Use Matrix for Chat
This is not authoritative documentation. These features are not currently available in Zuul. They may change significantly before final implementation, or may never be fully completed.
We just switched IRC networks from Freenode to OFTC. This was done quickly because remaining on Freenode was untenable due to recent changes, and the OpenDev community had an existing plan prepared to move to OFTC should such a situation arise.
Now that the immediate issue is addressed, we can take a considered approach to evaluating whether an alternative to IRC such as Matrix would be more suited.
Here are some concerns that affect us as a community:
Some users like to stay connected all the time so they can read messages from when they are away.
Others are only interested in connecting when they have something to say.
On Freenode, nick registration was required to join #zuul in order to mitigate spam. It is unclear whether the same will be true for OFTC.
Some users prefer simple text-based clients.
Others prefer rich messaging and browser or mobile clients.
We rely heavily on gerritbot.
We use the logs recorded by eavesdrop from time to time.
We benefit from the OpenDev statusbot.
We collaborate with a large number of people in the OpenDev community in various OFTC channels. We also collaborate with folks in Ansible and other communities in libera.chat channels.
Users must be able to access our chat using Free and Open-Source Software.
The software running the chat system itself should be Free and Open-Source as well if possible. Both of these are natural extensions of the Open Infrastructure community’s Four Opens, as well as OpenDev’s mantra that Free Software needs Free Tools.
Benefits Offered by Matrix
The Matrix architecture associates a user with a “homeserver”, and that homeserver is responsible for storing messages in all of the rooms the user is present. This means that every Matrix user has the ability to access messages received while their client is disconnected. Users don’t need to set up separate “bouncers”.
Authentication happens with the Matrix client and homeserver, rather than through a separate nickserv registration system. This process is familiar to all users of web services, so should reduce barriers to access for new users.
Matrix has a wide variety of clients available, including the Element web/desktop/mobile clients, as well as the weechat-matrix plugin. This addresses users of simple text clients and rich media.
Bots are relatively simple to implement with Matrix.
The Matrix community is dedicated to interoperability. That drives their commitment to open standards, open source software, federation using Matrix itself, and bridging to other communities which themselves operate under open standards. That aligns very well with our four-opens philosophy, and leads directly to the next point:
Bridges exist to OFTC, libera.chat, and, at least for the moment, Freenode. That means that any of our users who have invested in establishing a presence in Matrix can relatively easily interact with communities who call those other networks home.
End-to-end encrypted channels for private chats. While clearly the #zuul channel is our main concern, and it will be public and unencrypted, the ability for our community members to have ad-hoc chats about sensitive matters (such as questions which may relate to security) is a benefit. If Matrix becomes more widely used such that employees of companies feel secure having private chats in the same platform as our public community interactions, we all benefit from the increased availability and accessibility of people who no longer need to split their attention between multiple platforms.
Reasons to Move
We could continue to call the #zuul channel on OFTC home, and individual users could still use Matrix on their own to obtain most of those benefits by joining the portal room on the OFTC matrix.org bridge. The reasons to move to a native Matrix room are:
Eliminate a potential failure point. If many/most of us are connected via Matrix and the bridge, then either a Matrix or an OFTC outage would affect us.
Eliminate a source of spam. Spammers find IRC networks very easy to attack. Matrix is not immune to this, but it is more difficult.
Isolate ourselves from OFTC-related technology or policy changes. For example, if we find we need to require registration to speak in channel, that would take us back to the state where we have to teach new users about nick registration.
Elevating the baseline level of functionality expected from our chat platform. By saying that our home is Matrix, we communicate to users that the additional functionality offered by the platform is an expected norm. Rather than tailoring our interactions to the lowest-common-denominator of IRC, we indicate that the additional features available in Matrix are welcomed.
Provide a consistent and unconfusing message for new users. Rather than saying “we’re on OFTC, use Matrix to talk to us for a better experience”, we can say simply “use Matrix”.
Lead by example. Because of the recent fragmentation in the Free and Open-Source software communities, Matrix is a natural way to frictionlessly participate in a multitude of communities. Let’s show people how that can work.
Reasons to Stay
All of the work to move to OFTC has been done, and for the moment at least, the OFTC matrix.org bridge is functioning well. Moving to a native room will require some work.
To move to a native Matrix room, we would do the following:
Create a homeserver to host our room and bots. Technically, this is not necessary, but having a homeserver allows us more control over the branding, policy, and technology of our room. It means we are isolated from policy decisions by the admins of matrix.org, and it fully utilizes the federated nature of the technology.
We should ask the OpenDev collaboratory to host a homeserver for this purpose. That could either be accomplished by running a synapse server on a VM in OpenDev’s infrastructure, or the Foundation could subscribe to a hosted server run by Element.
At this stage, we would not necessarily host any user accounts on the homeserver; it would only be used for hosting rooms and bot accounts.
The homeserver would likely be for opendev.org; so our room would be #zuul:opendev.org, and we might expect bot accounts like @gerrit:opendev.org.
The specifics of this step are out of scope for this document. To accomplish this, we will start an OpenDev spec to come to agreement on the homeserver.
Ensure that the OpenDev service bots upon which we rely (gerrit, and status) support matrix. This is also under the domain of OpenDev; but it is a pre-requisite for us to move.
We also rely somewhat on eavesdrop. Matrix does support searching, but that doesn’t cause it to be indexed by search engines, and searching a decade worth of history may not work as well, so we should also include eavesdrop in that list.
OpenDev also runs a meeting bot, but we haven’t used it in years.
Create the #zuul room.
Create instructions to tell users how to join it. We will recommend that if they do not already have a Matrix homeserver, they register with matrix.org.
Announce the move, and retire the OFTC channel.
Potential Future Enhancements
Most of this is out of scope for the Zuul community, and instead relates to OpenDev, but we should consider these possibilities when weighing our decision.
It would be possible for OpenDev and/or the Foundation to host user accounts on the homeserver. This might be more comfortable for new users who are joining Matrix at the behest of our community.
If that happens, user accounts on the homeserver could be tied to a future OpenDev single-sign-on system, meaning that registration could become much simpler and be shared with all OpenDev services.
It’s also possible for OpenDev and/or the Foundation to run multiple homeservers in multiple locations in order to aid users who may live in jurisdictions with policy or technical requirements that prohibit their accessing the matrix.org homeserver.
All of these, if they come to pass, would be very far down the road, but they do illustrate some of the additional flexibility our communities could obtain by using Matrix.