Getting a group of people working on a project to communicate with each other is easy; you just give ‘em all email and stand back … and what you’ll see is chaos. The explosion of messages will be immediate and the struggle to keep threads of discussion on track and in context means that decisions get obscured and missed, responsibilities become unclear, direction wanders, and documents get lost. The conclusion: Communication is easy, collaboration is hard.
If you’ve experienced this outer ring of hell then you’ve also probably tried the likes of Google+ or Basecamp in an attempt to curb the chaos and you’ll have found that while some aspects of communication improved, overall collaboration didn’t. The problem is that these services aren’t really focused on the core challenge of how to support collaboration; they’re more oriented towards project management or a simple substitute for email.
There is an answer and it’s surprisingly elegant, easy to adopt, and effective. It’s called Slack.
Slack is a Web-based service that supports collaboration better than any other tool I’ve ever used. In Slack you are a member of one or more groups that are, in turn, divided into channels. For example, you might be a member of your organization’s IT group as well as a member of the software development group. In the IT group there could be channels for current issues, future planning, budget issues, app rollout plans, and so on.
Channels can be public or private; the latter allows for people who aren’t part of the group to be included in a channel without exposing the rest of the group’s other channels.
Every channel has a chat board and images and files (which can have meta data associated with them) can be used in one or more channels and accessed in-line and PDFs, Word documents, and text files are all automatically indexed and searchable.
Messages, which aren’t threaded, can be favorited which makes them easily accessible from the sidebar and messages are searchable across all of the channels you belong to.
As channels are updated you can be notified in realtime and free Mac desktop, iOS, and Android apps are available. And to ice the collaboration cake, Slack supports integration with a remarkable array of other services including Dropbox, GitHub, Google Drive, GoToMeeting Free, IFTTT, JIRA, MailChimp, Nagios (yep, server monitoring within the collaboration environment!), Pivotal Tracker (which I recently wrote about), Twitter, Zapier (another service I’ve covered), and Zendesk. These integrations allow for the tracking of a huge range of relevant data making the collaborative environment much richer and more useful.
But wait! There’s more … but rather than explain all of the details of Slack you should go and try it out which is, impressively, free for unlimited users with up to five integrations and multi-team support while a fully searchable archive with unlimited messages, unlimited integrations, usage statistics, guest access, custom message retention policies, priority support, and Google Authentication and Google Apps for Domains sign-on is priced at $6.67 per user per month (billed annually). For $12.50 per user per month you also get premium support, compliance exports, and Single Sign-on with SAML 2.0 (including OneLogin, Okta, and Bitium). Enterprise plans are also available.
Just imagine collaboration without chaos … that’s Slack.
Slack: Free from Amazon
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