Slack is Destroying Communities

How the world’s best business collaboration tool alienated one of the world’s largest web developer communities.

In January 2015, through a partnership between the teams at Uxiliary and INT, we launched one of the early public communities on Slack. At that time, Slack’s platform was gaining popularity as users discovered it was better than any collaboration tool that had previously existed. Our users loved it and encouraged colleagues to jump in, which drew entire businesses to join both Slack and us. We were lucky to catch Slack’s wave, and as a result, we quickly grew a vibrant community of web programmers.

During this time we synced with new friends and built a team of experts that aided in the group’s management. It required a surprising amount of dedication, but the positive contribution we were providing the Web Developer community motivated us. After some time, it operated with little intervention or management and continued to grow.

A little over a year in, we received a notice from Slack showing we had reached our maximum file upload quota. We knew a file upload limit existed, but we had blown past it months earlier with nothing changing. We sprung into action to bring it down applying manual and automatic deletion tools. After a week of work, we discovered that files uploaded to private channels could not be removed, even if the channel and users were absent. This meant our ability to solve the problem was inhibited. After consulting Slack Support, no dice.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

We took a direct approach and launched a campaign where we emailed our massive user list and asked that they clear their files inside private channels. If they did, we would mail them a sticker with the community logo and a thank you a letter. It was fun for the community; they felt rewarded, and we saw action. However, the results were minimal and fleeting. Most of the files remained in limbo untouched.

It hobbled us, but we were alive. As things go, it wasn’t long before our next catastrophe landed. Within Slack’s platform, everything is persistent and permanent. If a user is inactive or disabled, their history and files remain indefinitely. This led to us reaching another maximum. Slack had been calculating the total number of messages users had made, which applied against a limit. One morning, they met us with a message that recommended we upgrade to increase the message limit, which we couldn’t do. The result was a rolling total that, when reached, would clear (or hide) previous messages creating a kind of impermanence for all of our data.

We officially had to choose between living on the free tier or attempting to raise tens of thousands of dollars annually from both our active and inactive users for a free community.

The proud owners of inaccessible bits

After the mediocre result of the file deletion campaign, it was clear we would need to limp along. Messages would disappear every day and users would complain but ultimately remained active. Photos and screenshots would error, and they would let it go. We provided notifications but effectively, our community became a kind of crappy Snapchat.

It didn’t take long before we heard users, specifically women, didn’t feel safe engaging with the community. They wanted to talk about code, but stayed within private channels so they could avoid slimy individuals direct messaging them. We sought a way to allow members to block or ban other users but found nothing. Slack didn’t provide help, and at the time these tools didn’t exist. All we could do was field the issue as admins and disable the offending users. There wasn’t a method to protect victimized users.

These issues along with the rise of the Pepe memes, trolling, and bullshit in public channels left us discouraged. We wrote content policies and began aggressive policing, but it pissed off users that were reasonable and emboldened those that were not. We created channels that would allow freedom of speech, however, this led to lawless (obviously) channels that caused little groups to spin off. Each as heinous as their parent.

As admins, we concluded this vessel was on a collision course. We spoke ad nauseam about how it was a stain on the web development community and how, at some point, it needed to be destroyed. With the right tools we could patch the holes, but Slack was on their mission to improve collaboration within businesses. Rightfully, communities didn’t fit within that model.

Like trying to get water from a well you know is dry

The Frontend Developers community was done. As creators, we knew it was unreasonable to subject users to a toxic environment, especially if they are at risk or unhappy. Having already tried several platforms; without comparable options, we chose to destroy the community.

Days later, I received a message from the Craft CMS team. Another enormous community on Slack.

We’re emailing you because you had an account on Craft Slack. We thought you’d like to know that as of today, the Craft CMS community has a new home on Discord. … the TL;DR is that Slack isn’t built for communities, and Discord is.

I logged in and found that these communities were vibrant. It was like Slack but had everything we needed. Originally built for the gaming community, it had created tools that dealt with community behaviors we had experienced. The ability to ban, kick, and warn bad apples, free screen sharing, no file or message limit, content moderation, and much more.

Everything except the freedom to cross-office firewalls

We had an answer. An hour after receiving the email I shared my plan with the admin team and wrote the final message. This was Tuesday, and we would move by Friday. In our mind, this was an all-or-nothing situation and given how handicapped our community was, we naively thought members would love the idea.

This smoking radioactive hole is my place of peace

There were a lot of angry users. This was their community — flaws and all. We assumed we took an insignificant part of that day; forgetting how valuable the relationship between work and community was. They love Slack because it’s part of their work-day life; our connection with the platform was parasitic not symbiotic.

Despite our realization, we had already loaded up the truck and packed grandma. There was no turning back. Four years in, Slack hadn’t seen the value and with the impending IPO, it was unlikely they would break new ground. The community was finished with their platform.

Friday the 15th was our last day on Slack. Over our 1500 days on there, we’ve received 26,435 requests to join; 17,301 of those became members. Of those, only 266 members has deactivated their account.

Come check out our new home on Discord https://discord.gg/aBx8dcu.

Without the incredible volunteers that spend (and have spent) their time working to provide Web Developers a place to connect, none of this is possible. From the bottom of our hearts, the community and I, thank you.