Slack, the instant messaging application, is seemingly ubiquitous among software developers and teams of various sizes and make ups nowadays. In recent years, its use has spread like wildfire and if there’s still a team that’s not using it and hanging on to things like Google Hangouts or Skype for Business, sooner or later someone on the team will suggest trying out Slack and the rest will be history. The fact that Slack is easy and free to set up makes the barrier of entry low and once a team starts, there’s usually no looking back. I’ve seen Slack take very deep roots in a corporate environment where the company tried to insist on using the “corporate standard” application, but to no avail: the developers basically ignored all such requests and insisted on using Slack.
But this post is not about how great Slack is (although it is arguably pretty cool and a great example for habit-forming application). It is about something else: After using the application for a few months with a globally distributed team, I noticed how it created a new mode of communication. Let me explain: Methods of human communication live on a scale of immediacy. On the far ends of this spectrum are the instantaneous, real-time methods such as voice and video (zero delay) and the method with the longest delay known as postal mail with days to weeks of delay (nothing is really any slower, assuming messages in bottles are out of scope).
The methods in the middle are a little more recent and interesting: There we have instant messages, SMS, and similar methods. While not exactly immediate or real-time, the expectation is usually that responses are received within minutes or maybe an hour at the longest. What about email? In my experience senders usually expect to hear back anywhere within 2 hrs to 1 business day.
So where does Slack fit in? It’s basically an instant messaging application, right? On the surface, yes. That’s where it all starts and that is certainly Slack’s core. One thing that makes Slack really sticky is the fact that you can transition to a real-time method. Involved in an intense back and forth with a colleague and the topic of conversation gets too complex or typing is getting too tedious? Well, you can now transition into Slack voice calls, video, or screen sharing (assuming you’re using the paid version).