Come join the Julia Zulip chat!

Hey everyone, just wanted to advertise the Julia Zulip chat server. I think it’s great but there’s a chicken and egg problem where it’s hard to convince people to use it because there’s currently few active users.

Zulip is an open source alternative to Slack which has

  • Better Markdown support
  • Julia Syntax highlighting
  • Unlimited message history for us and other open source communities
  • Beautiful built in LaTeX support for displaying math
  • An approach to conversation threads that may be initially a bit different from how Slack handles it, but I think much better once you use it a bit
  • Really responsive and helpful developers. If you have a problem or complaint with Zulip you can open an issue on their Git repo and expect a quick response! This really contrasted with my experience with Slack at various times, especially when Slack started screwing with text formatting.

I’d really appreciate if people came and at least tried it out. I think it’s a really compelling alternative to Slack, especially because we blow through our alotted 10,000 message limit 7.6 times a month now, and that pace is only increasing (up 5% from last month!).

Here’s a little screenshot showing some nice features in Zulip:

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For those on mobile, the URL to enter into the Zulip mobile app is:

julialang.zulipchat.com

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Zulip’s interface is a little different from Slack’s.

Zulip has ‘Streams’ which are a direct analogue to Slack’s Channels, but the biggest difference that takes some getting used to is that all messages within a Stream have a topic. Topics should be thought of as like the subject line in a Discourse post, this makes it so that all conversations in Zulip are implicitly in a thread.

When you view a Stream in Zulip it’ll default to showing you all the different topics in that stream interweaved with each-other which can be a good way to get an birds-eye view of what’s going on, but if you’re actually going to read something, you should generally click on the conversation topic and then it’ll filter your view down to just that topic.

These two resources are really helpful: https://zulipchat.com/help/getting-started-with-zulip, https://zulipchat.com/help/reading-strategies

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Oh right, I should point out that another difference from Slack is that the mobile app is not very good or polished (in my opinion) which is unfortunate, however the silver lining is that the actual website itself is perfectly usable on a mobile web browser, unlike Slack!

I’d encourage mobile users to try out both the app and the website and see which works better for you. I found the website great on my phone.

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Honestly, I’ve been trying out the mobile app on both iPhone and iPad, and it’s not bad! The “home” tab that shows you all of your unreads is pretty nice.

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Disclaimer: I’m mostly just bumping this thread to increase the number of people who see this and join julialang.zulipchat.com/.

Update on the Julia Zulipchat

Follwing the previous push to get people to join, we saw a nice spike in Zulip usership, some percentage of which was sticky. You can see some stats here: https://julialang.zulipchat.com/stats. A lot of us are splitting our attention between Zulip and Slack for now because Slack is where so many essential community members are, but a few members of the Makie community have moved over, so we’re seeing a lot of great activity in the Makie stream.

There are strong network dynamics at play here, where it’s hard to have conversations somewhere if there’s not already conversations happening there. I expect it’ll be a while we know if this Zulip community can sustain itself without a top down, official effort from important julia members to move to Zulip. Without such an effort, the best hope I see is occasionally pinging people and reminding them that the Zulip exists and hoping we can build a big enough community in a bottom up way.

I think the main argument for why we should be using Zulip is that even if people prefer Slack (which many don’t), the Slack is just straight up unsustainable. In the last month, 83,736 messages have been posted in Slack, which is 6% higher than last month. Slack only allows us to see the 10,000 most recent messages which means that all our Slack message history is being lost over 8 times a month.

Language adoption and community engagement are not going to shrink anytime soon and even if people are okay with losing the message history 8 times a month, what about when it’s 10 or 15 times a month? Are people really going to be okay with not being able to see posts from two prior?

I think the only workable solution here is to move the community somewhere where we have control over the message history and can choose how long to keep messages. Zulip is the only service that I’m aware of that ticks this box without having other deal-breaker problems (such as lack of threads in Riot.IM or only being able to be part of one workspace with MatterMost( or was it RocketChat? I don’t remember. )).

Please at least try the Zulip chat, and if you don’t like it, tell us what you don’t like! The maintainers on Github are very responsive and we’ve already opened a number of github issues and are working towards fixing some common gripes.

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Here’s my biggest problem with Zulip: the interface is extremely sluggish, on both my mobile where I do most reading, but also in my laptop browser. Scrolling is a pain as it jumps down in discrete steps. The interface sometimes gets stale and I have to refresh the page for buttons to work. Fully loading the page for it to become interactive takes more than 30 seconds. So far, it’s a massively unpleasant experience to use it, even though they have some great features and ideas.

Hm, that’s not good, but that also has not at all been my experience. I’ve generally found the website to be more responsive than Slack. I’m not sure I have any suggestions. I’ve used Zulip on an iOS, MacOS and Manjaro Linux and it was somewhat uniform. What OS are you on?

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Just to exemplify clearly the difference in threading models (for lost people like me), this image shows what users receive from each platform after some time away.

In slack you have to choose somewhat blindly your top priority channels and give up on the rest. In Zulip you filter quickly active conversations by topic and catch up the interesting ones.

I think Zulip is not intuitive at first but grows on you rather quickly :smile:.

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Update:

We’ve hit our 10,000th message on the Julia Zulip! Things seem to be going pretty well and the community size has been rather stable at around 100 active users per day. Significantly smaller than Slack and Discourse but I think with a lot of promise.

In other news, an interesting discussion happened on Slack today because the Julia Slack was given a temporary free trial of all the paid features. Ironically, this upset some users because one of the big arguments for having Slack was the fact that the chat history was ephemeral, but now it’s all visible which is frustrating for some users.

Currently all history in Zulip is forever unless manually deleted, but the developers are working on a feature that will let us set a lifetime for messages on a per-stream basis. This will let us have ephemeral message history in the streams we decide it to be desirable and put the control in our hands, instead of letting random actions reveal message history that some in the community assumed would be hidden forever.

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Can you post the relevant issues and/or pull requests in this thread so that people can track the progress?

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Here is the issues https://github.com/zulip/zulip/issues/106 which seems to have a working branch that hasn’t seen any attention since late October. I prodded them in their zulip instance so hopefully we can get an update soon

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It seems like one of the things they want is to test this feature in a production setting.

I volunteered the Julia Zulip. Hopefully they will take us up on the offer.

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So a new feature has come to Zulip called the ‘recent topics view’, you can check it out at https://julialang.zulipchat.com/#recent_topics, by pressing t in Zulip, or by pressing the little clock icon at the top right of the “Streams” list.

The recent topics view is a new feature in Zulip which was implemented partially in response to some feedback given from Julia community members who found it overwhelming to try and catch up on conversations if they only visit Zulip occasionally. It has several features for making it easy to sort through topics, including things like filtering by topics you participated in. I think the recent topics view may soon become the default view when you visit Zulip, but in the time being I recommend bookmarking https://julialang.zulipchat.com/#recent_topics in your browser.

I hope the new recent topics view addresses some of the concerns people have about Zulip and showcases how responsive the Zulip developers are to our concerns.

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