Slack’s viral growth is largely due to the way it gathers information into one, centralized hub.
Slack bills itself as an “email killer” and “where work happens.” In some organizations, this is almost true. In a 2015, 1,629 paid users reported that Slack reduced their organization’s email usage by an average of 48.6 percent.
In some organizations, Slack simply supplements existing communications channels, perhaps reducing email use slightly while greatly increasing the messages sent directly through chat. In many others, Slack may exist as “shadow IT,” technology that is used without official sanction.
And it’s incredibly popular. Slack’s success has made it the fastest growing SaaS company ever and allowed it to make its way into more than 65 percent of the Fortune 100 companies.
Slack’s viral growth is largely due to the way it gathers information into one centralized hub. Slack lets teams bring all their communication and much of their work into one place, allowing them to compose messages, share files, integrate information from third-party apps, and even make phone calls, all without ever leaving Slack.
Slack organizes communication through “workspaces.” This is the digital space where a team shares communication and files. Companies may have a single workspace, such as acme.slack.com, for the entire organization, or they may have several workspaces organized around function, location, project, etc. These workspaces can be wholly independent of each other or connected through the Slack Enterprise Grid.
Workspaces consist of persistent chat rooms called “channels.” These channels can be both public and private. Public channels are open to any team member in the workspace, meaning that almost anyone can join them, view conversations, and search for past content. There is one exception to the open nature of public channels, though: guests. Guests are members of a Slack workspace who do not have full access to public channels. A guest may be a contractor, temp, or third party who is invited in to a workspace for a limited purpose. To join a channel, even a public one, they must be invited in by a workspace member.
In addition to public channels, workspaces can contain private channels, which cannot be seen by other members. Private channels are considered “confidential.” Members must be invited into a private channel to participate in the conversation or to search its contents.
By default, any team member can create new public and private channels. Slack further allows private communication through direct messages, which can involve as few as two participants and as many as nine. Like private channels, these conversations are limited to invited members.
In addition to where communication happens in Slack, the platform also introduces some idiosyncrasies to how communication happens. First, Slack lets individual users “star” messages, channels, and files. A star is meant to mark an item as important. Only individual users can see their starred items in Slack.
Users can also “pin” items, marking it for greater attention. Other members in a channel or conversation will be informed that an item was pinned, and that pin item is then incorporated into the conversation details pane. Users can also “react” to items in Slack. Reactions allow users to respond to a message with an emoji, whether a heart, a smile, or two clinking beer glasses.
If starring an item is relatively straightforward, reacting to one is not, introducing a host of interpretative problems that we discuss in the chapters that follow.
Finally, Slack is a “platform agnostic” product, making communication even more seamless. Because Slack is cloud-based, it can be accessed from virtually any device and platform. Slack works in web browsers, as a desktop app, on mobile devices and even Apple Watch, allowing users to communicate no matter where they are or what device they are using. This, in turn, helps feed the 24/7 discussions that can make Slack so valuable in discovery and investigations.
Slack includes hundreds of integrations with other tools, turning the Slack platform into a centralized repository of information. Google Drive integrations, for example, can create a Slack message every time a new document is created, access to a file is requested, or a spreadsheet updated.
Slack’s app directory lists dozens of apps broken down by categories such as file management, finance, project management, security and compliance, and more. The Time Doctor app, for example, tracks user activities and provides statistics on “where time was spent such as viewing websites and applications used when working.” The Stripe app sends messages when charges are made, invoices updated, transfers sent and more. The Spectr app offers real-time legal advice, delivered directly in Slack, from a “professional legal advisor.”