Communication infrastructure

(Robert Lehmann) #1

Our communication channels have been a recurring topic for at least the past year. Let me quickly outline our current plethora of tools:

  • Google Groups (,, coaches.language@, team.topic@, …)
  • Meetup (opentechschool-city with its forum and mailing list)
  • IRC (#opentechschool on Freenode)
  • Slack
  • Discourse
  • Our website (with a list of chapters and projects)
  • Github Issues
  • Social media (Facebook, Google+, Twitter)

(Robert Lehmann) #2

There are obviously a couple of problems with them:

  • How to reach the right people? Who needs to be in which discussion?
  • How to gain consensus globally? (F.ex. brand decisions)
  • How do we onboard new members and chapters? We have a lot of tools designed to act globally, but most of them are just extensions of

Do you see any other problems with our current infrastructure? What would you wish for, what is hard to do currently?

(Rachel Uwa) #3

well the current problem is that there are too many ways to communicate and no one is really sure which one is the definitive one for which kind of info. so we came to a conclusion yesterday that we should focus most efforts on discourse and see where that leads us. of course any of the other means of communication are fine, and we can also send emails to point out discourse discussions for example but having one place that we all agree is a main resource to know whats going on and when would be valuable for everyone involved!

(Martin Anselm Meyerhoff) #4

I’m most concerned with Google Groups and Discourse as competing fora within OTS. I think Discourse (with categories, groups, tags and mail-in) is better than Google Groups because:

  • Stuff on discourse is visible (even if I don’t subscribe to the Melbourne category, I still know it’s there and can read up on past discussions when I need to)
  • Discourse is conceived as a knowledge base for communities and provides really cool stuff for that (markdown, wiki posts)

Are there any obvious advantages to Google Groups I don’t see?

I would also argue for discussing tools here only. If we add the difficult topic of “who gets to decide what” to this thread, I fear we won’t reach consensus on tools.

(Robert Lehmann) #5

I think the largest problem with Discourse is that you cannot easily address multiple audiences. With Google Groups, that’s easy — you just Cc, coaches.python@, whatever@. Can we solve this?

Maybe it makes sense to enumerate possible use cases and then see how we’d address them with any one solution?

(giorgia) #6

I think this is a great idea @robert
We all agree on moving on Discourse but we also see some weak points. The one you just pointed for example.
Another big concern was:
When new treads are created, you are not notified and if likely someone open discourse one a week and found 10 new treads. Then is difficult to scrum it and find the one you are interesd on.
I know category shoudl be there for it, to filter but visually/UI wise is still quite confusing and I think people lose the interest.

(Rachel Uwa) #7

another issue with discourse is sometimes its unclear which is the right “group” category to post in. some groups have limited access and its unclear “who” are members with access to each groups discussion category.

in general does everyone have access to all these different groups here now? was it only hackership (now moved to its own forum) that had limited member access (only team members or hackership members for example)?

thanks to whoever might have answers!

(giorgia) #8

I think would be super useful to have a very attractive UI/UX wise, page where people can read how discourse work and how they can interact with.
Would be cool to have it as index page OR to have as must read page as soon as you subscribe to the forum…

(giorgia) #9

Let’s tag @ben here so he is aweare of this topic.
I think he is the one with most answers about what can/cannot discourse does

(Martin Anselm Meyerhoff) #10

I think most things should be freely accessible on the forum, and I’m not aware of categories outside the scope of new members. However, sometimes there is stuff (about problematic learners or coaches, for example) which should not be discussed publicly. For that: Have a /organizers category for every city? Everyone who organizes an event is member, and can see all /organizer categories, everywhere.

As to the adressing audiences issue: Discourse does have groups, but that doesn’t really cut it - the groups are rather something like “@admins”, which have no regional thing going on.

It sounds more like we want tags instead of categories to follow; and I think there’s a Discourse plugin for that:

From the README:

  • Users can tag topics with tags

  • You can restrict who can tag to a particular trust level

  • Users can choose to auto watch tags as desired

  • Users can list all tags, and filter topics by tag

  • There are bulk tools to assign tags to many topics at once and to rename tags.

(Robert Lehmann) #11

I agree Discourse should be for everything publicly available. I think that’s best for the community and also do access permissions not mix well with Google Apps (we’d have to keep it in sync with Google Groups, which is just much easier to manage.)

That also means migrating Hackership off of it, at some point, and removing the Foundation group (which is not in sync as we speak.) For private spaces — confidential information about infrastructure, closed legal details about the Foundation, and regional organizers — we should maintain our Google Groups mailing lists.

This would also make much clearer our privacy implications. I remember we had problems in the past with members being unsure about which forum is a “safe place to communicate.” Such a move would make it inexplicably clear: Discourse is all open, Groups are private.

An alternative would be abandoning Google Groups altogether and only using Discourse groups. I’m tentatively meh on this one. @ben?

(Robert Lehmann) #12

Agreed! I think a good first step is cleaning up our categories — I don’t feel the current set is cutting it:

  • General and uncategorized are grab bags for everything-goes
  • Learning Essentials is a mix of internal material and external resources
  • Recommended is kind of the same but only for external reads
  • How-To is a duplication of our Web site but collaborative
  • Organizing is a weird mixture of all of the above
  • Market Place is the wild west of third-parties

I think we lack at least one category for Strategy (or whatever name we agree on) where discussions such as this one, the OTSconf branding and What is NOT OpenTechSchool? should go. It should be low-noise/high-signal in contrast to General.

(Robert Lehmann) #13

Anyone care to have a quick brainstorming sometime next week as to what useful categories would be? I tried thinking about how to reorder the existing ones, but they’re a huge mess. :frowning:

Brainstorming: Useful categories for Discourse
(Martin Anselm Meyerhoff) #14

I hear you and will try to come up with a start for a discussion this week. I can’t really commit to a brainstorming session, as lots of work and commuting kill my schedule at the moment.

(Rachel Uwa) #15

wrote this in another thread but probably makes more sense here:

also in general it could be nice to know the goings-on of the board so that like in the case of the OTSConf, while board members may have been aware of it- somehow there has to be a place where their work is documented to keep the rest of us in the loop.
maybe an ongoing discourse thread with latest news from the board?

in general yes, the discourse categories are a mess!
i was about to post to ask "hi global community, who are you, where are you?"
but had no idea in which category it would most fit and so scrapped the idea.

good idea on the brainstorming though @robert, i’ll start a thread for that!
feel free to delete it if you’ve done so already and i missed it:)

(Robert Lehmann) #16

Just because @ben has brought it up recently during the Milan onboarding — my current proposal is this:

  • Use Discourse for all public discussion.
  • Use Google Groups as a private forum to each team.

The reasoning is simple: We currently use Google Drive a lot and it works really well with Google Groups (giving access to a Berlin-confidential spreadsheet, for example.) As long as Discourse doesn’t integrate with Google Groups I’m hesitant to replicate our access controls over here again.

(Benjamin Kampmann) #17

I’d vote against that. One reason I favour discourse over google groups is a finer control on public vs private – and a much better opt-in/opt-out structure per conversation. The idea was that we can increase transparency on internal decision making of any team towards the wider world-wide OTS community (and easier include people from other chapters).

So, instead of creating more Google-Groups-Lists, I’d be in favor of categories, which are only accessible for people logged in on discourse (so not publicly search-findable with google but accessible to anyone, willing to sign up). I agree, however that the UI to figure those out isn’t really that great yet in discourse, so for the meantime I’d propose prefixing such groups with a distinctive UTF-8-Characater in the name( how about a globe :earth_asia:, or the school sign :school:, the family :family_man_woman_boy:, the silhuettes :busts_in_silhouette: , or any of the awesome animal faces – we have to explain them anyways…)

(Robert Lehmann) #18

I think we are on the same page and just have different expectations of the private/public split.

I’m all for using Discourse for everything public — with the important caveat that access control is much better integrated with our existing Google setup. There are some documents (financial planning, contact lists, …) and concerns (social issues, gender escalations, team tech, …) which most of us aren’t ready to share with the wider public.

Let me illustrate:

  • We write a document on Google Docs with an official project proposal, say for something like a local OTSconf, which is kind of confidential because it contains contact addresses and financial details. We want to share it with the whole local team, say Dortmund.
  • With Google Groups: You can just share the document with team.dortmund@ and everyone — people who are currently in the group, and those who join in later, maybe to help out with the endeavour — will automatically have access.
  • With Discourse: You can explicitly invite people to the document. Whenever someone joins the team (something which already puts strain on our limited they will have to inquire with the original author of the document to invite them, too.

I agree it’s a narrow use case but it has repeatedly come up in the past. I think these use cases are best covered by Google Groups, while everything else should go into Discourse.

Improved Discourse Category Structure (and minor updates)
(Robert Lehmann) #19

[moving from the Community Call backlog]

All of that being said, we should send an email to every account introducing the latest changes when we are confident in them:

  • Discourse intro document, when categories are cleaned up
  • New users guide, when infrastructure has settled
  • Newsletter, when signup is ready

(Robert Lehmann) #20

Hey @Ben,

Thanks for tackling this! I have a couple of questions and remarks:

  • With the introduction of groups, do you think we should deprecate Google Groups? Keeping memberships in sync will become harder and harder.
  • I have gone forward and done the following renames:
  • Intern → Internal
  • Members-Area → Members Area
  • Somebody needs to clean up Uncategorized.
  • What’s with Lounge? I don’t think we need this.
  • Should Chapters allow any posts? It had some which I’ve moved to more reasonable categories.
  • Where should the Meetup price discussion go to? It’s relevant to the chapters directly, so not sure if it makes sense in Infrastructure.
  • Where should Global Review Meetings [1] [2] go to? Some are in General already; maybe make Community Call into a broader category?
  • Archive has Learning Essentials and Recommended. Why are these deprecated?
  • General and Organising strike me as two odd catch-alls.
  • Proposal: Have a top category Material with Python, HTML etc. subcategories. New Chapters goes as Recruiting into Chapters (and is merged with Events?). Community Calls is reparented under General.

Let’s bikeshed this tomorrow at the Community Call?