Is Slack the Future?

An assessment of the “Email Killer”

In August 2014, tech news website The Verge published an article titled “Slack is killing email.” Soon after, The New York Times came out with “Slack, the Office Messaging App That May Finally Sink Email,” and TIME released “How E-Mail Killer Slack Will Change the Future of Work.” The catchy headlines did their job, and I decided at the time to see what Slack was all about. I quickly concluded that Slack was an internet fad that would come and go like so many others.

Since then, Slack’s growth rate has been extraordinary, even by internet standards. After the official launch in early 2014, the number of active Slack users per day surpassed 2 million in 2015 and 4 million in 2016.

Then this past November, Microsoft announced a new Office 365 component called Teams, which everyone compared to Slack, followed by Google’s recent announcement of Hangouts Chat, which everyone also compared to Slack.

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Maybe it’s time to reassess my opinion.

The concept

The concept of Slack and its imitators is simple enough. It’s a group chat platform with messages organized into teams and channels, where a team is a group of people and a channel is a topic. Other typical features include person-to-person direct messaging, file sharing and integration with other applications that can be configured to post messages automatically. Access is via a website, mobile app, or Windows/Mac/Linux application.

The promise

Slack promises to alleviate the burden of keeping up with email by providing better control over when and how you converse through channels and configurable notifications you can use to decide what to see and when to see it. Recognizing that much of the email that fills up our inbox is neither urgent nor important, the Slack model would make those communications available for review, but keeps them out of your real-time stream (if they migrate to Slack at all). Slack’s website says users see an average of 48.6 percent reduction in internal email.

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Slack’s touted benefits also include more transparency and better availability of information. Since messages are archived and indexed, anyone on a team can review all of the team’s messages at any time. Proponents argue that this openness leads to a more effective organization.

The flip side

On the other hand, Slack skeptics cite “chat fatigue” that develops as the volume of Slack activity picks up. It seems that some of Slack’s advantages are offset by the fact that chat is fundamentally a real-time form of communication that can spin out of control in its own way.

Also note that there are other ways to deal with email overload. By using a spam filter that tags solicited bulk mail as “graymail” and taking the time to create various inbox rules, I have been able to drastically limit the number of messages that hit my inbox. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s manageable.

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My new take

The idea that Slack will replace email for most people anytime soon is just silly. I’m also not sure that I’m ready to pay attention to yet another application regularly. My regular list already includes a traditional instant messaging platform and various other collaboration apps. If email is your only form of online business communication, then you may want to get with the times. Slack (or Microsoft Teams or Google Hangouts Chat) could very well be worth adding to your toolkit.

Did you know?

A bit about slack

Created by Slack Technologies

A free app that works on any device

Promises “team communication for the 21st Century”

Organizes email conversations and related documents into topics or projects that every member of a group can access

Promises to help reduce your internal email

Users include NASA, Samsung, LinkedIn, TIME magazine, Airbnb and Ticketmaster

Steven Ellis has spent the last 16 years working at the intersection of business and technology for Bellwether Technology in New Orleans, where he serves as the company’s vice president.

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