CBIO’s internal communication goes open source

1 minute read

I have been using slack for a rather long time as a discussion platform for the lab, even before moving to Belgium. Based on the access log, I set up the lab slack workspace in June 2016. It has proven very useful, even with the more recent limitations that come with the free slack plan. I have been thinking for some time that I should move to an open source offering. Based on a little bit of reading (here and here) and asking on social media, there were a couple of contenders: Mattermost, element.io, rocket.chat and Zulip.

My needs are pretty simple: I would like to have access to all messages, and apps for various desktop and mobile OSes. Cost is also an issue - with say 15 users at around 7$ per month, it would cost the lab over 1200$ per year. While not a big amount per se for an academic lab, given the restrictions of what can be paid for from academic funding (salary only or consumable, for example), that money is money that couldn’t be used to support students with their travelling to conferences. I thus considered self-hosting, but it wasn’t clear I could get the support from IT, a public facing IP, with the necessary port accessible to the world.

Then I discovered that Zulip offers their Cloud Standard plan for free for academic research, which is what I finally went for with cbio.zulipchat.com. They ask to acknowledge their support on the lab webpage (see at the bottom), which is a fair request. The sponsorship was accepted on the day, and a couple of days later, their support imported1 all the slack messages from our non-private channels.

So far, all works very smoothly, and I’m quite happy. The web interface and the GNU/Linux and Android apps work very well. I think I’m also liking the possibility to provide a title to posts/threads - future will tell if all members make use of this. Another useful difference with slack (at least the free plan) is there are guest accounts (that are given access to specific streams/channels when joining), in addition to regular members (who can join all public streams).

  1. Even if one can only see the last messages with a free slack plan, all messages from public channels get exported. This, and a bot user OAuth token is all they need.