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Woot Journals: One year since open-sourcing Chatwoot

Looking into the one year of open-sourcing Chatwoot.

Chatwoot is now one of the most popular open-source live chat software on Github. If you haven’t been following the story so far, here is the story, in a nutshell, to get you started.

Chatwoot started as a commercial project in 2016 and strived to help businesses provide exceptional customer support through Facebook messenger. The product inspiration came through the customer pain points which we observed while working in this space as a part of our previous gigs. Nevertheless, the project didn't culminate into a viable business and we shut shop in 2017.

With the amount of sweat we put into the project, Chatwoot still stayed alive in our hearts. In 2019, as an impromptu decision, we ended up open-sourcing the project as a part of the #hacktoberfest. The story took a different twist then and Chatwoot went on to be a top post on Hackernews. Ever since then, the project has been growing at an incredible pace with almost 5k stars on Github currently.

Today marks a year since the initial commit for Chatwoot’s resurrection as an open-source project and so let's take a step back to look at Chatwoot's journey in the last year.

The Decision to go open-source

How do you start a popular open-source project?

Over the last year, we might have told our story countless times. However, often, the larger story fails to capture the minute moments and the thought processes behind deciding to go open-source. Many a time, we have felt that the Chatwoot story as an answer to the question How did you decide to go open-source? leaves the questioner unsatisfied. That said, in all honesty, there was never a grand scheme behind the decision.

In the second quarter of 2019, the core Chatwoot team was back together prototyping yet another SaaS product. It was in one of our regular sync-up calls that @pranavrajs floated the idea of making Chatwoot open-source. The idea didn’t attract any criticism, but there wasn’t too much enthusiasm in the air either, thanks to our Imposter Syndrome.

Our experience in open-source till that point was limited to being consumers. Being ardent fans of the code quality in open source projects like Vue.js and ruby on rails, we had our insecurities exposing the project to the whole world.

With zilch expectations, we went through it like just another day in our lives and decided to commit the codebase to GitHub. We would leave it there while the team continued working on our next big thing, we had thought! ;).

Ignition: Ready Set Go

In August 2019, as unprepared as we were, Chatwoot codebase was brought out as a public repo. Our expectation of an uneventful day, quickly turned around, thanks to the spammers who got hold of an SES key from an old commit. The incident ended in raking up quite a surprise in the form of AWS billing alerts. We did act swiftly to mitigate the issue, but as far as the business plan behind open source goes, This is the story.

October saw the repo getting some attention thanks to #hacktoberfest, which re-kindled the whole team's interest in Chatwoot. It even resulted in the team deciding to put on-hold the then on-going project and give Chatwoot our full attention for the next 2 months. We did the much-needed maintenance chores over the repo and ended up shipping the website live chat feature that we lacked in. The absence of other communication channels, especially website live chat, was one of our prime hypotheses behind the earlier failure of Chatwoot. Having been able to ship that feature in 2 weeks, amidst the newfound enthusiasm, is something the team is still extremely proud of.

The ultimate unexpected kickstart, however, came in December in the form of Hackernews, which we attribute as the start of Chatwoot as a serious open-source business.

After Hacktoberfest, we saw the attention on our GitHub repo reducing despite the team shipping new updates. In all helplessness, @pranavrajs gave it a final go on ShowHN one night and to our joy, we were received with much love from the community, a wonderful surprise for the whole team, and a sleepless night for @pranavrajs, replying to comments. Chatwoot hasn’t stopped growing ever since.

Almost a year later

The work that the Chatwoot community does, matters!

Despite the adversities since the beginning of 2020, the Chatwoot community continues to generate moments that have carried us through these tough times. Working in isolation from a remote corner of the world, you might fail to see the impact you are creating, but testimonies like the following make us realize why we matter as a community.

"I’m so glad I found your software. It’s a tremendous help for startups like me who, because of the global pandemic, had to shift from a physical store to online selling through social media. You guys will save my store as well as the jobs of my employees as we are now about to be efficient in addressing our customers’ inquiries. Again, I’m grateful. "

We are what we are today, not just because of the core team but also because of our 70+ contributors to the codebase, the community members who have been helping us ship in multiple languages and businesses that have opted to go with Chatwoot.

Over the last 6 months, Chatwoot has outgrown itself from being a Facebook only chat-solution. We have also seen the community leveraging Chatwoot as a messaging platform for their conversational business need. From specific sectors like healthcare, banking, etc for their data privacy requirements to bot companies looking for a conversational frontend, we continue to see endlessly expanding use cases than we ever imagined for Chatwoot.

With the flexibility of opensource, we continue to see the community tweak Chatwoot into even powerful solutions. We have been receiving some wonderful reviews for our cloud version too as we continue to learn from all the comments from the community and work on our future versions.

We might have been relatively quiet on our blog for the last couple of months. If it ever seems like we've slowed down a bit, you can rest assured that it's only because our team is working hard on some exciting features. As always, stay tuned for all the cool updates coming your way, real soon!

Sojan Jose
Sojan Jose
Published on August 15, 2020