Software

Slack competitor Spectrum released as open source group messaging platform

Spectrum joins a host of alternative self-hosted collaboration platforms such as Rocket.Chat and Mattermost.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • Spectrum is a startup group communication platform similar to, but distinct from, services like Slack or Stride.
  • The Spectrum platform is now released as open source, allowing developers to submit their own pull requests and operators to install it on their own servers.

Spectrum, a group communication platform that launched last year, has gone fully open source, according to an announcement from developer Max Stoiber. The software, which is hosted on GitHub, is licensed under a 3-clause BSD license.

In contrast to other commercial projects in which open sourcing is a goodwill gesture prior to the end of active development—such as with the opening of webOS following the abrupt discontinuation of the HP TouchPad—Spectrum appears very much ready to react to tickets and pull requests on GitHub. Spectrum's existing hosted option will continue to be offered even after the release of the code.

SEE: Comparison chart: Enterprise collaboration tools (Tech Pro Research)

That said, Spectrum has not heretofore been a direct competitor to Slack, as significant differences between the design of the two platforms exist. While Slack's focus is primarily for teams—that is, groups of people that ostensibly have a prior connection to each other outside the context of Slack—the design of Spectrum is more community-based. While Slack is increasingly used for communities, supplanting IRC, there are some pains in adapting that platform for a public use case.

Spectrum's design is inherently public, people can register on the website and join communities by topic, while messages are automatically threaded and indexed. While Slack has different accounts per group, accounts on Spectrum are global to all groups (per domain, this necessarily would be different in hosted versions). To draw a parallel, the platform design resembles a combination of Slack and Reddit. That said, Spectrum is used for collaboration and discussion for projects such as Sketch.

Similarly, the paid options of the hosted version of Spectrum are not per-user, as is the case with Slack and similar competitors. Following a complete overhaul of paid options, Spectrum offers unlimited channels, members, and messages on communities in the free service tier. Additional moderators and private channels are $10 per month, with community usage analytics priced at $100 per month. Non-profit organizations, and groups for open-source projects, are eligible to receive one additional moderator seat and private channel for free.

The arena of Slack competitors is growing rather crowded since Slack launched in 2013. For alternative self-hosted collaboration platforms, Mattermost is used by the US Department of Defense, Department of Interior, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and CERN. Alternatively, Rocket.Chat is used by the Brazilian Space Agency and Ubuntu maker Canonical.

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Image: iStockphoto/Vasyl Dolmatov

About James Sanders

James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.

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