Building the team communication app of the future

What started out as a collaborative email client may turn out to be more than we expected…

Some time ago, as support requests for our SaaS products increased, we thought it’d be nice to share this duty in real-time, comment within email threads, and heck, why not fix typos in a coworker’s draft before sending? So we built an app that does just that. And we enjoy using it big time.

Not only are we more efficient at customer support, we started to love having each email thread create a distinct conversation. This keeps comments in context and avoids losing them in the ongoing flow of a long-lived chat room. At some point it felt natural to add a “New chat” action that lets you create a blank conversation in your inbox, set the subject, write your thoughts, and invite who you want to discuss the matter with.

I considered Missive chats to be a nice side-effect of our collaborative inbox solution, until I read this post where Jason Fried outlines several downsides of group chat:

We may be onto something. Could this side-effect be the future of work chat? It seems like all disadvantages of chat as we know it are solved by Missive’s way of encouraging small, scoped, focused conversations.

Truly asynchronous

It’s a fact that asynchronous communication makes for fewer interruptions and better concentration at work. Group chat is the exact opposite and Jason describes how treating it as asynchronous actually represents a risk:

Fear of missing out or not having a say. If you’re not paying attention all the time, you won’t be able to have your say when something comes up. And since conversations happen quick, and then scroll away on the conveyor belt, if you’re not at your station when it’s your turn to speak, you won’t get a chance later.

In Missive, fear of missing out (FOMO) is not a thing. Each conversation is separate, so no topic gets buried by another.

This allows for a truly asynchronous workflow. You process each thread along the rest of your inbox, at your own pace. You could remain offline all day and when you open Missive, act on emails and share your thoughts in chats all at once. When you are no longer interested or feel you have contributed your fair share to a chat, just archive it like you do with emails. The conversation is now out of your way and won’t come back to your inbox unless someone @mentions you.

Organized units of work

Unread what? When conversations are represented by numbers in badges next to broad category/room/channel names, you have to enter to see what’s new and worth your attention. The number doesn’t communicate what something is about, only that there’s something new to see. […] Contrast this with email’s tightly scoped subject headers and a readable list of participants that help you decide if you need to deal with it now, later, or not at all.

This very last sentence sounds just like a description of Missive chats. When mixing them among emails, it was logical to display the same familiar pieces of information: participants, subject and body summary.

My app’s Dock icon shows I have 4 unread conversations total. Right now, it doesn’t matter how many comments this represents. I know I’ll have 4 units of work to deal with. When it’s time to, a single glance at my inbox tells me the matter of each unit and who’s involved: Etienne has opened a ticket, we received an email receipt, the whole team has discussed our homepage redesign and Phil asked me something privately.

Don’t you already treat your email inbox as a todo list? Why not do so for chats too? With both mixed together, your Inbox Zero moment becomes Work Zero.

An organic knowledge base

Chat applications may have powerful search, but they won’t return structured, complete results for a given topic.

An inability to review and reference later. Ever try to go back and find an important conversation in a chat room or channel? Maybe you find a chunk, but how do you know if it’s the whole thing? Maybe the same thing was discussed with a different outcome a week before. Or 230 scrolls before.

Jason goes on to explain how context is a key factor when you’re searching for past data. You’ve probably understood at this point how Missive chats are all about context. For instance, every time someone in our team writes a blog post, they start a chat with a link to the Google Doc so we can share our thoughts around it. When I am to search for “missive blog post” later on, I will get nicely scoped results each containing a complete conversation.


Sure this requires a change of habit. We too were used to throwing all ideas in a few long-lived chat rooms, but creating shorter, scoped conversations has now become second nature. I think any team could see huge benefits on productivity, focus, and organization.

[…] the reality is that tools encourage specific behaviors. A product is a series of design decisions with a specific outcome in mind. Yes, you can use tools as they weren’t intended, but most people follow the patterns suggested by the design.

Would you be interested in a tool designed to encourage saner team communication patterns? If so, try out Missive.