Learning patterns/Using a chapter Discord server
What problem does this solve?Edit
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the vast majority of Wikimedia New York City events were in person. Like other groups in the Wikimedia movement, we have had to find new ways to engage our communities online. Early in the pandemic, we began using Zoom and other platforms to hold virtual meetings, and experimented with Streamyard to run new kinds of live virtual events. We also held virtual edit-a-thons, which are not new to the pandemic, but have become much more common.
The use of Zoom and other video conferencing programs presents a consistent challenge to organizers: how to continue to foster casual communication and communication between individuals or small groups. Casual communication and collaboration between individuals is important to our in-person meetups, and at an in-person edit-a-thon, volunteers are available to sit with new users, guiding them through the editing process or any problem they may have. These styles of interaction are not easily accomplished through online video meetings, and even features like Zoom's "breakout rooms" can present technical and communication difficulties.
What is the solution?Edit
In March 2021, Wikimedia New York City launched its own Discord server. Discord is messaging software accessed on the web or via downloadable application. The English Wikipedia community has had its own unofficial Discord server since 2016, which operates similarly to the Wikimedia IRC channels. We saw how it engaged a large number of Wikimedians discussing a large number of topics, and were further inspired by an event we hosted with Depths of Wikipedia, a popular Instagram account run by Annie Reuwerda. In January 2021, WMNYC worked with Reuwerda to host an online edit-a-thon for people who follow her account. WMNYC provided on-wiki support and hosted an open Zoom call, and Annie created dedicated channels on a Discord server. Users signed in, and asked questions throughout the event.
Using Discord to support an edit-a-thon has several advantages. It allows for asynchronous as well as live conversations, such that people who cannot be present at a scheduled Zoom call can ask their question at any time, and volunteers can likewise respond at any time. Other users can see the exchange, and are encouraged to participate in ongoing discussions. Unlike a Zoom call, there is no one center of attention, and it is easy for many people to speak at once. Unlike communication on Wikipedia, it is fast, casual, and intuitive, using a platform with an existing large user base.
One project we've used Discord for successfully is a monthly article collaboration with WikiProject New York City. As it only began in May 2021, there have only been two such collaborations at the end of fiscal year 2020-2021, but they have been successful. Using Discord to collaborate, participants brought an article on a historically significant site, Stuyvesant Farm, up to Good Article status, and made significant improvements to an article about trees of New York City.
Discord is not the only option for this kind of messaging, but it is easy to use, popular, and free for most purposes. A single server can host many channels, including both text and voice channels, and each can have separate security measures and access controls. This was important for us, to be able to use it for a variety of purposes. Some channels are restricted to members, others open to all; some are for event organizers, others to event participants. Having control over security and access was important for us to ensure privacy and to make sure we could enforce the WMNYC Code of Conduct as needed.
Since March 2021, 70 people have signed up on our server, exchanging 4,296 messages in public channels (metrics for private conversations are not available).
There are a few caveats worth covering. First, while the server has seen a lot of use, adoption even among the most active WMNYC members has been inconsistent. Use of the platform simply is not appealing to some of our membership, or does not fit into their communication lifestyle. It is unclear if a different platform would have different results. Second, while security measures allow for a lot of flexibility between/across channels, Discord itself is proprietary software run by a for-profit company. As such, there may be objections from some corners of the movement on the grounds that use of Discord is contrary to the spirit of openness.