Extending Zulip to provide Chat-With-Us_Helpdesk interface.

Here is the github repo: https://github.com/baali/chat-with-us

We at TaxSpanner had been using olark to help out our customers over chat interface. While there interface is very mature and gives all the features they mention, we were not able to manage things in terms of how customer was reaching out us via different mediums(email, chat, phone). As zulip got released and we were giving it a try for our internal team communication(both tech+sales team) idea was floated that could we extend the same interface to our customers too?

We set the target to get a prototype in place which could replace olark and if during trails feature requests are reasonable and manageable we would take a call. So idea was to expose a limited view to customers while having full feature interface for our Support Team. We created two stripped down and simple html templates which would be exposed to customers. Got a view in place in lines of home view of zulip with additional logic to route customers to sales team. Notifications for offline and online sales team, additional small checks in main zulip views to make sure basic views are exposed just to internal team.

Like function get_status_dict in zerver/libs/actions.py there is a hook for MIT users,

# Return no status info for regular users
if requesting_user_profile.realm.domain != settings.ADMIN_DOMAIN:
    return defaultdict(dict)

and additional check to home in views:

from zerver.forms import has_valid_realm
if not has_valid_realm(request.user.email):
    from django.contrib.auth import logout
    # making sure user is logged out from session.
    return redirect('/support')

For adding this interface on landing page we added following HTML

<div id="zulip" style="bottom: 0px; right: 0px; position: fixed; z-index: 9999;" >
    <div style="width: 200px; height: 32px;" id="zulip-chat">
	    <span class="icon--speech-bubble"></span>
	    Chat with Us!
      <iframe id="zulip-iframe" height="350px" width="450px" style="border:1px solid gray; display: none;" src=""></iframe>

and this java-script code to handle user clicks

  $('#zulip-chat').on('click', function(e) {
  if ($('#zulip-iframe').is(':hidden')) {
    $('#zulip-iframe').attr('src', 'https://url-to-zulip-instance');

At the moment we auto-login customer after asking their email-id. For security purpose, we create a new private stream for the customer and unsubscribe it form previous existing streams. Ideally there should be a way(OAuth or server-to-server authentication) to make sure user is logged in on main site and then enable previous history of chats they had done.

I am not exactly sure about this (ab)Use-case of Zulip and quite possibly there could be something which I am overlooking/missing. But zulip has a really strong chat interface around which if we can integrate our APIs, it will give us a lot of control. Adding bots, notification, some simple intelligence and developing things on top of it could enable and extend the existing web application in lot of ways.

Setting up Zulip with Docker

UPDATE <2015-12-20 Sun>: Zulip repo itself now has docker support which is much cleaner than what I had done.

UPDATE <2015-11-15 Sun>: webpack with this config is not working neatly so while running docker image checking out revision ae04744

After attending RC, punchagan had mentioned about Zulip quite a few times on google-talk based bot which we use for communication. There were few discussions among the group about trying something else like Slack or other tool which could cater to group spread across different channels(watsapp, hangout, legacy google-talk) along with rich features like sharing photos, docs etc. As Zulip got released sometime back we were excited to give it a try.

It got released on Friday so we thought of giving it a shot over the weekend and try to get something with which we can play around. As we were looking at initial documentation it involved lot of sudos for setup. While we had access to server we didn't want to experiment things on system level, so we thought of trying Docker. With a sample ubuntu image we quickly got all dependencies installed and were able to run run-dev.py file.

To get a "standard" setup we thought we will try to run different services on different containers like instructed here. But soon we ran into issue of manually editing code in zulip setup to initialize different services(DB, rabbitmq etc). And I think I was not doing it the right way, I was installing most of packages in all containers. So we reverted to having a Dockerfile with one container having complete setup.

Now there is PR related to Docker setup for Zulip too. But being a starter with docker I wasn't quite sure of all the steps being done there. We ended up with this setup, Dockerfile, a shell script and two custom scripts(though in subprocess command of dev-run.py there is check to make sure process_fts_updates work without password but it wasn't working from shell script and second file is just commenting out part of forms.py where for registration there are certain checks.)

Build the docker instance:

$ sudo docker build -t zulip-instance .

And finally to get the instance up:

$ sudo docker run --name zulip -i -t -p 9991:9991 zulip-instance

There are still issues like, there should be some bots present initially to create users and realms. And while trying to understand management commands to do the same(creating a bot user) seems to have circular dependency with the step of "notify_created_user". Or maybe I have overlooked something during this step. Also the settings are development, settings for production things would be different.

FOSSEE Project

I got mail a from Prabhu(PR) few days back about extension of FOSSEE project and that they are looking for people for different roles. I had joined the project fairly early(July 2010) when it was getting started and we were trying different ways to show power of Python as alternative to popular proprietary tools used in academia, in terms of writing code, calculations, speed, everything.

We did workshops in different colleges, recorded screen-casts, events, documentations and even a full fledged course: SEES, around Python and various tools which could improve skills students to handle their courses and codes with good practices.

Though this sounds like a lot of documentation work, and not exactly like a "developer profile" but for starters to reach to the level that you can yourself understand these concepts, algorithms, good practices I think is the biggest thing at offer. And this time, as PR mentioned in mail, they are also looking for developers to contribute, develop and push things with some mainstream Open Source projects. Personally, I met wonderful people there, Prabhu, Asokan, punchagan, madhu, vattam, dusual and many more from active and thriving community. There is always good scope and room to grow.

When I had joined the project initially, I was excited about probably contributing, able to sit through classes etc. The mission of project is high minded and this kind of adaptation and acceptance is never overnight and always gradual. I remember being frustrated about lack of enthusiasm from the participants and not seeing results. But that's the thing, you get to take a chance, try things, see if they work, if not, adapt, try more, but try.

Note: I worked with the team very initially and only for a year so I am not aware of how currently things work at fossee, I think contacting them directly for latest update would be best.