Would it be good to host a Mattermost instance?

Dear All and MayFirst tech team:

we in Science for the People use Slack a lot and some of us (including myself) dream of migrating to a non-corporate platform for a while now. We explored Element (formerly Riot: https://element.io/), a very promising piece of software with a solid end-to-end encryption and features like video calls integrated (based on Jitsi, as I understand it), but it is not super mature yet and sometimes a little glitchy and the UI not as clean and user friendly as is Slack and Mattermost. But the backend technology seems (to me as a lay person) quite sophisticated. We also explored Mattermost and that seems a very mature replacement for Slack. While we would prefer a software that offers what Element aims at offering, the pragmatic choice at this point would probably be Mattermost.

So I wanted to ask the community two things:

  • do people have experience with either or both? Opinions on them?
  • would it be possible for MayFirst to host an instance of either? Probably preferably Mattermost given the above reasons?

I think offering a replacement for Slack would help our movement a lot, I am active in many other grass-root orgs and I see Slack being uses almost everywhere - with the exception of Extinction Rebellion who host their own instance of Mattermost.

Thoughts?
All the best wishes,
David

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Hi David, Nice to hear from you and see your post :).

To answer your question - I belong to two mattermost communities and I’ve registered for a Matrx/Element account and tried it out, but since I’m not part of any Matrix communities I don’t have much experience with it.

In addition to these two online communities, I am part of:

  • Several discourse communities (including this one)
  • Several IRC channels (including #mayfirst)
  • I regularly using XMPP/Jabber
  • Several Signal groups
  • And maybe there are some I’m not thinking of

My general impression is that they all have the small problems and small relative advantages, but the true test of whether the “work” for me is whether or not I’m serious about using them.

I use XMPP/Jabber (and, by the way, May First does offer a Jabber server - see our jabber help files every single day. It’s really good. But I don’t use it every day because of it’s technical quality, I use it every day because it’s my day job and I have to.

I keep the #mayfirst irc channel alive on my desktop every day too - but I don’t check in all that often unless someone mentions my name - because few of our members actually use it.

I always get Signal messages - because my family uses it :).

As for mattermost - I am mostly connected to the CiviCRM mattermost channel (because it’s my day job) but I am always falling behind because I have too many instant notification alerts and I just can’t keep up with them.

So… my ultimate conclusion is that there are a lot of options that get the job done and the real test of whether they will work is less about the technology and more about the commitment you can get from the people involved to stay there and pay attention.

I am interested in having May First do more experimentation with these - I personally find Matrix/Element a bit more promising then Mattermost because it is federated. However, now is not a great time for us to experiment with new services since we are knee deep in an infrastructure overhaul. I’m hoping that we once we complete this overhaul we will have more resources available to try out some of these new services - and more imporantly - pick one to really get behind with training and advocacy as well as the tech.

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Thankful we can talk about this!

At CCR we pay for a hosted Element instance and we like it. One thing I would say is that in any of these systems, and something XMPP and Matrix/Element navigate well, is protocol based comms vs application based/closed comms.

I recently restarted using XMPP when I read up about how more clients are supporting OMEMO encryption w/o additional configuration. XMPP has the advantage that it’s ready to go on MayFirst and doesn’t require additional resources…and the hope that folks jump onto a specific platform.

One of the big plus for Element is that we can tell folks “it’s like secure Slack” which we can’t say about XMPP…or I don’t feel good describing it that way.

That said, and like Jamie suggests, let’s see if we can figure out what thoughtful experimentation of these platforms would look like because so many movement groups just jump onto Slack w/o much consideration of alternative and more secure solutions.

I’d be willing to participate in a “what is XMPP missing for use as a Slack replacement” go-around. At this point, I haven’t really tried to replicate what I do in Slack-like environments w/ XMPP.

Cheers.

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Thanks to both your replies Jamie and Ken! I appreciate your thoughts!

Adoption isn’t an issue as long as the functionality is close to Slack. Thus other platforms than Element and Mattermost are not an option for SftP as far as I can see.

Obviously the overhaul has priority, good to know about it, thanks! Glad also to hear that there is a possibility to have an instance of one of these platforms in the future! <3

I can’t contribute much to the technicalities but am happy to follow the conversation if more folks feel like sharing their thoughts and insights about it!

I’m curious about the slack functionality that is required? There is a lot you can do with slack - and not even mattermost can match it all.

Here’s a link to a web-client for XMPP: https://conversejs.org/fullscreen.html

Right now, you can enter your may first login (e.g. sci4people@mayfirst.org and your may first password) and log right into a web site that has the basic features of slack. Whether or not it has all the required features you need is an entirely different story, but it would be really helpful to learn about what they are so we can round out a picture of what is the most useful things to provide.

I just had a brief look at XMPP which I didn’t know before - the only contact I had was through Jabber ages ago and I thought it was just a protocol that can interface with many other messenger systems. But this particular platform looks similar to Slack in terms of GUI so that was not clear to me before.

We are using the very basic functionalities of Slack, we don’t need any plugins. But important is that creating channels, adding people to channles (or for them adding themselves) and having a “closed” space that only SftP members can access would be necessary. Related to that finding people and sending them direct messages would also be necessary. That latter part and the part of having a closed space was not clear to me whether we can get that at the link you sent?

The devil is in the details, so I would encourage you to try it out to be sure. But… yes, all of those features are possible with jabber/xmpp.

I use Jabber for my day job with the Progressive Technology Project. We have a private, fully end-to-end encrypted channel for staff that is only visible to us. We all work remotely, so it’s a channel we keep open all day every day and we’ve been using it for over 3 years now. I run a jabber program on my desktop and another one on my cell phone. I can write a message on my computer, move to the kitchen and pull out my cell phone and continue the thread on the phone.

And, I can private message anyone onstaff, or anyone in the world who also has a jabber/xmpp account, including people who have accounts with different providers.

Hi @jamie , the “moving away from Slack” discussion got some new energy within Science for the People and I’d have two volunteers to explore XMPP.

However, I am stuck at the very beginning: how can I get non-members XMPP accounts? As far as I understand in order to use MayFirst’s instance folks would either need to be members of MayFirst (and thus have a member account) or have an XMPP account hosted by others like Jabber or Riseup (as explained in the MayFirst documentation ). Now unfortunately Riseup is deprecating their XMPP service and I can’t find a way to create accounts on the Jabber page. Given that we would have to transition hundreds of people, not exactly a smooth start that inspires confidence that this can be our replacement of Slack :wink: (I know, persistence and serious commitment is key to resist the convenience of corporate platforms - we have that)

Should I open a ticket for this?

Yes - the devil is in the details :). I’m glad you hit this detail early on. If you are moving hundreds of people (as opposed to a more defined set of close contacts) I can see of our XMPP service might not be the best option. I’m not aware of any XMPP providers that offer easy and free access.

Curiously… the folks running Matrix do offer an instance with free access: https://app.element.io/. I have an account with them that I’ve been using to get to know the service. It is not run by May First (we don’t currently offer a matrix server), however, it is free software and not run by a vampiric data-mining corporation so I think it’s still a big win over slack.

And, sometime in the future we may launch a matrix server.

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We are looking forward to a Matrix server! <3

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Me too. I have a Diplomatura (1 year univerity course) on UX and Inclusive Design and we need something like this for each year’s cohort.
The requirements are quite similar:

  • ~50 accounts per year
  • a common channel,
  • some team specific channels (each team carries a triple impact project along the year)
  • usable from the web, desktop and mobile.
  • with our values (freedom, privacy, etc.).

There are other things (like a site we are planning), but this channel based chat is really necessary. We tried Guilded this year and it’s good, but lacks on the values aspects. :wink:

I would love to have something like this in May1st. :smiling_face_with_three_hearts: