Slack vs. Path: Who Will Win!!

Once the news came out that Path has sold to Daum Kakao there were two reactions: first praising the design innovations that the product brought us (e.g. the fly out menu that many have copied and Facebook is finally playing with) but then asking “what happened?”.

In the early days of Path they famously turned down a large offer from Google and the sky was the limit. It didn’t quite play out as hoped.

It is interesting to compare the current Silicon Valley favorite Slack, with Path. I have posted about how I think Slack went against app fashion to build a beloved product but should they be worried that they will end up following the same fate?

I have heard a few folks yell out that “see, a nice UI isn’t enough!” which is obviously true. We love to confuse UI with UX. Amazon’s iPhone app may be an HTML5 wrapper and not the optimal native application, but does that stop you from using it? No. Why? because you like the massive assortment, shipping speed, and the price. The overall experience is what matters. Someone coming up with a fancy eCommerce UI isn’t going to win over Amazon without nailing the fundamentals.

When Path came around, Facebook was already pretty much ubiquitous in the US. This meant that although Path was arguably a much nicer implementation, it had to find a niche. The niche that it found in my life was the work place. A lot of people used it as a way to share with their coworkers outside of Facebook. Over time this died out for me and most of the content moved back to Facebook itself.

The ultimate niche that the seemed to find was building a network effect in a region: South Asia.

With social media the network effect is key. While sometimes it can be a feature to be able to great a new world to play in (one where your parents aren’t around!), often what matters most is the fact that everyone is there, which is where Facebook tends to win. The same can be said for eBay and Craigslist (you don’t go there for the UI ;).

NOTE: The scope of everyone depends on the context. As a Facebook user I only care about the people that I want to connect with. For a different service that integrates Facebook, they care about all of their customers.

With Slack, silos are built in. I now belong to multiple Slack instances. I may be in one for my workplace (the primary use case), one for a particular topic (e.g. a technology), one for the neighborhood, one for the family, one for your companies community, one for my gamer friends, etc. I enjoy Slack so much that I keep thinking of new instances that could make a lot of sense. The silos run deep in the implementation. As of today you can’t share your preferences…. which is a pain. You can login to multiple instances and then jump between them in the UI, but they are far from really connected. My guess is this will change ☺

So, Slack doesn’t need the network effect in the same way. If I have to use HipChat somewhere I can do so. I may prefer to just have another team on Slack, I can live with that. This helps the minority players (such as HipChat) as they need to persuade the leaders of groups not every individual. The game becomes “hey, everyone now has to use $X to communicate at work” from The Boss Guy (in reality there will be folks at the company setting up Slack instances too. I can say this from experience ;).

When Slack creates a public instance though it can run away with things. It can become IRC where there is EFNet but also private IRC servers. Some of the Slack instances that I have setup would work just as well as #channels or @groups on The One True public instance. If Slack does this and it gets used, it will help them built more of a moat.

I have to admit that I am a little torn. I love Slack, but I also miss the openness of IRC. We seem to be creating more silos and less public utilities and that concerns me in the long term.

There are many other contextual differences between Slack and Path, so we all need to be careful to jump on any one thing, and instead should take a deeper look.

Are there other patterns that you see?