back to article Productivity knocks: I've got 99 Slacks, but my work's not done

If I had a dollar for every time someone said Slack was the answer to a business's problems, I'd have retired to a beach in Australia long ago. I'm currently in seven different Slack teams, and I've still got problems. At the other end of the argument, a small business remarked that they are happy to stick with email because …

  1. jake Silver badge

    Slack's the best thing that ever hit my businesses!

    I got Slackware working a little over 25 years ago, and all of a sudden I no longer had to fuck around with my computers anymore. They just worked, and let me get on with doing business. Imagine that.

    Oh. You mean the social-disease thingie. Never mind.

  2. karlkarl Bronze badge

    IRC

    There is a reason why IRC will outlive Slack.

    1. Chronos Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: IRC

      Is that possibly because Slack is just IRC with shiny chrome slapped haphazardly all over it?

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: IRC

        The web is just telnet and sgml with shiny on top - doesn't mean it isn't useful

        1. Chronos Silver badge

          Re: IRC

          The web is just telnet and sgml with shiny on top - doesn't mean it isn't useful

          obOldGit: Yes, but it was more useful before the ad flingers arrived, it was a damned sight more secure before activequickflashscript and it was much more friendly before AOL started giving coasters away, some git discovered the blink tag and Geocities became a thing.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: IRC

            I remember before we had DNS - we had to mail each other shared lists of /etc/hosts

            but you tell kids today that and they won't believe you

            1. hmv Bronze badge

              Re: IRC

              It was HOSTS.TXT!

              Bleeding Unix newbies :)

    2. David Robinson 1

      ObXKCD

      https://xkcd.com/1782/

  3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "In-country data storage? Nope, unless your country is the US. It's sitting on Amazon's Cloud, but on US-only instances."

    Once the first Slack user gets hit under GDPR the panic is going to be worth watching.

  4. wolfetone Silver badge

    "If I had a dollar for every time someone said Slack was the answer to a business's problems, I'd have retired to a beach in Australia long ago."

    Somewhere a flat earther is reading that line, then taking the rest of the article as utter bullshit. Only because they're that backward they don't believe Austrailia exists. But then again would they ever be in a position of trust and responsibility where they'd need to use Slack?

  5. Ed

    Stride

    We use Stride in our tiny 3 person startup - mostly because it's cheaper than Slack, and because we used to use HipChat. Given we're 3 people, mostly in the same room, we don't use it a huge amount, but two things seem quite broken with it:

    - Uploading files: The UI is really unclear what's going on while a file uploads, this is especially noticeable on a slow internet connection.

    - Notifications: These don't seem to reliably come through. HipChat used to support sending email notifications, but this was removed in Stride. We've seen notifications frequently fail to arrive on at least one of our Android devices, unless Stride is running in the background.

    Between these two things, it's quite a frustrating platform, and I don't think we'd stick with it if we grow.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Stride

      "mostly because it's cheaper than Slack"

      I'm surprised the article glossed over this. When you finally realise you need the enterprise features so you don't, you know, break the law or cripple your own business, Slack becomes staggeringly expensive.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Re: I'm surprised

        You shouldn't be. That's par for the course. Never tell anyone about costs, just bleat on about free.

    2. mrtom84

      Re: Stride

      We found the video calling features to be near enough broken when compared to something extremely polished like appear.in

  6. Richard 12 Silver badge

    We used to use Skype

    However Microsoft are ripping Skype to pieces, so we'll need to replace it soon.

    But with what?

    All these things seem to have pretty decent phone apps, but desktop versions are conspicuous by their absence or phone-styling.

    1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

      Re: We used to use Skype

      On Skype, it seems that every conference call I have, they've moved the bloody mute button.

  7. jms222

    IRC and Usenet

    I think IRC and Usenet will outlive Slack, Whatsapp, Discord and many others I have already forgotten about.

    1. matjaggard

      Re: IRC and Usenet

      Too late, they're already dead. I mean, I'm sure in absolute numbers they have just as many users as ever, but in terms of market share they may as well not exist.

      1. Barry Rueger

        Re: IRC and Usenet

        , but in terms of market share they may as well not exist.

        Somehow "Usenet" and "market share" were two things I never expected to see together.

  8. georgeOfLoughton

    Wot no keybase

    I'm very in love with keybase teams - and they've made some pretty strong promises about not charging existing users in future. It's beautiful tech - and works well, in the small team I've used it with so far. https://keybase.io/blog/introducing-keybase-teams

  9. Chuunen Baka

    Interruptions

    Of course it reduces productivity. Every context switch costs time and energy and Slack allows you to interrupt colleagues any time, anywhere. It doesn't help if people don't read emails because of too many automated emails from other productivity tools - I noticed someone with 3000 unread emails the other day. So people Slack rather than email so as not to be ignored.

    1. Alistair Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: Interruptions

      I noticed someone with 3000 unread emails the other day

      For me, thats two days of automated notifications from 20 some different platforms that managers have insisted I be added to the notifications lists. Thank god for outlook rules.

  10. dotdavid

    Other alternatives that are worth a look are Mattermost and RocketChat, which are basically host-your-own-Slack. Even compatible with all of Slack's add-on plugins.

    *Edit:* Oh there's also Google's Hangout Chat which we tried as we have GSuite anyway but found pretty poor, mainly thanks to lack of integration with other services (due to not supporting Slack plugins) and really poor or missing client apps with broken notifications. I had had higher hopes.

  11. Adrian 4 Silver badge

    short sighted

    I never understood why people wanted to use Slack. The reason most often given seemed to be that they got too much email so that they couldn't use it any more.

    Understandable, but Slack and friends are just alternative message systems. They doesn't solve anything, just make you available to a temporarily smaller group. As soon as it gets wide circulation it's just as bad. What are you going to do then - move to another one ?

    A simpler method would be to just change your email address regularly.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: short sighted

      A simpler method would be to learn how to manage your email more efficiently. An added benefit is that email will be with us, essentially unchanged from what we have today, until roughly the heat death of the Universe. Maybe longer. Things like Slack? Not so much. Logic says learn email, ignore Slack.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: short sighted

        A simpler method would be to learn how to manage your email more efficiently.

        Agreed. Start with switching from an interrupt model to a polling one, by turning off notifications and deliberately only looking at email at scheduled intervals (e.g. only at the beginning and end of the work day).

        Of course, you can do the same with most messaging systems. When we started using RocketChat, the first thing I did was turn off its notifications. Now it's essentially just another email MUA for me, and I go through the messages once or twice a day.

        I still allow notifications from Lync / Skype for Business, as they only come in rarely. If they became bothersome I'd disable those too. If there's a genuine emergency they can always phone.

        I can't disable Fuze notification popups (Fuze sucks, frankly), but I can, and have, turned off the sound for those, and they don't steal the keyboard focus, so they're not too bad.

        When I were a lad, I interviewed for a job at a smallish software firm whose flagship product was a time-tracking system for lawyers and other bill-by-time professionals. They had a firm policy: between 10 AM and noon, and 2 PM to 4 PM, developers were not to be interrupted except for emergencies. Email and phones were off, and meetings could not be scheduled during those blocks. I suspect it was not a bad idea.

    2. GIRZiM

      Re: short sighted

      A simpler method would be to just change your email address regularly.

      It's easier to change employers.

      You go where (unlike Cheers) nobody knows your name and doesn't simply not have your email address but don't even want to email you because they don't know you exist and, when they do, have no idea who you are, what you do or whether you're any good - so they keep mailing the same people they've been working with for three or more years and don't trouble you.

      Do this right and, by the time anyone has figured it all out and is ready to mail you, they get an automated reply saying you've left the company and they should address their enquiry to someone else.

  12. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Slack

    Proof that the Keynesian-style "economic stimulus" via money printing is indeed working.

    There money-laden people all over the place doing silly crap if not fuck all.

  13. Snarf Junky

    They all sound like things the office wankers would use to make themselves sound more important.

  14. craigh

    The value is all in how you use it

    I currently view slack as a partial substitute / partial augmentation for office conversation. It is a fairly free form place to raise and discuss issues. While nothing can fully replace in person conversation, it does have one or two advantages.

    - You can control the alerts you get and how often you look at it

    - You can see what others have been chatting about in the public areas and keep in touch

    - It works well when your tam are not collocated every day

    - It allows the quick exchange of textual information

    When a decision is made, that and a clear concise statement of how that decision was reached should be captured elsewhere (in our case mostly Jira but sometimes email) by the person who needed the decision made and flagging the people that were involved. This is just like you would following a regular conversation where an important decision was made.

    Like a conversation I do not expect the record to persist and make the case to my team that it should be treated just like you were talking to people not a substitute for other tools.

    Used like this Slack is great but we are not all that tied to it, if something that suits us better comes along we will switch to that.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: The value is all in how you use it

      How are your four bullet points different than a private Usenet hierarchy with the odd email thrown in for pseudo-private comment?

      1. craigh

        Re: The value is all in how you use it

        Can you offer a compelling reason why I should be asking myself that question? or the same question of 100 other systems and combinations out there?

        It took a few minutes to setup, it was intuitive to use and without any obligation or anything more than an invite the team quickly and happily adopted it, we have it, it works very well for us, it costs nothing, people joining the team are generally familiar with it and no one has offered a compelling reason to look at anything else yet.

        When we have a compelling reason to look elsewhere we will and I can only hope the adoption of that new system goes as well as it has with Slack.

        1. matjaggard

          Re: The value is all in how you use it

          Why would I even consider Usenet when there are so many better options these days? By better I mean easier to set up, easier to use, simpler for end users, prettier and more functional in most cases.

          1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: The value is all in how you use it

            By better I mean easier to set up,

            What's it take to start an NNTP server - two minutes?

            easier to use,

            That's debatable. I always found Usenet UAs a hell of a lot less quirky than the half-assed web UIs of Slackalikes.

            simpler for end users,

            Why is "simple" a benefit? Perhaps tools ought to provide useful features, rather than aiming to be "simple". A Ford Model T is a lot simpler than a modern car.

            prettier

            Ugh. A thousand times, ugh.

            and more functional in most cases.

            Yes, that lack of emoji and gravatar support in the typical Usenet UA is a real burden. On the other hand, killfiles. Oh, and threaded conversations. And flexible server topologies.

            Of course, if you want a web UI for Usenet with all the idiot eye candy, it's pretty trivial to set up a gateway. But NNTP also gives you a lot of other UA choices with the cruft left out.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: The value is all in how you use it

              I agree with the rest of yours, however I question this simile:

              "Why is "simple" a benefit? Perhaps tools ought to provide useful features, rather than aiming to be "simple". A Ford Model T is a lot simpler than a modern car."

              I see the simplicity of my Model A and Model B to be very beneficial. Consider that both will still be traveling over the road long after the last Tesla Model S is rotting in a junkyard somewhere. A large part of the reason for that is the simplicity of design makes for easy maintenance & repair.

              And no, they don't break down constantly. Their maintenance schedule is the same as the rest of my fleet. The Wife & I drove them to The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn Michigan from Sonoma California, and back (~5,000 round trip) with no issues other than a tune-up and oil change in Dearborn, which Ford provided. (They look bone-stock, but I'll cop to modern metallurgy in the drivetrain, and the electrical system similarly has modern updates.)

  15. dwyermic

    Productivity

    I've had so many productivity apps that have been foisted on me by IT, that I didn't have any time for any real work. EG Office, Word, Powerpoint, Outlook, Yammer, Skype, Agile Central, InfoPath, etc etc

    1. Christian Berger Silver badge

      Re: Productivity

      It's a bit like with messies who believe that if they just have enough things for organisation, they can do so easily.

      Ohh and there are certain people who haven't learned to distrust marketing. So they actually believe that products like "Office packages" increase productivity, when they in fact just make a large part of your organisation waste their time on things they can't do well.

  16. Christian Berger Silver badge

    Fascinating how a whole industry can be created...

    ...just by companies having incompetent enough IT departments to set up a private IRC server, or people being forced to use terribly bad e-mail clients which do not even quote propperly.

    Seriously, if you want instant communications, there's XMPP or IRC, or the telephone. All three of which should be used in moderation, as their real time nature means that they are disturbing the recipient. (well maybe except for IRC which comes with a scroll buffer)

    If you want something from a person, and it doesn't have to be _RIGHT_NOW_, E-Mail is your best chance to get it within a day or so.

  17. HaakonKL

    Atlassian fans?

    I don't think Atlassian have fans as much as people who think it does its job in a perfectly acceptable matter. It's one of those programs suites that you don't like, you just accept its existence and move on from there.

    Take JIRA for example: The problem is almost never JIRA, it's that the suits want to model some process in JIRA, and that makes it more complex. But that's the process' fault, not JIRA. What ought to then happen is that we talk with the suits and create better processes that makes the tools easier to use, and projects go along better.

    I've seen this happen in a public project, and they were more than willing to discuss how things should be done to make it happen in a smooth matter. So this should be within reach. I mean, everything from Rational RUP to Kanban Scrum 2000 LEAN edition supports this type of thinking, so...

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