Today ZeroTier shipped a new version (1.2.4) of ZeroTier Central.
Along with under the hood improvements it includes the ability to share networks with other users. This is a much-requested feature and represents the beginning of what will be a more comprehensive permission management system. It can be found at the bottom of a network's settings in the Sharing section. Right now you can add another user using their internal ID (found on their Account tab).
This version also introduces a new Community tab. (If you don't see it yet, try logging out and back in and then refreshing.) Clicking on this tab will reveal the beginnings of our latest effort to deliver a seamless, easy to use, and engaging support and community experience to both our free users and our paid customers.
NodeBB delivered decent engagement but was too much of an island. It was too hard to integrate with its authentication or link it with other systems, and it wasn't a "live" enough experience. Intercom helped us engage with site visitors more immediately, but each conversation was isolated and it didn't result in any peer-to-peer community developing. ZenDesk seemed like it might deliver a more professional support experience, but it shares many of the same problems as Intercom and its UI and UX leaves much to be desired.
ZeroTier communities have formed on sites like Reddit, and there's always GitHub issues and Twitter. Unfortuntately these things are scattered and exist at the mercy of their social media hosts. We wanted something persistent, unified, real-time, and integrated with the rest of our system. We also wanted something nice enough that users would actually want to use it.
We wanted something like a store front where people can stroll in, chat with us, ask questions, talk with each other, or even visit as a group. How could something like this be replicated over the net?
ZeroTier uses Slack for internal communication. It's been great, and it's helped us stay actively in touch with everyone from customers to advisors and investors as far away as Europe and Asia. It's a remarkably effective fusion of concepts from the old IRC protocol with modern UX.
As good as Slack's been, we've considered switching to Mattermost for a while. Why? To invent the future you have to live in the future. In the long term ZeroTier is about making it easier to create personal and company clouds and own your own data and communications. If that's where we're going, that's what we should be doing internally.
Then we had an idea: why not merge these two things? If we started using Mattermost we could embed it into our site and completely merge our team communications with our community. We'd be like one of those restaurants with a window where you can see the kitchen. Basic support and community would no longer be a separate function in a separate silo but an integrated part of our operations.
So that's what we're doing. The first step is to ship the Community tab with an integrated Mattermost instance whose users are automatically created and configured by ZeroTier Central (via Mattermost's API). The second step is to start integrating our more formal ticketing system with this and integrating other things like IRC, Twitter, and GitHub. This will transform our integrated self-hosted community into a hub of communication where we can coexist with our users and everyone can stay up to date. For private team communication we can just use private channels, and enterprise customers can get their private customers support channels too where sometimes-under-NDA work can be discussed.
Head over to my.zerotier.com and give the new system a try. Say hi and we can chat if we're online.