All the great slack

On this computer, I am signed into seven Slack teams. I clearly need one more, that would fill up the sidebar nicely at my usual screen resolution. I simply use Slack a lot, and I draw a lot of joy and concrete benefits from it. As always when something new starts taking a lot of space, thoughts and questions arise. Following are three topics which have appeared on my radar from time to time.

Slack as a sign of communication doom

Just like others, I have wondered if the rise of Slack is part of a trend of less broadcast communication, less discussions open to everyone in favour of more communication within more defined groups. It is easy to see quality discussions retreating from places where anyone can find them and into invite-only locations. It is easy to see such a movement as fueled by a rising rage mentality online, with trolls, flame wars, gamergaters or what have you creating a toxic environment.

My hunch is that these are false assumptions. Just like we perceive violence as getting worse because it is decreasing along with our tolerance, I think we are talking more about the problem of trolls much more and therefore notice them more. I also suspect that the idea of a previous good discussion climate online is false, yet another imagined golden age that never actually existed. Completely open discussion forums have always been an exception, pretty much doomed to sink into a sea of spam and flames as soon as they became easy enough to find. Taking it a bit further, not many prefer communication by shouting in a square to discussion with likeminded over a cup of coffee in a cosy café.

The "open" thing

It feels a bit wrong to, once again, have so much communication dependent on a proprietary for-profit platform for which I pay nothing. Slack has a nice and simple business model which does not hinge on selling ads or information, but it is easy to think someone else could and should do the same in a more open fashion. It might happen, now that Slack is there to copy, but it would take a lot to be appealing. Slack is more or less IRC with a lot of polish, fun features and simplification on top. That polish and simplification is what it is all about, and they are not things open projects are particularly famous for bringing.

So much in one app

I do not recall seeing this discussed much, but my own experience together with comments from people I know still makes this clear: Slack is an inbox just like any other (email being the most classic example), and the more we use it the more we need to manage it to get something good out of it. It is great to have pulled so many discussions out of other apps and systems and into this once place, but now I have a huge pile of notifications, badges, interactions, work and leisure all mixed into this one app. Granted, there are plenty of options to manage the flow of information, but it is worth remembering that unless I put thought into the way I use and set up Slack I will be buried in incoming stuff just as easily as I was in email. (More easily even, considering the amount of messages people can write in Slack.) A friend told me he simply deletes Slack from his phone during holidays, and I can imagine that being a popular option. After all, how much time are you willing to put into exploring and setting up notification options for various teams and channels? The value of Slack itself might even go down if, as a result of the increased flow, people end up blanket ignoring or disabling notifications. Suddenly, Slack will work for talking to those you know are active there, but all the rest will require an email or some other smoke signal to inform of the really important things.

I would imagine people at Slack are thinking a lot about things like this, and I am curious what the results will be. Perhaps the solutions are already in place? (The granular notification settings and other options are already there, perhas they are all we need?) Perhaps we will discover simple patterns to deal with it?

Most likely, we will remain the same messy humans as usual, maintaining a strange mashup of ways of working, overlapping with others as often as they diverge.

Slack or not, we humans are reliably human.