Slack & the next step in the evolution of messaging

German version of this article

I am now communicating with my parents on Slack, having been inspired by this account of someone who uses Slack for family-internal communication. So far it works well, with no major issues encountered. Previously we have been using a messaging app – not WhatsApp like many, if not most other families in Europe, but Kik (don’t ask me how that happened). In any case, the concept of smartphone messaging was not foreign to them.

I created a new team on Slack, invited my parents, introduced them to how “public” channels and private messaging work on Slack, how to post content such as articles or videos. I created a specific channel for links to good articles (which we until now have been exchanging via email) and I informed them about that they can run Slack in the browser, too (Slack’s desktop app does not work with older Windows versions). My mother already asked me if she should recommend Slack to her friends as well, but I advised her to wait a bit since after all, the service is not optimized for the average (German) leisure user belonging to the generation 55+. Yet.

“Yet” because I start to think that what Slack offers in regards to functionality is the future of group communication in general. For all kinds of groups, not only those comprising of people who work together on projects. Slack represents the evolution of messaging and possibly even of social networking. Continue Reading

Slack is overvalued and that is totally understandable

Slack

For me the team collaboration service Slack has been one of the biggest names of the Internet year 2014. It looks as if the company’s remarkable rise will continue in 2015, at an increasing pace. At least that’s what the investors think.

Last week Slack announced a $160 million funding round. The valuation rose to $2.8 billion. Even in these times, in which major tech startups based at the U.S. West Coast are pretty much swimming in venture capital, this is quite an astonishing increase in assumed value. Only less than 6 months ago Slack had reached the milestone of a $1 billion valuation. Worth noting is also that this fresh funding does not even seem to be needed, as the outspoken Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield explained in an interview last week. That fact does not come as a surprise: The company’s previous financing round of $120 million took place not even half a year ago. Most of that cash still sits in the bank. Slack had been previously dubbed the “fastest growing enterprise SaaS company ever”. Investors seem to be more than eager to jump on that train before it is too late. Continue Reading

How Slack can become much more than an Enterprise tool

Slack

The team chat service Slack is one of the rising technology startups that we for sure will hear a lot about in 2015. The San Francisco-based company has simply everything going for it right now: Hockey stick growth, exceptional user loyalty and a pretty solid business model (bigger teams need to opt for the paid plans).

When considering the potential of Slack, one certainly has to keep in mind that we are talking about an enterprise product. For the moment, average end users would only become acquainted with Slack if they are members of a project group at their company or organization that uses the service. This certainly is not a small market. Social enterprise software is expected to be $4.5 billion market by 2016. However, Slack includes one feature that might bring it to a much bigger number of users much faster; even to people who are not involved in any official project work that utilizes Slack for internal communication.

The feature I am talking about is the single-channel guest mode. It allows admins of paid Slack plans to invite “outsiders” by email to a specified, closed channel. In its FAQ, Slack mentions “clients, friends, family members or industry colleagues” as examples of people who might be suited for this option.

Right now, the guest mode has a restriction which prevents it from being used for chat-based mass communication: There can only be 5 guest accounts for each member that is paid-for within a Slack plan. This ensures for Slack that companies don’t start to invite hundreds or even thousands of customers into semi-private chat rooms. Or, more specifically, if they do, they have to have many paying Slack members, which guarantees the startup company to be able to cover its infrastructure costs.

But the better Slack scales, the more the company will be able to afford giving admins freedom about how many outsiders they want to invite to restricted guest channels.

Talk Shopify
Yesterday on the user-contributed tech news portal Hacker News, an entry for a site called Talk Shopify appeared. Turns out, Talk Shopify is nothing but a Slack Community for enthusiasts of the e-commerce tool Shopify that makes use of Slack’s single channel guest feature. Interested people can sign up using the form on the website. If they are deemed acceptable by the admins, they’ll receive a Slack invite by mail. Since the site lacks information about the initiators it is hard to judge its respectability. But the idea to gather like-minded people who are not part of a formal project group with the help of Slack is something we might see much more often in the future. Slack as the successor of the IRC.

By encouraging this kind of use case, e.g. through removed limitations for the number of guests, Slack could increase the number of registered users even faster than until now. And even though the conversion rate (paid-for members to non-paid-for members) would drop, it is in the company’s interest to introduce its service to as many people as possible. That in turn will convince more system admins, managers and project leaders in all kinds of organizations to establish Slack for internal communication, signing up for one of the paid plans.

Slack will come to a point where it has to make a decision about if it wants to stick to the enterprise market or if it wants to leverage its network and enthusiastic community to reach out to new groups of users. With the addition of VoIP and video integration, Slack could eventually become a better Skype. The guest mode can act as a kind of trojan horse. It gets Slack in the hands of everyday users, who are being invited to guest channels by companies, interest groups or friends. Eventually, these people themselves find use cases to integrate Slack into their work and personal day.

I have contacted Slack about its intentions to push the guest mode for non-team channels but haven’t heard back. It is completely possible that the concept of Slack as a vehicle for closed chat-groups around areas of interests, hobbies, ideas, companies, products or services, is nothing that Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield has on its roadmap. But there is little doubt about one thing: As long as the guest mode exists – even if restricted based on the number of paid members – it will be a tool for various types of creative experimentation.

Update: #nomads is another community using Slack. It apparently has more than 1000 members. Back in December its creator blogged about “hacking” Slack into a community platform. Quite interesting. It seems though as if Slack is not completely happy about the automated invitation process described in the post.

3 short talks from the DLD conference that are worth watching

DLD
Once a year, the German publishing giant Hubert Burda Media hosts a big conference about digital innovation in Munich, called DLD. This year’s main conference took place this week. One should mention that Hubert Burda Media has been a driving force behind a highly questionable German ancillary copyright for press publishers. This law is widely seen as yet another obstacle for the German Internet industry, which notoriously lacks global impact. However and despite the contradiction between motto and actions, Burda’s DLD regularly manages to get a bunch of big names from the international technology and startup world on stage.

I watched a couple of these talks on YouTube and want to recommend three of them. The clips are embedded below, but here are some short remarks:

The Internet is not the Answer (Andrew Keen, Mike Butcher)
The author Andrew Keen presents himself as a pessimist who believes that the impact the Internet is having on people, society and economy is causing much harm and little good. He comes across as loud, arrogant and condescending. Even though I disagree with Keen’s one-dimensional view, the 27 minute talk with Mike Butcher is very entertaining. Keen also makes a couple of good points, especially about Uber and its CEO Travis Kalanick. Keen uses the opportunity to heavily promote his new book. I read an hardly enthusiastic review by the German blogger Felix Schwenzel (German only) after which I concluded that watching this talk is sufficient.
YouTube link (27 minutes)

It’s Only the Beginning (Albert Wenger)
Like Keen, Albert Wenger of Union Square Ventures sees issues with what the accelerating digitization and automation do to our way of living and doing business. But unlike Keen who really has nothing else to offer than asking for more regulation, Wenger is more creative and thoughtful in his suggested solutions. A bit utopian too, but not in an absurd way. Keen somehow wants to use the strategies of the past to handle the future. Wenger wants to create new strategies. I find that more promising.
YouTube link (12 minutes)

Future of Work (Stewart Butterfield, Jochen Wegner)
Stewart Butterfield is the CEO and founder of Slack. The chat service for teams is quite a phenomenon. Everybody who uses it seems to love it – which does not come as a surprise considering how well it works. I cannot remember when I last time have used an app that caused me so little frustration. Butterfield has managed to make enterprise software sexy. He turned customers into fans. Learning a bit more about the guy who pulled this off cannot be wrong. Also because we probably will hear a lot about him and Slack in the future.
YouTube link (19 minutes)