What is this place for?


What is the relation between this new forum and Slack? And how are slack, whatever this is called (talk? forums? facebook (and god knows what else) simpler, easier and better than an email list?

I realize i am old, but:

  • having written my first “hello world” program in FORTRAN on punch cards in 1968
  • having salivated over the Altair computer kit when it was on the cover of Popular Electronics in 1974
  • done recreational programming in the 1980s to pass the time in Nicaragua,
  • having used the original 128K Mac,
  • been networked for 30 years since the good old Compuserve days,
  • worked on hardware and software manuals and translations (back when those were book-sized items that came as part of hideously overpriced packages),
  • been a beta-tester for various packages including OS/2
  • having helped design and trouble shoot CNN’s election-night software,
  • having been CNN en Español’s sci-tech producer for a decade and a half, and
  • bring currently in charge of the technical side of an Internet radio station run by people in and around GLAHR and the immigrant rights movement …

I wonder whether I’m not seeing something i’ve seen a few times in the past: reinvention of the wheel to make it 6-sided, which inevitably leads to people also adopting the 8-sided model.

On account of both slack and it appears this thing use emails to let you know to go look at new postings, which raises the question, why not just put the new information or comment directly in the email? You say, just check this forum and slack, and our facebook page, and our website, and the national website and twitter and instagram and …

But I already check emails every day.

AND I’d rather skip posting stuff on private web sites run for profit that harvest personal information and posts for data that can be sold. Remember, if you’re not paying for the service, then you are the product.

At any rate, before I get even more curmudgeony, could someone post an explanation of all our different MADSA communication channels, Slack, this talk/forum thing that I’m using right now, emails, facebook, the web site, and somewhere I heard something about a newsletter and also apparently a southern caucus chat or something?

That, BTW, is a serious question. Some of my comments were light-hearted, but I really do want to know. Seriously.

Welcome to the MADSA Forums

Sure I can try to do that. Let’s do the short version first.

Slack = IRC = Chatroom = Planning and work in teams
Forums = Usenet = Community sharing and general discussion

Now for the longer version.

So if I’m reading this correctly, I’m comparing these forms of communication to an email list. The primary weakness of an email list is that it was never meant for groups. There’s no threading, everyone gets every message whether they want it or not. There’s no granularity over what sorts of notifications people get and there’s no intelligence in what to put in front of you first.

In every large email list I’ve been on (and I’ve been on several) the immediate complaint is the number of message people are expected to keep track of. There’s no distinction between what emails are important and which aren’t. Add in a complex topic like, say, an electoral strategy where people are going back and forth for hours and you’ve got hundreds of emails.

When you do this you’re taking an asynchronous medium that was meant to be an analogue to letters and trying to make it a synchronous medium. This became untenable for most workplaces. It was the hardest part of keeping up. In comes Slack, which is a chat room, literally based off of IRC which I used back in the day for community rooms when I was rural and gay and that was the only place I could talk to people. It certainly beat the BBSs.

With a chat room, there’s an ongoing flow of conversation in many channels. People can talk now or talk later, but it’s much easier to read through than an email chain and everyone who’s there, in the moment, can immediately see what’s happening. It’s dynamic, it’s mostly synchronous and there’s sense of presence and immediacy that email doesn’t provide. Think of it like a meeting or working at a table with people.

But there’s a few weaknesses. It’s fast, there’s lots of data, and it requires an entirely different skillset more akin to texting on your phone than talking on the phone or sending letters. It’s a great medium for people used to typing to each other in near real time. But others are left out. They need more time to process all the information and would rather not have to keep up with all that. So that takes us back to email, which by now, everyone knows how to use.

There’s also another problem, we’re more than a workplace. We’re a democracy. Slack is built for people who act like they’re at work, under threat of losing their job, if they are anything less than professional. There are no real tools sharing the information and for having the full debates that we need to have a democracy. It’s a complex world and there’s an ocean of information. We have to talk a lot to help each other understand just a little of it.

So how do we deal with these two problems? That’s where this software comes in. It’s called talk.madsa.ga but it’s built on Discourse. It an open-source software running on servers we control and the data belongs to us. There’s no us being the product. Discourse is a forum software specifically designed for civilized discussion over time.

Bonus, there’s also an email integration so you get updates in email about what’s happening here. You can even reply via email to topics as if it were a mailing list. But unlike a mailing list, you can choose what to pay attention to, whether you even get emails, and what topics you want to watch.

There is no way to create hard boundaries about what conversation happens where. It’s the nature of human interaction. We have personal conversations at work, we answer work calls at home. I don’t know yet how things will shake out and things will likely have to adapt further.

As for why we’re on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. As an organization that wants to engage in the wider world, we have to go where the people are to talk them. But for you getting what you need to know from us to engage, there’s the general meetings, slack, and email. We might also call or text you from time to time.

I totally sympathize about the impossibility of keeping up with all this. I don’t even try with twitter myself. It’s a damn firehose that outrages me more than informs me. I spend hours reading rss feeds instead. But, as I said, we live today in an ocean of information coming from all sides.

Does that help?


To find out more about Discourse:


Oops. I think i accidently flagged this and I don’t see how to undo it.


You didn’t flag that I can tell, you liked it with the heart. You can press it again to undo.


Yea just to reiterate on Discourse: it’s free because we’re taking their software and running it on our own server. They make money by hosting forums for larger organizations that don’t wanna deal with the technicalities of hosting it themselves. They make this free for us because they just want the forum software to proliferate so they can maybe catch some more big fish who pay


Yea it’s a pretty standard model for open source software, all the way back to Red Hat and linux.



Thank you, thank you, thank you.

OK, this forum actually sounds rational. And cool.

And I understand about Facebook and all that. Radio Información is on all those also. But those are public-facing and (in the case of facebook) totally unreliable. You never know what will show up in your news feed.

But slack? It is meant for full-time employees of a given office or firm. Seems both overkill and requiring too much mind share. I guess I’ll get a more concrete view of it now with the immigrant rights wg.

pinned globally #9