Over the Summer the crew from the Theotek podcast introduced me to Slack. It quickly became our go to means for collaboration, discussion, and generally being a nuisance to each other. In fact, I loved it so much I introduced it to the region team for The American Baptist Churches of New Jersey, and in less than a week it has now become our first line of communication.
Slack is a lot like a combination of Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and Instant Messaging (IM) which has being doing some serious workouts. Here’s some highlights.
Users don’t create a login to Slack as a service. Rather, they have different logins for any team to which they have been invited. This keeps the discussion focused on the team task at hand 1. It also gets around the bane of both IRC and IM, incessant spam requests for contact. Only those who are deliberately invited to a team have access to the content. Paid tiers for the service even demand two-factor authentication and allow for Google Apps for domains accounts to be utilized as a sign on.
Slack excels at integrations. Currently I’ve played with integrations for Mailchimp and RSS. It’s nice to be notified of changes to websites I follow or activity on the mailing lists I manage. Integrations also exist for Google Calendar, various cloud storage services, and even Google Hangouts. Each integration increases the power of Slack as a communications hub, and allows dispersed teams to work at a distance in near real-time 2.
Mobile and Push
I always loved Instant Messaging, and grieved a bit when it finally faded away in favor of the text message. I know both are instant, and with both Hangouts and iMessage instant message still functionally exists, but there was just something fun about having a buddy list up showing me who was online 3. One of the first apps I got for my iPad 2, in fact, was an instant messaging client. I loved have messages from my friends pushed to me that way.
Yes, IM has essentially been overtaken by the text messaging, but the feel of that medium is different. Text messages are often “one shot exchanges.” That is, one piece of information is shared or requested, and that is followed up with a response which closes the exchange. Having extended chats via Text Messaging never feels “right.”
In Slack I get the push notifications and mobile of texting, but the environment which feels much more like chatting. This makes sense, as the tool was developed for team collaboration – extended exchanges are required for good collaboration.
An especially nice feature of Slack is that it will automatically turn off notifications on all but one device when you are logged into a team on multiple devices 4. It’s a little touch, and can be manually over-ridden, but it is much appreciated. It’s not fun to get fourteen alarms for the same message, especially after you’ve already responded elsewhere.
Most importantly, Slack’s interface is appealing. The design is clean, it behaves in logical ways, and is easy to navigate. This may seem like a small thing, but it helps people want to use it. After all, what good is a collaboration tool people have no desire to use? The more people use the tool, the better it is for building camaraderie among team members – making the application itself appealing goes a long way to creating this type of environment.
If you are on some sort of distributed team, you really ought to consider Slack, it may be just what you’re looking for.
- But it does include a #random channel, which is essentially the water cooler for each team. ↩
- Which leads to fewer multi-hour meetings during which two minutes of productivity is completed. ↩
- And being reminded of my out of date status update by my friend Jamison. ↩
- Otherwise known as “just about everyone from the industrialized West.” ↩