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June 25, 2019 07:41 pm GMT

Slack for online communities. Cant we do better? What about err.. Forums?

Slack is being used a lot as a platform for online communities to interact. From meetups and conferences groups to specialized programming languages or tools.

Right now I think I might be in 10 or so different Slack groups from PHP to Kubernetes.

Slack might be a great tool for internal communication in a company (and even this is debatable), but for communities, I see a couple of problems:

  • it's not open. You need to find an invite link somewhere to join. The content is not indexable by search engines.
  • The content is ephemeral. Most of the communities I know have the free slack plan which limits the number of messages you can have. When you reach that limit, the older messages will start to disappear.
  • Its hard to find useful information afterward unless you are actively involved in the conversation. No one will try to find something useful in a channel with 1000+ unread messages.
  • You need to create an account in every single slack group you want to join and it's a pain to find all the groups you belong.
  • It lacks moderation tools

Discord is getting popular as Slack alternative. At least you only need one account, but its a platform more optimized for gamers, not for tech communities or other kinds.

So I was thinking, online communities are not really a new thing. The quantity and popularity yes, but I remember belonging to a couple in the early 2000s, mostly related to games. And how do we communicated back then? Forums!!

Let's compare Slack with that very old thing called Forums:

  • Slack is closed, Forums can be public or private.

  • Slack have channels, forums have sub-forums and topics.

  • Slack has threads and messages, Forums has threads and messages.

  • Slack allows you to send direct messages to someone. Forums have private messages.

  • Slack is very limited in terms of moderation tools. Forums have advanced moderation tools.

  • Slack have emojis. Forums have emojis and custom signatures!!

Forums seems a pretty decent alternative to Slack for a community, but it seems nobody uses forums anymore? what was the last time you visit one? For technology related stuff, I really can't remember. Reddit is probably the closest I can think of.

Its not like there arent modern forum platforms like Discourse, Flarum or NodeBB.

Maybe we need a free "Forum as a Service" platform?

I don't know if forums are the answer to all the problems, Slack for sure isnt. There are definitely lots of work to do in the area of tooling for online communities. I guess the perfect tool could be a mix of Forums, Messaging Platforms, and Social Networks.

Spectrum looks interesting. Let's see how it evolves after being bought by GitHub.

What's your thoughts about this?

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