worried raccoon

One of the great paradoxes of the communication tools that are designed to help folks work together is how poorly they scale: what seems like a convenient way to share information quickly turns into an avalanche of messages that one feels compelled to keep up-to-date with.

Over the past year or so, Lee, Maha, and I have written several times about the various ways we use or teach with Slack, a modern platform for communications that can often feel more or less like a modern ICQ chat environment. Slack is not immune to this problem. As they write on their official blog, “messages begot more messages: replies, questions, acknowledgment. In a word, noise.”

To combat this problem, they added emoji reactions to messages, and watched as a whole culture of emoji emerged as a way to simplify communications. (They annoyingly refer to them in the post as “reacjii,” but there’s no need for you to do so.) For example:

A handy tip for fielding requests: if you leave a message asking for help, someone can volunteer by reacting with:eyes:. That means they’re going to take a look. Once the work is done, we like to use :white_check_mark: to mark it as complete.


It looks like this:

screenshot of emoji

The post is full of interesting ideas for collaboration, and ways to make sure communication requests are shared quickly, and at an appropriate level of intrusiveness. (Is this urgent? Or just being flagged for later? Also, does the communication belong in this space? As the post explains, “raccooning” is a way to politely redirect chatter in a way that’s respectful of everyone’s time and attention.) And, because the federal government is always on-trend when it comes to the latest technology (

), Slack also helpfully points to two posts by the government’s internal design agency, 18F, about how they use emoji in Slack, including one on how they use emoji to document shared knowledge.

If you use Slack, or other communications platforms that support emoji, the articles are definitely worth a read. Do you have a shared lexicon of emoji in your class, lab, or writing group? Please share in comments!


Photo “Racoon” by Flickr user Arctic Wolf / Creative Commons licensed BY-ND-2.0