Libera Chat - a popular IRC network plays an April Fool's joke about moving to Discord and makes a point
On the 1st of April, Libera.chat, a popular IRC network, played an April Fool's joke about moving to a Discord server and asked people to join an IRC channel to chat about it.
Libera's global notice caught a lot of users for a moment.
A_Dragon (A_D@libera/staff/dragon): [Global Notice] Good Morning All! Following our Annual General Meeting that took place last night (31st), we have decided that Libera will be pivoting to a Discord server ( https://discord.gg/4QNt6VjT )! We feel this is the best way forward for our various communities. Please let us know what you think in #libera-discord
While most users enjoyed the April Fool's joke.
Some users felt there was room for improvement.
Libera's admins personally had me for a moment. It was short and worked well.
What was Libera Chat IRC network trying to say?
All joking aside, I think Libera's April Fool's joke has a point. The Discord theme wasn't chosen at random. We should focus on the words they said in the global notice:
We feel this is the best way forward for our various communities.
The tone of the language was sarcastic and in a way opposed to the drastic move by some communities, open source or otherwise, to move from IRC, forums, etc. to a proprietary centralised network called Discord.
It is in no way a replacement for IRC, forums or any of the other proven tools we use to share and communicate with each other.
Problems with Discord - no room for third-party clients, resource-intensive proprietary clients, centralised, poor policies
It is absolutely not the way forward for any FOSS or other community for a variety of reasons, except for a limited number of users in a small group, mostly for users with newer hardware and those who don't care about licensing issues or the freedom of the software code they run.
No third-party clients and resource-intensive proprietary clients
A big problem with Discord is their ban on 3rd party clients - their official client is an Electron abomination.
If someone dares to make a 3rd party client, they will not only ban it, they will ban anyone who dares to use it. This kind of policy has also been criticised in an encrypted messaging service called Signal. There is no way to host a server yourself that is compatible with the official Signal clients. You are basically stuck with the official server hosted by Signal's management. Nor is it allowed to code a free software alternative Signal client that uses Signal's servers.
Similarly, Discord not only bans projects, but also users who develop or use Discord servers via third-party clients.
A terminal-based client has had its development halted because the project violated Discord's terms of service.
If you do not care about self-hosting and licensing issues, Telegram's free tiers are by no means a bad choice. They encourage the development of third-party clients. Their group chats is feature-rich and sufficiently private.
The official desktop Discord client is based on Electron. Electron is widely used today, not just for Discord. That doesn't change the fact that Electron is a bloated disgrace: it's not native, it's resource-hungry, you basically have to install another copy of a web browser for every application.
To see this for yourself, run htop with the usual headers in a terminal as the first client after login, and then watch how RAM and CPU usage changes while you use IRC, the web, and something built with Electron.
Before choosing a communication tool for your community, FOSS or otherwise, you need to ask yourself a few questions and assess the situation and the only way forward.
Maybe it works fine on a shiny new system, but what about your friend on a low-powered or old machine?
Personally, I want to be able to jump ship if necessary, I want to be able to choose a client that suits my needs.
As mentioned above, Discord does not tolerate the development of third-party clients. It doesn't stop there, as a user of a third-party client called Ripcord was banned for running a third-party client in the background alongside the official client.
He had to discuss this on Hacker News to get the attention of the staff, and was finally unbanned after weeks.
It turns out that my use of a third-party Discord client called Ripcord was the reason for my ban.
Discord staff can suspend and eventually terminate your account over issues like age verification. Mr Will Nelson, a software engineer at Discord, was falsely flagged as under-aged on Discord and his account was suspended while he was on a vacation. However, Discord showed some mercy and shared reasonable steps to restore access.
According to the email sent to him, he was simply asked to share a selfie of himself holding a photo ID with his date of birth next to a piece of paper with his Discord username [including discriminator] written on it. All of this information must be visible in a single image or photo.
This requirement to allow appeal seems reasonable to me for a non-free, user-subjugating service. As expected, the developer didn't give in and had to pay the price - his account was deleted by Discord.
The bigger they are, the more money they need from investors, the more likely they are to crush you without you even noticing. or that you even exist. These are the advantages of a centralised, non-free service that you call a place to talk to your community.
It is important to note that Discord also denies service to users in countries subject to U.S. and/or EU sanctions.
You may not download or use our services if you are located in a country or region subject to embargoes by the U.S. or EU governments (including Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and the Crimea region), unless such use is authorised by the U.S. and other relevant authorities.
Forums and Discord are unrelated
Traditional forums are no longer a popular place for people to come together to talk and have been replaced in popularity by more modern community platforms such as Discord, Twitter and Twitch.
More and more companies, including video game journalists and publishers, are moving from forums to Discord in favour of feature-rich, real-time communication.
A good forum is a public repository of knowledge that can help you find answers to your questions. Threads in a forum are likely to address your problems in the form of a guide or tutorial. It creates a publicly searchable, permanent record on the web of problems users face, with valid, user-approved solutions. There is simply no way to replace forums with Discord. The same applies to any kind of subject matter that a forum addresses. For a company, a forum acts as an additional crowd-sourced help for users. The official support team can only do so much. But other experienced users who have faced, or are actively facing, similar issues can collaborate and bring faster resolution to the community.
Discord, Slack, etc. are never a replacement for a forum. They are not even related. If you want real-time threaded communication with feature-rich group chats, there are better options like Zulip.
If you want something basic, IRC is still good for a variety of real-time discussions. Kudos to Sourcehut for investing money in IRC by building more accessible services like chat.sr.ht.
Zulip is also the official messaging platform for group chats in the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), whose overall goal is to make the Internet work better by creating voluntary standards that help shape the development of the Internet. They run a dedicated Zulip server and you should too. It is also possible to get a managed Zulip account from Zulip Cloud for free.
The benefits of self-hosting a service over using a cloud service are unrivalled. You do not have to deal with the horrors of terms of service designed to subjugate their users, like Discord or any other non-free service. For example, you decide the access control, whether to allow a VPN or Tor.
Zulip is 100% free and open source, with no proprietary version.
For the above reasons, all communities, especially FOSS projects, should never move to a closed proprietary platform like Discord. Also, no amount of real-time communication with modern group features can replace a forum.
We as a community should use the standards set by the internet as a global family. Instead of giving in to closed, restrictive platforms like Discord that only care about profit under the guise of protecting their users.
For more information on why not to use Discord, see Mr Richard Stallman's personal page.