To Slack, or not to Slack



There’s been this debate growing in my office and maybe yours about whether Slack is the email replacer for team communications. Haven’t heard of Slack? It’s the instant-ish messaging platform being used by big and small teams for stream-like communications. You can dip in and out of a conversations. Messages live in threads that anyone on a team can read unless it’s in a private group or a direct message. No more flagrantly cc’ing mailing lists. If I need to know/read/act, you tag me. If your message is a FYI, I can catch up whenever (or get notified based on preferences). Context is baked in to the channels. #knowledge_share #work_around If you have a frequent topic, you create a channel so the sender chooses the context of the message when posting. Email has subject lines, sure, but there is not a pre-agreed upon lexicon of approved subject lines, making them at best summaries and at worst, meaningless.

So here is the rub. In my office, some of us use Slack for, well, just about everything, and some don’t use it at all. This has led to one of the things Slack is supposed to fix: separate communication threads sitting on different platforms. Now we have Slack channels and email to manage. As good as the search function is in Slack, it still doesn’t search my email and vice versa. I have to remember, was that information on email or on Slack?

I belong to six Slack teams. One is home-base for our group. There I get social media feeds, task update streams, many private messages, and some posts by actual humans in certain channels. To be honest, I have to ignore most of what the bots serve up since it’s like trying to keep up with your Twitter stream.

Another two teams are for big projects and those are invaluable while the project is running, but what do we do with it later? It seems like good knowledge, but is no longer active once the project is over. It would be better as an archive or should we have used channels in a larger team? I have two teams that have completely fizzled, one was for a cross-departmental social learning team that mostly communicates in person now. The other was for a group of friends for social planning that was solving a problem that didn’t exist – I can’t seem to find a method to communicate with multiple friends on the weekend.

I don’t fault the non-Slackers, and Samuel Hulick explores some of the down sides of Slack-ing, namely that Slack is needy, possessive, and complicates the synchronous/asynchronous expectations of communication in the brilliant break-up letter, Slack, I’m Breaking Up with You. I’m not ready to break up with Slack just yet. In fact, I wonder if such a young platform is still finding its way in the communication jungle.

On EdSurge last week, Amy Ahearn asks, Could Slack Be The Next Online Learning Platform? and shares some compelling examples of how +Acumen used Slack for synchronous group discussions in an online seminar. For short engagements I could see this working, however I’m a bit skeptical about Slack’s future as an online learning platform when discussions on Slack seem a bit stunted among our office team. Imagine Slack in a MOOC. Would learners find the right channel in which to post? What if you wanted to comment on something that was way up on the thread? Sure you could mention the person, but the conversation may have moved on and referring back is like cross-talk. This could be fixed with adding one more dimension to Slack: comments. I’m not talking about emoticon reactions, I’m talking about full sentence, maybe even several sentences comments. Comments would allow Slack to have true discussions. Even the streamiest of the social medias, Twitter, allows you to reply to a Tweet.

I’ll continue to Slack and to use email for my non-slacky colleagues, but I think Slack is just getting started.

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