Productive communication and teamwork requires that we respond, rather than react.
What happens specifically with tools like Slack which start off as demi-official tool and then transcend to official is that, one gets into the habit of reacting, instead of responding.
I have personally seen this "fastest finger first" played, almost always.
There has been tons of literature written on reacting v/s responding and I need not dwell into it.
Another aspect is that there is no exit, once Slack is the primary communication tool. One is forced to use it, otherwise you are like an outcast and people more often tend to take it as a signal that the person is on its way out and hence moved away from Slack.
Rest of the drawbacks is documented in the article.
Reaction:: Since our boss has posted it and you don't want to be seemed a second rung player and the one who is NOT on her/his toes, you jump on the keyboard and first "Like/Thumbs Up" that post and then comment for the heck of it, something like "Wow", Amazing", "Insightful".
Then you look over your back ie, to see how many others have commented before you, and if you hardly see any, then you pat yourself on the back and consider the day to have been well spent.
Response:: You read the article once and decide whether it concerns you or to be discarded.
If it concerns you, you read it once more, may be twice and take relevant notes.
Then you decide, whether you should discuss this over an email to your boss, or a personal meeting would be more appropriate.
And thus, you draft an email or ask for 10 mins of private time with your boss.
If they are just trawling for likes and noticing who posts something first, I will find a new boss.
might just be our culture though, there's aren't really any "jockeying for position" situations.
Slack is for small teams which have a lot of shared context
Maybe this is common in startups or in teams where the manager expects to be friends with their engineers. I suppose I've been fortunate to never be put in the situation where chatting with the boss overrode doing solid work.
If my boss was sharing content and then my coworkers were "looking over their backs" to see who liked something first or liked something with enough enthusiasm, I feel like a lot of other things would also be wrong with that work environment to make people behave that way.
Our boss actually uses e-mail for this purpose, which I find much more appropriate because it matches the "if you have time" bit better than Slack.
On Email always worked like, it was email, for those it mattered, they responded and rest carried on with their work.
Slack has its pros and cons, but these are largely the same pros and cons as any instant group communication platform. If one is depending on Slack too heavily for non work-related content then they have separate issues that need dealing with.
If you want reasoned discussion, there should be an ask from the boss on the channel-toss even if it is a @TheRealmccoy call-out on the posting.
At hindsight, if you look at a Slack channel, so much information would be found redundant.
It is there just because it is so easy to put out there, because of the intrinsic nature of the medium, and it is so because, most of it is reaction.
Like, oh this is nice, let's put it out on Slack.
While writing an email,when the communication is being initiated, there is sufficient pause built in the system, to let one ponder, is this really worth it?
Email is not fool proof either of this syndrome, but far better.
What prevents redundancy is searchability. Most email clients are great for that, but Slack's searchability is inherently better than email - if you're not part of a channel (because you weren't on the team at that point), posts can be searched once you do gain access to the channel.
Emails between other team-members excluding you cannot since you will never have access to them.
There are so many times I just link back to a previous answer on the topic and just h/t the original poster. Takes a moment, but is far more definitive.
There's your problem - typing first.
Put everyone on a voice/video collab stream. Now at least you get to hear what's being suggested first like a real office, and respond without having to move away from your work window. "That idea is nonsense, it won't work within our framework guidelines for x reasons." Bam no waiting for people to read what they should be hearing in the first place.
No wonder nobody wants my solution - everyone's too busy listening to the hype of programs instead of the soundness of their workflow.
We're just waiting for you to post it in the form of a sound recording :)
The problem is that there is no inherent pause built in the system.
It's boon is its bane!
I did observe that some employees would consistently answer more quickly than others, but I never saw unsubstantive responses, and it didn't appear to have a chilling effect on people who responded afterwards or the overall result of the discussion.
I feel old.
I argue if you're too lazy to do both at nearly concurrent times then you might not be suited for that line of work.
I have no problems handling upwards of 10 concurrent 'lines' (aka customer input or manufacturer input issues) on my own. Systems for this exist. Learn about them and use them, or fall by the wayside. These complaints are the complaints of those from the 90s.
I imagine you could address this in Slack by just having everyone set themselves to 'Away' by default.
One of the things that I've found useful in Slack is turning off the "Someone is typing" message (the option is in the Display Options). I used to wait for someone to post if I knew a message was coming. Now I can drop in and out of a channel more easily. Similarly, I've muted almost all the channels I'm in so now I only need to check if someone notifies me.
The point I'm making is that Slack doesn't necessarily work the way you want right away, and that you might need address a few cultural problems with the way your team uses it. You need to think about how your team communicates, consider why people do annoying things in it, and come up with solutions that work. At the most extreme that might be writing a competitor product but for most companies there just needs to be a little more tolerance of people not answering immediately and a little consideration that gifs can be unhelpful.
Slack supports shift+CRLF for line breaks, so users can write epic poems broken up in to hundreds of stanzas if they want to. Using Slack as a one-line-at-a-time chat service is a choice that a user makes. Slack itself doesn't enforce it.
Topics are all jumbled together in a channel so it’s nearly impossible to piece together the full conversation.
Only if users interrupt the current conversation with something else. Again, this is a cultural choice that users make. It's not a Slack thing, or even a chat thing. Also, Slack does support threaded conversations (albeit with a pretty horrible UI).
Important team knowledge — like what decision did we make and why? — gets buried and lost within hours (even with powerful search).
I totally agree. Slack is not the right place for documenting important stuff. Nor is a different chat app, or email. Important knowledge should be put in a knowledge management app (eg a repo wiki for code, or a Word doc for business related things).
Thats like saying you can drive your car with your feet, the car doesn't enforce driving by hands. The point of this post is saying that slack has these shortcoming by the nature of its design. You can make as many arguments as you want defending it, but everything has a design that influences usage.
That's a slightly odd analogy, but let's go with it. You're right that you can drive a car in ways that are dangerous, and the car doesn't enforce safe driving. The law is what enforces the way you drive (by punishing you for driving dangerously). This is exactly the same as company rules to ensure Slack is used properly. So, yeah, I guess it works pretty well, and people who use Slack badly are "foot-drivers".
In the same way, slack is frictionless to post one-liners; you have to go out of your way to post a multi-liner (and I personally have the constant worry I'll miss the shift and post half-finished in such systems).
It doesn't matter if the law (company) says to drive by hands; you have to be really intent on driving with your feet to get into a car and do such a clearly unnatural thing. It's difficult to imagine someone new getting in and thinking this must be the correct position, because the car does not support it naturally. It can be done, but only while dealing with friction.
Then compare slack to a bbs forum, where people naturally post paragraphs. Not coincidentally, the act of posting has more friction; CLRF is a newline, posting is a button off at the bottom of the page. To get a better ratio of value (writing) to friction, you'll simply have to write more and post less.
The law (company) can enforce unnatural behavior onto its populace, but when the law is unclear or unstated (or ignored) on the particular matter, the natural activity depends on the environment.
And slack is very clearly predisposed to a particular kind of posting.
Expecting people to use Slack in a way it wasn't designed for can only result in failure or constant friction.
one line at a time
no caps or periods
stream of thought
enter each time
I posted a parody of this style a while back:
It takes so much cultural pressure, moaning and nagging to use Slack in a high signal-to-noise manner that I'm quite bearish on it's long-term prospects, and applaud OP's effort at building a system designed more for collaboration than shitposting.
i never new
^ is something else
* is to correct
and never use the edit button!
I meant *
I still fear the web UI. I guess emailing out bullet lists was against the implicit use case the gmail UI team had in mind.
Stuff like this definitely changes how tools are used.
Also, when replying to a long mail thread, showing you the previous list of recipients and requiring you to select those that you want to include in your next mail. Could limit CC sprawl quite a bit.
This way I don't have to worry about hitting Enter at the wrong time. I can also preview the message so I see exactly how it will be formatted, and no one has to see the "mike is typing" messages while I edit.
I also went to the extreme of creating a private Slack team just for myself. I was using the personal channel trick and found that if I included an image in my talking-to-myself message, and then pasted it to another channel, it didn't automatically display the image in that channel. I guess Slack figured the image had already been displayed somewhere within the team even though it wasn't in a public or private channel. I have a feeling this has been fixed by now.
Most companies have a wiki for document, but how many of them can stay up to date? Discussions happen all the time, and they often require changes to previous documents. Maybe an ideal tool is one can capture team communication, present it in a organised way, and let people edit it later for a more polished view.
Do you want to spend time training workflow and enforcing best practices, or a tool designed around desired workflow?
Poor support from our management in general, and a poor delineation between private channels and public channels resulted in a lot of private rants being exposed publicly (not just from the Senior), and the end result was Slack was shelved for the time being and the Senior Programmer left the company.
My new place of employment utilized a multi-tiered approach, using Skype for quicker questions (with rooms dedicated to specific topics or aspects of the work), and anything requiring more than a sentence or two of background being regulated to an internal message board system. Our management is quick to shut down too much spam, and everyone in general is taught about the expected etiquete of the chat.
Without such precautions, I think it's too easy to fall into the more casual "shitposting" that is common for message boards and the chatrooms of old. Workplace chats are meant for very narrow and specific purposes, and it needs to be enforced that these are not the places to be spamming the latest gif you found on reddit/imgur.
1. You enter groups devoted to large topics (like "all company" or "software development" or maybe "Smith Project")
2. You see conversations delimited by subject lines, completely threaded, with full history.
3. You normally reply to a message with another message, quoting or not, and your message is threaded in.
4. The tools are good for showing you what you haven't read yet.
5. You can ignore a topic forever.
6. You can have filter highlight topics where your name or email address or a keyword is mentioned.
7. You can seamlessly fall back to email for private conversations.
8. There's an archive that goes back to the limit of storage space.
9. Usenet is, of course, easy to distribute and federate.
Everything old is new again. (And Usenet is even still there.)
I'm still convinced that Usenet gets ignored precisely because it is federated and mature - it is harder to extract nickels from than a centralized service; user-surveillance and other ad-related choke points are fragmented, it works already, there are already robust end-user filters.
(I also believe Twitter should have been an RFC, not a startup.)
For anyone who wants to build similar stuff for internal use - NNTP is probably not going to be the right choice unless you have a large number of sites. For a startup, IMAP has everything you need built-in for shared, threaded group messaging that looks a fair-bit like usenet (from the client's perspective). If you don't have strong ideas about UI or workflow, you can use an MTA to read and respond, and you're done. If you want your own UI, there are a huge number of IMAP libraries out there for just about any language you want to use.
"Old" tech is a goldmine.
I have this reaction to _so many_ online services these days.
10. Has open-source implementations,
11. Allows HTML formatting,
12. Has a hierarchy of topics, splitting up topics in a generic way,
13. Is blazingly fast,
14. AND allows referencing specific articles using an URI scheme: https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc5538 ?
1. There were a lot of servers.
2. The servers were not arranged in an optimal network.
3. The network was full of cross links, many of which made no topological sense.
4. Not every server carried all newsgroups.
5. There were a lot of users, who read a lot more than they write.
6. Binary messages (when carried) grew to huge sizes (for the time).
7. Network links were very slow by today's standards.
8. Disks were slow, small and expensive by today's standards.
9. Every ISP felt it had to provide free Usenet service, but few of them did it well.
With modern hardware, Usenet could be as close to realtime as you expect email to be -- dominated by people's attention and writing speed. And carried over TLS, of course.
ie: Phone call when you need immediate, high-bandwith dialog; IM when want to chat, but don't need instant responses; email when you want persistent communications, etc
Those are very brief, single faceted views, and there are a lot more factors.
I've also noticed that being in the dark about some things regarding real-time communication makes me happier. E.g. I disabled WhatsApp's "read" and "last online" indicators not because I don't want others to see mine but because they are useless information that only made me wonder about other peoples intentions.
When somebody has read the message and didn't respond, it doesn't mean that they never will but that they were otherwise busy. Just knowing about that didn't keep me from wondering, only turning it completely off did. If I was able to turn off the "typing..." and "online" status, I would, too.
I can't think of any five minute period during my entire tenure where the Slack tab didn't have a little red circle telling me that I absolutely needed to check it right this second. There was no way to filter notifications beyond "Everything", so that little bubble would go up every time anybody in the company pressed a key. And heaven forbid somebody typed "Good morning, @channel" (which happened 20 times per morning per timezone), because then you'd get the dreaded Red Exclamation Mark in the tab.
I can't fathom how anybody would have been able to work if they had gone as far as allowing notifications to be turned on and make noises at them every time Slack thought something Important Enough To Interrupt You had happened.
My smart watch for example post dates the social era so it has only minimal social features, but its deep in the interruption zone and spams me mercilessly until I block apps and if I block enough apps I may as well have a cheap dumb watch.
Another way to look at it is we no longer have 100 people shallowly liking us, we now focus on 100 apps shallowly claiming our attention is vital because we are important and we must be interrupted now.
Some of this is probably cultural backlash against automation and bureaucracy and general economic decline. If more people than ever are in fact not useful or important at all, then a communication style focused primarily around telling people they're important, is going to be very popular.
Under that analysis Slack is a post-social communications media, and it constantly rewarding you with endless micro doses of "your attention is valuable" is not a bug, its the whole philosophy of its existence as an app. You can see why curmudgeons see Slack as something negative, like the intrusion of participation trophy culture, because thats pretty much what it is.
The purpose of Slack is to constantly interrupt you with a narrative that you're important. There are incidental side effects that make it semi-useful. Companies spend a lot of money on "make employees feel special" and Slack is merely a modern example of the genre.
This philosophical analysis of Slack is probably extendible past Slack into startups. Don't try to market something as interconnectedness, not in 2017. Try to sell something that symbolically, or whatever, tells people they're important.
Definitely block the spammy apps. It makes a huge different to the smartwatch experience if it's only buzzing for things that really are urgent. Once you tune the notifications, it's actually calming - not only because you're not being interrupted as often, but also because you're not constantly thinking "is there something that needs my attention". If there is, the watch will let you know.
I've never felt the point was for all my notifications to show up.
Github Enterprise is so far the worst offender - I can't find a non-heuristic way to filter user merge messages (which contain the user name) from actual user comments.
In our team, some mails are not delivered because Outlook sometimes accidentally autocompletes `John Doe <email@example.com>` instead of `John Doe <firstname.lastname@example.org>`.
That isn't a problem with Slack. That's a problem with the way people are using Slack. If the only workable fix is to use a different tool you have a far bigger problem at your company.
All the notifications and noises can be switched off, and the @channel and @here notifications can be ignored on a per channel basis.
The notion that tools exist in some sort of vacuum away from users baffles me. Since Slack's only purpose is talking with other people, I don't how one can even theoretically evaluate it separate from usage.
This is a very common thing that happens with Slack. If it were just one team struggling to use it well, you might have a point. But past a certain size, I've only ever seen Slacks that a) have a problem with @channel, or b) have a carefully developed and enforced culture of controlling use of @channel.
I think the sophisticated version of this argument is "only experts should use use complex/difficult/dangerous tools". Which is a reasonable argument when talking about, say, wiring up detonators. But Slack's purpose is to connect everybody in a company. Suggesting that Slack is only for experts is to limit its market to a very small segment.
Very few people abandon email because their organisation has a mailing list.
Slack's @channel is exactly the same thing albeit on a smaller scale. If it gets too distracting just tell people not to use it so much.
I don't know the innards of Exchange, but from what I've heard, when Exchange receives a mail for a mailinglist, it makes a copy in each recipient's mailbox. That small thread with maybe 30 "please unsubscribe me" replies brought down the entire company mail system for about half a day. (Well, it didn't really bring it down; it was just busy shuffling copies of mails around.)
Slack, however, is new, centrally controlled, relatively easy to change, and frequently updated. So the email analogy doesn't apply at all.
Software is developed and used in a social context. We can't disavow responsibility for the effects our Software cause.
My previous workplace everyone had tight deadlines and goals to meet, they were pressured both internally and externally to act in their best interest, this means that everyone believes their problem is top priority even when it's not a priority at all, and Slack makes communication a billion times faster so they bother whoever they can on Slack.
This usually means one of two things, either going to someone directly or blasting everyone on the channels that contain the entire company, this became the default for us and it was hell, at some point people would notify the entire channel because they couldn't find their mug.
IMO what Slack does, in this case, is expose much bigger issues within the structure of the company, these can't be fixed by switching chat apps.
My current company the communication channels and prioritization are very clear, Slack is not a problem, it is a helping tool.
Your company has hammers and screw drivers as your tools. If your employees only know how to use hammers, they are going to hammer screws. If your team only knows how to use screw drivers, they will shrug at nails. Hence, the tool is not always at fault for end user error.
Learning how and when it is appropriate to use the tools at hand is important.
Sounds like a feature that was added in the last 18 months since I last used it. At the time, your options were "every notification about everything, ever" or "no 'notifications' ever, but we'll still helpfully flash the favicon at you all day".
Glad to see there is at least a tiny drip of sanity making its way into the product.
As to mentions and highlight words, I don't think there's a solution for that for muted channels. When I developed this technique I would have liked targetted mentions, but not @here or @channel, which, at the time was indistinguishable. However Slack added a per-channel option to Ignore notifications for @channel & @here, which means I might try the above technique without muting the channel.
Play around with it, you might find the settings can be combined in an optimal way once you understand how they all interact.
In my opinion the chat model is simply bad for effectively distributing useful information because it disappears in the noise.
Perhaps what's needed is a combination of the forum-style threaded conversation model for information sharing and work conversations and a chat room which is explicitly for the water-cooler stuff, so that people don't have to be always-on (and constantly interrupted). It should be safe to turn off when you need to focus.
Most open source projects still use mailing lists, which are even better than forums in that everyone can read and write emails in whatever client they prefer.
And yes, it's far better than chat for serious discussions, with a global group of people. You don't want to exclude the Americans from important decisions when everyone in Europe is awake and on the chat in the morning, and vice versa.
I think both systems have their places - if I have a quick question, chat is usually better. For longer more serious discussions, perhaps with code included, email wins.
For quick questions and discussions, irc is hard to beat.
And in practice, at large companies, forced expiration is used to control email storage space, in part because of the duplication.
So at very minimum, you want something threaded like email, but stored in a single location, so storage/duplication/deletion aren't problems, and indexed searching is available. This also allows things like tagging someone into a thread after it already started.
This isn't a clear argument. What do you mean?
> So at very minimum, you want something threaded like email, but stored in a single location, so storage/duplication/deletion aren't problems
Certainly, the distributed nature of email may pose problems for an organisation which stores emails for a number of its employees. Storage is cheap and backup processes de-duplicate data so using mailing lists shouldn't pose too much difficulty.
The whole point of Doist is to get us away from the interrupt-driven behavior of constant notifications, and the instant gratification of response. Email lists do not solve this problem, unless you turn off your email client entirely.
This doesn't make any sense. If you're subscribed to a mailing list, you will see everything sent to it.
I must be missing something, I've always found mailing list UIs frustrating to navigate and explore. Does anyone maybe have a primer on how to get the most out mailing lists for someone not already intricately familiar with them?
Work communication isn't a technology problem as much as it's a human problem.
Just off the top of my head here are a few types of communication that need to happen at work. In modern work we can assume not everyone can be in the same physical space.
* solve an important problem right now
* find consensus on a complicated problem where opinions vary and emotions run strong
* info everyone needs to be aware of now
* info only a few people need to be aware of now
* info that might be of use within some time horizon for few or all
* relationship/trust building (small talk, gossip) don't dismiss the value of this one
I was cynical about it to begin with, when it was just 'Facebook at Work' but I do believe it addresses a lot of the issues brought up in the blog post and the Workplace team are executing very well.
Accounts are completely separate from Facebook, no crossover at all.
I don't think it's a Slack killer, as they both solve different problems in different ways, and Workplace is very much a 'big co, top down' approach.
I do think other existing collaboration tools have a lot to be worried about between Slack & Workplace though.
Last stat I heard was there is over 14k companies using it.
This was the claim that was made when we tried out FB@W, but shortly after I created my work account (I don't have a personal account) my wife started getting friend suggestions for coworkers of mine she's never met. I never even used my @work account for looking at her FB account, wasn't friended to her, etc.
I think it was either a) harder to undo all the creepiness, or b) they didn't want to.
Maybe Slack should be worried too. They may have a tough road ahead growing into the valuation between Facebook Workplace, Microsoft Teams, Atlassian HipChat and Amazon Chime.
On further thought I wonder how much of the problem I have with slack and similar services (of which I actually tangentially happen to work on one) is more of a problem with process and expectations than anything else.
1. You are expected to be on chat, otherwise you suffer the appearance of not working - counter-productive since you are now subject to distracting notifications. If do-not-disturb settings and turning off notifications wasn't frowned upon this might be less of an issue.
2. Important information should be distributed through a more persistent second channel, email or a web-viewable email-list may actually be suitable.
"Thread-first communication" - We have it. Email threads. I've been using Zoho Mail. It's one step ahead and has modern concepts like streams/commenting and sharing built around emails. Very useful.
"Truly transparent conversations" - What this means is, the knowledge has to be highly searchable. Also, not all threads have to be public. With emails, you can either broadcast an email company wide or you can opt to pull in relevant users into a conversation. Makes a lot of sense to not broadcast everything company-wide, isn't it? More importantly, emails are easily searchable. Once received, I'm confident that it's going to sit there in my inbox forever, without worrying if it's going to be deleted later by someone who has authority.
"Leaving out the online presence indicator" - Exactly. Emails.
Maybe there's some more important key aspects that the product's covering up for me. As for me, I guess emails are simply good enough!
The downside here is an email thread with 5+ people replying daily will quickly become unmanageable. If a single participant forgets to "Reply All" then the conversation can bifurcate again and again.
If I was managing a team of 5+ people I might use Twist. I would more likely onboard everyone onto existing project management software. Where the team can have threaded conversations, but also relate those convos to tasks, milestones, files, and other project info.
Sametime was a big part of IBM culture. IBMs work from home policy was tied up with it. At work means you are online and responsive to Sametime. A typical meeting involves people sitting in a conference room Sametiming comments to each other about the speaker.
One nice thing about Sametime is that you chat history is in XML files on your computer. This allows you to use grep to find past information.
IBM started to use Slack when I left. On the one hand this allows you to collaborate with people outside IBM, but downside is you need both tools running. Slack for the cool kids, Sametime for the old guys.
My new job is giving me a new experience- video conferences using Google Hangouts. Many times with googlers on the Google bus.
I think these were the worst tools I ever had to use in my whole career. Even after they rewrote the UI with Eclipse later.
The one positive comment I can make is that you did end up with a unified enterprise-wide set of collaboration tools.
Oh there was a new tool I hated before IBM decided to get on the git bandwagon: Rational Team Concert- project management and source control tied into one. Imagine having to start a giant 500 MB Java application to "git checkout". (In fact the project management part was OK, just using it for source control was horrible).
Now we're starting to hire more developers and I'm realizing how disruptive it is for them to be pulled into Slack conversations all the time. So I've started using email more for communicating with the devs, and that seems to work reasonably well.
The questions I have are: (a) is it possible to have a single communication tool that handles both real-time and async properly and (b) does that even matter? Maybe email+Slack is a perfectly fine solution. Either way, it's obvious that only using Slack isn't a viable option.
It seems to me a better idea to create an asynchronous deep collaboration tool and integrate it with synchronous tools like Slack.
The bigger question to me is what should an asynchronous deep collaboration tool do (if anything) beyond first-class threads.
In my mind the opportunity lies on three dimensions
1) Bringing updatable content and structure to threads. This makes threads vastly more useful for real collaboration (not just communication).
2) Making "catchup" much more efficient as this is the main problem with email.
If you think of one of the most successful asynchronous collaboration approaches, it's source control like git. The key thing that these tools to is make changes "diffable". That allows users to work at completely different points in time and still easily "catchup" with what's changed.
3) Allow regular users to easily convert unstructured one-off threads to semi-structured template threads. This naturally and gently moves teams to greater process-orientation.
The choice of asynchronhous vs. synchronous is a false dichotomy. Development teams I have been on use a combination of both since forever. Before Slack/Hipchat there was XMPP/Jabber before that was IRC. It must be business people binging on the glory of synchronous communication then having a hangover. In my experience this has never been an issue.
These channel designations are shared by everyone who uses Twist.
Email organization is different for each person.
Here's my feedback (from someone who currently leads the leads of 7 remote engineering teams):
• Not knowing if someone is available and if they will get back to you soon is very very bad for many conversations. For example, when you have a C-level asking for rapid turn around on something that needs to be done by someone multiple levels away from you.
• In remote teams, sometimes people disappear (e.g. car accident or civil unrest in a random country), and if you have no way to know, you'll eventually get fed up.
• The feeling of cohesiveness that comes from having realtime conversations, brainstorms and other collaboration is very important to managers (especially in remote teams) and convincing them that realtime talk is not a good default is going to be quite hard.
• As a result you will never be their default communication channel - at most you'll be the place they discuss bigger problems. But because you're not the default, you'll get destroyed by slack, who is the default. Most times people use the tool at hand that they are most familiar with, not the best tool for the job. I would encourage you to write a slack bot that reminds people to use you & helps them easily experience value from your product without you having to win the default spot.
• Finally, most people will have serious difficulty seeing the difference between your product and other product management tools that allow commenting in detail on issues being discussed.
No, I’m not taking a vacation. Quite the opposite, in fact.
I’m getting a hotel room in a state where I don’t know anyone, so I can do
a bunch of research with no distractions.
I bought a new computer specifically for this purpose - A Dolch portable
pentium-II system. The significant thing is that it has full length PCI
slots, so I was able to put an Evans & Sutherland OpenGL accelerator in it
(not enough room for an intergraph Realizm, though), and still drive the
internal LCD screen. It works out pretty well, but I’m sure there will be
conventional laptops with good 3D acceleration available later this year.
This will be an interesting experiment for me. I have always wondered
how much of my time that isn’t at peak productivity is a necessary rest
break, and how much of it is just wasted.
For a more concrete example, you can look to what Richard Hamming had to say about the topic. He noticed a similar phenomenon at bell labs, where there was a difference big difference between people who worked with their doors open, and those who worked with them closed.
The door closed people were much more productive than the closed door people. Of course, he noticed there was a tradeoff there, and saw that the closed door people tended to not be as relevant years later as the open door people.
Code wizards need time on the lonely mountain to learn new spells.
I have all this persistent information! New people need to get up to speed fast - where do I put it? Cue the Wiki fad.
I have to get things done and elicit quick feedback ASAP! Cue the Chat fad.
I want async communication so I'm not bogged down all the time! Email and Forums.
There's a time and place for all of these.
There are also trends and fads to consider, such as social media.
There is also human habits to consider. Not everyone knows about or is signed up for slack and uses it. They may eventually find out or not.
I was not the only person with this reaction. I was very, very wrong.
It is also interesting that we as a community have completely sold out federated independent operators with a common standards defined protocol for soloed tooling.
I cant help but draw parallels between this
and NNTP. This is essentially a really nice
skin over newgroups, and thats not a bad
thing at all.
0 - http://forum.dlang.org/
1 - https://github.com/CyberShadow/DFeed
Nor should you, really. Imagine trying to do that in an office-based organization! Slack, to me, is a bit like our digital office space.
You can also use highlight words to ensure you don't miss any discussion on topics you're particularly interested in. We have a guy who worked a lot with our billing, and he is magically always present whenever anyone says "refund".
The problem with Todoist and Wunderlist and the like is that it's work based, not communication based.
Slack is awesome at communicating. But it has no checklist, no todo, no collaboration tools that fulfill most needs. They're all half baked.
Wunderlist has checklists and todos and can be used to track collaboration efforts by linking Google Docs or Sheets to a task for example, but communication is still horrible. It's nowhere close to being a main communications channel.
So most end up using a combination of apps.
But this is also one of the greatest detriments to productivity. Having to juggle apps.
If someone wants a tester or feedback on something they are building I'd love to help. I badly miss that thing :(
Disclaimer: I love and use Todoist religiously and agree that it's not great at collaboration.
We've always had chat software, but mostly we talked to each other during breaks or after school using our desktop computers.
Then cell phones became normal, and SMS was normal, later on, it was chat apps, social media. Things sped up by a factor of a billion.
All of the sudden we have entire conversations happening as the teacher is lecturing, people are making weekend plans, gossiping, bullying, relationships are forming and falling apart in minutes time.
Honestly, I can't even imagine what hell school must be now that everyone has social media and ephemeral messaging everywhere.
And I believe Slack did a little bit of this to the workplace, we've always had chat apps, but it was always a little bit to the side, but Slack integrated it with our work tools, now we have all these notifications from services bundled in the same software that offers you public channels, private channels, private groups and direct messaging, there is a whole new level of communication going on both on and off the record.
In some workplaces, I felt like it was school all over again.
Maybe it'll work itself out, and they'll naturally adapt. I just suspect it's totally antithetical to the human condition to constantly be available to respond to people, and psychologically we're not adapted to fight the urge.
If you want to discuss some large changes, sure, IM is a bad place. Conversation will probably get interrupted, derailed, etc. That's where, in my opinion, things like Google Docs or plain simple GH Issues shine. The format forces into better thought out, longer messages.
For other things, you need to organize the chat rooms. If you have 10+ people and 2 chat rooms (I think slack defaults to #general and #random) then yes, sounds bad. But instead having quite a few chat rooms with <10 people each might work out well. Even having multiple rooms with the same people can be good to separate different topics of conversation.
"Always on", I believe, comes not from the IM itself but from the culture of the company. I know places where everything is e-mail only and people constantly refresh it. Equally, IM is mostly ghost town outside working hours at other places. And Slack has decent notification settings to make sure that you don't go crazy.
So, IM has it's place and provides value if you are willing to make it work. It's just not a 'it just works' solution, which is hardly surprising.
The goal is to help your team be available and responsive without compromising productivity. To achieve this, incoming requests to a particular team are collected in a "feed" channel. The notifications ping specific people on rotation or on a sequence (according to rules) until claimed, the conversations are explicitly resolved with a "closed" action. We provide assistance for things like inserting knowledge base and template responses, and tagging the conversation. Integrations via Zapier mean a conversation can easily turn into an Asana task, Github issue, etc.
If you're struggling to manage the chaos, give it a shot and see whether it helps.
The only actually useful feature of this app seems to be that it's thread oriented, but you can mitigate that with enough irc (okay, Slack these days) channels as well.
Jokes aside, the article did hit the nail on the head in its critique of realtime comms. That said, there was always a subset of any team that seemed to have cold feet / anxiety / or other resistance to writing the longer-form messages of newsgroups.
I think if I had to pick between shallow, but broadly used comms, and slow but heterogeneously used comms, I'd still pick the latter.
I can't believe that they even wrote a new app when they could just have installed mailman, or any other mailing list server, or even a news server.
If I were to create a company I would create mailing lists for discussion and a wiki for consolidation of knowledge. In my humble opinion, there is no need for new fancy apps. The tools are there.
What does the new app they created provide that cannot be done with the tools I mentionned?
I feel old. I'm 36 years old and I see too many articles of people discovering stuff we discussed at length in the 90s. This IRC vs Usenet discussion is an old one.
It keep being surprised by how much a fresh coat of CSS and a mobile app can reinvigorate these old ideas. Who knew how important adding gifs and emoticons would be?
It's easy to see how you could design a "process" around using something like Slack to achieve the same experience and if you don't design a "process" for using Twist then it will suck just as much. We tried to heavily use channels in HipChat as a threading and noise-avoidance mechanism, it worked well but we often ended up with a lot of channels with the same people in; at which point discipline becomes stressed.
Everything else should be handled through email, to allow people to consider and tailor their responses, to allow others to be added to the conversation through a CC: of a single focused thread, and to provide a directly searchable historical record of conversations.
> Threaded conversations have been at Twist’s core from the beginning.
Maybe depending on the precise job at hand, but I believe everything else should be handled by a usenet server, or equivalent. Usenet revolves around the topics, not the messages.
I was using a local usenet server 19 years ago for holding online design discussions. I haven't found a better mechanism since.
The problem lies between unstructured and structured information. The problem is one of process vs flying by the seat of your pants. Ideally, you want processes for every repeatable action, and more flexible means of communication for new events that need to be handled quickly by those empowered to solve them.
However, every repeatable process starts as an one-off event: Customer requests for the same actions pile up until the moment you realize your app needs a new feature; Faults occur and get solved up until you realize you need to engineer a solution that prevents or automatically fixes them; Internal processes get lost and hang until you decide to redefine the internal workflow.
What is missing is a simple way of moving unstructured communication (sync and async), onto structured communication. Chats should end up as feature requests, bug reports, documentation or some other permanent medium that fits into the process.
If the unstructured->structured bridge is solved, you don't have to monitor chats (or mailing lists, or forums). If they result in something meaningful, they will appear in the structured, process-oriented flow. Monitor that, and get involved in chats where you are directly mentioned. (and skip all gif chats, really)
We built it to be Thread First AND have a thread-first inbox as well.
However, more importantly we realized that just thread-first is not sufficient. We saw three major problems with synchronous solutions like Slack and asynchronous solutions like email.
1) Lack of support for updatable content
2) Lack of support for easily moving from unstructured to structured content.
3) Difficulty catching up
So we added the notion of Updateable "Sections" to threads (in addition to conventional attachments).
These "Sections" come in various types, some of which lend themselves to making your thread structured.
2) Form (structured)
3) Task List
4) Checklist (process)
5) Word, Excel, Powerpoint
This allows one to create threads that have structured content. However, this still doesn't solve the "one-off" problem you described. So, we made it easy to take any thread and make it a "Template" that can be easily instantiated. This allows one to naturally to evolve towards lightweight processes starting from regular threads.
For example, here is one of the "industry solutions" pages which gives ideas for structured threads in a particular industry (in this case Manufacturing and Logistics)
Lastly for the "difficulty catching up" problem, we took inspiration from the way git et al are built and decided to make "diffs" central to the catchup metaphor. We're talking not only diffs for Text, but also for Task Lists, Grids, Checklists, Forms and other "Sections".
We hope to make communication and collaboration significantly more productive. Would love to get any HN feedback.
ps) We integrate with Slack to marry their synchronous model with our asynchronous model.
It didn't seem to work well. Since all members of all groups were from all over the world and rarely shared a timezone, no conversation could really take place in real time.
And since there are no threads or topics or anything, it's almost impossible to go back to something that was said a while ago.
I think a subreddit would have worked much better.
I'm so used to the reddit and hacker news style that I'd also prefer this as well. This Twist App looks too much like another email inbox to me and that puts me off it. Maybe they could offer ways of changing the UI.
We have an internal reddit-like forum with a "like" model (no dislike/downvote) but it isn't utilized to make work happen. Email is still the way to go...which to my understanding, that's essentially exactly what doist has recreated.
Appreciate your feedback. The Mattermost instance at Startup School does offer threads, if you either click the "Reply" arrow when you hover over a message or go to the "[...]" menu and select "Reply".
If it wasn't easy to discover, that's 100% our fault and we'll see what we can to do make it more prominent in the tutorial and in other ways.
Definitely agree threads are crucial to go back to topics in early discussions. We've had them since 2015 and for people using them, they become kind of indispensable.
Maybe give it a try? Would love to hear your thoughts in the Mattermost feedback channel.
Maybe I misspoke. Maybe I meant "tree view" and not "thread".
I was aware of the reply feature, and yes, if you read a reply and you click on the original title, you get to see all messages attached to this original message, in a window to the right, that you can navigate (more or less).
But AFAIK you can't reply to a reply (if you do, it's a reply to the original message); it's probably a feature (back in the days, the Joel on Software forums worked like that, and Joel Spolsky was actively defending this option in various posts).
But it makes it difficult or impossible to actively monitor different threads or topics. Threads are not collapsible. The UI actively favors the more recent messages, you have to actually click on "load more messages" to see earlier messages (and if you change channels and come back, the earlier messages are gone, you have to click again to see them).
Anyway, I don't mean to be negative on the product which is very well polished and works perfectly; it's just that the choices that it makes seem ill suited for a very international and asynchronous crowd.
I also considered creating some biz comm software myself, but only jotted down some ideas
0 - https://bitbucket.org/snippets/cretz/Xopoj/retzle-conceptual
I'll be answering your questions. Thanks for the support!
These problems can be mitigated in a work environment where you can enforce cultural mores, but in a social environment (like within a group of friends or some other non-work related community) this becomes more challenging.
There is probably room in the market for a messaging app that prioritizes reaction communication and suggests that more thoughtful communication take place in a more permanent project management tool.
PS: I am a google employee.
What's your sense of how Twist and Basecamp compare?
We wanted to create a product that just does one thing really well (and that's team communication).
> Group chat is like being in an all-day meeting with random participants and no agenda.
If you work on larger features that require quiet time, then a real-time chatting app can be quite annoying. My team tends to release lots of small features very often, so fast communication is important.
1) Turn off notifications (except @mentions or DMs).
2) Code uninterrupted.
3) Check in when I'm taking a break.
Our company culture is such that Slack is mostly for notifications from our toolset, so that probably helps. Also, we're small (< 20).
The sort of stuff I did was mostly not user facing, since I was admin for the nix boxes, and not usually supporting Windows on the desktop. The things I did tended to require peace, quiet, and extended concentration to make sure I understood the problem and had created a working solution that wouldn't blow up in someone's face.
The underlying problem is that computers are good at multi-tasking, and humans aren't. When a computer is handling multiple concurrent tasks, and an interrupt comes in, it must save its place in what it's doing at the moment, handle the interrupt, then go back to the saved place and continue where it left off. It's stack processing, computers are designed to do it well, and are generally fast enough that the user thinks the computer is only doing the task she's working on. The overhead isn't apparent.
Humans aren't good at stack processing. I've seen papers from years back indicating the average developer can handle 5-7 parallel tracks at a time, and beyond that, things get lost. Stuff getting lost because the developer was trying to keep track of too many things were highly fertile sources of bugs.
And humans aren't anywhere near as fast as computers. Conceptually, you do the same thing as a computer - you are working on a task and get interrupted. You must save your place in what you're doing, handle the interruption, and resume where you left off. There is significant overhead there, and if you get interrupted enough, you spend most of your time stack processing instead of actually working on tasks. You get the equivalent of old time mainframe "death by thrashing", where the mainframe was spending more time context switching than actually doing work.
Some of us are better at multi-tasking than others, but I think all of us over-estimate how good we actually are. I've advised folks elsewhere to try an experiment - work on one task at a time, and continue till it's completed, instead of juggling multiple concurrent tasks. I'm willing to bet the amount of work you actually get done will jump.
What confuses me is why the shop in the article thought that sort of real time communication was a good idea in the first place.
This sounds really creepy
a) Built in reminders (I don't want to sign up to todoist also)
b) Post formatting
c) Ability to mute threads
TLDR: emails are messy, siloed, opaque, not easily shared