We are writing this post from DevopsDays Berlin and each day has Open Space sessions as part of the schedule. This post is a recap of a session I proposed and led. Hopefully this will benefit others with similar problems or at least serve as useful notes.
I heard IRC, HipChat, HuBot and some other chat systems during the conference and got worried as I’m using mainly Skype so maybe I’m missing something. This session was intended to talk about different chat options out there and what experiences people have had with each.
The solution or the end result that most of us agreed on was that there is still the need for multiple chat systems. One should be easy to use and easy to switch to voice, for example Skype, while the other type of system needs excellent support for chat rooms, log archives (searchable and no log left behind) like Jabber, IRC, Hipchat that also has easy options for integration with 3rd party tools (CI, VCS, PagerDuty etc.).
I was hoping that there would be one tool to rule them all but no such luck, we probably still have to choose two.
Notes from the session
The aspects that the tools were commented on most:
- Ease of use and getting started
- Ease of integration with 3rd party tools
- Persistent chatrooms and option to go 1:1
- Persistent logs and the option to search them easily
- Voice support
- Security – monitored SaaS or local installation option
Why is 3rd party integration important?
We’re talking about build, deployment, test results or code pushes and reviews ending up in some chat rooms versus just email notifications. The reasoning why IM is better for these events is that it is so easy to opt out. You just leave the channel. If you want to get back in you join the channel again.
These are the some of the services that were mentioned and I tried to take notes about the pros and cons of each.
- Microsoft is watching all your traffic. 1:1 and group chats. Fetching all the links, even when they are password protected. All content from the link is downloaded and analyzed. Can be your docx or random PNG. Many felt really put out by this.
- Cannot maintain searchable archive. There is support for achives but usability is bad. Archives are binary only and you need Skype to see and analyze them.
- Channel support is not as good as in IRC but at least has persistent rooms.
- Support for 3rd party tools is bad because it’s a proprietory platform.
- High learning curve. Connecting to a server and port isn’t easy for all in a company.
- For persistence you’ll need a bouncer, otherwise you lose messages that were sent when you were offline. Or learn screen!
- Web IRC as a solution for getting started more easily but then you are potentially sacrificing security
- Some IRC clients are better than others and it is possible to get your accountant on IRC
- Very good support for specific channels. Join and leave whenever you feel like it.
- Lots of out of the box integrations and a nice API.
- Good support for channels/rooms
- Good support for persistent logs and searching them
Local Jabber installation
- As good as HipChat but you can do it yourself on your own server (of course requires a lot of work on your side)
- Lower learning curve than IRC but all the same benefits
- Great for single pre-planned communication sessions. Not much more.
- Even if you enable for Google Apps you’ll end up managing two accounts and switching is difficult
Other tools that people used but didn’t comment much on were Yammer, Campfire, Office Communicator (wow!).
What are your tools of choice? What are you happy with and what works for you? How many chat systems do you use? Let us know in the comments below.