Communication Channels

Communication within a community impacts the contributor experience, influences an individual’s sense of belonging, and provides a historical record of project decisions. The choice of channels will depend on the specific requirements of your project, such as keeping the community informed of any known bugs or upcoming features, assessing the current needs from the community members, inviting comments on the management plans, facilitating the overall progress of the project, as well as having somewhere to field questions and feedback.

When setting up your communication channels, there are some important things to consider such as the following:

  • How easy is it for the community to find these channels and subscribe/unsubscribe to them?

  • Are they moderated? Under-represented groups may not participate if a channel is a free for all.

  • How easy is it for members of the community to find and join specific conversations they are interested in?

  • Will it be a “noisy” channel (for example, lots of notifications)?

  • Can users control or filter what kind of information they receive?

There are three commonly used channels: mailing lists (such as Topicbox or Google groups), community forums (such as Vanilla Forum or Discourse) and chats (such as Gitter or Slack). Besides these, many communities also use platforms for weekly or monthly newsletters, blogs, and social media on Twitter or Facebook.

In the table below, some properties of the first three communication platforms have been highlighted, which will allow Open Source project leaders to choose the most appropriate channels for their communities.

Features of different Communication Channels

The table below compares features of mailing lists, forums and chats. Here are the questions we are asking when thinking about each feature.

  • Media Sharing: Can media, such as screenshots, be easily shared on this platform?

  • Archivable: Is the history of the conversations easily accessible?

  • Persistent: Do the conversations remain available and accessible on the platform? If not “forever”, how long for? If not all conversations, what proportion?

  • Noisy: How many notifications will people receive and can they be managed?

  • Open: Can anyone join the platform or is there an invitation/approval process?

  • Consistent User Experience (UX): Does the platform appear consistent despite a user’s browser, email client, and such?

  • Threading/Filtering of conversations: Is it apparent who is replying to who and what topic a thread is addressing?

  • Social sharing: Can conversations easily be shared on social media platforms for promotion or community engagement?

  • User profiles: Is it easy to tell who is participating in the conversation and how they might relate to the project?

  • “Friending”/”Ignoring” capabilities: Can users choose which opinions they are alerted to?

  • Searchable by topic: Can the conversations by categorised and searched by that category?

  • Easily Exportable: Are the conversations stored in a consistent format? Are tools available to export the conversations (to an archive, for example)?


Mailing Lists



Media sharing

✅ (cumbersome)





Consistent UX

Threading/Filtering of conversations

Social sharing

User profiles

“Friending”/”Ignoring” capabilities

Searchable by topic

Easily Exportable