What is Slack?
Slack is a messaging app for business that connects people to the information that they need. By bringing people together to work as one unified team, Slack transforms the way that organisations communicate.
Working in Slack
Slack helps you to work in a more connected, flexible and inclusive way.
Slack makes it easy to contact your colleagues – you can message anyone inside or outside your organisation and collaborate just as you would in person. People can work in dedicated spaces called channels, which bring the right people and information together.
Slack supports asynchronous work. When work is organised in channels, you can access the information you need in your own time, regardless of your location, time zone or function. Ask questions, catch up with new developments and share updates without having to coordinate schedules.
In Slack, everyone in an organisation has access to the same shared and searchable information. When teams work together in channels, information can be shared with everyone at once, helping teams to stay aligned and make decisions more quickly.
Getting started with Slack
Does your company already use Slack?
Are you thinking about setting up Slack for your company?
Ready to keep learning?
There are four main things to pay attention to in Slack:
- The name of the Slack instance.
- The list of channels you’re a member of.
- The list of people you’ve direct messaged.
- The chat window.
When a customer wants to start using Slack, they choose a name for their Slack instance. This then becomes part of the unique URL. So, if Wile E. Coyote wants to create a Slack instance for ACME Slingshots, his Slack instance would be https://acmeslingshot.slack.com/. Wile E. can then invite anyone he wants to be a member of his Slack instance.
Channels in Slack can be public, meaning any member can see and join that channel, or private, meaning only members of that channel can see it or invite others to join. DMs are always private, although they can include up to 8 people.
The chat window is where all the actual communication happens. You can read any reply to messages, use emoji reactions, add gifs, see RSS feeds, set reminders, get add-in notifications, and various other bells and whistles. But more than anything, this is where you talk to people.
What’s So Great About Slack?
When Slack came along, there were no real competitors in the market. That’s not to say there weren’t other chat apps, but Slack combined an intuitive UI with both group and person-to-person messaging. It also allows companies to have a measure of control over who can use it through the invitation system. Other tools could do the same, but without the same usability (Campfire, now BaseCamp, was an obvious one). None of the traditional vendors (Microsoft, Apple, IBM, Sun, and so on) had anything comparable to Slack.
This lack of corporate size was also a benefit. Slack was small enough to be responsive and quick when it came to adding new features, like emoji reactions (great for users) and 2-factor authentication (great for admins). For some users, the fact that Slack wasn’t owned by a big traditional vendor was benefit enough, but that doesn’t explain why Slack is so popular.
Slack does two things really well: design and understanding its users’ needs. These twin pillars are the basis of most good products but are surprisingly difficult to do well, as many a failed app will prove. The rough initial design was created by Slack founder, Stewart Butterfield (the same guy who co-founded Flickr back in the early 2000s) and his team, and then given to a third party called MetaLab to polish. Andrew Wilkinson from MetaLab explained:
“To get attention in a crowded market, we had to find a way to get people’s attention. Most enterprise software looks like a cheap 70’s prom suit—muted blues and greys everywhere—so, starting with the logo, we made Slack look like a confetti cannon had gone off. Electric blue, yellows, purples, and greens all over. We gave it the color scheme of a video game, not an enterprise collaboration product…vibrant colors, a curvy sans-serif typeface, friendly icons, and smiling faces and emojis everywhere.”
In the same article, Wilkinson talks about how well-built Slack feels when you use it—which it does—and how the content, such as loading messages, is informal and often pretty funny, concluding, “It’s the same enterprise chat client underneath, but it’s playful, fun to use, and all that comes together to make it feel like a character in your life.”
When you look at the elements that comprise Slack, the ease of use, and reliability stand out. It’s easy for non-technical users to pick up, especially when compared to other group chat tools, like Basecamp or Microsoft Teams. Also, you can spin up your own Slack instance for free, even for personal use. And if you don’t like the “confetti cannon” look, it’s easy to change the colors.