Why you should build a Slack app (and Messenger soon)

Once upon a time, there was the Web, and you HAD TO build a SaaS app. It was great at first, then it became quite crowded.

Then came the social platforms, and you HAD TO build a Facebook or Twitter app. It was great, then acquisition cost started to suck.

Then, there were the mobile platforms, and you HAD TO buid a mobile app. It was great at first, then distribution and retention became hell. For example,

The next platform is messaging. So, if you’re interested in being early on the next platform, here it is:

Go Build a Slack App

Let me break it down.

B2C: I’m bullish on Messenger — but not right now

Messenger has incredible distribution, is already the n°1 app on all OS, and has a fantastic team behind it. Moreover, their vision is impressive. Business Messenger integration will revolutionize customer support and followers-brand interaction. However, they’re a bit late to the game. Messenger integration, for now, is limited to content providers such as GIF or the great Legend app. Messaging API is limited to a few selected partners. It will be released soon, though, so get ready.

What about other B2C messaging platforms?

  • Messaging in Asia is already a giganormous, lucrative platform (WeChat, Line). I don’t know if these ecosystems are very easy to access for a Europe- or US-based developper, though.
  • Telegram and Kik also have API and bots but if feel like they don’t have the same resources or breadth of vision as Facebook.

As a developper, I would not start with them for my next project, but feel free to disagree in comments!

B2B: Slack is an awesome platform

If Messenger is going to win the B2C interactions, Slack is quickly becoming the leader in B2B. From the start, they positioned themselves as way more than “just a chat” — they integrated with all the services a business team may use (GitHub for the devs, system alerts for devOps, Mailchimp for marketing, Zendesk for support and so on). It becomes a hub, from which you can manage your whole business.

They have taken it a step further end of last year, by announcing the launch of their platform. There were several game-changer announcements — for example, Smooz went from “nice hack” to “real app for real people” thanks to the one-click integration of bots in apps. They announced also an app discovery Directory, and a collaboration with Howdy to release Botkit, an easy open-source framework to build bots.

Slack is the fastest growing BtB platform, and they display a stellar support to developpers through Slack API documentation, tickets, and chat. D.E. Goodman-Wilson is awesome, I want that on public record. So, if you don’t want to miss the next big thing, go build on Slack.

What to build

Connect an existing service

If you already have a web service, or an app, related to BtB, you can most likely start by a simple notification system with incoming webhooks, either internal to your team, or released as an app.

Let say you have a business meeting scheduling app. Your first integration can notify users in Slack of upcoming meetings.

Then you can think of slash commands, to post things to the outside world, or format requests.

To continue the example, you could use /book to create a new appointment, or /schedule to show the weekly schedule

Bot

Then, when you get the hang of it, you’ll quickly want to use a bot, to offer a more seamless experience in the flow of the conversation.

Our example would look like this (Meekan does it smarter though):

“Hey Jon let’s book a time tomorrow to discuss your issue”

“OK, how about 2pm”

“Great! @schedulebot book a meeting tomorrow 2pm between Jon and me”

To get inspired, have a look at the Slack bots landscape study by Point Nine.

Slack-only apps

As the ecosystem mature we’ll see more and more apps that go beyond connecting Slack to an existing service.

For example of “native” apps, check out the Bot + AI tutorial using IBM Watson’s Personality Insights API by Ashley Hathaway and Ben Brown. For an example of a simpler, yet very cool app, check Simple Poll by Wilhelm Klopp.

And, shameless plug, you should also check out Smooz, the one-click team-to-team Slack channel.

A word of caution though — as with all closed-source platforms, there is definitely a risk that Slack will integrate the simplest feature-only app into their platform. Anything that is not leveraging an external asset, a community network effect, or at least connecting with another service, is at risk.

Design for conversations

Here are a few things you may hear in 2016

  • No UI is the best UI
  • Conversation is the new UX
  • Thread is the new app

Conversational AI can be really, really frustrating. AI tends to fail in ways that are difficult to accept for humans. Virtual assistants startups start to hire writers and humanities major as designers — because what needs to be designed, from a user point of view, is the personality.

Even if you stay away from virtual assistant and rich conversations, you still need to have a fluid flow. Here is an example requesting vacation days.

In any case, we are in the early days, so interactions are not yet well understood. It will refine over time, so I’d say keep it simple for now, but get started.

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Further Reading