Mar 16 2016

Help Me Understand The Value of Slack Instead of an Email List

Before you have an allergic reaction to the title of the post and respond with “you are stupid”, bear with me for a second as I set up the problem.

I’ve been a heavy Slack user for at least six months (probably closer to nine). We started using it internally at Foundry Group and then I joined a number of Slack instances of companies that we are investors in. For at least three months, I joined a number of relevant channels for each organization and tried to participate. I use Slack on the Mac primary so I used the left side bar to have multiple teams active, tuned my notifications so they weren’t overwhelming, and engaged as best as I could. I tried to post on Slack when I had an issue with the company – usually around a product – that needed to be communicated to a group instead of one person. And, for a few of the CEOs, we used Slack as our primary DM channel.

I hit the Slack wall about a month ago and stopped regularly engaging with the organizations other than Foundry Group. There is a long list of functional issues with how Slack handles things across orgs that makes using it this way a burden that suddenly felt worse to me than email. I could go through them and I expect Slack will eventually address some of them since I can’t imagine that I’m the only person in the world struggling to try to deal with Slack across 15 organizations, but the thing that really perplexed me was a new phenomenon that I noticed a month or so ago.

I’m increasingly being invited to other Slack groups of curated people.

This hit me in the face over the weekend when I was invited to a new Slack group by someone well-known. It’s a fascinating group of randomly connected people who ramped up a handful of channels over the weekend. I stayed on top of it until Monday morning and then was swept away in my normal week.

I just went and checked it again. There are over 60 members, but there were less than 30 new Slack messages since the last time I checked. Most were in one channel. As I skimmed it, I thought to myself that this would have been just as effective, or possibly more effective, as a typical group email list. And, since I do most of my group email lists in Google Groups, they are easily searchable and archivable, so the archive/search argument goes away away immediately.

As the amount of time I have to spend engaging with Slack increases, it suddenly feels more ponderous. And, when I started thinking about it in the context of the very active Foundry Group CEO list, it felt much less effective to switch this to a real time channel, as very few of the interactions necessitate real time.

So – I’m trying to get my mind around the value of Slack instead of an email list for large, cross-organization communication. Other than “it’s a new thing”, what are the foundational benefits of it. If you are someone engaged in a large, cross-organizational Slack group, now is the time to weigh in and give me a clue.