I don't think I ever saw a newbie wander into chat and get some info they couldn't have already found available in the forums. ... There's a wealth of info in the groups that's there for good, for all to see and contribute to at any time of day or night.
Two flawed assumptions with this.
1) You stated you didn't come to chat very often, so what you have seen or not seen isn't really a good measure of how often an event occurs. I was in chat a lot, and it happened a lot. Lack of observation isn't a measure of lack of occurrence.
2) Having a stockpile of information in a permanent form is great, but without some kind of index, finding anything in that repository becomes untractable. Time to find an answer is long here--especially when the search parameters are ill-defined (e.g. Is my book too long?)
Members form the only index of the site, so if you can't find something, you have to ask someone else. (or go to another site) If you can ask in chat and get a response in 2 seconds, you're more likely to stick around than if you post a question in the forums. AQC members are really helpful, but even then, a forum post response can take minutes to days. People might not stick around long enough to see the answer, or have moved on by the time they get it.
And you're right, this is a pain that someone who has been around for a long time wouldn't even notice. I develop software for a living, so it pains me to see such a useful feature get cut because those in charge don't see it for the powerful tool it is. I have to be aware of how my tools are viewed by the nascent user. I might be able to use it like a whiz, but I know where everything is already--they have to be able to discover those things, and I am 100% the wrong person to measure how discoverable features are. The mods are 100% the wrong people to understand this site from the perspective of a new member. Where I work we have user experience experts (UX) whose sole purpose is to look at problems from that angle--they are professional noobs.
Everyone gets caught up in the social aspect of chat claiming that is all it was good for. Even if that were the case, that's not a bad thing. Building a community and making connections is very important in this industry--and no matter how much twitter/facebook I use, I don't feel connected to any of those people. It's like trying to make friends with a stranger at a rock concert. For many people and for various reasons, conferences are not an option.
In a way, you might right about people leaving after chat was removed not really belonging here in the first place, but let's not assume that has something to do with the character of the chatters. Regulars leaving because chat is gone might mean--for those users--the utility of this site was highly hinged on the benefits of having that chatroom, and the underlying foundation of the site wasn't one that could support their needs. Once the facilitating tool was removed, it became clear that the site wasn't really that useful for them to begin with, and thus move on to find places that will suit their needs.
I got the impression that chat was removed from a fear of liability. All I wanted the benefits of a chat room to be considered, and so far, all the responses from admins/mods have shown me that they were not.
In the end, it's only the empirical evidence that matters. Open writing discussions in chat are gone. Networking and connectivity are seriously hampered. Fast knowledge sharing is gone. Some members are gone. And the mods can sleep easier at night knowing they won't get sued over something that happened in chat.
P.S. Yes, I'm still bitter.
P.S.S. A fine critique of this analysis would be "Mr. Hughes, you don't have all the information." I asked for that information and didn't get it. A transparent explanation might have been easier for affected members to swallow.
P.S.S.S. I still think the site is a great resource for new writers, just not as great as when I showed up. I fear it will be more of a waystation, and less of a home. My irritation is founded in my appreciation for the site and not in any personal feeling towards the moderators. I know you do what you feel is best.