Slack and OSS Communities

An open letter to @SlackHQ

I ❤ Slack

Before I get to the point, let me say I love Slack, and have been on board since pretty much the start. I’m not sure how many thousand companies starting using it before Thinkmill, but I am fairly sure it wasn’t too many.

Something about the design, usability, speed and way it enables async communication just eclipses any other communication tools I’ve used — from email to IRC to Basecamp to anything. More than anything, Slack builds culture in teams — whether they’re in the same room, or around the world.

This has been covered pretty comprehensively elsewhere on the internet, but there’s a reason I start here. Slack is so good I use it for everything. It’s one of the most-used apps on my iPhone, along with the phone itself, safari, messages and mail. And we very happily pay for the service — thousands of dollars a year.

But how we pay (not that we pay) is the problem. And it’s a big problem.

We have a problem.

Slack isn’t just great for business. It’s also great for communities. I have forged friendships with collaborators on my projects over Slack. I chat with people about programming techniques, tools, and ideas. I reach out for help, and I give help in return. For the great communities I’m part of, I’m grateful. And for Slack, which enables this, I’m also grateful.

But the problem is, the information disappears. All this help, all these discussions, and all these great ideas — just gone. And the bigger a community gets, the worse the problem is.

Because the more people chat, the quicker you hit that 10k free limit. In the Reactiflux community — one of the largest I’m part of — conversations don’t last two days. Which, given the amount of time invested by members discussing ideas and helping others, is just a tragedy.

It’s like filling a library with books while the library is on fire.

And it holds me back. I want to consolidate the KeystoneJS community into Slack (we just use it to discuss development at the moment) but can’t, because I just don’t trust it. The faster it fills up with users, the more my community grows, the sooner I’ll lose valuable discussions about our API design, issues, and other development topics.

And while I’m happy to pay for Slack for myself, there’s no way I can afford to pay for the thousands of people in the Keystone community. And there’s no middle ground.

A proposal

Clearly, Slack is a great tool for communities. Many, major open source projects are migrating there (this post is a great writeup on how Slack is quietly, unintentionally killing IRC).

But Slack’s pricing model is completely the opposite of what it needs to be to support them. What if we turn it on its head?

How about, instead of the account owner needing to pay for everyone, everyone can pay for their own account. If they want to.

I’d be happy to pay some amount per month or year for a “Slack Pass” that gives me access to any open Slack team I’m part of, as if it were paid for. I’m sure many people would. I’m not asking for a free ride, after all (even though GitHub has shown this can be a highly successful business model).

That way, anyone who’s invested in the community can pay to get the full history and access to more storage. Anyone who’s not, well they’re welcome to visit — with the free limits.

I’d even pay on a per-team basis if I had to. And maybe teams would pass some sort of test (i.e. be verified as an open community or related to an open source project, etc) to qualify, so you wouldn’t see abuse of the system.

I obviously don’t know the challenges from an engineering perspective to implement something like this, but all the announcements are just about new business plans and features.

I mean… surely… Slack. We are your users. You care about us, right?

Slack for Good

On the pricing page:

Slack wants to support people in the world who are doing good things.

Great! But…

For qualified nonprofit organizations and educational institutions, there is special pricing available.

I don’t like to brag much, but I do believe I do good things. Tens of thousands of people use open source software that I spend hours writing and supporting every day. For free. Unfortunately, my projects don’t seem to qualify as “doing good” in your books :(

Dan Abramov was recently crowdfunded to spend the next few months working on creating better tools for the whole React community. Today, he said:

What a shame all that great information is going to be lost, because nobody is ever going to pay $400,000 + per year for the 5,000+ users in the Reactiflux team.

I bet that if you let us each pay for ourselves, you’d be getting at least some of that lost revenue, and we’d be getting more value from our time spent communicating, learning, and helping others.

Slack, let’s talk about community support. Let us know you’re working on something, tell us what it might be, allow us to give you feedback, and most importantly, let’s move on from this period in your history.


Title photo credits to Jordan Novet/VentureBeat. Borrowed from this article.
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