WordPress Project to Evaluate Replacing Slack with Matrix Open Source Chat

WordPress and Matrix contributors are proposing a new Meta team subproject that would explore replacing Slack communication with Matrix, an open source federated chat system. Matrix already powers a variety of communication tools, including Element, the most mature Matrix client – a universal chat app that is often described as “a Slack alternative.”

In 2020, Automattic invested $4.6M in New Vector, creators of the Matrix open standard for decentralized communication. At that time, Mullenweg indicated his intention for Automattic to adopt Matrix-based tools and build bridges to WordPress.

The contributors proposing this new exploration outlined a few of the major benefits of Matrix over Slack for the WordPress community’s official real-time communication tool. They contend that the Slack onboarding experience is difficult because it requires an invitation email to a WordPress-hosted email address and users have to identify the correct Slack workspace to join.

The Slack client is also not the best communication tool for some local communities where users are more active on their mobile devices than desktops.

“One of the benefits of Matrix is it supports free choice of clients, one of them being a client that is very similar to Telegram, called FluffyChat,” Automattic-sponsored contributor Alex Kirk said. “There are also particularly lightweight clients (called Hydrogen), a full featured client called Element (previously known as Riot), a client that is more like Discord called Cinny, CLI clients, and many more.”

Kirk’s team has done some preliminary legwork in an effort to make a compelling case for the switch from Slack, including a Single-Sign On flow where OpenID Connect is used with WordPress as an authentication provider. New users would only need to authorize wordPress.org to send their username to the Matrix server.

Kirk’s team has also made it possible to embed a Matrix chat into a Gutenberg block, powered by a plugin called Chatrix. It adds a Matrix client to WordPress pages through the Block Editor or as a popup.

“This could even be set to a particular room, so that users can be asked to join a specific room or Make team by giving them a link to a particular WordPress(.org) page.,” Kirk said. “This could make taking part in Make WordPress teams much easier and possibly encourage more contributions.” 

Should an open source project use an open source chat system if problems like onboarding can be fixed? Is Matrix a good fit for the WordPress project? Will it be able to provide the same or better reliability as Slack with third-party integrations that speed up contributors’ communication workflows? Are there other benefits like cost savings or features that Slack cannot accommodate? Can all the previous Slack content be migrated? These are important questions the newly formed meta sub-team aims to discuss by beginning bi-weekly meetings. Kirk is encouraging anyone who wants to take part in the meetings to comment on the Make.WordPress.org/Meta post.

“In particular, we’d like to contribute our projects Chatrix and OpenID Connect Server to the WordPress project,” Kirk said. “Additionally, work with people of the community interested in Matrix to see which Slack integrations would need to be ported and how that could be done, as well as understand through testing with other WordPress teams how good or bad the experience is, either on its own, or comparing it to Slack.”

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