My FOSDEM 2024 Talk: Migrating the WordPress Community from Slack to Matrix

When I submitted my application for a talk at FOSDEM 2024, we were still on for migrating the WordPress community to Matrix.

Alas, there were many factors that led us to pause the transition indefinitely, announced by Matt at the Q&A of State of the Word 2023. The most important factors were accessibility problems, some important feature-imparity compared with Slack, and the license changes at Element (to AGPL, with the requirement to sign a CLA when contributing).

The WordPress community has collected their issues in a Github repository. We tried hard to overcome the issues, through documentation, education (some things just work differently in a federated environment), and upstream patches (for example to address some of the accessibility problems).

In the end, I did not cancel but held my talk on February 4 at FOSDEM 2024 in Brussels, explaining all the things we did to lower the barrier of entry:

As well as bots and integration we created to fulfill the specific needs, such as these Maubot plugins:

  • Post to room: post messages via webhook
  • Relay: an integration can react to room messages via webhook
  • Group mentions: upon command a bot mentions many people
  • Watchdog: alert about community created rooms

Also, we held weekly meetings in the WordPress meta chat throughout the year, and published meeting notes afterwards.

There is a lot more in my presentation, I hope that my presentation slides can be helpful to other communities (or companies) trying to migrate from Slack to Matrix. Maybe some things that were a blocker for the WordPress community are not so important for other communities.

Finally, here is the video of the ~30 minutes presentation:

FOSDEM 2024 talk by Alex Kirk: Embracing Matrix for Enhanced Communication: Migrating the WordPress Community from Slack to Matrix

Kudos to my colleagues Paulo Pinto and Ashish Kumar who did a lot of the heavy lifting in the effort. Together we submitted around 40 upstream pull requests (on Synapse (pre-license change), Element-Web, Slack bridge, and more).

Mastodon API Tester

tldr: Use the Mastodon API Tester to play with the Client API of Mastodon.

I’ve created the WordPress plugin called Enable Mastodon Apps which does a seemingly small but powerful thing: it enables you to access your WordPress blog using Mastodon apps like Tusky or Ivory. This can be used to browse your own blog and post to it. If you also have the Friends plugin and the ActivityPub plugin installed, this will actually make your WordPress blog behave like a Mastodon instance.

It does this be re-implementing the Mastodon API (unfortunately, Mastodon didn’t opt to implement the ActivityPub client-server API so this is not based on a standard) which can be tricky: it uses REST API endpoints in the (virtual) directories /oauth and /api which are so generic that they are prone to conflicts.

Additionally, although the API is well documented, many apps were created based on assumptions that are true for Mastodon itself (which caused a lot–sometimes hard to reproduce–of issues for the plugin). For example, the id of a post or a user is defined as a string but many apps crash when you put a non-number there. Or that a boosted toot needs to have a different id than the virtual “wrapping” toot (Ivory!). In such cases, apps would crash but work fine with Mastodon itself.

Even more complicated are interactions with other WordPress plugins. It can be hard to understand if the plugin is working correctly, if another plugin is interfering, the hosting provider acts quirky, or if the Mastodon app has an incompatibilty with my implementation.

Thus I have created a simple one-page JS app called Mastodon API Tester hosted on Github pages (source on Github):

I hope that this tool will help identify issues better in future, it can also be used with GotoSocial or a “real” Mastodon instance. Feel free to report issues you might encounter.

PS: the Enable Mastodon Apps plugin will be worked on at the Cloudfest Hackathon, thanks Matthias Pfefferle for taking the lead on this! (Unfortunately, I cannot make it there because I’ll be speaking at WordCamp Asia in Taipei just the weekend before that.)

PPS: Happy Birthday, Matt!