Slack is a little communication program that seems to be taking the world by storm. If you’ve used Skype or HipChat for messaging, you’ll immediately be comfortable with the concept of what Slack can do. But if that’s your previous context, you’ll be wowed by the additional features that Slack provides.
I find it really hard to put my finger on why Slack is instantly comfortable and intuitive, which means that their UX people nailed it. Like a fish that can’t explain water, Slack just *is*. It’s like there’s no learning curve. Slack does a great job of drip-feeding you information about the interface, and there’s always more fun to be had with integrations and customizations, but it seems like you install it and immediately begin to start using it. Productively. To get things done.
What is Slack and How to Get Started With Slack?
Working in a team needs focus, crisp and clear communication, everybody being on the same page, and the ability to find files and references as and when needed in due course of time. Having a cluttered communication and file system will only lead to chaos, errors, and eventual delays in any process.
Emails, chat programs, video call services, and the like do serve the purpose. But are things stored systematically, and can we refer to some previous discussion with ease and be sure that we are all on the same page? No. What if an individual needs to ask a question about a previous discussion and then plan his work around a project? What if there is a simple update that everyone needs to be aware of, and also remember later on when that update came into effect? To make all of this easier, in comes Slack, a very handy messaging app.
What is Slack?
Slack is a communication tools specially meant for teams, and stands for ‘Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge’. The name itself is pretty self explanatory, right?
Slack literally comes in and solves all of the problems mentioned earlier. It has always been marketed as a messaging app specially meant for teams, but in reality, it is much more than that.
This cloud-based tool was launched in August 2013, by Stewart Butterfield. It brings all communication and files of a team in one place, making things so much more clearer and systematic. It allows all related material to be searched and accessed on the go. In other words, it allows every team member to be aware of everything that is going on within a specific project, thus allowing them to focus better in their own tasks, and be clear what their role is in the scheme of things. In the end it saves a whole lot of time and increases productivity. You can be sure that Slack is a robust platform ideal for team management.
What All Does Slack Actually Do?
Let’s have a point by point look at how to use Slack, and also how it helps a team.
If there is a team whose individuals are working from different locations, communication can become chaotic. Someone may use Skype, someone might use emails, while other may be using some messenger. Slack keeps all team communication in one place. It can be segmented by creating channels for different topics. You can assign and manage different users in different channels as per the needs. What it ensures is, everyone knows what they are supposed to know.
Often there arises the need for selected individuals to communicate, where the whole team need not be included. Slack allows this, and makes it really simple for two individuals to communicate privately within a team.
Slack let’s you create channels, by which you are able to segregate messages, notifications, files, discussions, and the like, by group, department, topic, purpose, etc. You can even create a private channel that would work by invite only.
Integration With Other Services
You can integrate Slack with other web services that you already use. Whether it is email, a project organization tool, notifications, etc., Slack can integrate all web services into one place, like Google Drive, Dropbox, IBM Bluemix, GitHub, and many more.
How many times have you opened an email, and had to dig deep into it to find one update that is buried deep into its threads. Slack will make it simple to find anything, instantly. It allows you to use various filters to reach exactly where you want to, for reference purposes.
Slack makes it pretty simple as far as file sharing is concerned. Drag, drop, and share your files. It is as simple as that. Files can be shared easily and quickly across a team. And then, since you can also integrate Dropbox into its system, it makes life all the more easier. All files can be marked for later reference, and even comments can be added to any file that has been shared.
While using any service or tool, too many notifications can become an issue. Here, priority is the key. Slack gives you the power to fine-tune notifications by keywords, channels, etc., thus letting you and other concerned focus on priority.
For the Coders
A team is able to share and test various snippets of coding. This instant feature helps improve productivity by leaps and bounds.
Slack provides apps for mobile platforms like iOS, Android, and Windows. Then there are the desktop and web browser clients. Not just that, it is also available for the users of Apple Watch.
How to Get Started With Slack
Now that you are aware of its myriad uses and benefits, this is how you can get started right away.
1. Go to the website of Slack and sign up with your email address.
2. Now choose an appropriate name for your Slack team.
3. Then you can edit the URL of your Slack team.
4. Now choose a good username for yourself.
5. Then enter the email addresses of all the members that you want in your team.
6. You are good to go. Now you can start using notifications, messaging, channels, alerts, posting articles, sharing files, and support too, besides others.
Slack Commands and Tips
This would help you out. Some Slack commands that would make things easier to operate.
@channel – getting the attention of a particular channel
@username – sending a notification to a specific user
@here – sending a notification to online users only
/me – to talk in third person
DM – private messaging between two people
/open – this will open a new channel
/leave – it will let you leave a channel
/collapse – hides all graphics within a channel
Slack’s Humble Features
Slack offers the usual channel-based text communication. In addition to messages and the ubiquitous emoji, you can include files, links, and comments as well. This is where Slack starts to shine. You can drag-and-drop a file or image into Slack and it will upload it and display a preview inline. If you include a link in your message, the title and an excerpt from that page are displayed – which many times eliminates the (time-consuming) need to click on the link to figure out what it’s about.
Slack also offers a nice search feature that can find what you’re looking for whether it was in a message, a comment, a link, or anything else that was in your team’s conversation. You can narrow it down to only open channels, but it’s often very helpful to have it go search everywhere when you’re looking for something. Searching is fast, too. There’s hardly any delay before results show up.
There are also team member list that can show everyone who participates in a channel, as well as their online/offline status. There’s always a count of the number of people who are subscribed to a channel to give you some indication of the size of the room. Clicking on a team member’s name will bring up a small summary of their profile that shows not only their picture (if they’ve uploaded one), name, and title, but also their time zone in a way that’s useful. Rather than showing something like “UTC -5” it displays their local time and how many hours they are ahead/behind you. You can also send a direct message from there.
Speaking of direct messages, you are able to have a private conversation with anyone on the team at any time. They work like other private messaging and Slack channels, so there’s nothing different to learn. There is, however, one special direct message channel called “slackbot.” It’s a channel where the Slack app sends you messages, for instance as you are setting it up, but it also becomes your own little room where you can talk to your self. Sounds dumb until you start to use it to leave notes to yourself. Or snippets of information. Or files. Or links. It actually winds up being quite handy.
Did I say snippets? That’s another feature that Slack offers that web people especially like. There is an option rather than to simply send a message, you can type in a snippet of code that remains code and doesn’t turn into text. You can add a comment to the snippet as you enter it. That snippet can also be downloaded, edited, commented on, opened in a new window, or viewed raw. That’s a pretty full-featured set of options!
If you’ve got more to say than is comfortable in a message, or you want something that feels more “official,” you can also write posts right in Slack. I’ve seen it often used for meeting agendas or notes, or drafts of policies or other documents. It’s no substitute for a word processor or other more robust text-oriented environment, but simply having another option besides regular messages helps set that information apart and gives it a different level of importance.
Slack also gives you the ability to star things like messages or files or posts or snippets or pretty much anything that shows up in the feed. The stars are not so much an approval mechanism as they are a type of bookmark. They’re more like Twitter’s favorites than a Facebook like. But you are able to filter by your starred items which can prove useful. I’ve even found it handy to star items in my own private slackbot feed to find things like a website’s hex color codes.
There’s lots of room to have fun with Slack through customization. Sure, you can change the color scheme and logo. But the fun, and magic, really happens when you connect Slack to other services using its integrations. There are dozens of other apps that can be programmed to show up in your feed. For instance, you can set up a social media channel in Slack and when you get a new message on Twitter you can see it from within Slack (you can’t reply from Slack though). Another possibility is that when someone submits a pull request on GitHub you get a message in Slack. Or how about a payment through Stripe. Check out their complete list of integrations – plus their APIs make it easy to add your own! Slack really can become the “everything in one place” place. It’s a long list of apps that are currently integrated including Twitter, Dropbox, Google Drive, Google Hangouts, GitHub, Asana, and MailChimp among others, plus Zapier which can extend Slack even further.
Slack can be accessed through a web browser, but also has standalone apps for Mac, iOS, and Android. It is currently not available for Windows, Windows Phone, or even Internet Explorer, but those are in the works. It’s attention to user experience has been extended to the mobile apps as well and they are remarkably easy to use and include most of the features you’ll find on the desktop versions. The slight differences are most appropriate. For instance, you won’t find the same snippet functionality on the iOS app, but you will find a way to add a photo from your library.
Slack and WordPress
Slack has even found it’s way into WordPress. Or maybe it’s the other way around? The WordPress open source community recently adopted Slack as its primary channel of communication after years of being on IRC. It’s been well received and widely adopted and seems to have improved participation too.
In addition, there are several WordPress plugins that serve to connect WordPress sites to Slack. There is the Slack plugin that, when installed on a WordPress site, will send a notification to Slack when posts are saved as “Pending” and need review, when posts are published, or when there’s a new comment. There are ways to extend that functionality even more if you want to dig in and make it happen.
There are also plugins that connect common WordPress forms and ecommerce platforms to Slack, such as Slack EDD, Slack WooCommerce, Slack Contact Form 7, and Slack Gravity Forms. No doubt the number of plugins and integrations for Slack will continue to increase as more and more people adopt it.
Do not mistake Slack for just another messaging service. Once you get in, you will realize the potential and all that you can do with this amazing application. Slack is the present and future of perfect collaboration. Hope you liked this post on what is slack.
If you haven’t given Slack a try yet, do it now. Regardless of the size of your team (and even if you’re going solo) I’ll be willing to bet that you’ll soon wonder how you ever got along without it.