Slack (the “email killer”), summarised

This post is for the benefit of those observing with curiosity what seems to be every second tech news outlet proclaiming Slack as the technological Second Coming, or otherwise some miracle tool that will have us ditching email en masse the day after tomorrow.

The worst exemplar of advertising masquerading as tech journalism in this regard would appear to be The Verge – who clearly cannot go a full week without some breathless, sponsored-story-level article on Slack. For instance, “More than a million people are using Slack every day now (Get your Slack facts)”, or “Why Slack could be the future of conferences”, or “That week I tried to unplug from Slack”, or (my absolute fave), “Slack is killing email (yes, really)”. More on the latter below.

Anyway, for lay folks wondering what Slack is and isn’t, read on.

Slack is a chat app, designed for internal, corporate teamwork.

Read the above title a couple of times, just to put the extreme hyperbole oozing from every journalistic quarter in perspective. Yes, it has “integrations” for a number of third-party services (Google Hangouts, Dropbox, basically any proprietary cloud-only service that comes to mind). Yes, it has a very nice user interface. Yes, it has lot of other bells and whistles, and so on.

But, at core, it’s a chat application, designed for internal, corporate teamwork.

Slack is yet another proprietary, walled garden.

All the media oohing and ahhing, mutibillion-dollar market valuations and slick features in the world cannot escape the plain fact that Slack is yet another SaaS-only/cloud-only/subscription-only/off-premises-only/rental-only product. Businesses can’t self-host it (should circumstances require), and remain entirely exposed to Slack’s whims regarding terms of use, pricing… basically every other well-known, well-documented risk associated with a SaaS-only product. Works great, until it doesn’t.

Another risk: Slack would make a very attractive target for acquisition by a larger player, perhaps only to be mismanaged into irrelevance (paging Microsoft-owned Yammer…). Heck, Slack’s CEO also founded Flickr, subsequently sold to Yahoo – and who exactly uses Flickr to any relevant degree nowadays?

Slack is expensive.

Assuming you want business-level uptime and support:

“With 25 users in the account, including external teams and contractors, that would mean we’re paying $200/month ($400 for business SLAs). Per month. For chat. Crazy.” (via Hacker News)

Slack is not killing email any time soon. Or likely ever.

With a nod here to The Verge’s ridiculous clickbait headline, Slack is not killing email. Slack’s own CEO has said Slack is not killing email (while also somewhat disparagingly referring to email’s standards-based, guaranteed-to-work-anywhere benefit as being “lowest common denominator”).

Smarter businesses figured out a long time ago that using email specifically as an internal communication and collaboration tool does suck, and augmented it with chat, conferencing, blogging, wikis… in all manner of closed and open source combinations. For these businesses Slack simply further validates these tools, and offers – if anything – an arguably incremental improvement. Slack will only come as a revelation to organisations that for whatever reason historically refused to look at email alternatives specifically for internal team-based collaboration.

As soon as you step outside of Slack’s walled garden and need to communicate with folks external to your business, it’s almost certainly going to be over email – one of the few electronic communication mediums guaranteed to work across every conceivable platform.

To paraphrase Larry Ellison: watching Slack “kill email” is going to be like watching a glacier melt.

Slack does not have unlimited accounts for free.

Yes, Slack’s marketing department claims this is the case (“Slack is free to use for as long as you want and with an unlimited number of people”), but as is the marketer’s wont, the reality is of course different:

cf. So Yeah We Tried Slack… and We Deeply Regretted It.

Yes, one could argue the folks in the article were naive about the free plan, but the point is a promise from any technology vendor should generally be considered worthless.


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