Will Slack Replace Email?
When it comes to corporate communications, email has reigned for decades, seemingly able to fend off established modes and new challengers alike. The telephone? A relic. Instant messaging? Complement, not substitute. Even social media has struggled to find traction.
After 15-plus years and many failed alternatives, it began to look like email was simply the best option for business. That was, until 2013 when a quirky application called Slack made its debut. Since then, the platform has largely been a critical success, boasting adoption at major organizations like CNN, NASA, eBay and The Wall Street Journal. But is Slack really an “email killer” or is it just nice to have?
Introduction to Slack
Slack is a cloud-based collaboration tool that enables people to chat and share files in a highly customizable environment. In a discerningly humble manner, Slack calls its product “a messaging app for teams.” This doesn’t quite convey the full range of features included in its Plus edition, which costs just $12.50 per month. Of course, it does deliver on being a messaging app, but Slack’s usefulness is really in its structure and intuitiveness.
Communications take place in channels, private channels and direct messages. Users can write posts, upload files and interact in a variety of ways. Write back, set a reminder, even add a “reaction” (this brings up the Emoji keyboard for graphical responses). If that isn’t enough to get the job done, Slack can also bring in third party applications like Twitter and Google Hangouts so users get all notifications in one spot.
Slack is nimble. Slack is quick. Slack is even fun. Its highly collaborative environment breaks down many of the barriers between email and social media. The former is oftentimes stuffy and formal, while the latter can be seen as chaotic and even unprofessional. In fact, many companies still struggle with the question of whether to allow social media in the workplace at all, for fear it will be more of a distraction than a useful tool. Since Slack is a closed system (i.e., employees aren’t bouncing from contract negotiations to baby pictures), it delivers the casualness of social with the focus of email.
One of the greatest “social” features in Slack is the ability for channel members to add emojis to posts, indicating they like it, love it, were amused by it, etc. This seemingly minor addition helps build a more engaging environment in which team members can express themselves. Additionally, Slack lets users tag people within ongoing conversations to re-engage them in the discussion. This addresses the common low-tech practice of highlighting or bolding individual names on emails, which doesn’t even guarantee they will take notice — particularly on emails with 20 names in the “To:” line.
Email: Ubiquity, Omniscience and Tradition
Slack’s innovative characteristics have led to rapid adoption, but it's climbing what just might be an insurmountable hill of integration. Email is, quite simply, everywhere. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL: the mainstays of the internet all offer email. Signing into Netflix, Amazon, Facebook or almost any other major technology service requires an email address.
Email has become the home base for most users. That's to say, because so many sites require an email address, individuals use email for shopping, record keeping, official correspondence and personal communications. Gmail seamlessly integrates email with calendar functions, to-dos and even Google Now, making the inbox an indispensable source of information.
Just because something has been around a long time doesn’t make it the best option (or even a good option). However, email has not only stood the test of time, it has gone to battle and won against competing technologies over and over. A cursory search turns up endless articles on workplace collaboration tools and productivity suites, some of which promise to defeat email. Still, as developers continue to introduce apps to upend email, the majority of workers continue to use it, further ingraining it in daily operations.
Will Slack Replace Email?
The grim reapers of email will never stop their quest to destroy the medium. Or, at least, they will never run out of ink writing about its coming demise. It's easy to think in revolutionary terms — to imagine a world in which one seemingly innocuous app completely destroys what has become a slow, lumbering beast by which work must be done. It’s even a bit romantic.
In truth, it's important to remember email continues to outpace and replace itself on a regular basis. The guardians of the inbox, those reviled mailbox providers, are constantly taking steps to improve the email experience through greater integration, better collaboration and easier task management. Expect email to continue to evolve over the coming years, but don’t expect individual applications to vanquish the status quo in one heroic swing.