Atlassian Stride

Stride is a new product from Atlassian.  It is a re-branded and, hopefully, improved HipChat.  I haven’t tried it yet, but our team account will be upgraded soon enough.

To be honest, I’m not that excited about this move, but I’ll give it a benefit of a doubt.  I know there was a lot of hype about Slack recently, but I was really happy with HipChat.   I tried Slack for three days, and ran away.  But HipChat I can’t leave without.  It’s a much simpler and cleaner user interface, and it just works – completely out of your way.

Judging by the screenshots, Stride is a user interface upgrade to HipChat.  Atlassian has been moving to the new design recently with BitBucket and possibly other tools, so this part makes sense from at least their perspective.  Stride also brings free video calls, voice calls, and screen sharing.  HipChat had this option for the premium accounts (2$/month/user).  We tried it for a month and reverted, as the quality of calls and video was horrible.  And there were constant crashes and disconnections. Hopefully, Atlassian has put some work into these issues for the Stride release.

The most annoying thing about the upgrade from HipChat to Stride will be all the integrations.  Atlassian is promising to migrate all the data – history, files, custom smileys, etc.  But the best part about HipChat are the integrations.  We have a whole lot of them – GitHub, BitBucket, TravisCI, Twitter, WordPress,  Zabbix, and even our own custom ones, that we use for project deployments.  All these will have to be reconfigured and setup for Stride separately.  That’ll take a few hours here and there to get things back to where they were.

As far as the new features go, I don’t see too much yet.  Apart from the already mentioned voice calls, video calls, and screen sharing, there are just a couple.  Focus Mode is not really a big feature.  HipChat, much like any other messaging application, already had the status (Online, Away, Do Not Disturb, etc).  So Focus Mode is pretty much the same thing, with an extra time setting, so that you don’t forget to change you status back after a couple of hours.

Actions and Decisions is a nice addition.  You’ll be able to mark any message as an action or decision so that its easier to find and follow up on later.  But for us that’s not going to do much as we are already using Redmine for the project management.  Actions go into Redmine as tickets, and can later be referenced in commit messages, linked to each other, etc.  Having actions in Stride will probably work for very small teams with very few projects.  For us, we have a separate room for every project, every team, every office, and then some.  So searching for actions in a hundred-something rooms is far from perfect.  But maybe Stride’s search will be more powerful than that one of HipChat.  We’ll see.

Oh, and I’m guessing all the users will have to downloading and install new apps – for mobile, desktop, etc.  That’s yet another thing to do.

As I said, I haven’t tried Stride yet, and I hope it’ll be a huge improvement over HipChat, even though I HipChat worked great for me.  As I see it now, I think re-branding and the new design could have happened on the HipChat infrastructure.  Moving people to the new application altogether has to be justified by some major improvements.  And I’m not seeing anything major just yet.

Is group chat making you sweat?

Jason Fried has an excellent write-up on the pros and cons of using group chat for the team communications, and some of the ways to make it better. We use HipChat in the company and while it’s vital to our operations and I can’t even begin to think how we could do what we do without it, it does have some negative side effects – exactly as James describes them.

The most valuable advice out of that long article is this one (I’ve heard it before a few times, but it’s worth repeating):

Think about it like sleep. If someone was interrupted every 15 minutes while they were trying to sleep, you wouldn’t think they’d be getting a good night’s sleep. So how can getting interrupted all day long lead to a good day’s work?

 

Revealed: Facebook’s internal rulebook on sex, terrorism and violence

The Guardian is covering a 100+ internal training manuals, spreadsheets, and flowcharts that they’ve seen that Facebook has for training their editorial / censorship staff.

There’s plenty to learn from and think about.  Once again, it’s shown how complex modern communications and discussions are, and how tricky it is to separate violent and abusive content from careless comments.  Here’s a thought provoking example:

A Million Words Published at Work in a Remote Company

Sara Rosso shares some thoughts on what to document and share, after publishing over a 1,000,000 words while working at Automattic.  Here’s the gist of it:

  • If you’re the go-to person for something in your company, consider how much of it is just gatekeeper information you could document properly to help someone else learn/grow from or work on independently.
  • Separate out processes and historical background from your strategic expertise. Processes and backstory are not really ‘what you know.’ It’s much better to be a person someone asks ‘why’ or ‘when’ to do something vs. the logistics of a ‘how.’ How can and should be documented for others to build off of regardless of your involvement. This should free you up to be more involved in the why, the new, and the next of your work.
  • If you’re repeating yourself in private chats or (gasp!) email on a specific topic, document it. That’s also what drove me to create this blog – being able to answer someone’s question with an answer you’ve already carefully crafted for someone else is a great feeling (and a great use of your time)!
  • Will someone want to know why you decided or executed something a specific way later? Share as much background as possible so colleagues are brought up to speed immediately. Share the setup & thought process you went through, where to find more information, and even the facts, ideas, or information you considered but deemed outside of scope for the particular project. My goal is to hopefully never have someone ask “where did this come from?” or “what’s your source?” or “did you consider this?” (when I had) and instead focus on enriching the discussion or challenging my ideas vs. asking me for information I should have provided in the original post.
  • Gather the best, most complete, or authoritative things you’ve authored and submit them as potential onboarding materials for new team members. Challenge them to ask questions and to find something you need to document.
  • If important progress is made, be sure to update your documentation, or retire in favor of something newer or more complete. We do this by linking from old posts to new ones, and all it takes is a quick comment and a link on an old post.

Why I don’t answer most phone calls

The question of the phone call etiquette has been coming up more and more often recently.  Is it polite to call without a prior message or agreement? What time should one call? What’s the decision point for opting for the phone call versus some other communication channel?  These, and many other questions are popping up frequently.

I came across a nice blog post – “Why I don’t answer most phone calls” – which discusses some of the reasons why this particular person doesn’t answer phone calls.  It’s a good quick read, but here is a summary:

  1. Because I’m busy.
  2. Because my agenda and tasks are also on my phone.
  3. Because a call leaves no trace.
  4. Because your communication is worse.
  5. Because repeating yourself is costly.
  6. Because it’s awkward.
  7. Because my memory sucks.

And I do agree with these points.  Call do interrupt and are rarely timed well.  Most people suck at communications, so calls drag on forever.  Whenever something is discussed or decided, there is no trace of it.  And my memory is horrible.

However, I do still answer phone calls.  But my personal expectation is that a call is:

  • either about something really urgent,
  • or I’ve missed a text/message and left it without response for longer than the caller expected (beer for lunch? and it’s lunch already),
  • or it’s from a good friend or family, who I haven’t heard from in a while.

If it’s none of the above, I tend to get irritated and think much lesser of the world around me in general, and a person calling me in particular. :)

35 new ways to do your work right inside of HipChat

HipChat keeps extending the amazing list of integrations with other tools and services.  This blog post – 35 new ways to do your work right inside of HipChat – lists some of the recently added.  Included, among others, is even a multiplayer snake game.

HipSnake

 

Rocket.Chat – the ultimate self-hosted open source chat platform

Chat is becoming more and more important for team communication and collaboration (what is ChatOps?).  Old school applications like Skype are being replaced with modern, web-based chat platforms, that provide group/room and one-on-one chats, file uploads, screen sharing, voice and video communications, API integration and more.  There are plenty of solutions to choose from too.

Traditionally, self-hosted solutions were difficult to setup and maintain, and were lacking in integration options.  So many teams choose to go for the third-party hosted approach.  This is not very exciting for companies that deal with sensitive data though.

As mentioned before, at work, we are using HipChat.  It’s nice, it’s free, and it integrates nicely.  Lately, there has been a lot of hype about Slack, which I tried, but didn’t particularly like.

rocket.chat

Today, however, I came across a very nice option, which seems to be a breeze to self-host and maintain – Rocket.Chat.  It’s modern – written in JavaScript, it has a long list of features, and there is a vibrant community around it.

You can try the live demo, or deploy it to your infrastructure via a gadzillion different methods, or read the beautiful documentation.  And there’s a rumor of HipChat and Slack import tool, so you won’t have to start from scratch…

Let me know what you think.

WhatsApp introduces end-to-end encryption for everything

WhatsApp introduces end-to-end encryption for all communications – chats, pictures, videos, etc.  I’m sure it’ll help them get more individuals and businesses on the network, as well as probably ban the app in a handful of countries.

WhatsApp has always prioritized making your data and communication as secure as possible. And today, we’re proud to announce that we’ve completed a technological development that makes WhatsApp a leader in protecting your private communication: full end-to-end encryption. From now on when you and your contacts use the latest version of the app, every call you make, and every message, photo, video, file, and voice message you send, is end-to-end encrypted by default, including group chats.

The idea is simple: when you send a message, the only person who can read it is the person or group chat that you send that message to. No one can see inside that message. Not cybercriminals. Not hackers. Not oppressive regimes. Not even us. End-to-end encryption helps make communication via WhatsApp private – sort of like a face-to-face conversation.

What is ChatOps? A guide to its evolution, adoption & significance

HipChat blog runs a rather lengthy post on what ChatOps are – “What is ChatOps? A guide to its evolution, adoption & significance“, which provides some insight into how the new generation of teams communicate.

At Qobo, we are at Stage 3 – Gimini, with a whole lot of dedicated rooms (one for each project, and a few more), some workflows (most notably “Hey Leonid, can you merge and deploy this pull request please“, or a shorter “@leonid, please m&d”), and some automation (we get monitoring notifications from Nagios and Zabbix, repository activities from GitHub and BitBucket, as well as do project deployments using slash commands).

We haven’t eliminated email completely, but combined with Redmine project management tool, we’ve significantly decreased the role of unstructured emails in our work.

appear.in – your friendly Skype replacement

Every day some new super hyped web service is born, and every other day some old web service is decommissioned. It’s been going on for so long, that rarely do I pay much attention to these things.  I need a few recommendations. I want to hear excitement. I want to hear why and how this can be useful to me.  A mere press release doesn’t cut it.

Today, I was recommended a service that is so easy and useful that it blew my mind.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you appear.in .  Think of the all the good things Skype is, without all the bad things that come with it.  Video, voice, and text chat, screen sharing, free, multiple participants (up to 8), private and public conversations, excellent voice and video quality, and no installation of software necessary – works right out of the browser, even on the mobile.

appear.in

It’s so easy and fun to use that I’ve spent most of the day chatting to my colleagues even when they were in the same room.  We had two and three way conversations with screen sharing and text messages (handy for the URLs) and it worked really well.

Come to think of it, the only thing that I didn’t see (maybe it’s there and maybe it’s not) is file transfer.  But there are so many different ways these days to send a file that I don’t worry about that too much.  A quality video chat with screen sharing is a different ball game altogether.

Enjoy!