Finding A Voice in Online Communities

Anyone who knows me well knows that I'm a bit introverted. To me my introversion just means that I recharge my batteries best by being alone and that too much stimulation leaves me feeling drained and distracted. Naturally, the internet would seem like the perfect place for someone like me. It's this wonderful tool that enables me to access (effectively) infinite learning and reading material without having to leave my own quiet space.

But I recently realized that my introversion could be holding me back from getting the most out of the online communities that I visit most. I recently went out on a limb and introduced myself in the #introductions channel of a Slack group for technologists in my area. I'd been lurking there for over a year without every typing a word, so interacting with people there for the first time was a bit intimidating. I had to write a million drafts of the short introduction that I eventually posted, but the response that I got was nothing but welcoming and encouraging. As a result, I had a few direct messages and even an invitation for casual beer with someone who shared some of my interests. It was insanely great and rewarding.

This got me thinking about all of the online communities where I've been a long-time lurker and never liked, commented, upvoted, or posted anything. These communities include HackerNews, Stack Overflow, and number of subreddits, Slack groups, and GitHub repositories for the various open source tools that I use. The recent positive response that I received in my local Slack hangout showed me that I actually have an opinion to voice, and my online communities would be better for it (and I'd be better for it) if I found ways to contribute my thoughts in constructive ways.

So, here are some things that I'm working on to get out of my shell and contribute to my online communities:

  1. Contribute to Open Source
  2. I first installed Ubuntu near the end of high school in 2010. What was a simple attempt breathe a little more life into a decade-old Dell desktop computer turned into hours and hours of time spent trying out different Linux distributions and customizing my desktop environment. From this moment on I loved Linux and the idea of open source.

    More recently I realized that although Linux is the posterchild of OSS, becoming a kernel wizard is not the only way to get involved with open source. So this resolution is not so much about learning C and supplying major patches to some obscure Linux distribution.

    To me getting involved with open source means using open source tools whenever possible and really testing their limits. It means reading the documentation thoroughly when I'm trying to do something new, and reporting typos or unclear sections in bug reports. It means doing more than just shrugging my shoulders and moving on when I see a strange behaviour in the software. And hopefully, if I stick to a community for long enough, I can start fixing those typos and supplying those bug fixes in my very own PR's.

  3. Create a HackerNews Account
  4. Every day my morning coffee is accompanied by a good scroll down the HN front page, but I've always just been an anonymous lurker. I often use HN as a research tool as well by find old posts on specific topics in order to get the opinion of that specific community. But I've never voted on posts and I've never commented. I'd like to create an account and actually wade into the idea of engaging with this community more.

  5. Engage with Thoughtful Blog Posts
  6. HackerNews has a lot of thoughtful writing that often comes straight from users' self-hosted blogs. Because of this, I find myself in a lot of seldom-visited corners of the web where content might be going unnoticed. I think reaching out to the people who have written a thought-provoking blog post and continuing the conversation could be a good way of building my online sense of community.

  7. Dust off my Stack Overflow Account
  8. This is actually a tough one because sometimes it seems like every question has already been asked here. And Stack Overflow definitely has it's own set of issues that I won't dive into here. But I'd love to find a nice little corner of this community dedicated to a specific technology where I could ask some insightful questions and maybe eventually even provide some answers to newcomers.

Working on all four of these at once could actually be pretty time consuming, so I'm not going to commit to growing my engagement in all four of these areas right away. But I think changing some of my workflows or setting up new ones and slowly chipping away at them will be more fruitful than just lurking like I have been.

If you have any tips for me, or any ideas about how to engage more with OSS, please reach out, I'd love to hear from you!