Random Bits

Slack is not a good fit for community chat

There, I said it … and a lot of other people said it before me (here, here, here, here, … and the list goes on and on).

Before I proceed with my argument, I would like to say that, slack is great product (even if the client consumes lots of memory) and works very well for closed teams and groups of people, since that was the original purpose. I use it every day at work and it does the job.

However I keep seeing it being used as the chat tool for many open on-line communities and it is not fit for that purpose. Many times these communities have to resort to a bunch of hack in order to make sure it meets the minimum needs for an open chat application.

The main issues I see are:

  • It doesn’t let me participate without a previous individual invitation (hack or manual labor are often used)
  • It doesn’t let me search the conversations (for previously discussed solutions) without registering first on the community.
  • For small and occasional intervention, I need to create an account.
  • Search and history limitations of the free account (this can be a problem for bigger communities)

Of course that for some cases it could be good enough, but as a trend the final outcome is not great.

There are many alternatives and I will not address how an old protocol such as IRC is still a good choice for this use case, since there are lots of complaints about how it is difficult, not pretty enough or not full of little perks (such as previews, reaction, emojis, etc).

So which software/app do I think that could be used instead of slack? Let me go one by one:

GitterContrary to slack, Gitter was built with this purpose in mind overcoming the history and search limitations of slack, channels are open to read, easy for external people to join in (no hacks) and is open source, letting you continue using the same software even if the hosted service closes down.

Matrix protocolMatrix is an open chat protocol, that works in a federative way (similar to email), it has many client applications (web, desktop and mobile) and several implementations of the server side software. You can run your server instance or host your channels on an existing one, you can setup bridges to have users using IRC, Slack, Gitter and others, to interact on the same room, and it doesn’t suffer from any of the described issues of Slack.

Discord: Discord very similar to Slack, but many of the problems, like the limits and not requiring hacks to access the chat, are solved. Even though it is not as open as Matrix or IRC, you can generate a link, where everyone will be able to join (even without creating a new account), they will be able to search the entire history and can use the browser, making it a better fit to the use case of an open-community.

There are plenty of other choices for community chat, this is just a subset, feel free to pick them but please avoid using Slack, it is not made for that purpose.

By Gonçalo Valério

Software developer and owner of this blog. More in the "about" page.