“The core of the Recurse Center is the community, and the core of our online community is Zulip… Switching to Zulip has turned out to be one of the best decisions we’ve made, and it’s impossible to imagine RC today without it. No other tool has a user experience that scales to a community of our size.”
Zulip: Designed with communities in mind
Zulip is designed to help thoughtful people work on difficult problems together, whether they work from a shared office or from all over the world. Zulip offers an ideal platform for communities of all types, including open-source projects, research collaborations, volunteer organizations, and other groups of people who share a common pursuit.
The Zulip core developers have decades of combined experience leading and growing open source communities, and we use Zulip to fashion the day-to-day experience of being a part of our project. No other chat product comes close to Zulip in facilitating contributor engagement and inclusion, and making efficient use of everyone’s time.
“When we made the switch to @zulip a few months ago for chat, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it was going to become the beating heart of the community, and so quickly. It's a game changer. 🧑💻🗨️👩💻”
— Dan Allen (@mojavelinux), June 29, 2021
Challenges with other communication tools
Problems with the Slack/Discord/IRC model, discussed in detail here, are even more important for open communities:
- Members of open communities may be scattered all over the world and in every time zone. Traditional communication tools like email lists, forums, and issue trackers work well in this context, because you can communicate effectively asynchronously. A Slack community is a bad experience if you’re rarely online at the same time as most other members, making it harder to be inclusive of all participants.
- Many members of open communities have other fulltime obligations and can only spend a few hours a week on the community. Because Slack is very hard to skim, these part-time community members cannot efficiently use their time participating in an active Slack. So either they don’t participate in the Slack, or they do, and their other contributions to the community’s efforts suffer.
“Zulip helped the FHIR community grow from a tiny group of dreamers to 500 active users sending 6000 messages per month, all driving the creation of better healthcare standards. Zulip’s topic-based threading helps us manage simultaneous discussions with clarity, ensuring the right people can pay attention to the right messages. This makes our large-group discussion far more manageable than what we’ve experienced with Skype and Slack.”
— Grahame Grieve, founder, FHIR health care standards body
- Many of us are busy people, who really wish we had more time to do focus work. Because active participation in Slack fundamentally requires constant interruptions, leaders of communities that use Slack end up making unpleasant choices between participating in the Slack community (limiting their ability to do focus work) or ignoring the Slack community (leaving it effectively without their input and potentially unmoderated).
- Writing to a busy Slack channel often means interrupting another existing conversation. This makes it harder for newer and shyer members to jump into the community. Often this disproportionately affects groups that are already underrepresented.
- The lack of organization in Slack message history (and its 90 day message history limit!) mean that users asking for help cannot effectively do self-service support. This results in the community answering a lot of duplicate questions.
The overall effect is that Slack is a poor communication tool for communities that want to have an inclusive, global, community and that many busy individuals can happily participate in.
"We just moved the Lichess team (~100 persons) to @zulip, and I'm loving it. The topics in particular make it vastly superior to slack & discord, when it comes to dealing with many conversations. Zulip is also open-source!"
Solution: Zulip’s topic-based threading
Zulip’s topic-based threading model solves the problems described above:
- Community members in any time zone can send messages and expect to get a reply and have an effective (potentially asynchronous) conversation with the rest of the community.
- Zulip’s topic-based threading helps include part-time community members in two major ways. First, they can easily browse what conversations happened while they were away from the community, and prioritize which conversations to read now, skip, or read later (e.g. on the weekend). Second, Zulip makes it easy for them to have public conversations with participation from other community members (potentially split over hours, days, or weeks as needed), allowing them to fully participate in the work of the community.
- Community leaders can effectively participate in a Zulip community without being continuously online. Using Zulip’s keyboard shortcuts, it’s extremely efficient to inspect every potentially relevant thread and reply wherever one’s feedback is useful, and replying hours after a question was asked is still a good experience for community members. As a result, leaders can do multi-hour sessions of focus work while still being available to their community.
- Topics make it easier to provide a safe, welcoming, online community. Asking a question never has to feel like an interruption of an ongoing conversation or like one's sticking one's neck out.
“Wikimedia uses Zulip for its participation in open source mentoring programs. Zulip’s threaded discussions help busy organization administrators and mentors stay in close communication with students during all phases of the programs.”
— Srishti Sethi, Developer Advocate, Wikimedia Foundation
Try Zulip today!
You can see Zulip in action in our own Zulip development community, or in other open communities that have opted in to be listed in our directory. We often get feedback from contributors around the world that they love how responsive Zulip’s project leaders are in public Zulip conversations. We are able to achieve this despite the project leaders collectively spending only a few hours a day managing the community and spending most of their time integrating improvements into Zulip.
Many communities that migrated from Slack, Mattermost, Gitter, or Rocket.Chat to Zulip tell us that Zulip helped them manage and grow an inclusive, healthy community. We hope Zulip can help your community succeed too!
“I highly recommend Zulip to other communities. We’re coming from Freenode as our only real-time communication so the difference is night and day. Slack is a no-go for many due to not being FLOSS, and I’m concerned about vendor lock-in if they were to stop being so generous. Slack’s threading model is much worse than Zulip’s IMO. The streams/topics flow is an incredibly intuitive way to keep track of everything that is going on.”
— RJ Ryan, Mixxx Developer