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.
What is the motivation for this move? It seems disruptive, but if there is a logical reason, then I guess it could make sense in the long term.