The State of Messaging

Back in the early days of communication over the internet, everything was easy. The amount of people you met online was relatively small, as was the amount of different software systems involved. You may have met some interesting folks on a message board or communicated via Email – or you just were reading postings on newsgroups. Later on, IRC came – with all it’s glory. Hundreds of Networks with dozens of servers and thousands of channels. There was room for basically everybody and everything. You could discuss bugs and features of your favourite Linux-Distribution, find Matches for Quake, Counterstrike and other games or you could, even if you shouldn’t, download all the warez. And all of this, out of one, relatively simple client. Your IRC Client of choice.
Nowadays, it seems to be not so simple anymore. The rise of Slack has drained users from the good old IRC channels. In addition to that, there seems to be a growing userbase on Riot – an implementation on top of the Matrix Standard. In comparison to slack, it appears to be quite experimental and there aren’t that many people actively using it, but time will tell…

If you leave the realm of relatively enterprise-ey solutions and wander off into the informal, you certainly come across Discord. Discord combines IRC-like channels with Voicechat capabilities like Teamspeak, Mumble, Skype, etc. Right now, a lot of it’s userbase is gaming-related, but I’m certain, non-gaming communities will adopt it. Without taking (mainly) mobile Messengers into Account, there are several contenders to take on IRC.

Before taking a look on the three contenders, here are aspects that are important for me when deciding, what messenger I want to use:

  1. Linux Client. If there is no support for Linux, I simply can’t use it.
  2. Customizable UI: I like it, when the programs I use fit in my color scheme.
  3. Private Messages: I don’t want to discuss everything in public. User-to-User Messaging is a must-have.

Furthermore, there are several features that are nice to have:

  1. Android Client: Checking messages while commuting
  2. Open Source
  3. IRC-Bridge: If I could continue using weechat, I’d be extremely happy.

So, let’s take a look at Slack, Riot and Discord:

Linux Client:

  • Slack: Has packages available for Fedora and Ubuntu. An installation for Arch Linux is possible via the AUR.
  • Riot: A debian based package is available. An installation for Arch Linux is possible via the AUR.
  • Discord: A debian based package is available. An installation for Arch Linux is possible via the AUR.

Customizable UI:

  • The Slack client has a customizable Sidebar. You can paste some color codes and the rest is pure magic. It’s a 10 second effort to make that fitting in my solarized i3 environment, so that’s a plus. The Chat-Area itself stays black text on white background.
  • Riot: The mobile app has a dark theme. Haven’t tested the Linux client yet, because the web-client works quite well.
  • Discord: Light and Dark Theme. That’s it.

Private Messages:

  • Supported on all three.

Android Client:

  • There’s an android client for all three contenders.

Open Source:

  • Slack: Closed Source.
  • Riot: Open Source implementation of an open standard.
  • Discord: Closed Source.

IRC Bridging:

  • Slack: It’s possible and it works quite well.
  • Riot: Yeah, and here’s how.
  • Discord: There’s a github project for that.


To sum it up: I’m not too happy with the alternatives. Slack currently takes the crown of user adoption, but my personal favourite ist Riot/Matrix. Riot as a whole looks quite promising – and if it goes in a direction you’re not happy with: It’s open source and you’re free to fork and improve as you want.
Discord is quite established in the gaming-realm and that’s where it’s focus is. It’s cool and works well, but I simply don’t need voice chat, so I guess I won’t use it too much in the near future.


Go Riot, go! User-base crown goes to Slack.