MacAdmins Slack – a highly opinionated guide

I love MacAdmins Slack. I am logged in nearly every day. I use it for research, solving problems, camaraderie, and just plain fun. The community there is wonderful.

There are a few things particular to this Slack and some other online forums in general that I noticed, so I thought I’d like to write this guide.

This is, as the title says, highly opionionated and from my personal perspective. I do hope it is useful for everyone.

What is Slack?

Slack is a popular message board application. It’s a cross between between a bulletin board system and a chat room.

Slack has a web interface and clients for most operating systems.

The MacAdmins Slack is a particular instance which specializes on topics relevant to Apple Administrators. You can sign up here.

The Lingo

There are a few terms particular with Slack, that might be confusing at first.

An organization can set up a Slack “Workspace.” You can be a member of and logged into multiple workspaces. You will have a different login and username for each workspace.

Slack help has a general glossary, which is helpful.

Channels

Within a workspace, Slack is separated into “channels.” Channels can be public or private. When you sign in for the first time, you are added to some public channels by default. You can click on the “Channels” header in the sidebar to browse and search existing channels.

When you are typing and start a word with the # character Slack will treat this as a link to a channel. When you start typing the channel name Slack will suggest auto-completions. If a channel with the name exists, the word will be linked so that users can click to go to that channel.

Frustratingly, Slack’s autocompletion (for channels and users) uses the return key to confirm a selection and the tab key to jump to the next suggestion in the list. This is not how those keys are usually used on macOS and throws me off every time.

Public channels in MacAdmins Slack are either on a particular technology or software (#highsierra or #munki), regions or countries (#thenetherlands, #uk or #anzmac), events (#psumac or #wwdc) or pretty much everything else.

The language on MacAdmins is usually English, though regional channels are often held in that region’s language. Be aware that English is not every user’s main language. While this can make communication frustrating on both sides, be polite, patient and friendly about it.

To be honest, there are way #toomanychannels. The reason for this is that anyone can create a channel. Before you create a new channel, you should browse and search and maybe ask if there is already a channel for that particular purpose or topic. #general is usually a good place to ask if you can’t find something obvious in the channel browser.

In addition there are private channels, which work basically the same, but cannot be searched and only joined on invitation.

Special Channels

There are a few channels that have special roles or uses:

#general: is the “anything” channel, as long as the topic is somewhat MacAdmin related. Questions asked here may are often answered directly or you will be referred to a different channel.

#backroom: This is for ‘off-topic’ discussions. Any topic goes, as long as you follow the CoC.

#ask-about-this-slack: for technical and organizational questions to the admins about the MacAdmins Slack.

Slack is not Email

The MacAdmins Slack can get very busy. You may have the urge to keep up with every message in every channel you follow. This may be possible when you are in just a few channels. However, I have gotten used to just hitting ‘shift-escape’ (Mark all as read) in the morning and maybe again in the afternoon. I try to keep up with discussions and threads I am part of, and have learnt to be ok with missing most others.

Emojis

Emojis are an important part of Slack and there are a few ways of using them.

You can just insert an Emoji when typing with the standard macOS or iOS emoji picker. You can also type an emoji name or ‘code’ between colon characters:. So :grin: will turn into the grinning smiley. This is usually more convenient than the system pickers.

When you see an emoji, you can hover the mouse over it to learn its name or code.

Reactions

You can add an emoji to a post with the reaction button. (the smiley with the + symbol). Then the emoji will be shown attached to the post, multiple reactions by different users will be shown next to each other, and they will be counted up.

When you hover your mouse over a reaction, it will show which users added that particular reaction.

Special Emojis

Some Emojis are unique to Slack or have special meaning

:+1: will show as the ‘thumbs up’ emoji. This is commonly used to show approval or support, though some users prefer :plus1 or :heavy_plus_sign:

:protip: is used to highlight a great tip. There is a bot that gathers all post with this reaction in the #protips channel

:this: will show as an animated chevron. Used to approve or emphasize a post.

:raccoon: is used to politely notify that an ongoing discussion might be better suited for another channel (Why is is a raccoon?)

:dolphin: is sometimes used when you leave a channel to state that you are merely leaving to prune your channel list and not because something has upset you

Custom Emojis

You can create your own emojis. Or add new names for existing ones.

Create custom emoji – Slack Help Center

To Thread or not to Thread

You can reply to a post directly in a channel’s timeline or create a ‘thread’ where the replies are collapsed or sorted with the original post. Use the speech bubble icon to create a thread.

In MacAdmins Slack, most users prefer replies in the timeline, however, when you are replying to a post further up in the timeline, then threads can be quite useful. When replying in a thread, you have the option to show the reply in the channel’s main timeline as well.

Use the ‘@’ Wisely

You can ‘mention’ another user with the @ symbol and their username. With Slack’s default setting the user will get notified of a mention. When you use @scriptingosx in a post, it will notify me, even when I am not in the channel.

This can be very useful to ‘summon’ someone into a channel, because they might be interested or able to contribute to a discussion. I use it when I reply to questions or requests that happened a while ago, so that the person gets notified that there is a reply.

Other than that, you should use mentions with care. Remember that you may be ringing all of someone’s devices with it.

Set up Do not Disturb

To avoid excessive notifications, you can set Slack to ‘Do not Disturb’ mode by clicking on the bell icon next to the Workspace name. You can snooze the Slack for a certain and setup a recurring schedule to mute notifications overnight.

A user who mentions you while have the ‘Do not Disturb’ mode enabled will be informed why you may not be reacting.

You can also see a user’s local time in their profile. This might give you an idea of when they might be online or not. You can get to a user’s profile by clicking on their icon.

Manage your Notifications

Aside from the ‘Do not Disturb’ feature you can further manage the notifications Slack can send to you.

In addition to be notified when you are mentioned (@ed) you can add certain keywords that may be interesting to you. (e.g., I have keywords for my books’ titles)

Formatting Posts

You can use a simplified MarkDown-like syntax to format your posts. Enclosing a word or sentence in underscores _ will turn it italic, asterisks * will turn it bold.

If you have trouble remembering the syntax, you can also see the most common formatting options in small text under the message entry field.

Posting Code

Since MacAdmins Slack is a technical forum, posting commands or pieces of code will be fairly common. When you enclose a sequence of words with single backticks it will be shown in monospace font, which others will usually understand to be a command.

When you use triple backticks, Slack will interpret the text in between as a code block. Other special characters and white space (multiple space, tabs, new lines) will be shown as is. This is useful to share short code blocks or log sections.

To share full scripts or longer log files, you should use Slack Snippets. You can create a snippet with the big ‘+’ button next to the text entry or by just dragging a script or text file into the slack window.

Asking questions

We all use Slack to ask for help when we are stuck. The willingness to help each other out it one of the strengths. However, when you do have to ask for help, there are a few common courtesies you should follow. (These hold true for any request for help, like a support incident.)

Be Descriptive and Specific

Don’t just say “Help, XYZ is broken!” Don’t ask if “anyone knows ABC?”

Explain what you are trying to do, in which context. Show what you already tried to fix the problem. (you did try to solve it yourself first, didn’t you?)

I find, that often the act of formulating the question properly helps me figure out the solution myself, or at least get closer to a solution.

People who want to help you will follow-up with those questions, but will be more likely to help when the request is well formulated and has (most of) the necessary context.

Examples:

Bad:

My postinstall script does not work! Can anybody help?

Better:

I want to show a dialog from a postinstall script which prompts the user for the computer name. I am using osascript, but it is failing and I don’t understand why?

Even better: add the script (or a part of the script) and errors you are seeing

Keep your question relevant

Sometimes a question might just drown in another ongoing conversation. Sometimes, expecially on the less busy channels, no-one will be around to answer. Be patient before you start cross-posting to other channels.

It’s ok to repeat your question, once the ongoing discussion subsides, but don’t spam. Maybe it’s just that no-one really has an answer.

Keep in mind that everyone on the MacAdmins Slack has a job, which is not answering your questions on Slack. Helping each other out on Slack is something we all do on the side, voluntarily.

Don’t @ or DM people just because they have helped you before, unless you want to follow-up on something very specific.

MacAdmins Slack is busiest during North American office hours. Keep that in mind when posting questions as well. (There are a few admins from elsewhere in the world who will help out when they can.)

What do you want to accomplish?

Even when you ask questions properly and with detail, you may ge the the counterquestion: “What is it you actually want to accomplish?” This has turned into a sort of a meme on the MacAdmins Slack.

When you get this question, someone believes that you may be narrowing down on a dead end and a completely different approach may be more appropriate. They want to get your ‘big picture’ to understand the context.

This is the time to step back, explain your goals and let the MacAdmins community help you gain some new perspective. Don’t double down on what you are trying to do. This question has lead to some of the most interesting discussions.

Join the Slack and Enjoy!

Overall I feel the MacAdmins Slack is a great place to share and receive knowledge for MacAdmins. I you still haven’t signed up, go and do it here!

If you already are a member, I hope you learnt something useful here. If you think I missed something important, then let me know! (My user name on the MacAdmins Slack is @scriptingosx.)

2 thoughts on “MacAdmins Slack – a highly opinionated guide”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.