How I participate in a cornucopia of chat communities

Julian Pisoni asked me a while ago:

How do you Slack in so many different spaces and still have time to focus on work stuff? I want to chat more in [two Slack workspaces we share], but I have a hard time keeping up.

I thought for a moment and realized I actually do have a strategy that works for me. It wasn’t intentional at first, but in the last three years of explosive growth in the popularity of Slack, Discord, et al., I’ve had to be somewhat intentional about how to (dis)engage with the communities I’ve joined, built, and/or departed. I have a presence on more than 24 Slack workspaces, eight Discord servers, and few Mattermost and Element servers. I’m not always paying attention or signed into all of them. What follows is how I’ve managed to handle these and prioritize them so the most important ones have my attention.

My crudely arranged chat cornucopia, octothorpe included for IRC recognition.

Location fencing

I sign into only Code & Supply’s Slack on every device I’m on: my smartphone, a largely stationary personal laptop, my gaming desktop, my work laptop, and my highly mobile Chromebook. I sign into work Slack on my phone and work laptop.

I sign into the Homebrew Maintainers workspace on my work laptop, the Mac I use for most of my Homebrew development such as homebrew-bundle. I only recently signed into it on my gaming rig because I started using Homebrew’s Linuxbrew portions in a Linux VM I use for development as I shift away from using the aging personal laptop.

For a few other communities, I’m only signed in on my work laptop or only one of my personal machines. For another couple, I’m only signed in on my phone. Some, I sign in only once in a while — generally when setting up a new computer and doing the “sign into all workspaces associated with this email” dance — and merely confirm that their traffic is still low enough to rely on email for (extremely rare) notifications.

So, this forces me only to check the Slack workspaces I’m signed into when I’m using that particular device. This siloization is a strength of Slack versus Discord. The loop of reading unreads can consume cycles so minimizing the number of elements in the list helps break the cycle more quickly. Most importantly, a low number of signed-in workspaces per device reduces the distractions from notifications!


Because of strategy, I can more easily allocate time to the most meaningful Slacks to me in the moment or the ones for which I’m responsible at some level. Work Slack is part performance art, because remote working these pandemic days rewards activity: visibility is relevance. I’m in a lot of conference Slack workspaces and other chat systems because I’m active in the conference world as an attendee, speaker, and organizer.

The buck stops with me on C&S Slack but I have a highly-valued, community Conduct Team to which I’ve delegated most Conduct Policy enforcement so fluidly that I don’t generally have to act on our Conduct Policy flags.

Reacting with this emoji in C&S Slack notifies the Conduct Team so they can review and potentially act.

I check some of the other Slacks maybe once per day but generally a few times per week. Some I only sign into in the weeks before and after an event. I realize that I could miss things but that’s what email notifications should enable me to catch. I try to limit the amount of time I spend engaging in long conversations by consciously deciding when I want to commit to seeing a conversation through its end, explicit or trailing off. Remember, conserve your keystrokes and consider writing longer form works in a public place, if producing meaningful, reusable content is a personal goal.

Nearly all of my workspaces have low enough traffic that I can treat them like IRC and read the backscroll without missing anything. Or, I just declare bankruptcy!

Bankruptcy & The Joy of Missing Out

That’s the beauty of the ephemerality of chat: declaring unread bankruptcy. I accept that I’ll miss something and that I’ll participate when I can. You must accept that you can’t catch everything, so rely on your social network to loop you in on things they think you should see. Slack’s mentions are nearly infallible for that compared to IRC highlights.

I’m piling up Discords, too, but I’m more willing to prune communities in which I don’t participate on that platform because I only use it on my gaming desktop and my phone. It’s only on my phone because Discord is the chosen platform for one of my core friend groups having migrated from Freenode IRC a couple of years ago.

I’ve never really gotten into Gitter, WhatsApp, Telegram, and host of other chat-focused systems with community functions. Moreover, the above doesn’t explore my one-on-one chat habits, with apps like Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, Signal, þͤ olde SMS, and more.

You have limited time and limited attention, so assess what value these chat communities bring to your life and its goals and prioritize accordingly.

Scholar, bon vivant, champion of the oppressed. Pittsburgh-based software engineer+architect+consultant and community builder seeking serenity.

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