WordPress Contributors Continue Exploring Migration of Public and Private Messages from Slack to Matrix

In early 2023, WordPress and Matrix contributors proposed a new Meta team subproject to explore replacing Slack communication with Matrix, an open source federated chat system. After the team’s most recent meeting, Automattic-sponsored contributor Alex Kirk published an update on the status of recent experiments in migration.

After researching more on migrating public messages, Kirk said the team is now evaluating whether the Apache-2.0 licensed Slack Matrix migration tool could work for this project.

“It operates on Slack export files and requires a fresh Synapse server,” Kirk said.

“We haven’t yet been able to confirm whether it actually can import the messages and hope to be able to share more on the next meeting.”

On the subject of migrating private messages, Kirk said the team is leaning towards ensuring users have the tools to save their own external archives.

“For migrating private messages in DMs or private groups we’ve concluded that we won’t want to attempt their migration but will look into providing tools for achieving that,” Kirk said.

“Here we’ve found that browser extensions exist which allow you to download your own Slack direct messages inside your browser as a text file. Possibly it’ll be our recommendation to use those tools to export the messages for yourself.”

Kirk also addressed some accessibility concerns that WordPress Accessibility Team contributor Alex Stine raised during a meeting at the end of March:

Slack is well supported and accessible to a very wide audience. Something that is not up for argument, a lot of these open-source/decentralized concepts are not accessible to all or most.

The decentralized media world walks a fine line between a great thing and a lot of hypocrisy. On one hand, claiming to give users a voice, on the other hand, knowingly excluding users of assistive tech.

Years of GitHub issues do not lie. Matrix has not been around all that long but there are plenty of other examples that have been around long enough…The Slack accessibility team is best in its class. They are constantly responsive and very engaged with users.

Kirk linked to an article published by Mozilla accessibility engineer Marco Zehe titled How to use Element and Matrix with a screen reader. Mozilla replaced IRC with Matrix in 2020, identifying Matrix as an “excellent open community collaboration tool, with robust support for accessibility and community safety.”

Zehe’s post is essentially a guide to help those using assistive technology find their way around Element and the Matrix Eco system more easily. It also highlights a few things that do not yet work well, including keyboard navigation for the members list and messages.

“I hope some of these issues are no longer problems,” Stine said in response to Kirk sharing the article. “If they still are, this would be no doubt a far worse experience than Slack was in some of its worst times. The fact that users have to switch their screen reader modes just to have basic functionality support is not cool. Here is the way I see it. If modern apps do not follow a similar pattern for your OS to the point where you have to look up docs to figure out how to use it, it is probably too complicated and/or not accessible by my definition.”

The question of whether it would be beneficial for the WordPress project to replace Slack communication with Matrix is still yet unanswered, but the initial response to the idea was overwhelmingly positive. More research into the logistics of migration will be a necessary part of the decision.

The Matrix contributors proposing this new exploration will meet again on Wednesday, April 19, for the regularly scheduled bi-weekly meeting and plan to discuss the research on migrating messages from Slack.


7 responses to “WordPress Contributors Continue Exploring Migration of Public and Private Messages from Slack to Matrix”

    • A few reasons:

      1) WordPress being an open source project would benefit from an open source chat system. We would not rely on a 3rd party for our real-time communication.
      2) Reduces on-boarding friction for new users. A common complaint is wasting significant amount of time on contributor days to onboard first time contributors. With Matrix, you see the chat right on page, without even requiring an account & can login for participation with just few clicks.
      3) Bring together all local WordPress slack communities, which mostly don’t have full retention of messages being on free plan.

    • E-mail and Slack work fine for me! It seems that open source is a plus, and “federated” is the new buzword as Elon Musk trashes Twitter (though for me, personally, it is not all that different from preMusk). I guess the one question remaining for me is which is the better option for accessibility?

  1. Hi folks – I’m project lead for Matrix & Element here. We take accessibility very seriously, and particularly when Mozilla migrated from IRC to Matrix in 2020, we spent ages working with the Mozilla a11y folks (Marco Zehe at the time) ensuring that our screen-reader support in Element was better than Slack. Concretely, the Element bugtracker shows we’ve closed off 213 a11y issues on Element Web (https://github.com/vector-im/element-web/issues?q=is%3Aissue+label%3Aa11y+is%3Aclosed) and we’re working through the higher priority remaining open ones.

    This isn’t just because prioritising a11y is the right thing to do; given most of Element’s paying customers are governments, there are legal obligations to be WCAG 2.1 AA or better compliant (we aim for AAA) – so if there are specific issues are causing problems, please flag them here (or ping me on github as @ara4n) and I will make sure they get looked at rapidly.

    Meanwhile, on mobile, we’re just finishing Element X (rewrite of the mobile apps on iOS & Android), which should have absolutely best in class a11y thanks to leaning on all the latest SwiftUI and Jetpack Compose infrastructure from Apple & Google – e.g. VoiceOver support on iOS should be perfect; likewise dynamic text and similar.

    In terms of Alex Stine’s feedback:

    “I hope some of these issues are no longer problems,” Stine said in response to Kirk sharing the article. “If they still are, this would be no doubt a far worse experience than Slack was in some of its worst times.”

    Can someone please point me to where that conversation is happening so we can figure out which issues are being referred to?


    • Hi, Matthew! Thanks for joining the conversation! The quote from Alex comes from a conversation discussing arco Zehe’s article on Matrix accessibility from July 2020. The context isn’t as negative as it sounds in isolation; it was simply an observation that the article is almost 3 years old, and didn’t provide a lot of context for what might have changed since then.

      The whole conversation can be reviewed in the WordPress Slack instance

      The primary concern is with the risk of leaving behind the WordPress contributors with disabilities in the search for an open source solution, so we want to make sure any future solution is thoroughly vetted before switching.

      • I guess the main thing which has changed since the initial a11y spike in 2020 is that we’ve kept on top of it – e.g. going from WCAG AA to AAA, and we review all PRs for a11y impact, and have entirely rewritten the Element mobile clients to have best in class a11y (which was one of the main drivers for the rewrite). Needless to say, we categorically wouldn’t want WP contributors with disabilities to be disadvantaged by a move from Slack… but from what I understand, Element should be at least as good as Slack for screenreaders etc.

        I’ll go hunt down the convo in the WP Slack instance; thanks for identifying it.


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