Slack has fast become the darling of startups the world over and even in Nigeria. The boast of Slack is that it can replace company emails completely with a fun interface that everyone would find easy to use.
That wasn’t my attraction to Slack anyways. My first experience with groups was with the regular messaging apps (you know their names) and I got tired of coming on to see 4,763 unread messages and then having to scroll to the top to catch up WHILE being automatically scrolled to the bottom as more messages were dropped in the chat room. The worst part for me was that one talkative member with nothing concrete to contribute, who would spam us all with his wild and out ideas only to be knocked out by a one liner from the CEO on why the ideas would not work without a sponsor.
I digress on a topic best left for yet another app review. Back to Slack! Slack is amazing for group chats because you can select which notifications you want to see. You can highlight words that will buzz your phone or your desktop or both. For instance, my finance director put the words “money”, “sponsor” and “egusi” as hers so she can pop up like Jack in a box anytime someone mentions those. I know some people who put the names of their crushes in the organization or simply “food” and “meeting” so they can show up for our planning dinners. Aren’t those the things that really matter? Yes! This means that you do not have to switch off all notifications (and miss the real time immediacy when your attention is needed) or leave all notifications on (and have your battery drained whenever two opinionated people are having a fight on the group).
Another big deal for Slack is the multiple device support. You can sign on to Slack from any device you stumble on (at work on desktop, your friend’s phone, etc.) and still catch up on the conversation. This is helpful when you do not want to appear distracted at work pressing your phone to reply that urgent group enquiry. It also means that you can share photos and screenshots from different sources quite easily without first mailing them to yourself and signing in on your email to download it and share with the group. Trust me, this is a big deal when you have to talk to people across distances for your team planning.
Slack has these amazing integrations or app links. You can set a group calendar to pop up reminders for meetings, you can direct a particular stream of tweets to a particular channel, you can start off a Hangouts call for the channel/group you are chatting in, and you can aslo call an Uber cab. You can even set your Slack bot to open and lock your office door (by some wild coding gymnastics) right from within the Slack app. Not all these worked well for me but at least someone was thinking about a truly mobile office companion when designing Slack.
Another good thing about Slack (don’t worry I’m coming to the bad very soon) is the richness of the profile pages. You know who is online by the green circle by their name. New comers can see the roles of the people they need to interact with, as well as their emails and phone numbers immediately they join. Knowing when someone is online means you can almost be sure they got your message when you send it, and then you can have certain discussions only when the required number of people are in the room. There’s so much creativity you can put into handling your Slack group with the availability of private direct messages (DMs) and private group DMs as well, just out there waiting for you to discover!
My drawbacks using Slack are threefold. The first is that it is not optimized for slow networks at all. In Nigeria, where 99% of us do not have access to fast internet on our mobiles this is often a pain in the lower back. Many times I have to long press on a failed message and select retry or delete, just like a Twitter DM. But with other chat apps, you don’t have to do that. You just leave the phone there to automatically try to resend the message whenever it feels like doing so. Now, imagine how it would be for images as well if even text messages take extra effort to go like this. Exactly!
The images thing is also a bit iffy for me. Sometimes you want to search through a gallery of images to quickly find the meme someone used before that fits the sentiment you are trying to portray at that particular point in time. But there is no such gallery. So you have to scroll up really quick and most likely you will run into the next and most painful aspect of Slack.
Slack has a limit of, wait for it, ten thousand messages in the searchable archive of its free plan. This means that you might have 20 members in your organization and if they each send 300 messages a month (10 a day) you will only be able to view history in your organization for roughly the past two months. That is an harsh limit for an app that claims to want to eliminate emails from organizations.
Someone in your organization posting a joke would potentially ruin the message limit count for your team. With all the LOOOOOOL’s and LMAAAOOOOOO’s that follow the joke, your searchable archive limit is reducing by the second. The pricing plans for the truly unlimited plans are not cheap either. 80 dollars per user per year and you have 20 users and the dollar costs 300 naira to purchase (for now). That means 500 thousands of naira to run your team in one year. Mr CEO, please remind me, how much sponsorship did we get last year from our corporate partners again?
I love Slack. It changed my life. And then it broke my heart. I use it for 3 of my most intimate groups and now it seems I am stuck (read, addicted) to using an app that does not satisfy all my deepest needs in the way I would love them to be satisfied. Cry with me, brethren.
Final Verdict (Start, Stop or Wait: START if you do not have big ambitions for your company. WAIT for something better to come along if you do.