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Sonya Mann's active website is Sonya, Supposedly.

Tips for Growing a Successful Slack Community

Hi! Since you’re reading this, I assume you’re interested in starting a Slack community. But just in case you’re unfamiliar with the phenomenon: Slack is a SaaS company that sells its communication platform to other businesses. Slack has been highly praised for its design and ease of use. Because the product is so fun and accessible, an increasing number of noncommercial communities are using Slack’s free tier to host a mix of chat room and forum.

Slackbot is an automatic member of any Slack community.

In terms of concrete steps, setting up a Slack instance is super simple, and Slack itself has a great guide for newbies. The difficult part is getting people to join, and even more crucially, getting them to stick around and chat! I can’t make you any guarantees, but I have a few tips based on my own experience successfully starting a Slack community.

My credentials: I run a cyberpunk newsletter called Exolymph, which sprouted the Cyberpunk Futurism chat group. Cyberpunk Futurism currently exists as a Slack instance. I also participate in the #botALLY Slack, which is lower-volume but full of interesting, thoughtful people. I’ve joined a bunch of other Slack groups, some of which have gotten traction and some of which haven’t.

Cyberpunk Futurism has ninety-three members, fifty-one of whom Slack considers “active”. Roughly fifteen of the members hang out together digitally every day. Those numbers sound low compared to, say, Facebook’s billion and a half, but on an average weekday we rack up hundreds of messages in several different channels. It’s a lot of fun 🎉

Without any further ado, here are my tips:

  1. Target a very specific subculture, interest, or activity. Niches are the nicest! This gives you the best chance of bringing together folks who will want to talk to each other.
  2. Draw on existing communities! When I started Cyberpunk Futurism, I recruited from my own newsletter, /r/Cyberpunk, a large cyberpunk-themed Facebook group, and Hacker News. I also had a wonderful asset in Way Spurr-Chen, an online friend who helped me keep Cyberpunk Futurism lively during the first couple of days.
  3. Spend the first few days actively cultivating the conversation. Welcome every new person, and ask them questions. Share links and introduce discussion topics. The worst-case scenario is for a new person to join and see a dead chat room — they’ll leave and likely never come back. If possible, ask a buddy to help you keep the space moving. Don’t create a bunch of different channels right away — give users that ability and let things grow naturally.
  4. Keep inviting people and promoting the group! Make a clear-cut landing page where people can enter their email address to request an invite. (You can automate this, but I personally do it manually.) Growth is not absolutely necessary, and I can imagine scenarios where it would be negative, but some people will leave after a few weeks of activity. You don’t want your Slack community to dwindle away without infusions of fresh blood!
  5. Have a code of conduct — the Contributor Covenant is easy to repurpose — and make the expectations clear to group members. Don’t be an absentee moderator. Commit to creating and sustaining a safe and friendly space.

Of all of these tips, I think #2 (draw on existing communities) is the most important. Potential Slack members don’t appear out of thin air! You gotta go out and find them.

If you’re starting a Slack group, hit me up. I might want to join! Email or ping me on Twitter. Good luck 😘

Obscurity Is the Best Strategy for Privacy

I wrote the following post for my cyberpunk newsletter, Exolymph. I’m cross-posting it here because the topic is relevant to other subjects that I’ve discussed on this blog.

Facebook versus privacy -- illustration by Alex Strange.
Facebook Vs. Privacy Remastered (2015) by Alex Strange.

Keep Your Head Down

Reading about operational security has turned my mind toward privacy rights. Opsec tactics are concerned with shielding information from enemy access — mostly through rigorous, consistent caution. As the Animal Liberation Front put it in one of their direct action guides, “True security culture requires a clear head, a rational mind, and personal self-control.” The assumption made by savvy opsec practitioners is that all data will be compromised eventually. Therefore, they aim to minimize the inevitable consequences.

I used to disregard privacy. My attitude was a classic: “If you’re not doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to hide!” (a viewpoint refuted very well by Robin Doherty). The problem is that even people who are acting ethically can run afoul of the law or be persecuted by the authorities. Consider how the FBI treated civil rights activists in the 1960s. Current mass surveillance by the NSA and similar government bodies is equally worrisome, as is the treatment of whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning. I’m not naive enough to think that this behavior will stop. People do anything that they are physically or technically capable of doing in order to access power — especially state agents.

Portrait of Edward Snowden by John Meyer of The Spilt Ink; $130.79 on Etsy.
Portrait of Edward Snowden by John Meyer of The Spilt Ink; $130.79 on Etsy.

I’m still not convinced that privacy should be a guaranteed legal right, or if so, to what extent. The best way to restrict your own information is simply to be secretive — stay quiet and maintain the impression of insignificance. After all, the vast majority of day-to-day privacy compromises are self-inflicted, simply because most people don’t care. That’s how Facebook and other social networks manage to compile detailed dossiers on their users.

So, what’s the essential takeaway here? I’m not sure. It’s interesting to ponder the consequences of a post-privacy society, until you realize that we already live in one. The results are quite mundane. Feels normal, right?

Exolymph is a cyberpunk newsletter — go check it out.

Yet Another New Thing: Announcing Exolymph

I just sent the email below to my newsletter subscribers. You should join their ranks! Because I want you to! That’s a good reason, right?

Dear everyone,

I am a serial project-starter. I always tell myself, “This is the last time! From now on I’m just going to concentrate on my own website!” But no, I’m incapable of doing that. I suppose it’s okay. Eventually I’ll hit pay dirt (ugh, I really hope so). Tradeoffs Press is still live, sort of, but I’ve lost steam. Balm Digest continues to exist, in a weird new form, albeit neglected — no steam there either.

Actually, I haven’t lost steam. That is inaccurate. The steam has just been directed elsewhere. It’s been directed to Exolymph, a cyberpunk newsletter that I launched recently. I am really enjoying this endeavor, and if you’re interested in computers and RAD TECHNO-DYSTOPIAS, you might like it too. Go ahead and sign up here.

Forlorn bunny illustration by Paola Zakimi -- the print is $5.50 on Etsy.
Forlorn bunny illustration by Paola Zakimi — the print is $5.50 on Etsy.

Okay, that’s all! Thank you so much for subscribing to this newsletter! I hope you’re enjoying December :)


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