When I started my undergrad, it was the first year that our university gave out an email address to everyone; previously, it was only by request. Our residence halls had also just been updated with what then was considered “high speed” internet (which I think was fiber optic?) instead of dial-up. I was WIRED in 1996, and I used email and the messaging service ICQ obsessively to stay in touch with my friends and family. My friends thought it was so cool that my mom emailed me (because she actually knew what email was and could do it).
Now I just wish she would text me.
All of this backstory is just to highlight how those new tools and means of communication can at one point seem revolutionary and wonderful and then become either a) a massive burden (email) or b) obsolete (ICQ). The wonders and perils of email have been covered extensively here at ProfHacker, but there have been few alternatives offered.
One such alternative is Slack, a fast-growing web service that hopes to help you “Be Less Busy” by reducing the need for email between members of a work team. It is, essentially a closed messaging service. Messages can be organized according to channels using hashtags, and team members can also direct message each other, or create closed categories for only certain members working on a particular problem. The app is cloud-based, so it can live simultaneously on your smart phone and desktop as well as the web.
You can share just about anything digital using Slack, and it also integrates with many already existing online tools and apps, such as Google Apps and even an RSS feed reader. The archives of messages are completely searchable, so you can easily find that message someone sent you assuring you the project would be done by a certain date, or that article that was shared a few months ago that you just remembered and really need now. Best of all, it’s largely free, unless you are looking for detailed analytics and archives of usage.
Great, you might be thinking, yet another push notification for my phone, but we have been using it on our group for a year and while I don’t know if it has increased my productivity, it has reduced the number of emails. We have a channel for our #status where we can let everyone know when we’re at meetings around campus or elsewhere or even just running late. It’s been great for transparency, as well as a degree of project management. Other than forwarding emails from faculty or administrators, we have basically eliminated emails between people on our team. But for me, personally, it reminds me so much of early messaging apps (back when they were called programs), so it integrated seamlessly into my work cycle.
I even see a use for it here at ProfHacker, although I’m not sure my editor wants yet another way for me to badger him.
Have you used Slack? Has it been a positive experience? Please share in the comments.