Help migrate a community from Discord to something else
During the height of the pandemic, I set up a community using Discord. Since then, it has evolved into being one of the most active (yet tight-knit) technical communities on Discord: members ranging from all around the world and from all sorts of technical and social backgrounds participate in conversations every day on a variety of topics.
Why leave Discord?
The current situation sounds pretty good, right? Well, as Richard Stallman warned, proprietary services masquerading as software do not necessarily act on behalf of the user.
In this specific case, despite paying money to Discord for its services, there have been many instances where it has been transparently obvious to myself and the rest of our team that Discord is not really acting in the interest of our community. Some examples:
Discord has banned the accounts of several community members over the past 18 months. When pressed on the issue, they usually have no viable explanation for why they took that specific action.
Discord has rolled out automated moderation features which were configured with very aggressive defaults, and enabled by default. These features have also had bugs, and when pressing support on those issues, our mileage has varied. We have been able to mostly disable the “auto-mod” features that were obnoxiously intrusive, however.
Discord’s leadership team has speculated on introducing functionality that is not aligned with the interests of our community, such as NFT support. They later rolled this speculation back after too many users complained.
Although the community I started does not frequently share content which would run afoul of these issues, Content ID systems can be easily fooled into reacting to content which does not violate any copyright, such as ambient noises. On top of this, the community in question engages in a lot of activism on various topics intersectional to the world we exist in. Discord being able to step into and monitor video calls in our community is therefore entirely unacceptable from a security point of view.
Should we have chosen Discord for this community given its’ security needs? Most likely not, but at the time that this community was established, the current reality was not envisioned. Had we intended to build a community explicitly for the activities that it has chosen to engage in, we would likely have avoided Discord. But at the same time, the Discord UX is likely attributable for some of the success of the community: it is simple and largely optimized for the multi-device reality we now live in.
During the height of the pandemic, FOSDEM was held virtually on Matrix-based infrastructure. The combination of multimedia experiences and text-based chat looked to be marginally competitive to the formula that Discord provides communities. For this reason, Matrix is at the top of a short list of alternatives we are considering.
But we have questions and concerns. This is where a helpful advocate from the Matrix community who is familiar with the Trust & Safety aspects of the protocol would be welcome. I would even be willing to pay a reasonable consultancy fee for real answers to these concerns.
The main concern we have is one of safety. Much like with the fediverse, there are homeservers run by persons known to be a security threat to our community. We need a robust solution for keeping those homeservers defederated from the rooms hosted on our own homeserver.
We are told that Synapse has an integration with Mjolnir to allow for this, but we would prefer to use Dendrite. Does Dendrite offer a similar integration with Mjolnir? Also, with a bot making real-time policy decisions on what room invitations and joins are allowed, is it possible to have physical redundancy for Mjolnir?
Building on that question, availability in general is another major area of concern. Is it possible to have multiple instances of Dendrite running at once in a geo-distributed fashion? It is okay to assume that we would be using Spanner or similar to manage the database replication to support that.
The next major concern is CSAM. When we launched our Mastodon instance, we had an incident where a user uploaded CSAM to our instance. We have heard that it is possible to convince homeservers to blindly cache CSAM from other homeservers. What mitigations exist for this issue?
Finally, the last remaining question is how to integrate this into our infrastructure. For reference, we use Kubernetes to manage our services, with Traefik acting both as Ingress and as a Service Mesh. Previously we used Knative to manage some services such as Mastodon Web. Is there any advantage to using Knative to manage a Matrix homeserver? (We assume there is not.)
We are also open to using something other than Matrix. But it needs to be something that we can manage ourselves at the infrastructure level. We already have been burned by Discord, we’re not interested in being burned by another service. It also needs to provide a similar end-to-end user experience as Discord. From what I can find, Matrix is the only project out there that is able to meet those requirements.
But I would be happy to hear about alternatives which have done similarly well at getting over the hump, where network effect is no longer a serious concern.
Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have answers to any of the above questions. Thanks!