Diversity-friendly online spaces

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Notes from an unconference session at Open Source Bridge 2016.

We initially focused on diversity-friendly online spaces for techies - for example, an news-and-discussion alternative to Hacker News which has a more diverse population and a less "at-best-unininformed-and-often-downright-hostile-to-diversity" feel. During the course of the session, we broadened the discussion to go beyond techies so I've changed the title to reflect that.

There are a lot of great diversity-friendly online spaces out there, most of them private or semi-private. It's not easy to find them if you're not already plugged in, and people who are creating spaces don't find it easy to get the word out and bring new people in. On the other hand, a lot of communities don't want to advertise their existence, to avoid making themselves targets; so a straightforward "public directory" approach is very limited.

We identified a couple of possible areas to focus on initially:

  • an events calendar, perhaps using Calagator
  • ways of finding out about communities - and, conversely, bringing new people into communities
  • a directory of active diversity-friendly crowdfunding events
  • resources for people creating and running diversity-friendly communities

Next steps:

- connect people via email - schedule an online and/or phone discussion for mid-July

Use cases

  • finding out about events
  • "affinity groups" staying in touch after events
  • finding out about interesting communities (that may not be public)
  • bringing new people to a community I'm part of (without bringing in griefers or jerks)
  • sharing resources to help people who are creating and running diversity-friendly communities
  • a combined "feed" from multiple communities so I don't have to visit each one separately
  • publicizing and discovering crowdfunding opportunities
  • tech news and discussion (a la Hacker News and Product Hunt)
  • live discussions (chats etc.)

Today's solutions (and their advantages and limitations)

  • mailing lists: everybody has email! how to discover? many people are overwhelmed with email already; history can be a problem (although archiving can help)
  • Slack groups: challenging for non-techies, have to know somebody (although auto-invite can help), limited history for public groups, business model is focused on enterprise rather than public discussions, hard to manage if you're part of a lot of slack groups
  • IRC: huge barrier to entry for many people; no history (although bots can help here)
  • Twitter, for public discussions: harassment when talking about controversial topics; not easy to find interesting hashtags
  • Mattermost, Rocket.Chat, Zulip (open-source Slack alternatives): (not sure what to say here, none of us have experience with them)
  • Facebook groups: most people have FB acounts and already spend a lot of time there. how to discover? and, some people aren't on Facebook, or don't want to have these kinds of discussions on Facebook
  • SMS cell loops, cel.ly for example: good for announcements and getting people to sign up (very high conversion rate), not so useful for discussions beyond a few people

Challenges

  • discovery. it's risky to advertise existence!
  • need evangelists, and people to do moderating and 1-1 training. takes a lot of time!
  • how to let newcomers know about norms, FAQs, history?
  • how to make it easy for newcomers to participate? some technologies have a very high bar. [Bethany Lister's talk had some very useful suggestions on social approaches to encourage newcomer participation]
  • how to get collective discussion and action in the decentralized model?
  • language malleability, and the multiple meanings of words
  • supporting people who have created their own communities
  • respecting privacy
  • signal-to-noise ratio: people may be interested in only a subset of topics; but splitting into multiple sub-forums can leave things too fragmented
  • multiple points of communication and entry
  • how to sustain? need material support!

Ideas

  • Easier moderation
  • Pub/sub with moderation
  • usenet: hubs with moderators, "domain" for each team/group, decentralized
  • material support = $
  • liquid democracy - discussions on the issues of the day, propose questions for discussions