Future of anvi'o online communication: Part II

Hello again!

While the anvi’o community heavily uses it, recent limitations implemented in Slack pushed us to carefully consider what platform we should use going forward to solve our online communication needs as a community. So I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago titled “Future of anvi’o online communication: Part I”, and asked the members of anvi’o community to fill out a survey to help us reach a decision.

TL;DR version of this blog post is the following: based on the survey results is that we are going to migrate anvi’o online community to Discord.

This means the current Slack group will be obsolete over time, and all the pointers on our web page will direct new users to the anvi’o Discord server. It will not be pain-free, but I’m sure we will overcome this change altogether :) We will help everyone migrate to the new environment with announcements, so there is nothing you need to do at this time, and we will archive the Slack history and make it available for those who would like to search the archives.

These were the important announcements, and the rest of this blog post will simply summarize people’s responses to the survey for posterity.

If you have more interesting things to do, this may be a good moment to leave this page.

The survey results

First, I’m very thankful to those who took the time to respond to the survey. I know how busy each one of us are, and it means a lot to have feedback from the community. Those who took the survey answered a number of questions to help us understand if they anvi’o community thought that an online communication for a software platform was really necessary, if they found Slack beneficial, if a change in communication platform was warranted given the recent changes in Slack, if Discord was a good alternative, and so on. The following subsections will share some key information the survey revealed.

“You & anvi’o”

66% of those who filled the survey declared that they use anvi’o somewhat frequently, while 20% mentioned that they were currently using anvi’o for a project, but they wouldn’t consider themselves as someone who uses anvi’o frequently.

37% published at least one research producit in which anvi’o was helpful to them. 54% have not published any research that was supported by anvi’o, but they are currently working on a project in which they use anvi’o.

56% heard about this survey on anvi’o Slack, while 22% heard about it through Twitter, and 9% heard about it through the blog post on anvio.org. One person mentioned that they heard about the survey through the “great MPI Bremen grapevine” – it is great to know the old school messaging interfaces still work in this digital age :)

“You & anvi’o resources”

One question was to learn how people found their ways in anvi’o apart from the Slack and GitHub with multiple options to choose from:

  • 96% said “Online through blog posts and tutorials
  • 52% said “Offline through program help menus
  • 48% said “Online through help at https://anvio.org/help

Anvi’o is an unusal platform, and the initial steps can be challenging. In that sense I am very happy that these results reflect the importance of blog posts and tutorials (such as those that are listed here) to help users from all backgrounds. It is my dream that more people will contribute such material to the community over time. I am also happy to see that many people find program help menus useful. Finally, I hope our online help system that is rendered directly from the anvi’o codebase will get more attention and contributions over time.

I also asked them “If you ever had any online communication with other anvi’o users or developers, how did it happen?”:

  • 89% said “Anvi’o Slack
  • 29% said “Twitter, Facebook, or other means
  • 25% said “Personal email
  • 21% said “Anvi’o Google Groups

Which already shows the importance of an online communication platform like Slack to bring us together. But there is more on this later.

“You & communication platforms in general”

I thought it would be fun to learn about people’s experience with various communication platforms such as Slack, Discord, and Microsoft teams, and asked participants whether they liked it or not if they used any of the following platforms.

  Liked Disliked
Slack 92.5% 7.5%
Discord 100% 0%
Microsoft Teams 13% 87%

OK. So I refuse to make any mean comments about this one particular platform that is often forced on people either through institutional agreements or those who simply enjoy watching the world burn. Instead, I will simply leave this table here without any further comments other than “one of these are not like the other two” If this outcome resonates with you, then you should know you’re not alone.

As a positive note, though, I find it encouraging to see that every participant of this survey who used Discord before was actually happy with it (which includes me as well), so we are not going towards a bleak future.

“Your relationship with anvi’o Slack”

96% of those who took the survey used anvi’o Slack before, and 20% not only read discussions and ask questions, but also joined the discussion under questions asked by others.

92% found Slack useful.

“Your critical input regarding our future”

This is why you are here! So I first asked people whether they thought a platform like anvi’o needed a text-based rapid communication platform like Slack. 96% of the participants said “yes”.

Then I asked, given the points made in the previous blog post, which online communication platform anvi’o community should use:

  • 60.4% said Discord
  • 25.0% said Slack
  • 4.2% said Mattermost
  • 10.4% were uncommitted to any particular platform

I finally asked people to feel free to anonymously share any comments they may have regarding the communication platform or community matters. Here I am sharing some of the comments that do not include identifying details of their authors and/or were not solely composed of very kind positive feedback so we can reflect on the diversity of our thoughts:

I use Discord for hobbies and friend group communication. I find it far superior to Slack in the breadth of features and ease of use, though I have admittedly not used it in an academic setting yet. Also, while I recognize the modern use-cases for “text-based rapid communication” as described in this form, I do still feel that forum-like platforms are the best way of organizing/archiving discussions within communities. I find that the instant messaging platforms typically have poor search functions, which often leads to repetitive questions and buried information. So while I advocate for Discord in this form, I also feel that a forum environment would be beneficial for the community.

Discord is easy to use and seems great for this application. The rapid turnaround time for clarification and the ability to search past discussions has been incredibly helpful when running into errors. Reading along with the discussion with whatever questions come up has also led me to think about other things to do with my own data.

I indicated that anvi’o should use Slack, but that’s only because it’s so commonly used. Now that Slack is instituting so many restrictions, I expect many are having this discussion and will switch to another resource. New forums just take some getting used to. The fact that you’ve instituted your own protocols about answering a question in help docs and then providing that answer is amazing and helpful, but some form of online discussion is so important for making a community. Part of what makes anvi’o so appealing is your team’s responsiveness and communication. But I know that whatever you choose, you’ll make it work and excel!

I would prefer To continue using Slack as already installed and used for other purposes (using Discord would result in having two similar programs open) and I think this will also apply to several other people. The option of a static web page I think it’s a good idea. The link to that could be introduced in the #general channel description and (I don’t know the difficulty of achieving this) if there could be a link to each comment those could be somewhat linked back into the channel for further discussion

Discord is definitely the way to go. It’s easier to manage and keep everything in one place. It might not be as popular in the science community but I do believe that the newer generation of scientists know or heard about discord and would easily adopt it. For the rest of the “older” scientists (like myself), it is a fairly sharp learning curve, but if we are still on the discussion board (ie: Q&A), it shouldn’t be too hard to use it the same way Slack was for most of us.

I am very grateful for all the help, and importantly, the “immediate” help one gets via the anvi’o Slack community.

Most often, in research, time is of the essence and thanks to the innumerable contributors to the anvi’o Slack group, especially the developers - time hasn’t been a roadblock for using Anvi’o.

I do think it’s important to keep messages for longer than 90 days on the anvi’o discussion forum because of longer term discussions such as the one in the #new_scgs channel, so I definitely support a move away from Slack.

My only concern with using Discord is that I’m already part of a lot of gaming and personal interest discord channels, and am not sure if there would be a way to connect to the anvi’o Discord on my work computer without also connecting to those channels (I wouldn’t want them on my work computer because they are distracting and personal).

If we move to Discord, I will probably try to get around this by making a new Discord account with my work email, but if I change companies it might be an awkward transition. There could be other solutions I’m missing because I’m not THAT familiar with all Discord features, but I thought I would mention this. :)

I am a brand-new user, but hope / expect to use it a lot moving forward.

I’ve been on the Slack workspace since April or so. I don’t think a platform like anvi’o needs a text-based rapid communication platform (like Slack), but it’s incredibly valuable for all the reasons in the blog post. Even for as well-documented and user-friendly as all of the anvi’o help docs are, customized q & a really helps lower the barrier to use of anvi’o, and to being a part of the ‘omics community. Also want to point out the leadership anvi’o has shown in creating a community culture of acceptance and good humor, that is also professional, rather than what we usually see in academia/industry, a sterile and impersonal culture (that is often less than helpful with technical q’s). Anvi’o really is leading by such a great example. I think the ability to have direct conversations (on any forum) is kind of a vital living aspect of that. It levels the positive impact up, to participate in those conversations, compared to just one-way interaction with info rendered on a web page.

In my opinion, this kind of community is inherently anti-capitalist, because it doesn’t treat ppl as anonymous and disposable. As someone who is passionate about reforming the culture of academia, this type of cultural leadership-by-example is hugely impactful as a sign of positive change. So, thank you for that. I would use any workspace app that anvi’o chooses moving forward. I’ve used Discord for the massively on-line free courses [with] 100,000+ ppl enrolled: Discord works well for us. My experience as a new user with Discord for this class was v positive; there is a delightful selection of emojis available – important lol. Thank you for helping us stay organized and connected moving forward! <3

I’m not an expert, but I think that Mattermost has everything Slack has, but it’s open-source and you can install it on your own server. If you have the IT support to set it up, with a server space with enough storage, I think this would be the way to go and to free the community from greedy entities ;)

That being said, even if I joined Anvi’o Slack only recently, my feeling is that users don’t bother searching the history when they have a question. They just ask their question, and the Anvi’o team is always keen to repeat things they have said in the past. Thus, I’m not sure this would be a big problem for the basic Anvi’o user if the history is just 3 months old.

In any case, I’ll follow you wherever you go. Thanks for your work, and especially for caring for the community.

I frequently search through #general in anvi’o Slack to look for answers to problems I am encountering or things I am thinking about trying (i.e., using anvi’o with nanopore data).

Preserving old conversations and having easy access to search them is necessary to do that. Whichever option makes this easiest for users and developers would be best, in my singular opinion :)

Maybe Discord suffers from a bad rep for being a platform for gamer / crypto bro / other shady internet community in comparison to the more corporate approach of Slack.

This being said, I think Discord and Slack are the same platform, and with the flow of people that will migrate from Slack to Discord, there is no guarantee Discord will not use the same 90 day policy some time in the future. I will go where the anvi’o community goes :)

I used anvi’o for a while now and since it became super efficient since the Slack-age – at least from my perspective. I almost always find a thread with the problem I am currently facing and if not my questions are always answered in a way which brings me one step further.

In short: Discord seems to be the future for the anvi’o community :)

The anvi’o Slack (well the communication space really) is a great resource, and rather unique in the field, so I would love to see its continuity in whichever platform the anvi’o people find most appropriate :D