5  Communication Channels

We wanted to get a better understanding of the way that people used Astropy’s communication channels. To do this we asked both specific questions as well as open ended questions. Both are summarized here.

5.1 Facebook, Slack, Discourse Engagement

When we asked people directly if they were part of the Python Users’s in Astronomy Facebook group, a group with 7,300 members. From our survey respondents, 57% were not members, 24% had used the group in the past year, and 19% had more than a year ago.

We similarly asked about Slack community participation, 58% had not used Slack at all, 34% had in the past year, and 8% had more than a year ago.

When asked about the Open Astronomy Discourse, 80% had not used it, the remaining 20% had in the past, 13% in the past year, and 7% more than a year ago.

5.2 Benefits of Online Forums

We asked respondents what the benefits were for engaging with online forums and how they used them. Respondents told us that they used the forums to get answers to questions, to learn about technical updates as well as to avoid challenges with updates or as an alternative to opening a Github issue. Some discussed forums as a place to see the transparency of the development process or to understand the use cases for the software. Some also commented that they used the forums for learning materials. Others responded that they did not know that Astropy online forums existed.

Below we’ve summarized the themes from their responses with representative quotes.

5.2.1 Getting Answers

Respondents talked about one of the benefits of the online forums is that they are a place to give or receive specific, tailored answers to questions. Folks called it an “informal help desk” and a place to get expert advice, help with problems, as well as a place to network and communicate with the community.

Ability to get expert answers to very astro-specific questions that are hard to ask on more general python forums

Discourse is where we would like users to post their questions so they are retrievable by search engines.

a friendly place to engage with a quick response time

I don't benefit from them. The only reason I joined is to help answer questions about the bit I maintain in my affiliated package.

I get to communicate with the community who use Astropy and might have different solutions to problems that I have as a user. Usually, Astropy’s devs are too busy to answer questions but having online forums allows me to unstick myself through the community.

I learn new stuff and occasionally get to help other people with their problems.

I use it very effectively as an online informal help desk

It's a great place to get advice on astronomy/Astropy specific problems/issues. Similar to StackExchange but focused.

Networking, helping people, solving my problems.

Questions and answers on best practices, how-to's, confusing errors

Specifically some folks turned to the Slack to get these answers and saw it as the place to communicate with developers.

I really appreciate the Slack group to ask questions of the developers and users on capabilities and how to implement astropy in my work.

Slack has proven to be the most effective way to reach some developers. Unfortunately not 100% of devs use Slack frequently, so some folks are still hard to reach.

Slack is a quick way to ask questions of, and exchange news with, project members.

Slack: communication with other developers. Discourse: communication with Bob developer users

5.2.2 Technical Updates

Many respondents appreciate the ability to keep abreast of what is going on in the community. From seeing bug reports to workshop planning and more in-depth conversations. Some community members said they wanted to avoid things breaking due to updates or bug fixes and they turned to the online forums for that knowledge.

It is clear that survey respondents see online forums as a place to keep updated on what is happening with Astropy. A lot of community building and networking take place in these channels.

Seeing latest updates on Astropy package.

Advertising new features in releases

Facebook group posts a lot of useful information

Keeping informed about development, get a feeling of the ways that the people use astropy, learn about other people problems…

Recent announcements, bug reports, feature freezes, etc.

Looking out for events, jobs or opportunities to join or contribute to a software project in astronomy.

Any new issues with using astropy on new hardware such as the macintosh m1, m2, etc.

Again, respondents saw Slack as the place to keep up with news, announcements, project news and updates.

Slack is very useful for keeping up with the project, and we use it for workshop planning.

Slack is a good way to communicate about workshops and project news.

For Slack, it mostly helps to keep track of announcements.

5.2.3 Alternative to Github Issues

Some specifically mentioned that they use these forums as an alternative to Github issues.

I use slack for conversations that don't fit into github issues.

Quick feedback on questions or discussions that don't warrant a Github issue

5.2.4 Transparency of Technical Development

Some also commented that being in these forums allowed them to see how the developer ecosystem worked.

A view into the vibrant developer ecosystem of this indispensable software package

Examples of the kinds of questions others are asking

5.2.5 Use Cases

Some also saw the forums as a good place to look for use cases and ways that people are using their code to solve problems. In essence, this becomes a place for developers to see real life use cases of the technology.

Use case examples

For discourse, it can help find similar use cases or issues (in addition to Github).

I get to see how others are using their code to solve problems, a great learning opportunity.

I keep myself updated about the use cases and issues from multiple users.

New usage ideas

5.2.6 Learning Via Community

Some said that online forums were a place where they learned to use Astropy and found resources they needed.

I learnt how to use Astropy

Pointers to resources

5.2.7 Not Aware

Several of the people that were surveyed did not know that the online forums existed or did not use the forums. This will also be reflected int he next question around improving online forums.

I am not involved and/or not aware they existed

I can not use slack due to fees, not a Facebook member

I currently don't use them

I do not use these, in particular, I am not a facebook member

I don't use these; I have too many other forums to keep up with

N/A - I have no interest in more distractions, so am not part of online forums

I haven't looked at Discourse or Facebook very often.

5.3 Improvements to Online Forums

When asked what survey respondents thought would improve online forums, we saw several ways that these spaces might be improved.

Respondents commented that the communities seem fragmented, that there is a challenge of needing spaces for users and also for developers, they also commented on specific issues with Discourse, Slack, Facebook and other sites. We also heard that folks were not aware of some of the online forums, that they want more resources for beginners/new users and searchability of the forums is a priority.

5.3.1 Fragmentation of Forums

Respondents mentioned that there is a fragmentation in the Astropy online communities and indicated a need to make clearer what each forum is for and where information is located.

I would like to know where is the community discussion now. Fragmentation is a problem but I do not know how to solve it.

I would get more developers looking at Discourse and I would make notifications more apparent. Slack is pretty good as-is but I would try to move users to Discourse so it could be more like a Stack Overflow site.

Focus on supporting one as a primary community hub and make it clear who it's for; often I feel like Astropy online discussions are only for serious developers/contributors of record, not users stumbling through trying to do a coordinate crossmatch for the first time. I vote Slack!

More general information posted. General updates, etc.

5.3.2 Forums for Users vs. Developers

Specifically, the fragmentation was between user forums and developer forums and some folks had suggestions on how to mitigate the different needs of each community.

it would be better to distill forums into just two: one for developers, one for users. the current slack fits the bill for developers and is very active. i would recommend choosing between discourse and facebook rather than supporting both.

would like to have a kind of "users forum" rather than be included in the development discussions

More engagement from developers and users on Discourse

it's good to be able to contribute to the discussion, but a lot of discussion is also too technical for me

5.3.3 Discourse

Some folks had specific thoughts about the use of Discourse and indicated that it has less people who are active on the forum.

Discourse could, in principle, be a nice resource, but is under-utilized; it mostly seems to be used as a low-traffic tech support forum, which is a missed opportunity.

Need more users on discourse to teach critical mass

More engagement from developers and users on Discourse

I would try to steer user questions towards Discourse and I would set up better notifications for Discourse. Discourse is not active and the interface does not invite engagement.

5.3.4 Slack

Opinions about Slack varied. Some indicated that they’d prefer not using it, while others had specific opinions on

It would be nice to replace Slack by a more open system, but it's not clear that would really get an appropriate head of steam.

I would like to see more general discussion in slack. Everything seems to be very specific

Please avoid using Slack

I think Slack is fine as is.

Nnobody from WCS team participates on Slack.

5.3.5 Facebook, Blue Sky and Twitter

Folks who responded had thoughts about Facebook as well as Blue Sky/Twitter.

Facebook is an exclusionary walled-garden; there shouldn't be any official presence there.

I am not on Facebook.

Move to bluesky and off of Twitter/x

5.3.6 I Didn’t Know

Similar to responses to the previous question, some folks indicated that they did not know about all the forums that are available to Astropy members and indicated they’d like to have information on how to join.

I was only aware of the Facebook group and not of the other platforms. Making the various ways of discussing topics known would be ideal.

I didn't know there was a slack or discourse! Would love to know how to join those channels.

I didn't even know about Slack, so I need to check that out.

5.3.7 New Users

Respondents said that information about how to join or become involved for new folks would be helpful.

Clear directions pinned for new users to get involved.

I think some tutorials or resources for people that may want to get more involved in contributing to astropy project but don't have a background in astronomy or astrophysics but may be coming from a related field, e.g. physics, computer science etc.

5.3.8 Searchability

Some folks also mentioned that a priority was to make sure that the online forums were searchable.

I would find stackoverflow-style searchable questions + ranked answers more useful than a linear stream of forum discussions.

Make it more searchable

The issue with FB is that the search features for past questions aren't great.

Slack is fine the way it is and I am happy with that except it is not useful as a way to search for code question answers.

5.3.9 Other

Finally we heard a few additional comments: > Use open platforms please.

It would be nice to see closer ties with the AstroJulia community.