RIOT IRC channel and the freenode turmoil

Hi,

many might already be aware over the turmoil at freenode that escalated into the majority of the maintainers resigning in protested.

A Quick Summary

Both infrastructure and maintenance of freenode have been provided by a community of volunteers and sponsors, both private persons and companies with no single person or company unilaterally in charge. In 2016 a company, Freenode Limited, was formed which owned the domain names. This company in turn was unilaterally sold in 2017 to Andrew Lee. Day to day operation continued relatively unaffected until recently. Both sides have different versions of the story: The former stuff accuse Lee of a hostile takeover of the network, while Andrew Lee considers himself the victim by being locked out of a network he rightfully owns.

But there is no doubt that freenode has transformed from a community driven network to a network unilaterally controlled by Andrew Lee, as he himself says so:

I’ve been the guardian and owner of freenode since 2017 […]

Also a recent change of the freenode policies by Andrew Lee is worry some, as …

  1. allowing various forms of anti-social behavior aligns quite badly with RIOT’s community standards
  2. allowing the take over of channels moved to other IRCs networks by third party can create great confusion for communities who’s IRC channel has moved to a different network, as people left behind won’t notice

Some background information here:

What Others Did

Many other community projects including Wikipedia, Ubuntu, Alpine Linux, PostgreSQL, SourceHut and many left freenode as result.

Paths to Move Forward

1. Stick with Freenode and Hope for the Best

Pros:
  • avoids community split
  • least effort
Cons:
  • future of freenode seems to be unknown and network is low on maintainers
  • allegations of the former freenode stuff are consistent with each others and recent changes of policies and, at least in my personal opinion, quite plausible
  • freenode no longer aligns well with the community spirit of RIOT

2. Drop IRC Support Altogether

Pros:
  • IRC network is legacy technology
  • Most spam in the RIOT matrix room originates from the IRC channel, which is bridged to the matrix room
  • little effort
Cons:
  • Joining an IRC channel for a quick questions requires no registration and works fine with an web client, so it is pretty low bar
  • Some people actually like IRC and would like to stick with it
  • Possible community split, as vacated IRC channels can be taken over by a third party

3. Move to a Different IRC Network

Pros
  • IRC fans will be happy
  • Low entry bar for users of neither matrix and IRC (as joining an IRC channel doesn’t involve account registration)
Cons
  • Possible community split
Conclusion regarding the Freenode Turmoil
    1. Stick with Freenode and Hope for the Best
    1. Drop IRC Support Altogether
    1. Move to a Different IRC Network

0 voters

1 Like

I think that (unless option 2 has 100% support) dropping IRC-support altogether is probably not feasible, and the real discussion should be what network the #riot-os channel should move to. This is probably dependent on a couple of requirements (Matrix bridge, chanserv, nickserv?).

However: please link the new channel from a new Matrix room so there are administrator rights on the Matrix-side (not sure if that can be requested for the current room).

This is also a two-edged sword because it is tightly coupled with the possibility of spam (lack of which is noted in option 2). Additionally, Matrix has guest accounts for read-only access.

I think we have different experiences with getting non-IRC users on IRC :sweat_smile:. It is also possible to use an existing (GitHub/Google/GitLab/Facebook/Apple) account for your Matrix-account, so I’m note sure how much of a barrier to entry the account is.

Maybe the poll was badly designed. I don’t think that there is inherently an issue with dropping IRC support without option 2 having 100% support. E.g. both me and @benpicco voted for moving to a different IRC network, despite we are both happy matrix users. In fact, not having the spam originating from the IRC bridge polluting the matrix room would be something I would really like.

Maybe it would have made more sense to have asked who personally would profit from having IRC support still in place. I guess I still can extend this.

I guess we should first collect options, and than can just make a poll as well (maybe with allowing to tick multiple options). Initially I thought it is more sensible to first decide on whether we should move at all, before focusing on where to move. But I can see that it might be less annoying for RIOT users to only take part in the poll once, rather than having multiple iterations.

Regarding options where to move:

  • https://libera.chat was created by the former maintainers of freenode, a non-profit association in Sweden is managing it and it inherits the community based government model and network policies freenode previously had. A matrix bridge is not yet in place, but is going to be. See https://github.com/matrix-org/matrix-appservice-irc/issues/1324
  • https://oftc.net is one of the top 10 IRC networks and has been around for some time. A functioning matrix bridge is already in place. It is also community driven and focuses on open source and free software communities. It has significant overlap in the maintainer teem with the former freenode maintainer team.

If you just want to jump in to ask a quick question as suggested below, this does not make much sense :wink:.

This is not the same as having no registration necessary, one could even argue from a privacy standpoint that this is even worse than registration with just username and password, as now you are telling those service providers that you registered with Matrix and vice-versa, telling Matrix what your account is at that service provider.

I have the feeling that this is what people are worried about the most when it comes to not dropping IRC. Fact is however, there is already an IRC bridge in place and I see little to no spam in the current setup (please correct me if this is not the case). Most people who purely use Matrix aren’t even aware, that the Matrix channel is also hooked into IRC (though technically its the other way around :wink: ), I think.

I fear the community is more and more moving to walled-in spaces where registration is needed. First by closing of the mailing lists by requiring forum registration to use them and now with a discussion about potentially dropping IRC support. As such, in my opinion the argument of not having to register is the best argument for IRC. This would leave open the option for people just wanting to ask a quick question and not wanting to register with the forum or matrix for that.

1 Like

Clarification: Please vote what you consider to be the best option for the RIOT community, not what would benefits you personally the most.

Missing pros for dropping IRC altogether:

  • eases use of Matrix features that cannot be simply bridged to IRC
    • this includes potential future features, as Matrix is still actively developed and growing
    • likely we can still use Matrix-only features, but will just leave IRC users out of the game without them ever noticing
    • for Matrix users it might not be obvious what features are not bridged. (E.g. are reactions bridged to IRC users? And even if this could be enabled, this would likely be more annoying than helpful.)

Sure, I just wanted to point out that ‘less spam’ and ‘no account’ are mutually exclusive, and that Matrix doesn’t require an account for everything.

It’s probably useful to separate the short-term and long-term usage. In the short term, using a webclient to IRC is definitely easier. However, because Matrix makes it really easy to create an account, I wouldn’t consider a much higher barrier to entry.

If one wants to have a persistent IRC connection you need something that is always connected (bouncer or always-on client on a server). It’s also probably preferred to have a registration with NickServ (with an email address). I would consider this a much higher barrier to entry, and I haven’t even begun about backlogs on multiple clients.

I had several channels on Freenode go registered-only because of the spam, and had to unbridge several rooms on IRCnet (which doesn’t have registrations). Not sure if this affected #riot-os, but spam from IRC to Matrix is an issue.

A mailing list requires an account (an email address), and while this isn’t the case for #riot-os, many channels require a registered IRC account. This means that (often) it isn’t really the case that people go from no account to an account. This also regards why users switch from a mailing lists/IRC to forum/Matrix: the lack of registration doesn’t mean much when the service is (imho) hardly usable.

If this is about quick questions, we are talking purely short term usage here. Also lets not forget, this is the user electing to do all that. Adding an IRC option to jump in is in my experience very low maintainance (I don’t even remember when I changed some config on the IRC channels I run).

But not with RIOT or a specific service bound to the discussion platform and that is what I was talking about.

This is comparing apples with oranges: There is no connection between usability and the need for registration.

Even if this is about quick questions (which I don’t think it is) we’re not talking about short-term usage: people who answer the quick questions are (probably) long-term users.

Sure, and when the user elects not to do that you have just lost someone that could have been part of the community on IRC.

No, I’m comparing mailing lists to Discourse, and IRC to Matrix. Both Discourse and Matrix 1) require registrations and 2) are (imho) more user-friendly. I would also argue that there is a connection for these platforms: The reason for the registration is so the services can store data linked to a user instead of requiring the user to manage the data. One of the reasons that Discourse and Matrix are more user-friendly is because they do so.

Not quite sure, how the user gets lost when he had done all of that…

I think the argument about user friendliness misses the point in the case of this discussion… If we have the ability to allow users of a technically less restrictive, but more free (as in liberty not beer) environment to join the discussion in a more user-friendly environment without decreasing said usability (which IMHO an IRC bridge does), why not use that to provide less restricted access for those who like to join the discussion that way. Otherwise we likewise risk to lose community members.

Anyway, I think we came to the conclusion that, yes, having an IRC bridge poses the risk of spam spilling over to Matrix, but in the same vain also allows for non-community members to still participate in discussions. As such, my opinion still stands that we should keep the IRC bridge but maybe switch over to a different network in light of the developments lined out in OP.

No, you have moved the discussion to be about registration while it was about a barrier to entry. User friendliness is definitely a barrier to entry. The point I’m trying to make is that while IRC may have a lower barrier to entry in the short-term, it is the opposite in the long term (i.e. quick-question IRC users stay quick-question IRC users).

If the intention is to have IRC mainly for the quick questions and Matrix for the long-term users, that’s fine. But let’s not pretend that IRC is a good alternative to Matrix for new users who want to hang around long-term just because it doesn’t have registrations.

As such, I don’t think it makes sense to consider having IRC only on the basis of having no registrations. The upside for quick questions has to be weighed against the downsides, which mainly are 1) spam, 2) permission meddling and 3) IRC-users complaining about formatting :wink: .

I think that is a matter of personal taste and preferences. Nobody says that new users must use IRC. But I think its a matter of liberty that the can use IRC if they prefer given its (granted not that many) advantages over Matrix. This is why I think the user friendliness argument does not fit this discussion. If people want to be, for whatever reason, data-minimizing with what they put on other people’s computers, I think they should be provided with that option.

(And yes, I am aware that I also might be conflating two things: FOSS enthusiasts and people who like to jump through every hoop for their privacy, both to the point of masochism… :wink: )

In that case: why not bridge the IRC/Matrix room to Discord/Telegram/Slack/etc?

We do not have a presence on any of those platforms and contrary to both Matrix and IRC you actually do need to register with your e-mail address at least for Discord and Slack (I do not use telegram so don’t know). There also isn’t that much of a preference for those platforms either within the RIOT community. See Survey: How will we communicate in the future (Mailing lists, forum, ...)?

Let me try to draw some conclusion from the poll and the discussion while also reading a bit between the lines here:

  1. There seems to be quite a consensus that Matrix should be considered the recommended communication channel for RIOT.
  2. There are still valid use cases for IRC and there are users (currently 5 IRC users among the 72 users in the room)
  3. As long as the IRC bridge doesn’t annoy Matrix users (too much) and there are actually people interested in the IRC bridge, even users who voted for dropping the IRC channel are OK with keeping a bridge
    • I only know this for sure in case of @Silke (see first post) and @Kaspar (who told me out of band), but I just assume this to be the case for everyone else as well.
    • If someone is indeed opposing an IRC channel bridged into the Matrix room, now would be good time to get oneself heard.
  4. Nobody is interested in sticking with freenode.

Anyone disagreeing with that conclusion? Anything I missed?

Note: I intentionally focused on the IRC question in the conclusion here, as I believe that the discussion on whether we need/want additional communication technologies is IMO better discussed in a separate thread.

OK, everybody seems fine with moving. Next question to discuss: Were to move. In an out of band discussion I suggested the following list of criteria:

  1. Well maintained and following the IRC best practices. This includes providing features like NickServ/ChanServ
  2. IRC Bridge to Matrix is well maintained
  3. The policies and rules of the network are well aligned with RIOT. (Obviously, we could still have our own channel rules, but those can only be within the policies of the network. So if the policies and rules are really badly aligned, the network is not suitable.)
  4. The network is community driven and not controlled by a single party
  5. The network is suitable for open source and free software projects

IMO, suitable networks are:

Also: The guys at Gentoo are using irc.gentoo.org as an alias to irc.libera.chat:

Non-authoritative answer:
irc.gentoo.org	canonical name = irc.libera.chat

I think this is a good idea, just in case we need to change the IRC network later again. Any reason why we shouldn’t use irc.riot-os.org as an alias via an DNS CNAME record to the IRC network that we agree on?

libera.chat is currently the second largest (known) IRC network in terms of users and channels, and still growing rapidly.

I think this could cause some confusion over who is responsible for the IRC network. I would not want to give the impression that we manage the IRC network in any way whatsoever.

1 Like

The problem with using irc.riot-os.org is an alias, that I don’t know what network I’m connecting to, so I don’t know which NickServ password to use, etc. In order to be agile as to which network to use, then I have to setup a new IRC server, which might confuse the network that I’m connecting twice. Maybe this is an expert IRC problem to have. So I guess I won’t use that. I don’t care oftc vs libera.