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I run a local community of programmers and IT professionals, and we're using Slack as the only area for online communications. Lately, I've noticed that people use Slack channels that has been created with quite narrow purposes for random flaming and discussing things that are close to personal. For example, in a channel dedicated to work (which is #work) people may start chatting about technologies and even politics.

I personally don't like it, but more than that, it dilutes the core topic and diminishes the value of the channel for those who purposefully join it. So I've been thinking about certain rules that would restrict talkative people and help them switch from public channels to private chats in case of severe off-topic.

The problem is, nobody likes rules, especially when they appear suddenly. So old member would even want to quit if I set up new constraints, which would lead to lower quality of the community as a whole, since the number of participants is quite low, about 100 members. I'm not a one and only decision maker, the community is rather loosely managed, there are authorities and newbies, and it all happens naturally. So how can I convince people to be more self-disciplined when it's too risky to attack the front directly?

  • You can't say members to be organized even while chatting. It is upto moderator/room owner to organize the messages by moving them to relevant chat rooms, regularly after the conversation is finished. (It is if you really care about being organised). That is what I see in popular chatrooms of Stackoverflow. – Mr_Green Jun 24 '16 at 5:30
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Its important to understand that Slack is its own kind of collaboration platform that caters to different behaviors, and has an evolving ethos.

We use Slack in my company as an internal community, and also with one of our open source communities.

The best way to think about it is like a persistent IRC chat. Rather than only being real time, you can log in at any time and go back in time to see the conversation.

I'm not familiar with its moderator capabilities, since so far I've only been a user. However, some quick searches revealed typical moderator capabilities.

In my company, and also in our open source community: Cloud Foundry Foundation, it seems that any user has the ability to create a channel. There is also an ability to archive channels. This suggests: 1) proliferation of channels is expected 2) retiring channels frequently is ok

My company's internal Slack has over 600+ channels, and well over 100 archived channels. In fact, I would suggest we aren't doing a good job of archiving our channels.

If you think of Slack as "persistent chat", then engagement is the most important facet - not adherence to topics as it might be in a forum or wiki.

I know that the apps ecosystem for Slack is rapidly evolving, and there may be all manner of new capabilities coming into the platform sooner than later. I would expect this would likely change the etiquette of the platform as well.

So my moderation advice to you is as follows: treat each channel as a topic or thread. If conversation in a topic dies out over time, or the conversation shifts off the purpose, then archive the topic. But, assuming you can turn that capability off, make sure your users can start new rooms easily. They'll be more likely to put their off topic rants into #rant if they have the freedom to create it.

Yes, its more work for the moderator to manage, and curate, but assume you are frequently pruning to maintain a lively active persistent chat experience.

If you want a tightly moderated space, choose a StackExchange or Forum approach instead.

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You can't do what you're trying to do.

Okay, maybe you can. A little. But it's not going to work out very well for you.

People participate in your community because they like the community and find it enjoyable. If you try to establish rules which strip the community of its perceived enjoyment and casual entertainment value, people will leave. Not only that, but the people who will leave are the ones who both thrive in and drive its entertainment value - and when those people leave, everything becomes less fun. That's... the long and short of it. This is unavoidable fact.

As an analog, imagine what would happen to Stack Exchange culture if chat were shut down suddenly for being too off-topic. Sure, chat is distracting, strictly speaking, but it's also keeping a lot of people here, and is a driving force behind Stack Exchange culture.

You can't build a community 100% focused, with no entertainment value. It does not work, and dooms the community to fail long-term.

So, what can you do? It pretty much boils down to three things:

  • Ask people about changes in advance. You'll generate a crapton of bad will if you suddenly impose rules, but if the changes are neither sudden nor imposed, most of that bad will instead becomes good faith.
  • Ask people to step in as moderators, if such tools exist in your community, with the responsibility of stopping discussions that are going to devolve into heated arguments. (But if the arguments are simply calm, collected discussions, sorry, but you really need to leave those be.)
  • Accept that not everyone is going to be interested in every discussion. This is just flat-out true - make sure your own biases about which discussions you like and don't like aren't clouding your judgment - others enjoy them, too.
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    Also consider whether you can give them a second place, a "chat overflow" room alongside your main one. – Monica Cellio Feb 8 '16 at 1:15
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    @MonicaCellio I like that suggestion as well, actually. Still, it carries... some of the same. It's really hard to step in and shunt conversations off to a side room without giving the impression that you don't want it there. – Aza Feb 8 '16 at 1:32
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Think of Slack as the community pool. Posting a few "pool rules" shouldn't prevent people from doing what they came there to do; Namely swim. Keep the rules short, simple and as unambiguous as possible. Clearly outline the penalty for violating the rules (strikes, muting, kicking, banning, etc.). Most importantly, make sure you give people an outlet to apologize or make amends; Nothing is worse than a frustrated person with no recourse resorting to other mediums to vent.

Make sure as many different personalities as possible are involved in the creation of these rules. Sure, you may have a few members who object to any sort of authority, but I'm fairly certain most people are in favour of the "please don't pee in our pool" rule.

Some common sense rules I've found are:

  • Don't spam
  • Don't post NSFW content (unless it's an adults only slack channel with an age gate. Lots of people follow multiple Slack groups and don't want naked anime popping up while they're at work)
  • Don't be racist or sexist
  • Don't assume racism or sexism without clarification (sarcasm doesn't always translate to text and criticism of the -isms can sometimes read like approval)
  • Don't dogpile (old IRC term for bullying by trying to turn a channel against someone, basically doxxing)
  • Don't double post in multiple channels (Slack lets you cross-link a post between channels if it spans multiple topics)
  • If a discussion gets off topic say "let's take this to #appropriate-channel"

The biggest slack group I belong to is TechMasters where we use these general rules as well as a simple Code of Conduct.

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