The community has been using Gitter as our official chat for many years now, but the influx of new community members over the last year, and the ever-increasing surge of activity has made it hard for us to keep up with discussions.

After many discussions and a 3-month period of community testing, we have decided to switch to Zulip. It has proven to be a better fit for our communication needs, so we are thrilled to announce that we are officially switching to it!

The old Gitter chat will not be decommissioned, but we expect that over time focus will shift from it to Zulip. For all the existing community members still on Gitter, we understand that there may be some getting-used-to required when you switch over to Zulip; so we apologize in advance if the initial experience proves to be a bit confusing.

In an effort to ease switching over, we've created this short 3 minute video to help get you started:

Please feel free to ask our friendly community for any further help, and we'll do our best to make the switch easier.

The history behind the decision

During 2019, there were numerous informal discussions on our Gitter chat about switching to a different chat platform, in an effort to help the community members manage our communications in a more efficient way. There result of these discussions was an issue, to explore alternatives to Gitter.

We started comparing the features of a handful of popular solutions, which we eventually narrowed down to the following:

The features that we were mainly looking for were:

  • Ideally open-source
  • Integration with GitHub
  • Free (or at least a free pricing plan available for open-source projects)
  • Support of retaining the full discussion history, in the free plan
  • Support of "threaded" discussions

Once we have decided that Zulip was the best option out of the ones we looked at, we started a separate issue here, to discuss its pros/cons over Gitter.

Mid-February 2020, once enough testing has been done and community feedback gathered, the issue was brought into the PMC for vote.

The PMC has voted and decided in favor of the switch to Zulip on February 29, 2020, at which point Zulip was declared the official chat platform for Backdrop.

Additional things we like about Zulip

During the testing period, the community quickly realized the most notable feature of Zulip (and other chat platforms that support this), is the huge time-saving benefit of using "streams" and "topics", to split discussions into smaller fragments. This is particularly useful, and becomes more apparent in cases when a person is inactive for a small period (say after a holiday break, or if they only have time to work on Backdrop during the weekends). Coming back to find a set of threaded discussions is much more manageable. It allows you to catch up at your own pace, thread-by-thread, as opposed to having to work your way through a single huge backlog of chat with all the discussions that have happened, which is how Gitter used to work.

We were also pleasantly surprised by various other features of Zulip here and there; so although the key benefit was the threaded discussions, there were also a couple of additional niceties, that we think are worth mentioning:

  • We can directly react to comments using emojis (like thumbs-up), without having to add another comment.
  • Our Dragonbot is happier in Zulip. We've trained Dragonbot to answer more questions, and play a more active role in the community. Type "@Dragonbot help" in any Zulip stream for more information