Live chat support for (main site, not the forum)

I had the idea that could try providing live, volunteer, distributed chat support for the website. [EDIT: reference to another thread removed]

Personally I absolutely love when a website has a real live person available to answer questions. It seems like there are lots of people involved with the forum spread around the world and frequently sitting at their computer. And when no one was available there would just be the option of submitting an email that would get responded to the next time a volunteer logged in.

My idea is that the purpose of the chat support would be to provide basic support of how to use the website. For more in depth questions people would be encouraged to join the forum and post the question there.

Even if it was only done for a short time, it might provide valuable information on how people are using the site and the trouble they have. It would also enable the creation of short help articles dealing with the specific pain/friction points users have. I’m always happy for a chat support person to give me a link to the knowledge-base article that helps solve my problem.

It appears that there are several open source chat programs that could be installed on the sc servers. The best looking one I found is called Live Helper Chat. The have a demo setup here so you can log in to the back end as well as the front end and have a pretend chat with yourself. The back end is quite sophisticated, seemingly with all the common chat support features one would expect.

I don’t have any of the skills needed to install the software, but I would be happy to help create resources for the volunteer chat support people.

Any thoughts?


Do you feel that there is a significant need for this? I’d be interested to now the rationale. :slight_smile:


Clear guidelines should be in place as far as chat volunteers not giving out personal contact information, etc. Since all chats are logged, it should be fairly easy to do quality control and check for inappropriate behaviour.

Absolutely. I have the good fortune to introduce many new people to the Pali Canon and SuttaCentral specifically. And I find that even people who are familiar with suttas have a hard time figuring out SuttaCentral. But after a few minutes of answering questions, people are much more easily able to figure things out.

This mirrors my experience using the internet and getting chat support. There are many times I can’t figure something out about the website I am looking at, especially when it is a product or technology I’m not familiar with. But if there is a live chat that can answer my questions, it dramaticly improves my UX (user experience)

For me, I have a strong interest in helping people overcome the friction of interacting with the suttas. I believe there is a significant demographic that is keen to read the suttas but they are hindered in ways that, with some assistance to get over the learning curve, they can have a full and personal relationship with the suttas.

And I believe that barriers exist with SuttaCentral that can never be overcome completely by improving the user interface. The interface and organization are actually very, very good once you understand them. But I believe that it is difficult for new people to understand.

Oh, I think that these things are very necessary.

Personally, I think that the benefit of live chat support is completely without question. Any marketer will tell you that it is. But I believe that Buddhists, and especially Theravada Buddhist, are traditionally horrible marketers. :slight_smile:

Just to clarify what volunteer chat support would look like… Whenever they were available, volunteers (who would be screened and trained) would have a tab open in their browser with the back end of of the chat support system that would alert them to someone on the front end joining the chat. They could then try and answer the questions the user had. They would give links to relavant help articles when they exist. If they don’t know the answer to a question, depending on the nature, they could either recommend the proper Discourse topic to post under, or they could put the question into the email section of the support system.

If no volunteers were logged into the back system, users on the front end would be given the option of submitting an email question. Then the next time a volunteer logged into the backend of the chat support system, they could attempt to answer the question by email.

So although ideal, it would not be necessary to have unbroken 24/7 coverage.


Many Thanks, and also apologies, I misread the OP and thought you were talking about the forum.
I absolutely agree re the issues you raise about SC :slight_smile:


:slight_smile: I was responding to the OP’s first paragraph

In thinking about this project (Design the perfect sutta website User Interface (UI) … for children?) I had the idea that could try providing live, volunteer, distributed chat support for the website.

However, I appreciate many points you make in discussing the idea of a live chat. (I don’t want to touch on the subject of childrearing and the Internet more than my privous comment!)

In my experience of live chats, quality and support varied a lot, and sometimes responsibilities and authority could be unclear or confusing or manipulated.
A clear Sponsor can reduce or maybe eliminate those issues. Or is that too hierarchical?

In my experience non-hierarchical decision -making functions best among similarly principled people with strong shared definitions and prioitities. Hard to achieve on the global internet.


:slight_smile: Actually, this touches on one of the confusing points I see with newcommers, namely the difference between SutaCentral and Discourse. It’s obvious to us, but to new people it’s not. Especially because the colour scheme and logo are the same.

Yes, absolutely. There would be the need for training and review of the logs. I imagine, though, that there will be an 80/20 thing going on where 80% of the questions will be similar and easy to predict and 20% will be more unique requiring referral or followup.

The more I think about it, the more curious I am about the types of questions people may ask.

To me, this thread alone could justify live chat…

I would suggest taking a very experimental but responsible approach to this. As I understand it there are no monetary costs involved unless we need to pay someone to set it up, which I doubt. I don’t think it will have an impact on server load (although I don’t really know). There is some time investment with training, but it could be ramped up slowly.


My own experience with live chat support is somewhat darker. Those “innocent” support chat pop-ups have struck me as more intrusive than helpful. It comes across as proselytization when I encounter it on commercial sites. On a religious site, it could feel cultish. I feel more trust in sites that offer tools for self-help vs. chat pop-ups that proclaim “we see you and are engaging with you NOW”.

SC moderators are kind and wonderful. However, it does take a login to interact with them or the rest of us. Account creation is a burden. In fact, I do recall the initial experience of SuttaCentral as scary and daunting. Chat would provide a comforting ephemerality, a forgiving of oopsies.

Because of this, I think one simple and powerful thing we can all do is just be kinder in our posts. Another thing that might need a bit of work is the login hurdle. Is the proposal for live chat addressed primarily at the login hurdle or are there other motivations?


I believe the live chat is being proposed for Sutta Central and not the forum. There is no login for SC.

I’ve only recently realised that they use completely different and seperated systems :sweat_smile:
In one way, from an operational perspective I think it would be great if they were all one system - but I know nothing about the technical side of such things. I’ve always thought of them as different rooms in a house.

It is good that SC doesn’t have a log in. But a log in is really needed for the forum, to give it the characteristics of a safe/trusted community for meaningful discussion.


If this is about some guidelines how to use Sutta Central, perhaps some good written FAQ (frequently asked questions) section would do the job? :slight_smile:

The FAQ section could expand if people were asking more and more some questions related to navigating SC. I personally love this kind of solution. It could also work for D&D for FAQ related to forum and search function and be a permanently pinned topic aswell :slight_smile: It could reduce the amount of work that needs to be done by moderators too.

Q: I want to start a new topic, how to do this?
A: First use search function and type words related to your topic to search if subject that you’re interested in hasn’t been already discussed… etc. etc.

Just brainstorming there :nerd_face:


Oh, those are horrible. And not innocent at all. Especially when they pester you again and again, but then when you start a chat they say “oh sorry, no one is available.” :rage: Or even worse a chat bot that only knows how to do nothing.

Any technology can be implemented poorly. On one end of the spectrum, the link could be very un-obnoxious:

Yes, I think that only a small segment of internet users have ever joined a forum. It’s hard for those of us who are active on forums on a daily basis to imagine.

But as I said earlier, encouraging people to ask more difficult questions on the forum would be one of the jobs of the chat support. But someone shouldn’t have to join a forum to get simple answers about using a site.

Yes, my idea is for the chat support to be for the main website, not the Discourse forum.

However, for some questions, I can imagine the chat volunteer doing a quick search on the forum to see if they can find the answer. If they can, then a link to the thread would be given with the encouragement, “See how great the forum is? You should join.” If they can’t find it on the forum, then the volunteer could either offer to send a follow up email (if that made sense) or they could say something like, “That would be a great question to post on the forum. Signing up is easy and we love to have new people join. You could post it in the X category” (Honestly even I feel friction when I have to choose a category, I can only imagine what a new person would feel).

So, yes, my idea is for support on the main site, but the forum would be a resource to direct people to and basic sign up and posting advice could be given.

Well, they kind of are from a user perspective. Personally I think it would be better if they were more separate. Discourse has a a particular culture (which I like) but that does not reflect the editorial principles of the main site. Any way, that’s kind of a different topic.

I do think that these resources are necessary and I think they should be created. I don’t think they will meet the needs of all new users, though. Perhaps an analogy would help. If I’m trying to learn how to use a new word processor, I can easily use help documentation to find answers to my questions because I already understand the basic principles of how word processors work. However if I am trying to learn how to use a vector drawing programme, I’m totally lost since I don’t even know what questions to ask, or what things are called.


Do you mean us? :blush: Actually, we don’t moderate SC … we only moderate D&D.
(It would be a tadge presumptuous for us to start moderating the Buddha’s words, don’t you think?
However, thank you for that beautiful compliment @karl_lew. :pray:

People normally go to Q&A for this and the first community member to see the question normally answers. Works pretty fast and takes some weight of the Mods’ shoulders. :slight_smile:


Hey all, thx for the interest and ideas.

I’m not sure what I think about the chat idea, but it is certainly worth considering.

One thing to bear in mind. There is a basic law of software that any good software will have features added until it becomes rubbish. I’d like to put that day off as long as possible. That’s why we are focused on improving the underpinnings. There is a lot of work that goes on that y’all don’t see, which is the point. I’m trying as hard as as I can to remove code. The site performance is nowhere near I’d like it to be, especially on mobiles. And another JavaScript widget will only make things worse.

For additional features, what I’d like is more like voice or discourse, separate apps that are linked. I wonder if a chat feature could be done that way?


Excellent point.

Having heard the other feedback as well as yours, I think what might makes sense is to have a or help. site that could hold all manner of end user help items. The live chat could run completely from that. I think this is the way that many support sites run. I don’t think there is any advantage (and as you say many disadvantages) to having the chat layered into the main site.

I don’t think that site would even have to run from the same server.

Would that address your concerns?

I actually just went into the demo (Demo « Live helper chat, open source live support.) and generated embed code that I put into one of my sites. Works just fine.

I don’t have any experience installing things like this onto servers, but there seems to be lots of good documentation here: Documentation « Live helper chat, open source live support.


I like it, a dedicated support url. I’ll give some thought to it, in the meantime ideas are appreciated!

The problem isn’t the server, it’s the client side js. More JavaScript means more performance tax paid by all users, including users in developing countries on entry level mobiles.


People who need help think simply. They think, “I need help.” They do not think, “I need help with this topic and need to call that person

People who need help think simply. They think, “I need help.” Indeed, when one needs emergency help, there is one number to call. The person at the other end of the line responds as needed, handling a diversity of requests.

Sounds wonderful, right? Well… :thinking:

“Hello SuttaCentral, I am suffering, what should I do?”
“Hello SuttaCentral, I am suicidal, what should I do?”
“Hello SuttaCentral, how do I login?”

When help is sought and support is offered, we cannot be choosy about how we help. We have to help. And if we can’t help and say that we can’t help, then we will have taught people that we can’t help when they need help. With the brahmaviharas, one can’t hold back. They are infinite. When we offer help, we have to Help. :infinity:

If we offer help, we should offer help in a way that is unlimited. SuttaCentral itself does this right now. SC provides unlimited help by providing free global access to the EBTs.

Is there a way for us to offer in a way that is unlimited?

I ask this because once that URL goes up, that’s where ALL help goes.


Perhaps you are over thinking this. :slight_smile:

But if we are going to go down that path… When you call a crisis line for help, they can talk to you and provide you with some personal help. But the main thing they are doing is directing you to other services. This has nothing to do with being choosy about how we are helping.

I’m talking about providing technical support for using the website.

No, this is just silly. Sorry. I’m talking about providing technical support for people trying to use the website. If someone is so distraught trying to use the website that they become suicidal… Seriously?

No, that’s not true. Why do you think that? Are we talking about different things?

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What we offer and what people perceive we offer are different things.

To address this, we need to be very clear and directive about chat use. Effective chat use is often shielded by FAQs that people must wade through prior to using actual chat. This frees up chat responders to only deal with non-FAQ issues. FAQs also provide direct support without limit. FAQs weed out random requests and focus chat questions on what can be usefully answered. Chat alone is not a support strategy.

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I agree. Every time people here have suggested having a FAQ etc. I have agreed. That is why I suggested having an entire section ( dedicated to organizing help material. As I said early on, part of the job of chat support would be to direct people to articles, etc that had more detailed and complete answers.

So I think you are talking about the process where one enters a question for chat but is then presented with articles that might answer the question. I’ll have to see if the software I’ve been looking at provides that feature.

Personally, as someone who does try to look though help articles before starting chat, I find those “does this answer you question?” suggestions kind of annoying since I already did a search and couldn’t find what I was looking for.

I’m guessing that chat volume is going to be very low. My personal experience is that once I start chatting with a support person I realize other questions that I had. So even where I find myself in a situation of having asked what ends up being a silly question initially, I often get lots of other help I wasn’t initially expecting when I started the chat.

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Karl that is a really good point. In case anyone thinks he is exaggerating, we do in fact get requests like that through the forum here. Not often, but it happens. Anyone who is staffing a chat service would need to know how to respond.


Indeed. My reaction was more to the point made (I think??) that we shouldn’t offer chat support simply because we weren’t going to be providing suicide counseling.

Yes, there will need to be all manner of training and guidelines. But I think it’s very doable. It may even shave a bit off forum mod work. I’m thinking about if someone wants to talk about their practice, for example. That’s something that we wouldn’t even send them to Discourse for.