Zulip for researchers.

Modern team chat with native LaTeX support. Free for academic research.

Zulip is designed to facilitate the collaboration of thoughtful people all around the world working on difficult problems, which perhaps describes academic research better than any of our other use cases.

Zulip has long been popular with individual research groups, but during the pandemic has started being used for large distributed communities focused around research topics like category theory or the Lean Theorem Prover. We enthusiastically provide free hosting for both use cases.

If you haven’t read why Zulip, read that first. The communication model challenges with the Slack/Discord/IRC model discussed there are even more important for academic research:

  • For most research problems, the experts who it's most useful to collaborate with are few in number and scattered across many places and time zones. A Slack community is a bad experience if you’re rarely online at the same time as most other members; the result is often poor inclusivity of researchers whose ideas or knowledge could be critical to progress.

  • One needs to be able to focus for several hours at a time in order to do effective research. It's really important that one not feel like one's missing out or being constantly drawn back to check messages when doing focused research work.

Because active participation in a busy Slack community fundamentally requires constant interruptions, one ends up making unpleasant choices between participating in the Slack community (and not doing focus work) or ignoring the Slack community (and not getting much benefit from it).

  • Researchers, especially senior ones, often have interests in multiple areas. Because catching up on history in an active Slack organization is a huge waste of time, this can make it hard to participate in a part-time fashion and provide one's expertise while personally focused on other projects.
  • Writing to a busy Slack channel often means interrupting another existing conversation. This makes it harder for newer and shyer members to jump into the community. Often this disproportionately discourages talented individuals from groups already underrepresented in research.
  • The lack of organization in Slack message history (and its 10K message history limit) mean that it's hard to find previous conversations that might have useful context.

The overall effect is that a busy Slack makes poor use of researchers' time, and Slack is a poor choice for organizations that want to have an inclusive, global community that many busy researchers happily participate in.

Zulip’s topic-based threading model solves these problems:

  • Participants in any time zone can send messages and expect to get a reply and have an effective (potentially asynchronous) conversation with the rest of the community.
  • Zulip’s topic-based theading helps include part-time contributors in two major ways. First, they can easily browse what conversations happened while they were away from the community, and prioritize which conversations to read now, skip, or read later (e.g. after that important talk or paper deadline).
  • Researchers can effectively participate in a Zulip community without being continuously online. Using Zulip’s keyboard shortcuts, it’s extremely efficient to inspect every potentially relevant thread and reply wherever one’s feedback is useful, and replying hours after a question was asked is still a good contributor experience. As a result, busy researchers can focus on teaching or multi-hour sessions of focused research, while still being able to catch up and participate fully in the community.
  • Topics make it easier to provide a safe, welcoming, online community. Asking a question never has to feel like an interruption of an ongoing conversation or like one's sticking one's neck out.

See our page for open source projects for more discussion of Zulip for large open communities.

Below, we’ve collected a list of Zulip features that are particularly useful to academic research organizations (both formal organizations and online communities focused around research topics like category theory).

Free hosting at zulip.com.

This free hosting is supported by (and is identical to) zulip.com’s commercial offerings. If you’re not sure whether your organization qualifies, send us an email at support@zulip.com.

Native LaTeX support powered by KaTeX

With Zulip, you can use inline LaTeX in the middle of a sentence or as a display math block. Zulip's LaTeX rendering is powered by KaTeX; their support table is a helpful resource.

Syntax highlighting.

Full Markdown support, including syntax highlighting, makes it easy to discuss code, paste an error message, or explain a complicated point. Full LaTeX support as well.

If your community primarily uses a single programming language (or only talks about math), consider setting a default language for syntax highlighting.

Zulip makes it easy to get a permanent link to a conversation, which you can record in emails, notes, talk slides, or anywhere else. Zulip’s topic-based threading helps keep conversations coherent and organized so they are useful for posterity.

Video call integration

With a single click, you create a video call, making it convenient to do a quick call to hash out an idea.

Import from Slack, Mattermost, or Gitter.

Import your existing organization from Slack, Mattermost, or Gitter.

Moderation suite.

Moderation is a big part of making an open community work. Zulip was built for open communities from the beginning and comes with many moderation features out of the box.

In addition, Zulip's threading makes it easy for a small group of busy moderators to skim every thread and notice if there's anything that needs their attention.

Open invitations.

Allow anyone to join without an invitation. You can also link to your Zulip with a badge in any associated source code repositories.

Full-text search of all public history.

Zulip’s full-text search supports searching the organization’s entire public history via the streams:public search operator, allowing Zulip to provide all the benefits of a searchable forum or mailing list. New collaborators can easily find relevant past discussions.

Quality data export.

Our high quality export and import tools ensure you can always move from Zulip Cloud hosting to your own servers.

Free and open source.

Unlike many modern "open source" applications that are actually Open Core, Zulip is 100% Free and Open Source software. All code, including for the server, desktop, mobile, and beta terminal apps is available under the Apache 2 license.

Created by former academics

Zulip's founder is a former MIT PhD student and we love helping academic researchers succeed. We prioritize feature requests from academic research groups the same way we prioritize feature requests from paying customers, so if there’s something we could improve to make Zulip the obvious choice either for you or your research group, contact us and we'll do what we can to help!