Group emails can really kill productivity, especially when messages become conversational or “off-topic” chatter. In this case, it’s high time to put mail clients to rest, and use collaboration services like the newly launched, Slack.
No number of smart mailboxes or labels can help with the gluttony of email that fills our collective inboxes. Slack, like other collaboration services that came before it, takes the concepts of chatrooms, file sharing, and instant messaging and makes it easier for companies, groups, and teams to collaborate with one another.
Slack has no distracting content to deal with. The focus is on messages and channels for purposes of quick, direct communication.
Note: As of publishing, Slack is still invite-only. After providing your email address, you will be sent a message letting you know when your invite should arrive, and at present queues are short. Slack of course includes a free limited service (10,000 message searchable archive, 5GB of storage, and a limit to 5 external service integrations) for small teams and casual users, and premium subscriptions start at $8 per user, per month.
Clean, Uncluttered & Consistent
Slack makes it easy to invite your other business or team members to start using its services with you. Slack is cross-platform with free clients for the Mac, iOS and Android, and through Chrome on Windows and Linux, by setting up a Chrome application shortcut.
Slack’s UI is clean and uncluttered, and consistent across all devices. The main window consists of group and private messages, with a sidebar of channels and a list of member names for direct messages. Simply clicking on a name and writing a message is three or four clicks easier than creating and writing new email which leads to more a cluttered inbox.
But there’s more to Slack than meets the eye. There’s what is called a pop-out “Flexpane”, a side panel activity feed consisting of all uploaded files, new team members, comments on files and items you have starred in the channels and messages.
There’s also a drop-down menu of items for adding files, PDFs, and content from integragated services including the cloud service, Google Drive, code hosting service, Bitbucket, cloud service Dropbox and even Twitter, where a Twitter link will automatically expand when pasted into a chat.
Channels & Groups
All channels (essentially chat rooms) are open to those who wish join them, and each has a separate purpose and topic of discussion which can be set independently. You could establish some standard permanent channels, while others might be temporary, and anything you no longer need can be archived and resurfaced later.
Slack also allows for private channels visible only to invited members. Channel participants can see the entire thread of messages, even those that came before they joined.
There are few misgiving I have about channels, however. The sidebar of channels could easily grow pretty long depending on the number of varied topics your company discusses on a daily basis. Fortunately you can “star” your favourite channels so that they appear above everything else, and are always one click away.
Slack also includes push notifications for either all messages, mentions only, direct messages only, or none at all. As with the mobile apps, notification alerts can be enabled to appear on the dock icon for Slack, and the number of new messages are highlighted in the channel listings. You can also receive notifications in email, as well as enable notifications (in the desktop and web versions) for individual channels by clicking the top drop-down menu for a channel and clicking on Channel Notification Preferences.
Thankfully, unlike email, messages can be edited and deleted at any time. You can also star messages which can be reviewed in the Starred Items sidebar/Flexpane.
You can also see which of your messages others starred in the Activity feed. But it would be useful if Slack borrowed the +1 feature in Google+ and Facebook so that all members of a channel can see inline which messages are favored, as an indication of “I agree with this message” without literally having to write that type of response.
You can, however, right-click on the timestamp of a message and copy its permalink, which when pasted in a new message automatically expands the content of the linked message, making it somewhat quotable in-line. On an iOS device, you tap and hold on a message and then choose copy or link to archives.
For longer messages, Slack suggests that you upload (using the arrow button next to the text field) text files, or snippets, which appear as snippets attached to the Flexpane/Activity sidebar. A short preview of the longer message also appears in the timeline of messages. This approach is much better than emails, for it makes it easier to read and respond to longer messages.
Lots of Preferences
Slack offers several ways to customize how you interact with the service, from selecting your preferred notification sound to highlighting particular words that result in you being notified whey they show up in a message.
You can define the message theme to include exact times messages were posted, expand the inline media display to include references to images, videos, and audio previews. Selected channels can also be excluded from the search messages.
An End to Email?
Will Slack put an end to internal company emails? Only your company or group can answer that question. MakeUseOf is taking the service for spin, and so far initial impressions are good. With our staff spread throughout the world, Slack facilitates better, more immediate communication between us than a cluttered inbox. I suggest trying out Slack by inviting a handful of staff members, or a committee, to use the service for a few days and see how it fits the needs of your company or group.
I personally prefer Slack or similar services to email because sometimes communicating via email feels like opening an envelope only to read a few words or sentences. Many messages don’t lend themselves well to email exchanges; and are better handled through online conversations.
Let us know what you think of Slack and what features you would like to see added or changed.