▶ TECH TALK
Cut Me Some #Slack
by Dana DeFebbo
This month I am covering group messaging applications. While you may be familiar with instant Messaging applications like GChat, the chat function inside Gmail, Skype, and of course AOL Instant Messenger (yes, that is still around!), team based group messaging apps are relative newcomers. Traditional messaging apps do have group chat functions, but you must initiate them each time by selecting the people you want to chat with, and the ability to go back through a chat history can be onerous on these platforms.
Group messaging applications bring together the threaded messaging that you get from a discussion board combined with the real time functionality of chat. These applications are being heavily utilized by employees in the tech industry where employees often work from home, or are spread out in offices across the country. Recently though, I have noticed group messaging apps, namely Slack, being used as a means to backchannel communication at library conferences like LITA Forum and Code4Lib.
If you are looking for a way to lessen the amount of unnecessary internal email that you send and receive amongst colleagues at your institution, one of these apps might just be the ticket.
Slack <https://slack.com/> is a cross-platform messaging application that has a ton of collaboration features. Each instance of Slack is called a team. A team consists of the people you want to be able to communicate with. Within the team, you can create Channels. Channels are individual chatrooms, usually based on a topic and can be open to a whole team to join, or can be made private so that an invitation to join is necessary. Slack also has the ability to Direct Message someone or a few people.
You can also ping someone in a regular open channel if you need to call attention to something in a discussion by using the @username command. This notifies someone of a discussion that they may need to jump in on or want to be aware of. Other commands that notify people are @channel which pings everyone in a specific channel or @here which notifies people that are currently active in the channel. Since Slack has a mobile version, users can set up their smartphones to allow push options for Slack notifications. These notifications can also be turned off or put into Do Not Disturb mode.
Additionally, a number of other applications can be integrated into Slack to help facilitate teamwork and just for fun. For example if you use Trello, you can connect it to Slack and create new cards directly from Slack. You can also get Slack notifications when someone updates a Trello board. For fun, you can connect Slack to Giphy and post hilarious responses to a team member with a simple command like /giphy lolcats which will give you a choice of a few gifs with the tag lolcats from the Giphy website to post into the channel.
Slack is mostly free for people to use, with unlimited team members and unlimited channels, but also a few limitations. Free plans allow you to search the message archive of up to 10,000 of the most recent messages. Older messages that go beyond 10,000 will not come up on search. The team is limited to 10 app integrations and 5GB of file storage. Small teams that use this as an auxiliary form of communication will find that the free version is well within their needs.
I recently attended the SXSW Interactive conference and stopped by the tradeshow in between some sessions. While there I spoke to a startup called Flock <http://www.flock.io/> that is a direct competitor to Slack. Flock is almost identical to Slack with a few key differences.
- Flock embargoes the message archives after 30 days rather than 10,000 messages for free accounts.
- Flock is cheaper per user than Slack for teams that need the benefits associated with a paid account.
- Flock claims to be 2.5 times faster (message loading times and switching to different teams). This may be a useful feature for a large Slack team, but for smaller ones (less than 50 people), I haven’t personally noticed a difference in speed between the two platforms.
- Flock has unlimited app integrations for their free plans vs being limited to 10 for free Slack plans.
Like Flock, Ryver <https://ryver.com/> (pronounced like river) is a relative newcomer to the group messaging app scene. But unlike either of these products, Ryver is completely free and has most of the features that Slack and Flock have. Ryver doesn’t charge to you access older messages. You are still limited to 10 app integrations but this is because there are only 10 applications that currently work with Ryver. This may change as the product matures. Ryver is worth checking out if you want a free option that has unlimited searching of all messages, regardless of how old or how many there are.
Notifications are still working out kinks so they do not work as well or have as much functionality as Flock or Slack.
Copyright 2017 by Dana DeFebbo.
About the author:
Dana DeFebbo is currently the Web Services Librarian at the Tarlton Law Library at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law. She received her MSIS for the State University of New York at Albany and has worked in academic libraries for the past 11 years.