Why I Love Slack
Andrew Wilkinson, CEO of Metalab, who headed up the design of Slack explains clearly in his article on how Slack’s UI is differentiated from other products. Other people also talked about what they liked about Slack. Because Slack falls in what I believe to be a group of outstanding products, however, I wanted to have my own say about it.
Slack is a business messenger app. Yet it’s not just a business messenger app; the app is even better made than popular mobile messenger apps such as Whatsapp, Telegram, WeChat, or Line. It allows you to transition between desktop and mobile interfaces without any hickups (I’ll explain this later, on how they beautifully handled push notifications).
Before I fell for Slack, I tried my hand at Hipchat first. Since it was made by Altassian, known for JIRA and Confluence, I had high expectations. I was disappointed once I tried it though. Setup was complicated (although the functions were in turn quite detailed), it was slow, and worst of all the UI was lacking. The mobile app was also mediocre.
Yet what annoyed me the most was that after you enter a text message, what you type doesn’t show up in the chat window immediately. Only after it is transmitted to the server and returns to you does it show up. As a result, there is a delay of about .3 seconds. Messages may go through a synchronization on the server to make sure that they’re sent in the correct order when people send a few at the same time, but to me it was clumsy. Maybe I’d get used to it as time goes on, but I couldn’t put up with it.
Then I tried Slack. I was not only highly impressed, but I was blown away. Slack elegantly solved the problem that annoyed me so much with Hipchat. When you type a message and enter, it comes up in the chat window colored light gray. Your message turns black once synchronization with the server is complete. I really enjoyed this UI.
You can easily search through previous conversations, no matter how old, and share files. You can also create and send files easily from these conversations if you want, and when you share a URL a short explanation and a screenshot appear, just like on Facebook. It is a pleasure using Slack.
Notifications are also death with elegantly. Usually when you use a messenger app on your mobile phone and desktop, you are irritatingly notified on both devices when a message comes in. It can be pretty annoying when an email, text message, and push notification all arrive at the same time. With Slack, the moment push notifications are in use, email notifications are automatically turned off, and you can also set it up so mobile notifications only start a few minutes after you’ve finished using the computer, as shown in the ‘settings’ window below.
Another impressive feature is its integration with several other apps. You can use Slack with about 100 other apps, including the online video conferencing app appear.in, which is another favorite product of mine. If you just type /appear in the chat, a video conferencing room is created. Hipchat also supports video conferencing through their paid package, but using my preferred, and free, appear.in is much better.
Since there are many people already using Slack, I don’t think I need to go on about its other merits, but I will add a little about the story behind Slack.
Slack was made at a gaming company called Tiny Speck. It started as an internal tool to help with communication between team members. More important is the fact that the person who founded Tiny Speck is Stewart Butterfield, who created Flickr in 2005, eventually selling it to Yahoo. Slack initially garnered much attention from San Francisco and Silicon Valley companies. After it spread to the rest of the world and proved successful, this company stopped making games and changed direction to focus on making Slack.
Email has always been the primary means of business communication in America, and there were already countless messenger apps in existence, tracing back 15 years ago with the very popular Microsoft Messenger. Even Facebook recently joined the fray. Yet Tiny Speck managed to combine the experienced Stuart’s product philosophy with Andrew’s design philosophy to create this masterpiece. There’s no way people will fail to appreciate its beauty. After using Slack even once, people who said, ‘why do I need another messenger app?’ will change their tune to, ‘why hasn’t there been this kind of product?’
Making never-existed-before products isn’t the only way to do business. Companies that reinvent products with modern touch and technology in a decade old industry are also pretty cool.