I’m sure no one here remains unaware of the fact that we’re in the midst of a pandemic. My goal with this post is to help meetup organizers help their communities deal with this situation. I know that some communities have already preemptively canceled events, and that others live in areas that have already been hit hard enough that this message is too little, too late. I hope that those of you in the latter situation are staying safe.

When should we stop having meetups?

I recommend that you stop holding meetups immediately, regardless of your location. It’s abundantly clear that containment measures have failed, so even if your city isn’t currently in crisis, it’s unlikely that that will remain the case for long. At this point, we should be aiming to “flatten the curve” – that is, to slow the spread of the disease so that hospitals don’t have to operate above capacity for long periods. If we can achieve this, a greater proportion of ill people will have access to professional medical care, which will reduce mortality rates.

This popular article makes a good case for acting now.

If you are adamant about waiting to suspend your meetups (maybe you live somewhere remote and sparsely populated with excellent testing protocol… but probably not), this spreadsheet provides a crude mathematical model to calculate risks from holding gatherings, based on the confirmed COVID-19 cases (or deaths) in your area and the size of your gathering. I encourage you to reach out to me directly if you are thinking of continuing to hold events going forward; it’s my impression that this is currently just a bad idea, but I'm open to talking one-on-one about your particular situation.

What can I do for my community?

How can I help my community prepare for COVID-19?

Not holding events is a good first step, of course. For more on what to do, I suggest bit.ly/covid-preparedness. This is a document about how to prepare for a COVID-19 pandemic, and while I am not a domain expert, the document is open-source and provides citations, which means you can assess the evidence for yourself and suggest corrections if you think anything is wrong.

Here is a bulleted list of priority interventions:

  • Educate your community about proper hygiene and social distancing.
  • Make sure that everyone in your community has stocked up on essentials (food, medications, toilet paper, etc) to reduce the chance that they’ll need to visit a store during a time when doing so is likely to endanger their health.
  • Make sure that everyone in your community has a plan for what to do in the event that they or someone in their household contracts COVID-19.

How can I keep my community connected when we can’t meet in person?

I’ve created a Discord server so that you can keep the conversation going even when you can’t meet in person! We can create separate channels for each different group, and it should be easy to have voice or video calls over Discord at your normal group meeting time. (I’m a Discord noob, but I think it should be possible to make channels private as well.) Regular meetup organizers will be made admins, and I’ll be available to help set things up if you have questions.

This is the invite link to the server: https://discord.gg/hfyRcfk. You can send it out to everyone in your meetup group (it’s set to not expire). And please let me know if you’d like to help moderate the server! 

Additional resources

There are thousands of COVID-19 resources floating around out there, and at this point it’s really hard to orient to all of them. The LessWrong team has created a database where they are attempting to aggregate all of these resources and present them in a comprehensible, user-friendly way. 

Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or concerns, and please try to stay safe!

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9 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 12:31 AM

Do you know how Discord compares to other options for group calls? I'd been planning to have the London meetup today on Google Hangouts on the basis of not needing people to download something (I think).

(Though downloading something is probably less of an issue if this is going on for months.)

Off the top of my head, relevant considerations for comparing options:

  • Does it work on Linux, Windows, OS X, Android and iPhone?
  • Does everyone need to download something?
  • Do users (and organizers, but less important) need to create an account with something?
  • What's the quality like?
  • If the organizer needs to leave early, can everyone else stick around?
  • Is there text chat as well?
  • Is there text chat also available outside of the meetup times?
  • Is there value in picking the same option as other meetups?

I'm not sure how to weight these. I'm also not sure how much it really matters; it may be a case of "just pick something decently good".

I've been looking into ways of staying in touch with people while in quarantine, in particular Skype, Discord, Slack and now recently also Jitsi. Personally I have to unfortunately keep using all because of confusing Venn diagrams and people who are not tech savvy, but if you have the option to choose I recommend Discord over all the alternatives:

  • I think it works on all these operating systems, I can personally confirm Linux, Windows and Android. I did have some sound quality issues with voice conference calls on Android, but I doubt any competing software does better.
  • You all need to download the client to have video calls. You can have group voice calls and text messaging in-browser. [EDIT: for clarification, if some but not all of you have a client, those last few will not be able to send video. I don't know if they can still watch other people's video, they can definitely just join as a voice call.]
  • Regardless of the choice above you do need to make an account.
  • The quality is very decent. Setting the right sensitivity setting for your own microphone can be a bit finicky (the 'automatic' option is not always great). Other than that I have no complaints.
  • If the organiser leaves everybody can continue (in fact, people can spontaneously make more events provided the organiser has set these permissions). The way I've been holding events with Discord there's really more of a 'moderator' (with the permissions to kick people form the server) than an 'organiser', although in practice these are often the same person.
  • Yes, there is text chat. Split in channels at your own desire, with option to link to other channels/specific messages and more. You can also have text channels and voice channels open simultaneously, These are open at all times, completely independent of the voice channels.

I thought Jitsi could do video conference calls in-browser, no client download required.

Yes, the bullet point list is for Discord. I only tried Jitsi for an hour or two, but the quality of the call was horrible and the session crashed when a second person joined (so really I could just see my own face, pixellated). When I tried to download the Ubuntu client I got dpkg errors and a failed installation. Maybe Jitsi is actually great(?), but I'm not very tempted to try again without outside help.

I think there's a huge advantage towards having a general channel that can be used to communicate at all times of the day and not only when the formal meetup happens.

It's infrastructure that can be valuable long after the initial organized meetups.

Yeah. We do have a Facebook group and slack channel for this, and the slack channel is barely used. But I could believe it would be valuable if it was used (it offers different affordances than Facebook, which is why we bothered to set it up). Discord is similar to that, and would be more likely to get used if it was also used for the meetups.

Hangouts worked fine today, but we're leaning towards trying discord for next time.