Why we switched from Slack to Twist

Slack is great — but Twist is a better fit for us.

A few weeks ago, my friend Sam Beckett told me he was joining the team at Doist to work on Twist. After reading the marketing site, I wanted to check it out and so I DM’d Alex Muench on Twitter who sent me an invite.

iPad Pro 120Hz ProMotion screen of my dreams.

We have been using the beta for a few weeks and we absolutely love it. Switching our team chat app felt like a big deal but it ended up being surprisingly easy. More importantly, working as a remote team through Twist feels great. I have spent some time thinking about why that is.


Threaded by design, not by demand

Threads were the number one feature request in Slack for a long time. Overlapping chat, crossed wires, channel bloat, and confusing conversations are all hallmarks of communicating in Slack. When Threads launched for Slack, I was really excited. Then, in the launch coverage, I remember reading this quote from one of the team:

Our expectation is not that threads we’re gonna replace the message input … If that were the case we’d make the feature more prominent.

This got me worried. When I dove into threading in Slack it felt weird and hard to use. I wasn’t sure when to thread and when to reply. I wasn’t sure when to hit the checkbox and when to leave it. I couldn’t figure out how to use threads from the keyboard. I found that my team missed messages that I put into threads. It led to more confusion than it was worth and we all fell back into chat mode.

Working in a treehouse has its benefits.

Twist is designed around the thread. The hierarchy is clear: channels > threads > messages. If you want to start a new conversation, it has to be given a thread title. Twist feels more like a VBulletin forum with chatty features and Slack feels like an IRC channel with a layer of threading woven in.

This makes a lot of sense when you read the origin story of Slack. It is one of the greatest pivot stories in the valley. It began as an internal tool for a game company as a replacement for Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and then blossomed into an amazing business software company.

Butterfield and the rest of Tiny Speck were old-school web folks — they used IRC to communicate during Glitch’s development. Eventually, that wasn’t enough. But instead of choosing a middling team messaging software to improve productivity, Tiny Speck built their own.

Asynchronous discussion over endless chat

As a team, we have decided that forum-style discussion is a better fit for us than synchronous chat. We are distributed across Medellin, San Francisco, New York, London and Barcelona. Our bodies are in different time zones and, due to a variety of sleeping schedules, so are our minds.

IRC-style chat feels like a good solution for office chat with teams that are largely all in the same place. If you want a quiet office with lots of tapping — chat might be the way forward.

The product is a reflection of the company that created it. The founding team of Slack were based in Silicon Valley. Doist has been distributed from the beginning.

Opt-in interruption

One of my favorite features in Twist is the ability to choose who you want to notify when you post a message. To me, this shows so much respect for your team mates’ time and attention. While everyone might be involved in a channel like #Investment, I don’t want to ping the whole team every time we take on a new investor.

Do you really want to break all of their flows?

Discussions become documentation

As new people join the company, they are diving into a lot of new topics and learning about how we work. It is easy to skim through a few hundred specific thread titles and dive into relevant discussions. It is much more daunting to trawl through thousands of messages in a few broad channels.

No channel anxiety

This tweet from Cabel Sasser sums up how I felt in the morning whenever I logged into Slack:

#slacklyfe

The channel-based chat system doesn’t scale well as a team grows. Slack is now using artificial intelligence to help people navigate their inbound messages. That is truly remarkable stuff but I would still always have this nagging feeling: have I missed something?

In Twist, the design feels a lot less stressful. There’s an inbox of messages that I quickly go through. I know that each one requires my attention because people opted me in to the message. Each message is linked to a thread title which makes it far easier to context-switch and understand whether I need to put my business hat or product hat on. I start my day feel up-to-date instead of buried.

Designed around deep work

I am usually pretty skeptical of self help books unless the author actually practices what they preach. When I picked up a copy of Deep Work, it was clear that Cal Newport lives and breathes what he preaches. As one of the most prolific computer science professors in America, he has some amazing advice about how to get more done. His core argument is that our attention span has been splintered by persistent internet connections, addiction design, mobile operating systems, notification systems, and super-powered artificial intelligences with one goal: get your attention at all costs. Derek Sivers’ notes on the book can give you a great overview: https://sivers.org/book/DeepWork

Flow state navigator

In a nutshell: try working in flight mode for a 2-hour block once a day. No meetings, tweets, emails, likes, posts, chats, conversations or shoulder-taps. Just get in the zone and don’t let anything distract you. If people won’t leave you alone, work from home, lock the door, turn off WiFi, and get focused on the most important task of the day. After the Deep Work session, let the notifications flood in and get back in sync. Give it 30 days and see what you get done. If you enjoy it as much as we do, try upping the number of hours to 3 or 4. I am working towards a 3-hour block in the morning and a 2-hour block in the afternoon.

Twist feels like the perfect tool for Deep Work in a team setting. You cannot see if people are online. You are encouraged not to notify everyone all of the time. There is no glowing green dot encouraging you to be “always-on”. It’s got the balance just right.

Respectful of the need to rest

Resting the brain is so important. Deep, focused work is absolutely exhausting. Sleeping well, logging off after work, enjoying the weekend, and taking real holidays all help people do much better work. Twist is designed around this philosophy.

Work deeply, enjoy the sleepy

Integrations are less important than distractions

One of my initial hesitations when we left Slack was that we would miss out on the amazing ecosystem of apps that have built integrations into the tool. However, I haven’t missed a single one. What I’ve realized is that I want a single place for communication with the humans in our team. The machines that notify us about important things can send emails to our Superhuman inboxes, where the machine intelligence will sort them correctly.

Messages from our analytics packages were an annoying distraction from what actually matters: making something people want.

Deep integration with ToDoist

With all that said, the integration between Twist and ToDoist is wonderful. ToDoist is a great tool for communicating to people what you want done and when you want it done by. They’re both from the same company and the integration is only going to get better.

Split screen dreams

I currently work on a 15-inch MacBook Pro and have a 12.9-inch iPad Pro next to me with Twist and Todoist running side-by-side. This set-up really works for me. I can context switch much more easily. When it’s time to do some Deep Work. I’ll lock the iPad, turn off WiFi, and get in the zone.

My wishlist

Twist is off to an amazing start and I am really excited to see where things go for the product and the team. Here are some things I’d love to see them work on.

Smoother Slack transition — Importing channel names and team members seamlessly would be really nice.

Keyboard-first design — After using Superhuman for email, I find all other software to be needlessly slow. They are maniacally focused on speed as a feature. Everything they build tries to load the information into your brain more quickly and get a response. A huge part of that philosophy is allowing the person using the app to communicate with it entirely through the keyboard. Everything has a keyboard shortcut. When I use other apps, my meat sticks need to jump between the trackpad and keyboard — it drives me nuts. I would love to see Twist roll our full keyboard shortcut support on their desktop and iPad apps.

https://dribbble.com/shots/3002614-Superhuman-Control

End-to-end encryption — I trust the team at Twist. I do not trust the community of black hat hackers. It would be great to see an implementation of encryption in any of the team chat apps.

Bonus bonkers blockchain idea — Launch a new, blockchain-based chat protocol with encryption and an open standard like Jabber. Build a community around the protocol and then do an initial coin offering for the chat token. Eradicate spam by pricing messages correctly. Provide a provably encrypted chat backbone for the web. Take some capital out of this crypto-bubble and build something useful — simples!

See if Twist is for you

The team at Doist are launching Twist today. I wrote this because I wanted to share how much I love the product. I have not told them I was going to do this. I’ll send them the link after hitting publish.

You should check out Twist and see if you like it: twistapp.com