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Introduction about messaging and collaboration solutions

Slack is used by many enterprises and open source projects, like CNCF, Kubernetes, Istio, Rancher and etc. Besides that, many communities use it. In this article, we are going to explore some of the chat and collaboration solutions.

Table: Curated list of messaging and collaboration solutions

Name License and pricing model Advantages Cons and pain points
Slack
  • Proprietary. Free plans is available but no self hosting
  • Paid plans are charged on per organization
  • Max 15 people for video chat, other products in this article may don't even support video/voice chat natively
  • Free plan has a 10,000 messages search limit
  • Total storage of a workspace is 5GB for the free plan
Discord
  • Proprietary. Free plans is available but no self hosting
  • Paid plans are available for individual users and is not charged per organization
  • Lots of plugins (bots) already created for Discord
  • Not supporting threads for conversations
  • Mobile phone verification (sometimes)
  • May encounter the problem of Discord server raids
Zulip
  • Apache-2.0 License. Free plans is available and supports self hosting
  • Paid plans are charged on per organization
  • Open source project can use/apply for the free standard plan, which would have unlimited messages search limit
  • Free plan has a 10,000 messages search limit
  • Voice and video chat is not natively supported, relies on third party integration
  • Total storage of a workspace is 5GB for the free plan
  • Lack of 2FA support for login by email (WIP), through it has 3rd party SSO/SAML support
  • Lack of role base access control on the channels
Mattermost
  • Mostly open source but several licenses are used, see Wikipedia for details
  • No free cloud plans but support self hosting (free/enterprise)
  • The product is open source and supports self hosting, but the features of using 'Enterprise E0' license is reduced
  • The free cloud hosting plan provided by Mattermost only supports a maximum of ten users
  • For video or voice chat, Mattermost needs plugins or integrations
Element
  • Apache-2.0 License, cloud plans are charged on per organization
  • Element Matrix Services (EMS) is the product name for the cloud plans
  • Can enable end to end encryption
  • Integrate video and voice chat by using WebRTC
  • Weaker UI compared with other products
JetBrains Space
  • Proprietary. Free plans is available and supports self hosting (coming soon)
  • Paid plans are charged on per organization
  • Comes with lots of components like project management, calendar, issue tracker, issue boards, code review and etc. The product is targeted for developers
  • Space supports Markdown syntax
  • The free plan has a 20,000 message search limit
  • No voice and video chat support. But it should be in their roadmap
  • The free plan only supports email and password authentication. To use GitHub/GitLab login, you need to upgrade your subscription

Slack

Slack is a very popular workspace and collaboration software. Many enterprises, open source projects (like CNCF, Kubernetes, Istio, Rancher and etc.) use it. If you have taken some IT certification training courses, most of the companies and instructors also use it. For example Whizlabs, Tutorials Dojo and etc. One of the advantage of Slack is that it supports threaded discussion. So you would not get lost if there are lots of different discussion going on inside a group. One of the pain point of Slack is the 10,000 message search limit for the free plan. People and late joiners would have no idea about the conversations in the past.

Discord

Discord is a very popular voice and collaboration solution for computer games. Now they advertise their product is useful for work too. Discord is good at their voice communication. But for text messaging, it lacks the support of threads. It could be a problem if lots of people discuss different topics in a channel. However, Discord support unlimited message search for all plans.

Sometimes Discord requires you to perform mobile phone number verification. As far as I know it does not support land lines, VOIP and Google Voice numbers. Some users even got locked out of the account when they do testing on an alternative Discord account with a single mobile phone number.

Zulip

Zulip was acquired by Dropbox in 2014. Dropbox did not actively promote Zulip. In 2016, the one of the author Tim Abbott started a company called Kandra Labs Inc. With funding and grants, Zulip is back on track with active development and more adoption.

One of the advantages of Zulip is that it supports open source project. Open source project can apply and use the standard plan for free. The main disadvantage of Zulip to me is that it do not support role based access control.

Finally, Zulip is written in Python. If you are looking for a Slack alternative with free cloud hosting, then Zulip is a good choice.

Mattermost

Mattermost is written in Go and JavaScript. Like Discord, it does not display messages in threads. For self hosting, it needs a supported database, including MySQL, PostgreSQL and AWS Aurora MySQL 5.6+. In terms of number integrations, it is weaker than Slack. Rocky Linux uses Mattermost as one of their public or community communication tool.

Element/Matrix

Element is previously known as Riot and Vector. Probably because Riot has bit of offensive meaning. Element has a distributed architecture, it supports connecting to several servers or connect to different data source, for example, Gitter. If the Matrix protocol and clients are used, it could be configured to support end to end encryption. In terms of UI, personally I think Element is the weakest among the solutions listed in this article.

JetBrains Space

JetBrains Space was created in 2019. It started deployment in beta with lots of companies and institution. Currently it only has plans with cloud hosting and they would release a self hosting solution soon.

The product is still being actively developed. There are lots of areas to improve, like integration. Incoming webhook is WIP at the time I am writing the article.

Currently, the users e-mail addresses are displayed and could be accessible by other people. Take note if you want to use Space for an open community. JetBrains said they may provide an option to hidden the e-mail addresses in the future.

Conclusion

Besides the list of applications that we had come across in this article, there are lots of options out there. Like Rocket.chat, Chanty, Microsoft Teams and etc.


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