By Jason Snell
June 3, 2016 9:43 AM PT
The joy of Slack
I work in my garage. Most of the time, I’m sitting (or occasionally standing) at my desk, typing or talking. The cat might wander in and meow and rub past my leg, and I might go take the dog out for a walk, but when my wife’s at work and the kids are at school, I’m alone in the house. My interaction with other people happens entirely through the internet.
These days, my lifeline is Slack. I’m a member of—let’s count ‘em—six different Slack communities, two of them extremely active. Slack, if you don’t know, is a popular chat-room program. It’s a place to talk with other people you know, but not in public like Twitter.
Public social media has problems. If you’re not following or being followed by many people, it can be quiet and isolating. If you’ve got a lot of followers on Twitter, nearly every statement you make will generate arguments and intentional misunderstandings as attempts and humor. (I still love Twitter as a feedback mechanism, but it’s worn on me to the point that I share a lot less than I used to.)
Smaller groups are better. People behave better. Things feel more comfortable. Much to my surprise, I’ve had a great experience with The Incomparable’s Facebook group, despite my lack of enthusiasm for Facebook. And then there are my Slack groups, which allow me to connect with people I know and have wide-ranging discussions on all sorts of topics with a level of nuance that we’d never get in 140 characters. (Plus there are custom emojis, and a chatbot that’s triggered based on key phrases, and a whole lot of other silly stuff.)
Perhaps the best thing about Slack is the company’s business model: Slack is free for everyone, with an extremely generous set of features. Businesses with some more specific feature requirements pay a (relatively high) price per user. There’s no in between: Slack’s business model is to hook everyone with how great Slack is, so that they’ll demand it at their workplace. But Slack’s free version isn’t substandard or riddled with ads—it just works, and works well.
If you haven’t tried Slack before, I suggest you give it a shot—you may find that it’s a great place to create a shared space between you and some people you know, someplace between email and Facebook and Twitter. Friend of Six Colors Glenn Fleishman recently published two books on the subject, Take Control of Slack Basics and Take Control of Slack Admin. Even more impressive, TidBITS created a sample Slack group anyone can join to talk about Slack, TidBITS, Glenn’s book, or whatever.
I’ve used a lot of internet communication tools over the years, but as of now, Slack’s my favorite of all of them. Not just because of the tools it provides—it’s just a chat room, after all—but because of the people I’ve been able to gather around it. All from this desk in this garage in this empty house.
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