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Home / Tips and Tricks / What is Slack and why do people love it?

What is Slack and why do people love it?

  Slacks Logo

Slack is a workplace chat app that is so popular that the company it owns has a value of more than $ 20 billion. You've probably already seen it on the news. If you have not used it already, you should know the following:

What is Slack?

Slack is a tool for workplace communication, "a single place for news, tools and files" instant messaging system with many add-ins for other workplace tools. However, the add-ins are not required to use Slack because the main functionality is to talk to other people. In Slack there are two chat methods: channels (group chat) and direct message or DM (person to person chat). Let's take a quick look at the user interface.

  The Slack interface with the instance name, the list of channels and DMs and the chat window.

In Slack, there are four important things to keep in mind:

  1. The name of the Slack instance.
  2. The list of channels in which you are a member.
  3. The list of people to whom you have sent messages directly.
  4. The chat window.

If a customer wants to use Slack, choose a name for their Slack instance . This will become part of the unique URL. So if Wile E. Coyote wants to create a Slack instance for ACME Slingshots, his Slack instance is https://acmeslingshot.slack.com/. Wile E. can then invite anyone to become a member of his slack instance.

Channels in Slack can be public, that is, each member can see and join that channel, or privately, meaning only members of that channel can see it or invite others to join. DMs are always private, though they can hold up to 8 people.

The entire actual communication takes place in the chat window. You can read all the responses to messages, use emoji reactions, add gifs, view RSS feeds, set reminders, receive notifications about add-ins, and perform various other functions. Above all, you are talking to people here.

What's so great about Slack?

When Slack hit the market, there were no real competitors in the market. This does not mean that there were no other chat apps, but Slack combined an intuitive user interface with group-to-person messages. In addition, companies can control who may use them through the invitation system. Other tools could do the same, but without the same ease of use (Campfire, now BaseCamp, was obvious). None of the traditional vendors (Microsoft, Apple, IBM, Sun, etc.) had anything like Slack.

This lack of company size was also an advantage. Slack was small enough to react quickly when it came to adding new features like emoji reactions (ideal for users) and 2-factor authentication (ideal for administrators). For some users, the fact that Slack was not a big traditional supplier was an advantage, but that does not explain why Slack is so popular.

Slack does two things really well: Design and understanding for the needs of its users. These two pillars are the basis for most good products, but surprisingly difficult to implement well, as many failed apps will prove. The rough initial design was designed by Slack founder Stewart Butterfield (the same guy who co-founded Flickr in the early 2000s) and his team and then handed over to a third party called MetaLab for polishing. Andrew Wilkinson of MetaLab said:

"To attract attention in a crowded market, we had to find a way to grab people's attention. Most business software looks like a cheap suit from the 70s – blues and grays all over – so we started Slack, starting with the logo, as if a confetti cannon had been fired. Electric blue, yellow, purple and green everywhere. We gave him the color scheme of a video game, not a corporate collaboration product … bright colors, a curvy sans serif typeface, friendly icons, and smiling faces and emojis everywhere. "

In the same article, Wilkinson talks about how Slack feels good when you use it – what it does – and how the content, like loading messages, is informal and often quite funny. Conclusion: "It's the same enterprise chat client below, but it's playful, it's fun to use it. and everything that makes it feel like a character in your life.

If you look at the elements that make up Slack, ease of use and reliability are of paramount importance. It's easy for non-technical users to learn, especially when compared to other group chat tools like Basecamp or Microsoft Teams. You can also start up your own Slack instance for personal use for free. And if you do not like the "confetti cannon", you can easily change the colors.

But good design does not help much if the functionality is not there. Chatting is relatively easy. That's why most chat apps use the same basic format: a conversation viewing window and a place to type, either at the bottom or at the side. This is where Slack's attention comes to the needs of its users. Instead of reinventing the chat wheel, they focused on what people wanted from a chat app beyond the basic requirement of sending messages together.

One of Slack's main selling points was that private channels and DMs could not be read by slack administrators without members openly agreeing or sending a message to all users stating that they were exporting messages is. This gave users a sense of privacy and security that other products (especially e-mail) did not have.

However, this has changed mainly thanks to the GDPR legislation, which came into force in Europe in 2018 – higher level administrators. Payors can perform a complete export without informing their users. This shows how many users appreciated the original privacy settings. This is a good example of how Slack – if not required by law – understands what its users want.

They gain this understanding mainly through the daily use of the product itself:

"[W] At the Slack headquarters in San Francisco, the design team can test different user scenarios with their own departments. Each department acts as the microcosm of the larger customer base. For example, designers can learn more about how they can improve slack for financial teams by monitoring and soliciting feedback from their own finance department.

As one of their product designers says in the same article, "User feedback flows in from outside the organization on a regular basis, and each one serves weekly support shifts to better empower customers.

How many companies do you know where everyone has to go through a regular layer of support to make sure he understands the customer issues?

Slack also decided early on to drive an ecosystem of app integrations. Users can integrate almost any app they want, from developer tools like GitHub, Jenkins and StackOverflow to business tools like Google Analytics, ServiceNow, MailChimp or SalesForce. There are over 1500 apps that Slack can be integrated into. So, if you can not deliver the performance you need, there's probably an app that will do it. This makes Slack a powerful hub application that users can open on one screen while working on another. In essence, Slack has become a one-stop-shop for many users.

The two pillars of design and understanding the needs of its users have made Slack popular. This survey gives a good overview of what Slack users think and the results are almost entirely positive.

Slack is so popular that Atlassian, the billion dollar Australian behind highly successful productivity apps such as Jira and Confluence, admitted defeat in 2018 and sold his two efforts for a chat app, HipChat and Stride Slack – Userbase and all.

At the time of writing, there is a survey claiming that Microsoft teams are more popular than Slack. This survey was conducted by a Microsoft partner and is based on the number of companies that use each tool, not on users' preferences. Office 365 is by far the most widely used software in the business world, and teams are included. That's why more companies use teams just because they're available as part of their business subscription.

How much does Slack cost?

You can start Slack for free, but with this plan you can only access the 10,000 most recent releases. There are other limitations, including only ten integrations, no single-channel or multi-channel guests, and limited administrative features.

Once on board, Slack is pretty expensive if you want the Plus edition. For example, at this level, you can run single sign-on and compliance exports that are essential to a company of reasonable size. How expensive? About $ 12 per user per month if you pay annually, or $ 15 per user per month if you pay monthly. If you have 1,000 users and pay annually, that's $ 144,000. We do not say it's not worth it, but that's a lot of change.

Your subscription gives you many things, but one thing you do not get is the ability to host your own data. All data is stored on Slack's servers. These are actually the servers from Amazon, as Slack runs under AWS. This is partly the reason why Microsoft has included Slack in the internal list of "discouraged" apps. Slack is not only one of Microsoft's official competitors (and vice versa), but Microsoft Azure also joins forces with Amazon Web Services for the multi-billion cloud service market. This is unlikely to be a specific problem for your business. However, depending on your jurisdiction, compliance requirements, or data processing policies, it may not be acceptable for your data to be stored in AWS using a third-party tool.

If your business can swallow the cost and does not mind having control over their data, there are still some issues with the app itself. For example, slack decentralization gives users control over which channels are created. This is great until you realize that you need to check two dozen channels a day – partly to calm FOMO, and partly because you need to know what's going on. This has a negative impact on some users and it's easy to see why people increasingly find Slack a time-waster rather than a productive tool. If that is you can disable Slack for a while.

A more serious problem, however, is that Slack has no mute or block function:

That makes sense: Slack sees itself as an organizational tool and this tool is used at workstations. The workplace policies and harassment handling on this workstation therefore determine how to handle harassment on Slack.

If this requirement seems strange at first glance and you feel that Slack's position makes sense, you probably have never suffered the unwanted attention of someone who just will not leave you alone. From the same article:

"My girlfriend had unpleasant interactions with a colleague about Slack – the platform she has to use for many hours a day to get her work done. So she could not ignore it every time she sent messages to her, though they often came from her harasser. Since she can not mute a person, she is forced to see his inappropriate messages each time a small red alert pops up.

No matter how a company deals with employees harassing other employees, it's not alright that these people feel uncomfortable with Slack because there's no such basic functionality.

Do we recommend Slack?

Slack likes us here at How-To Geek very well – we use it ourselves! It is not perfect and there are things we would change, but in general it is well designed and user friendly. Plus, it's free if you do not want to keep all the messages or have company toys.

We recommend creating a workspace and experimenting with slack to see if it meets your needs.

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