Slack and the value of community heritage

Lots of interesting and valuable conversations happen in Slack. These are often not bridged into other locations, and get permanently lost. There are alternatives: in addition to Discourse, the Julia Zulip provides chat with named threads and infinite history that makes everything easier to manage.

As @Mason has pointed out,

Zulip is an open source alternative to Slack which has

  • Better Markdown support
  • Julia Syntax highlighting
  • Unlimited message history for us and other open source communities
  • Beautiful built in LaTeX support for displaying math
  • An approach to conversation threads that may be initially a bit different from how Slack handles it, but I think much better once you use it a bit
  • Really responsive and helpful developers. If you have a problem or complaint with Zulip you can open an issue on their Git repo and expect a quick response! This really contrasted with my experience with Slack at various times, especially when Slack started screwing with text formatting.

The majority of Julia users can’t afford to be on Slack all the time, so we miss out on useful conversations that happened earlier. Experts can’t afford to answer the same question again and again, so they exit the help venues rather than repeat themselves.

I am wondering whether it would be beneficial to shut down the Slack in order to solve the coordination problems. What advantages do people see in keeping the Slack alive? How large are those advantages compared to the significant costs?

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As someone who really dislikes the prevalence of Slack in our community and really wants more people to come join the julia zulip, I think a top down decision to close the Slack would be a bad idea and I really don’t think the community managers have the mandate to make decisions like that given how many people prefer the Slack community.

That said, it’s kinda moot. Such an outcome seems very unlikely given how many influential community members think Slack is totally fine.

I think the best we can do is to try and work harder at building a good, active community in the Zulip, and hope that others eventually change their minds.

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I certainly am glad to see individual leaders taking a stand for sustainability: when people ask for help with Makie on Slack, @jules has been offering to answer if they re-ask on Discourse.

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One of my goals in opening this thread is to figure out what the situation really is: Do people they stay in Slack because that’s where everyone else is, or for some other reason? If it’s just the chicken-egg problem, then executive action is nearly free, since nobody cared what platform they’re on, they just want to be where the other people are. On the other hand, if people prefer Slack for other reasons, it’s worth finding out what they are.

It might be helpful to think of platform choice as an accessibility issue. Most people can’t read most messages that are in Slack – simply because they didn’t have the window open that day. Leadership may be more empowered to act for issues of that kind.

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No, there are several outspoken people that I’m aware of who strongly prefer Slack’s UI and UX to all proposed alternatives. Their attitude seems to be that Slack sucks the least.

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I see.

I tried to take on this issue a few times first with no support and second with a little support. (Many lessons learned)

My impression is that until more prominente folks come out and support a move away from slack, the status quo will live on. It’s much easier to argue with me than it is to argue with a large group of contributors.

For what it’s worth, I think this is the way it should work, but I agree that this is a real issue that will hopefully be resolved soon enough.

I’m hoping that making a commitment here: Updates to the Julia CoC · Issue #1235 · JuliaLang/www.julialang.org · GitHub to a both open and diverse community will spark the needed support.

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Indeed it’s a really hard problem. I think given the spirit of the julia community, it would take a lot of unanimity among powerful people in order to take actions that restrict the community venues, like with closing Slack.

On a practical level, I think this may just take some patience. Our Slack is currently losing all it’s history every 12 or so days. As the community grows, more people will want to participate in the chat venues we have and this 12 day period will continue to shrink unless traffic starts migrating out.

Zulip is currently getting around 2200 messages a week (all time peak was over 5000 messages in a week) from humans (there are various bots also posting, like our bridge bots), and most of that traffic would be on Slack if it weren’t for Zulip, severely cutting into Slack’s 10,000 message limit.

I suspect there’ll just be some sort of equilibrium condition where Slack becomes increasingly un-usable due to message history causing people to search for other solutions, thereby relieving pressure off of Slack’s message limit, but also growing other communities.

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“Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded”

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It’s really unfortunate that so much activity happens on Slack, only to get flushed away into the ether. The quality of support and insight is often competitive with professional consulting that would cost hundreds of dollars per hour. And yet it just gets flushed like it’s nothing instead of being searchable and archived for posterity. I do not think it would be a bad decision to close down Slack help desk and send people to Zulip. Even a top-down decision is not so terrible. At least it would be easier than the Python 2 to 3 transition! :wink: (Or the Julia 1.0 transition :slight_smile: )

Clearly very tough top-down decisions happen. How about a concerted effort to move to Zulip, coupled with agreement by the top posting individuals to move en masse at some designated date? Then there could be an annoying/cute bot left on Slack to post advertisements for Zulip. I’m thinking Microsoft Clippy.

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I would propose that people should just use the forum they prefer, without the community going out of its way to bridge these. If people who help out on Slack are fine with their contributions disappearing eventually, then it is fine with me too.

Personally I find chat-like interfaces which require a semi-continuous presence disruptive for work. Occasionally I get almost immediate responses on Discourse, but sometimes someone drops by a couple of days later and gives a great and helpful answer after thinking about the problem in depth. So I got into the habit of checking Discourse every few days too.

(Think about the old days when mathematicians like Sophie Germain exchanged letters with Gauss and Legendre. They got work done.)

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I use both Slack and Zulip.

Part of it is that I use Slack at work, so I have the Slack client slightly more available than the Zulip client. Lately the Zulip desktop client has been eating up more CPU usage than normal, so I’ve kept it off more often. It probably requires an update.

Sometimes I purposely use one or the other exactly because Slack is transient and Zulip is semi-permanent. There are some advantages to have both modes.

Additionally, I do not think Slack or Zulip are great places for a question and answer repository. It would be better to have questions and answers here or on Stack Overflow.

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These days I mainly use Zulip for what’s it’s really designed for which is to be part of the community. I have made a conscious effort to ask most of my questions on Discourse in the hopes that they will benefit someone else down the road. I don’t know if there is any action that can be taken other than to promote Discourse for questions and promote the chats (Slack and Zulip) for, well, chatting.

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One possible action might be defining a guideline that Julia “representatives” discussing language changes or answering support questions “in an official capacity” prefer to do so in accessible venues (including GitHub, Discourse, Zulip, blog posts, papers, …), barring extenuating circumstances. Having the big names contributing in those places – and mostly not in the other places – would preserve the comments of those individuals, and would also direct the traffic to more sustainable venues.

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I see discord, slack and zulip as serving different purposes.

Slack is nice for temporary fun, ideation conversations. Also nice to let loose a little more than usual because - well … messages are transient. Yes grad. students your PI won’t see what your knee jerk reaction to some random paper was last month - you’re safe(or whatever peoples concerns are). This is a good thing in an era of privacy concerns.

Discord is awesome for messing with chat bots, helping newcomers coming from different languages - where Discord is a primary means of chatting. It also has persistence, code formatting, community projects, community moderation, etc.

Zulip is good for the wizards or something. I haven’t gotten my head around it but a lot of the hardcore dev’s in a few languages seem to prefer it. If you want a laugh at my expense, and you can learn how to use zulip, you can dig up the chat logs, watch me trying to learn it and failing.

To each their own :).

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Just for clarification for future readers, most of the posts above are referring to Discourse (this current forum), not Discord (the chat app).

I’m not sure the communities in Slack and Zulip are that different. I fully switched to Zulip some time ago, but to me it seems that the level of the conversations, from beginner to expert to “just chatting” seems to be about the same in each. I think it depends more on the channels you follow.

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I understand other people were talking about discourse. There is also an active julia discord community that fills a little niche between slack and discourse as well. I felt like it was worth mentioning.

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Is there a way we consider discord? Most of the language communities now switched from old slack/gitter to discord. For example, Rust, Scala, Zig, Nim etc all moved to discord. As far as I know only clojure and Julia are using Slack.

Discord does not have threads, which makes it unusable.

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I never go to Slack. I’d rather ask and answer questions here on Discourse. The waiting time is worth it. The great advantage here is that I can refer to related posts later. And I found many great/inspired answers to my questions without me asking them through a search.

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