Every now and again, an interesting thread pops up on the forums which tie in to the development of the site and the community. One recent one was a thread started by ClayInfinity
on the topic of IRC and finding matches
The thread starts out with a plea for people to use IRC more to set up matches, as opposed to using the PM system for that purpose.
The thread brings up a couple of points which I find pretty interesting and the reason I decided to post this as a blog rather than simply responding in the thread itself.
1. "IRC [is] where the community is!"
Since the very early days of the site, the IRC chat has indeed been a very central part of the community. This statement, however, is a bit extreme. Without doing any real research and looking at numbers, my gut feeling says that the forum is frequented by more people than the chat as a whole. The IRC is of course still an important aspect of the site, if nothing else as a means to contact the support staff directly.
When it comes down to it, the fact is that some people can't or won't use IRC, be it because of firewalls or because it's hard to get accepted into an established chat community. IRC is closer to "speaking in public" than the forums due to the real-time way it functions. Forums allow more time spent on phrasing and spelling (insert obvious joke here.. You understand what I mean), and is therefore an easier thing to get into. Mind you, there are hundreds of people who simply don't communicate at all in public and stick to in-game chat (at best).
2. "Each time I use gamefinder I get swamped with offers for games via PM"
In the thread, Sp00keh responds with "surely its [sic] a good thing". In a way, that's of course a good thing. Game offers as such are fine. The main problem here is the form of the offer. The thing is that the PM system was never designed as a way for instant communication. It's designed for more long-form communication over larger spans of time and therefore won't be very suitable for things like match offers which by definition are more immediate.
For me, in the role of site and community developer, this tells me that the site itself does not provide the technical means to solve the need to find games easily. This is the primary reason I wanted to rebuild the LFG page at all. The new system is absolutely designed to allow people who don't want to be on the IRC to find games and do so quicker and easier without having to reload their page hundreds of times to see if a coach responds.
Will it mean that there are less people on the IRC? Of course. I'm fully aware of the fact that this new system will reduce the importance of the IRC chat for the community at large. Despite how easy you guys think it is to use IRC, you have to realise that there are a large number of people who simply don't want to spend the time getting it up and running. Their primary focus is to play the game, not install applications or figure out chat commands.
Although I do like the IRC as a communication platform and use it to stay in touch with the FUMBBL community, I don't think it should be absolutely required to use the site effectively. Finding matches is something that is far too hard on the site itself at the moment, and this is something I want to change. As a little bonus for those of you who have managed to read through all this, I am also planning a similar update to the Blackbox division, where the draw system would be website based rather than focusing heavily on the IRC. Conceptually, it'd show the same thing on the site as on the chat, and allow you a one-click way to start a match once a round has been drawn.
One of these days, I'll be able to take the time to get this stuff done as well.. Too much things to do :)