Hubs and Chat Integration Basics
Hubs uses Freenode IRC for its chat feature. I talked quite a bit about the basics of how we think this could work (see “Fedora Hubs and Meetbot: A Recursive Tale” for all of the details.)
One case that we have to account for is users who are new Fedora contributors who don’t already have an IRC nick or even experience with IRC. A tricky thing is that we have to get them identified with NickServ, and continue to identify them with Nickserv seamlessly and automatically, after netsplits and other events that would cause them to lose their authentication to Nickserv, without their needing to be necessarily aware that the identification process was going on. Nickserv auth is kind of an implementation detail of IRC that I don’t think users, particularly those new to and unfamiliar with IRC, need to be concerned with.
“Nickserv? What’s Nickserv?” you ask. Well. Different IRC networks have a nickserv or something similar to it.
On IRC, people chat using the same nickname and come to be known by their nickname. For example, I’ve been mizmo on freenode IRC for well over a decade and am known by that name, similarly to how people know me by my email address or phone number. IRC is from the old and trusting days of the internet, however, so there’s nothing in IRC to guarantee that I could keep the nick mizmo if I logged out and someone else logged in using ‘mizmo’ as their nickname! In fact, this is/was a common way to attack or annoy people in IRC – steal their nick.
In comes Nickserv to save the day – it’s a bot of sorts that Freenode runs on its IRC network that registers nicknames and provides an authentication system to password protect those names. Someone can still take your nick if you’re offline, but if you’ve registered it, you can use your password and Nickserv to knock them off so you can reclaim your nick.
Yes, IRC definitely has a kind of a weird and rather quaint authentication system. Our challenge is getting people through it to be able to participate without having to worry about it!
“Well, wait,” you ask. “If they aren’t even aware of it, how do they set their nickserv password? What if they want to ‘graduate’ to a non-hubs IRC client and need their nickserv password? What is they want to change their password?”
I considered having Hubs silently auto-generate a nickserv password and managing that on its own, potentially with a way of viewing / changing this password in user settings. I opted to provide a way to create their own password, ultimately deciding that silently generating it, they wouldn’t be aware it existed, and may end up confused if they tried a different client and might post their FAS password over non-SSL plaintext IRC…
(Some other config we should allow eventually that we’ve discussed in the weekly hubs meetings – allowing users to use a different IRC bouncer than Hubs’ for IRC, and offering the connection details for our bouncer so they could use Hubs as a client as well as a third party client without issue.)
So here is an attempt to mock up the workflow of setting up IRC for a Hubs user who has never used IRC before, either on Hubs or ever. Note these do not address the case of someone new to Hubs who hasn’t enabled the RC feature but who does have a registered nick already that they have not entered into FAS – these will need modification to address that case. (Namely a link on the first screen to fill out their Nickserv auth details in settings.)
Widget in Context
This is what the as-of-yet unactivated IRC widget would look like for a user in context. The user is visiting a team hub, and the admin of that hub configured an IRC widget to be present by default for that hub. To join the chat, the user needs to enable IRC as a feature for their account on hubs so the widget offers to do that for them.
The top of the widget has a section that has small thumbnails of the avatars of people currently in the room (my thought is in order of who spoke most recently) with a headcount for the total number of people in the room. The main idea behind this is to try to encourage people to join the conversation – maybe they will see a friend’s avatar and feel like the room could be more approachable, maybe we tap into some primal FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) by alluding to the activity that is happening without revealing it.
Call to action
Next we have a direct call to action, “Enable chat in Hubs to chat with other people in this hub” with an action-oriented button label, “Enable Hubs Chat.” This, I hope, clearly lets the user know what would happen if they clicked the button.
At the bottom, a small link: “Hide this notification.” Sometimes ‘upsell’ nags can be irritating if you have no intention of participating. If someone is sure they do not want to enable IRC in Hubs (perhaps they just want to use their own client and not bother with Hubs for this,) this will let them hide it and will ‘roll up’ the IRC widget to take up less space.
Here’s a close-up of the widget:
So once you’ve decided to enable IRC in Hubs, then what?
Since selecting and registering a nick I think needs to be a multi-step process (in part because Freenode makes it one), I thought a wizard might be the best approach so this is how I mocked it up. A rough outline of the wizard steps is as follows:
- Figure out a nickname you want to use and make sure it’s available
- Provide email address and password for registration
- Register nickname
- Verify email
Choosing a nickname
This is a little weird, because of how IRC works. Let me explain how I would like it to work, and how I think it probably will end up working because of how IRC & nickserv work.
I would like to present the user with a bunch of options to pick from for their nickname. I want to do this because I think coming up with a clever nickname involves a high cognitive load they may not be up for, and at the very least offering suggestions could be good brain food for them making up their own (we offer a way to do that on the bottom of this screen, as well.)
Ideally, you wouldn’t offer something to someone and then tell them it’s not available. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s an easy way to check whether or not a suggested nick is available without actually trying to use it on Freenode and seeing if you’re able to use it or if Nickserv scolds you for trying to use someone else’s registered nick. I don’t know if it’s possible to check nick availability in a less expensive way? These designs are based on the assumption that this is the only way to check nick availability:
The model here is that we’d use some heuristics based on your name and FAS username to suggest potential nick, with a freeform option if you have one in mind. If you click on a name, we then check it for availability, displaying a spinner and a short message while we check. This way, we only check the nicks that you’re actually interested in and not waste cycles on nicks you have no interest in.
If a nick is available, it turns green and we display a “Register” button. If not, a message to let them know it’s not available:
Once it’s finished checking on all of the nicks, it might look like this:
Provide email and password for registration
Freenode Nickserv registration requires providing an email address and a password. This screen is where we collect that.
Verify Email Address
This is the most fragile component of this workflow. Freenode will allow you to keep a registration for 24 hours; if you do not confirm your email address in that time, you will lose your registration. Rather than explain all of this, we just ask that users check their email (supplying them the address the gave us so they know which account to check) and verify the email address using the link provided.
Problem: We don’t control these emails, freenode does. What if the user doesn’t receive the verification email? We can’t resend the email because we didn’t send it in the first place. No easy answer here. We might need some language to talk about checking your spam folder, and how long it might take (it seems to be pretty quick in testing.) We could let them go ahead and start chatting while they wait for the email, but what would we do if it never gets verified and they lose the registration? Messy. But here’s the mockup:
This is just a screen to let them know they’re all set. After clicking through this screen, they should be logged into the IRC channel for the hub they initiated the registration flow from.
This is a first-cut at mocking up this particular flow. I’m actively working on other ones (including post-set up configuration, and turning IRC on/off on individual hubs which is the same as joining or leaving a channel.) If you have any ideas for solving some of the issues I brought up or any feedback at all, I’d love to hear it!