Spaces vs. Slack. A battle for the collaboration market

Google announced a new tool called spaces today. They launched it before the I.O. conference including a web site, smartphone apps and even a chrome extension.

Last year, when I was embarking on a new project we were confronted with the task of selecting collaboration tools for our distributed team. For years I had been using tools like email, skype, IRC, hangouts and even twitter to foster communication among team members. It did not take us long to zero in Slack.

For those of you who don’t know it, Slack it is a great collaboration tool for teams. It uses the right mix of interactivity and a collection of handy utilities and functions to keep communication flowing within a team.

Some of the most interesting technical discussions that I have seen occur in chats. IRC (For Internet Relay Chat) had been used by my teams for years. Slack felt like a modernized version of IRC from the beginning.

In the beginning there was IRC

The way a discussion will go in the team is:

  • Somebody starts a discussion by asking a question about an issue to be solved
  • The interested parties chime in with their comments
  • There are documents exchanged to prove some points.
  • Points are debated and a conclusion is reached.

There is always a larger audience following up the discussion than guys participating on it.

Slack came and modernized this by providing a workspace where a team could create multiple channels. For example:

  • A watercooler, for any non team related discussions
  • One or more channels to discuss parts of the project
  • Channels to post weekly progress

It also borrowed from messaging apps the use of emoticons to express agreement or disagreement with the point being made. But there were several other improvements that they implemented:

  • A search function over all conversations. A nice twist was that it showed the context of the text found (A few lines above and below the matching text)
  • The capability to “wrap up” or close conversations and archive them.
  • “Push notifications”. Allowing you to know when you had been mentioned in a conversation. For a while the Slack Apple watch app was the only non Apple app that was of real use to me

Enter Google with spaces. In their original blog post they write:

Today we’re launching a new tool for group sharing that aims to tackle many of the pain points we’ve seen repeatedly:
* getting people together is hard
* jumping between apps to share things is slow
* conversations often go off-topic
* finding what was shared before is painful
Screenshot of a Machine Learning space that I created recently

If you compare this list to my above list of improvements that Slack brought to the way my team worked you can see many overlaps.

Only time will tell how will the product from Google evolve. Facebook launched Facebook for business a while ago. I think the one mistake they made is that they were too restrictive as to whom was able to use their product. Google has gone into the opposite direction by throwing a product in its infancy into the world.

There is one feature that Slack does not have and is the ability to host audio or video conference calls. We use currently either Skype or Google hangouts for this. Many in the community are already asking, why didn’t Google just added this functionality into Hangouts. I’m sure that there will be several discussions about this in the near future.

You will notice the irony of me writing this post in Medium. The ability to half way format a document is neither part of Slack nor of Spaces. Slack offers integration with, among other things, Google docs. Medium, well it just formats the text in a way that is readable and where I can add my pictures in the places in the document where I want them.

It is an interesting development from Google. The need has been rightfully identified. Lets see if they can deliver on it. As for me? I’ll keep using my combination of Google Hangouts, Slack, Skype, Medium, e-mail, Google Docs, Excel and yes, Power Point to get my ideas across.

What would help you improve the communication within your team?
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