back to article Slack smackback: There's no IRC in team (software), say open-sourcers

Open-source software is not possible without collaboration and collaboration is not possible without communication. Collaborative communication in open source projects typically means some form of distributed chat. In the past, and indeed the present for most projects, that has meant IRC. IRC has some disadvantages, though, …

  1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Nice infomercial

    With all due respect it is not just developers that have to communicate for a productive workflow.

    I would like to have my git-commits, jenkins, bug-tracking, etc chatter to my team chat topic and would like to do that without having to feed a Califonicating Unicorn.

    I can do that in about an hour starting from scratch with an XMPP server and sleek-xmpp (if I feel too lazy and with too much money burning my pocket, I can buy it from Atlassian as a bundle too). It is not rocket science. It will also interface cleanly to established systems using XMPP- google talk, jabber, facebook messenger.

    Doing the same with "ubiqitously installed" bunch of proprietary clients based on proprietary json streaming protocol which is subject to change at a "ubiquitous" moment notice with no community control over it?

    No thank you, the idea which this infomercial tried to brainwash me into does not pass the basic smell test. It smells rotten, I will stick with standards instead.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nice infomercial

      > It will also interface cleanly to established systems using XMPP- google talk, jabber, facebook messenger.

      Do you use a gateway for that? Facebook Messenger drifted away from XMPP a while ago, and Google's been threatening the same. Regardless, XMPP seems to have a lowest common denominator of just plain text. Using it for sending files, group chats, or audio/video, is unreliable.

      Most of that doesn't matter to me unless I'm remote pairing. But I have gotten spoiled on 3rd party integrations to CI servers, alert services, ticketing systems, monitoring services, etc. Seriously cuts down on email chatter, allows for targeted "water cooler" chats around incoming notifications with everytthing in one place.

      What I don't understand is why Slack is winning. Flowdock had more integrations sooner than Slack, is cheaper, and the UI for managing it is FAR better than Slack.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Nice infomercial

        > What I don't understand is why Slack is winning.

        Usual reason: more VC funding, better connections in Silicon Valley.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nice infomercial

      Did you come up with Californicating Unicorn?

      I've never seen all American tech companies, and the whole VC culture of silicon valley summed up so nicely.

      1. P. Lee

        Re: Nice infomercial

        Is the Californicating unicorn gallivanting around with the wildly installed Linux?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nice infomercial

      > No thank you, the idea which this infomercial tried to brainwash me into

      Are we reading the same article? The gist of Gilberson's piece here is that using a proprietary tool for open source project collaboration is not a good idea. We've seen how it went with BitKeeper--we might have got lucky that time around in that Torvalds took things in his hands and coded up Git, but we can't count on the same trick being pulled every time.

      Anyway, there are two general types of open source projects in these GitHub / GitLab days: "serious" FOSS, and lots of more or less short-lived projects started by students/enthusiasts who do open source because it's cool (who in his right mind would have believed thirty years ago that one day computing would be considered cool?) or because they hope it'll help them get a job, ideally at a start-up. The former group never use Slack or anything like that. Indeed, I hadn't even heard of it until overhearing some hipster from that second group. Those lads do seem to use that stuff in some cases, but that's probably fine since their open source projects tend to be fairly low-quality, short-lived stuff that's barely more than glorified coursework assignment.

      But anyone else, stick to IRC or XMPP. Distributed collaborative work is hardly a new thing in software development. It was already being done, with great results, in the early 80s, even with the much more limited tools of the time. Think actual letters (avec ou sans floppy disks) and weekly/monthly conference calls. IRC is pure luxury in comparison.

      I find this is a fairly good article indeed.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ::Kissy face:: ::Aubergine:: ::Happy face::

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No nesting = Technical use very limited

    Slack does not have nested discussions - everything is flat - which makes involved technical discussions hard if not impossible ( Loads of "Re. Disk space", "Re. Memory" ).

    I guess it's because Slack think nesting is hard ( Barbie(TM) ) for some people, but it is necessary for others.

    1. Jagged

      Re: No nesting = Technical use very limited

      "Slack does not have nested discussions"


      No one (who is cool) uses nested or threaded discussions any more. We are living in the Mobile Age and everything has to fit in your pocket, so there's no room to display all that unnecessary junk.

      Just in case the sarcasm in the above post doesn't register, I completely agree with you but I suspect we are swimming against the tide :(

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: swimming against the tide

        Nothing wrong with swimming against the tide if the tide is going out.

        In the short run, Slack does seem to be getting lots of attention, but I wonder how much of that is VC-driven. It is pitched explicitly as an email replacement by people who would clearly profit if we all stopped using email and started using Slack. Frankly I can't see the point, since email is a better interface for the sort of communication I do, but I'm aware that others like to work differently.

        In the long run, Slack will survive if the people who use Slack actually *are* more productive than those who don't.

  4. Anonymous Custard

    Best of both worlds

    There are bridges available between Slack and IRC (we use one on a project I'm part of the team on) and it works fine. So use whatever floats your boat, and all still talk together.

  5. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

    The real issue with slack

    Is that the Feds can give them (and almost certainly has already) one of the 10, 000+ secret NSL's they hand out every year and go through everything of their target that Slack has acess to. And slack can't inform the target.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The real issue with slack

      > Is that the Feds can give them (and almost certainly has already) one of the 10, 000+ secret NSL's they hand out every year and go through everything of their target that Slack has acess to.

      Fair enough, but how would that be of any concern to free and open source software? It's not like our IRC exchanges are exactly secret or confidential, after all. It's kind of the point of open development.

      Still, using a proprietary communication tool for FOSS is quite unnecessary if not just plain idiotic. Stay away from that rubbish.

  6. oddvar


    Matrix ( is another opensource, free option. In fact, Matrix aims to connect all the various comms services together in an open ecosystem - the ideal end-goal would be that I could talk to anybody without having to worry about which client (or comms system!) they are using.

    Matrix itself is an open standard, but we also have open source implementations, licensed under the Apache 2 licence, of a homeserver and clients, both for the web and mobile. Check out a list here: - or jump straight in via the guest-functionality via a client like

    Matrix is still being developed so please try it out and give us your feedback!

    disclaimer: I work for

  7. John Sanders

    ""it's that relying on third-party services for key parts of your development infrastructure is almost guaranteed to fail in the long run.""

    Gasp, Gulp!

    ...but... you know... the cloud?

    ...the could... never fails or something...???

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Right on.

      I took a glimpse at some of these open-source alternatives. Wow, they do file sharing and video conferencing and everything... but that raises a similar point:

      Monolithic do-all software is 100% guaranteed to fail (usually long before it's finished)

  8. teknopaul Silver badge

    email sign up?

    One of the best things about IRC is you don't have to sign up at all.

    Low barrier to entry.

    That and the fact that creating bots is as easy as

    echo hi > ~/irc/host/in

    All this hype about slack is trying to cover up what OS devs have known for years.

    Chat should be text.

    Group video == boring meetings

  9. AdamWill

    also, check the ToS

    I had a look at Slack's terms of service when it started getting popular. Unless they've revised them lately, they reserve the right to look at any of your content at any time, and they also reserve the right to delete all your content irretrievably and without any notification.

    Hmm, yep, still there:

    "You acknowledge that Slack and its designees shall have the right (but not the obligation) in their sole discretion to pre-screen, refuse, or remove any of Your Data that is available via the Service...We may also review Your Data transmitted through non-public mechanisms (such as private channels within the Service) where we deem appropriate, including for violations of this TOS or in response to a user complaint. Without limiting the foregoing, Slack and its designees shall have the right (but not the obligation) to remove any of Your Data that violates the TOS or is otherwise objectionable."


    "You acknowledge, consent and agree that Slack may access, preserve and disclose your account information and Your Data if required to do so by law or in a good faith belief that such access preservation or disclosure is reasonably necessary to: (i) comply with legal process; (ii) enforce the TOS; (iii) respond to claims that any of Your Data violates the rights of third parties; (iv) respond to your requests for customer service; or (v) protect the rights, property or personal safety of Slack, its users and the public."


    "We reserve the right to deactivate and delete your account (or the access privileges of any Member) and terminate this TOS at any time for any reason, or no reason, with or without notice."

    so...yeah, good luck with putting all your mission-critical data there.

  10. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Stumbles out of the gate

    Open-source software is not possible without collaboration

    I must have imagined the vast amount of single-authored open-source software that's been created over the past half-century, then.

    Certainly the most prominent FOSS projects are large codebases with large or (far more likely1) medium-size development teams, often widely distributed. And some form of communication among them is required, though again for many years a great many projects have managed just fine with commit logs and email.

    That said, I'm pleased to read an article dismissing Slack for at least some purposes, since I personally think it's an annoying concept that doesn't interest me in the slightest.

    1Most FOSS projects have a handful of committers at best, and relatively few contributions from the field.

  11. benderama

    That's a lot of hatred...

    For a product that just works out of the box like Slack.

    Slack may not be perfect for all teams, but it's great for people who just want things to work.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: That's a lot of hatred...

      "it's great for people who just want things to work" and never need discussion nesting in involved technical discussions.

      i.e. nobody.

  12. FuzzyTheBear

    Major error

    With IRC you need to rely on a pastebin and file upload service to handle code and files.

    That's false

    Ex HexChat Just right click the user , send file simple .

    Saying there's no way to send a file on IRC is totally false and has been for at least 10 years .

    Check facts before publishing.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Poorly researched by non-user

    This article was clearly written by someone who doesn't use IRC extensively and didn't do extensive research in its writing. Just another advert for cloud software no one really needs.

    Advice to those who actually care: just learn IRC. It's kind of like vi, only for collaborative messaging.

    Sure, the clients could be better. But then so could web browsers. Firefox, Chrome and IE (now "Edge" or "Spartan") all suck and have since the beginning. Life goes on. Pages render. Work gets done.

  14. adante111

    "In effect, moving from IRC to Slack means replacing an open protocol with decades of open source client software development and a robust distributed system for a single point of failure"

    Are you tripping balls? Robust? Have you ever dealt with netsplits or ddos attacks? IDGAF if IRC is distributed. The reality is that in practice I that sit on freenode, quakenet, ozorg, efnet networks and in the last 12 months since using slack I have had less issues with slack than any of these networks.

    As for 'an open protocol with decades of open source client software development' - that's really sweet, would you like a medal for "most effort/try's hardest"? In TWO YEARS they have been outstripped in features and usability by not just slack but hipchat and likely others. I don't think it would even be eligible for "most improved"!

  15. enno_au

    anyone had any experience with Zulip?

    Some months back when I was searching for an open alternative to slack I happened across Zulip ( Haven't had time to look at it in depth but superficially it looks OK.

    Anyone have any experience positive or negative they'd like to share?


    1. manu_le_malin

      Re: anyone had any experience with Zulip?

      We have installed Zulip internally and have been using it for about 6 months or so. Personally I like it a lot. The way streams and topics work. Pretty much everybody in our tech team is now using it, even the grumbling oldschoolers who saw it as another toy.

      It was also super easy to integrate Nagios alerts and git commits into it.

      Unfortunately, the Zulip iphone client sucks - but the desktop and web clients work nicely. Installing the server is not quite simple but once done, it seems to Just Work. All in all, I'm quite pleased with Zulip being an alternative to modern hip chat clients but having everything in-house and not liable to some bullshit TOS like Slack has.

  16. 27escape

    And telegram

    Also falls into this category, free to use, though not free to get their code, yet, they suggest that at some point it will be properly open for those who cannot google

  17. Dinsdale247

    Adding Slack to the list is just well, adding another problem if you ask me (which you didn't but I'll tell you anyway!). We don't need more protocols, we need more "aggregaters".

    For FreeBSD, there are multiple IRC channels, 20 or so mailing lists, Google+, Google Groups, IRC, FreeBSD Forums, FreeBSD Wiki, Handbook, Developers handbook, Documentation handbook, Freshports, Bugzilla, Phabricator, Subversion AND Git! It's impossible to get a complete picture. That's not even including the many great blogs out there.

  18. Cameron Colley

    And Slackware?

    For many of us Linux users "slack" tends to refer to Slackware. I know there's not likely a trademark issue and most will work out which is being talked about from context but how they could have chosen such a similar name and claim to know about software is beyond me.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    github chat to rule the world

    The github forums seem like an afterthought (not surprising how it's evolved out of the foetid swamps of Linus' brain), but I have often wondered why there is no chat functionality on github, seems like a win win. And with html5 in most browsers these days (right?) communication with irc like services wouldn't seem to be that much of a hurdle.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    User Experience Is Key

    Actually it's pretty simple why slack is winning - user experience.

    IRC has a terrible user experience in most every client.

    The I and the R are well enough covered, but the C part, for Chat - that's been a bit neglected over the years. In 1995 it was awesome. Then ICQ, AIM and MS Messenger came along. Did it evolve? No. Then XMPP clients, Facebook Messenger, etc. Did it evolve? No. Then it was HipChat and Slack for businesses. It's still barely noticed the competition. All the ideas coming _from_ IRC were taken and used in evolving chat tools. But none of the improvements that closed source tools made were incorporated back into IRC.

    Communication is the most important thing about a chat tool. That's what chatting is. Anything that reduces that friction will win huge market share, because everyone communicates, all day, every day. Anything that makes that more difficult or harder will be lose market share.

    People expect a great user experience these days. I write software in several languages, am involved in open source projects, though nothing big. Do I want to spend my very limited free time on wrestling with IRC's idiosyncrasies, setting up servers to get a persistent chat history, hand hold users through doing basic things like sending files, or setting up integrations to cloud services? No, not really. None of them add value to my projects. I want to focus on communicating ideas, and collaborating.

    Slack is an awesome chat tool. It is not perfect - it has occasional connectivity problems, it didn't develop threads until a month or so ago, and they don't work perfectly. But it has an AWESOME user experience. It's the best chat tool I've ever used, by a long margin.

    Our company uses it all day every day, for 500+ employees to communicate. It's replaced almost all email communications. It lets you start video chats from many services with a / command. It's trivial to add github notifications, build webhooks for deploys. It encourages in channel communications by keeping history, and it encourages user engagement by allowing most people to customise most things, including emojis, and integrations to other services (we allow most users to add their own slack webhooks).

    All of that time we save - it can be used on our actual product. Which is what the communication is for in the first place, right?

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