Trialing Slack for the OpenMRS Community

Tags: #<Tag:0x00007f299209d158>

We’ve had several conversations over the years about trying Slack.[1, 2, 3] We’ve also run into some downsides of Telegram.[1] When the Micro Frontends work started up this year, it began fairly organically amongst teams who were already using Slack for their work. In order to try to pull those conversations into a community space without being disruptive to those developers, we dusted off our Slack workspace.

Yes, Slack has downsides for an open source community. But it’s also one of the most common communication tools used by development teams, so it’s worth experimenting on how/if it can be useful to the OpenMRS Community.

Anyone with an openmrs.org email address can join the OpenMRS Slack workspace without an invitation using single sign-on and anyone on Slack can invite others (with any email address), but that’s not good enough.

I’ve created a self-serve invitation form following this helpful blog entry and created an initial form for testing it out:

If you want to join the OpenMRS Slack workspace: https://burkeware.com/openmrs/slack/ https://slack.openmrs.org

Try it out and report if it worked or not. If it works as expected, we can plan on migrating the form to an openmrs.org site.

If Slack proves to be useful in the long run, @bholagabbar created a Slack-IRC bot that might be worth trying out.

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I appreciate the use of Slack for real-time communication since it’s part of my workflow already on other projects. That’s always helpful and I’m very supportive of using Slack here with OpenMRS. Just to say thought, I’m a little concerned about fragmenting the community communication, but hopeful that it isn’t actually as disruptive as I’m afraid it will be.

Self-serve invitation worked fine for me. Thanks!

Not sure a simple “thank you” will suffice for making that form happen, @burke. Mille fois merci!

Having a single project squad use both IRC/Telegram AND Slack would definitely make it difficult to follow. How would anyone know where to go? That would be a real nightmare! :grimacing:

I think the key here is to be clear about what groups are using Slack and for what purpose. For instance, now that we’ve addressed the spammer issue in Telegram, we’ve been able to resume using IRC/Telegram for our daily scrums and troubleshooting. That works well on IRC/Telegram, so why move over to Slack?

A while ago, @janflowers set up a Slack channel for #Strategy-Operations. We haven’t used it yet, and having some real-time discussions there could be helpful - without interfering with what’s going on on IRC/Telegram or on the #microfrontend channel.

What do others think?

I noticed that Burke’s form didn’t work with Safari but did appear to work in Firefox! Thank you!!

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I tried to self join but could not successfully login on firefox as well.

See if a pop up window is being blocked. Or try using Chrome.

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I can say I used the form to self-join using Firefox (67), though I did have to allow popups for burkeware.com, no problem. I’d actually love to learn how this works for OpenLMIS’ Slack.

Apologies for stumbling into this conversation, however I am wondering if anyone has considered using Matrix.org + Riot.im?

3 years ago (2016-04) I launched the OpenLMIS Slack space, had the typical concerns (loss of messages, walled-garden, etc) and considered similar options (Gitter, Rocket, IRC, etc). While the OpenLMIS community likely values some aspects differently than the OpenMRS community, we also likely share many values and I’d share that one of the growing problems I’m facing with Slack is the segmentation of my presence across so many Slack work-spaces: an OpenLMIS workspace, a VillageReach one, a Digital Square one, an OpenMRS one (just joined), and so on and so on…

I’m not saying OpenLMIS is going to switch to Matrix+Riot, though starting with it, as new as it is, could be quite attractive, including the varying support of the different bridges to be present in services such as Slack, WhatsApp, etc. Just a thought in terms of avoiding so many different communication channels.

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Welcome to the OpenMRS forum @joshzamor ! I’m so glad you shared your experience from OpenLMIS. I was just thinking about this again yesterday as folks have started a quite lively discussion in the Slack space about OpenMRS and FHIR, and I was bummed out a bit that not everyone in OpenMRS sees it or knows about. There are some real gems of knowledge and ideas being shared in that discussion and I feel its a bit of a loss that it is somewhat siloed, not purposely, but inherently because not everyone has Slack in their toolkit or workflow, and not everyone has the level of interest or flexibility to follow a closer-to-real-time discussion in a different communication tool. So although we’ve seen the discussion become super active in Slack, and maybe that’s because it’s closer aligned to those folks already existing workflows, I feel like we are leaving people out and that we are dividing our conversations across platforms so knowledge and decision making isn’t fully shared in our community.

Just a quick glance at the link you posted gives me the idea that this would send messages to multiple platforms, but again, someone would need to decide that’s what will be used by them to communicate with the community - else the messages would still be siloed in whatever tool they were comfortable with using? But that’s just a quick glance and maybe I should look more at it. Have you tested this at all in OpenLMIS? Have your community members given feedback on the use of Slack and other tools?

Really excited to be sharing our lessons and brainstorming across our communities!

While responding to talk posts that are requesting for help on various topics, i often do google searches that lead me to past conversations on talk, that led to certain decisions and other things. Are the slack conversations searchable?

I decided to use google to find that out: https://slackhq.com/how-to-search-in-slack :rofl:

Despite it being searchable, I think there are limits. First, if we are on a free version of slack, I think it will only retain messages up to a certain #/size limit (can’t recall which). Second, it seems because there aren’t titles or tags in messages or discussion threads within a channel, that search becomes very specific with the hope that you’ll be able to weed through what is found to be able to read the full thread. I find using slack for reviewing a historical conversation is all but useless if you are looking for a specific decision or solution point. I find the value lies in the ability to quickly discuss things leading up to decisions or solutions. I don’t know if I could specifically say what it is about slack that I find easier/quicker to have those discussions than on a web forum, other than it’s already part of my natural workflow across multiple projects I’m involved in, rather than having to pull up the forum in a browser. I also find that it “feels” like responses are more real-time and generally shorter, like you’re having a back and forth conversation, rather than posting paragraphs as I’m doing now. But that’s just my feelings about it - completely subjective and based on how I work at this time.

Also, that said, I should say that I really like using Slack and find it makes my work more productive and efficient (even if slightly more distracting between/across projects). I’d like to figure out how to make it work to have Slack in our communication toolkit, but without the silo-ing or divide in our knowledge sharing and decision making. :slight_smile:

Trialing Slack wasn’t driven by a question like “What other chat client should we try?”; rather, it was driven by seeing groups in the OpenMRS Community who were already using Slack within their own organizations & starting to gather in organization-specific workspaces and asking “Can we dust off the OpenMRS workspace and manage to get some of these conversations in a community space?”

We are on a Standard plan, which allows up to 250 members ($1/month/user above 250 members).

  • Our old Telegram chat got to over 300 members before being killed by spammers
  • Our new Telegram chat is at 75 members
  • OpenMRS Slack is up to ~70 members as of today

Agreed. Though, the same could be said of IRC or any other chat solution. Solving this is less about the tool and more about culture. For example, we could try developing a culture of saying something like “#omrs-decision we’ll start shipping the FHIR module with the platform” when a decision is made in whatever platform to help us find these. Or it might be better to say all community decisions need to be announced on Talk with a link to relevant discussion & notes.

Totally agree. The biggest advantage for Slack is lowering the barrier for people who are already using Slack for other projects. If we can make it easier for people to find & join Slack and logging Slack channels similar to logbot for IRC, Slack might be less “hidden”… but unless we set up & maintain a bridge to IRC, it still becomes yet another place to have conversations. Something like matrix might allow us to have a centralized chat space that links into whatever tool users want to us, but we’ll never plow a field by turning it over in our minds – i.e., someone would need to set it up and we’d need a viable plan to maintain it. The ideal world would be a virtual chat space with unlimited rooms for topic-specific conversations that you could reach and interact with others using any client (IRC, Telegram, Slack, Riot, Skype, Whatsapp, etc.) and all conversations would be logged and searchable. :slight_smile:

It feels like making it easy for folks to self-service join Slack and finding an easy-to-maintain (or preferably maintenance-free) solution for logging public Slack conversations into a searchable website would be the most realistic near-term solution for getting the benefits of Slack while trying to break down the siloing.

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Thanks @janflowers,

I doubt I should be the one to help re-open the can of worms about what the value of Slack, or other instant messaging platforms, is exactly. I’d share that of the limited/free analytics that Slack gives for the OpenLMIS Slack, over the past three years all messages sent break down into 65% as direct messages, 23% in private channels and only 15% in public channels. And of those our 3 most active public channels are actually mostly populated by automated messages from monitoring systems (e.g. build servers). Those numbers largely stay unchanged if we’re only looking at the past 30 days as opposed to the last 3 years. As I said how our communities value these different communication platforms might be different: in OpenLMIS, I see Slack as our water-cooler: good for mentoring, quick answers, random things we come across, a quasi-dashboard, simple decisions, etc. Complex decisions happen on either 1-hour phone calls that occur every couple weeks which ideally are fed by structured thought and discussion that occur on our forum (Discourse). Both have their place for OpenLMIS and it’s the norms that guide where discussions vs. decisions occur - and this can be tricky to level on norms.

Considering instant messaging platforms @burke (and thanks for the thoughts) ,

I do think you get some of these benefits, though yes of course the more you want bridging to other systems, the more setup/maintenance you might take on - it depends on the bridge. As an example of an OpenLMIS host-nothing org, room and bridge, here’s the OpenLMIS Slack General channel bridged into Matrix and seen on Riot (which as a by-product messages from Slack become persistent and searchable in Matrix for that channel). More-over that’s kind of neat as I can jump seamlessly between an OpenLMIS channel and lets say a Docker channel on Gitter. You could start with Slack, bridge with Matrix, etc though I will say too much reliance on bridges isn’t that glamorous as there are trade-offs - rather if you were starting from scratch, before you got too walled in with Slack, Matrix might be worth looking at.

Short answer, no. One Matrix OpenLMIS organization and two channels have been bridged and it has been posted for folks to use, though right now it’s an experiment and no decision or pros/cons are even being encouraged to be started. In other words Slack has been pretty good for us, especially since we pay $0 and personally I don’t care that we lose messages there - it reinforces to me in OpenLMIS that it’s for water-cooler chat. OpenLMIS doesn’t have a strong need to change, rather I personally find it interesting as a way to start breaking out of all of the walled gardens that have been setup since the days when IRC was the go to. And again that’s because for me personally my presence in Slack is split up between a dozen or so Slack Organizations, each vying for my attention and few a good place for cross-organization community water-coolers.

Anyways just thoughts, glad to join and hope to start some cross-community discussions (here or elsewhere) about clinic interfacing with supply chain systems in the future.

There have been good, recent conversations on Slack about FHIR, and the microfrontends squad uses slack extensively for our communication (in addition to posting on Talk, creating JIRA issues, etc).

I’d encourage everyone to try it out and join the #microfrontend channel.

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Never mind - now I see that this URL is restricted. We might consider opening it up to (at)openmrs.org, (at)gmail.com, (at)yahoo.com and ask people to send other email domains they’d like to see included as “open enrollment”. There shouldn’t really be any reason we can’t limit this.

Also, on Slack workspaces I own or manage, I can cut and paste an invite link from the “Invite people” screen which I can send people, or which I can post directly. I can’t see a similar spot to get the link on the OpenMRS Invite People screen. Maybe it’s because I’m not a manager, or maybe it’s because that feature is not enabled?


I’m already on the OpenMRS slack workspace, so I can’t test this, but is there any reason why this direct signup link won’t work, (or has not been enabled?)

https://join.slack.com/t/openmrs/signup

We use direct signup links for most of our workspaces - most are, like OpenMRS, project focussed and we don’t try to control access to them.

Jim Sibley (who I don’t think is on talk) posted this regarding signing up: https://openmrs.slack.com/archives/C03U4PGGC/p1561654541084700 .

@jsibley - I was wrong about you not being on Talk!

My goal this AM is to create a little bit of chaos with Talk, Slack, cross posting, etc. But overall, @burke had an excellent point about tools to monitor multiple channels, and some time ago, somewhere @janflowers made an excellent point about people using the tools that fit their workflow. Talk has never been useful for me, for that reason alone - nothing against the tool, but I’ve had little bandwidth to adopt yet another tool. Maybe that’s a barrier shared by some others. I got dragged into using Slack, in contrast, but it proved much easier to adopt whole heartedly (only speaking for my own experience, of course).

It turns out that this is due to an obscure bug in Safari (noncompliance with CSP 3.0 you can test by visiting csp-experiments.appspot.com/strict-dynamic with Safari, Chrome, and/or Firefox).

I applied a workaround and the Slack signup form appears to be working for Safari (for now). :slight_smile:

Self sign up (without an invitation is limited to people with specific email addresses. Anyone with an openmrs.org email address can sign up without an invite. I tried adding other common email services (e.g., gmail.com) and Slack does not allow it. That is why open source communities have come up with the form-based self-invite mechanism I implemented.

yes the self invite has worked pretty for me , however much i dont have the openmrs email address, i have joined the openmrs slack workspace. cc @c.antwi

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