Chat infrastructure for CiviCRM

2016-05-13 02:25
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In September last year, the core team started using Slack (a proprietary chat platform) to improve our internal communication and co-ordination. It worked really nicely for us and  coordination and we wanted to role it out more widely, but there were a couple of limitations: the free version of slack has limited history (you can only search and browse the most recent 10k messages) and the full version costs $8 per user per month, which isn't going to work financially for us.

Thankfully, in February this year, in a email exchange on the partner list, we were introduced to Mattermost: an open source Slack clone. We've been trialing Mattermost since February and it's worked pretty nicely.  We're now ready to roll it out across our community. Here's a quick intro to how we see it working...

How is it organized?

Mattermost is organized into channels. Each channel has a different purpose and you're free to join and leave channels as you wish.  Channels provide a way for you to subscribe to the stuff you're interested in, and filter out topics not relevant to you.

We've created an initial set of channels that you'll see when you log in. Each channel has a header and a purpose: Some are specific, others are generic. Each channel has a short description that you can read in the app to help you understand it's purpose.

Right now. we're just starting out and trying to keep the number of channels low. Over time we'll likely create more channels and archive those never get used. The more channels we have, the better we can filter but too many channels risk fragmenting the conversation and are difficult to navigate. Hence we'll need to strike a balance. If you have a suggestion for a channel, please chat to us about it in the meta channel before creating it.

Does Mattermost replace IRC / email / stack exchange / [insert communication tool here]?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: We've found Mattermost super useful for internal team communication and want to make it available to our entire community to use in addition to the other tools we have. Stating the obvious: it is not the a global solution for all types of communication. Sometimes email is more appropriate; other times discussion needs to happen face to face, in real time; and Stack Exchange continues to be a fantastic Q&A tool, etc. etc. Putting it another way, we're not going to force anyone to use Mattermost - if it's useful people will naturally gravitate towards it, and we can take it from there.

Extra answer for IRC users: Since IRC is so similar to Mattermost, it deserves a special mention. IRC is a solid chat tool with a long and illustrious history and we've been using for years at CiviCRM. It's popular amongst many of our contributors, especially the more technically minded and those that are involved in other open source communities.  But it does have its limitations, one of which is a fairly high barrier to entry for the uninitiated. Another is the relative difficulty of catching up with stuff that happened while you were away.  Mattermost overcomes these limitations. The good news is that we don't have to choose between Mattermost and IRC. We've linked them up so that anything you say in our IRC room will be mirrored at and vice versa.


You can access Mattermost at If you find yourself spending a lot of time on Mattermost, you may like to download the desktop client.

If you have suggestions for how we use Mattermost, e.g. you'd like to see a new channel, you think that channel descriptions could be improved, etc. talk to us in the meta channel.

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I think this has been a great addition to the CiviCRM commuincations infrastructure and I've been impressed with how quickly people are gravitating to the platform. I am excited to see the additional ways community members find to leverage this excellent tool.

For Matrix/Riot users, there is a room/channel there: