We are currently trialling the use of Zulip, an open source web chat platform. Zulip combines the features of real-time chat, such as in WhatsApp and Telegram, with those of a web forum, such as Discourse or paraglidingforum.com. We are hoping that it will complement our Facebook group, rather than replace it.
If you’re a club member, then please sign up and try Zulip out, but also keep posting in Facebook, which is still our primary communication platform. After trial by the community for two months we will make a decision as to whether to continue with Zulip. So please give us your feedback, preferably in the # Zulip Meta stream.
Step 1: Sign up. To sign up, point your web browser at https://zulip.acthpa.org/register. You can create an account on the Zulip server using your email address, or you can use an existing Facebook or GitHub account.
Step 2: Unsubscribe from the streams you’re not interested in. You start out subscribed to all the streams (we can change this, but that’s how it is for now), but there are almost certainly some you aren’t interested in. Click on the Add streams link at the bottom of the list of streams, and uncheck any you don’t want to take part in. E.g. if you only paraglide then you may want to unsubscribe from # HG, # WSM, # PPG, # Today’s Hang Gliding, # Today’s Microlighting and # Today’s Paramotoring. You may also want to choose which streams you want to get mobile notifications for, although you can do this later if you prefer.
Step 3: Install the Zulip App on your phone if you want to get message notifications.
Step 4: Enable notifications. In the Zulip app on your phone, go into its settings (the cog icon), select Notifications, then enable notifications:
You should now start getting notifications when someone posts in a stream you’re subscribed to.
You can think of streams as channels, or rooms, in which only a particular type of topic is discussed. This way you have the option to only join the ones you’re interested in, e.g. join # HG, but not # PG and you won’t hear all the paraglider chatter if you’re only interested in hang gliding. You can also separately choose which streams give you mobile notifications, so your phone isn’t constantly buzzing. These are the streams we currently have, but it’s easy to add more.
There are also a number of private streams for use by particular club roles, e.g. SOs, SSOs, committee members, site managers. Ask an admin to add you to these if you think you should be there.
It’s also possible for users to create new streams. If you’re thinking of creating a new stream, perhaps run the idea past us in # Zulip meta beforehand.
Anything you say in a stream should be in a topic. This is a thread of conversation on that given topic, which makes it easy to continue a conversation hours, weeks, even months after someone last had something to say about it. For example, at the moment in # PG we have topics on ‘Forward launch’ and ‘Flight instruments’. If I wanted to discuss either of these then I could post in these topics. Or if I wanted to discuss some other paragliding topic then I could start a new topic in the # PG stream, e.g. ‘SIV courses’.
For now we’re asking that you only sign up if you are a member of the ACTHPA. In the future we may broaden this to allow anyone connected to our community to sign up, but for this trial we’re keeping it small.
It shouldn’t do. Facebook is good for promoting our sport – showing a wider audience what we are about, with images and videos to make it more real. The Facebook group could perhaps become more like the public face of the ACTHPA and our members, while our chat server is for our members to check regularly. But you won’t need to check Zulip the way you have to check Facebook. Just set up your notifications and then forget about it. When someone makes a post you may be interested in then you’ll get a push notification on your phone.
There is a danger that some members of the community will choose to keep using only Facebook, while others will start using only Zulip. This is a real concern, and we need to have a plan to address it.
One part of addressing the problem is to practice good change management. We are communicating what we are doing, why we are doing it, and will take feedback on board.
Another is to establish a clear policy of what Facebook is still useful for, and how it should be used. Again, any such policy will take our community’s feedback into account.
Also note that we already have a split community, because we exclude those who can’t or won’t use Facebook, so in some ways this could bring us together again.
Keep using it to post pictures and videos of your flying activities. We’ll also keep making announcements there, though we’ll also start making them in Zulip.
Eventually we think that discussion of flying conditions, and coordinating our daily flying should move to Zulip. It’s a better platform for it, and it removes this noise from the Facebook group.
We could; it’s working ok. But here are some reasons why I think it isn’t the best option.
The ACTHPA Facebook group is good, but it isn’t a great chat platform.
The main problem with it is the message posting paradigm: there’s a single stream of posts that take up a lot of room. Older posts get buried very quickly, which makes us reluctant to post new messages for fear of flooding the stream. This means that we have very little discussion. For example, when XC magazine released a new book. If I had somewhere to chat about this with other club members then I probably would. But I didn’t because to post this in the Facebook group would mean pushing down other posts that are probably more relevant to most club members.
Another problem is the non-realtime nature of chat in Facebook. Comments on posts take a while to appear, and Facebook’s UI tends to hide a lot of comments, so most people will never see them. We also often get duplicate topics because people don’t see that someone else has posted, because Facebook takes a while to update your feed if you don’t refresh constantly (and sometimes even if you do!).
Another problem is the reversed-time nature of posts: you first see the oldest comment (the post), and have to go looking for the most recent comments. A good chat platform make it easy to jump to the most recent comments, or better yet, the oldest comment you haven’t yet read. For example, say someone wants to ask what the weather is looking like on the weekend. So they post on Facebook “What’s the weather looking like on the weekend?”. Now, at some point someone may comment with a useful analysis. But if you, as a third party, want to see that comment, then you have to keep re-finding the post, refreshing the comments, and digging through to see whether there are any you haven’t yet read. It’s tedious, and it means that we often just don’t bother asking, even though we’re interested in knowing.
Facebook is infamous for its “the users are the product” philosophy, selling targeted advertising and access to your personal data. Even if this doesn’t bother you, I know for sure that it does bother at least several people in our club, some of whom refuse to sign up at all. By using only Facebook we exclude these people.
The best Facebook can do is to have a post about today’s flying, and you have to keep refreshing the comments section. Time-critical comments tend to be missed until it’s too late.
Facebook Messenger is ok for temporary, ad-hoc groups, but it doesn’t give users the ability to add themselves to groups, and it doesn’t have threaded discussion topics. It would be like Facebook but worse. The one thing it has going for it is live location tracking.
WhatsApp is better than Facebook Messenger in that it lets you have invite links that users can use to add themselves to a group. We have trialed using WhatsApp for ad-hoc daily flying groups, and it works well if someone sets it up, but it takes someone to set it up, and someone doesn’t always do this. It also doesn’t have threaded discussion topics, but does have live location tracking. If we had one big WhatsApp group then we would get real-time push notifications, but it would be like a firehose of messages, which would naturally suppress discussion as people don’t want to bother others with trivial chat.
Similar arguments to why not WhatsApp.
This is a serious contender. It’s trivial to set up, and it’s free.
So why not Discord? For one thing, it doesn’t have threading in its chat, or any form of markup that I can see. It’s great for shallow chat, and voice, video, and screen sharing. But I don’t think it would promote in-depth discussion. It’s chat, without being a forum.
Rocket.chat is a serious contender, but I don’t like its threading model as much as Zulip’s. Each of its channels has a single continuous stream of comments, but it also has threads and discussions on top of this. I think we would suffer from there being too much noise, and things getting lost in this. That is, there isn’t the opportunity for forum-style communication that Zulip allows.
Discourse is more like a forum – it doesn’t excel at real-time communication, and we want this. Zulip allows a smooth transition between real-time chat and forum-like long-form discussions, and I think this suits our community better.
It’s pretty clunky, and doesn’t seem to have many features yet. Its main advantage is being able to link together different chat services, which is not what we’re after.
See the discussion of the problems with Facebook, above. We don’t want a social network, we want a communication platform.