When I recently first visited the English Language and Usage chat room, I arrived with many erroneous expectations. I presumed that the EL&U chat room would center on English language discussion, and that experienced users would be welcoming towards curious new users with similar interests. In reality, I immediately encountered arbitrary, unintuitive norms that many of the users presumed I should deduce by myself. If it were not for the intervention of @Cerberus, @JasperLoy, and other courteous users, I would have continued my desperate attempt to converse with the "bot" @Jarvis and otherwise try to assimilate into this perplexing new environment.
My initial experience was far from ideal, and while I did receive sufficient assistance from some kind users, I fear that other prospective chat users may not receive the introduction to EL&U chat culture that is necessary to truly participate in chat. I understand how useful and fun this feature can be, and it would be a shame if new users felt alienated by the strange new environment and subsequently declined to participate in chat.
Extrapolating from my jarring experience, I feel there are some easy ways that the experience for new users could be significantly improved without adversely affecting the customs of established users.
My first suggestion would be to display a room-specific "wiki page" to first-time visitors that describes what topics are commonly discussed, which topics are appropriate for discussion (including whether profanity or discussion of sex are permitted), whether new users are welcome to just join in on the conversation, and important feature information not included in the Chat FAQ (such as the presence of bots and the commands required to use them). Such a feature has been proposed on Stack Exchange Meta, but has not received sufficient attention (thank you to @hichris123 for showing me the proposal). If I had seen such a page before I had entered the chat room, my experience would have been significantly smoother. In fact, the first time I visited the EL&U chatroom, I was actually trying to find the FAQ/feature documentation and read the transcript. A wiki page detailing this information would ensure that the new users are aware of the general culture of the room, and that they are willing or even eager to participate in such an environment.
Because the first, ideal suggestion has not been implemented yet, my second-best suggestion would be to use the "room topic" field, which is the description underneath the room name, for its intended purpose: describing the room name. The Chat FAQ gives the following information on room topics:
Clearly, the room topic should be just that, a description of the general topic, as the appropriateness of the chat lines is contingent on this field. However, EL&U users who visit the "flagship" chat room for the first time can feel perplexed and excluded when greeted with a bizarre "topic" that looks nothing like the one described in the Chat FAQ. When I first visited, the "topic" seemed more like a shibboleth than an actual description of the room's frequent topics. It was quite disconcerting. For instance, here was the one when I joined:
The Incomprehensible Room. It slaws your typizg, too.
And here is the current "room topic":
I am in a party. The wine is depleted. Then some Son of God manufacture even more win. Yay.
Clearly, these are intended to be humorous. However, if the amusement of a select few established chat users comes at the expense of causing bafflement for new chat users, then such a "room topic" is inappropriate, especially when it contrasts with the expected "room topic" concept shown in the Chat FAQ. Although the EL&U chat room is privately owned, it should still conform to some guidelines. The Stack Exchange chat rooms are used by the general public, and new users naturally want to visit a popular room on their preferred topic when they first visit chat. If all the major rooms (especially one called EL&U, which new users will logically assume is the primary chat room for EL&U users) seem exclusive, it will discourage new users from using this valuable feature. Although the room is the owner's room to do with as he/she pleases, his/her choices affect the quality of chat for other users, especially new ones. Personally, I think a room topic along the lines of the following would be of great help to new users:
The chat room for English Language enthusiasts and @Jarvis the bot (visitors welcome too)
Obviously, not all the documentation can be crammed into the room topic. But there is still plenty of important information that can be added to the topic, information that some old chat users might take for granted.
Finally, I think that a basic code of conduct should be enforced, with egregious violations being consistently flagged. For instance, some older users have used the term pineapple as a secret joke to refer to the mistakes made by English language learners. An even smaller set of users have taken this use to inappropriate levels, ridiculing confused English language learners who are merely searching for the right place to ask their question. This attitude of exclusivity is detrimental to the site, and can easily ostracize new users who feel that they are being secretly ridiculed by the same experienced users that should be helping them. I feel that this should not be acceptable behavior. Even though pineapple in this sense can be used innocuously or even endearingly, that does not make the offensive instances of pineapple (which are the only instances with which I take umbrage) any less inappropriate. Moreover, the Chat FAQ has this to say on the matter of proper conduct:
Do have fun, but please keep it professional and always be respectful of your fellow community members.
We expect community members to treat each other with respect ... even when they don't deserve it.
However, I feel that even this basic code of conduct is often blatantly transgressed. As @Shog9 mentioned here in the election chat room, there is a reluctance to flag even the most obviously offensive posts. Because the penalties for offensive chat lines are quite lenient to begin with, I feel that chat users should not be criticized for flagging genuinely offensive posts, in accordance with the quite liberal Chat FAQ guidelines. To be clear, I am not advocating censorship, just civility.
If anyone has further insights on how to improve the chat experience for newbies, please share an answer.