What is the real secret sauce for Slack’s success ?

Andrew Wilkinson wrote a post claiming the secret sauce behind Slack’s success to be the lively, colorful, and clean design his team MetaLab came up with. While, Matt Bond shared his view on how design was not the only winning recipe for Slack. I am more inclined to agree with Matt that design was not the root cause for Slack’s adoption and success.

I will describe my first impressions of slack, and try to draw my own conclusions about Slack’s success.

As a developer, I have been using IRC for a long time. IRC is by far the most flexible communication platform I have used. Few reasons to like IRC are its ability to create ad-hoc channels for contained conversations, ability to quickly write or integrate with third party services, ability to reach out to other developers and co-workers using private messages, and more. I was able to grasp the true impact of a IRC at Etsy. At Etsy, almost all active communication take place on IRC from code deploy management to lunch choice, to meme showoff.

Looking back, I am amazed how Etsy managed to get non-developers to use IRC at all. I always found it very difficult to sell IRC to my non-developer friends. Being a developer, you sometimes become blind or numb to the pain of installing and setting up your environment and tools. You only realize that you were numb to these annoyances when you find yourself trying to explain to your non-developer co-worker or friend, how to connect to an irc server. You will lose big percent of them when you tell them to connect to port 6697. After you successfully have them connect to IRC, you will lose another big percent when they feel overwhelmed in a text-only irc client without the ability to click, select and type. While keyboard shortcuts and text is power to developers, it is confusion and lack of control to non-developers. So even before you can show how amazing IRC can be, you would have turned way a lot of people from IRC. I was aware of these problems, yet I wanted to adopt IRC as a communication tool for Blopboard. So I searched for IRC like chat tools that did not have the rawness and adoption hurdle of existing IRC tools. I found and tested a few tools like HipChat, and KiwiIRC. I searched for alternatives to HipChat on google and found Slack.

First thing I remember being impressed with Slack was how easy and free it was to setup a team channel. After you setup the team channel, adding a new member was also super easy. No more port 6697, and text based client. Looking back this ease of adoption has been one of the main reasons I have integrated slack in several projects I am involved with. Once you sign up a channel, you are able to use the slack web client right away. You can also download a desktop client, which looks identical to the web client. Once you are on slack, you pretty much have all the goodness of IRC available to you. If I were allowed to only choose one secret sauce for Slack’s success, I would pick the ease of on boarding user onto their platform.

Second thing that impressed me was how slack was available everywhere. After I installed slack on my desktop, and on my phone I would virtually be able to communicate with my team from anywhere. This was a very refreshing feature. Again, you can do this with IRC clients, but not everyone will be able to swallow the pain of setup and co-ordination. With slack, it is as simple as a login with your email/password and a channel.

Third thing that impressed me was how slack emailed me missed messages. If you use IRC without ZNC server, you will immediately appreciate this feature. This feature was the final confirmation for me that slack is a better expressed and executed IRC platform.

For my dev team, existing integration with Github and Trello helped adoption right away.

Alluding to above impressions, I attribute the success of slack platform to its ability to solve user on-boarding issue, and to it being available on web, desktop and mobile platforms for constant connection. Slack made IRC accessible to everyone and the fact that IRC was already a great and flexibly communication medium only fueled the success of slack further.

I would have used slack even with a different logo or non funny quotes. In fact, I did not even notice the funny quotes on slack. I am not implying in any way that slack’s logo and color choices are bad. I really like them, but they are not the primary reasons why I use or choose slack.

I also think the term #slack for this product was a stroke of pure marketing genius. Nobody could stop making a pun out of it. After almost every standup, someone in my team would say that they would be #slacking if anyone needed to get their attention. When I said I will be on #slack, it almost always made me smile as it is such a contradictory word applied to work.

It seems like everyone will be #slacking soon.

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