20 thoughts on Slack

by Rob Horan, Product Manager.


I wanted to share some thoughts on Slack, we’ve been trialling it with the teams here and it’s been interesting to see things evolve over the last few weeks.

There are loads of articles out there on  ‘Why Slack’ or ‘Slack vs’ whatever.  I’ve never really found one that made me think ‘wow they’re just like us’. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough, who knows.

So I wanted to share my thoughts in the fairly assured knowledge that there are indeed other companies just like us using or thinking of using Slack. So these thoughts are through the lens of a Product Manager at a company in London that uses Jira, Confluence, email and Skype for most things. We’re not a startup, we’re an established business all be it one that’s open to trying new stuff.

The trial

To set the scene, we’ve teams in London and a team in Mumbai and a few distributed individuals dotted around the planet. In all about 5 Scrum teams working 2 week sprints, who mostly used Skype for IM, screen sharing and video calls. We’ve a mixture of other people too as you would expect, but the bulk of the users of our Slack trial are dev, test, UI designers, support and Product type folks.

Our trial was pretty non specific in nature, we just wanted to dive in and see if it lived up the hype. Someone setup a Slack account (I’ll take that credit) and started inviting others, gradually the trial audience grew to a point where I think just about everyone now has an account.

So – that’s the background, here’s my 20 thoughts on Slack so far in no particular order:

1. Slackbot.

Slackbot is possibly the best marketing trick for geeks I’ve seen in a while. If you’ve never used a bot before, then you’re missing out. (here’s how Slack describe it). It is genuinely entertaining, to start with… It can be really amusing. We’ve had people have fairly long conversations with Slackbot, all be it slightly insane conversations. Depending on how creative you want to be, bots can be productive, funny or just plain annoying. For me, a good bot is all 3. Although you’ll get tired of Slackbots responses like ‘Sup’ within about 1 to 10 messages, if that.

2. Addictive.

The more you use Slack, the more you want to use it. It’s weird (I was pretty cynical to start with) and the adoption in our teams has grown (and I thought many of the users would be biased toward Skype). The people at Slack are either really clever or really lucky. They’ve built in some kind of subtle phycological communication trick that drives you to compulsively add reaction emojis to someones amusing one liner.

3. ReactionS and EMOJIS

I’d credit Slack with reactions, I know Facebook recently added them for the rest of humanity. There is a much wider array of emojis to react with in Slack. It’s like emoji heaven.

Sounds incredible so far eh! Not exactly a productivity power house just yet, BUT Keep reading.

4. Free Version LIMITS

We’re using the free version of Slack for the trial (as you’d expect) and it took about 2 weeks to reach the free archive message limit (about 50 or so users). So we’re going to have to buy if we want to benefit from one of the key features – Searchable Content in channels and messages. Once you hit 10,000 messages forget that feature until you start to pay.

5. Video Calling and Screen sharing

You’ll still need something to video call and screen share. Slack just doesn’t do that stuff. We still haven’t settled on a video calling tool – although Google Hangouts is steadily emerging as a winner. Hangouts has grown up, all though in my opinion Google+ has an insane UX. There are tonnes of features in hangouts, and Hangouts on Air is really cool. That’s a separate post I’m sure.

6. Channels

Channels are great and do a good job of keeping conversations mostly on track. If you had group chats in Skype IM – it’s basically the same deal but just easier to manage and easier join. There are private and public options for channels. A bit of weirdness about a limitation about making a private channel public, or vice versa, I can’t remember. Apart from that Channels seem to work well for everyone using the trial.

7. Premium Version

I’m yet to play with the premium versions, you get integrations, the limit on search lifted and various other benefits. It’s hard to review the premium version, since we’re trialling – so I’ll just dream of it for now.

8. Hype & coolness

It definitely is perceived as ‘cool’ by many in startup and dev world, but I’m not 100% sure at this stage it lives up to the hype. The hype does help the adoption argument. The majority of our devs were almost drooling at the prospect of a Slack trial. They’re still drooling now to be fair, but that’s just a personality thing I’m told.

9. It’s better than Skype at IM by miles

It’s just better than Skype, miles better. If you think messages are really just typing things into a box then you’re missing out. There’s much more to it than that and Slack does it well… and I’ve not even gotten into the code-snippets and the rest yet.

10. Integrations

Jira integration is useful, you can take it as far as you like. We literally just push critical jira items into a channel, but there’s huge scope here. The free version is really limited, so we’ve not had much of a play just yet with other stuff. This is one of the key benefit areas that most people bring up. Along with Git integration etc.

11. Slack App

The mobile app is just nicer than Skype for messaging – controlling notifications if you’re busy across numerous channels is very useful for keeping hold of your sanity. I use Slack on the London underground on my commute, and it’s pretty good at reconnecting between wifi stations, the ‘retry’ is a little more honest than Skype’s sort of just waiting. The app on Android (i’ve not used iOS) is good. Not had any problems (S6 Edge).

12. I just wish it had native video calling/screen sharing

I wish Slack just had it’s own native video calling/group calling feature. The nature of integrations just seems a little distracting. By not having it, you lose a key part of the debate to those that would favour the likes of Skype. I suppose Hipchat etc are just the same as Slack in this area.

13. Say goodbye to your non-Slack friends

The closed nature of your Slack network eventually channels you internally – one thing I loved about using Skype as a IM was that everyone I knew used it for IM – all my old colleagues and knowledge network. Since your brain has now accepted that Skype is now crap for IM, you basically neglect everyone using Skype and cease being friends with them.

14. Remember to speak

It’s that good it will almost stop you from speaking to the person sat next to you. Beware. Sounds extreme but it happens. I’ve not spoken to the person sitting next to me for 2 weeks now. We make eye contact, but nothing more.

15. It’s not cheap, so it loses on cost to Skype / free stuff

There’s a decent cost to buy the full beans version per head – when you think that Skype and Hangouts are basically free, a sanity check is required to make sure you really are going to use all the features.

16. Channels need profile pics too

I miss Skype profile pictures for Channels/groups. In Slack it’s just the hashtag. Which is useful in the sense you can use the channel hash in other chats to direct things around. But I still like the picture in Skype, mainly for comedy purposes – so it’s not a huge loss.

17. usage Analytics

You get nice emails from Slack and lots of clever stuff behind the scenes that tell you how Slack is being used, what percentage of messages were private, in groups etc. It gives a good feel for it use without being too scary.

18. Code snippets

A big benefit that many call out for Slack – code snippets. It’s definitely miles better than Skype here. I’ve not used Hipchat in anger in a while so can’t compare there. If I wasn’t a powerpoint, google-sheet swinging PM I’d probably have more for this bit. Devs I respect tell me Slack is the shitz for code snippets, so I believe them. It’s great.

19. Strong Admin and Settings

It’s pretty rich in terms of features, configuration and the like. It’s in another league compared to other tools.

20. It’s very easy to trial

The impressive thing is just how simple Slack has made adopting it. Setting up a trial is very very simple and I think that’s a big part of it’s success. I’d like to know if anyone I know out there has brought it in at scale. I know many in startup land that have gone for it, but not so many on the larger stage.

Sum up

I’d say Slack is pretty awesome at messaging and collaborative stuff. It’s messaging for the Airbnb generation. It makes Skype feel like MSN messenger all over again.

It needs a little extra something to plug that gap around native video calling and screensharing. If they had that, it truly would be a killer app in my view.

One thing to watch out for in adoption in your team or wider org (we have 5 teams and a wider business unit using it) is it simply becoming a replacement for email, or worse still an addition to email. For Slack users that have been away Slack or ‘not using’, trying to catchup, wading through Slack channel conversations is hard work, and it’s easy to miss pieces of a conversation that might be critical or really useful. So, like any tool, use it for what’s it’s good for. Use your other information radiators or repositories to re-enforce any casual chats.

Hope some of that is useful thought shared. We’re still going and I’m sure I’ll post some kind of update in the coming weeks with any decision on our trial or more learnings.

Thanks for reading.

Bye to you too @Slackbot

Slackbot: bye Rob, great post.

Rob: Thanks @slackbot

Slackbot: Sup

Rob: … god help us.