Saying Ping

There’s an idiom on IRC, and to a lesser extent other more modern communication media, where people indicate interest in performing a real-time conversation with someone by saying “ping” to them. This effectively translates to “I would like to converse with you as soon as you are available”.

The traditional response to “ping” is to reply with “pong”. This means “I am presently available to converse with you”.

If the person who pinged is not available at the time that the ping’s recipient replies, what happens? Well, as soon as they see the pong, they re-ping (either by saying “ping” or sometimes “re-ping” if they are impersonating a sufficiently complex system to hold some state).

This attempt at communication, like “phone tag”, can continue indefinitey in its default state.

It is an inefficient use of both time and mental overhead, since each missed “ping” leaves the recipient with a vague curiosity or concern: “I wonder what the person who pinged wanted to talk to me about...”. Additionally, even if both parties manage to arrange synchronous communication at some point in the future, there’s the very real risk that the initiator may forget why they originally pinged at all.

There is an extremely simple solution to the inefficiency of waiting until both parties are online, which is to stick a little metadata about your question onto the ping. “Ping, could you look issue # xyz?” “Ping, can we chat about your opinions on power efficiency sometime?”. And yet there appears to be a decent correlation between people I regard as knowing more than I do about IRC etiquette, and people who issue pings without attaching any context to them.

If you do this, and happen to read this, could you please explain why to me sometime?