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

Bruno Paz
Web Engineer. Working mostly with PHP, Symfony and Golang. Entusiast about Engineering Best Practices, Continuous Delivery and DevOps. Sports and FC Porto fan!
・2 min read

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 it´s 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 aren´t 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 isn´t. 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?

Discussion (20)

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern • Edited

We’re working on the generalized, deployable versions of DEV and I think it’s going to fit this space quite well 😉

Edit: a word

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quinncuatro profile image
Henry Quinn

Is there any way to get on a beta list for this? I help run a pretty big tech Meetup group in Connecticut and we've been loosely looking for a Slack alternative. We're tired of the wisdom of the group being lost to scrollback and the 10k message limit.

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missamarakay profile image
Amara Graham

I hope you mean deployable :P

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

🙃 hopefully not a Freudian autocorrect

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ahferroin7 profile image
Austin S. Hemmelgarn

The problem is the overhead of setting up and maintaining a forum. It takes less than 5 minutes to start up a Discord 'server' or a new Slack and requires zero experience, compared to taking at least 5 minutes to set up a new Discourse instance and requiring a non-negligible amount of experience to do it right.

Personally, as much as I hate certain things about Discord (see for example horrendous mobile app (no, seriously, Slack's is way better on multiple levels)), I actually do find it to be reasonable for what most online communities actually want (in essence, something akin to IRC, just with a fancy UI).

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brpaz profile image
Bruno Paz Author • Edited

Yeah, I agree about the setup and maintenance. That´s why I think that we are missing a "Forum as a service" platform, that would do that for you.

About the last part, I think it really depends on the goals of the community. a chat based approach can be nice just to shoot some quick questions but for more detailed and organized discussions it's not the best.

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ahferroin7 profile image
Austin S. Hemmelgarn

Yeah, I agree about the setup and maintenance. That´s why I think that we are missing a "Forum as a service" platform, that would do that for you.

Agreed, though right now it would even be a step up if VPS providers that already offer one-click application deployment offered any forum stacks for that.

About the last part, I think it really depends on the goals of the community. a chat based approach can be nice just to shoot some quick questions but for more detailed and organized discussions it's not the best.

Agreed to a certain extent. The only times I've personally found Discord to be inadequate for a detailed and organized discussion were cases when discussing things properly required people posting hundreds of lines of text at a time. If it's something that doesn't require a knowledge dump, I find Discord to be easier to work with because of the inherently real-time nature (which makes it easy to do things like running a meeting as-per Robert's Rules of Order).

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memitaru profile image
Ami Scott (they/them)

I do miss forums. The big downside of Slack and Discord for me is that they are chat rooms. They are active and immediate. They can be harder to get into posting and reading because of that and it's easy for questions or discussions to be lost to chatter. I think forums and chat rooms occupy very different space.

One of the reasons I love dev.to is because it feels closer to what I loved about forums.

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prelias profile image
Paulo Roberto Elias • Edited

This is very clear to everyone who thinks a little...But it is risk to admit that. We do not always need a new solution for old resolved problems.

Thanks for your bravery.

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dhnaranjo profile image
Desmond Naranjo

"People who disagree with my opinion don't think or are scared to admit I am right."

Cool. Cool idea.

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Scott Simontis

I am not certain that Paulo was trying to convey that sentiment; I took it as acknowledging people who are willing to try and reinvent the wheel for the sake of finding an alternative, if not better, solution.

As part of our commitment to creating a safe space for the discussion of ideas and in abidance with our code of conduct, I'd like to encourage inquisitive dialog instead of dismissing things immediately with sarcasm. Thanks :)

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prelias profile image
Paulo Roberto Elias

A huge thanks to you Scott. Of course that was not my intention. And Desmond, sorry if I sounded like that to you, but what I was trying to say is that is so easy to get to that conclusion and seems that nobody is talking that way...

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maxim_leonovich profile image
Maxim Leonovich

Slack (and other RTM platforms) is actually very good for live conversations and that's what forums are missing. People used to use IRC for that before but the times have changed and Slack is currently the king. Forums, on the other hand, are much better for structured discussions and long term accumulation of content.

At OneBar (.io) we're trying these two concepts together. The idea is that you can discuss stuff in Slack in the real-time while it's "hot", but later on the most important parts get accumulated elsewhere and are available for the forum-style discussion. We're not currently designing it for online communities, but we've been brainstorming on this case a lot internally. We could pilot something if there's a community manager here willing to collaborate.

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eionrobb profile image
Eion Robb

Isn't Reddit a "forum as a service"?

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herrozerro profile image
Josiah Bradbury

Yeah, I'm not sure how this isn't being mentioned more. It's simple to setup a subreddit, posts can be filtered with tags, and can be private or public.

Seems exactly what the original poster would be looking for.

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brpaz profile image
Bruno Paz Author

I agree that Reddit is probably the platform that resembles more like a Forum

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taillogs profile image
Ryland G

Dev.to might be partially solving this problem but the real answer is Discord honestly. It's just slack but designed to not make you angry at the world.

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Ross Henderson

Discord makes me angry. I used to be heavily involved in a Teamspeak Server and even though it may not have been as easy to use for the average user, goddamn was it just better in every way.

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niorad profile image
Antonio Radovcic

For me, this here dev.to is a forum. Just without rooms. And luckily without signatures.