This note is to address the frequent concerns that arise over the practice of "idle-kicking," that is, when an operator or administrator kicks someone out of a chat room because that person has been idle for a protracted period of time. This issue is the one that won't die. It crops up relentlessly, often by people new to RinkChat but also by established regulars. On general principles, I like to encourage the sharing of differing opinions and ideas, because RinkChat is only as good as we all make it. But this particular debate has to stop. Every conceivable opinion has already been voiced on the matter, multiple times, and every time the subject comes up again, the debate runs the same course, reaches the same conclusions, and leaves participants on both sides with the same uneasiness.
My position on this matter is detailed below, with explanations about why. There is room for disagreement about my position -- I respect and even sympathize with the usual reasons for dissent -- but that this is a firm part of the RinkChat policy is not. It's just like any other rule, like the forbidding of profanity: you accept the rule or not (regardless of whether you agree), and participating in RinkChat constitutes your acceptance.
The policy is simply stated by a pair of statements: (1) Chatters are free to be idle in the chat room and are not violating any rule by doing so, but if you are idle for a protracted period of time, you may be kicked; (2) operators and administrators are not obligated to kick idlers but may freely choose of their own accord whether or not to kick excessively idle people.
Addressing Common Objections
The most common objection to idle-kicking is that some people perceive it to be a disciplinary action taken to correct wrong behavior. This is an understandable impression but a mistaken one. If you are kicked for being idle, all it means is you used to be in the room and now you aren't, but you can get back in by the press of just one button.
Another of the objections people have about idle-kicking is that when they are kicked, they are actually present and just not saying anything. This is not a strong argument. Some people find it uncomfortable to have certain conversations, especially personal ones, in a room where not everyone present is visibly present. There's no way to tell apart someone who is logged in but away and someone who is present but quiet. In certain contexts, this ambiguity can come off a little creepy. In other contexts, it's fine, and that's why the matter is left to operators/administrators to address on a case by case basis. If you're kicked for idleness, but you were really present and just watching, re-enter, and then everyone will know you're there. The alternative is to submit an empty message by hitting return every so often (called "emptyboxing"). This doesn't cause anything to be displayed in the room, but it resets your idle time and lets everyone know you're around. Both of these things clear up the ambiguity about your presence. Either way is fine -- you don't have to emptybox periodically, but if you have a problem with idle-kicking, this is an easy way to avoid it.
Reasons For the Policy
Why are idlers kicked sometimes? It depends on who is administrating the room and what is going on at the time. Sometimes idle users might be kicked to free up system resources. Usually the RinkWorks server can handle things just fine, but if RinkChat is running a bit slow, kicking idle users out can speed things up, not just in chat but all around.
Another reason is more difficult to define. When an active conversation by several people is in progress, some people find it "cluttered" to have people in the user list that aren't really there (or, at least, aren't there for all intents of purposes of anybody else in the room) and have a difficult time gaining a sense of who is present and involved in the conversation. Some have no trouble with this at all and may therefore not understand anybody else having a problem, but what it boils down to is that socializing online -- which does not communicate facial expressions, tone of voice, or body language -- is difficult enough without compounding it by cluttering up indicators of who, exactly, is participating in a given conversation at a given time. The user list, with its idle times down to the minute, is an important tool for most if not all users. The practice of idle-kicking refines its usability.
Yet there are other times when excessive idle times are perfectly fine and maybe even good things. A good example is the Game Development room, which is reserved for people who are primarily working on some kind of RinkWorks-related project but maintaining a presence in chat in case developers need to coordinate with each other. Two or three people might be in that room and idle for hours, but they're still there and working and encouraging each other to work simply by the fact that the others are maintaining a visible working presence. In this case, it doesn't make any sense at all to kick out idle people. This is partly why RinkChat doesn't time out idle users automatically and also why I continue to resist defining exactly what "a protracted period of time" really is. It depends on the situation.
It all comes down to the judgment of the operators/administrators about what is appropriate for the room at the time. Different people will have different opinions about what that is, but I trust them to make those decisions in a responsible manner, and I ask that users go along with the decisions made by whoever is administrating the room at the time.
The important things for operators to realize is that you don't have to kick idle users, but you're free to do so in the manner you think best. Interpret what "a protracted period of time" is, erring on the side of permissiveness, by judging each individual situation on its own terms.
The important things for idlers to realize is that idle-kicking is never personal. If you're kicked out for being idle, it isn't disciplinary, it doesn't mean your presence in chat is not valued, and it doesn't mean you're not perfectly welcome to re-enter. I sympathize with the complaint that the big red "you have been kicked" message has an inhospitable look to it, but if we all understand what's really going on, everything should be fine.