Participating in a Zulip chat

This guide explains how to use Zulip as a chat member, which is the usual role for students and other people who have no chat admin permissions. Questions, problems, requests? Contact us at My Teaching Support

1. Streams and Topics

In Zulip, discussions are organized in streams, which are further divided into topics. In Zulip's main view, you will find the left sidebar, as illustrated below, where you can you narrow down the messages that are displayed.

Sidebar of Zulip, with highlights of the ways to follow conversations. See text for explanations.

Sidebar of Zulip with highlights of the ways to follow conversations.

You can select:

  • All messages to see everything that is being posted per stream.

  • Recent topics to see which topics have new information.

  • Different streams and topics to narrow down to a specific stream or topic.

Recent topics is good to manage a large flow of information as you can easily see what’s new, click on the relevant information and leave the rest for later. All messages is better when you want to catch up and make sure you don’t miss anything. Viewing single topics and streams is good for catching up on something you don’t remember.

Of course, everyone has their own ways of working so you should experiment with what works best and which views are most useful for you.

1.1. Message Pane

In the middle of your screen, you have the Message Pane, where the messages are shown. You can click on various places to narrow your view to one conversation or reply.

Message pane with the basic view of messages.

1.2. Selecting visible topics

Not all streams are visible in the sidebar by default.

Click the gear icon next to Streams in the main navigation sidebar in order to see all available streams and select which ones you want to participate in. It is good to occasionally check this menu in case new streams are added.

Recent topics is another view of recent activity that shows activity per topic.

2. Using Zulip efficiently

2.1. How to ask a question

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? However, in Zulip you get the best and quickest answers by helping to keep things organized too. These recommendations are mainly for Q&A-forum type chats.

When you have a question, always search history to see if it has already been asked first.

  • If it has been asked, click on the topic name. You will narrow your view to see that entire conversation.

  • If your question isn’t answered yet, but is a follow up to an existing topic, click on a message in that topic. Then, when you ask, it will go to that same topic as a follow-up, and anyone else can narrow to see the whole history.

    Replying to an existing topic.

    • Unlike other chats, your message will not get lost, and people will both see that it is new and can see the history of that thread.

Your course's instructor can say what the threshold for “new topic” is. Maybe they would have one topic per question pre-created or something similar.

  • If you don’t find anything relevant to follow up on, make a new topic.

    Making a new topic.

    • Select the stream you want to post to.

    • Click “New topic”.

    • Enter the topic name down below: a few words, like an email subject. For example, week 1 question 3, integrals of complex functions, exam preparation.

    • Enter your message and send.

It is possible to split or join topics by going to “edit message”, so you don't have to worry about miscategorizing. By being organized, you keep the chat flow agile and make sure nothing important will pass unnoticed.

2.2. Other hints

  • You can format your messages using Zulip markdown.

  • Are you annoyed by having to enter a topic every time you send a message? Remember, when replying you don’t need to. But otherwise, it’s a trade-off: keep it organized or be less searchable. Most of users are clear that keeping organized is worth the searchability. But don’t worry too much: if you happen to get things wrong, others can re-organize topics afterwards.

  • “Mute a stream” (or topic) is useful when you want to stay subscribed but not be notified of messages by default. You can still find it if you click through the sidebar.

  • You can also request notifications for everything in a certain stream. This could be good for announcement streams, or your particular projects.

  • The desktop and mobile apps can support multiple organizations.

3. Apps

There are reasonable applications for most desktop and mobile operating systems. These don’t send your data to any other services.

The mobile applications work, but may not be the best for following a large number of courses simultaneously as switching between organizations on mobile might be inconvenient.

3.1. Enabling mobile notifications

1.Make sure to turn off “Do not disturb” mode and check on your phone settings that Zulip is allowed to send push-up notifications.

2.Open the mobile app. Select your profile icon (last icon at the bottom right corner).

3.Select “Settings” and then “Notifications”.

4.Enable all notification options. Enable “Notifications when online”, so you will receive mobile notifications even though you are logged in to Zulip on other devices (e.g. desktop app). If you have multiple chat realms in your Zulip mobile app, you will have to enable notifications separately for each realm. Select “Other accounts” and adjust the settings for each chat realm.

It is possible to change your mobile notification settings from your Personal settings menu in the browser-based and desktop app versions of Zulip as well. Open your chat realm, select the gear icon at the top right corner of the screen > Personal Settings > Notifications.

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