The best chat that never happened

Hello and welcome again to another slightly unusual chat write-up. This time we were meant to meet the admins from Fluff Love University for a discussion on cloth and different characteristics of cloth/cleaning routines/problems that people have over in the US vs UK, but unfortunately the chat never happened because of a little problem involving time zones… So the chat got postponed by a week and instead our group of “regulars” who always attend the live events ended up talking about the chat themselves. We basically meta-chatted and tried, as a group, to figure out why so few people turn up to the live chats (we’re usually a group between 4 and 8 members) and how we could encourage more people to turn up.

For the sake of this write-up, which is partially to show everyone how laid back and easygoing we all are during the chats, we decided not to edit the content or blank out the names.

I’m very grateful to Mark Smith who also joined us and shared his “expert” opinion on the live chats.


Laura: Hello!
Hannah, Sophia, Sarah, Kate, Grace, Mark, Greta, Jaymee: Hello!
Laura: Dani is on her way too!
Sophia: It’s normally the experts that get here before everyone else, so I’m not sure what to do now. Should we all introduce ourselves? I’m Sophia, and this is all my fault 🙂 And my demon-powered toddler is still wide-awake getting stories from Daddy.
Grace: I’m Grace and we have the Pox… Joy!
Laura: That’s a good idea Sophia! I’m Laura and I’m one of Sophia’s project co-ordinators for NSG (I prefer ‘science minion’). Oh nooooo Grace!
Kate: I’m Kate. I’m just an interested group member and I’m in the temperature working group. My 4yo is asleep and my 4mo is threatening to wake up any second!
Sarah: I’m a nappy user and nappy seller. I’ve been using cloth nappies for 7.5 years and selling for 5.5 years. I sell a range of brands so not tied in anyway. All children are asleep yay! (2 out of 3 have had the pox so know I have to go through it one more time!) Sympathy to you @grace
Jaymee: I’m Jaymee 2/3 children in bed, yay! I run Peterborough nappy library.
Dani: I am here and at reduced function but still rather excellent.
Greta: Argh not the pox! Sorry to hear that, I still have a few scars from when I had it as a kid.. Anyway, I’m Greta, also NSG helper/coordinator or science minion n. 2 😉 the only person to love cloth nappies without having kids!
Mark Smith: I am interested in what will come out of tonight’s chat and I know a bit about water and detergents.
Sarah: you are very modest @mark!
Dani: Looks like we’re having some wibbly wobbly timey wimey issues
Hannah: I’m Hannah and I’m in the strip-washing group. I’ve got an almost 22 month old who is rolling around making noises so fingers crossed she stays asleep.
Jenny: I’m Jenny, I have an almost 3yo and a 6mo (who could cough herself awake at any moment), using cloth for 2.5 years and in the strip wash working group.
Laura: Dani do you want to say anything more than that you’re reduced but excellent? You’re a bit more than that.
Dani: Haha alright, I am a microbiologist in training with a 2 year old and a high recall meaning I can remember most things I see. My leg currently has 20 staples, and 3 screws and 3 staples in the bone and lots of drugs.
Sophia: Well, while you are all here, can I use this time to pick your brains? There’s almost 600 people in the group, but this is the most we’ve ever had at a chat. I know on any online thing most people will just lurk, but has anyone got any idea why so few people come to chats?
Grace: Mostly I am distracted by my life and perhaps I am lazy and know I can read up at leisure… Bad.
Hannah: Maybe people don’t think they have any questions. I sometimes turn up and lurk without any ideas of what to ask, but some people might not think it’s worth it.
Dani: I think people don’t come because it’s web based, most are on the phone in one hand with a toddler in the other. Or just so much to do they can’t invest the time.
Sarah: I think most think they would be seen like a Skype chat rather than a big messenger box like MSN messenger.
Dani: If it was like Skype I would totally flash my staples, I’ve already made two people gag with them.
Sophia: I mean, this whole project has been an experiment, so I had no idea how any of it would work out. But I sort of expected the chats to be more popular, and be a way of people getting to know each other a bit. But maybe if we were doing it again we should just drop the live chats. I can totally get that everyone is busy, etc. I mean I’d probably forget to come to the chats if I wasn’t running the project.
Hannah: Oh no I love the live chats! But I guess you’d want a better proportion of people loving them to make it worth it.
Grace: No. I think since I did one live chat for the strip washing group I am more confident. We need to encourage people to try it so it isn’t daunting.
Jenny: Evening time is precious, jobs to do, speaking to OH and unpredictable bedtimes, but then day time is just as difficult with little people to entertain.
Sarah: Maybe a blog style Q&A is more time efficient? So an expert is selected. The group submit questions and then the expert writes back with some replies. Not so interactive but still covers Q&As
Mark: I found the chat very rewarding, but it is quite daunting not knowing what issues will be discussed. The conversation covered areas I was not expecting.
Sophia: I feel like those people who’ve tried them have had a good experience and tend to come to more, but not that many people have tried them to find out – partly for the reasons Jenny said, etc. Not sure how to get round that.
Sarah: that’s the thing, a live chat can go in any direction.
Mark: A blog Q and A is another good idea, but is more restricted. So I think if possible you should consider doing both.
Grace: But the challenge is key, it becomes a discourse not a monologue. We can direct the information in a flow rather than passively accepting it, or having to return another question at a later date for clarification.
Sophia: Thanks Mark, good to have the perspective from the other side. I suspect the people on this side of the chat feel a bit daunted in advance too, because they aren’t sure if they’ll be able to come up with ‘good questions’. Maybe we should advertise the chats with, ‘Don’t worry, the experts are more scared of you than you are of them?’
Mark: I agree Sophia
Laura: I like the chats because they’re live, and it’s a proper conversation that can develop. I know what Mark means about not knowing what will come up – I had that last week – but from the other side I LOVED getting to talk about what I do. People don’t ask in that much detail very often! And experts do quite often email and say they really enjoyed it.
Kate: I’m pretty tech happy but coming to this separate website and having to log in etc. felt a little bit of a chore, which might translate to daunting for someone else. Was the Q&A with the Little Lambs lady in a normal Facebook post more widely used?
Dani: What about a forum platform so people can start a thread to ask and then it can be discussed. There are plenty of free forum tools for web and mobile.
Sophia: I think the Q+A threads in the group got more people altogether contributing, but not loads more really. And the conversation felt less immediate, and kind of fizzled out a bit.
Kate: But its probably just very far down the list of things to do in a day for most people.
Sophia: Yeah, I totally see that it’s far down people’s lists. And it’s not like I’d expect 300 group members to turn up. But I think 10 or something would give a better conversational spread.
Kate: It’s a good point about the conversation developing. Maybe just a thread in advance where we can bounce around our ideas about what we’d like to ask and those who turn up can try to include those ideas. And a mention in that thread that everyone is welcome to come and ask any question or just listen.
Sophia: @Dani – I just worry that a forum would have the same problem of being an extra click away, only worse, because people would have to keep checking back.
Kate: Oh oh I have an idea.
Sophia: @Kate, tell us, tell us!
Kate: I think maybe we just have to build engagement with the group in general. Lots of people will have joined because interested and then largely forgotten about it, and Facebook will show them less if they read less of us. Maybe just some more chatty and/or interesting posts on the group. “What’s your opinion on” type stuff or any questions or funny stuff. And when a thread gets interest, we drop in mentions about the chat along with reassurances that is for everyone. I will try to post on the group – show that not only staff can start a thread?
Sophia: I think that’s a great idea Kate. Everyone please feel totally free to start random threads! We will do some too.
Laura: Kate, yes definitely, we’d really like people other than us to be posting stuff!
Hannah: Oh I wasn’t sure about posting stuff to the wall/page that wasn’t about nappy science. Glad to hear it’s ok. I agree it might get more people seeing things but also getting involved.
Sophia: I mean, I guess it should be vaguely related. What do people think?
Laura: It can be quite tenuous can’t it? As long as it’ll be of general interest to the group. I mean I started that one about drying nappies just for fun really, and it got quite a lot of engagement. And even a bit of science thrown in too, but that wasn’t really what I asked – I just said how do you dry nappies when it’s rubbish weather?
Hannah: I have a question about clothing over night and dampness. It’s nappy related, but not sure if it’s science (although there is some trial and error learning involved). I might ask that?
Sophia: I think drying nappies is totally on topic. Also clothing over nappies at night. Whereas ‘who do you think will win the labour leadership election?’ would be off topic. Unless you made it, ‘Which labour leadership contender do you think would use cloth nappies?’. What I mean is, that’s a great question Hannah, feel free to ask it.
Laura: Dampness probably has some science involved. E.g. moisture transfer (I’m guessing of course, cos I don’t know what the question is!). And even if it doesn’t, ask away anyway! Anyway, you have all been lovely, thank you for coming. I’m sorry it’s not worked out as planned. But I really appreciate your thoughts on things.
Mark: Good night all
Sophia: Night Mark, thank you for coming
Jenny: Good bye all
Sophia: Thanks gang!

2 thoughts on “The best chat that never happened

  1. Fascinating commentary. Very interesting to read. Low participation possibly a mixture of tech, timing, and promotion.

    I wonder sometimes if our expectations are too high. When we run chats with school kids they are not there by choice. it is scheduled for them. When we’ve run with teachers we’ve had similar turnout levels.

    We can look at other discussion fora such as Reddit or The Guardian and feel that their turnouts are higher but I suspect they are simply picking from a much wider pool of potential participants.

    Thanks for posting.

    DISCLOSURE: Soph and I worked together on I’m Scientist. I’m still there.


    • Hi Shane! Yes to overly-high expectations. People often say that in online groups, 90% of the content is produced by 1% of the members. So ~1% of the members coming to live chats is actually in line with that.


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