When people first begin their community journey, we frequently receive the question, "Which chat platform should I choose?". With multiple platforms available, this is indeed a difficult choice. So, we decided to weigh the pros and cons of the three most commonly used platforms in our user base against each other and let you determine which one is the right platform for you. For this comparison, we focused on Slack, Discord, and Mattermost.
Slack for communities
What is Slack?
Slack was originally developed for the workplace as an instant-messaging tool but has also gained popularity among community builders. It is primarily used for private chat messaging but can also be used for video, audio calls, and file-sharing. Many successful communities nowadays use the tool. However, it lacks some specialized functionalities that many community builders value.
Why use Slack?
Pros of using Slack
High level of popularity & familiarity: When Slack was originally launched, there were no real competitors in the market. Of course, there were other messaging applications, but not with the same invitation system and usability. Until today it has managed to stay at the top of workforce application platforms. Since it is a part of their daily work as professionals, most community members already know how to use it and have it installed on their go-to devices. Therefore joining a new community doesn't involve a lot of effort. It just means adding a new Slack workspace to their existing app.
Multiple channels: With Slack, you can organize different conversations into distinct spaces called channels. The channels can either be public, private, or shared. So, you can create different channels for various groups and use these channels to interact with other community members.
Threaded conversations: The different discussions are organized into threads, making it easy to follow them. When messages in chat apps pile up, Slack allows you to reply directly to the comment through a thread. A thread will appear inside the channel but under a separate window which lets you get into detail without cluttering a channel or direct message conversation.
Easy set-up: Slack is pretty easy to set up. After ticking a few boxes, a Slack workspace is set up. Once you've invited one more person, you've completed the minimum set-up necessary to utilize the product.
Variety of integrations: Slack offers tons of integrations for communities. It allows you to connect to a large range of software apps. This is useful for community managers, so they can implement different integrations that make their life easier and add value to their community. However, keep in mind that the free plan limits the number of apps that can be integrated up to 10. Additionally, there is a range of bots that you can implement to increase automation, manage requests, gather feedback, and more. It even lets you easily create your own bots.
Cons of using Slack
Limited features with free plan: Your access is very much restricted depending on whether you have the free version or the paid version. One key feature it lacks is that the archive is limited to the most recent 10.000 messages. Individual users can not upgrade, but the admin has to pay a price of currently 8$ per user per month. This might not sound that much but adds up to a lot if you think about communities and might leave large communities with 6-digit annual bills.
Limited moderation features: The moderation features are minimal. Even the basics, such as allowing the admin to delete messages, are not given. Additionally, you can't block or mute members on Slack, which is a big problem when dealing with trolls or people spamming you with messages. Further, it is not clear who is in charge. There is no clear host, admin, or leader who members can turn to with their questions.
Low audio and video quality: Audio and video features are not one of Slack's strengths. However, Slack released a new feature, called Huddles, that is similar to Discords audio system and can largely be used the same way. Nevertheless, the problem with video calls and screen sharing is that it is less reliable, which is why most members prefer to use Zoom.
Limited user profiles: The information regarding user profiles is limited since you can only display your phone number, email address, profile picture and only have room for a small bio. However, there are no specific questions about personal information such as hobbies or interests. This might be an issue if you're trying to create a community among strangers.
Privacy issues: Slack enables the admins of a community to read your member's direct messages on the enterprise plan. Slack members with the relevant permissions are able not just to export the group conversations but also 1-1 direct messages. Not every member might feel comfortable with the possibility of breach of trust and privacy.
Discord for communities
What is Discord?
Discord has about the same functions as Slack, but contrary to Slack, it was originally developed as a medium for gaming communities to hang out and chat. Now it is home to communities of any size but is used mainly by small active groups who regularly converse with each other.
Why use Discord?
Pros of using Discord
Free plan without limitations: Discord does not require paying for the platform. So you can almost use all features without spending any money. Of course, there is a premium version called the Nitro version, which enables users to unlock a few goodies. This includes emojis, bigger upload sizes, animated avatars, and more.
High audio quality: The sound quality and options of Discord are remarkable. The volume of every conversation can be adjusted to your liking. Discord offers dedicated audio channels, which can be turned on and off, compared to a room where you can stop by, hang out, and leave when you have had enough.
Designed for communities: Originally created solely for gaming communities, discord features are not intended for business purposes but cater to community needs. However, it has expanded and is now suitable for various online communities outside the gaming community.
Variety of moderation features: The built-in moderation settings are far more advanced than Slacks. Firstly you can set particular behavior and membership settings for your Discord server to ensure that members follow your rules. Secondly, you can set up a membership screening, a process that requires prospective members to first respond to a series of questions and accept your community's rules before they are permitted to join. Lastly, you can create member roles and permissions, granting some select members the authority of moderator or administrator.
Modern interface: Discord has a modern interface that lets you switch between channels, add hashtags, and upload game screenshots into your conversation. It allows you easily share images, videos, and links and constantly updates its interface with new emojis.
Cons of using Discord
Privacy issues: Discord's most prominent issues are privacy problems. Discord monitors users' activity and can display it to others. Additionally, they don't over the same level of encryption that some other platforms offer.
Trolls and Harassment: Since Discord is a social media platform, there is a fair amount of trolls and harassment. If you own a private server, there should be no issues, but when joining new and larger communities, make sure to report any problematic behavior.
Limited number of integrations: Unlike Slack, Discord has no official integrations. However, you can fix this by using third-party services. However, it is less convenient than having a library of ready-made integrations that you can choose from. If you rely on native integrations with SaaS apps, Discord is not the best fit for you.
Single user profile: Instead of letting you create a new profile every time you join a new community, you can only use your one-and-only profile across all communities. This might be problematic for users who want to separate their different profiles from the different communities. On the other hand, it simplifies the usage of Discord.
Mattermost for communities
What is Mattermost?
Mattermost is a communication tool that allows teams to communicate with each other. It is an open-source application that can be self-hosted or cloud-hosted. It promotes itself as an open-source Slack alternative or Microsoft Teams substitute.
Why use Mattermost?
Pros of using Mattermost
High level of data privacy: Mattermost is compliant with strict data privacy and regulatory policies. Select a self-hosted or secure cloud deployment solution that satisfies your requirements for compliance and security. This way, you have complete control over your communities data. It is equipped with more privacy, enterprise licensing, and private cloud security compared to other platforms.
Full customization: The platform provides full customization due to being able to access the source code, APIs, drivers, open-source integration, samples, and much more. So you can completely custom brand the entire platform to your needs.
Open source: Mattermost is a collaborative tool built by developers for developers. Since it is open source, you are welcome to contribute if you want. In addition, it is fully customizable to your needs.
Collaboration: With Mattermost, you can collaborate from any location at any time. To remain in touch wherever you are, you can effortlessly exchange files across the web, desktop, and mobile phone, establish new channels, tag individuals, and send messages via private or group chat.
Free plan without limitations: Mattermost is open-source and largely free to use. However, they also offer you a premium version. The free version offers built-in customization, unlimited search history, threaded messaging, (custom) emojis, unlimited teams, and channels for one-to-one and group messages. Even the premium version is cheap compared to other platforms and offers additional value.
Cons of using Mattermost
Complicated Search features: Users often complain about the different search features offered or, better said, not offered by Mattermost. Going through your chat history is very difficult since you can not go through a concrete chat. Therefore you can quickly lose oversight.
Mobile bugs: Although the platform runs smoothly on PC, it has some bugs regarding mobile usage. For example, messages and notifications are unable to load from your mobile phone, and sometimes it is challenging to access the platform.
Issues with usability: Mattermost is built for a technical audience, and it can be a little tough to use due to the large variety of functions it offers. A simple task, such as creating a workgroup, becomes challenging.
So, which platform is the best when you want to build your community? The answer is: it depends on what you are looking for.
- Slack: It is well known and offers a library full of integrations. However, you are very much restricted with the free plan, and it can become pricey to use a premium version. Additionally, since it is designed for business purposes, it lacks when it comes to moderation features.
- Discord: Originally designed for communities, it offers remarkable audio quality and a variety of moderation features to keep your community in check. However, it has become under scrutiny lately since the platform is home to a large number of trolls and harassment.
- Mattermost: The greatest part about Mattermost is that it is open-source, so you can fully customize the platform to your use cases. Additionally, it offers a high level of privacy and security. However, since the platform is made by developers for developers, it can be challenging to use when you have no technical expertise and the platform isn't as popular as Slack and Discord for community members.
In crowd.dev’s user base we can see that more and more developer communities are being built on Discord. It seems like the way to go in 2022 - especially since Slack recently announced a new pricing plan that will further cut back on community use cases. Furthermore, we see that Discord communities are, on average, more active and engaging than Slack communities. Mattermost can be a good option for open source communities but often lacks the popularity to build large-scale communities in a commercial context.