"Heartbeat message" is a term of art in technology. It's a message that gets sent on a regular schedule with some information on the status of some system, but the most important thing about a heartbeat message is that everything is working well enough to send the message. By analogy to a human body, if you hear a weak or erratic heartbeat something might be going wrong but if you stop hearing the heartbeat then something has certainly gone wrong.

Heartbeat messages are also useful for meetup groups or large meetup events. Even if the message contains no new information in the body of the message, the fact that it got sent confirms that there is still an active organizer at the helm. Heartbeats also remind people "oh yeah, I was interested in that."

You have now read the basic point of this post. If you want to read on, cool, lets talk about heartbeats for more words than are strictly necessary.


There's two broad use cases for heartbeat messages in meetups. One is if you have a regular community that exists and does normal meetup things. The other is if you have some specific big event you're building to. Heartbeats will differ a little for these, but they have much in common.

I like to start each heartbeat with the basics I really want someone to know, even if this is the only message they're going to read. For a big event, "When is it happening and where is it happening" is the key information. For a regular community, that might be other places you can go for information (for instance, if there's a Facebook group and a Discord server and a google group and...) or resources you don't want people to forget about. OBNYC has a position of Monthly Meetup Captain, and every month there's a message reminding the community that they need a captain.

The pace of a heartbeat message for a big event should probably change over time. Let's take the East Coast Rationalist Megameetup as an example. That's a single large event in December that happens every year. The first announcement is usually in mid-autumn, and I try to send an email a month until late November when I increase to once a week. The week beforehand, I increase again, aiming to do one at the start of the week, one the day before, and one the day of. (Incidentally, if you're reading this on or before December 9th 2023 and you happen to be in New York City, consider coming to the megameetup!)

For regular communities, this can differ. If lots of events are happening and getting announced, they can function as their own heartbeat. The Bay Area LessWrong mailing list has a fairly reliable Thursday Dinner, plus an Oakland meetup most weeks, plus a few others. If you have at least an event a week I don't know if you need a separate heartbeat because the events themselves are evidence things are happening. In the other direction, I wouldn't have a heartbeat cadence for a local community that was more than 2x as frequent as the meetups. So if you meet once in spring and once in autumn, maybe do four a year but not five? I think the actual right cadence is to treat the spring and autumn meetups as Big Events and do a one-month-out message then a one-week-out message for each.

Some places have norms against spam or thread necromancy (posting in a channel just to draw people's attention to an old post or to bring it to the top of something that sorts by Latest.) When in doubt, check with the mods. 

Heartbeat messages are good places to ask for help or to mention issues you're running into. That's their purpose in tech. "Our usual organizer is out of town next month, anyone want to fill their spot?" "I'll need some volunteers to set up the stage equipment right before solstice and help pack up after, anyone free?"

Quick Tips

I suggest you copy and paste the opening, then change one or two of the connecting or fluff sentences. Pure copy and paste seems to get glossed over, writing the thing from scratch takes time, so do a little of both.

Many messaging services can schedule messages. Gmail can, for instance. There are pros and cons to using this for heartbeats. On the pro side, you can set the reminder and go do other things. I use it when the natural time for a heartbeat to go out is when I'm on a plane or asleep or at work for instance, or to queue up several to go out in the hectic pace of the day-of. On the con side, you can accidentally have out of date information if things are changing quickly.

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4 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 4:12 PM

I don't have much to add. But I think this is a very well done post, that it has a nice size in scope, and that it is about a good and useful concept.

This is great! Have you cross-posted this to the EA Forum? If not, may I?

I have not. There's no particular reason why, other than I tend to view myself as a noncentral EA and so hang out more in LW and ACX spaces. I think a lot of what I write for rationalist meetups would apply straightforwardly to EA meetups.

This may be a silly question, but- how does cross posting usually work? I have a bit of a preference to stick my handle or name on things I write, so maybe I should make an account over on EA forum. It sounds like you spend more time over there; are there norms on EA forum around say, pseudonyms and real names, or being a certain amount aligned with EA?

I think a lot of what I write for rationalist meetups would apply straightforwardly to EA meetups.

agreed. this sort of thing feels completely missing from the EA Groups Resources Centre, and i'd guess it would be a big/important contribution.

This may be a silly question, but- how does cross posting usually work?

iirc, when you're publishing a post on {LessWrong, the EA forum}, one of the many settings at the bottom is "Cross-Post to {the EA forum, LessWrong}," or something along those lines. there's some karma requirement for both the EA forum and for LW — if you don't meet the karma requirement for one, you might need to manually cross-post until you have enough karma.

are there norms on EA forum around say, pseudonyms and real names, or being a certain amount aligned with EA?

re: pseudonyms: though there's a general, mild preference for post authors to use their real names, using a pseudonym is perfectly fine — and many do (example).

re: alignment: you don't need to be fully on-board with EA to post on the forum (and many aren't), but the content of your post should at least relate to EA.

for other questions regarding the norms on the EA forum, here's a guide to the norms on the EA forum. (on that guide, they have a section on "rules for pseudonymous and multiple accounts" and "privacy and pseudonymity.")

*i'll edit & delete this part later, but: i'll get back to you over email in a bit! caught up with other stuff, and getting to things one at a time :)