I’m sure many people know what Slack is by now. Already 2.7 million daily active users, $540 million dollars in total funding with a valuation at $3.8 billion. It’s the hot new thing! Slack has even made it onto network TV commercials. It’s the purported email replacement. It is widely used in the corporate world as a internal messaging app which is meant to improve productivity and communication. I’ve been using it for a while and have a few quick thoughts.
Here’s a much better piece detailing Slack if you’d like some extra reading.
In my opinion slack directly tackles three main issues which have made it successful.
- It is real time but not fully
- It is designed for the end user not the corporation that implements it
- It is directed at collaboration
Slack allows you to create teams which comprise of members who can create and join various “channels”. These channels are supercharged group chats. There is also one on one direct messaging if you want. It can work as a real time chat room and at the same time can be used like email (where you don’t expect an immediate response and a thought out response can be scripted). These channels facilitate teamwork by centralizing the discussions. You can pin documents, share files, and direct comments and communication to various groups within the team based on which channel you write in. Much better than the “cc” or “reply all” of email.
Each channel is an easy place for distributed teams to keep up to date on their collective project. Slack is the place where all communication can come together that can be accessible to all. To facilitate this, Slack has an incredible search function. It also overthrows the horror of one large email inbox with disparate topics. Each channel has its own directed label.
Moreover, Slack ties into the desire to communicate. To this day I’m amazed at how messaging has taken over. I would venture to say that in a non work setting more than 50% of the time I see someone open their laptop, its not long before I see multiple G-chat, facebook chat, or imessage windows pop up. To me this is crazy! Slack only feeds into the same motivation that lies behind this desire. Slack makes it easier than ever to have an impromptu virtual meeting, to update a select group of people on the progress of something, or to facilitate quick decisions.
Finally, the design is stunning. Slack looks very sleek. It’s definitely designed with a millennial generation feel, and is very intuitive to use for those of us who grew up with social media. It is quite easy to set up, and there is also a lot of customization. Just like any enterprise software which needs to be applied in very disparate fields, it seems to integrate well with a lot of popular software platforms (ie Dropbox, Google Drive etc).
Unfortunately, there are also few issues with Slack. First and foremost, lost information is rampant. I would say this problem is worse with email. “But didn’t you get that email I sent last week?” but this issue is not eliminated in Slack. In one channel you may have multiple conversations going on at the same time. Some people are answering in real time. The poster is expecting a reply from X, but X is not there. She/He is treating the thread like an email. Keeping up with it all can be a chore. It is much too easy to log in and have a long list of messages to sort through despite the ability to do a quick search.
The platform makes it much easier than email to send a quick message. This fact drives a self perpetuating flurry of messages. You sometimes feel obligated to contribute in this “chatroom” which drives even more messages (many of which likely have far less substance). Meant as a tool to enhance productivity, I can see how Slack can in fact drain time and substance from team communications.
Lastly, Slack channels can get very informal. Admittedly I’m not part of a slack team in a major company. Emojis, gifs, youtube clips are easily shared as pdfs, spreadsheets, and other files.
For different teams, different means of communication are warranted. There is no one correct way to collaborate. However, Slack does a valiant job in solving some of the main issues of on-line communication. For those looking for a communication tool, I would say the biggest reason to consider Slack would be its user design. However, don’t automatically expect it to be a great boon for productivity. Sure, in some settings it’ll work great, but there are definitely a few drawbacks to consider.