The question caught my eye for a couple of reasons: 1.) We have just started using Slack at Kaleidico with amazingly quick adoption and success, and 2.) One of the first replies was “people hate email,” which I have heard often as the benefit of Slack and think is absurd.
I made several comments in that discussion, but here are my extended remarks, as they say:
The web has no shortage of useful tools.
Quick sidenote: I think some of this is attributable to these important factors:
- Improved accessibility to learning powerful programming frameworks, and
- The explosion of startup accelerators like YCombinator, 500 Startups, and Tech Stars
- Enabling developers to churn out amazingly interesting and useful point solutions and innovations at a breakneck pace.
There is rarely a pain point in my workday (I own and run a digital marketing agency) that I can’t Google and find a workable application that solves the particular problem. Quite often, the solution even exceeds my expectation or leads me to innovate our business processes.
The problem is that these point solutions litter my day and my workflow. This is where I think Slack caught fire, as a backplane for all of these point solutions.
Background on Our Switch to Slack
Slack now facilitates the internal communication backbone of Kaleidico.
We’re a creative agency with about a 50/50 mix of on-site and remote team members. Communication is critical because creative collaboration is the fuel of any agency. That communication has to support rich content sharing (e.g., text, images, video, and interactive) when we need to generate ideas or action, yet unobtrusive while we’re making the sausage. At the same time, it must also be responsive when we need to rally the team against an emergency or significant challenge.
In the early days of Kaleidico, we used IRC to serve this need. However, as our team added young folks, there was less and less familiarity or understanding of this relatively technical solution. It also lacked the intimacy of spontaneous video conferencing. We then transitioned to Skype. It had video, but everything else was weak:
- No simple way to separate project conversations
- No organization or persistence around links and files that get shared
- Unbearable on a mobile device (e.g., endless waiting for old conversations to load, even though you have seen all of them on your desktop, and the app sucks the life out of your battery)
We’ve tried several different things, but typically, begrudgingly, returned to Skype for it’s reliable and immediacy of communication. Slack was a surprising exception. The team quickly accepted, adopted, and personalized the environment–in an organic way. And, refreshingly, we’ve yet to run into any limitations or debilitating outage.
Now for the magic of Slack
There are lots of ways for teams to communicate and collaborate: Skype, Google Chat, Facetime, Basecamp, Google Docs, Dropbox. All of these, as well as the hundreds of other options, are strong for individual collaborations. Where they often fail is when they force you to communicate in a defined way–usually requiring everyone to adopt the solution, just to collaborate.
Slack is a Backplane for the Tools We Already Use
Slack lets us integrate any of these tools into our communication backplane, allowing collaborators to use whatever tools they want or need in their personal workflows.
Modern teams require robust sharing of digital information: referencing images, videos, text, and code snippets is an integral part of most digital workers day. Slack makes it easy to share this information and more importantly makes it easy to share it in a way that is usable.
Slack Uses Embeds to Make Information Immediately Usable
Slack embraces the emerging paradigm of the embed over the simple hyperlink for rich content. It makes images and videos instantly usable without leaving your workflow.
Organizing projects and tasks for collaboration is very much a personal preference. Count the number of articles about productivity and how people use and hack a variety of project and task management tools.
Slack Enables Natural Hacking of Communication
Slack allows this personal hacking to happen naturally, but in a way that allows the overall team to stay productive and not necessarily be forced to conform. It allows team members to break off independently into channels in any way that’s useful for them. Slack doesn’t define the communication framework (i.e., project, discussion, task, files, etc.). Slack’s only node is a channel. A channel can be defined in a variety of ways (e.g., clients, projects, tasks, files, or just a quick hallway conversation) to meet your collaboration needs.
I could make this list longer, but I’ll wrap with this one additional use case that we’re finding pretty powerful. As an agency, we’re continually seeking, collecting, aggregating, and using inspiration for and in our projects. We also monitor and process events, triggers, and analytics from our marketing campaigns.
Slack Allows the Automated Feeding of Data that Fuels Collaboration
Slack enables us to automate the feeding of channels with useful information. Using tools like Feedly, IFTTT, Zapier as well as integrations with MailChimp and Gravity Forms; we’ve automated many things that used to require people to collect manually, put into a document or email, and then share. With Slack, I can add these various data feeds into the channel and have them come in, as they happen, ready for inspiration or collaboration.
Slack has been a great tool to enhance the communication and collaboration of our team. It allows our teams and team members to work in a more natural and organic, digitally. I think this is one of the secrets to “Why people love Slack.”
At a more philosophical level, I think there is another powerful pattern for software: Creating software that allows people to work the way they want and need to is critical. Of course, this requires developers and software companies to open up the endpoints and allowing data to flow effortlessly in and out is magically enabling and valuable.