The Best Open Social Apps for 2021



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By: Open Social

Open source software has become a big cultural phenomenon in recent years. Because its free in every sense of the word, its especially good for companies and groups that want to self host their software due to concerns over privacy and control. Other times open source solutions are chosen by those who simply want to have the freedom to use a consistent set of tools that are not tied to a single vendor. The only problem is that there is so much of it. It is hard to sort through it all. So to save you the trouble, we are sharing our picks about what we consider to be the best of the best open social software out there. Enjoy!


By the way we might have jumped the gun a bit with the title but 2021 is almost here. We're pretty sure these apps will stand the test of time. We use these apps ourselves every day, we have deployed them on behalf of our clients and we are confident they will remain highly competitive options throughout 2021, and if that changes we'll update this article. Good Luck!



Wiki

Winner: Outline

Outline Wiki

Wiki software is an amazing way to keep track of an organizations knowledge, and there is a heck of alot of it out there. Outline has somehow delivered a wiki that is more beautiful and simpler to use than anything else that we've come across.

Outline describes itself as a modern team knowledge base for your internal documentation, product specs, support answers, meeting notes, onboarding, & more. This is a rather sedate description for an awesome tool. There are a lot of different wiki software apps out there, but if you are still using Microsoft Word for documents in your company for anything that doesn't need to be printed out, you are kind of doing computers wrong in the 2020s.



Internal Social Feed / Team Chat

Winner: Zulip

Zulip

Zulip sets itself apart with it's focus on the curation and organization of the chat history. In other chat apps, people will often chat about multiple topics at the same time. If they don't, it's likely because team members are privately messaging each other to avoid spamming the main group channel. The loss of these private messages is a loss to the organization's long term digital memory. So a colleague might do a keyword search and flip through hundreds of pages of off-topic chat only to discover that a crucial peice of information was likely shared in a private message. In Zulip, the way the user interface works is that it's designed to encourage you to modularize your conversation into topics and that makes it easier to have focused chats over time. So it becomes much easier to come back at a later date to search through and extract the knowledge of an organization that's been stored in Zulip, even from side chats you were originally never a part of - all without violating anyone's privacy.



Forum

Winner: Discourse

Discourse

We don't usually reccomend people use forum software. They can get stale easily, have moderation problems and are just incredibly hard to manage well. But for certain niches they really do shine. For example, when you have a rabidly passionate fan base dying to chat about your content. Fans are going to chat. You might as well give them the place to do it and do what you can to keep the community healthy. It turns out that needing a forum is a pretty good problem to have. And Discourse is the king of forum software. It has sophisticated moderation & monetization tools. You can make your entire community contributors-only or create special contributor-only categories. It has plugins to cross translate your content into different languages, do spam prevention and offers sophisticated ways to fight toxicity in conversations.



Multiparty VideoConferencing

Winner: Jitsi Meet

Jitsi

Jitsi Meet is a great choice for large private group video chats. It's drop dead simple to use. You can do screen sharing and audio share your voice or what is coming from your computer speakers. JItsi also boasts powerful moderation tools. You can click a button to indicate that you've got something to say and a moderator can mute all participants, or all but one. Being a web based app is another feature because requiring others to install certain client video chat software can add considerable friction to communication engagement opportunities. Although all the big names in video conference offer web gateways to their service, Jitsi Meet is the only one we know of that lets you host it on your website and that keeps your conversations private.



External Social Feed / Chat

Winner: Element

Element

Element is another room & private messenger feed app like Zulip. Zulip is our choice when a small or large team needs to collaborate and coordinate. Element on the other hand is a better fit for externally facing communications. It lacks some of Zulips power features, but has other whiz bang features like rich posting, a nice API, file sharing, emoji reactions, good privacy for voice and video and so on. But what we really like about Element is the user interface. A funny thing happens when you deploy Element. Communities seem to spontaneously form! We're not sure why. Maybe it's because of the user interface, maybe it's because of the slate of features. But we've seen it happen enough times that we can reccomend it based on this fuzzy uncertain feeling alone. So if you aren't exactly sure what software to use for a customer facing community, perhaps considering giving Element a try.



If these apps aren't your cup of tea, we have good news. There are hundreds of other free social apps that you can search for on github.com. Content management systems, workflow tools, collaborative document editing, microblogging software and more. Have we missed anything important? Do you have any feedback or questions?

Let us know!