Discord is just one of those applications that are absolutely here to stay, but did you know that there are actually a ton of alternatives out there for Discord that might be worth checking out? One of those apps is Element, although it is more commonly known under its previous name, Riot. Both apps are quite similar, but Element (or Riot, if you like to still call it that) is actually newer than Discord and is already shaping up to be some serious competition.
What is Element (formerly Riot)?
When you take a look at the website of Element.io, you’ll see that their interface actually looks pretty sleek. It’s pretty much what you would have if iMessage, Discord, and Slack had a baby. The interface is clean, colorful, versatile, and fast. The company itself describes its multi-platform software as an all-in-one application for your friends, but also for teams and organizations. Aside from regular consumers, you can see that Element tries to focus on the professional business market share as well.
What about Discord?
Discord does not try to focus on business users, it just aims to provide a way to digitally hang out with your friends and communities on the internet. It first started as an app geared towards gamers but has also gained massive mainstream appeal, especially during and after the first wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
What are the similarities between Discord and Riot/Element?
In their essence, the apps are of course quite similar. You can send texts to whoever you want to communicate with, there are possibilities for voice and video calls (voice over IP or VoIP), they offer support for the web, Windows computers, macOS, iOS, Android and are easy and simple to use. That’s where the similarities end, however, and we’ll discuss the main differences between these two chat applications below.
Differences in ownership, licensing, and protocol
Discord is owned by the American company Discord Inc., and although there have been talks about acquisitions (including Microsoft), the app is still fully independent and is not involved with one of the big tech companies. Element, on the other hand, is a company that is distributed under an Apache 2.0 license and was developed in the United Kingdom. Element uses the Matrix open-source communications protocol, while Discord uses a proprietary in-house protocol.
Is Element open source? What about Discord?
Kind of. As mentioned above, the chat app does use the Matrix protocol, which is entirely open source meaning it offers full transparency, as anyone can check out the code and make adjustments to it. This also greatly enhances security and gives peace of mind in regards to privacy, as the app can be inspected by anyone at any time. However, Element (the company) does offer paid tiers of its service and operates on a regular, for-profit basis. Nonetheless, the company’s developers still maintain their Matrix protocol and regularly contribute code to the platform. Other popular contributors are KDE, GNOME, and Mozilla, the people behind Firefox.
Discord, on the other hand, is not open source. This means that the code for their software is only theirs to see and control.
Can you host your own Discord or Element server?
Discord does not offer any possibility to host your own server to talk to people – everything is done on their end, which may not be appealing for all users. If you’re someone who heavily relies on privacy, you might prefer to have a self-hosted chat application, where you can decide on which server the software runs. You could host it on your own pc, for example.
Element heavily focuses on giving users a carefree and user-friendly chat application, and the standard option is to host servers at Matrix.org, similar to Discord. However, if you want, you can always host your own Element server yourself. Both options are completely free of charge.
Element vs Discord: privacy and advertisements
Discord does promise its users that calls are not being monitored and that communication is encrypted, but Element most definitely uses privacy as a unique selling point. Because servers can be self-hosted and the software is open source, there is no denying that privacy-wise, Element definitely has the upper hand here. Unlike Discord, the organization behind Element promises that there is no data mining going on and that there also will never be any type of ads on the service. All communications on Element are end-to-end encrypted, while Discord only offers regular encryption. Without a single doubt, Element is the winner here.
Element vs Discord: functionality
Discord definitely does still have a bit of gaming DNA in its software, and it will offer some additional benefits that might be useful to gamers. For example, there’s a handy overlay that you can use while gaming, and if you like, you can also show your friends what games you are playing on your current status. Discord also features a plethora of available bots you can use to spice up servers with extra features. For example, you can add a music bot that will play a random song on a channel. This isn’t really possible in Element, although support for external applications does tend to improve over time. In terms of other features, Discord and Element offer pretty much anything you can think of, including video calls, file uploads, and screen sharing.
Element vs Discord: Pricing and subscription tiers
Both companies offer a completely free service that will also be free to users forever: basic chat functionality, video calling, audio calls, file uploading up to a certain amount, it’s all there. Discord does offer two paid subscription tiers: Nitro and Nitro Classic. Some of the perks you’ll get with these paid subscriptions are a custom username, a higher file size limit, more support for emojis, and support for higher-quality streaming and screen sharing. You can also purchase server boosts to increase the sound quality of conversations on a specific server.
The pricing strategy of Element is much different, as it also focuses on business users and privacy-minded families. A home subscription for five users costs 10 dollars a month and features higher quality, faster server performance, personalized IDs as well as the possibility to create your own Element server domain. They’ve also got a ton of business packages, ranging from Nickel all the way to Platinum. Features include guaranteed uptime and support, custom DNS names, Whitelabel branding, and more. Pricing varies depending on the number of users. The pricing is most definitely competitive and it’s clear that Element also wants to take a shot at users who would otherwise choose Slack.
Can you talk with people on Discord via Element?
Discord uses a user-friendly invite link system to talk with your friends or join a community, but can you actually talk with your Discord buddies through Element? With some modifications, you can. The open-source Matrix network offers some possibilities, but it may be troublesome to set up.
Summary: the pros and cons of using Element versus Discord
Even though Element and Discord may look quite similar and also promise some similar things, there are certainly a number of differences that are worth noting. For starters, Element is much more privacy-focused and open source, allowing you to self-host your own Element server wherever you want. You could also say that Element also focuses on business users, not only consumers, while Discord tends to focus on friends, online communities, and gamers. Both apps offer completely free tiers, but offer paid (but optional) advantages as well. Lastly, Discord offers a bit more functionality in regards to bots and third-party integrations.
In short, if you’re looking for a sleek, modern chat application that has everything you need, you really can’t go wrong with Element. However, you might have to convince your friends or family members to create an Element account or jump over from Discord. Element (formerly known as Riot) is gaining in popularity, and millions of users are already on the platform, but Discord still has a bigger mainstream appeal and recognition.