it’s frustrating the hell out of me.

Update 1: On Monday 19th April – five days after this issue worsened to the point of me not being able to see any group chat or participants – I finally managed to access both chat and participants list again this evening, as did my fellow CSR who had been experiencing the same issues. Let’s hope that continues to hold.

Update 2: On Sunday 23rd May, the issue has returned. Once again, I see only myself listed in the very busy Catwa Head Friends group participant list, and opening the membership list, I see zero under the ‘Everyone’ role, which – at the time of writing this – should not be showing zero; it should be showing 66,819 members.

Update 3: On Tuesday 25th May, chat still did not pop up. I waited for about 5 minutes, then instigated a call with the Catwa Head Friends group. Once again, I only saw myself listed in the participants, and once again the ‘Everyone’ role in the members tab showed zero members, when it should have been about 68,800 or so. However, this time I left the chat open instead of closing it. Previously, this had had no effect, as the chat window remained completely blank – for hours – even though my fellow moderators told me it was active.  This time, though, after about 5 more minutes, I finally saw something in chat, and from that moment it moved normally. However, I still saw only myself in the participants list, and the ‘Everyone’ role remained at zero!

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