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New Community Page

Hi everyone thanks for being apart of the Observable community. We launched our new community page. https://observablehq.com/community

You sign-up to Join a network (Educators, Data Communicators / Journalist, or Students or sign-up to start your own. See our Featured creators, view Past Meetups, our equality collection, and more!

This is V1 and more to come.

Thanks

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Can you elaborate what precisely a network is in this context? Communication tools, shared resources, …? In other words: What exactly am I signing up for? What are the consequences?

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Just some feedback - the “forum” section is what I was expecting to see when I went to the community page. The page suggests that if you want to interact with other Observable members you must join one of those communities, and there didn’t seem to be one for folks wanting to give feedback or post comments. I ended up thinking I had to join the “student” community just to find a place to comment and post ideas. You have links at the top to sections like "Networks, Creators, Meetups, Equality, but no “Forums”. So I understand that’s totally fine as you want to promote those groups, but it was very confusing for me who was just looking for this board to post things. I came back several days later and scanned the whole page, discovering the “Forums” link in the bottom left. Which was what I was hoping to find when I had clicked on “community”.

So, I’m glad I found it now, but it just seemed odd to me that it was so well “hidden” in on the page. Perhaps consider adding another navigational element at the top with “Forums” after Equality if you want more folks to discover these forums.

Just some feedback from a newbie !

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Thanks for the feedback! This is v1 of the community page and we’re still early in the networks. We’ll provide more details in the upcoming weeks.

Hi thanks for the feedback. We’ll explore how we can improve the community page to support our users.

This doesn’t answer the question. What in the world is a “network” and why should someone join one or more of them? (Edit: The previous probably comes across more harshly than intended. Not trying to pile on here. Just genuinely still confused.)

Is a network another forum? A mailing list? A chat service? An organized collection of notebooks? A job/recruiting board? A source for free or paid training materials? A site for organizing remote meetups? …

Currently Observable has:

  • this forum (the primary center of community activity, by far the most active)
  • chat via a channel on the D3 slack server (relatively low volume but consistent chatter)
  • a github user for open-source parts of the platform (not much public discussion happening here)
  • a Reddit community (few subscribers, almost unused)
  • occasional meetups (virtual since the pandemic) announced/organized at this forum
  • a youtube channel (occasional useful videos, a few hundred views per video; I haven’t followed too closely)
  • a twitter handle (16k followers, does lots of retweets, sparks occasional small conversations)
  • an Instagram photo feed (regular posts, 50–200 views per posts, few if any comments)
  • a facebook business page (regular posts but minimal community engagement as far as I can see)
  • employees with personal social media accounts, regular notebook authors with personal accounts, etc. (substantially more reach than the company accounts)

… plus built-in features for collections, paid “teams”, the lists of recent/trending notebooks, and comments on public notebooks.

This new “Community” page has been promoted above all of those listed things on the Observable site, and is clearly considered to be very important. Apparently it involves “networks”, “ambassadors”, and a new “newsletter”. But beyond the names and a brief blurb there is almost no communication/explanation I can find about what these are, leaving me (and presumably other people too) very confused about the intent of these, why they are being promoted at the expense of existing features, and what we are supposed to do with them.

(P.S. far and away the most discussion I have ever seen about any individual notebook is when one happens to get linked from Hacker News. I haven’t seen any especially effective way to solicit feedback or conversation about individual notebooks from Observable-specific forums.)

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To be more constructive: Right now Observable mostly (not entirely) feels like a platform for a whole bunch of individual people to separately work on and share their own little atomic projects, which are mostly relatively small in scope.

I personally find this forum and the D3 slack to be acceptable but not great places for organizing a community. Most of my communication with other Observable users about my or their notebooks has been out-of-band, as private email, even for conversations that don’t need to be private, because the existing places for public discussion are not as good as tools. Project management kinds of tasks for my own notebooks have been done offline on my own computer or with pen and paper, though some related projects are on Github and have an integrated issue tracker there.

This forum more or less functions as a mailing list, except locked into a web page, instead of being able to functionally use a threaded email client. This reduces my personal engagement with it vs. a regular mailing list, but I don’t have a good sense how it affects other people. It is an okay way to get help and advice with relatively straightforward questions, but I haven’t seen it used too much for organizing more detailed technical conversations or ambitious projects.

The Observable channel on the D3 Slack server has a decent number of subscribers and a few regular chatters, but is pretty low traffic, doesn’t necessarily get responses to questions, and my impression (as a not very engaged participant) is that it can sometimes get simple questions answered but isn’t a great place for organizing anything too ambitious. It seems like it might be an okay place for a quick show and tell. I am not sure if its current limited use is more because it is an offshoot of the D3 server, because it hasn’t been promoted much, or because of the design of Slack itself (I am not personally a Slack fan; I think chat UI can be much better).

Comments on notebooks and the suggestions/forking feature are useful for quick typo fixes and sometimes have a bit of interesting discussion, but again are not a great place for extended discussion. It might happen, but haven’t really seen significant notebook changes prompted by notebook comments or anything too technically ambitious discussed there. Even though they are extremely technically simple and free-form, I find e.g. Wikipedia talk pages along with Wikipedia page history, diffs, and edit summaries to be much more effective tool for organizing detailed collaboration, but part of that may be that Wikipedia pages are almost all editable by anyone, which makes a simpler workflow than fork-and-suggest.

What I think would be most personally useful to me would be (1) a good medium-traffic chat server, e.g. an IRC server or better something like Zulip, with maybe a 10–20 channels related to various types or topics of notebooks (a better D3 chat server could serve this role okay), (2) a standard user mailing list of the type technical projects have been organized around since before I was born in the mid 1980s (this forum is an okay substitute, and migrating is maybe not worth it, or maybe hip people today don’t use mailing lists anymore?), (3) some better kind of ticket/issue tracker than just this forum both for Observable platform features and for individual notebooks (doing this out of band is okay as a workaround, but the result is that such features aren’t much used by notebook authors/readers), (4) a read-write API for notebooks that let me easily persist all of my notebooks to local disk, work on them using my own editor and standard plain-text tools, store them in local version control, etc.


I think it would be super useful if the Observable company put more focus and intentional effort into building and publicizing concrete “view” components beyond Jeremy’s (@jashkenas) Input Bazaar notebook (whose status and future are a bit unclear now that he has left the company) along with other kinds of notebook components, and in trying to build a participatory culture centered around creating, sharing, and maintaining notebook components intended for broad use. I made a (disorganized and poorly prepared) meetup talk about this topic before the pandemic, but unfortunately haven’t (yet) done the best job of demonstrating what I mean by making my own useful view components. I think it would be very helpful if a designer (or team of designers) at Observable tried to come up with a house style for view components with a collection of open-sourced style assets. Jeremy’s views are very useful, but my impression is that they were put together relatively quickly initially and worked on piecemeal without extensive design effort up front to figure out the ideal API or the ideal generalizable graphical style which would best fit with the rest of the standard design of notebook CSS. Ideally the process of inventing, designing, implementing, sharing, and maintaining notebook components could be made as smooth and seamless as possible. I have dozens of ideas of things I want to build as I’m sure others do, but there’s a high barrier to doing production-quality implementations from top to bottom as individual contributors with fragmented time.


Some other kinds of common resources would also be helpful to aggregate, publicize, and encourage contributions to. For example, it would be awesome to have some places for finding public data sets, with organized tutorials about applying those to new small projects. One thing I vaguely remember from a GIS course I took in college a decade ago was that the ESRI software we were using had some large list of data sources (I’m not sure if they provided this, or if the course organizers had selected and installed it for us, or what), and we could enter some search terms and get a big list of relevant geographical data sets, which with a few clicks could be plunked down into a map. The workflow for doing the same thing in a notebook involves a lot more web trawling and integration effort.


Overall notebook discovery is not as good as it could be I think. Improved browsing, searching, and curation features would be welcome. For me notebook discovery is a huge “community” feature.

I have recently started to subscribe to the RSS feeds of every notebook author who I notice sometimes makes things that interest me. I find these RSS feeds to be a more effective and reliable way to keep up with what people are doing than anything else on the site. These RSS feeds are not publicized anywhere, so I’m not sure if anyone else is doing that.

The recent notebooks feed still has too much noise which makes it overwhelming; I have said before, but some way of filtering out simple school assignments, trivial notebook forks, etc. would be very helpful. I think the change to the recent feed to have URLs organized by page number instead of by timestamp was a significant regression for anyone trying to keep up with the whole recent firehose, but I have sort of given up on doing more than occasionally checking it.

For inspiration look at the way e.g. Reddit handles “top”, “rising”, “new” feeds for each community, with “top” having a variable time scale (something like {today, this week, this month, this year, all time}), and every one of those categories presenting an “infinite” list of pages to click through (the current trending and most liked notebook feeds at Observable are limited to 4 pages, which seems an arbitrary very small cutoff). e.g. https://old.reddit.com/r/dataisbeautiful/top/?t=month. URLs for the “new” page won’t change out from under you, because they have a format based on position in the feed rather than pages, e.g. https://old.reddit.com/r/dataisbeautiful/new/?count=50&after=t3_ki8jye

It is pretty hard to e.g. leave Observable for a couple months and then come back and discover what meaningful things were done in the mean time.

One thing that might be useful is some way to add tags to notebooks or submit notebooks to more specific topic pages, which could have independent browsing/searching.


I made a previous suggestion here that users also have some kind of “profile” notebook. I still think that would be a very helpful community-building feature. Having the ability to pin one or two notebooks at the top of the user “notebooks” page would be usable as an ad-hoc partial workaround.


As an outsider, it’s hard for me to get a very clear read on what the Observable company’s plans are, what improvements are being worked on, or what vision new features fit into. More communication about the high-level vision and how the pieces fit together would be helpful.


Sorry if this feedback is a bit scattered, partly off-topic, etc. I am writing it quickly more or less stream of consciousness. All the best!

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To (very partly) answer Fabian’s question “what is a network”: I registered early with the journalists network (now “data communicators/journalists”). We’ve had several Zoom discussions, together with the Observable team, in which we discussed various ways Observable could better serve the needs of journalists (newsrooms and freelance), floated ideas like maybe Observable could offer specific tools (ad hoc teams, embeds, scrollytelling), or support systems (for example regular in-person calls, or job ads), or information (surfacing best practices, good examples). In that sense I understand that a “network” is not a fixed set of tools, but an open conversation that Observable wants to exist, and that can help them better understand and serve the needs of each community. For journalists, it’s a way to weigh in on Observable’s choices and priorities, and possibly to connect with other people on specific projects.

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I’d love to join all of these networks as an observer (no pun intended), to learn about common (and less common) problems and new clever solutions. However, I’m not sure how much I could contribute back. Without knowing what level of participation is expected, or which credentials are required, I’m currently hesitant to sign up / apply.

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I did not feel I fitted into the three recommended networks. So I proposed a “developer” network. Maybe things like developing common UI infrastructure would suit that kind of “get shit done” collaborative network hinted at by jrus.

I personally feel Observable is a great programming paradigm and I have resigned from my job to concentrate on exploring it better (and a few other topics). It’s just missing a few engineering pieces ATM but I think we can easily build (better) reactive replacements for CI/Monitoring/Dependancy Injection to scale up what is possible. I am so excited for 2021.

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I “joined” the Educators network by filling out its google form a few weeks ago, but did not receive any follow up email and I still do not see any way to engage with this network from the community page. Am I just not looking in the right place? How is this supposed to work?

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