Slack is the wrong tool for communities at scale

I’ve been seeing more and more software companies and others building non-business, ostensibly open communities using Slack and I really can’t understand the thinking behind it, unless it’s just laziness (i.e. “We already use Slack internally, why not for our users too?”). Anyone who knows the limitations of Slack’s free plan know it can’t work for a community long-term, and anyone familiar with its pricing know it’s not sustainable for the vast majority of user communities that don’t have a significant profit model.

I’ve got a lot more to write on this soon…

I say “at scale”, because I think Slack can work for communities that aren’t very large. But even there a good part of that assumes that you pay for licenses for each member so that you can benefit from the search and archives beyond 10k messages long-term, which ties in to why larger scale is generally unsustainable (cost).

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hmm…wonder if you are referring to a very specific startup we’ve discussed going through its teething pains around this… :thinking: :wink:

I can’t help but be curious about the nature of community: a community starts with 2 (dyad), then officially 3 (triad) and progressively grows and sometimes grows exponentially faster than originally envisioned.

What do we tell teams who start with Slack and hit such walls? How do we create a strong sense of continuity of discussions between Slack and a platform like Discourse esp when people have their preferences as to what medium they feel most comfortable sharing at any given moment?

Is this is a matter of identifying discussions in Slack that are snowballing and ever so cleverly moving them to something like Discourse? or something else?

I still have popcorn at my side wondering where you are bringing this Discourse instance in such a way that we discover a method for knowledge engineering that is collaborative in nature! While I am very much enjoying this exploration, I definitely want to do more than just commenting :slight_smile:

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That is certainly one key example that was in mind! But the reality is I probably wouldn’t have written about it if it weren’t so apparently widespread! Somehow people really don’t see the problems they’ll run into when they expand their original Slack instance beyond the company boundaries, yet they’re so blindingly obvious to me… I don’t get it.

Maybe part of it is as you say:

i.e. they start with Slack because that’s what they already have and use, it’s convenient and easy, and they think “we’ll switch to something better when we have to”. But then in the blink of an eye they have 1000 registered users and then they feel the difficulty with migrating, fear the loss of users if they do, etc… It wouldn’t be the first time companies run into difficulties for lack of foresight.

This one is, I think, somewhat easy: move to Discord. Discord is very much like Slack, only it’s entirely free, has moderation tools, and has a number of other advantages over Slack. It’s the obvious choice at this point for open, public communities that want a real time discussion space.

This is the harder question, I think. My hope is that Slack actually becomes obsolete over time because I actually don’t think it’s very well designed, despite its popularity. What will be interesting is that there are a lot of new platforms coming out with both asynchronous (forum-like) and synchronous (chat-like, Slack-like) functionality built-in. And even Discourse is now seriously working on implementing chat into their existing forum platform, which to me is extremely exciting.

I think what needs to be understood is that there is a natural division between internal communications, which can and should happen in whatever way the team prefers (even if it’s Slack :laughing:), and external communications, e.g. with/within your community. The latter should use tools, systems, and processes that facilitate community and good interaction of large groups, which are in general very different requirements and goals from internal communication. This is the crux of why Slack is not the right tool for the job. You’ve talked before about the possible danger of “using Discourse as a hammer” (which I am definitely cognizant of), and I think that’s exactly what has happened with people using Slack for open communities.

So as far as solving these problems, my hope is to spread the understanding that Slack is being misused, and simultaneously popularize the appropriate alternatives. Meanwhile I eagerly await seeing what the Discourse team creates in a hybrid system. Maybe it can replace Discord as a Discourse-adjunct and function as a truly integrated, holistic community platform!