Explaining Slack to Normals

Slack was in the news quite a bit yesterday. As far as Microsoft's entry into the market and Slack's response, I'm intrigued but not interested enough to really take a position. I think it's a natural side effect of success to have larger companies copy your features and try to replicate your experience. It's a marker of the next stage of challenges Slack will face as it tries to scale into the mainstream. But I'm not sure the company's response warrants the kind of vitriol or contention that it's seemed to generate. Whatever your position, that's not what this post is about.

Two much more concrete things happened because of the blitz of news. One, I asked my team to start using Slack; and two, someone asked me what Slack was and what all the hubub was about. In both cases, I was forced to explain Slack to people who knew nothing about it (yes, they do exist).

Keep in mind this is an app I love, and one that's become a daily part of my working life. I've written scripts, used its Posts functionality, been part of bot creation, and have gone app-crazy in the past. I know the thing inside and out. And yet, when it came time to explain it, I struggled to convey its value. I was met with blank stares and skeptical retorts. "So, it's a chat app? Like Gchat? Except I have to use a different application? I don't get it."

I explained about the history staying around as a searchable archive. That helped a little. I talked about the slick Google Docs integrations. Raised eyebrows. I lauded slash commands as the coolest thing since sliced bread. Puzzled looks. I said the words "great mobile app" like five or six times. "So...it's a fancy chat thing for nerds?"

Basically, yes.

At the end of the day, I convinced my team to give it a shot, and I'm confident they'll pick it up. But it was a good reminder for me that sometimes the groupthink bubble creeps up around us, and even things I might think are totally status quo are still, in fact, primarily the realm of early adopters. Here are a few more concrete observations about Slack that follow:

  • Slack has a passionate community of users and great network effects. And Butterfield is right when he says it's not just a collection of features. But it's not a magical app full of unicorns and roses, and normal people would think you were crazy to talk about it "changing your life".
  • Slack's feature description is wholly uninspiring. Its concept isn't novel. Yet it's managed to gain massive traction. Good reminder that not all big ideas must be bleeding edge.
  • I tend to think of Slack as an emerging internet giant, but most people in the world still have no idea it exists. Which says to me that there's still a huge runway for growth.
  • Getting adoption of products is hard. People are skeptical. Even with an internal champion and evangelist, there are still a ton of barriers to overcome to get a user fully activated on a new piee of software, even one as "simple" as Slack.

So whatever your opinon of Slack, or whatever your take on the Microsoft debacle, it's a good to get the bubble popped once in a while and realize that the tech world is still a fairly small part of the universe.