Update on how the Gitter chatrooms are doing

I just posted an update on the forum.

Here’s an update on how the Gitter chatrooms are doing.

Gitter doesn’t give very granular analytics, but you can see the relative health of each of the chatrooms from their archive page.

For example, here’s the health of the Contributors chatroom:

This room is as healthy as ever.

We made some changes a few weeks ago where we moved the challenge that showed people how to join Gitter from the challenge map over to the settings page (along with the Medium publication and LinkedIn alumni network challenges). We also removed the “Chat” link from our navigation and replaced it with a “Contribute” link.

First of all, here’s why we did this:

  1. We wanted new campers to be able to start coding immediately instead of spending several minutes creating accounts on GitHub, and then Gitter.
  2. We were encouraging campers to introduce themselves with “Hello world” in the chat room, but not very many were actually doing this. And when they did, they wouldn’t always get a greeting in response. Gitter had really high attrition rate, and only a small percentage of new campers would ever come back to chat again.

We also removed the challenge that walked campers through joining the forum. But unlike Gitter, you can sign up for the forum without a GitHub account, which made it much easier to join than Gitter. So we left a link to the forum in the navigation.

So how are the other main Gitter rooms these days?

The main freeCodeCamp chatroom is by far the most popular room on all of Gitter. It doesn’t have new people joining every minute saying “Hello world!” but it’s still healthy, with a lots of “regulars” who hang out and help other campers.

The total volume of messages has gone down, but the quality of those interactions has gone up.

The other main rooms are the help rooms:

From what I can tell, campers are still getting help when they need it in the help chatrooms.

In my humble opinion, the main benefits of chatrooms are:

  • a fun, realtime connection to the community
  • the ability to get help very quickly

Now that campers are getting help so quickly on the forum (most new posts get a response within less than an hour), more and more campers will choose to post help questions in the forum’s help category. The main advantages to this are that:

  1. Explaining your question on the forum is a bit less chaotic because it’s threaded, rather than a continuous chat stream.
  2. As you type your question, the forum will recommend related threads, and you may be able to find an answer to your question without having to even ask it.
  3. When you post a question on the forum, you aren’t limited to answers from whoever happens to be online right at that moment. Campers may continue to post helpful answers hours or even days later.

So the chatroom’s relative strength is that it’s fun and realtime. Since learning to code is mainly a challenge of staying motivated despite setbacks (cryptic error messages, failing tests, not knowing what to do next), Gitter will continue to be valuable for staying motivated and making friends with other campers.

Gitter itself is in an interesting position. They were acquired by GitLab, a partially open source collaboration tool similar to GitHub and BitBucket. Gitter itself is now fully open source. But nobody has made any commits to it in 3 weeks, and there haven’t been any substantial improvements in much longer than that.

I am a big fan of Gitter, and I’ve hung out with their team several times in San Francisco. They’ve built a great product. Chatrooms are hard. Slack is a multi-billion dollar company, and even they can’t get chat to work at the scale that Gitter has.

This said, the Gitter team is now a part of GitLab, and their priorities will ultimately be determined by GitLab.

The app still works great. It isn’t as fast as Discord (one contributor created an unofficial Discord server. But unlike Discord - which was designed for gamers - Gitter was built with developers in mind, and has tons of integrations, like GitHub and Trello.

In closing, I’m optimistic about the future of Gitter, and I’m even more optimistic about the future of the forum.