Links are for humans; URLs are for computers

URLs are for computers.

They are specific addresses that tell the web browser where to go to fetch data and show it to you in one form or another. The URL for the policies page on this site is https://eng181s21.davidmorgen.org/syllabus/policies/. The URL for the oldest post on the course blog is https://eng181s21.davidmorgen.org/davids-posts/header-image-credits/. With a little awareness of the syntax, you can decode that information. If you wanted to read the page or post that I just referenced, you could copy that code and paste it into your browser to get there.

Sometimes people just paste URLs into emails or pages that they’re writing, and some applications (like the few most recent version of WordPress) will convert those URLs into links so that you at least don’t have to go to the trouble of copying and pasting the code as separate steps to get to the pages referenced. For example, one way to show you Gavin Aung Than’s comic adaptation of a quote by Jim Henson would be to just do this: http://zenpencils.com/comic/150-jim-henson-a-puppeteers-advice/. However, most of the time readers will find URLs confusing and uninviting, and it’s difficult for you to effectively contextualize that information smoothly.

[Note that his site has been neglected and the image links are broken now. Here’s the comic I’m referencing in this post.]

Links are for humans

Links use HTML code to turn URLs into something that is readable and clear for humans. One way to create a link is manually, by inserting some HTML code around text that makes the text into a link, so

Check out Gavin Aung Than’s <a href=”http://zenpencils.com/comic/150-jim-henson-a-puppeteers-advice/”>brilliant comic adaptation</a> of a quote by Jim Henson.

looks like this in your browser

Check out Gavin Aung Than’s brilliant comic adaptation of a quote by Jim Henson.

Most of the time, though, you don’t need to insert links manually. When you’re in your WordPress post editor, you can create a link by highlighting the text or image that you want to become a link and selecting the button that looks like the links of a chain, then pasting the URL into the dialog box. But if you want to add a link to a comment you’re leaving on this site, you’ll need to know the HTML code to do so.

This distinction between URLs and links is important for our class because our first learning outcome states that over the course of the semester, you will “demonstrate understanding of audience” and learn to “use and adapt generic conventions, including organization, development, and style.” Using links instead of URLs is an important first step in understanding the reading needs of your audience and is an important stylistic and generic convention of writing for the web.

This distinction is also important because using links opens up a whole range of more interesting options for you that are unavailable when you merely drop URLs into your work. Jokes can be goofy commentaries or can offer useful insight on the topic at hand.

How to Use Slack for Our Class

What is Slack?

Slack is a collaboration and communication tool that our class uses to work together to share ideas, discuss readings, collaborate on projects, and engage with learning

How Can Slack Help Me?

  • It’s a place for class announcements, group project work, discussions, and getting help on subjects/topics.
  • Powerful search — find content, past discussions and answers to frequently asked questions in an instant.
  • Powerful mobile functionality — stay in the loop on the go with mobile notifications and the ability to send messages & upload files from anywhere.
  • If we have technical difficulties of some sort, like if Zoom crashes in the middle of class, Slack will be an easy way to find out what's going on.
  • It's an easy way for you to be in contact with the other students in the class without needing to exchange phone numbers/email addresses.

A Note About Transparency

  • Slack is built on the premise that transparency — that is, being able to see into different discussions — is essential to learning and great collaboration. In Slack, conversations happen in channels that are typically open and searchable. As a result, these conversations create an open archive of knowledge for everyone. This knowledge bank becomes an important way for us to learn, connect, and collaborate.
Setup

Setup

Install the Desktop and Mobile Apps

  • If you don’t already have Slack installed on your computer, download the desktop app for Mac or Windows.
  • If you use your phone or tablet for most of your work, download the mobile app for iOS or Android.
  • Installing Slack on your mobile device is a great way to keep up with important messages. You can download mobile apps for iOS or Android from the App Store or Google Play.

Signing In

Fill out your Profile

Add details to your Slack profile, such as:

  • Your full name
  • Your display name (how others will @mention you in channels)
  • A profile picture, preferably of your face.

Accessibility

If you need to use a screen reader with Slack, go here for more information.

Basics of Slack

The Basics of Slack

This section provides an overview of Slack’s interface controls and basic features. Once you are familiar with what they are, where to find them, and how to use them, you will be ready to dive into the rest of Slack!

A Tour of the Interface

Workspaces

  • The workspace sidebar shows you which workspaces you are signed into. You might have more than one if multiple courses use Slack, or you also use it for work.

Channel Sidebar

  • The channel sidebar is where you navigate into your conversations on each workspace. It is divided into sections for channels, direct messages, threads, and apps. Our course has channels for specific types of information- please read through and note the descriptions for each.

Messaging Area

  • The messaging area is where the action happens! Here you can view and post messages, search, post files, and more.

Search Bar

  • Type in the search box to quickly find messages, files, channels, and users.

Join Channels

  • In the Channels section of the main sidebar, you will see a few channels to which you are automatically subscribed. To add additional channels, click the Channels heading, browse or search the directory to find the channel you would like to join, click on it to preview, then click the “Join” button. The channel will be added to your sidebar. If you need to create a new channel, see the section on Creating a New Channel).

Posting Basic Messages in Channels

  • To post a message to a channel, first select the appropriate channel in the sidebar (if you don’t see the channel you need, follow the directions above). Then, type something in the chat box, and hit Enter. Unless the channel is set as private, your message can be viewed by anyone who visits the channel.
  • If you want to mention someone to get their specific attention, begin by typing the @ symbol. Keep typing to find their name, and select it from the dropdown list that appears. You’ll know you’re about to notify someone when their name gets highlighted in blue. When you send your message, you’ll send that person a notification.

Sending Direct Messages (DMs)

  • A key benefit of using Slack is transparency. Best practices for Slack use promote the idea of first searching and/or asking questions in channels, as opposed to private messages. This approach allows other members to see your question and any knowledge shared in response. It is likely that others may have had a similar question and were not as comfortable to ask, or they may gain from hearing the question and associated answers or discussion. The more perspectives at the table, the better the discussion.
  • When you need to send a message to one person instead of a group, Slack provides traditional instant messaging functionality for you to do so. To send a direct message, navigate down to the Direct Messages section of the main sidebar. If the person is not already on your list, click the + icon, search for the person you would like to message, click on their name, and click GO. Then, type something in the chat box, and press the Enter. Unlike public channels, your direct messages are private between you and the recipient(s).
  • Note: While DMs are private conversations, sensitive or confidential information should not be discussed.

Search

  • Messages and files added to Slack are instantly searchable, so you can quickly come back to documents and discussions when you need them. Slack’s robust search functionality enables you to find key information quickly, even inside shared files.
  • To access Search, type your query in the Search field and hit Enter or Return. Your results will appear in a panel on the right of the Messaging area. You can refine results by channel, person, date, file type and more.

Finding New Activity in Slack

  • Slack informs you of activity in your channels or conversations in a variety of ways:

In the main sidebar:

  • When a channel name is bold in the channel list, it means there’s new, unread messages in that channel.
  • When a channel name is bold with a red badge, it means there are unread messages where you were mentioned.

On your desktop dock icon:

  • A red circle with a white dot means there is some unread activity in one of your Slack teams.
  • A red circle with a number indicates direct messages, mentions, or messages containing one of your highlight words.

Through desktop notifications:

  • By default, Slack will send you desktop notifications only when you receive a direct message or mention. You have the option to adjust these settings to your own preferences.
  • If you’re not online on your computer, Slack will send you mobile notifications when you receive a direct message or mention. You can also adjust these settings as needed.

In the Activity pane:

  • The Activity pane lists out your latest mentions, highlight words, and emoji reactions. You can think of this pane as a bit like your Slack inbox. It’s generally a good place to check first when getting caught up in Slack. To access, click the @ icon in the top right corner of Slack.
Channels: Where collaboration happens

Channels: Where collaboration happens

The true power of Slack comes from having conversations organized into public channels that anyone can join. This transparency means it’s quick to find out what’s happening.

Public vs Private Channels

  • Public channels: Can be browsed and joined by anyone in the workspace. Public channels are denoted with a # in Slack. Searching a workspace will return results from all public channels on your workspace (even if you’re not a member of that channel). Workspace members can join and leave public channels at will.
  • Private channels: Can only be viewed and joined if you’re invited by an existing member of the channel. Private channels are denoted with a lock icon (🔒). Search will only return results from private channels of which you are a member — even if you’re an administrator. Private channels should be reserved for group projects and other topics that are not for the entire team’s eyes.

Creating a New Channel

Before you create a new public channel for discussion topics on Slack, consider this:

  • Search first! There might be a channel setup already for the same purpose as the one you are trying to create.
  • To create a channel, press the + button next to the “Channels” heading in the main sidebar. Select whether this will be a public or private channel.
  • Adhere to the Center’s channel naming structure. By naming our channels in a consistent and predictable way, team members can more easily browse channels and quickly identify which ones they need to join.
  • Include a channel purpose. This will communicate why the channel exists, what the appropriate use is, and help others determine whether they should join.
  • Invite others to your new channel when you first create it, or later by using /invite or clicking the invite others link at the top of the channel. Because people may not notice a new channel right away, it may also help to message them privately.
  • Use groups conversations (up to 8 people) instead of channels for temporary, quick, or ad hoc conversations.

Make Slack Work for You

Make Slack Work for You

Now that you know the basics, get to know some key messaging features to make Slack work for you. Remember, it is a tool designed to help you — not run your life! This is only a small sampling of what you can do with Slack, so if you are interested in learning more, be sure to visit the Slack Help Center.

Starring Channels & Conversations

  • To prioritize the things that are important to you, we recommend starring a handful of your favorite channels, or conversations with people you communicate with often, using the star icon in the upper left hand corner of the message area. Your starred channels will appear at the top of the main sidebar so you can easily check them more frequently, while scanning others only once or twice a day. To star a channel or conversation, first navigate to it from your sidebar. Then, click the star icon right below the name of the channel at the top of the app. To unstar a channel or conversation, click its star icon again.

Pinning

  • Pinning is a great way to highlight important files, posts, or messages in a channel so they are easily referenced later, or so that newcomers to the channel can find them right away. To pin something, hover over the message, click the [•••] icon and select “Pin to channel”. To view all the pinned items in a channel, click the “Show Channel Details” icon at the top of the channel, then expand the “Pinned Items” section.

Stars

  • Stars are a great way to bookmark any Slack message or file for later. Your Starred Items can also be used as a simple to-do list: items appear in the order you star them, and you can un-star to remove a task from your list. To star a message, hover over it and click the gray star icon. To star a file, click More actions and select Star file.

Reminders

Super busy or worried you will forget a message? Set reminders for yourself or other members of your team for important meetings, to-do items, or anything you might need to come back to later.

You can set a reminder in a few ways:

  • Open the shortcuts menu to create a reminder for yourself.
  • Click the three dots icon next to any message to remind yourself to come back to it later.
  • Type the /remind slash command in the message field to create a custom reminder for yourself, other members, or a specific channel.

Emoji

  • Emoji are a great way to quickly respond to messages and can be useful for things like voting, checking off to-do items, showing excitement, or just for fun. They can also be placed in your messages to convey tone, and make your messages more impactful.
  • Adding emoji “reactions” onto a message is a great way to keep the noise down in channels. To add an emoji reaction, hover over a message and select the “Add reaction” icon and choose an emoji.

Notification Settings

  • Slack enables you to fine-tune your notifications so you can focus on your highest priorities. It might take a bit of trial and error to adjust the settings to your liking.

Adjusting Default Notification Settings

  • Your default setting for notifications is set to “Only direct messages and highlight words”, which means desktop and push notifications are only sent when you receive a direct message, or when one of your chosen highlight words is used in a channel that you have open.
  • To change the default setting, click on the name of the workspace at the very top of your Slack sidebar, then choose “Preferences”, then “Notifications”.

Adjusting Channel-specific Notifications

  • Some channels are more important than others. You can customize your notification settings for any channel, depending on how actively you want to keep up with that conversation.
  • To change notifications for a particular channel, click the gear icon at the top of a channel, then choose Notification Preferences.
  • From this screen, you can choose to receive desktop notifications for all activity, only mentions, or turn off notifications completely.
  • You can also choose how you want to receive push notifications on your mobile phone.
  • You can mute a channel to turn off all visual indicators of unread activity in a channel (except if you are @mentioned).
  • Tip: If you feel like you are getting too many notifications, you probably need to adjust your settings on a per channel basis.

Files

You can upload files such as images, documents, or presentations to Slack in a few easy ways:

  • Click on the button on the left hand side of the message box
  • Drag and drop your file from your device into a channel
  • Copy an image from online, then use Ctrl/Cmd + V to paste it in
  • On mobile, tap the file attachment icon in the chat box to upload a file, or tap the photo icon to upload images
Be Kind to Others

Be Kind to Others

Slack offers a lot of control over how and when you choose to receive messages, however we also need to be aware of how much we are demanding attention from others. To avoid inadvertently causing a lot of noise for teammates, here are a few tips and matters of Slack etiquette that are worth pointing out:

  • Use channels: In most cases, if you just have a general, non-urgent question or want to provide a quick update, just post your message in the appropriate channel without mentioning anyone. Your colleagues will see your message when they’re catching up on their work and respond accordingly.
  • Mention people through their display name (@Johnny): This can be used to get someone’s attention in a channel, or to loop someone into a conversation. They will most likely be notified right away, so do not mention to include someone unless it’s important that they are pinged. Avoid using continuously or routinely after the initial mention.
  • Thread discussions using the “Start a Thread” icon (💬) so that conversations stay organized and focused, and to reduce scrolling in main channels.
  • @channel: This will notify every member of the channel, online or offline. While it’s useful for important announcements, it can quickly be distracting if abused. Students should generally only use @channel in smaller channels, like group project channels for example.
  • @here: This will notify every person who is currently online in Slack. While it’s useful for getting a quick answer from people who are around, it can also be distracting and create noise for others. Use @here in smaller channels or if the situation is urgent.
  • Stay on topic: If you find yourself veering off topic for a while, you may want to consider moving to another channel, creating a new channel or starting a group message. This will minimize distractions to others.