Slack introduced reaction emoji last week. People can respond to messages by attaching little emoji that appear right underneath the original message. It works like faving, or hearting, but the effect is most akin to something else: stickers. Emoji reactions fulfill the point of stickers, but are perfect for Slack’s hybrid work/play environment.
I really think stickers are an underestimated tool for online communication. They’re a way to express a feeling in a vague but personal way. Plain text is an unforgiving medium. Keeping an easy-going tone just in text is hard. But stickers lighten up conversations. They’re a way to express things you don’t want to say directly (right from the CEO of Line). Having some emotional wiggle room keeps talking easily, smoothly.
Emoji are different than stickers. Stickers are large, cartoony, and usually have a distinct style to each set, like Hello Kitty or a service-specific group of characters. Emoji are small (they don’t clutter up the message screen), less cartoony (letting them slip easily into work conversations), and seemingly free of cultural associations like branding or characters.
Reactions also give hints to what messages are important. You can’t search by reaction, but in theory, you could use the API to find reactions with a certain emoji, or the messages with the most reactions. Slack succeeded in melting the mountains of email and messaging into a smooth river, ephemeral and quickly passing. Now Slack’s second most important challenge will be finding ways to sift through the sediment for usable information a decade later. Any feedback from users that can be stored now could be used in the future to help figure out what happened, and why.
The most important challenge facing Slack is keeping their tone. I said emojis were ‘seemingly free of cultural associations’ earlier. There is still a cultural association there, though. It’s people who know what emojis are, who are fluent in internet communication, and know how to deploy them. Slack employees are steeped in this culture, with meeting rooms named after emoji and shirts tiled with smiling piles of emoji poop.
The idea of a ‘digital native’ is naive, but I think there are people who’ve learned to talk in an internet tone, and Slack is so beloved because it talks to them in their native tongue. Slackbot and emoji reactions are two tools Slack uses to talk back to users. What vocabulary will they use next?