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Goodbye, Slack. Hello, Spectrum (apollographql.com)
73 points by jakear 32 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 70 comments

"we're switching from a walled garden to another"

how do these kinds of posts end up on page one so often?!

A phrase I just heard of recently: the magpie developer https://blog.codinghorror.com/the-magpie-developer/


>That being said, this codebase isn't your typical open source project because it's not a library or package with a limited scope—it's our entire product.

Not sure what you mean by that.

They mean that it's not just some library or package they created for their own use (which many companies outsource, e.g. Facebook outsourcing React).

It's their full product -- you can get all their code from GitHub and run your own version of their service locally (so it would be like Facebook the company outsourcing the whole codebase behind Facebook the website).

It also means that it's probably not practical to deploy it yourself as it relies on a big infrastructure deployed in a particular way.

I used to work for a startup that competed in this space. The amount of articles, awards, and HN posts that our marketing team fabricated was unreal. We won awards we didn't deserve because the Awards company's owner was on our board. Every article out there was carefully created by our copywriter. Every review on all the comparison sites...all false.

When I see a Medium post recommending a new software over another (especially over Slack since that gives me flashbacks), I just assume that there's financial incentive on part of the writer.

In which sense do you mean "walled garden"? The article actually discusses moving away from Slack because it is a walled garden, which to them means that the content inside Slack is only accessible/discoverable via Slack - versus Spectrum, which is indexed by search engines.

A garden doesn't stop being walled if the walls are glass, and thus transparent.

Walls are about control of what's inside of them, including keeping users locked in when they get inside. Using custom proprietary protocols and not giving an easy way to get at your own data are two common aspects.


There are degrees to being walled garden. Slack is one, pure and simple. My scanning of Spectrum's site did not reveal ease of export or FOSS mentioned anywhere on the main page, or on the features subpage, so I immediately assumed it's pretty much as walled as Slack. Now that other replies mention it, I did find a Github icon at the very bottom, linking to some repositories, so maybe the walls aren't as high and thick as I assumed.

Is being hosted on a central server operated by a third party, without federation features, a wall? Technically, yes. But a small one, relatively easy to scale. Personally, as long as I can get all my data out, and as long as I can easily interoperate with it from outside of the garden, I'm comfortable with that. Closed protocols are essentially barbed wire.

There is a big "download all my data" button right on your profile page, which instantly gives you a nice JSON dump. As for "custom proprietary protocols", the entire Spectrum platform appears to be FOSS, released under the BSD 3-Clause license [1].

1: https://github.com/withspectrum/spectrum

Facebook has such a download button. In fact, anyone who wants to do business in the EU needs to have one, really. Does that mean there are no walled gardens on the web any longer?

And without a token from spectrum, the apps will be limited to "local" operation. Fat load of use cases that has for a chat application.

@TeMPOral has it right: it stays a walled garden as long as it's under central control.

Hangouts chat was a walled garden, even though you could connect via Jabber, and download your stuff via takeout.

I think you're ignoring that this is FOSS. What are they really depending on Spectrum for? Download the data, run the software yourself, and you no longer need them.

The one exception seems to be that it's hosted at a Spectrum owned domain, https://spectrum.chat/apollo.

For something that is used to connect to people, having access to the source code is necessary to trust the software to do what it's saying, but doesn't make the platform open.

Chat, as any platform for communication, is going to have network effects, and that's what all of these "we're also slack but not" products aim for. That's the only reason I ever interact with slack or facebook. Not because I want to (I don't) or because I love their apps so much (I don't) but because some things/people are simply only to be reached there.

If I'm in 5 chat rooms, does it make that much of a difference if they're on one platform or 3? Messaging and social networks have much bigger network effects than slack and spectrum.

My core issue isn't along the lines of centralized vs. decentralized. It's about things like:

- Do I own the data? Can I get all the data back easily, in usable format?

- Can I interoperate with it with my own tools? I have my preferences that generally fly in the face of modern UX trends, and being forced to use the officially sanctioned app is inherently limiting.

- What's the migration path? If the current gardener gets bored with the service, can the garden be "restarted" under someone's else control, with all the data migrated?

Decentralization is inherently inefficient, so I don't mind if some things are centralized. It's how they're centralized, how the ownership and control is distributed, that matters.

But what do you mean by local?

This is designed for local chat, exactly like slack. It is designed to chat with a community (an open source project, or maybe a company). In slack you need to register to every "team" you want to join, so how is it exactly the same to self hosted spectrum and ask users to register on your instance.

So it is a public garden, but you can take all your plants and plant then to your own backyard. It is not walled.

> It stays a walled garden as long as it's under central control.

Can you provide an example of someone who does this right in your book? All instances are hosted by someone -- unless I'm reading you wrong it seems like the only thing that would satisfy you is a chat platform built on the blockchain.

Usually if its a 'someone', then its going to be a walled garden.

Take for example podcasting: podcasts generally speaking aren't walled gardens - its a completely open protocol based on RSS. No locking. Spotify Podcasts, is a walled garden.

Does this mean you are categorically opposed to the idea of a company hosting a discussion service for users of the the product that said company provides?

No. I never said anything about being against a walled garden (I love my iPhone).

Or perhaps that "walled garden" aspect is not what they care about (they mention the not-searchable walled aspect of Slack that they do care about and that Spectrum doesn't have that issue).

But in any case, what's the problem with "We switched from one walled garden to another"?

Perhaps, the "walled garden" aspect is not what's important to the team, but they care about other interaction aspects? Are they allowed to, or is "walled garden" a no no, and people should not post their use of such services?

It's like a GNU zealot dissing a post about a video editor switching to/from FCP X as "we switched from one proprietary NLE to another".

Yeah, so? Should proprietary/walled garden software be disallowed? Is there something that makes those posts not interesting/useful? If they had switched to some open source alternative it would have made for a better post? Aren't there people that still want to use such services, and do care about the relative merits of different vendors?

Besides, doesn't a large slice of HN make their income either as entrepreneurs or as developers of "walled garden" SaaS products?

Apollo seems to be hell-bent on content marketing these days. I feel it's being excessively name-dropped everywhere.

Seem like you can host your own spectrum service now?


Yep. Also spectrum doesn't seem to have clients for neither windows nor android, how is it a good choice for open online community?

Serious question: how do people even stay sane in chat groups with 12000 members? Even if you assume only 50 people message in a day, that's probably several thousand messages already. Even if you use hashtags and separation through channels, to me it seems like these platforms aren't intended for such large groups. Similarly, Telegram allows groups with hundreds of thousands of members. I can't imagine what people even do in those or how they can even keep up when several people are talking.

Note: I get that most people wouldn't even check it every day or catch up with unread messages most of the time. I'm referring to so many people chatting in near real time in such large groups and keeping up with the messages while they flood the place ("flood" is an apt term borrowed from IRC, though I'm using it slightly differently here).

Interesting, I didn't see any mention of cost with a casual search through the pages. Presumably they are planning on paying their developers with something at some point?

they disabled their paid tier when they were acquired by github: https://spectrum.chat/spectrum/general/spectrum-is-joining-g...

So Spectrum is now owned by Microsoft? How long until they are assimilated into Skype for Business or MS Teams (which is a poor carbon copy of Slack in my experience)?

That was my thought when I read the comment. I had not seen that they had been acquired by github and by the commutative property Microsoft. I'm guessing their biological distinctiveness will be assimilated into Teams at some point. :-)

If it’s anything like Sunrise they’ll just destroy the product and never assimilate it’s festures.

FWIW, Microsoft has bought other companies that had (perhaps more) prominent open source products, and later marked them as EOL, with future-dated grace periods for companies to move off and migrate away, and they haven't all died (community takes over.)

I say that as an admin of Team Hephy, the fork/continuation of the Deis Workflow Kubernetes PaaS, which is open source and from the team that invented Helm. They didn't actively destroy the product when MS bought out Deis, they did collectively decide and deem it "not strategically important" and subsequently allowed the community to decide what to do with it, helpfully adding MIT licenses to everything on the way out, so there would be no difficulty for us. There's a strong argument for that position ("not strategically valuable") even without imagining that "Corporate got involved," as some of us believed. Workflow is not positioned where the demand is, and I can tell you that is objectively true. (I can't tell you why, though. New users absolutely love Workflow!)

Many of the Deis people now work at Microsoft, making more Open Source and working on Azure Cloud.

We're still kicking it here at Team Hephy. I hadn't heard about Sunrise. But if Microsoft is aligning their company against Slack, it is not such a big stretch to imagine that building an OSS competitor to Slack actually fits right in with the strategic goals, even if they are also selling their own brand of chat, in Teams.

(Has there been any news about GitHub's developer commitment to Atom? Many predicted that with the acquisition, Microsoft wouldn't commit resources to both Atom and VSCode, but as far as I know both projects continue to be developed.)

We're killing it!

We made the switch from Slack to Discord at Origin and have been very happy we did. Not only does it have better message history and fine-grained permissions, it's far better designed for large groups of strangers on the internet vs. Slack which assumes that everyone knows and trusts each other.

A big downside for discord is plenty of people already use it in their personal life. The last thing I'd want is mixing personal and business environments in the same app.

Additionally, discord's fine-grained structure is great but takes time to set up. Slack is pretty painless, isn't it? Technically if you're working at the same company you wouldn't need such finegrained control, unlike with random strangers on the internet.

I'm administrating Discord at my company, and we actively use these features to invite random strangers from the internet to our Discord, and figure out their roles from there.

How is that a downside? I use slack for personal and business and there is a pretty clear separation based on community.

With slack it's on a per-workspace basis (I don't use the os apps). With discord I see every single server that I'm in.

When I see a slack alert, on mobile, I know I have something that needs my attention, because I have most alerts off. With discord alerts, I know that someone has pinged me with a question or wants to go grab a beer or something, but it's not urgent.

I enjoy separating my life/work like this, but maybe to others it won't pose an issue.

It really feels like by exclusively targeting the enterprise market, Slack is leaving money on the table. Like it says in the article, the paid plan is prohibitively expensive for casual users and it's very easy to run up against the limitations of the free version.

There's a tech community slack in my area with dozens of vertical channels of discussion. I'm sure that at there's been many interesting conversations, but because the free version limits a server to 10,000 messages across all channels, the majority of chats are 'empty' until someone decides to pony up the $8,500(!) per month to fully unlock the community.

Hey, Zulip offers our Standard plan[1] for free for communities like yours. There is no restriction on message history. Plus the unique threading model of Zulip makes it easier to run communities[2]. If you folks are interested feel free to create an organisation in zulipchat.com and mail us at support@zulipchat.com for activating Zulip standard. We support exporting the data from Slack as well :)

[1] https://zulipchat.com/plans/

[2] https://zulipchat.com/for/working-groups-and-communities/

Zulip rocks. Streams + topics are great when I can’t check chat constantly and need to later skim a large amount of activity.

Zulip not rocks at all. Maybe topics are handy buy overall user interface so clumsy, small fonts and so on. Tools like Slack spoiled us in terms of UI. Mattermost maybe closest one to slack slickness.

Without a hint of vitriol: any tech community that wants to use something like Slack is not the kind of tech community I want anything to do with. I'm glad they exist, I'm glad they like that kind of thing, and I'm glad to never have to touch it.

Concentrating on selling their product to companies with lots of money seems to be working out pretty well for them so far.

I've active in at least two free Slack communites. The limitation of message history isn't so bad; it's at least better than IRC. And one can still set up dozens of private chat rooms.

>The limitation of message history isn't so bad; it's at least better than IRC.

Many IRC channels have logs that go back decades.

> by exclusively targeting the enterprise market, Slack is leaving money on the table

No. By targeting the enterprise market, Slack is not leaving money on the table, it's not losing money. The claim that there's money in targeting regular users needs proof.

Maybe because casual users go to greath lengths to avoid paying for any kind of software tools, which leaves enterprise market as the only viable option for anyone wanting to sell tooling to developers.

Slack has never made sense for open source communities, and I don't know why they have persisted in trying to use it for so long. Even Slack themselves have basically come out to discourage it.

> After extensive research and weighing the pros/cons of different collaboration options (covering tools like Discourse, Discord, Gitter, etc.), we’ve happily landed on Spectrum.

What was wrong with each of those other options? To me, Discourse seems like a much better option, because it's designed to interoperate (rather than to trap).

We will begin migrating from Slack to Teams from Microsoft, and the will phase out the former.

Quite frankly, Teams is at least "good enough" and quite frankly I didn't even bother looking at the advanced functionalities (if available at all). But Teams fits a lot lot better with our existing Office 365-based infrastructure (domain authentication and everything) and it's already included in the office 365 subscription that we already pay.

Another lesser known alternative to Slack is Jandi, which is cheaper, better free tier, has more eastern language support and is built more like a chatroom. Though the walled garden is still there and free tier only goes up to 500 members. I'd actually like to see more communities adopt it and see how it goes.

I never got the usp of slack its a searchable private irc server is that it?

IRC is annoying to use on mobile even with bouncers or services like irccloud, in addition file uploads, easy third party integrations with mostly everything, and given a pretty sane ui/ux it makes it an easy choice for many companies/projects.

Yes, you could do most of these with irc's v3 protocol, but no one seems to be investing time and money to do that.

Matrix bridges for irc are also interesting as you get some of these benefits, but to the dismay of the IRC users that will see links for messages longer than what their server allows, and weird usernames that include [m].

Slack is even more annoying on mobile; I can't post through the mobile webapp, only read.

It's a modern version of IRC with useful modern features, notably:

* Threads * Images * File upload * Markdown-like formatting (although very annoyingly it is arbitrarily different to markdown and doesn't support links). * Emoji reactions (you probably think that is frivolous but it is genuinely useful) * Channel history (i.e. you don't have to be online at the time to receive messages)

> Threads

Some folks would vehemently disagree with this being considered useful.

Maybe stuck-in-the-mud naysayers. Threads make it possible to track multiple conversations in the same channel in a sane way.

Anyone who has used IRC when there are two simultaneous but separate conversations happening in the same channel will know how shit it is.

And push notifications

Also you can post gifs.

Grown men using emojis... Now that's something I will never understand.

You will once you grow up ;)

(See what I did there, putting a wink emoji after that sentence?)

That's not an emoji.

The shortcomings of pure text for online communication have been recognized since forever (mainframe-based forums and Usenet in my own experience). Emoticons were invented to provide some of the visual/tonal/emotional cues present in RL conversation but missing from text. Emoji are the natural evolution of emoticons, providing a richer vocabulary and often requiring less interpretation. Is it really hard for you to understand why "grown men" might want to communicate in something other than a flat, dry, emotionless format? Do you not see the problem with that? Because that would be :(

Emojis sometimes make it a lot easier to convey sentiment than text. Also, "grown men" are allowed to have fun.

Spectrum is owned by Github which means it's owned by Microsoft.


Just saying. I thought it was an FOSS project by the description in the post.

It is, it's licensed under the BSD 3 clause license.

I don't think Spectrum is a replacement of Slack. There lots of people who are using Slack and satisfied with its features.

"I don't think a bicycle is a replacement of a horse. There lots of people who are using a horse and satisfied with its features."

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